He went AWOL to avoid virus

Home Virus He went AWOL to avoid virus
He went AWOL to avoid virus

Oscar Lee Dunbar

By Ken MacDonald • 


The virus touched my wife’s family in a big way, and I’m beginning to understand the implications a little better now. Not the COV-19, though, but the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918. To summarize, her grandfather went AWOL from the Army, hid in the swamps of eastern North Carolina for three years, and changed his name to stay alive.

My father wrote an account in his book about family history:


“Oscar Lee Dunbar at that time was stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, and on a daily basis saw men by the scores dying. In fact, he and a friend, also from Swan Quarter, nursed, tended, and buried every other man in their unit. When they completed the burial of the last of their platoon, they were so exhausted they fell asleep under a railroad trestle.

Very little imagination is required to appreciate their mental state at that time. For some reason these two men from the wide open spaces of Eastern North Carolina (Hyde County) had so far been spared the fate of so many of their companions. However, they had no choice but to believe that their own lives were in jeopardy.

They decided to leave Fort Bragg — and they did.

The problem was they failed to check out. So, for the next three years their home was the swamps of Hyde and Tyrrell counties.

They trapped for a living, taking their furs in at night to family members in trade for supplies. Oscar Lee had grown up on and about the water — in fact, by the age of 16 was a riverboat captain. He was skilled with his hands and built many fine boats. So life in the wild probably wasn’t as tough as it might have been for some.

After about three years the time seemed appropriate to resume a normal life, and Oscar Lee left the wilds and eventually found his way to Kinston, where he went to barber school. There he adopted the name Montague from a local gravestone; he met Louvenia at the boarding house that her mother ran, introducing himself as Edward Lee Montague.

Barbering didn’t pan out because the long hours standing had an adverse effect on his legs. He left Kinston for Durham where he went to work for a contractor. After a number of years he went into business for himself.

Meantime, he and Louvenia were married in Kinston and Vivian was born in 1931. Their life was one of normalcy until one day early in 1950 a knock on the door shattered the peace and quiet. The Army, after all those years, had received a tip, and Oscar was taken into custody.

Though he was home again within three days with no charges filed, Louvenia was devastated. The matter was simply not discussed.”