John Anderson (1886-1972)

by Tamia Houston

“I know that I was an American citizen and [I] was willing to help and defend my country.[I] was not anything [more than] excit[ed] when my country called me; [I] was only glad to go.”

Those were the words of John Anderson, an African American veteran of World War I. John Anderson was born September 8, 1886 in Harrington, Kent County, Delaware to Letitia Webb and John H. Anderson of Maryland. He was a sibling to three brothers and one sister, Walter Anderson, James Anderson, Joseph Anderson, and Edna Jones. Anderson was one who had no education but was a talented musician. Even with his service in WWI, Anderson was a musician before and after the war.

When asked about his attitude towards military service, Anderson states that “there was nothing for [him] to consider, only go with a will and mind to do all that was in [his] power to do, when [his] country called, to help defend the U.S.A.” Anderson provided his service through the U.S. Army. He enlisted on August 5, 1918 in Norfolk, Virginia as a musician in the Engineers Battalion. He was a part of the Company C, 540 Battalion. Anderson’s training took place in Camp Humphreys, Virginia from August 5,1918 to October 23, 1918. Anderson says that “the effects of camp experience was very good, in regard to health and the physical exercise that was a part of the discipline, were simply grand, and helpful.” After his training at Camp Humphreys, Virginia, Anderson was transferred to the Spec, Cas. CO. 5447 in St. Aignan, France. Anderson was embarked from Hoboken, New Jersey on October 27, 1918 via the Leviathan and arrived at Liverpool, England on November 3, 1918. From that point on, Anderson toured England from Liverpool to Winchester, to Southampton, and lastly to Cherbourg with his tour ending on November 11,1918. He then trained in Abensville, France up until June of 1919. Anderson says his touring experience “was so great,that [he] can’t explain, but [it] was wonderful.”

On June 27, 1919 Anderson arrived in New York on the Armenia from Marseilles, France. He was discharged from service at Camp Mills, Long Island on July 8, 1919 as a bugler (musician). John’s belief after the war was that “God, our Father, won this World War.”

After his discharge, Anderson spent a portion of his life in Norfolk, Virginia with his wife Mattie Kemp. Anderson worked as a driver for The Wood Yard while his wife did housework. The couple did not have any children. On February 14, 1924, his wife, Mattie Kemp passed away. Eventually after the death of his wife, Anderson returned to Delaware. He never remarried or had any children; he worked as paper hanger and painter. On February 7, 1972, John Anderson passed away from prostate cancer.


World War I Questionnaire. Anderson, John. Retrieved April 29, 2021, from

“Obituary of John H. Anderson” (n.d.). Retrieved April 30, 2021, from

United States Census, 1920,

“Death Certificate of John Anderson” FamilySearch. (n.d.). Retrieved April 30, 2021, from

“Death Certificate of Mattie Kemp Anderson” FamilySearch. (n.d.). Retrieved April 30, 2021, from