Wallace Lankford: “At sea, in the naval service of his country”

Published 10:00 pm Friday, May 19, 2017

Editor’s Note: This is the seventh installment of a series of articles about Polk County veterans of WWI whose names are listed on the Doughboy Monument in Columbus.

Twenty-one-year-old Wallace Rollins Lankford was the son of John Wesley and Mary Jane Hilton Lankford, and was descended from William Lankford, a very early settler of what is now Polk County, who obtained land on the south side of Tryon Mountain and in the valley of the North Pacolet in about 1770. 

Wallace Lankford, about 1916

Wallace Lankford enlisted in the U.S. Navy at Raleigh on May 22, 1918, and became a Shipfitter, Second Class (SF2) serving in France aboard USS Bridgeport. He worked with metal fittings and in the layout, fabrication, and fitting together of metal plates for ship hulls, and other structural parts. The Polk County News for October 18, 1918 reported that SF2 Lankford received three promotions during his five months in the service, and went on to describe him as “a quiet and studious fellow” whose promises could be depended on.

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In 1917 the German passenger-cargo ship SS Breslau had been seized at New Orleans by the U.S. government, one of a number of such ships confiscated to help make up for a shortage of shipping capacity. The vessel was refitted and commissioned into the U. S. Navy as the destroyer-tender USS Bridgeport, providing support and maintenance to smaller vessels. 

Bridgeport arrived at Brest, France on August 5, 1918, and the ship and crew went to work supporting patrol craft and troop transports arriving in the busy seaport. SF2 Lankford underwent training at Norfolk and Philadelphia, then traveled to France on USS Carola, where he joined the crew of Bridgeport on September 2.

On Saturday, October 19, 1918 Wallace Lankford’s parents were notified that he had died of pneumonia on-board his ship on Sunday, the 13th. The Polk County News for October 25 described him as “an exceptionally fine young fellow.”  The troop transport USS Great Northern returned his remains to the New York port of embarkation. An inscription on Wallace Lankford’s grave marker at the Tryon City Cemetery reads, “At sea, in the naval service of his country.  Let his works praise him. Come ye blessed.” 

On April 5, 1919 a memorial service was held for Wallace Lankford, and for fellow Tryon Boy Scout Levi Butler, at the Tryon School House, with Mayor E.E. Missildine presiding. Oak trees were planted on the school grounds in memory of SF2 Lankford, and Army Corporal Butler.

– article submitted by Alan Leonard