Profiles from the Archives: Elbert E. Wilson

Matthew M. Peek, Military Collection Archivist

Elbert Ezra Wilson was born on January 18, 1895, in Winston-Salem, N.C., to Samuel Branson and Fannie B. Wilson. Elbert’s childhood was defined by a transient lifestyle, as the family moved frequently for his father’s professional endeavors and education. By 1900, the Wilson family was living in Wake Forest, N.C.; Elbert’s father was now serving as a reverend. By 1910, Samuel Wilson was working as a Bible salesman, and the Wilson family had moved again to Horry County, S.C.—across the border from N.C.

By the 1914-1915 school year, Elbert Wilson was attending Wake Forest College as an undergraduate, though he would not finish college. At the time of his draft registration for World War I, Elbert’s family had relocated to the town of Delway in Sampson County, N.C.

Elbert Wilson enlisted by 1917 in the N.C. National Guard at Winston-Salem, N.C.; he served in Company C, First N.C. Infantry Regiment. During the summer of 1917, Wilson was stationed at several military camps with the National Guard, including: Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, in May 1917; Reserve Officers’ Training Camp at Chickamauga Park in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in June 1917; and stationed in Winston-Salem, N.C., in July-August 1917. Wilson and Company C would arrive for basic Army training at Camp Sevier, S.C., on September 1, 1917. At the time of their arrival, the unit had to construct their own camp site, including clearing and grading the land.  

In September 1917, Elbert Wilson was transferred to Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma, for advanced training, including in the U.S. Army Air Service (predecessor of the later Army Air Corps). After having just arrived at Fort Sill, Wilson was witness to the death of Army Air Service aviator Roderick Kennedy at Fort Sill’s new Henry Post Army Airfield. Wilson was called before the Army’s board of inquiry and testified as to the cause of Kennedy’s death. Wilson underwent machine gun training, and attended a variety of Army courses at Fort Sill—including classes on magnetism, aerial observation, and map reading.

On November 9, 1917, Wilson and his aviation squadron was assigned for advanced aviation training to Camp Albert L. Mills Hempstead on Long Island, New York, with the 117th Engineer Train, 42nd Division, U.S. Army. He arrived on the night of November 13, 1917. Camp Mills Hempstead, on the Hempstead Plains somewhere between the towns of Hempstead and Garden City, Long Island, was full of new Army airfields for training. It appears Wilson was preparing to be sent by ship to Europe at this time, but for some reason he returned to Fort Sill.

By the end of November 1917, Elbert Wilson was stationed at the S.C.C. Camp, Airfield No. 2, at Camp Mills Hempstead. Between the end of December 1917 and the first of January 1918, Wilson sprained his knee, and was intermittently in the hospital. On January 3, 1918, Wilson was discharged from the National Guard in order to accept a commission into the U.S. Army. On January 4, 1918, Elbert Wilson was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Service. On January 9, 1918, Wilson’s squadron left aboard a troop transport ship for England for overseas service. Wilson was serving in a detachment of Aerial Observers No. 1, American Expeditionary Forces, as member of the U.S. Army Aviation Section’s Signal Officers Reserve Corps (A.S.O.R.C.).

When he arrived in Paris, France, in February 1918, Wilson was split up from his detachment, now an individual soldier. He began attending the First Corps School in Paris, finishing the classes on March 9, 1918. On March 14, 1918, Wilson was promoted to 1st Lieutenant. At this time, he was unattached as he continued attending training programs in France. During his time in Europe in 1918, Elbert Wilson was involved in the following military campaigns: Aisne; Marne; and the Champagne-Marne. Wilson served overseas in Europe from January 1918 until July 1919, when he arrived back in the United States on July 13, 1919. Wilson was honorably discharged on July 31, 1919.  

After the war, Elbert Wilson married Margaret Grimes, and the couple moved to Florida. By 1928, Elbert was serving as the principal of South Borough School in West Palm Beach, Florida, where the Wilsons were also living. By 1940, the Wilsons had relocated to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where Elbert worked as a mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service. Between the end of World War II and the 1960s, Elbert Wilson would work in a number of different jobs at the Postal Service, including as a clerk by 1950.

Elbert E. Wilson died on February 17, 1990, in St. Johns County, Florida, and was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Saint Augustine, Florida.

To learn more about Elbert Wilson’s WWI service, check out the Elbert E. Wilson Papers (WWI 69) 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 NCDNCR’s WWI centennial blog.