Friday, November 22, 2019

William Norris Lankford

Norris Lankford (ca. 1942)
The 52 Ancestors theme this week is “soldier.”

In writing this blog post, I learned that a member of the extended Lankford family was held prisoner of war in Germany during World War II.

William Norris Lankford, son of Robert Chester Lankford Sr. and Mendie Octavia Hayes was born in Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina on April 13, 1924. There were seven children in the Lankford family—Robert Chester Lankford Jr., Nancy Lowe Lankford, Mell Thomas Lankford, William Norris Lankford, Baby Boy Lankford, Vesta Mendie Lankford, and Otis Young Lankford. He went by Norris and is my 3rd cousin 2x removed. Our nearest common relatives are Charles L. Lankford and Miss Moore. Norris’ great grandfather, Robert Chester Lankford, and my 3rd great grandfather, James Meriweather Lankford, were brothers.

In 1926 when Norris was two years old, his mother gave birth to a baby boy on December 22 and sadly, the baby died four days later. He was buried the next day at Trinity Cemetery in Charlotte. A sad Christmas for the Lankford family.

On April 22, 1930, the Lankford family lived on Glennwood Drive in Charlotte. His father, a brick mason, owned their home which was valued at $1500. Sometime between the time this census was taken, and 1938, the family moved to Brentwood, Missouri, near St. Louis.

Norris’ father died from heart disease in St Louis, Missouri on October, 22, 1938. He was buried at Bairdstown Cemetery in Bairdstown, Oglethorpe County, Georgia where his parents and grandparents were buried.

In November 1939, Norris was a member of the Boys Scouts of America, belonging to Troop 320 with the Frazier School. On November 12, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat published a news item that recognized Norris as one of several boys receiving a merit badge.

On April 13, 1940, Norris, his widowed mother, and his siblings lived on Pendelton Street in Brentwood, Jefferson Township, St Louis County, Missouri. They had been living in this same home at least since April 1935. The census enumerator noted that his mother had an 8th grade education. It didn’t appear that she was working, however, his 21-year-old brother Robert was an assistant timekeeper for a fire brick manufacturer. Robert had an income of $1100 and had worked the last 52 weeks. His sister, Nancy, age 19, was a beauty operator in a commercial beauty shop.

Norris attended Brentwood High School, graduating in 1942. While there, he was active in the Games, Dancing, Tumbling, and Archery Clubs, as well as the Intramural Teams and Work Program. The Brentwood Log, his school yearbook, noted that Norris was “tall and lanky.”

From Norris' 1942 Brentswood High School yearbook, The Brentwood Log

 On June 30, 1942, Norris registered for the World War II draft in Brentwood. He was 18 years old and worked at the Way Side Market. Norris listed his weight as 147 pounds, he had a light complexion, blue eyes, and blonde hair. As noted in his 1942 yearbook, he was tall at 6’1.” He listed R. C. Lankford (his brother) as his next of kin. Norris enlisted in the U.S. Army at Jefferson Barracks on March 13, 1943, serving as an infantryman.

World War II draft registration card

On December 16, 1944, Norris, a Private, was reported as missing in action. In early March 1945, it was determined that he had been taken prisoner in Germany and was a prisoner of the German government. The Army notified his mother, who was living at 459A Lauren Street. German prisoners of war (POW) were often separated into camps by officers, the Navy, and enlisted men. According to U.S. History, …“At those camps, the quarters typically consisted of a single-story barracks with multiple bunk beds. A stove sat in the center of the room, but some men made their own out of bricks. The men were given two small meals a day, plus deliveries of such “luxury” items as butter and other staples from the Red Cross.” I believe Norris was released from captivity on May 1, 1945. Norris was released from the Army on November 29, 1945 at Camp Crowder, Missouri.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis, MO (March 2, 1945)

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis, MO (March 2, 1945)

The Social Security Death Index shows that Norris’ social security number was issued in Missouri before 1951 so it appears that Norris stayed in Missouri after he returned home from the Army. He was living in St. Louis in 1958 according to the St. Louis, Missouri city directory, renting a home at 2652 Louis Avenue. Norris was a foreman at General Refractories, a fire brick business at the time. Not surprising since his father was a brick mason.

Norris’ mother died in St. Louis on December 30, 1979. She was buried beside his father at Bairdstown Cemetery in Georgia.

By the time Norris’ brother Robert Jr. died at Baptist Hospital Highlands in Jefferson County, Kentucky on October 11, 1986, Norris had moved to Aberdeen, Mississippi. Public records show that Norris lived on Pinehill Drive in Aberdeen at least from 1992 to 2002.

Norris lost his brother Otis in 1997 and his sister Vesta in 2000. Norris himself died on May 5, 2001. He was buried at Oaklawn Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Aberdeen, Mississippi.


  • Allen Percival Green, The State Historical Society of Missouri, Historic Missourians;
  • Brentwood Log, Brentwood High School, Brentwood, Missouri, 1940, 1941, 1942 (yearbooks).
  • United States History, Allied POWs, German POW camps;
  • Infant of R. C. Langford, certificate number 313, North Carolina, Death Certificates, 1909–1976.
  • Otis Young Lankford obituary, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis, Missouri, January 15, 1997.
  • Pvt. William N. Lankford, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis, Missouri, March 2, 1945 and March 3, 1945.
  • Robert Chester Lankford Jr. obituary, The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Kentucky, October 13, 1986.
  • Social Security Death Index.
  • St. Louis, Missouri, City Directory, 1958.
  • Troop 320, St. Louis Globe-Democrat, St. Louis, Missouri, November 12, 1939
  • U.S. Federal Census, Brentwood, St Louis, Missouri, 1940.
  • U.S. Federal Census, Charlotte, Mecklenburg, North Carolina, 1930.
  • U.S. Phone and Address Directories, 1993–2002.
  • Vesta M. Murphy obituary, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis, Missouri, August 31, 2000.
  • William Lankford, U.S. WWII Draft Cards Young Men, 1898–1929.
  • William N Lankford, World War II Prisoners of War, 1941–1946.
  • William N. Lankford, Missouri, Reports of Separation Notices, 1941–1946. Robert Chester Lankford II obituary, The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Kentucky, October 13, 1986.
  • William N. Lankford, U.S. Veterans Gravesites, ca.1775–2006.
  • William N. Lankford, U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938–1946.
  • William Norris Lankford, U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936–2007.


  1. I am Sheryl Strub Jordan, Norris Lankford's step-daughter. I appreciate the article and the history. Some we never knew. A few things to add: Norris was a radio carrier in WWII and was captured at the Battle of the Bulge trying to deliver a message to Col. Deschaneaux. The prisoners were 70 to a boxcar, freezing for 3 days until they arrived at a Serbian P.O.W. camp in Bad Orb, Germany. There were no Red Cross rations because the Red Cross had no idea they were there. They survived on turnip top soup and an occasional rotten potato. According to him, the Germans were starving, as well and did the best they could for the prisoners. He married Joan Walter Strub in Dec. 1967. She was a widow with 3 living children: Robert Strub, Susan Strub (James Bell) and me, Sheryl Strub (John Jordan). We moved to Aberdeen, MS in the spring of 1968. He lived there on Pinehill Drive until his death. Thank you again for your extensive earlier history.

  2. Also, they arrived at the Serbian camp on December 24, 1944. Upon his release, he tried to join the Army Aircorp. He was rejected due to a back injury sustained from being blown out of a French farmhouse during WWII.

    1. Sheryl, I'm glad you found the post and thank you for sharing these details. I hate to think about what he went through while a POW. Thank you for reading.