killed in action

Sgt. Bekay Thompson is killed in action in Korea.

Wilson Daily Times, 19 September 1950.

In September 1950, two Wilson families received bad news about a son serving in the Korean Conflict. Hattie Thompson‘s son, young Bekay Thompson, was killed in action in South Korea.

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In the 1940 census of Stantonsburg, Wilson County: on Main Street, widow Hattie Thompson, 37, servant; her children Hilda, 15, new worker, and B. Kay, 9; and lodger Ethel Edwards, 32, tobacco stemmer.

Hattie Thompson, 705 Cemetery Street, Wilson, applied for a military headstone for her son. 

A notation on Thompson’s application shows that he received a Purple Heart. Another, seemingly lightly erased, noted: “Remains not ret[urne]d as of 6-27-51.”

Burial plots for World War I soldiers.

Wilson Daily Times, 19 August 1920.

In August 1920, James Dempsey Bullock penned a letter to the newspaper urging the city to establish burial plots for World War I soldiers who had died at war in France and whose remains were just then being repatriated. “… [S]ome one should see to it that a beautiful plat in Maplewood cemetery should be set aside for the interment of those whose parents wish them buried there and one in Oakwood for the colored.”

Oakwood, also known as Oakdale and Oaklawn, was Wilson’s first (or maybe second) public cemetery for African-Americans. If the city established a plat for returning soldiers, it is lost. Oakwood had already fallen out of favor as a burial ground by 1920, as families opted for private cemeteries like Rountree, Odd Fellows, or Masonic, or for the city’s newer public cemetery, now known as Vick. Oakwood was essentially abandoned just a few years later, though the city did not move its graves until 1941.

Six African-American Wilson County menHenry T. Ellis, Benjamin Horne, Luther Harris, Pharaoh Coleman, Frank Barnes, and Vert Vick — were recorded as having died or been killed in service during World War I. It is not clear to which soldier’s body Bullock was referring as expected to arrive in New York.

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.