George Malcolm Sansbury was 15 years old when he enlisted in the United States Army.
The Daleville teen lied about his age to enlist in the military one month before the United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917.
The son of Lena Jeannette Palmer and Ammie Malcolm Sansbury was killed while fighting with the 9th Infantry on July 18, 1918 near Soissons in France. He is buried next to his father in the Daleville City Cemetery.
Sansbury is one of five World War I Gold Star Medal awardees from Daleville listed in the historical research project that took two Dale County women two years to compile.
Marlin R. Arnett, Hubert Caldon Dixon, Travis Burl Patterson and Oliver O. Skipper, all from Daleville, are among the 56 World War I soldiers from Dale County that gave their lives in service of their country that are memorialized in the published research of Berta Blackwell, Donna Snell and Kay Kingsley.
The project began after Blackwell and Snell traveled to Auburn University’s Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts and Humanities as representatives of the Ozark-Dale County Public Library to participate at the three-day World War One Centennial Workshop.
The ultimate goal of the program was for attendees to go back to their counties and initiate programs to commemorate the 100th anniversary on April 7, 2017 of the entry of the United States into World War I.
Blackwell and Snell teamed with ODCPL Director Sandra Holmes to create an exhibit entitled “Honor and Remember Our Dale County Soldiers” at the library. The opening reception was held at the library in May 2017 and included exhibits featuring Dale County’s contribution to the war effort designed to complement the statewide traveling exhibition, prepared by Auburn University, featuring Alabama in World War I.
It was after that exhibit that the women began a journey into the past that took two years to complete. It started as the two began compiling short biographies of each of the 30 World War I Gold Star soldiers from Dale County that had been identified. It grew into a true romance, both women will say. “We are madly in love with our soldiers,” Blackwell said. “It has been just like putting a puzzle together. We are obsessed.”
“It’s addictive,” Snell agreed. “Don’t ever start a project like this until you are retired.”
Blackwell and Snell, who have “known each other for years,” were asked by Holmes to represent Dale County at the Auburn seminar held as preparation for Alabama’s part in the national centennial celebration of the war called The Great War.
America was in the war only 19 months but 116,516 United States soldiers died from combat and disease. Another 200,000 were wounded.
Preserving memories of the service rendered by the first generation of Americans to fight a worldwide war before they are lost forever is part of what drove Blackwell and Snell. “We created a spreadsheet with about 829 names of Dale County soldiers who served in World War I,’ Blackwell said.
Learning the names of 56 Dale County Gold Star awardees, the women created biographical sketches containing each solder’s family history and military information such as induction date, unit designation, training camp attended, overseas locations, military engagements, awards and the date, cause and location of death.
Most of the soldiers from Dale County who served in World War I were from Alabama National Guard Units, some of whom had just returned from federal service as part of a military effort in Mexico against Francisco “Pancho” Villa’s rebellion that ended in April 1917.
“The Guard units served at the Mexican border for about a year then they sent them home but they never got deactivated,” Snell explained. “They had little projects to do such as guarding bridges and overpasses.
“Then Company G, 4th Alabama National Guard marched to Montgomery and got on the train and went to New York to train at Camp Mills.
“At that point they became Company G of the 167th which was the 42nd Rainbow Division,” Snell explained. “They gathered in Dothan and they walked from Dothan through Ozark and Troy to Montgomery.
“And on that march they had the best time,” Blackwell added. “They were met everywhere with a big spread of food.”
“And in New York they gained a real reputation,” Snell said with a smile. “All our guys had grown up with a gun in their hands.”
“The toughness of these hillbilly solders really paid off when they went to war,” Blackwell agreed, adding that the soldiers went on to Canada where they boarded ships for France.”
Blackwell said that Dale County Coroner Woody Hilboldt’s grandfather, Maj. John Carroll, was the commander of the local National Gguard unit. “He and my great uncle (Peyton Van Dorn Deese) were injured on the very same day,” Blackwell said. “They ended up being in the hospital at the same time in bed, side by side.
“My great uncle lived six weeks and died,” Blackwell said. “John Carroll came home and married but he suffered terribly because of the gas (used as a weapon by the German forces during the war).”
As the fallen soldiers came to life through the research, Blackwell said that her sister, Kay Kingsley, volunteered to get involved in the project. “She said that we needed to footnote the references,” Blackwell said. “Not only did Kay add the footnotes, she also formatted the book and provided expanded information about the battles.”
As the biographies were compiled the women were advised by Dr. Mark Wilson, the director of the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts and Humanities, that the appearance of the collected information was paramount. It was then that formatting and binding the information became a priority, Blackwell said.
Blackwell said she contacted renowned Dale County artist and author Helen Taylor Andrews about creating a cover for the publication. “I was standing at the stove stirring a pot and I realized we were ready to go to the printer and we needed a cover,” Blackwell said. “We realized that most of these soldiers didn’t live in fancy homes. A lot of them lived out in the country in old wooden houses and we wanted something to depict the type of home they might have lived in.
“Helen’s paintings of old dusty country roads, dilapidated barns and old-timey water cans evoke memories of long ago,” Blackwell said. “Because of her love of history and genealogy, Helen transforms people and places of the past into heartfelt stories and pictures.”
Andrews was “humbled and honored” to participate in the project, she said. It was a very personal project because her great-uncle is Private Malcolm Cook from Skipperville, one of the 56 Gold Star Soldiers.
Andrews’ painting is a glimpse from outside into a wooden cabin’s window. A lit oil lamp is visible through the blue curtained window. A single gold star is in the center of the red bordered white banner that dominates the paned glass window. An empty wooden chair sits facing the window.
“Most of these Dale County soldiers would have been country boys,” Andrews said as she described her thoughts as she created “Day is Done,” named for lyrics in “Taps, played by a bugler at military funerals.
“I remember being told about my great uncle dying in France,’ Andrews said. “But I don’t recall that it was talked about much.”
In all more than 2,500 Alabamians were killed fighting in France. “In the years following the war, the families of fallen United States soldiers had a choice to have the remains returned for burial in the United States or have them remain where they fell in Europe,” Blackwell said.
Some 30 percent opted for the latter and during the 1920s, the Gold Star Mothers’ Association lobbied for a federally sponsored pilgrimage to Europe for mothers with sons and widows whose loved ones were buried overseas. Some 6,693 Gold star mothers and war widows had made the pilgrimage abroad including the mothers of fallen Dale County soldiers Sheppard Grady Starke and Thomas Earl Williams.
Recently 23 Alabamians, including Wilson, participated in World War 1 Centennial Commemorations in France, including a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Croix Rouge Farm, where 162 officers and men from the 167th Alabama Infantry Regiment of the 42nd Division died in battle on July 26, 1918.
The trip was coordinated by the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts and Humanities in the College of Liberal Arts at Auburn University. “Mark (Wilson) had told us he was going with a delegation to France and he said he wanted to bring the book,” Blackwell said. Wilson took a copy of Andrews’ painting and placed it at the foot of the white cemetery cross marking Cook’s grave. Andrews has a copy of that photo. “I dedicated my painting in my great uncle’s honor,” she said. “Words cannot express my thoughts when I saw my painting at the foot of his grave.”
Blackwell and Snell have given copies of their two years of research to all the public libraries in Dale County, to the library at Fort Rucker and to each of the school systems. They most recently donated a copy to the Pea River Historical Society Library in Enterprise. They have also given copies to any of the ancestors of the 30 Gold Star soldiers.
‘We didn’t set out to write a book. That was not what we set out to do at all,” Snell said. “What we set out to do was to get the biographies, put them in a three-ring notebook and put them in the genealogy room at the library.”
“Our whole purpose in doing this was to honor the soldiers so that these guys are not forgotten,” Blackwell said. “These courageous sons of Dale County made the supreme sacrifice.”