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|Robert Lester Blackwell|
ROBERT LESTER BLACKWELL
Of the 82,000 North Carolinians who went into the army and navy, some died gloriously on the field of battle; some died from horrible wounds; some died of disease. Others went through the same dangers without a scratch. Others never went to France at all, but served here at home.
Why was this so? The answer is--the fortunes of war. When a man joins the army of his country he lays aside for the time his own will and interests. It is not what he wants, but what his superiors think best that he does. This is true from the humblest private to the commanding general of all the armies.
The watchword of the army is service. Service means to obey orders. That is what every soldier is trained to do. He is trained to fear neither death nor suffering. He is trained to fear only failure to do his duty.
All soldiers were serving; all had to bear the fortunes of war. One might die a glorious death; another might suffer a broken body; another might not receive a scratch. Some soldiers might go to great adventures in strange countries; others might drill and labor in training camps in their home country, but whatever fortune of war the good soldier met with, he met it in the name of service to his country. An example of the greatest service is Robert Lester Blackwell.
Robert Lester Blackwell was a farmer boy. He was born in Hurdle Mills in Person County, North Carolina. When the war broke out he joined the 119th infantry and went abroad to fight. He served with honor in Belgium and on the Hindenburg line at Bellicourt. On October 11, 1918, in a great battle before St. Souplet in France, he and a few of his comrades were cut off from their regiment by the German artillery fire. They knew that unless some one carried a message back to the regiment all of them would be captured or killed. They knew also that any man who tried to get through the German fire would probably be killed. The commanding officer asked for volunteers to carry the message. Without hesitation Blackwell stepped forward. He took the message and plunged into the hail of shells that churned up every foot of the ground. A shell struck him and the brave soldier fell dead.
In memory of this brave deed Congress gave to Blackwell's father a beautiful medal of honor, the highest honor our country can bestow on a soldier. Throughout all the country was read the order citing his bravery for an act that was "above and beyond the call of duty."
Robert Lester Blackwell was not trying to win a name for himself. He was trying to save the lives of his comrades. It was an act of service such as has been described by the Master of men when He said, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
The only North Carolinian to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for service in World War I was Robert Lester Blackwell. Blackwell was a Personian and he was actually the first North Carolinian to be honored with this medal. Robert Blackwell was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously. His citation reads: "For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy near Saint Couplet, France, October 11, 1918. When his platoon was almost surrounded by the enemy, and his platoon commander asked for volunteers for his mission, well knowing the extreme dangers connected with it. In attempting to get through the heavy shell and gun fire, the gallant soldier was killed."
This memorial, which stands on Court House Square, is a reminder to
passersby that this was a man whose sense of duty was tremendous, and offers a shining
example of what patriotism really means. He was truly an American patriot.
BLACKWELL, ROBERT L. - Medal of Honor Recipient
Rank and organization: Private, U.S. Army, Company K, 119th Infantry, 30th Division.
Place and date: Near St. Souplet, France, 11 October 1918.
Entered service at: Hurdle Mills, N.C.
Birth: Person County, N.C. G.O. No.: 13, W.D., 1919.
Citation: When his platoon was almost surrounded by the enemy and his platoon commander asked for volunteers to carry a message calling for reinforcements, Pvt. Blackwell volunteered for this mission, well knowing the extreme danger connected with it. In attempting to get through the heavy shell and machinegun fire this gallant soldier was killed.
This data was extracted from the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, U.S. Senate, Medal of Honor Recipients: 1863-1973 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1973)