Our final local World War I soldier featured in our WWI exhibit is Arthur Bluethenthal. He was born in Wilmington in 1891 to parents, Leopold and Johanna Bluethenthal, who had emigrated from Germany after the Civil War. Leopold worked in his uncle’s dry goods business which he eventually took over in later years.
The family lived on Dock Street and later at 17th and Market Streets which remains across from the Kenan mansion, home of UNCW’s Chancellor. They also had a home at Wrightsville Beach built c.1897. The home, which was the oldest surviving on Wrightsville Beach, sold in 2015 for over $3.45 million, only to be torn down so the two lots it sat on could be relisted.
Nicknamed “Bluey”, Arthur was educated in local schools, then attended Phillip’s Exeter Academy and graduated from Princeton University in 1913, where he was a star on their football team. After college he did some football coaching at Princeton and UNC- Chapel Hill. He also worked in his family’s business.
Arthur joined the war effort in France in May of 1916, the year before the US entered the war. He was a volunteer ambulance driver before joining the French Foreign Legion as an aviator in May of 1917. He was shot down in combat on June 5, 1918 and was buried in France. Later his body was exhumed and shipped home. He was re-interred in the Jewish section of Oakdale Cemetery. On Memorial Day of 1928, the Wilmington Airport was renamed Bluethenthal Field in his honor and remained that until the 1950s when the name was changed to New Hanover County Airport.
The North Carolina State Archives has a collection of letters that Arthur Bluethenthal wrote from France during WWI. You can access the State Archives here and search for them and other North Carolinians’ letters from the “Great War”.
This is an excerpt from one of Arthur’s letters that we have on display at our exhibit:
Our own Cape Fear Museum has a collection from the Bluethenthal family. See it at: www.capefearmuseum.com Photo courtesy of Cape Fear Museum.