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Artifact of the Week: Battle-damaged Helmet

Jessica A. Bandel

On November 9, 1918, two days before news of the Armistice would break, Company D of the 324th Infantry advanced across the Woevre Plain northeast of Verdun, France, to attack the German lines. For the North Carolinians of the regiment, the assault was both their first true taste of combat and the last battle they would see during the war. What the men saw on the field that day would stay with them forever.

“Shells were bursting all around us that would have torn houses to pieces,” remembered Walter Davis, “and the bullets coming by faster than the snowflakes fall.” Poison gas soon enveloped the field, forcing many men to head to field hospitals for treatment. German resistance stiffened as the hours passed, but the Americans found a way to put the enemy on their heels, setting up the war’s final dramatic showdown just two days later.

But success did not come without sacrifice. Medical staff settled in for a long night treating the wounded. Martin County native Robert H. Salsbury knew the day’s dangers firsthand. At some point during the fray, a machine gun round tore through the thin olive-colored steel of his helmet, the terrifying effects of which remain plainly evident to this day.

The impact fractured Salsbury’s skull, earning him an early ticket home in January 1919. Though severely wounded by the blow (military doctors rated his level of disability at twenty percent), private first class Salsbury went on to live a seemingly fulfilling life.

He returned home to Hassell in late February 1919 following medical treatment at hospitals in New York and Maryland. Professionally speaking, Salsbury picked up where he left off before the war, assuming once again the duties of merchant, an occupation he held until his retirement. In April 1920, he married Myrtle Roberson and went on to have one child, a little son named Robert Jr. Salsbury died from natural causes in 1975 at age 82.