Submitted by: Nathaniel Jenkins, Jr.
William Anderson born around 1894, William Anderson served in World War 1 with the United States Army. The enlistment was in 1917 and the service was completed in 1918.
Story of Service
My grandfather, William Anderson, a South Carolina native, was a real American War Hero. He was a quiet and warm man, a jack-of-all-trades born in the late1800s, and he lived a humble life in Asheville, North Carolina. He was part of an all-black regiment that fought with French soldiers against the Germans during World War I.
When my mother would take me and my sisters to visit him, he would frequently show us his medal that he had tucked away in an old tarnished tin Sucrets box. The medal, shaped like an Iron Cross backed by crossed swords, was marred with time; and it had an aged green and red ribbon attached. My grandfather would beam with pride every time he displayed the medal, but as little kids we didn’t fully understand the significance of his pride. Apparently, he wanted his grandchildren and great-grandchildren to know what he'd done--and to be proud of him.
Many years later, I discovered that Grandfather Anderson's efforts on the battlefield earned him a coveted French medal, the Croix de Guerre or Cross of War, for bravery in combat action. That's the same honor given Audie Murphy, the most decorated American combat soldier of World War II.
The citation accompanying the medal revealed that William Anderson, formerly a private in Company D, 371ST Infantry, 93 Division, American Expeditionary Forces, was awarded the Croix de Guerre for actions in the course of the campaign of 1914-1918 against Germany and her Allies. Anderson was a workhorse of Company D. He was a machine gunner.
His personal war history was revealed during an interview he had in the 1970s with Bob Terrell, a local newspaper reporter, and his story was published in an article in the Asheville Citizen Times newspaper. “I didn't do nothing special that night," he said to the reporter, “I just stood and fought, and I never turned my back."
Grandfather talked about some of the close calls he had during the war. Once, when guarding the Hindenburg Line, the border between France and Germany, a terrible skirmish erupted. He was one of only a few survivors out of his 130 man unit.
Every time they needed someone for patrol duty, they called his name and he never missed one. They would slither out of the trenches, crawl through no-man’s land, cut through the barbed wire and look for troop movements, weapons displacements, or anything of interest to his side. On one occasion, a German Patrol was 10 feet away, he said, “so close I knew they could hear my heart beating.”
He remembered when his company broke through the Hindenburg line, the memories of the dead and dying very vivid. “We walked over the dead like ants. We wanted to stop and do something for the lame and hurt, but our orders were “Forward March” and we kept marching.” Anderson's regiment, the 371st Infantry, compiled a commendable record and he was one of 89 enlisted men to receive the French Cross of War.
A few years ago, my wife, Durussia, was invited to speak about Granddaddy Anderson at several High schools in Fredericksburg, Virginia during Black History Month. She showed students the framed certificate he received, now yellowed with age and held up a copy of the newspaper story, with a photo of him holding the medal. She wanted young people to realize that history is more than dates and battles. It's filled with stories of real people--someone's grandfather or uncle or cousin, who died for the cause of freedom. She hopes young people will realize that they, too, can do honorable things, in their schools and jobs, communities and careers. Just like Granddaddy Anderson.
My mother sent me a copy of the newspaper article about Granddaddy’s valor while I was serving in the United States Air Force in the 1970s. It inspired me to make the military a career, and I retired after nearly 23 years of service. My wife and I are proud to be part of families with a tradition of military service. My father and my wife’s father served in the Army during World War II; my wife, her brother Knoxie, and I served during the Vietnam War, and our son Torey is a veteran who served during Operation Enduring Freedom in the Middle East. We are honored to be part of Granddaddy’s military legacy.
Granddaddy was proud of his medal, but he was not the kind of man to wear it around his neck. He kept it in a shelf in his room, in an old Sucrets tin.