PRESTON FOUNTAIN HANCOCK
Preston Hancock was born October 8, 1896, in Lexington, Missouri, the third son of Henry and Martha Hancock.
On September 24, 1918, Preston enlisted in the Army to serve his country in World War I. He was part of Headquarters Company of the 816th Pioneer Infantry (colored), and served in France. The Pioneer Regiments consisted of non-combatant black troops who worked as Stevedores, dug trenches, graves, and latrines, and built hospitals and roads. This work was arduous and essential, and they carried it out with loyalty, cheerfulness, and spirit. This army of “Stevedores” had all the rank and uniform that the infantry had. They were soldiers, and were proud they belonged to Uncle Sam’s Army. Col. C.E. Goodwyn, commander of the largest camp of Stevedores in France, made this observation:
“It is with many keen thrusts of sorrow that I am obliged to leave this camp and the men who have made up this organization. The men for whose uplift you are working have not only gained but have truly earned a large place in my heart, and I will always cherish a loving memory of the men of this wonderful organization which I have had the honor and privilege to command.”
Preston was an accomplished musician (trombone), and he performed with the 816th Pioneer Infantry band under the direction of Band Sgt. Major Joseph L. Bartlett. The band usually stayed close to its regiment, playing for the troops in the trenches under fire and the men at rest just to the rear. Away from the combat zone, they performed for military ceremonies, at public open-air concerts for civilians, and at private soirees for generals, politicians, and royalty. Among other things, the bands of the 815th and 816th regiments played at the establishment of the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in Romagne, France, by General Pershing in October of 1919. The band of the 816th played daily to counteract low morale in their surroundings.
Preston was discharged from his duties on August 7, 1919. Upon his return to Lexington, he found work as a coal miner (later as a janitor). On January 10, 1925, he married Alfretta Akers, and the couple had three children: Preston, Zelma and Earline.
In the 1920’s and 1930’s, Preston (along with brother Austin) performed with Elmer Radd’s Cotton Club Band and Harlem Blue Birds. The band was in demand over a wide area of western Missouri, mostly performing in dance halls.
Preston Fountain Hancock died December 31, 1963, and is buried at Forest Grove Cemetery.