In just a few days, a new monument will be dedicated in France to honor the memory of National Guardsmen from North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee who fought and died in the one of the bloodiest and most important battles of World War I.
In addition, three of the Guardsmen who lost their lives in that battle came from McDowell County. The organizers of this new monument would like more information about them.
For some time, members of the N.C. National Guard Museum Foundation have raised money to build two new monuments to the Guardsmen of the Tar Heel Brigade with the 30th Infantry Division who fought and died on Sept. 29, 1918.
On that historic day, the 30th Infantry Division broke the Hindenburg Line, an important segment of the German defensive network on the Western Front during World War I. This decisive action was part of a series of Allied assaults known as the Hundred Days Offensive, which led to the signing of the armistice on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.
The 30th Division was organized from National Guard regiments from North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, along with other soldiers from around the United States. It was called the “Old Hickory Division” in honor of President Andrew Jackson, who had ties to all three states.
The Division was assigned to the Second Corps of the American Expeditionary Force, which in turn was detached and operated under the control of the British. During the attack on the Hindenburg Line, the 30th Division’s 119th and 120th infantry regiments, originally N.C. National Guard units, led the assault. The Germans opened fire and caused heavy casualties to the Guardsmen. The attack of the 119th made little progress, but the 120th captured the village of Bellicourt after heavy fighting, which broke the Hindenburg Line, according to information from the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources.
It was one of the bloodiest days in North Carolina military history. “Although few have ever heard of this battlefield, North Carolina lost more soldiers on this one day than any battle in history, with the exception of the 2nd day at Gettysburg,” states the Website for the N.C. National Guardsmen Museum Foundation.
North Carolina lost someone that day from 85 of its 100 counties. For McDowell County, three men gave their lives in the fighting, according to John Merritt with the Foundation.
They were Samuel E. Pyatt of Company K, 362nd Infantry; Pvt. Doctor T. Norman of Company L, 120th Infantry; and Kelsy Hoppes, a mechanic with Company L, 120th Infantry. Pyatt was buried in his home county at Glenwood Cemetery while Norman was buried at Forest Hill Cemetery in Morganton. Hoppes was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery just outside of Washington, D.C., according to information from www.findagrave.com.
Because of heroism like this, members of the foundation have raised money and worked to create two new monuments to them and the other Guardsmen who gave their lives fighting on that day in World War I.
The first monument is set to be dedicated this Sunday, Nov. 10 in Nauroy, France where the height of the fighting took place. It will be dedicated the day before Veterans Day, which is also the 101st anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I. It is a tall obelisk with a World War I infantryman’s helmet on top. The inscription at the base is written in both English and French.
Foundation members are still seeking to raise money and get approval from the state to place a similar monument on the grounds of the state Capitol in Raleigh. It will replace a much smaller one that stands there today. Merritt said the process of getting approval for the one in Raleigh has proven to be much more difficult than getting approval for the one in France.
In addition, Merritt and others with the N.C. National Guard Museum Foundation are trying to gather records and information about these brave Guardsmen who helped win the “War to End All Wars.”
They are seeking information from family members of those brave Guardsmen of the 30th Infantry Division who died on Sept. 29, 1918.
If you have any information about Pyatt, Norman and Hoppes or are a descendant of them, you are asked to visit https://ncww1monument.org/ and register the information.