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Death of Pte Walker Woolwine, 116 Infantry Regiment, AEF, 15 October 1918

rob carman

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I am from Norfolk but live in Montgomery County, in southwestern Virginia, US.  The county’s war memorial is in Christiansburg.  I felt last November that I had too long neglected it in  favour of other interests. So, I began with two brothers, Earnest (sic) and Walker Woolwine, both of 116 Infantry Regiment, a local unit  with traditions that go back to the colonial Virginia.  They are buried locally, in Sunset Cemetery, Christainsburg, VA.  


(capture 1, 2 and 3)


After entering the service, Walker Woolwine was assigned to M Company, 116th Infantry. He was with the unit when it sailed for France aboard the USS Finland on 15 Jun 1918.  It took the ship 13 days to cross the Atlantic from Hoboken, New Jersey to the port of Saint Nazaire, France. Walker then went through trench warfare training with the regiment.  PFC Woolwine was killed in action on 15 Oct 1918. PFC Woolwine was repatriated and re-interred in Sunset Cemetery, Christiansburg, Virginia.  Walker's brother, Earnest, was also a member of M Company and died 3 days earlier.  Earnest is also interred in the Sunset Cemetery. 



There was discussion after the war abouit how Walker Woodbine died.  It was suggested he had been shot by an officer and the suugestions became part of a Senate hearing.


(Capture 4 and text immediately below)


MAJ. OPIE DENIES KILLING CHARGES Accused Officer Says He Never Fired Pistol While In the Army. Volunteer Witness From San Francisco Bares A. E. F. Murders.

WASHGTON. Jan. 5.—Sweeping denial of charges that he had shot two of his men while his command, part of the 29th division, was in the thick of the Argonne fighting, was made before a Senate investigating committee today by Major H. L. Opie of Staunton, Va., and nearly a dozen men serving with him overseas. Only one voice was lifted against Major Opie today—that of a shellshocked victim of the war, now a patient in a Virginia hospital for the insane. The witness, Lemuel C. Smith, declared that while In a dugout with three comrades and four German prisoners. Major Opie fired, shot and killed a soldier, then ordered the body removed, without uttering a word.

COMRADES MAKE DENIALS. In rapid success the comrades mentioned by Smith swore they saw no such killing, that they were not in the dugout, and that they know of no evidence to support the charges. And then, after half a dozen of Major Opie’s men had testified that they never heard of his shooting a soldier, the major spoke in his own defense, declaring there was no truth in the accusations, and that he “never shot a man in his life.” Breaking down while witnesses were telling the committee that foreign service In the Argonne, ending in a hospital, wounded, he was awarded the distinguished service cross, the Legion of Honor and the Croix de Guerre, with two palms, Major Opie quickly recovered and calmly, but with emphasis, asserted that he never fired a revolver while in the army. Major Opie explained how he had attempted to get his men in a line after they had been demoralized and were running wildly. A tense situation found him alone in the effort to reform the lines. At the moment he was without side arms, was wearing a raincoat, the insignia on which was covered with mud, and it was with difficulty he could make the men halt. "I took a rifle and fired twice.” he said, “knowing what I was doing. One shot was fired in the air and one in the ground. Nobody was hit. After I fired the lines stopped, and I got them in shape, putting men I recognized in command. I sent runners to bring all the men up. There was not a dead soldier on the line, and there had been no firing.” “Did you shoot a runner with a revolver, as charged?” he was asked.

NEVER FIRED PISTOL IN ARMY. "I never fired a pistol in the whole time I was in the army,” he declared with emphasis. Chairman Brandegee wanted to know if the major had any theory as to how the reports about him had started. ‘‘None, sir,” he said. “It may be that one circumstance led to it. It happened that Lieutenant Floyd W. Cunningham accidentally killed himself with a rifle and I was the first to reach him. I bent down, opened his blouse and while there alone in that position some stragglers may have been around. I sometimes think this scene may have started rumors of which I was the victim.” Senator Watson, Democrat. Georgia whose charges in the Senate that American soldiers had been hanged without trial in France, took no part in today's examination. But, announcing that he was not prosecuting any case, he presented a list of witnesses to be summoned to give testimony relating to the Opie charges. The committee indicated that they would be called when the hearing is resumed Tuesday. Eight letters from former soldiers in the major’s command and from citizens who know him were presented.

VOLIUNTEER WITNESS. Edwin Duner of San Francisco, a voluntary witness, stepped forward and declared he wanted to testify concerning prison atrocities in France. “I was at Bassens prison near Bordeaux, where 1 was sent up for three months for going across the street — out of my area—to get two egg sandwiches," he said. While at the prison, Duner said, he saw a sergeant while drunk kill a prisoner for asking for a slice of bread. The sergeant, he added, was not court martialed as far as he knew. John Fitzgerald of Pennsylvania, who was locked up for being drunk, was named by Duner as the prisoner killed. The sergeant, he said, was named Cooper. Duner also gave the names of witnesses, saying 150 negroes and 200 white men were present. “We were going to mob the sergeant, but there were too many automatics.” he continued. “Later the colonel, a big Polack, came up in his limousine and asked if anybody there saw the shooting. Seven of us stepped forward and they put us right away in solitary on bread and water.” Duner, a tall, fair-haired chap, gave the committee a refreshing touch of comedy in describing some of the hardships at a Coblenz prison.

MIDNIGHT INSPECTION. “They had a lieutenant, a regular snowbird all lit up,” he said. “He used to come back from Italy, where he went for his dope, and then he would stand up and say, boys, I am glad to see you. I guess he was for he got us out at midnight for inspection’ Duner complained because on the voyage home after the war the soldiers “aboard one of those ninety day boats built to win the war” — had no sugar for their coffee. There was a great outburst of cheering when Duner, explained that he had come here to testify at his own expense, declared “I am 100 per cent American and there are few of us left.”

Sacramento Union, Volume 224, Number 25860, 6 January 1922


Opie is mentioned three times in the official senate transcript  (capture 5, 6, and 7)  available online (capture 8).  His later promotions (capture 9) show he was exonerated but I cannot find anywhere that is said in plain English. 


Brigadier Genral Opie is shown in capture 10.

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Capture 8.JPG

Capture 9.JPG

Capture 10.JPG

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Most of the Pals here are focused on the British soldier and may not have in-depth knowledge of us Yanks, but luckily I'm a Yank and this is right up my alley.


For starters, have you sent away for Pvt. Woolwine's Burial Case File? It might provide some information on the circumstances of his death, maybe there is more concise information such as eyewitness reports in it.


For what it's worth, Pvt. Woolwine's Burial Index Card notes his cause of death as K/A - Killed in Action. His original battlefield burial was just outside the Molleville Bois (Bois de Molleville?) in an isolated grave, according to this plat map (his is grave #35).


For further reading, here is his brother's Burial Index Card. Also noted as K/A, also buried in an isolated grave in the same general location (Earnest is #1 on that plat map).


I hope this gives you some avenues to go down to learn more!

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Thank you for the tips.  I think I will follow up on this.  


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  • 2 months later...
On 06/01/2021 at 10:15, rob carman said:

Thank you for the tips.  I think I will follow up on this.  


Any more info on this Rob?


My Great Uncle, Henry L. Scott was a key witness in these events.





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None yet.  


I have not come across Scott yet?  What did he say?  Is his testimony summarized anywhere online?

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I have just started research on my Uncle and came across this event.  I haven't found any summary of what was said online as of yet.

I do know, as you probably do as well, that Major Opie was cleared of the charges.


I have attached a couple newspaper articles that I found.  There's a few more if you would like to read them.





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Thank you for postng those Rick.  I would like to read whatever else you have.


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  • 6 months later...

Hello Rob Carman and Rick71, I just joined the forum today. Earnest and Walker Woolwine were my Mother's Uncles. I've heard about them many times throughout my life from Mom, but just started researching a bit in the last two years. No one in my family knew about the controversy over Walker's death, and it's amazing that so much can be found over 100 years later.  I found your posts through searching, and just wanted to thank you for them and info you've shared here, It's all very interesting. Some of it I knew, but some I did not. Thanks for caring enough to share, and helping to keep their memory alive- It's very honoring to their sacrifice. God bless!

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