In honor of Memorial Day and the 100th anniversary of the US involvement in World War I, I am writing about my great uncle, Percy Walter Phillips who fought in World War I, in what was called, “the War to end all wars.” Although his headstone lists him as having served from North Carolina, in fact, he served not with a North Carolina unit, the state of his birth, but with a unit from New Jersey where he was then living.
Percy Walter Phillips was my mother’s favorite uncle, my grand uncle. He was born 4 Nov 1895, in Asheboro, Randolph County, North Carolina, the son of Samuel D. Phillips and Mary Louise Smitherman, and he was a Miles Lassiter descendant. Percy registered for the draft on 5 June 1917 in Elizabeth, Union, New Jersey, where he lived with his wife, Florence (Bright), and daughter, Mary Louise, employed by Singer Manufacturing. He enlisted on 28 January 1918.
Percy served with the Battery F, 92nd Division. The 92nd became known as the Buffalo Soldiers, fighting in France. The 92nd was part of the “Negro Combat Division.” The 350th Field Artillery along with the 317th Trench Mortar Battery, were headquartered at Fort Dix in Wrightstown, New Jersey. The Field Artillery units left in June 1918. The passenger list for the USS President Grant showed that he sailed for France from Hoboken, New Jersey on 30 June 1918. He listed his mother, “Mrs. Louisa Floyd” (Mary Louisa Smitherman Phillips Floyd), living in Greensboro, North Carolina, as his emergency contact.
Upon arrival in France the 92nd began another training period. Their training in earnest began in July in Montmorrillon, in the Department of Vienne. In August, the 92nd would end its training and move to the town of St. Die not far from the Rhine and close to the foothills of the Alps. St. Die’s originated with the explorer, Americus Vespucci who had been a monk there and for whom the term “America” had been coined referring to the western continents. St. Die was across from Alsace, then in German possession.
From August to September 1918, the 92nd attacked German front lines, while coming under attack themselves, with one of the worst attacks being on 31 August from German artillery, including mustard gas and “flame projectors.” The Germans were eventually pushed back, leaving the 92nd primarily monitoring and repairing trenches. Nevertheless, there would be other attacks including aerial attacks. Percy would suffer from the effects of these battles the rest of his life, suffering from “shell shock,” according to my mother, Margaret Lee Williams, his niece. Today “shell shock” is recognized as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Percy would die from lung cancer in 1949 in the VA Hospital in Columbia, South Carolina. Lung cancer was an associated health risk of exposure to mustard gas.
Percy returned home to New Jersey, arriving on the USS Maui. He was honorably discharged on 19 March 1919. Things would change from before the war. By 1920, his wife and daughter had returned to Greensboro, Guilford County, North Carolina to live with her family. Percy was living in Elizabeth, New Jersey with a woman named “Mary,” said to be his wife, although I have never found any official document for that relationship. Eventually, he moved with his mother, “Louisa,” in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He would live with her until she died in 1936.
In the summer of 1920, Percy’s grandmother, Ellen Dunson Smitherman Mayo, Louisa’s mother, had a stroke. Percy accompanied Louisa and his nieces, Margaret and Verna, daughters of his deceased sister, Elinora, to Asheboro, North Carolina, to help care for Ellen. Ellen died in August, but the family decided to stay in Asheboro. Percy and his first wife, Florence had a brief reconciliation resulting in the birth of their son, James Edward Phillips, in 1921. However, by 1925, Louisa, the girls, Margaret and Verna, and Percy returned to Elizabeth, New Jersey, while Florence and her children, Mary Louise “Louise” and James Edward, moved to Stanly County, south of Asheboro.
In 1926, Percy was living with his mother in New Jersey, but he also married Pearl Timberlake in New York. However, the relationship had to be brief since his niece, my mother, Margaret never mentioned her, even though Percy continued to live in the same house with her and his mother. In 1936, his mother, Louisa, died. About this time he returned to Greensboro, North Carolina, eventually marrying Agnes Kepler Hunter, a widow who also had family roots in Asheboro.
By 1949, Percy’s exposure to Mustard Gas had caught up with him. He had lung cancer. Percy entered the VA hospital in Columbia, South Carolina. Percy died there on 7 December 1949. According to the request for a headstone from the VA made by his widow, Agnes, he was being buried in Asheboro City Cemetery. However, he was actually interred in the Oddfellow-McAllister Cemetery, in Asheboro (Barnes, 2014).
 U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 [Database on-line]. Percy Walter Phillips. Registration State: New Jersey; Registration County: Union; Roll: 1712099; Draft Board: 3. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA). (2013, October 22). Exposure to Mustard Gas or Lewisite. US Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved (April 12, 2017) from: US Department of Veterans Affairs
 1920 US Federal Census, Greensboro Ward 6, Guilford, North Carolina. Robert Bright, head; Florence Phillips, granddaughter. NARA Roll: T625-1302; Page: 3A; Enumeration District: 141; Image: 930. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 1930 US Federal Census, Elizabeth, Union, New Jersey. Louise Ingram, head; Persie Ingram, son. NARA Roll: 1387; Page: 6B; Enumeration District: 0073; Image: 289.0; FHL microfilm: 2341122. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
And U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 [Database on-line]. Percival [sic] Phillips, 1925, 1079 William St., Elizabeth, NJ. p. 415. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 1930 US Federal Census, Harris, Stanly County, North Carolina. Florence Phillips, head; Louise Phillips, daughter; James Phillips, son. NARA Roll: 1721; Page: 10A; Enumeration District: 0014; Image: 683.0; FHL microfilm: 2341455. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 Personal Contact, Margaret Lee Williams to the author.