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Session 4: North Carolina Soldiers

During World War II, 361,000 North Carolinians served in the armed forces: 258,000 in the army, 90,000 in the navy, and 13,000 in the marines. They fought on both the European and Asian fronts. The largest number of Tar Heels in a single division fought with the Thirtieth Division, known as Old Hickory, in almost every major engagement on the western front. By the war’s end, North Carolina had lost more than seven thousands citizens in action. This session highlights a few of the state’s soldiers.



Edward F. Rector, Flying Tigers Ace

Edward F. Rector was born in Marshall, Madison County, on September 28, 1916, and attended Catawba College in Rowan County. He joined the navy in 1939 and received training as a carrier pilot. Rector was an early recruit to the American Volunteer Group (AVG), nicknamed the Flying Tigers. That group was organized to protect Chinese cities and the valuable supply route known as the Burma Road from Japanese attack. On December 20, 1941, Rector downed a Japanese bomber near Kunming, China, during the AVG’s first combat mission. When the Flying Tigers disbanded on July 4, 1942, Rector joined the Twenty-third Fighter Group. By the war’s end, he had risen to colonel and had been credited with destroying 10.5 Japanese planes. Rector remained in the military after the war, retiring from the air force in June 1962. He died on April 26, 2001, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. 
For more on Rector, go to

Westray Battle Boyce, WAC Director

Westray Battle Boyce, a Rocky Mount native and a working mother, enlisted in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in 1942. WAAC trained its members to perform noncombat tasks, freeing up male soldiers to enter combat. With her intelligence and skills, Boyce quickly moved up the ranks and earned recognition and respect from her male superiors. In 1943 she was transferred to North Africa, promoted to lieutenant colonel, and attached to the staff of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. During her assignment the WAAC became the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) and gained for its members full military status and benefits. Boyce returned to the United States in August 1944, soon after receiving the Legion of Merit award for her “stirring leadership” and “outstanding service” overseas. In July 1945 she became director of the WAC, with the rank of colonel. When poor health forced her to resign in May 1947, General Eisenhower wrote her a letter complimenting her work as a member of his headquarters staff in Africa and Italy. Boyce, always a champion of women in the military, died on January 31, 1972. 

George Henry Mills, Navy Commander

George Henry Mills (1895–1975) was born in Rutherfordton, Rutherford County. After graduating from the United States Naval Academy in 1918, Mills became a career navy officer and an early advocate of lighter-than-air (LTA) craft. During World War II, he commanded several airship patrol units, popularly known as blimp patrols. In July 1943 he assumed command of Fleet Airships Atlantic, heading up the navy’s LTA forces in the Atlantic theater. He was promoted to commodore later that year. Mills retired from the navy in 1949 and returned to North Carolina. He served in the state legislature from 1950 to 1952. 
Visit for more on Mills.

The Navy B-1 Band

In early 1942 the United States Navy established the B-1 Band, an all–African American unit. Until that time blacks in the navy had been limited to galley work. The band was formed to build the morale of white sailors and civilians. It comprised the best African American musicians in North Carolina. The forty-four men, many from North Carolina A&T College (now North Carolina A&T State University) in Greensboro, went through standard naval training in Virginia and then were stationed in Chapel Hill. There they faced discrimination by white soldiers and civilians alike, but their musicianship and military decorum eventually gained them acceptance. The band presented concerts on military bases and at community and naval events, ship launchings, war bond drives, and dances across the state. In May 1944 it was assigned to sea duty in Hawaii, where it continued to entertain civilians and naval personnel until the war ended. The members of the B-1 Band were the first African Americans in the navy to be recognized for their talent. Their achievements helped the African American sailors who followed them break out of stereotypical jobs. 

The full Navy B-1 Band with their dates and wives enjoy a dinner party in their barracks in Chapel Hill in 1943. Photo courtesy Judge James B. Parsons.

Thomas Ferebee, Enola Gay Bombardier

Thomas Ferebee was born in 1918 and raised on a farm near Mocksville, Davie County. Ferebee attended Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk. He joined the Army Air Forces and, after two years in flying school, was assigned as a bombardier in England. He flew in the first American bombing mission over Europe, successfully attacked German-held oil fields in Romania, and led the first bombing runs over North Africa. Because of Ferebee’s skill and accuracy, pilot Colonel Paul Tibbetts chose him as bombardier on the Enola Gay, which released the world’s first atomic bomb over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. After World War II, Ferebee was promoted to colonel. He served as deputy wing commander for maintenance and was triple rated as a bombardier, navigator, and radar operator. During the Vietnam War, he served on B-52s. He retired from the military in 1970 and worked in real estate in Orlando, Florida. He and his wife had four sons. Ferebee died on March 16, 2000.

Marion Lawton Hargrove Jr., Best-Selling Author

Marion Lawton Hargrove Jr., a native of Mount Olive, became a journalist with the Charlotte News after graduating from Central High School in Charlotte in 1938. Like thousands of other American boys, Hargrove received his draft notice in the months before Pearl Harbor as the United States prepared for war. While stationed at Fort Bragg, he started sending the Charlotte News short, humorous articles on his transition from civilian to bungling soldier. In 1942 these pieces were published as a book titled See Here, Private Hargrove. The book became an immediate bestseller as millions of newly inducted servicemen identified with the boot camp private’s entertaining stories. See Here, Private Hargrove rose to the top spot on the nonfiction list that first year. A successful movie based on the book was released in 1944, with a sequel appearing the following year. Hargrove later wrote for the army newspaper Yank. He remained in the military until the war’s end in 1945 and then moved to California, where he became a successful scriptwriter for the movies and later for television. Despite his success as a Hollywood writer, Marion Lawton Hargrove Jr. is best remembered as the awkward recruit in See Here, Private Hargrove
Visit to find out more about Hargrove.

Corporal Marion Lawton Hargrove Jr. signs a copy of his book See Here, Private Hargrove for North Carolina governor J. Melville Broughton, ca. 1942.

Medal of Honor Winners

Eight North Carolinians received the Medal of Honor during World War II.

Raymond H. Wilkins. Wilkins, a major in the Army Air Corps and a resident of Columbia, Tyrrell County, received the Medal of Honor posthumously for heroic action on November 2, 1943. During a bombing raid on Japanese ships near Rabaul, New Britain, Wilkins risked his life to bomb (successfully) two ships and later sacrificed his life by crashing his plane to avoid hitting his squadron’s aircraft.

Ray E. Eubanks. This native of Snow Hill, Greene County, and resident of LaGrange, Lenoir County was an army sergeant. On July 23, 1944, on Noemfoor Island, Dutch New Guinea, he led his men in a charge even though he was seriously injured,. Eubanks died in hand-to-hand combat, but his men successfully completed the attack.  

Max Thompson. On October 18, 1944, near Haaren, Germany, army sergeant Max Thompson from Bethel, Haywood County, single-handedly fought off the advancing enemy while the injured men in his company were moved to cover. Shortly afterwards, the injured Thompson again risked his life by advancing alone on the enemy.  

Charles P. Murray Jr. Fearing that German forces would overwhelm his small patrol, army first lieutenant Murray, from Wilmington, New Hanover County, fended off the attack near Kaysersberg, France, on December 16, 1944. After causing enough casualties and confusion to move in his men, he continued to fight despite severe injuries. 

Henry F. Warner. On December 20–21, 1944, army corporal and antitank gunner Warner fought courageously in a tank battle near Dom Bugenbach, Belgium, even after being injured. Warner, a native of Troy, Montgomery County, died in the battle and was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously. 

Rufus G. Herring. A native of Roseboro, Sampson County, Herring was a lieutenant in the Naval Reserve. While his ship was under heavy enemy fire during the pre-invasion attack on Iwo Jima on February 17, 1945, Herring, who had been critically injured, took the helm of the damaged vessel and led it to safety. 

Jacklyn Harold Lucas. At the battle of Iwo Jima on February 20, 1945, Lucas, a private first class in the Marine Corps Reserve, threw himself on two grenades to save the lives of three fellow soldiers. The native of Plymouth, Washington County, survived the blasts, and the men he saved continued their advance. 

William David Halyburton Jr. A native of Canton, Haywood County, Halyburton served as a pharmacist’s mate second class in the Naval Reserve. On May 10, 1945, during the Battle of Okinawa, he moved against heavy enemy fire to reach a wounded marine, giving him first aid and shielding him from additional gunfire. Halyburton tended the soldier until he himself sustained fatal wounds.

George E. Preddy Jr., Ace Pilot

George Preddy and his plane, Cripes A’Mighty 3rd. Photo courtesy Greensboro Historical Museum

George Preddy was born in Greensboro in 1919. He graduated from high school at the age of sixteen and attended Guilford College for two years. After developing a yearning to fly, Preddy spent two years barnstorming the state. He enlisted in the National Guard in 1940 and later received a pilot’s license and a commission as a second lieutenant in the Army Air Corps. After being stationed in Australia and the United States, he was promoted to captain and sent to England. Preddy flew his first mission against the Luftwaffe in September 1943. During the next seventeen months, he achieved twenty-seven aerial and five ground victories, making him the highest-ranking ace in the European theater of operations at the time. On August 5, 1944, Preddy shot down six enemy planes in one day, for which he received the Distinguished Service Cross. Later that year he became the commanding officer of his squadron. On Christmas Day 1944, Preddy’s plane was shot down by friendly fire, and he sustained fatal wounds. In total, he flew 143 missions, logged more than 532 combat hours, and had 26.83 aerial victories and 5.0 ground victories. His brother, William R. Preddy, was also a fighter pilot. He was killed in combat on April 17, 1945. 
See for more on Preddy.

Thomas Oxendine, Naval Aviator

Thomas Oxendine, a Lumbee from Pembroke, Robeson County, was born in 1922. In November 1942 he became the first American Indian commissioned as a naval aviator. After completing flight training at the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Florida, Oxendine was assigned as a scout observation pilot aboard the USS Mobile. On July 26, 1944, he landed his seaplane in the midst of Japanese gunfire, in adverse weather, to rescue a downed fellow airman. For this he received the Distinguished Flying Cross. During his navy career, he test-piloted carrier-type aircraft and was combat flight instructor for the supersonic F8U Crusader. He also served in Korea and Vietnam and was director of plans for the navy’s Office of Information in the Pentagon. After retiring in 1970, he became chief of public information at the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs. Oxendine resides in Arlington, Virginia.

William C. Lee, “Father of the Airborne”

William C. Lee was born in 1895 in Dunn, Harnett County. He attended Wake Forest College (now Wake Forest University) and North Carolina State College of Agriculture and Engineering (now North Carolina State University). Lee enlisted in the army and saw combat duty in France in World War I, earning the rank of captain. He remained in the army after the war. As he moved up the ranks, he advocated the establishment of an airborne combat force. In June 1940 Lee organized a test platoon of paratroopers to explore the feasibility of developing an army airborne force. Following its success he was charged with commanding the Provisional Parachute Group. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Lee lobbied for a larger command to train airborne forces, and a new unit was established at Fort Bragg with newly promoted Brigadier General William C. Lee as its commander. In August 1942 the army activated its first two airborne divisions, the 82nd and 101st, for service in Europe. Lee was promoted to major general and placed in command of the 101st. Although a heart attack forced him to leave active duty before D-Day, the men of the 101st jumped over Normandy on June 6, 1944, with the battle cry “Bill Lee!” He returned with his wife to civilian life in Dunn, where he died in June 1948. 

Robert Morgan, Memphis Belle Pilot

Born in 1918 and raised in Asheville, Robert Morgan attended college in Pennsylvania. He joined the Army Air Corps in 1940. Five days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he completed his training and became a second lieutenant. Morgan flew the B-17 Memphis Belle to England in October 1942. Seven months later that plane became the first heavy bomber to complete twenty-five missions over Europe. It accomplished this feat without losing a single crew member (losses among bomber formations flying into Europe reached 80 percent). After returning to the United States, the crew of the Memphis Belle toured the country to promote war bonds. Morgan then served in the Pacific theater, flying a new B-29 he named Dauntless Dotty and commanding a squadron. After completing another successful twenty-five missions, he retired from the military in April 1945. He served in the Air Force Reserve until retiring as a full colonel in 1965. Since then he has worked in real estate in Asheville. 
For more on the Memphis Belle, go to memphis_belle.html.

Evelyn B. Whitlow, Nurse and POW

The Whitlow family of Leasburg in Caswell County saw six (four sons and two daughters) of their twelve children in military service during World War II. Evelyn B. Whitlow was the first of the family to join the military. In May 1940 she joined the Army Nurse Corps (ANC) as a second lieutenant. Whitlow was serving as a nurse in the Philippines when Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941. She was among the eighty-one army and navy nurses captured following the fall of the Philippines on May 7, 1942. Known as the Angels of Bataan and Corregidor, these nurses were the first group of American women taken as prisoners of war. For three years she remained in Santo Thomas, a Japanese internment camp outside Manila, until being liberated on February 3, 1945. After the war she left the ANC, married a fellow POW from Santo Thomas, and moved to California. Whitlow died at the age of 78 in 1994.





Tuskegee Airmen

The Ninety-ninth Pursuit Squadron of the United States Army Air Corps, better known as the Tuskegee Airmen, was the first African American military flying unit. Formed during World War II, the squadron was based at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Of the approximately 1,000 men who completed flight training at the segregated Tuskegee Army Air Field, 445 served as combat pilots. In 1944 the Tuskegee Airmen joined with three other all-black fighter squadrons to form the 332d Fighter Group. As the war progressed, the group completed more than fifteen thousand sorties, destroyed more than 250 enemy aircraft, sank one enemy destroyer, and demolished numerous enemy installations in the European theater. Sixty-six aviators were killed in action, but none of the bombers escorted by the group was lost to enemy planes. Toward the end of the war, the Tuskegee program expanded to train pilots and crew to fly bombers, but the hostilities ended before they could be deployed. The achievements of the Tuskegee Airmen led to the full integration of the military in 1948. For additional information, check out

Terry Sanford, Paratrooper, Governor, and United States Senator

Terry Sanford was born in 1917 in Laurinburg, Scotland County. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1939, worked briefly as an FBI agent, then joined the army and became a paratrooper. During World War II, Sanford served in five major campaigns in Europe. He was wounded during the Battle of the Bulge and rose from private to first lieutenant. His exemplary military service won him several commendations. After the war Sanford earned his law degree from UNC and worked as a lawyer. He began his political career as a state senator and a campaign manager. He was elected governor in 1960 and served one term. He later served as president of Duke University, made several bids for the United States presidency, and from 1986 to 1992 served as a United States senator. He died in 1998. 
See for more information on Sanford.

Mary Blout Thorp

After viewing this workshop, the daughter of Mary Blout Thorp contacted the NC Museum of History to share her mother's story. "I wanted to share this picture of my mother, Mary Blount Thorp of Hamlet, NC.  The picture was taken in 1945 during basic training at Ft. Des Moines, IA - also pictured is Mary's friend Millie Tanaka, of California.
In 1944 Mary had just received a teaching certificate from UNC-CH, but decided to join the newly formed Women's Army Corps.  Life in North Carolina had gotten very dull, with all the young men leaving for the service.  Wartime concerns in North Carolina affected many of the 'normal' things that young people do.  Mary was presented at the Terpsichorean Debutante Ball in 1942 (I think that is the right year) - which was the last year the ball was held before the war. 
She served stateside until right after the August, 1945 armistice, and then she was sent to Bremerhaven, Germany where she worked with a detachment dedicated to reuniting European war brides left behind in the chaos when their servicemen husbands were sent back to the States.
Mary died in 2007, but before she died she regaled us with stories of her time in Europe.  She came home with a husband of her own, Lt. Edward H. Cope, whom she married in Vienna, Austria, in June 1947."

Assignment 4

Complete one of the following assignments:

Option 1
Go to Find the number of World War II army and army air corps casualties for your county and the names of several soldiers who died (and, if you like, using a different source, the names of several survivors). Do you find it valuable to present local history in this manner? Why or why not? If so, how might you use—or have you ever used—this type of information?

Option 2
Research the life of a World War II soldier from your area or elsewhere in North Carolina. Write a short biography, including personal and military information. Briefly discuss how you might use this biography in your classroom and how your students could benefit from doing similar research themselves.

Submit your completed assignment via e-mail to

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