Memorial Day

Lane Street Project: Memorial Day 2023.

I met Jen Kehrer a little over two months ago when I did research on the people enslaved at Scarborough House during its first several decades. Since then, she has been a committed cheerleader for Lane Street Project. Today, when attempts to secure assistance from a V.F.W. post fell through, Kehrer took it upon herself to make sure that Vick and Odd Fellows’ veterans were honored. She and small band of others, including 15 year-old Boy Scout P.J., came out in the drear and chill of the morning to pay respects.

Kehrer and Scarborough House are teaming up with Lane Street Project to present our first-ever clean-up in honor of Juneteenth. P.J will be there June 19. Will you?

Photos courtesy of Castonoble Hooks and Jen Kehrer.

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 War Mothers say thanks.

Wilson Daily Times, 8 June 1927.

With a slight barb for “those who did not help,” the War Mothers thanked the many people who helped with Memorial Day observances. The day included a three-mile walk to “Roundtree Cemetery” (most likely, in fact, Vick and Odd Fellows Cemeteries), which had been cleaned by Camillus L. Darden and staff ahead of their visit. 


A Memorial Day parade to the cemetery.

Memorial Day services at “the cemetery” — which might have been Rest Haven, but was probably what we now know as Vick and Odd Fellows Cemeteries — were a regular event in the early 20th century.

Wilson Daily Times, 29 May 1940.

This Memorial Day: who was Henry T. Ellis?

On 3 June 1919, the Daily Times published a list of Wilson County soldiers who died during World War I. The list is segregated. First in the Colored List is Henry Ellis, who was killed 6 October 1918 and in whose honor Wilson County’s African-American post of the American Legion was named.

Wilson Daily Times, 3 June 1919.

The Daily Times had commemorated Ellis’ death when it received word in December 1918:

“Private Henry Ellis Son of Mrs. Mary J. Howard, Route 1, Wilson, N.C. Died of wounds received in action while fighting for his country and oppressed humanity.” Wilson Daily Times, 4 December 1918.


In the 1870 census of Chesterfield township, Nash County, N.C.: farmer Martin Lucus, 52; wife Eliza, 42; and children Irvin, 19, Neverson, 16, Sidney, 13, Eliza, 7, Westray, 6, Anne, 4, and Mary, 2.

In the 1880 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer Nelson Eatmon, 66, wife Eliza Eatmon, 50, daughters Amanda Locus, 18, and Mary J. Locus, 14, “son-in-law” Asa Locus, 10, and “daughter-in-law” Lougene Locus, 4, Margaret Howard, 21, and Harriet Howard, 2. [Nelson Eatmon married Eliza Locust on 28 January 1880 in Wilson County. The Locuses’ relationship designations are obviously erroneous; they were Nelson Eatmon’s stepchildren.]

On 6 February 1887, Warren Ellis, 19, of Wilson County, married Mary Jane Locust, 19, of Wilson County, in Wilson County. Phillis Ellis was one of the witnesses.

In the 1900 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer Mary J. Ellis, 34, widow, and children Willis, 12, Walter, 9, William, 8, Henry, 5, and Lou, 4.

In the 1910 census of Jackson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Mary Jane Ellis, 44, and children Henry, 16, Louise, 13, and Charles, 6; and brother Neverson Lucas, 56.

Henry Ellis registered for the World War I draft in Nash County, N.C, in 1917. Per his registration card, he was born 10 November 1895 in Wilson County; lived at Route 2, Bailey; was a tenant farmer for Elijah Griffin; and was single. He signed his card in a neat, well-practiced hand: “Henry T. Ellis.”

In the 1920 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer Mary Howard, 52, widow; son Charlie Ellis, 17; and sister Luginer Colman, 45, widow.

Mary J. Howard died 20 June 1936 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was the widow of Manuel Howard; was 65 years old; and was born in Wilson County to Martin Locus and Louisa Brantley. Gray Ellis was informant.

Henry T. Ellis, then, was the son of Warren Ellis and Mary Jane Locus Ellis and stepson of Manuel Howard. He was descended (or connected) on his mother’s side from several free families of color with deep roots in the area of western Wilson County — Locuses, Brantleys, Eatmons, Howards — and on his father’s from Hilliard and Faribee Ellis, a formerly enslaved couple who established a prosperous farm in the New Hope area shortly after the Civil War.

I have seen no evidence that Ellis’ body was returned to Wilson County for burial. His parents, grandparents, and siblings are buried in Hilliard Ellis cemetery, but there is no marked grave for him there.

Memorial Day celebration at Rountree Cemetery.

Wilson Daily Times, 27 May 1932.

On Memorial Day 1932, Henry Ellis Post #17 of the American Legion led a group in a march from post headquarters to Rountree Cemetery [which was probably actually Odd Fellows or Vick Cemetery.] There, they held a program that “includes song services and public speaking at which special tribute will be paid to the soldiers of all wars who sleep in Roundtree’s cemetery.

[Note: Via Lane Street Project, I had hoped to be able to arrange a ceremony with Post #17 for this Memorial Day. Perhaps in 2022.]