Sgt. Wakefield Brunt served in World War 1 in France and is buried in Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery, Athens, GA. His military headstone is partially obscured. A VFW post in Athens has taken his name. (Photo courtesy of the Wakefield Brunt VFW post)
The Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery is at Fourth and Bray streets in East Athens and was founded as an African-American burial place in 1882. Most of its approximately 800 identified burials took place prior to the 1960s. Although the headstone applications available on Ancestry.com are not a complete list, they do include most of the headstones erected in Gospel Pilgrim.
The headstone applications are a rich source of genealogical and historical information, including the name of the veteran, who applied for the headstone, dates of the vet's birth and death and what was his military unit and rank. There are official lists of enlistments and casualties in National Archives files. some of these files are online and give additional information about some veterans. Ancestry.com contains many of these records.
Gospel Pilgrim's headstones listed on the applications haven't all been found in Gospel Pilgrim. Some probably are hidden by undergrowth or soil. Some of the marble markers are flat markers that are easily covered with soil, leaves and plants. Not all of the nine-acre cemetery has been cleared as of 2013.
Part 2 will deal with more details about some of the veterans with military markers at Gospel Pilgrim. The markers were issued for veterans serving from the Spanish-American War period, World War 1, World War 2 and Korea. The headstone list is almost exclusively made up of male enlisted men, although one marker was given to an officer, Capt. William Walter Saphloe of Athens, of the 64th Quartermaster Battalion in World War 2.
No women veterans are in the Gospel Pilgrim headstone applications from 1925 to 1963. Capt. Saphloe's enlistment papers indicate he joined the Army in April, 1941, in New York City, although he said he was born in Georgia. He enlisted as a private. He had four years of college and was a clerk in publishing and printing. He was divorced with no dependents. A Willie W. Sapp was one of several Sapp family members living in Athens with Richard and Laura Livingston at 540 W. Hancock Ave. in the 1930 census.
Capt. Saphloe of Athens was born in 1911 and died in 1948. His headstone is in the Sapp family plot. Applicant for Capt. Saphloe's headstone was Katherine Saphloe, living at 540 W. Hancock Ave. in Athens. In the 1940 census a "Kate Sapp" is listed as a lodger at that address, but no other Saphloe is enumerated. Apparently Captain Saphloe changed his name from Sapp to Saphloe. He was not listed in the Athens, 1940 federal census. A photo of his grave is included with this blog. Capt Saphloe enlisted in New York City, and documents indicate he had four years of college and worked in publishing and printing.
We find headstone applications for two black Athenians who were killed in action and buried at Gospel Pilgrim. One was PFC Edward D. Burns. He enlisted in World War 2 in 1941 and died while fighting the Germans in Italy in November, 1944. He was in Co. D of the 371st Infantry Regiment, 92nd Infantry Division, the only African-American division seeing heavy combat during World War 2. A younger brother of PFC Burns, James L. Burns, applied for Edward's headstone in 1949. James lived at 290 Vine St. in Athens. A photo of PFC Burns' headstone may be found with this article.
A Korean War veteran from Athens, PFC Jessie Odom, was killed in action fighting as a member of Co K, the 8th Cavalry, as a light weapons infantryman. His death occurred on Oct. 4, 1951, in what is now North Korea. He was born Feb. 2, 1933. PFC Odom's headstone application was made by his older brother William Lanier Odom. His mother was Sarah Laster Odom. His military marker hasn't been found yet in Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery, although we know the marker was ordered.
Many of the veterans with headstones at Gospel Pilgrim fought in World War 1 in segregated military units. Frequently their military service involved harsh labor in support groups hauling supplies and ammunition to front lines—their work was absolutely essential in supporting combat troops.
One of the most unusual veterans receiving a headstone at Gospel Pilgrim was Ulysses S. A. Hawkins, sometimes known as Eula Hawkins. I have searched without luck to find all his military service records, but we do know he served in the famous 9th Cavalry, a regiment of the famous Buffalo Soldiers. These black soldiers fought against Indians in the West and gave a good account of themselves in the Spanish American War and the Philippine Insurrection. Hawkins was a private in Co. G of the Ninth Cavalry Regiment. Records available to me don't show whether he fought in Cuba or the Philippines or had duty elsewhere.
We do know from the May, 1902, returns of the regiment that he was discharged honorably on Valentine's Day, 1902, at Fort Walla Walla, Washington. His conduct as a soldier was evaluated as "good." His widow was Mattie M. Hawkins, who received a pension for his Cavalry services. He and his wife lived in the 500 block of Hull Street in Athens.
The military service of African Americans from Athens was seldom a matter for big stories in the local newspapers, although we occasionally do see short articles about them. For instance, Willie Ed Binns lived with his grandparents, the Lees on Hull Street, and served in World War 1. His headstone application indicatied he served as a private in the 514th Engineers. So far I haven't found his military records, other than the headstone application, and his grave in Gospel Pilgrim has not been located. We do know he was a veteran, from a story in the April 16, 1919, issue of The Athens Banner, which follows:
"Colored Discharged Soldiers Honor Wm. Ed Binns of Athens
Willie Ed Binns, a well known young colored man of this city who enlisted in the army during the war and who saw active service in France, died while enroute home on the high seas, and the funeral services were held at the Pierce Chapel Sunday morning at eleven o'clock.
Over one hundred and fifty honorably discharged colored soldiers as well as the Negro Boy Scouts under command of Captain R. E. Smith acted as an honorary escort in paying respect to this young soldier."
No cause of death on the troop ship was indicated.
A rather mysterious veteran is Wakefield C. Brunt, a sergeant in World War I, who saw service in France, according to members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Athens, named for him. An unreadable military marker is partially visible at his Gospel Pilgrim gravesite, and another plain marker is there, too. The military headstone applications for Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery veterans' markers don't list Wakefield C. Brunt. The VFW post, however, has kindly given us a photo of him in his uniform. Some persons have indicated he died in France in the war, but his non-military tombstone indicates he died in 1927, as does his death certificate. His photo is included here.
It becomes obvious that Athens African Americans fought hard to defend their country, even when the military units were segregated, as was life at home. The defense forces weren't integrated until 1948, but many thousands of African American found ways to fight the nation's wars long before that.