Donate to Hurricane Recovery

Profiles from the Archives: John A. Smitherman

Matthew M. Peek, Military Collection Archivist

John Alexander Smitherman was born on September 12, 1892, in Surry County, N.C., to Adam Lee and Sarah Hudson Smitherman. Prior to the United States entrance into World War I, the Smitherman family had come to live in Greensboro, N.C. At the time of his draft registration for World War I, John A. Smitherman was working as a cotton mill worker at the Proximity Cotton Mills in Greensboro. Smitherman was inducted into military service for WWI in Greensboro, N.C., on May 28, 1918.

Smitherman was assigned to Company L, 322nd Infantry Regiment, 81st Division (“Wildcat Division”), U.S. Army. He served overseas in Europe during the war from July 31, 1918, to July 3, 1919. He reached the rank of corporal on August 26, 1918. Smitherman served in the 322nd Infantry until February 25, 1919, after which he was transferred to Company B, Prisoner War Escort, U.S. Army.

While he was stationed in Bourges, France, in March 1919, Smitherman was assigned to the Military Postal Express Service (MPES), which worked to redress mail to American Expeditionary Forces soldiers that had accumulated in the U.S. military’s central post office due to incomplete addresses or were unable to be delivered due to a soldier’s change of location. He remained with that unit until he was honorably discharged on July 9, 1919.

By 1920, John Smitherman’s father had died, leaving John to return to care for a widowed mother and siblings in Greensboro, where he worked as a salesman at a store. John Smitherman would marry Fannie Bell Craven on August 10, 1924, in Guilford County, N.C. By 1928, Smitherman was working as a clerk at the Proximity Mercantile Company in Greensboro. By 1933, he was working as a salesman for Proximity Mercantile Company, Inc. By 1940, John Smitherman was working as a fireman in Greensboro. By 1945, he was working as a guard for the Greensboro Post Office. John A. Smitherman died on January 12, 1956, in Greensboro, N.C., and was buried in Guilford Memorial Garden in the same city.

To learn more about John Smitherman’s WWI service, you can read his only-known letter John A. Smitherman Letter (WWI 57) in the WWI Papers of the Military Collection at the State Archives of N.C. in Raleigh, N.C.

This blog post is part of the State Archives of N.C.’s World War I Social Media Project, an effort to bring original WWI archival materials to the public through the N.C. 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 N.C.

Between February 2017 and June 2019, the State Archives of N.C. 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 N.C., and will be featured in NCDNCR’s WWI centennial blog.