By Matthew M. Peek, Military Collection Archivist, State Archives of North Carolina
The N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources will be producing special programming and content from May to June 2019 in honor of the 75th anniversary of the Allied D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944, in France during World War II. Over the years, the various divisions of the department have collected materials documenting the service of North Carolina military veterans during WWII. As part of this effort, the State Archives of North Carolina will be sharing audio online for the first time from 25 state veterans who participated in the D-Day invasions. We hope to honor the extreme courage and sacrifices of those who freed Europe and the world from horrors of that war. As part of this effort, we are publishing a series of blog posts entitled “D-Day at 75,” featuring original oral history interviews, biographies, and scans of original archival materials that were part of the Normandy invasion 75 years ago this year.
In today’s installment of “D-Day at 75,” we would like to honor the military service of Jeremiah Wolfe, the revered elder of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians who passed away last year in March 2018. Wolfe was serving in the U.S. Navy on June 6, 1944, involved with the Allied invasion at Omaha Beach. You can listen to an oral history interview with Wolfe conducted for the State Archives of North Carolina in 2009 here through the Internet Archive. Below is a short biography of Wolfe’ life and service.
Jeremiah Wolfe (who went by “Jerry”) was born on September 28, 1924, in the in the Big Cove Community of Cherokee, N.C., to Owen and Lucy Ann Davis Wolfe. Wolfe grew up in Sherrill Cove on the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Reservation in western North Carolina. The family home sat in the middle of what is now the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Jeremiah Wolfe enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War II on July 21, 1943, when he was a sophomore at the Cherokee Boarding School. Upon completion of basic training, Wolfe was sent to southern England. He served aboard the Queen Mary, and worked on an aviation repair vessel and a destroyer escort. On June 6, 1944, he participated in the Allied invasion of Omaha Beach, France on June 6, 1944. As the only Native American in his division, he gained the respect of the other men as he was able to adapt very well to strenuous work from growing up in Great Smoky Mountains region of North Carolina. Wolfe returned home following the D-Day invasion with the rank of 2nd Class Petty Officer/Communicator in charge of 13 enlisted white men. After more training and transfers, Wolfe was sent to the Pacific Theatre, where he witnessed the official declaration of peace signing on board the USS Missouri by the Japanese. He served in the Navy until being honorably discharged on February 1, 1950.
Before his discharge, Wolfe married Juanita Bradley on January 2, 1949. Jeremiah Wolfe was a mason by trade, and was one of the last Cherokee stonecutters. He built fireplaces, walls, and monuments that are considered to be works of art. He retired from working for the federal government in 1985, and worked at the Museum of the Cherokee Indians as a greeter starting in 1987. Wolfe assisted in translating documents into the Cherokee language, as he read and wrote using the Cherokee Syllabary. He spent time in local schools teaching the Cherokee language, and telling stories of the Cherokee people to the school children.
In the spring of 2013, Jeremiah Wolfe was named Beloved Man of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, being the first man to receive this honor in over 200 years. In the spring of 2017, he was bestowed with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine by North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, and also received an Honorary Doctorate of Human Letters from Western Carolina University. Jeremiah Wolfe died on March 12, 2018, at the Mission Hospital in Asheville, N.C., and was buried in Yellowhill Veterans Cemetery in Cherokee, N.C.
Jeremiah Wolfe Interview, MilColl OH 948, conducted on August 15, 2009, North Carolina Military Veterans Oral History Collection, Military Collection, State Archives of North Carolina.
Much of this biography was taken from the obituary for Jeremiah Wolfe published in the Asheville Citizien-Times, and reprinted on Legacy.com at https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/citizen-times/obituary.aspx?n=jeremiah-wolfe-jerry&pid=188472524&fhid=21633
Covor photo: “The forward 14-inch/45-caliber guns of USS Nevada (BB-36) fire on positions ashore during the landings on Utah Beach, 6 June 1944,” From National Archives and Records Administration, Image number 80-G-252412.
Photograph of Jeremiah Wolfe. Photograph from Ashley T. Evans of Western Carolina University, published online in article by the Asheville Citizien-Times, viewed online at https://www.citizen-times.com/story/news/local/2017/05/19/wcu-honors-revered-cherokee-elder-during-spring-commencement/333627001/.