Luther Jordan Brown (1886/87-1919)

by Camilia Bell

Born in Norfolk, Virginia on August 22, 1886/1887, Luther Jordan Brown was the son of Adeline (Addie) L. Parker and Robert J. Brown Sr. After his parents got married in Norfolk, Virginia in 1881, the family grew. Adeline and Robert had four or five children: Robert Junius (1883-1957), Luther Jordan, Clarence Jalette (1889-1953), Mary Evelyn (1895-1976), and possibly another sibling named Brown (Nov 1890). The Browns lived oatn 816 Fremont St., Norfolk, Virginia for decades. While his mother was working as a servant and his father a laborer, Luther, along with his other siblings, attended school. As a private school kid, he knew how to read, write, and speak English (Family Search)

When the U.S. entered WWI in 1917, African American men viewing the opportunity to draft as a chance to prove their patriotism, citizenship, and commitment to the community, and joined the war effort in significant numbers. Among them was 31-year old Luther J. Brown. When Brown enlisted in the U.S. Army in July 1918 he was self-employed as a merchant tailor and was unmarried and childless. In service, he was stationed in the Mechanical Corps of the 808th Pioneer Infantry stationed for training in Camp Meade, Maryland. As a part of the Pioneer regiment, Luther was among the essential units to support the U.S. Army in building bridges, roads, and maintaining railroads to aid troops getting further into Europe. In fact, in the reorganization of the army in the deployment of army corps like the Pioneer Infantry, the U.S. gained continued strength for the war efforts (Davis). These pioneers “marched at the head of each battalion to clear a passage for it through woods or other obstructions, im- prove roads, make bridges and generally do any minor engineering or construction work that may be necessary” (Davis). And by September of 1918, Brown had been promoted to the military rank of Colonel Luther J. Brown and the 808th Pioneer Infantry became one of the first to arrive in France during WWI (Bates). 

The first combat the infantry saw with Brown was the infamous battles of the Meuse-Argonne between September 26 and November 11, 1918, which were instrumental in ending WWI. During the battle, the Pioneer Infantry was involved in combat engineering, the construction of trenches, and “ in [U.S. Army] as regiments trained and equipped as infantry to be used as troops of emergency, either for combat or simple engineering construction” (Davis). Strengthened by their training, the infantry troops utilized their offensive skills to push further into German-occupied territory. As colonel, Luther J. Brown maintained administrative duties of commanding the infantry during the battles, he held his rank title in the 808th Pioneer Infantry in France for the 7 months he was stationed in France. While the U.S. Infantries bombarded the German troops with excessive manpower and weaponry, once further allied enforcement arrived, U.S. victory became reality for the 808th Pioneer Infantry, and the end of the First World War (History). In the aftermath, the 808th Pioneer Infantry assisted in “clearing and repairing the streets”, and worked with the 805th Infantry to “pile up shells and trench mortar bombs at the First Army ammunition salvage dump”(Department of Defense).

Prior to the victory, as the war in France continued from 1918 to 1919, the severe epidemic of Spanish influenza impacted the efforts of the U.S. troops. Many soldiers not only died from their wounds but from disease (Davis). Unfortunately, possibly by the spreading of disease or wounds from combat, at 32-years-old, Colonel Luther J. Brown was pronounced dead at the No. 15 Evacuation Hospital, in Verdun Meuse, France on April 7, 1919. His body is buried with his family at the Calvary Cemetary in Norfolk, Norfolk City, Virginia under two headstones. One stone bears the the honorary mantra, “Gone But Not Forgotten” (Find A Grave).