History with ‘Hud’: Remembering the first Wilmington resident killed in WWI

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Memorial Day is Monday, honoring those who have died serving our country. Although there have been numerous Cape Fear residents killed in wars over the years, one former Wilmington man killed in World War One left an impact that continues to this day.

Arthur Bluethenthal was born on November 1, 1891 to parents Leopold and Johanna, who came from Germany to the Wilmington following the Civil War. Arthur was one of their three children, who were all members of the Temple Israel, the first Jewish synagogue in North Carolina.

Bluethenthal received his early education in Wilmington before the family moved north. He went on to attend Princeton University, being the football team’s star center from 1910 through 1912. Despite being just 5’9” and weighing 186 pounds, Bluethenthal was named an All-American his last two years.

After graduation, Bluethenthal became the line coach at Princeton and later at the University of North Carolina.

World War One began in 1914, and Bluethenthal decided to join two years later, setting sail for France in 1916 and serving as an ambulance driver with the French 129th Infrantry Division.

Bluethenthal wrote weekly letters to his parents during his time overseas. But his parents were somewhat unhappy with his decision to join the military and stopped returning letters for a while.

But Bluethenthal kept writing, and when the United States joined the war in 1917, arrangements were made for Bluethenthal to serve with the U.S. Navy. But he didn’t want to switch from his role with the French until the fighting calmed down. Instead, Bluethenthal requested to be assigned to flight training, and was placed in the LaFayette Flying Corps in March of 1918.

Less than three months after joining the group, 27-year-old Arthur Bluethenthal was hit by enemy fire and his plane crashed around 50 miles north of Paris on June 5, 1918. He became the first Wilmington resident killed in the war, and one of 68 Americans to die fighting in the air for France.

Bluethenthal was originally buried in Europe, but his body was moved back to the United States in 1921. Arthur’s brother, Hubert, accompanied the body from New York back to Wilmington, where it was buried in Oakdale Cemetery on March 17th.

The relatively-new air strip in New Hanover County was named Bluethenthal Field in memory of Arthur on Memorial Day 1928. It was a well-attended ceremony with a marker dedication, military bands and planes from Fort Bragg.

The air field was renamed New Hanover County Airport in 1950. But a plaque unveiled in 2018 stands outside the Wilmington International Airport to ensure the role Arthur Bluethenthal played to our country is never forgotten.

Meteorologist Matthew Huddleston (‘Hud’) has always had two major loves – weather and history. While you can watch him talk about weather each evening on WWAY, he looks forward to bringing you a little piece of history each Thursday on WWAY’s website.
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