A North Carolina Hero
The advent of football season and the approach of Armistice Day may seem to have nothing in common, but perhaps it is an appropriate time to honor the memory of Arthur Bluethenthal, whose heroics on the sports field were exceeded only by his bravery on the battlefield.
“Bluey,” as he was nicknamed, was the son of Leopold and Johanna Bluethenthal. His family, like many German Jews in Wilmington, had prospered and were prominent members of the Temple of Israel. After attending Phillips Exeter Academy, Bluey matriculated at Princeton University. From 1910 to 1912, at 5’9”, 186-pounds, he played center for the football team, leading the 8-0-2 Tigers to an undefeated season as the team yielded but 15 points. Newspapers named him a first-team All American, and he was a consensus All-East player. In his senior year Bluey, a combative player, was third-team All American. After graduating, he coached line at Princeton and then at UNC-Chapel Hill.
In 1916, prior to America’s entry into World War I, Bluethenthal volunteered for the French Foreign Legion, and at Verdun he was awarded a Croix de Guerre for bravery. In June, 1917, he joined the Lafayette Flying Corps, the only American in the French squadron. He piloted a single-engine Breguet bomber. On June 4, 1918, while directing artillery, he engaged four German planes in aerial combat 50 miles north of Paris. His plane went down. Arthur Bluethenthal became the first North Carolinian to be killed in World War I. “Poor Arthur went down in a flame of glory in the fields of France,” wrote Mina Weil of Goldsboro, whose daughter Janet had married Arthur’s brother, Herbert.
Wilmington mourned. The city officially closed down to honor him. A tribute written for the Paris Herald in 1918 by Captain Hugh Alwyn Inness-Brown described a hero without conceit. “France and America lost one of their staunchest patriots,” the Captain lamented. France awarded him a second Croix de Guerre and a Medaille Militaire. In 1921 he was re-interred in Wilmington’s Oakdale Cemetery, the state’s oldest Jewish burial ground. His grave includes the insignia of the Lafayette Escardrille. In 1928 Wilmington named its airport Bluethenthal Field in his honor. Princeton University engraved his name in gilt letters on a memorial plaque in Nassau Hall. He was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
His legacy of service did not end with his death as his nephew and namesake, the late Arthur Bluethenthal of Greensboro, continued a legacy of civic and Jewish community leadership.