Why do people wear poppies to remember WWI on Veterans Day?
The day an armistice was signed ending World War I on Nov. 11, 1918 — 100 years ago — was also the day Raleigh soldier Charles T. Norwood was wounded. He later died, becoming the first African-American soldier from Raleigh who died in World War I.
American Legion Post 157 in Raleigh is named for Norwood. Members of the post marched in the North Carolina Veterans Day Parade in downtown Raleigh on Saturday.
According to the American Legion, Norwood was an Army private who served with Company H, 365 Infantry, 92nd Infantry Division. At the time he lived with his mother, Emmeline Norwood, on East Lane Street, according to a newspaper clipping.
During World War I, African-American soldiers in the U.S. Army were segregated from white soldiers and assigned to units led by white officers, according to a war exhibit now on display at the N.C. Museum of History in downtown Raleigh.
Two African-American combat divisions served in France: The 92nd Division, where Norwood was assigned, served in the American Expeditionary Force and fought in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, according to the museum. The other division was the 93rd Division, which served with the French army.
Charles T. Norwood, 23, was wounded in France on Nov. 11, 1918, and died from his wounds and pneumonia on Jan. 17, 1919. The American Legion post in Raleigh was named for him when it was chartered in 1924. Norwood was buried in the Raleigh National Cemetery in 1921.
“It’s just a great blessing to be here today to honor (Norwood),” said American Legion member Willie Pulley, who marched in the Veterans Day parade. Pulley, the post chaplain, is an Army veteran.
Post member James Whitaker, also retired from the Army like Pulley, said that it means a lot to be in the American Legion post named for Norwood. Whitaker said the post, which meets at Martin Street Baptist Church, works to help families in the community at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
In a ceremony on the N.C. Capitol grounds after the parade, U.S. Army Col. (ret.) Martin Falls noted that it was “on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the guns of World War I fell silent across Europe, and America’s doughboys started coming home.”
The parade Saturday morning including high school marching bands, high school JROTC groups, the Triangle chapter of Veterans for Peace, Scouts groups and veterans groups.
Loss and legacy of World War I
Interest in the N.C. Museum of History’s World War I exhibit has been large enough for the museum to extend it until Memorial Day. Half a million people have seen the exhibit since it opened a year and a half ago. The museum previously planned to close this exhibit in January. The exhibit’s displays meander through a re-creation of trench warfare. More than 86,000 North Carolinians served in World War I. Of those, 61,000 were drafted.
Also on Saturday, the museum held a discussion about the political fallout of the war. After Armistice Day, country borders were redrawn and some new nations were created.
Sarah Shields, a history professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, said that the war is a dividing line in history of the modern Middle East, after the Allies took apart the Ottoman Empire.
Carolyn Happer, professor emerita of Meredith College, said the loss of life was like nothing else. Scholars generally agree that 10 million people in the military died during the war, she said. Millions of civilians also died from the war and a flu epidemic at that time.
“The best way to look at loss is as percentage of population,” Happer said. In France, it was 4.5 percent of the population, and in Germany, 4 percent.
“France, I don’t think, ever fully recovered from World War I,” she said, and fell quickly to Nazi Germany in World War II.
Durham bells to ring
In Durham, city and county leaders issued proclamations for “Bells Across Durham.” Churches and other places with bells are asked to ring them at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 11 to mark the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day.