In memoriam: SP4 Harold Cornell Gay (1951-1970).

SP4 Harold Cornell Gay of Wilson died 20 October 1970 in Quang Ngai Province, Vietnam. He is memorialized on panel 6W at line 11 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.

Jim Evans posted this memorial to Gay at Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund’s Wall of Faces: “From 03 Aug to 14 Aug 1970, I was temporarily transferred from the 91st Evac Hospital in Chu Lai, to the medical aid station at Kham Duc until the new battalion surgeon arrived. There I met Harold Gay, a medic on the medivac helicopter crew stationed at Kham Duc. Harold was a gentle man who conveyed the sense that he provided medical care for his fellow soldiers from the depths of his heart. At Kham Duc I took several photographs of him. One portrait in black and white shows him looking pensively toward me. He asked me to send him this photo which I did; however, a letter from the Department of the Army on 04 Nov 1970, stated, ‘I regret to inform you that Specialist Gay died on 20 Oct 1970…. I am truly sorry that it was not possible to have delivered this mail [including the photograph] to him.’

“However, his death was old news, since I was working in the Emergency Room of the 91st Evac Hospital, when he was brought in. I pronounced him dead along with 12 other men killed when 2 helicopters collided. Harold Gay had volunteered for this mission.

“Harold’s portrait continues to gaze pensively at me in my home. Although our friendship was brief, my heart aches at his loss and so many others. I regret that it was not possible to share this portrait with his family since I did not have their address. Also given the circumstances in 1970, it was hard to know whether his photograph would be welcome or a cause for even greater grief.” posted this description of Gay’s final flight: “On October 20, 1970, a U.S. Army helicopter UH-1D ‘dust off’ air ambulance (tail number 66-16617) from the 54th Medical Detachment, was involved in a mid-air collision with a U.S. Army helicopter OH-6A (tail number 69-16023) from B Company, 123rd Aviation Battalion, resulting in the loss of life of seven U.S. personnel. The OH-6A was part of an Aero Scout team from Company B, 123rd Aviation Battalion, consisting of one UH-1H ‘slick’ transport helicopter, one AH-1G Cobra attack aircraft, and one OH-6A light observation helicopter from Chu Lai Army Airfield for the purpose of conducting a first-light visual reconnaissance of the area to the south and west of Chu Lai known as the Rocket Pocket. On this particular morning, the Aero Scout team attempted to commence their reconnaissance in the northern portion of the Rocket Pocket. They were, however, unable to proceed with this course of action because artillery was being fired into that area. After determining that they could not enter the area, the team lead directed his team to proceed to the southern portion of the Rocket Pocket and commenced their reconnaissance in that area, working generally east to west. At this time, the team members observed yellow smoke being popped continuously to the southeast. The team lead contacted ground personnel in the area to see if they required any assistance. The ground personnel replied in the negative, that a dust-off (medical evacuation by helicopter) was in progress. At approximately 0700 hours, the UH-1H dust off aircraft under the control of the 54th Medical Detachment, call sign Dust Off 88, departed from Chu Lai Army Airfield on a mission to pick up two urgent U.S. casualties. The two injured soldiers, SP4 Alexander Campbell Jr. and PFC Larry W. Kilgore, both infantrymen from C Company, 4th Battalion, 3rd Infantry, 11th Infantry Brigade, Americal Division, were wounded while retrieving an explosive device when the device accidently detonated. The Aero Scout team observed the dustoff aircraft and watched it touchdown in the landing zone. The Aero Scout team then turned back to the north continuing their reconnaissance and working their way back towards Chu Lai. Shortly thereafter, the team leader observed the dust off aircraft heading north-northeast approximately 300 to 400 meters south of the OH-6A at low level and moving fast. At this point the team leader advised the OH-6A of the approaching dust off aircraft and the OH-6A pilot rogered the message. The team leader later stated that almost simultaneously with this transmission the UH-1H and OH-6A collided, with the UH-1H on a northerly heading and the OH-6A on a northwesterly heading. The collision occurred in a valley into which the UH-1H had entered coming around a hill to his right and the OH-6A had entered flying west up the valley with the hill on his left. There were no survivors from the dust off aircraft. The OH-6A crew suffered one fatality with two injured. The lost crew members of the air ambulance included aircraft commander CW2 Terence A. Handly, co-pilot 1LT Kenneth M. Schlie, crew chief SP4 Thomas R. Weiss, and medic SP4 Harold C. Gay. The lost passengers were the injured SP4 Campbell and CPL Kilgore, plus an unnamed Vietnamese national. The fatality from the OH-6A was crew chief SP4 Gary R. Cady. The pilot and gunner on the aircraft survived with injuries. Kilgore, one of the dust off patients, was posthumously promoted to corporal. [Taken from and]”


Harold C. Gay was born 14 February 1951 in Wilson to Harold E. Gay, himself an Army sergeant during World War II, and Matteele Floyd Gay (later Robinson). We have seen the family home of his paternal grandparents Albert and Annie Bell Jacobs Gay here and met his maternal grandfather Ambrose Floyd here. He began high school at C.H. Darden, but transferred to quasi-integrated Ralph L. Fike High School under “freedom of choice” and graduated in 1969. He was 19 years old when he died. Harold Gay’s funeral service took place at Saint Alphonsus Catholic Church, and he is buried in Rest Haven Cemetery.

The obituary of Willie Gay.

Wilson Daily Times, 28 May 1940.

Willie Gay‘s headstone is one of only two military markers found in Odd Fellows Cemetery — and the only one that is definitely it the head of a grave. Gay was a Spanish-American War veteran.

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, February 2023.

The travails of the Third N.C. Infantry.

In response to President William McKinley’s call for volunteers upon the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, the 3rd Battalion of North Carolina Volunteers mustered in on 12 May 1898 at Fort Macon, North Carolina. Seven companies, including Corporal Willie Gay‘s Company I, joined the original three in July, forming the 3rd North Carolina Regiment. Though the 3rd N.C. was alerted to prepare to ship out to Cuba, the war ended before they saw action in battle. The Regiment moved west to Knoxville, Tennessee, in September 1898, where its disillusioned members wrote the plaintive letter below to Secretary of War Russell A. Alger. In November, the 3rd was sent to Macon, Georgia — where two Wilson County men were involved in a fatal altercation — then mustered out in January 1899.

Willie Gay’s grave is marked by the only Spanish-American War headstone I have found in Wilson County for an African-American soldier. However, 3rd N.C. veteran Turner H. Utley was also buried in this cemetery.

The following letter is reported to have been sent to Secretary of War Alger by members of this regiment. The names of those who signed the letter were not given to The Journal and Tribune reporter with the copy of the letter.

Third North Carolina Regiment 
(All companies) Sept. 23, 1898,

To the Secretary of War:

Dear Sir:–We the undersigned many soldiers, heard that you had been instructed that we wanted to stay in service as garrison duty, but my dear sir, we are now pleading with mercy and deny any such report as there had been reported and we feel that our superior officers has treated us wrong to hold us in service without we knowing anything about it.

We the undersigned did not join the service for garrison duty. We only sacrificed our lives and left our homes simply for the honor of our flag and the destruction of our country and families as the war was going on at that time, but now the war is over and we do feel that we might be mustered out of service because we are getting letters from our families every day or two stating the suffering condition, and oh my God, the way that we are treated. We have to drill harder than any other regiment on the grounds and after drilling so hard, we have to work so hard. We have to cut ditches, sink holes and fill up gullies, put in water pipes. We, the 3rd N.C. regiment soldiers has not had but one pair of pants, one coat, two undershirts, one top shirt. We are in a box fit. Our food is not fit to eat, and oh my dear sir, we are bound up in a little place about 400 feet long 3 feet wide. Just think of the confinement we are under just because we volunteered freely to fight for our country.

We the undersigned many soldiers did not volunteer for garrison duty and we do not think that our honorable government will take the advantage of willing and faithful men who came to the rescue of the flag, stars and stripes. We have a great deal more to tell you but we can not express ourselves like it ought to be done.

Down at Fort Macon we was misled. The question was asked who wanted to stay in the service and go to the front if necessary, called upon them to raise hands, but the question never was asked if we wanted to do garrison duty. If they had of asked that question we never would have been in Knoxville today. Why don’t you know as a good thinking man that we don’t want to leave our wives and families to go on garrison duty. Why if so you would have had more applications in the white house than the mail box would have helt.

You know that these officers is getting a very good salary and they would go in three miles of hell after that dollar, but we who are brave men did not come for the sake of that $15.60, but we gloried in the flag and come to hold it up by the balls and shells. So as we did not get a chance to do so we hope that you will consider this matter. Look it over, give us the judgment of justice and if you do we will go home to our families who are in a suffering condition, so we will not write any more.

We the undersigned await your earliest reply. Many soldiers of the Third North  Carolina regiment. We want to go home. 

Journal and Tribune (Knoxville, Tennessee), 5 October 1898.

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, February 2023.

Bring me a bicycle and some nuts and apples.

Wilson Daily Times, 3 December 1924.


Albert Gay, whose letter to Santa was published in 1924, was the son of Albert S. Gay Sr. and Annie Bell Jacobs Gay. At that time, his brothers were Jesse, Harold, and baby Samuel. (Albert Jr. apparently received the bicycle he wished for — seven months later, he broke three ribs when he and his bike collided with an automobile.)

The death of Albert Gay Sr.

Wilson Daily Times, 4 October 1932.


In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: farmer Sam Gay, 54; wife Alice, 50; and children Charlie C., 23, Edgar B., 25, Lucy, 17, Samuel, 14, Albert and Beatrice, 10, and Lily, 4.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Charlie Gay, 28, wife Ella, 28, and Charlie, 18 months. Next door: Samuel Gay, 65, wife Alice, 55, and children Albert, 20, and Lilly, 15.

On 20 February 1913, Albert S. Gay, 23, of Wilson, son of Samuel and Alice Gay, married Annie B. Jacobs, 18, of Wilson, daughter of Jesse and Sarah Jacobs, in Pasquotank County, North Carolina. Rev. N.D. King performed the ceremony at his residence at 38 Bunnell Avenue, Elizabeth City. Witnesses included Albert’s sister, Mrs. Mamie R. King.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: widow Alice Gay, 45; daughter Beatrice, 26; grandson Jerome Wood, 11; granddaughter Gereddine, 10; son Albert, 30; daughter-in-law Anabell, 24; grandsons Albert Jr., 4, and Jesse, 2; son-in-law Fredrick Bolling, 35; daughter Lillie, 23; and grandchildren Delma, 4, and Fredrick, 2.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 623 Green, widow Annie B. Gay, 30, a laundress; husband Albert, 40, a bellboy; mother-in-law Alic, 73; and children Albert Jr., 14, Jessie, 11, Hal, 8, Samual, 6, Mirrian, 4, and Ralph, 2. The house was valued at $8000.

Green Street updates.

On a recent visit to Wilson, I noticed clean-up and renovation underway at several houses in East Wilson Historic District, including:

The Charles and Ella Tate Gay house was built about 1913. Its entire exterior has been renovated. (I wish they’d kept the porch posts.)

It’s not clear to me what is happening at the Nathan Haskins house, also built about 1913. It has been missing a porch post for years and remains boarded up, but its yard is regularly and thoroughly maintained.

The Isaac and Emma Green Shade house, one of two Tudor Revival cottages built in the 1930s on this stretch of East Green, has undergone a lovely external transformation. I hope it’s got an updated interior to match!

Photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, June 2021.

20 Business and Residence Lots for Colored People.

Wilson Daily Times, 10 March 1918. 

We’ve seen the Emma Gay property here. The ad above announced the sale of the lots of the subdivision laid out in Plat Book 1, page 56, Wilson Register of Deeds Office. The notice targeted two markets — “the colored man” wishing “to purchase a home close in” and “the white man” aiming to “make a safe and very profitable investment.” The latter won out as the later development of the parcel was commercial.

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

Albert Gay Jr. knocked from bicycle.

Eight year-old Albert Sylvester Gay Jr. broke three ribs when an automobile knocked from off his bicycle. 

Wilson Daily Times, 11 July 1925.


In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: widow Alice Gay, 45; daughter Beatrice, 26; grandson Jerome Wood, 11; granddaughter Gereddine, 10; son Albert, 30; daughter-in-law Anabell, 24; grandsons Albert Jr., 4, and Jesse, 2; son-in-law Fredrick Bolling, 35; daughter Lillie, 23; and grandchildren Delma, 4, and Fredrick, 2.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 623 Green, widow Annie B. Gay, 30, a laundress; husband Albert, 40, a bellboy; mother-in-law Alic, 73; and children Albert Jr., 14, Jessie, 11, Hal, 8, Samual, 6, Mirrian, 4, and Ralph, 2. The house was valued at $8000.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 623 Green, Albert Gay, 24, truck driver for retail furniture store; and his siblings Harrell, 19, Samuel, 17, Annie M., 14, and Ralph, 12; plus lodgers Mrs. Julia Russell, 40, and her son, Albert, 22.

Lane Street Project: Willie Gay’s headstone found in Odd Fellows cemetery.

Jeff Barefoot had read my blog and was passing through Wilson. Curious about Rountree, Odd Fellows and Vick cemeteries, he stopped by, poked around in the woods a bit, and hit the jackpot — the headstone of Willie Gay! Not only had I missed Gay’s marker on my forays into Odd Fellows, his is the only one I’ve seen for a Spanish-American War veteran in these cemeteries.

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In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Emma Gay, 35; children Charlie, 15, a steam-mill worker, Mary, 11, Etheldred, 8, and Willie, 6; plus a boarder Fannie Thompson, 19, cook.

On 8 January 1894, Willie Gay, 18, and Mary Bunn, 21, were married at the groom’s house in Wilson. Presbyterian minister L.J. Melton performed the ceremony in the presence of W.T. Phillips, L.A. Moore, and C.C. Williams.

In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: day laborer William Gay, 26, widower, living alone.

On 29 October 1902, Willie Gay, 27, son of Charles Gay and Emma Rountree, married Mary Johnson, 22, daughter of Edmund Johnson and Bertha Johnson, at Henry Johnson‘s. H.S. Phillips applied for the license, and Missionary Baptist minister Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony in the presence of Cain Artis, Charles S. Thomas, and Robert E. Artis.

On 23 March 1906, William Gay, 33, son of Charles and Emma Gay, married Augustus McNeil, 30, daughter of Peter and Emily Patterson, in Wilson. Missionary Baptist minister Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony in the presence of J.E. Farmer, Robert Strickland, and Charlie Farmer.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: railroad laborer Will Gay, 34; wife Susia, 34, cook; children Paul, 17, railroad laborer, Charlie, 10, Emma, 4, and Georgia, 2; brother-in-law Peter Johnson, 20, hotel waiter; nephew Jessie Lewis, 22, boarding house proprietor; and lodger Nathan Jenkins, 30, oil mill laborer.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 717 Stantonsburg Street, railroad brakeman William Gay, 48; wife Gertrude, 43; and roomer Oscar Magotte, 26.

In the 1920 Wilson, N.C., city directory: Gay William grocer 717 Stantonsburg Rd

On 27 December 1922, William Gay, 52, son of Charlie and Emma Gay, married Gertrude Magette, 45, daughter of Jerry and Lucy Magette, in Wilson. Missionary Baptist minster A.L.E. Weeks performed the ceremony in the presence of J.A. Parker, 211 East Spruce Street; Mary L. Moore, 314 South Stantonsburg Street; and Annie E. Weeks, 500 Hadley Street.

In the 1940 census of Kecoughtan, Elizabeth City County, Virginia: at the Veterans Administration facility, Willie Gay, 66, born in North Carolina.

Willie Gay died 25 May 1940 at the Veterans Administration hospital in Kecoughtan, Virginia. Per his death certificate, he was born 10 February 1874 in Wilson, N.C., to Charles Gay and Emma Byrum, both of Greene County, N.C.; was divorced; was a veteran of the Spanish American War; was a railroad worker; and lived at 526 Smith Street, Wilson.

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On 13 June 1940, Howard M. Fitts applied for a military headstone for Willie Gay. The application for an upright marker noted that Gay had served from 23 June 1898 to 8 February 1899 in Company I, 3rd N.C. Infantry; and achieved the rank of corporal. Gay was to be buried in Rountree (actually, Odd Fellows) Cemetery in Wilson.

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Photo of Gay’s marker courtesy of Jeff Barefoot and published at Thank you!

Emma Gay’s lands.

In 1918, John Griffin subdivided and sold a large parcel that had formerly belonged to Emma Gay. Griffin contemplated twenty lots with connecting rear alleys. This corner is easily recognized as the eastern gateway to Wilson’s black business block. Plank Road is modern Nash Street, and Stantonsburg Road is now Pender Street. Subsequent development, all commercial, suggests that most the lots were sold in multiples and consolidated.

The approximate location of Emma Gay’s lands.

Plat Book 1, Page 56, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson County Courthouse.