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Veteran finds lone WWI grave in Sampson County

Posted May 31, 2012

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— In an empty field beside a desolate two-lane road in the middle of Sampson County, a former Marine has erected two flags to honor a man he doesn't know – a fellow serviceman who died nearly a century ago.

Norman Coe's job brought him to that field six years ago. He was looking for witch weed, an invasive plant he eradicates on behalf of local farmers. 

What he found instead, on a sandy lump of earth, was a headstone. It reads: "Walter Johnson, born Oct. 3, 1901. Died in the service of his country in France. June 14, 1918."

"It gets you choked up when you know he gave his life for his country, and never reached his 18th birthday," Coe said.

Coe and another veteran held a simple ceremony for Johnson.

WWI grave found in empty Sampson County farm field WWI grave found in empty Sampson County farm field

"We just put up two flags, stood back and saluted him as a soldier. We don't know what branch. We assume Army," he said.

There's so little Coe knows about Johnson, but he wonders: Was this once a family cemetery? Are there other graves nearby? Does Johnson's family even know he's there? Does anyone?

Coe wants Johnson to be buried alongside his fellow patriots, a resting place more fitting for a World War I soldier. 

In the meantime, he'll fix the flags when the wind blows through the farm fields, tossing them from Johnson's grave, and honor the young man who gave his life for his country, so far away from home.

29 Comments

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  • redwarrior Jun 4, 2012

    warbirdlover, I don't even know if it's possible but I suggest deleting your posts if you want that area to remain as is... While I have no idea how big, or rural Anson County is (nor do I even know WHERE it is..)I would imagine that enthusiasts could possibly and I reiterate, POSSIBLY, locate the site just based off of what you gave. I doubt I could.... but someone could and I hate to think that they were disturbed. Just my opinion...

    I also question whether this young man's remains are even buried here. Weren't most service member killed in France buried in France? (admittedly, I don't know my history very well..)

  • warbirdlover Jun 1, 2012

    If the Forrest is ever to be cut, I will show the proper authorities where the graves are located. I left them in that peacefull Forrest where they have been for the last 148 years. I think it was a wonderful place to be payed to rest. The land has been left to a trust to be left as a wildlife habitat. Also I don't think hunters will find them because no hunting is allowed

  • warbirdlover Jun 1, 2012

    When I used to cruise timber for a large forestry company, I walked up on a small group of Civil War graves about 5 miles off the beaten path way back in an old growth pine forest in Anson county. There where 7 graves that still had weather beaten markers. Several more that the markers were eroded to nothing. All the graves were from 1863 -1864. I have never toldnanyone the exact location for fear of grave robbers looking for Civil War Trinkets. If the wood isnever

  • ytb781pearl Jun 1, 2012

    This both warms my heart and gives me chills. Thank you, Mr. Coe, for taking care of Walter Johnson.

  • lawh Jun 1, 2012

    It is an honor to see so many people trying to reconcile and honor the history of Walter Johnson and his ultimate contribution to his country. Thanks to Norman Coe and the other veteran who have labored to recognize Walter Johnson. I do hope that more clarity can ultimately be provided so that we can properly recognize and acknowledge this young man.

  • elmoncanders Jun 1, 2012

    using familysearch.org found a walter jonson born 1900 to ollin and mattie l. johnson in mc daniels near roeboro, he is in 1910 census but not after that,he had sisters marjak(margie) and flora(eloise) 1920 shows all four and jessie age 5, with flora blackman, kattie blackman, and mattie p balackman living together, you can continue to follow tis family and mayb find who is still living, his father was 55 in 1920 and nother 45.

  • CallmeT Jun 1, 2012

    Walter Johnson is listed as a Private in the US Army in The Sampson Weekly June 2011. http://www.thesampsonweekly.com/uploads/SW23web_1_.pdf

  • saltyplace Jun 1, 2012

    Because I am an Army Vet myself during the Gulf war, I could not let this go. I did some research from the April 29, 1910 census. If my research is correct, Walter Johnson was a black male (during April 29, 1910 he was 10). His father (Ollin Johnson 45) mother (Matti Johnson 37) sister (Marjah Johson 8) and other sister Flora Johnson 2 1/2 )rented a house on the land he was buried on. His father was a confederate soldier. The cenus is from the McDaniels Township of Sampson County. And you are correct "callmeT" the fire in Missouri where all Military records are kept did destroy alot of valuable records. I will try and find out more. But find this information about him was difficult (if I am right in what I found). Never the less, I could not lay my head down at night knowing he was out there alone and was shown no respect. Just with the time frame and location, my gut tells me he was Army and thats not just my Army coming out in me. I just wish I knew his rank! Please keep the flags ne

  • The Deadhead Jun 1, 2012

    The odd thing is this veteran's age: 17 (if true). 17-year olds were not drafted in WW1 or required to register. In 1917 and early 1918, the "selective service" age was 21 -31. Late summer 1918 it was changed to 18-45. I would guess he volunteered and said he was 18, like a lot of boys did. My granduncle volunteered or was drafted on January 10, 1918 at age 18 1/2. Records don't show he went overseas; he was primarily in the Coastal Artillery Corps (CAC) at Fort Screven, GA.

  • CallmeT Jun 1, 2012

    It may be difficult to find Mr. Johnson's military record. In 1973, a disastrous fire at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St Louis destroyed approximately 16-18 million Official Military Personnel Files. Army records Lost were Personnel discharged November 1, 1912 to January 1, 1960 - 80% Loss. (Deaths are a discharge). Maybe the Sampson County Courthouse or NC State Archives have some records.

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