World War I -- Life Histories/Section 018/John Oliver Ranson

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Overview[edit]

John Oliver Ranson (November 29, 1893 - September 30, 1918) was a University of North Carolina graduate who served in the 371st infantry of the United States Army during World War I.

John Oliver Ranson
BornNovember 29, 1893
Huntersville, NC
DiedSeptember 30, 1918
Champagne-Ardenne, France

Biography[edit]

John Oliver Ranson was born in Huntersville, North Carolina on November 29, 1893. He graduated from The University of North Carolina in 1917 with a Bachelor of Arts degree[1]. However, he left the university prior to his graduation ceremony to attend the officers’ training camp at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. From there, he received a commission as a lieutenant of infantry and was assigned to duty at Camp Jackson, South Carolina. In January of 1918, he married Eugenia Withers. A few months later, on April 5, he departed for overseas where he joined the 371st U.S. infantry, a primarily African American unit. At the end of September, while advancing into a French town near Champagne-Ardenne with the 371st infantry, Ranson and his troops came across a nest of German machine guns. Ranson, along with several other soldiers, was killed during this attack. Ranson was one of 10 siblings, four of whom also served at one point in time. His younger brother, Lucius Ranson, was a faculty member at Horner Military School. After the war, he served as Superintendent of Welfare for Mecklenburg County. He, as well as brothers Paul and Robert, also attended The University of North Carolina and were involved in athletics during their time as students and as alumni. Ranson was described by friends and family as an American hero who was admired for his strong leadership and fighting qualities. [2]

Social Context[edit]

The 371st Infantry: African American Units[edit]

The 371st Infantry was organized on August 31, 1917 at Camp Jackson, South Carolina. Although it was intended to primarily consist of African American soldiers, this regiment had only white officers. On September 5, 1917, 14 African American men were recruited from Pensacola, Florida to serve in the infantry. During October, the regiment grew exponentially, and by November 20, 3,380 men had become a part of the regiment.[3] More than half of these men were transferred to labor organizations and/or a combat organization at Camp Upton. After the remainder of the men arrived in France, the infantry was modified and restructured under a French plan. This modification included changing the number and type of weapons and equipment used (mostly from American to French tools). The unit then joined the 157th French Division in the trenches.[4] Throughout the war, this regiment was highly commended, especially by the French command. This unit highlights the significant role that The Great War played in the integration of races in the United States. From the beginning of the war, many African American males were eager to join the war effort, often viewing it as "an opportunity to prove their loyalty, patriotism, and worthiness for equal treatment in the United States," as Jami Bryan put it. However, due to African American quotas, the War Department had to stop accepting black volunteers only a week after President Wilson’s declaration of war.[5] The draft board, on the other hand, did not turn blacks away. Instead, African Americans were required to tear off a corner of their registration card, making it easier for them to be identified. By the end of the war, blacks served in artillery, cavalry, engineer, infantry, medical and signal units.[6]

University Students Enter War[edit]

The majority of men entering the service during World War I were college-aged. These males possessed a multitude of characteristics that served as motivation to enter the service during wartime. The men were at a time of intellectual and emotional development, and they were eager for a sense of adventure. Democracy had been engraved into their brains, as they each represented a small fish swimming in an enormous sea. According to Charles Thwing, the men were “moved by similar ambitions and stirred by like motives and ideals, even if the consummate achievement be not alike." And when patriotism comes into play, little excites this unity of thrill-seeking men more than war.[7] Therefore, when the United States declared war, despite lacking a definite military policy, colleges and universities served as popular and successful locations for U.S. military recruiters to gather volunteers.[8]

Just before graduations held in 1917, several young men decided to end their last year early to begin training for the army. A particular group from The University of North Carolina initially travelled to Fort Oglethorpe, GA to undergo training. Fort Oglethorpe was considered a particularly exceptional training camp, where some of the most respected soldiers were trained.[9] The infantry training process was intense, but well worth it considering the infantry units received the highest priorities in several aspects of the process.[10]

Attitudes in favor of the war increased among college-aged men throughout 1917, prompting a 20 percent decline in college enrollment across the country.[11] This loss of students inevitably caused college institutions to suffer financially. Colleges and universities made many attempts to make up for the losses, including enlisting teachers in the national service, cutting the salaries of the teaching and administrative staff, and suspending certain departments.[12] When Congress lowered the draft age to 18, it provoked the Selective Service Act. This act, approved on May 18, 1917, authorized the raising and training of the Students’ Army Training Corps in educational facilities. About 500 U.S. colleges and universities were immediately transformed into government institutions, forming a foundation for selecting and training candidates for office and technical experts for service.[13] Therefore, students (18 years old and physically fit) entering American colleges in the fall of 1918 were immediately recognized as soldiers of the United States.[14]

References[edit]

  1. Catalogue of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill [1917-1918]. 1 Mar. 1918. catalogueofunive156univ. North Carolina Yearbooks. North Carolina Campus Publications – University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Catalogs, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC. Library.digitalnc.org. 23 Mar. 2014.
  2. “LT. J.O. Ranson Dead In France.” The Charlotte News 22 Oct. 1918. Ranson Family Papers #5216. Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Chapel Hill, NC. 25 Feb. 2015.
  3. Scott, Emmett J. Scott's Official History of the American Negro in the World War. Chicago: Homewood, 1919. Print.
  4. Scott, Emmett J. Scott's Official History of the American Negro in the World War. Chicago: Homewood, 1919. Print.
  5. Bryan, Jami. "Fighting for Respect: African-American Soldiers in WWI." Fighting for Respect: African-American Soldiers in WWI. N.p., 2003. Web. 27 Feb. 2015.
  6. Bryan, Jami. "Fighting for Respect: African-American Soldiers in WWI." Fighting for Respect: African-American Soldiers in WWI. N.p., 2003. Web. 27 Feb. 2015.
  7. Thwing, Charles Franklin. The American Colleges and Universities in the Great War, 1914-1919; A History. The Macmillan Company, 1920. Print.
  8. Kolbe, Parke Rexford. The Colleges in War Time and After: a Contemporary Account of the Effect of the War Upon Higher Education in America. D. Appleton, 1919. Print.
  9. "HAL TURNER TELLS OF HIS VISIT TO FORT OGLETHORPE." Nashville Tennessean and the Nashville American (1910-1920): 2. Jul 15 1917. ProQuest. Web. 26 Feb. 2015.
  10. Victory, James. "Soldier Making: The Forces that Shaped the Infantry Training of White Soldiers in the United States Army in World War I." Order No. 9427277 Kansas State University, 1990. Ann Arbor: ProQuest. Web. 26 Feb. 2015.
  11. Thwing, Charles Franklin. The American Colleges and Universities in the Great War, 1914-1919; A History. The Macmillan Company, 1920. Print.
  12. Thwing, Charles Franklin. The American Colleges and Universities in the Great War, 1914-1919; A History. The Macmillan Company, 1920. Print.
  13. Thwing, Charles Franklin. The American Colleges and Universities in the Great War, 1914-1919; A History. The Macmillan Company, 1920. Print.
  14. Thwing, Charles Franklin. The American Colleges and Universities in the Great War, 1914-1919; A History. The Macmillan Company, 1920. Print.