Military, Paternal Kin

Dr. Ward in World War I.


Fisher and Buckley’s African American Doctors of World War I finally hit print late last year, and I flipped through Wilson County Public Library’s copy when I was home last week. That’s cousin Joseph H. Ward at upper right. The entry on his life and accomplishments is lengthy and detailed, and I am pleased to have provided the authors with information about his early life. (Even if uncredited. *side eye*)

Births Deaths Marriages, Newspaper Articles, Paternal Kin

Young Joseph.

While Americans fought in Europe, a war with influenza raged at home.

Indy News 19 Oct 1918 Joseph Ward Jr death

Indianapolis News, 19 October 1918.

Dr. Joseph H. Ward returned to Indianapolis eight months later to find his wife Zella and daughter Mary Roena recovered, but his beloved son gone. The boy was nine years old.



My grandmother Mary Ward Roberts, whom we called Mur, would cry remembering when Buddy was taken away. She and her mother couldn’t follow the hearse because they were still sick. The purple cloth they put outside of the door to let people know that the house was infected with Spanish Influenza. Mur said that Buddy pointed his finger upward and said goodbye. Her father went into a deep depression in France and was hospitalized. When he returned from France, he had Buddy’s body exhumed to say a final farewell. Can you imagine?         — Z.P., great-granddaughter of Joseph H. Ward

Military, Other Documents, Paternal Kin

Pvt. Aldrich.

On 28 May 1917, James Thomas Aldridge appeared before a registrar in Brooklyn, New York. I imagine Tom dragging his feet, and his reluctance to serve shows through his notably exaggerated response to Question 9 — “Have no father (dead) Mother and three sisters to help to support” — and the basis for his claim for an exemption — “Dependents and poor health.” Tom described himself as a “student (medical),” and evidence demonstrates that he had entered medical school in the fall of 1916. (He may have done his first year at Leonard Medical School, then transferred to Meharry, from which he graduated in 1920. But what was he doing in Brooklyn? He wasn’t a resident, as demonstrated by the home address and precinct listed on the card.) Tom also gave his birth date as 14 May 1895, which would have made him 22. His age, however, is listed as 27. Neither is correct. He was born in 1886, and was 31 in 1917, but always fudged heavily on his age, possibly to disguise the long years that passed between finishing eighth grade in Dudley’s local school and entering high school at Shaw. Either way, he was called up.


Until a couple of days ago, my knowledge of my great-grandfather’s World War I service was limited to brief mentions in his obits that he had been in the Medical Corps. While looking for something else, though, I ran across an database, “New York Abstracts of World War I Military Service 1917-1919.” And there, under his preferred spelling — more about that later — was James T. Aldrich.

Serial number 2,546,996. White.

Huh? How ever did Tom pull that off?

In any case, there it is — his World War I record. Service did not take him far from his home in East Harlem. (Maybe his health was poorish, after all?) Enlistment in the Medical Reserve Corps on Broadway in January 1918. Then about nine months at the Army base that Governors Island once was. (On 8 October 1918, just before leaving Governors Island, he married Athalia Freeman.) Then on to Camp Alexander in Newport News, Virginia, for six months until his discharge in May 1919. Camp Alexander, established in 1918, served as an embarkation and debarkation camp for African-American troops.

40808_1120704930_0015-01040 copy

Maternal Kin, Military, North Carolina, Other Documents

Ordered to report.


This roster of African-American men from Iredell County inducted on March 30, 1918, and ordered to report to Camp Grant, Rockford, Illinois, included my grandmother’s maternal uncle, Ed McNeely, and brother-in-law William Bradshaw. (Bradshaw married Golar Colvert eight days after his induction.)

[War Department, Office of the Provost Marshal General, Selective Service System, 1917– 07/15/1919. Lists of Men Ordered to Report to Local Board for Military Service, 1917–1918. Records of the Selective Service System (World War I), Record Group 163. National Archives, Atlanta, Georgia.]

Births Deaths Marriages, Education, Migration, Military, Newspaper Articles, Other Documents, Paternal Kin, Photographs

Col. Oscar Randall.

There were surely many more veterans than that, I thought, and I started poking around my files, looking for men and women I might have missed. Oscar Randall was a possible World War I veteran, but his draft card cast doubt — he claimed a service exemption on the basis that he was “rejected by recruiting officer.”


Nonetheless, I Googled Randall and was stunned to find that not only did he serve, he led troops in battle in France during World War I, received a Purple Heart for wounds sustained in Italy during the Second World War, and achieved the rank of colonel. The most amazing find: two photos of Randall from the Chicago Sun-Times archives for sale on eBay!  I ordered them immediately, and they arrived in yesterday’s mail.

The first photo, taken after the First World War, depicts a smooth-faced, heavy-jowled man in officer’s uniform. Its reverse carries a scrap of newspaper article, as well as a note that the photo was copied from a portrait hanging in Randall’s living room.

O Randall 1921

The second photo, taken in 1982, shows a solemn-faced old man, silver hair swept back from his forehead, his eyes rheumy but mouth set firmly. Light from a window creates a dramatic chiaroscuro. On the back: a slightly longer clipping from the same article, detailing the colonel’s military achievements.

O Randall 1982

Back O Randall 1982

Oscar Randall was born 30 November 1896 in Washington DC, the first of George and Fannie Aldridge Randall‘s children born after their migration from Wayne County, North Carolina. After the War, he returned to college and received a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from the University of Illinois. (He served as president of Tau chapter, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, while there.) Randall taught mathematics at Chicago’s DuSable High School for many years and also worked as a civil engineer for the city’s sanitation department. In the 1950’s, he served as Chief of the U.S. Military Mission to Liberia, which advised that country’s military on training and defense. He married twice, but had no children.

Oscar Randall died three years after his Chicago Sun-Times interview. He was 88 years old.

A memorial service for Oscar Randall, 88, a civil engineer, will be held at 11 a.m. June 9 in St. Thomas Episcopal Church, 3301 S. Wabash Ave. Mr. Randall, of the South Side, died April 8 in Veterans Administration Lakeside Medical Center. A native of Washington, D.C., Mr. Randall graduated from the University of Illinois and worked for the Chicago Sanitary District for nine years. Mr. Randall also taught mathematics at Du Sable High School. In 1918 he joined the 8th Illinois infantry regiment, one of the nation’s first black-led military units. He also served in World War II. Survivors include his wife, Hilda; a stepdaughter, Vera Levy; two stepgrandchildren; two stepgreat-grandchildren; three sisters; and a brother.  

— Chicago Tribune, 23 May 1985.


[Sidenote: Pete Souza, who photographed Cousin Oscar, is now Chief Official White House photographer for President Barack Obama and Director of the White House Photography Office.]

Births Deaths Marriages, Maternal Kin, Military, Other Documents, Photographs, Virginia

Edward N. Allen.

After John C. Allen‘s birth in 1876, Graham and Mary Brown Allen had four children together. Emma, their only daughter, was followed by Willie, Alexander and Edward Noble.

Edward N. Allen grew up in Charles City County, but followed his half-brother John to Newport News some time after 1910. He was working there as a laborer for the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad when he registered for the draft at the outbreak of World War I. (And had had a tough life, as he reported missing three fingers on his right hand.)

ImageEdward survived the war, but his life over the next 15 years is hidden from history. He apparently never married or had children. Unless he is the Virginia-born Edward Allen that is listed as a farmhand in upstate New York in 1920, he appears in neither that nor the 1930 census. He was back in Charles City County by the early 1930s, though, and died in early 1933 at the U.S. Marine Hospital in Norfolk. He was only in his early 40’s, but beset with an old man’s diseases.


Edward Noble Allen is buried in Hampton National Cemetery.


Births Deaths Marriages, Maternal Kin, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Oral History, Photographs

Edward Murray McNeely.

My mother’s brother went to World War I. Not Uncle John and Uncle Luther.  Oh, they were old.  Old men.  They went to the Spanish-American War.  Edward went to World War I — 

ed mcneely draft card

Yeah.  If he went.  ‘Cause he was the laziest man, dodged everything.  Running all the time.  The ladies were just crazy about him.  He had to leave Statesville.  He went to Asheville and, too ….  They were just about to lynch him because of, you know, these women running after him.  He went to New York.  I think he married two or three women up there.  [I laugh.]  Honey, he was sharp as a tack.  Lord, Lisa, that was one good-looking man.  Tall.  Like Carey.  And he was sharp.  I remember when I went to New York from Hampton to work, went to Jersey from Hampton to work.  He carried me to New York.  First time I had ever been to New York, and he carried me to New York to this Elks Club.  He was a big-time Elk, you know.  And those men swore that I was not his niece, that I was somebody else.  And they said, “Man, you know that’s….”  And I liked to dance with them, you know, and all.  And I would just go with him – I mean, I didn’t go there a lot of times, but I might have went two, three times, but he would take me to that Elks Club.  And he would never let me have anything to drink.  He would drink some wine or something like that.  But he would take me, and one time when I was in New York — Wardenur and I, he used to take us.

McNEELY -- Edward McNeely


Edward Murray McNeely, born 15 June 1894, was the youngest of Henry and Martha McNeely’s sons. He married Lucille Tomlin in 1910 in Statesville and worked as a bellhop in a local hotel. He and Lucille had a son, Quincy Edward McNeely, in late 1910. When the marriage broke up, the boy and his mother moved to Asheville and were lost to the rest of the family. (Or to my grandmother, his first cousin, in any case.) Ed McNeely was in fact inducted into the Army in 1917, but I have no details of his service. By the late 1920s, he had migrated north to join his mother and several siblings in and around Bayonne, New Jersey. In 1942, he registered for the “Old Man’s Draft” and reported his address as 344 Grand Avenue, Brooklyn. (A two-story brownstone in Clinton Hill worth $1 million today. He also gave his height as  5’11, some considerable inches shorter than my cousin Carey.) When he died on 28 September 1950, Edward was living at 454 Avenue C in Bayonne and was married to Delphine Peterson McNeely. Two days later, the Statesville Daily Record published this tragic report:

“Double Funeral Service Planned”

Double funeral services will be conducted for brother and sister here Monday.

Lizzie Long, who burned to death when her home on Bingham Street was almost completely destroyed by fire Thursday morning, will be buried with her brother who died that night in New York.  The brother, Edward McNeeley, a veteran of World War I, died in Veterans hospital, Staton [sic] Island, upon hearing the news of his sister’s death.  His body will be returned here Monday morning and services will be conducted jointly for them at 2:30 p.m. Monday.  Burial will be in Belmont cemetery.  

The funeral will be conducted by Rev. Spurgeon Frost at Rankintown Congregational church.

Photo of Edward McNeely in collection of Lisa Y. Henderson. Interview of Margaret C. Allen by Lisa Y. Henderson, all rights reserved.