Profiles from the Archives: Reginald W. Alston

Matthew M. Peek, Military Collection Archivist

Reginald Whitaker Alston was born on May 29, 1890, in Halifax County, N.C., to Herbert C. and Sallie A. Alston. By 1900, the Alston family was living in Enfield, N.C., where Reginald’s father worked as a salesman in a grocery store. Reginald Alston never completed high school, and went to work while living with his family. By 1910, Reginal Alston was working as a printer for a newspaper. At the time of his draft registration for World War I, Alston was working as a salesman in Rocky Mount, N.C.

On July 6, 1917, Reginald Alston enlisted in the North Carolina National Guard in Enfield, N.C., and was assigned to Company D, 3rd North Carolina Infantry. Alston reached the ranks of corporal on July 25, 1917, and sergeant on October 1, 1917. When his National Guard unit was called into federal service for World War I, Alston was serving in the 3rd Platoon Company, 3rd North Carolina Infantry. At that time, his unit was transferred into Company D, 120th Infantry Regiment, 30th Division, U.S. Army.

Alston was stationed for training at Camp Sevier, S.C., by October 1917. While at Camp Sevier, Alston’s commanding officers were trying to get him to apply for Officer Training School. In February 1918, Alston and the 3rd Infantry Regiment were sent for machine gun training at Leon Springs Military Reservation in San Antonio, Texas, where he was assigned to Camp Stanley.

Reginald Alston served overseas in Europe during WWI from May 12, 1918, to April 11, 1919. During this time, he was promoted to supply sergeant on July 21, 1918. Alston served in France and Belgium in 1918. He was at Bellicourt at the St. Quentin Canal on October 3, 1918, during the heavy fighting there.

Reginald Alston left Saint-Nazaire, France, aboard the troop transport ship the USS Powhatan (ID–3013), on March 27, 1919, for the United States. He arrived in the harbor of Charleston, S.C., on April 10, 1919. Alston’s unit arrived from Charleston at Camp Jackson in Columbia, S.C., on April 11, 1919. Reginald Alston would be honorably discharged with the rank of sergeant at Camp Jackson on April 17, 1919.

After the war, Reginald Alston returned to Enfield, where by 1920 he was living on his own and working as a salesman in a wholesale grocery business. On April 25, 1920, he married Sue A. Dunn in Halifax County, N.C. By 1930, Alston was working as a clerk in a tobacco warehouse in Enfield. By 1940, he was working as an auctioneer.

When the United States entered World War II, Reginald Alston became an enthusiastic supporter of the servicemen and servicewomen of the country. He used his position as an auctioneer to sell U.S. government war bonds. One way in which he accomplished this is by creating a number of publicity stunts. One such action included auctioning any item, with the winning bid receiving that bid amount in war bonds, as well as being given the item as an added benefit for supporting the country.

Alston also hosted in downtown Enfield, on a corner between the Bank of Enfield and Roses Five and Dime Store, a WWII bond sale titled “Reginald Alston will Sell the Clothes off his Back.” Alston auctioned off for all of his clothes—even his underwear—to the winning bidder, giving the winner the clothing item after the sale. Alston dressed in a suit, vest, necktie, and undergarments, on a hot day. The auction did not start out well, but Alston kept urging (according to his family), “he would tell the crowd that the Government needed the money from the Bond Sales to prosecute the War and get the boys home sooner.” After the sale, he undressed in the order in which the clothes had been sold—down to his underwear—but was wearing pajamas (which he had not announced for the sale) underneath everything else.

Reginald W. Alston gave a speech at an Armistice Day program at the Scotland Neck Baptist Church in Scotland Neck, N.C., on November 11, 1945. Written by Alston, this speech is the only known time when he shared his personal experiences and feelings about Armistice Day while he was in France during World War I. He would come to live in Scotland Neck. Reginald W. Alston died on June 26, 1958, in Durham, N.C., at the Veterans Administration Hospital, and was buried in Baptist Cemetery in Scotland Neck, N.C.

To learn more about Reginald Alston’s WWI service, check out the Reginald W. Alston Papers (WWI 58), and the folder “Halifax County: Reginald W. Alston Letters, 1917-1919” in North Carolina County War Records (WWI 2), in the WWI Papers of the Military Collection at the State Archives of North Carolina in Raleigh, N.C.

This blog post is part of the State Archives of North Carolina’s World War I Social Media Project, an effort to bring original WWI archival materials to the public through the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources’ (NCDNCR) various social media platforms, in order to increase access to the items during the WWI centennial celebration by the state of North Carolina.

Between February 2017 and June 2019, the State Archives of North Carolina will be posting blog articles, Facebook posts, and Twitter posts, featuring WWI archival materials which are posted on the exact 100th anniversary of their creation during the war. Blog posts will feature interpretations of the content of WWI documents, photographs, diary entries, posters, and other records, including scans of the original archival materials, held by the State Archives of North Carolina, and will be featured in the NCDNCR’s WWI centennial blog.