The United States’ entry into World War I led to tragedy for the West family from the East Tennessee community of Oliver Springs. Newspapers of the time reported that infantryman and Oliver Springs resident George Edward West carried his dying 17-year-old brother Thomas from a battlefield in France, only to be killed himself a little more than a month later.
The stories of the West brothers – and hundreds of others like them – are immortalized in the records of Tennessee’s Gold Star collection. As the United States prepares to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the date the country joined the conflict known as “the Great War,” the Tennessee State Library and Archives is pleased to announce that a complete set of those records is now available online.
“The U.S. entry into World War I was a somber time in our country’s history,” Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. “As we near the 100th anniversary of that date, many people may wish to learn more about the brave soldiers from Tennessee who lost their lives while serving overseas. This online collection should make it easier for people who may not be able to visit the Library and Archives building in person to review these records and discover the heroic stories they document.”
The United States officially entered World War I April 6, 1917. About 130,000 soldiers from Tennessee went off to battle – many of whom did not return. During the war, families of soldiers hung small flags with blue stars on them to signify that they were contributing to the war effort. The families of soldiers who were killed in action changed their blue stars to gold.
Two months after the armistice was signed to end the war, Tennessee began collecting data about the state’s gold star honorees. Spearheaded by then-State Librarian and Archivist John Trotwood Moore, people throughout the state began sending information about deceased World War I veterans, including photographs, letters, service records, obituaries and mementos.
Those records, which have been stored at the Library and Archives, are now available through the Tennessee Virtual Archive. The files, documenting the service of 1,169 Tennessee soldiers, can be viewed at: http://bit.ly/TNGoldStar.
Visitors to the site can look up soldiers by their names, home cities or counties, or the branch of the service in which they served. These records may be of particular interest to genealogists since they contain information about soldiers, their parents and other family members that may have been destroyed in a 1921 fire that obliterated records from the 1890 U.S. Census.