Local News

Veteran finds lone WWI grave in Sampson County

Posted May 31, 2012 5:47 p.m. EDT
Updated May 31, 2012 6:19 p.m. EDT

— 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.

"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.