My great-grandfather Herman Cunningham served in the Army during WWI. Thanks to Randy Seaver, I recently learned how to obtain his service records (for free!), but I also learned that there was a fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missiouri in 1973 that destroyed the records of Army personnel discharged from November 1, 1912 to January 1, 1960. According to NARA’s website:
No duplicate copies of the records that were destroyed in the fire were maintained, nor was a microfilm copy ever produced. There were no indexes created prior to the fire. In addition, millions of documents had been lent to the Department of Veterans Affairs before the fire occurred. Therefore, a complete listing of the records that were lost is not available. Nevertheless, NPRC (MPR) uses many alternate sources in its efforts to reconstruct basic service information to respond to requests.
What this means is that I may be able to obtain some information about my great-grandfather’s service, but probably not much. However, considering I was never able to ask my great-grandfather, I know a good deal about his WWI experience — my grandfather has shared it with me.
My Dad was drafted in WWI and was sent to Camp McArthur near Waco, Tex. for training. He was sent to Camp Dix in New Jersey where he was then sent to Newport News, Virginia where he was shipped on a boat to St. Nazairre [St. Nazaire], France.
My grandfather’s cousin Mary Davis sent me this picture of my great-grandfather (on right) with John Roy McCravey of Floydada, Texas (left):
I am not sure who John Roy McCravey is, but I speculate that perhaps they had their photo taken because they were from the same general area of Texas. At the time this photo was taken, Mary Davis noted that Herman Cunningham was from Whitfield, Swisher County, Texas. Floydada, where John Roy McCravey was from, is located in Floyd County. If any of his descendants happen by here, I would love to hear from you.
According to my grandfather,
Dad hadn’t been there [France] long when he contracted meningitis. At that time there was no cure for meningitis. They were sent to a church (French) for care until they died. As you mentioned, only Dad and another soldier (Negro) from Little Rock survived. When Dad left the hospital he was returned to a “replacement depot.” The war was over so it was merely awaiting a ship for home. Well, Dad came down with the mumps. He turned up his coat collar and wouldn’t go to the medics for fear they would put him in the hospital again — The ship took them back to Virginia and then by train — home.
I managed to find a copy of my great-grandfather’s WWI Draft Registration Card on Ancestry.com, but the quality is poor and it is difficult to read:
The Card had the following information:
Name: Herman Cunningham
Address: Clarendon, Texas
Date of Birth: Mch. 16, 1895
Place of Birth: Denton Co., Texas
Employed by: Self
Where employed: Donley Co.
Marital status: Single
No prior military experience
Did not claim exemption from service
No loss of hand, foot, eye, both eyes or other disability
The information presented on this card would seem to indicate that Herman Cunningham was living not in Swisher County, but Donley County at the time of his induction. You can click here to see a map of Texas counties that will show you how close Swisher, Donley, and Floyd Counties are.
My grandfather related a funny story about my great-grandfather’s trip home:
The train had a lay-over in New Orleans so Dad was able to try fried oysters. He had heard his buddies talk about how much they wanted to eat oysters. The waiter asked how many oysters he wanted. Well, Dad didn’t have a clue what an oyster was so he said “a couple dozen.” That was two plates piled high. Poor Dad got very sick after eating them. To his dying day he never ate another oyster.
Years later, my great-uncle Alvin Cunningham (Herman’s son) would enter the Army and fight in WWII. Here is a picture of my great-grandfather Herman Cunningham in his WWI Army uniform, posing with his son Alvin in his WWII Army uniform:
I found Alvin’s WWII Army Enlistment Record at Ancestry.com:
Name: Alvin H. Cunningham
Birth year: 1921
Race: White, citizen
Nativity State or Country: Texas
County or City: Floyd
Enlistment Date: 10 Oct 1940
Enlistment State: Texas
Enlistment City: Fort Bliss El Paso
Branch: No branch assignment
Branch code: No branch assignment
Grade code: Private
Term of enlistment: Enlistment for the duration of the War or other emergency, plus six months, subject to the discretion of the President or otherwise according to law
Component: Selectees (Enlisted Men)
Source: Civil Life
Education: 2 years of high school
Civil occupation: Geographer
Marital status: Married
Clearly the height and weight are mistranscribed or an original error, but I think the rest of it is correct. According to my grandfather:
I just read your comments on the web sites and wish to add to your data. Mostly trivia — Alvin didn’t go to France. He went to the Pacific theatre of operations. He was in the “Americal” division as an assistant machine gunner. When they were in combat on Negros Island a mortar shell landed near their gun emplacement and killed the gunner and an ammo carrier. Alvin being the assistant gunner took over as gunner. He was injured by the blast but could function. He was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart that day. When the war ended he went to the Tokyo area of Japan and served the 1st Cavalry Division in the motor pool as a mechanic. Alvin was a very quiet person and seldom discussed his war experiences.
While Alvin’s war record is somewhat unrelated to the post at hand, I will probably not have occasion to post it elsewhere. My mother told me that Alvin used to come and visit my grandfather (his brother) often. The two of them would sit in silence for most of the visit until Alvin would announce he’d better go. I think it is interesting that they felt so comfortable in their silence. Alvin died very young of a brain aneurysm, so I never had a chance to meet him, but based on my grandfather’s letters, I believe that he looked up to his older brother a great deal and that they were close.
If I am able to learn anything more about my great-grandfather’s service record, I will post it here.
Portions of this post quote a letter from my grandfather:
Cunningham, Udell. Letter to the author. July 2006.