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Webb Blackburn's Story
Wiley Webb Blackburn (known as Webb) was born on July 30, 1895, in Ashe County. His parents were Roby and Susan Blackburn who made their living as farmers. He had two brothers and four sisters, none of whom served in the military.
When he was twenty-two years old, Webb served in the United States Army during World War I. He served from August 19, 1917, to August 7, 1919, in the 120th Infantry, and his highest rank was corporal.
In a war largely remembered for its trench warfare, Webb experienced the horrors of this form of fighting firsthand. Richard Blackburn, Webb’s son, recalls his father discussing life in the trenches. Webb was in the trenches full-time. Soldiers rotated through three trenches where they had to wade through knee-deep mud. It was always a relief to finish their shift in the front trench because soldiers were then able to take a turn in the third trench, where they could get a little rest and food. However, even in the third trench, Webb talked about how hard sleep was to come by. There was also very little food, and the food they did receive was terrible. But the worst part of living in the trenches was being surrounded by death. Everywhere Webb looked, soldiers were dying.
Webb spent most of his time in the Army in France. While in France, Webb was wounded in the Battle of St. Quentin. He suffered exposure to chlorine gas and was awarded a Purple Heart medal for his sacrifice.
When Webb was honorably discharged in 1919, his discharge papers read “Character: Excellent.” Webb returned home to Ashe County where he had nine children. Three of his sons followed in his footsteps and eventually entered the military. Webb’s sons, Elmer and Earl Blackburn, were marines who served during World War II. Another son, Bradley, served in the Navy during the Korean War.
The poison gas Webb was exposed to in the Battle of St. Quentin continued to affect his joints, and eventually he was unable to walk. After being bedridden for ten years, a treatment was finally discovered, and Webb went to a veteran’s hospital in Asheville to receive it. He stayed in Asheville for six months before he was cured. It was snowing on the day he returned home, and his ambulance got stuck down below his house. Webb exited the ambulance and walked home through the snow. It was the first time Richard Blackburn remembers seeing his father walk.
Six months later, on June 6, 1949, Wiley Webb Blackburn passed away after suffering from a stroke.
-- Written by Anna Blackburn