Private Robert Lester Blackwell, born in Hurdle Mills in 1895, was killed in action in France in 1918 and was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor the following year. Blackwell’s father, James B. Blackwell, a Confederate veteran, received the award on May 6, 1919, in a ceremony in the State Capitol. Governor Thomas Bickett spoke, noting that “no earthly honor, we understand, can take the place of the boy who comes not.” The family subsequently donated the medal to what is now the North Carolina Museum of History. Blackwell was one of two North Carolinians to be so honored for service in World War I, the other being Samuel I. Parker of Monroe. Blackwell also received the Cross of War from both the Portuguese and Italian governments.
Original Date Cast:
On October 11, 1918, near St. Souflet, France, his unit, Company K of the 119th Infantry, 30th Division, was cut off from the remainder of the force engaged in battle and was exposed to artillery and machine gun fire. The platoon commander ordered that a messenger be sent back for help; he promptly was killed as was the second person sent behind him. Blackwell volunteered for the task and also lost his life. The citation commended Blackwell for his “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty.”
Friends and neighbors chartered the Robert Lester Blackwell American Legion Post No. 138 at Roxboro. A monument was erected in his memory on the lawn of the Person County Courthouse in Roxboro.
(Raleigh) News and Observer, November 10, 1963
Fayetteville Observer, December 6, 1964
Calvin Jarrett, “Above and Beyond the Call . . . ,” The State, November 15, 1966
The Congressional Medal of Honor (1984)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, I, 168-169—sketch by Marcia Tuttle
Military Collection, North Carolina State Archives