Spartanburg Researcher Works on Soldiers' Stories

July 18, 2011 at 9:27 am

By Lee G. Healy, Spartanburg Herald Journal
lee.healy@shj.com
Published: Sunday, July 17, 2011 at 3:15 a.m.
Photo by Gerry Pate
gerry.pate@shj.com

Frieda Davison, dean of the library at USC Upstate in Spartanburg, S.C., has been working on a book telling the stories behind each name on the Duncan Park Veterans Memorial. Davis is asking for the community’s help in completing the project.

The attack on Pearl Harbor claimed the lives of three Spartanburg County soldiers, and one local serviceman disappeared with more than 300 others as his ship sailed into the Bermuda Triangle.

These are the stories Frieda Davison longed to hear after sitting through a powerful Memorial Day service in Spartanburg’s Duncan Park nearly three years ago. All 639 names on the war memorial at Veteran’s Pointe Memorial Park were called out, but Davison, dean of the library at the University of South Carolina Upstate, found that, sadly, the stories behind many of the names seemed to be lost in history.

In the fall of 2008, Davison committed to research each and every fallen soldier named on the memorial and put her findings in a book. Its working title is “More Than a Name.” To date, she’s done preliminary research on every soldier and is now asking for the public’s help filling in the final gaps.

“That’s my quest,” Davison said. “To get their stories documented so there aren’t any other people who sit at a memorial service and wonder ‘Who are these people. What did they do?’”

Davison’s research was delayed for a year after the sudden death of her husband and research partner David in November 2009. The couple traveled the state and nation together, researching material for the book. They visited the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Mo., where photos and even a soldier’s dog tag were discovered tucked between filed pages.

“It just sent cold chills over both of us to think we were handling the dog tag of a young man who sacrificed his life for us,” Davison said.

The memorial itself contains the names of every Spartanburg County soldier who died during service to his country from World War I to the present. Naturally, Davison said, the earlier records are harder to come by, and World War I soldiers often had no family to pass on their story. They were young (some lied about their age to enlist), and the majority weren’t yet married.

William Sothern of Spartanburg was among the World War 1 soldiers who lied about his age and enlisted in the Navy. According to historic documents, Sothern died as he was being transferred from the USS Glacier in the Pacific to a receiving ship in Norfolk. On the way, the USS Cyclops entered the Bermuda Triangle on March 4, 1917. The ship, and all 364 passengers and crew members, disappeared.

Henry Elias was a World War II fighter pilot in the Army Air Corps. His quick wit and bravery in flight earned him several pages in Robert L. Scott, Jr.’s book, “God is My Co-Pilot,” published in 1943. Elias and Scott were in the same squadron.

Davison said many stories she’s uncovered are fascinating tales that may otherwise have been lost. She fears there are still others that may never be told, like the half-dozen African American soldiers who served during World War I, but weren’t documented. Many other records were lost when Army files at the St. Louis center were burned in a fire in 1973.

Ultimately, Davison hopes to document the units, burial places and cause of death for every soldier on the memorial. She is also looking for names of soldiers’ families, and would like to publish a photo of each man in his uniform, along with a photo of his grave.

“There are times when I can’t work on this for long because it just gets really emotional,” Davison said. “They are so much more than just a name on a wall.”

Anyone with information pertaining to a Spartanburg soldier who died during service can contact Davison at dddfmd@msn.com or at 864-591-2066. More information is also available on Davison’s research blog, duncanparkmemorials.blogspot.com.