Harry Elmore DeVane, D-Day, Ferry over the Rhine and the USS FDR

Harry Elmore DeVane (1922-1946)

Harry Devane and the D-Day Invasion

Harry E. DeVane was a son of Caulie Augustus DeVane and Alma L Albritton, born January 9, 1922.  He was a grandson of Matthew Hodge Albritton.

Harry E. DeVane attended the Ray City School, and graduated with the RCHS class of 1938 along with classmates Harold Comer, J. I. Clements, and Billy McDonald.

During WWII, Harry E. DeVane joined the U.S. Navy.  He attended Naval Reserve Midshipmen school and was promoted to Ensign July 28, 1943.  He was classed as DV-G,  a deck officer, volunteer naval reserve.  By February, 1944, DeVane appeared on the Navy Muster Rolls  of USS LST 291, a Tank Landing Ship, with the rank of Ensign and assigned as a Boat Officer.

Landing Ship, Tank (LST) is the naval designation for vessels created during World War II to support amphibious operations by carrying vehicles, cargo, and landing troops directly onto an unimproved shore. About 1,000 LSTs were laid down in the United States during World War II for use by the Allies.

LST 291 enroute to Plymouth, England, with tank landing craft LCT 615 on her deck.

LST 291 enroute to Plymouth, England, with tank landing craft LCT 615 on her deck. Harry E. DeVane, of Ray City, GA served as an Ensign on LST 291 .

LST 291

THE LANDING SHIP Tank 291 was built by the American Bridge Company at Ambridge, Pennsylvania. It was completed late in 1943 and floated via the inland route to New Orleans, Louisiana in charge of a civilian ferry crew. At New Orleans it was placed in commission at 1200 on 22 December 1943. LTJG A. G. McNair of Yonkers, N. Y. became her first Commanding Officer.

After commissioning a busy period of fitting out the ship for war commenced, and was finally completed on 29 January 1944. The ship had its shakedown cruise off the cost of Florida near Panama City, returning to New Orleans on 14 February 1944. In the meantime the ship’s Captain was spot promoted to full lieutenant. At New Orleans supplies were taken aboard, and the LCT (Landing Craft Tank) 614 was loaded on her main deck. The ship then sailed for New York city and received aboard three (3) Army Officers, thirty (30) Army troops and sixty (60) hospital corpsmen as passengers for the trip across the Atlantic.

On 8 March 1944 the ship sailed for Boston, Massachusetts and suffered its first real difficulty. It ran aground in the East River, New York. The Captain had the conn, and the Pilot took over and got the ship free. Arriving at Boston on 9 March 1944, the next day a diver was sent down to inspect the ship ‘ s hull, especially ballast tank B-409-W. The ship then proceeded to dry- dock in Boston and had the hull damage repaired.

Receiving orders to sail to Halifax, Nova Scotia, the ship got underway on 18 March and arrived at Halifax 20 March 1944. At Halifax a seize of scarlet fever attacked members of the crew, and the ship was delayed until 17 April from sailing to Milford Haven, ‘ Wales.  She finally did sail and after an uneventful voyage, anchored off Milford Haven on 1 May 1944. On 2 May the 291 sailed for Plymouth, England where she launched LCT 614 on 4 May 1944. On 23 May the 291 towed US Rhine Ferry No. 17 to Portland, England.

On 5 June 1944 the 291 got underway and participated in the big landing off Normandy. The ship had been waiting and was ready in all respects when the big day arrived. The many succeeding days were spent crossing back and forth between England and France carrying troops and equipment so necessary to sustain the beachhead. Under Orders from Commander Western Task Force the 291 hit Omaha Beach on D-Day. From D-Day (6 June 1944) until exactly one year later, the 291 completed forty-nine (49) trips across the English Channel carrying to France 6,887 troops and 2,422 vehicles. On return trips, the ship carried 1,630 prisoners of war, 1,392 troops, and 11 vehicles back to England. During this period the 291 took care of 900 personnel casualties.

Harry E. DeVane made the voyage to England with LST 291 to participate in D-Day .   In Beachhead Normandy, Tom Carter tells the story of LCT 615 and its piggyback ride on LST 291 to participate in the Invasion at Normandy. On D-Day LST 291 did its job of landing tanks, trucks and troops at Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944.    George Jones, who served with DeVane on LST 291, gives an account  at World War II: Stories in Their Own Words  of the horrorible scene they experienced on D-Day, and Paul Handwerk, who was a lieutenant on LST 291 gave a 1994 newspaper interview about LST 291 and D- Day.

Cover of Beachhead Normandy, by Tom Carter

Cover of Beachhead Normandy, by Tom Carter

Among other Ray City men participating in the D-Day invasion was Hubert Felton Comer, who was serving on the destroyer USS Rich.  Comer was killed on June 8, 1944 when his ship struck a mine and sank.  LST 291 fared better in the Normandy Invasion.  After landing its cargo, LST 291 then acted as a hospital ship with an operating room, and  ferried hundreds of casualties back to England. In D-Day Survivor, Harold Baumgarten describes his evacuation from Omaha Beach to LST 291 where he was treated for five wounds received in the Normandy Invasion.

Cover of D-Day Survivor, an autobiography by Harold Baumgarten.

Cover of D-Day Survivor, an autobiography by Harold Baumgarten.

Harry DeVane and the Ferry Over the Rhine

After D-Day Harry DeVane continued to serve with the Navy in Europe.

      In an unusual assignment hundreds of miles inland, U.S. Navy sailors [including Harry E. DeVane]  and their landing craft helped Army forces breach Germany’s last major line of defense.
      In March 1945, villagers in northern France, Belgium, and Germany were treated to the peculiar sight of large boats seemingly floating across late-winter fields. It was not an optical illusion. Columns of 70-foot trailers hauled by brawny two-ton trucks were transporting U.S. Navy landing craft down narrow roads and through small farming villages, demolishing the occasional house or cutting down scores of trees when the fit was too tight.
     These craft were 36-foot LCVPs (landing craft, vehicle, personnel) or 50-foot LCMs (landing craft, mechanized)—boats that had brought U.S. troops ashore at Normandy. Now, far from the ocean or English Channel, they were on their way to the Rhine River, the physical and symbolic barrier to the German heartland—broad, swift, and hemmed in by high bluffs for much of its rush from alpine headwaters to the North Sea.
      The U.S. Navy’s involvement in breaching this mighty obstruction demonstrated the adaptability of U.S. forces, the possibilities of interservice cooperation, and foresight in putting these large and specialized craft in the right places far from the sea, at the right time, to facilitate the final thrust that brought victory over Germany.   – V.P. O’Hara, Naval History Magazine

Devane participated in the Navy’s operation to ferry troops and equipment across the Rhine River. The LCVP or Higgins boat was used extensively in amphibious landings.  The LCMs were capable of ferrying tanks and other heavy equipment.  The boats had to be transported over land on trucks to reach the Rhine.

An LCM (Landing Craft, Mechanized) negotiates a sharp turn on its way to the Rhine. Once at the riverbank, one or  two cranes would be required to get the 50-foot craft into the water.

An LCM (Landing Craft, Mechanized) negotiates a sharp turn on its way to the Rhine. Once at the riverbank, one or two cranes would be required to get the 50-foot craft into the water.

Between March 7, 1945 and and March 29, 1945, the Navy transported more than 26,000 troops and 4,000 vehicles across the Rhine. On March 11 the Navy ferried 8000 men across the river one mile south of Remagen. The navy boats operated under fire from artillery and aircraft, and patrolled against saboteurs. On March 12, 1945 the LCVPs assisted in the construction of a pontoon bridge to span the river.

March, 1945, A U.S. Navy landing craft with dropping depth charges on the Rhine River to detonate possible mines and discourage saboteur attacks on pontoon bridges.  Naval personnel involved in the Rhine crossings were required to wear Army uniforms.

March, 1945, A U.S. Navy landing craft with dropping depth charges on the Rhine River to detonate possible mines and discourage saboteur attacks on pontoon bridges. Naval personnel involved in the Rhine crossings were required to wear Army uniforms.

On the 14th of March more LCVPs ferried 2,200 troops of the 1st Division across the river in three hours; 900 more men and eight jeeps were ferried across on March 16, 1945. On the 22nd the LCVPs acted on their own initiative to ferry infantry men of Patton’s Third Army across the river at Oppenheim, carrying more than 4000 troops and 250 vehicles across the Rhine while under enemy fire.

U.S. 79th Division soldiers atop an armored vehicle ride across the Rhine in an LCM on March 24, 1945.  National Archives

U.S. 79th Division soldiers atop an armored vehicle ride across the Rhine in an LCM on March 24, 1945. National Archives

On March 24, while under attack from German antiaircraft guns, the LCVPs ferried the 87th Division across the River at Boppard at the rate of 400 men per hour.

U.S. Third Army infantrymen are ferried across the Rhine in a Navy LCVP near Boppard, Germany, on March 25, 1945.

U.S. Third Army infantrymen are ferried across the Rhine in a Navy LCVP near Boppard, Germany, on March 25, 1945.

And in 48 hours beginning on March 26, LCVPs carried 6,000 men, 1,200 vehicles and heavy cannon of the 89th Division across at Oberwesel. From March 26 to March 29 LCVPs and LCMs ferried 10,000 men and 1,100 vehicles across the river at Mainz while under fire from German artillery.

Harry E. DeVane would later be decorated for the part he played in transporting U.S. forces across the Rhine.

Harry DeVane and the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt

After the surrender of Germany and Victory in Europe, Harry Elmore DeVane was promoted to Lieutenant and transferred to the aircraft carrier USS Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was constructed at New York Naval Shipyard. Sponsor Mrs. John H. Towers, wife of the Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet, christened the ship Coral Sea at the 29 April 1945 launching. On 8 May 1945, President Harry S. Truman approved the Secretary of the Navy’s recommendation to rename the ship Franklin D. Roosevelt in honor of the late president.

Roosevelt was commissioned on Navy Day, 27 October 1945, at the New York Naval Shipyard. Captain Apollo Soucek was the ship’s first commanding officer. During her shakedown cruise, Roosevelt called at Rio de Janeiro from February 1 to February 11, 1946 to represent the United States at the inauguration of Brazilian president Eurico Gaspar Dutra, who came aboard for a short cruise.

During her shakedown cruise USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42) visited Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1–11 February 1946. Image: http://www.navsource.org/archives/02/42.htm

Lieutenant Harry Elmore DeVane was serving on  USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42) during her shakedown cruise when she visited Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1–11 February 1946. Image: http://www.navsource.org/archives/02/42.htm

Aircraft Carrier USS Franklin D. Roosevelt, off the coast of Rio de  Janerio, February 1-11, 1946. Image: During her shakedown cruise USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42) visited Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1–11 February 1946. Image: http://www.navsource.org/archives/02/42.htm

Aircraft Carrier USS Franklin D. Roosevelt, off the coast of Rio de Janerio, February 1-11, 1946.  Image: http://www.navsource.org/archives/02/42.htm

While serving on the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt, on February 7, 1946, Harry E. DeVane was killed in a shipboard accident. The Atlanta Constitution reported his death.

Harry Elmore DeVane killed

Harry Elmore DeVane killed February 7, 1946

Atlanta Constitution
February 17, 1946

RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 17. – Lt. Harry Elmore Devane, of Ray City, Ga., was killed instantly Feb. 7 when he was struck by the propeller of an airplane on the new carrier Franklin D. Roosevelt.
        The Navy Department said the ship was on maneuvers off Rio de Janeiro when the accident occurred. Devane was recently decorated for wartime duty transporting men and materials across the Rhine river in Germany.
        He was the son of Mrs. Caule Devane, of Ray City.

Grave of Harry Elmore DeVane, Pleasant Cemetery, near Ray City, GA

Grave of Harry Elmore DeVane, Pleasant Cemetery, near Ray City, GA

Donald Allen Wilson, Lt. Col. (Ret. USAF)

Donald Allen Wilson, long time resident of Ray City, GA, served in the US Air Force in three wars – WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.

A-26 Invader. Donald Allen Wilson  flew fifty five night combat missions in Korea in A26’s.  After 27 1/2 years of service he retired to Ray City, GA with his wife, Juanelle Wilson.

A-26 Invader. Donald Allen Wilson flew fifty five night combat missions in Korea in A26’s. After 27 1/2 years of service he retired to Ray City, GA with his wife, Juanelle Wilson.

LT. COL. (RET. USAF), DONALD ALLEN WILSON, 86, of Ray City died Wednesday, March 26, 2008 at his home. He was born on April 26, 1921 in Rochester, New York to the late Sidney Clinton and Adriene Baldwin Wilson and had lived in this area for many years. Mr. Wilson was a member of the Ray City United Methodist Church and was a 1972 graduate of Valdosta State College. He served in the China Burma India Theatre for eight months and out for one year and then recalled to theatres. Mr. Wilson was a combat pilot in World War II, he flew fifty five night combat missions in Korea in A26’s and tour of cargo aircraft in Vietnam. He also did Ford Motor Training.

Survivors include his wife of 65 years, Juanelle Starling Wilson of Ray City, a daughter, Barbara Joyce of Ray City, a son, Dale Allen Wilson of San Diego, Calif., grandchildren, Miriam M. Evans of Tallahassee, Fla., Niccolo Robert Wilson and Sofia Antonia Wilson both of California.

In accordance with Mr. Wilson’s request he will be cremated and no formal services will be held at this time. Condolences to the family may be conveyed online at http://www.mclanefuneralservices.com. Carson McLane Funeral Home.

Charlie Parker was a Splendid Soldier

Charlie Parker (1919-1945)

In Lakeland, GA there is an official military headstone marking the grave of Charlie Parker, who was a resident of Ray City. Charlie Parker enlisted in the army days before the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  He was in the first African American military unit to arrive in England, and he was the first African-American from Berrien County to die in WWII. Like the Army in which he served, the cemetery where he was buried was racially segregated  –  the Lakeland Colored Cemetery. Today this burial ground is known as the Charles Knight Cemetery.

Grave of Charlie Parker (1919-1945), Lakeland, GA <br> CPL 65 ORD AM CO <br> World War II

Grave of Charlie Parker (1919-1945), Lakeland, GA
CPL 65 ORD AM CO
World War II

Charlie Parker, a son of Will Parker and Girtrude “Trudie” Reddick, lived most of his short life at Ray City, GA. He was a nephew of Stella Reddick Wright and Mose Wright.

His father, Will Parker, was born August 8, 1884.  As a man, Will Parker  was medium height and build, with black eyes and black hair.  His mother was Girtrude Reddick; She was a daughter of Albert and Sylvia Reddick. His parents were married  in Coffee County, GA on November 4, 1916 in a ceremony performed by Reverend R. N. Thompson.

By 1918, Charlie’s parents were residing in Berrien County, GA. Will Parker,  was employed by Samuel I. Watson as a farmer, working Watson’s property on RFD #2 out of Milltown (now Lakeland), GA. By 1920, Will  and Girtrude Parker had  relocated to Ray City, GA, renting a house in the “Negro Quarters” which were located between Hwy 129 and Cat Creek in the present day vicinity of the Ray City Senior Citizen Center. Will Parker had taken a job with the Georgia & Florida Railroad, and Gertrude was working as a laundress.  Will  and Gertrude had started a family, with their firstborn son Albert Parker born March 1917, and Charlie Parker born January 9, 1919.  Matthew Parker was born in 1921 and Mary Parker in 1922, followed by Stella, Mack, and the twins, Ethel Mae and Willie both of whom died young.  The Parkers neighbors were men like Charlie Palmer, Joe Davis, and Jerry Mullin, all of whom worked for the railroad, and their wives Henrietta Palmer and Essie Davis, who, like Gertrude, worked as laundresses, and Annie Mullin, who was employed as a domestic cook.

1920 Census enumeration of Charlie Parker and his family in Ray City, GA https://archive.org/stream/14thcensusofpopu235unit#page/n293/mode/1up

1920 Census enumeration of Charlie Parker and his family in Ray City, GA
https://archive.org/stream/14thcensusofpopu235unit#page/n293/mode/1up

Charlie Parker and his siblings attended grade school, Charlie completing the 5th grade according to his later military records. Of course, at the time schools were segregated. It wasn’t until 1954 that the supreme court ruled on segregation and the 1964 Civil Rights Act compelled the desegregation of schools. Yet segregated schools persisted in the South; In 1965, “In Berrien County, Georgia, 32 Negro parents chose white schools for their children, but the school Superintendent told the U.S. Office of Education that all 32 parents came to him before school opened and said that their names had been forged on the choice forms.”

Charlie’s mother, Girtrude Reddick Parker, died some time in the 1920s.  The 1930 census shows Will Parker, widower, raising Charlie and his siblings alone, although Girtrude’s sisters also mothered the children. Will was renting a house in Ray City for two dollars a month and  continued to work for the railroad. Charlie’s older brother, Albert, quit school and went to work as a farm laborer to help support the family.  The Parkers also took in boarders to help with family expenses; Census records show Eugene and Luvicy Thomas Campbell living in the Parker household. Their neighbors were the widow Nina Dowdy and Charlie Phillips.  Down the street was the residence of Henry Polite, who later married Queen Ester Wright.

1930 Census enumeration of Charlie Parker, his father and siblings in Ray City, GA

1930 Census enumeration of Charlie Parker, his father and siblings in Ray City, GA
https://archive.org/stream/georgiacensus00reel338#page/n354/mode/1up

In 1939, Charlie Parker was working on the Guthrie farm on Park Street extension. When the men were cropping tobacco in the summer of 1939, one of Charlie’s tasks was to go into town to get ice. The Guthries had a mule that pulled a sled which was used to haul the tobacco from the field to the tobacco barn for curing. At lunch time, when the tobacco croppers were taking a break, Charlie would take the mule and sled down the dirt road into Ray City to the ice house.  Ferris Moore kept a little ice house by the railroad track in front of Pleamon Sirman’s grocery store. The ice was shipped into Ray City from an ice plant in Nashville. Sometimes seven-year-old Diane Miley, one of the Guthrie grandchildren, would ride in the sled with Charlie for the trip into town and back.

Sometime in late 1939, Charlie Parker and his cousin, Dan Simpson,  left Ray City and went to Florida to try their hand at working for the Wilson Cypress Company. Dan was a son of Charlie’s aunt Luvicy Reddick and her first husband, John H. Simpson.

1940 Census enumeration of Charlie Parker at the Wilson Cypress Sawmill Camp, Crows Bluff, FL

1940 Census enumeration of Charlie Parker at the Wilson Cypress Sawmill Camp, Crows Bluff, FL

The 1940 census enumerated Charlie Parker and Dan Simpson in Lake County, FL, working  at the Crows Bluff Camp of the Wilson Cypress Sawmill. Each rented a place to live at the camp for $2.00 a month.

Crows Bluff on the St. Johns River, was about 65 miles up stream from the Wilson Sawmill at Palatka, FL. At one time, the Wilson sawmill was the largest cypress sawmill in the world.

Parker and Simpson worked as “rafting laborers.” The cypress trees were cut and hauled to the river. They were dumped into the water and assembled into rafts which were floated down the river to the sawmill.

Wilson Cypress Company dumping logs into the Saint Johns River. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/38983

Wilson Cypress sawmill camp in Lake County, FL, dumping logs into the Saint Johns River.
Charlie Parker and Dan Simpson, of Ray City, GA found work with Wilson Cypress Company in the late 1930s as “rafting laborers.”
State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/38983

Wilson Cypress Company logging operation on a tributary of the St. Johns River. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/38992

Wilson Cypress Company logging operation on a tributary of the St. Johns River. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/38992

Timber rafting on a tributary of the St. Johns River, Florida. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/27761

Timber rafting on a tributary of the St. Johns River, Florida. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/27761

Wilson Cypress Sawmill. Charlie Parker worked for the Wilson Cypress Sawmill prior to WWII. At the time, the sawmill was the largest producer of red-heart tidewater cypress lumber in the world.

Wilson Cypress Sawmill.
Charlie Parker worked for the Wilson Cypress Sawmill prior to WWII. At the time, the sawmill was the largest producer of red-heart tidewater cypress lumber in the world.

The Palatka sawmill operation of the Wilson Cypress Company was shut down December 5, 1945 during WWII.  Later, the chairman of the company board remarked, “There just was no more marketable timber. We had cut it all.”   Over the next 37 years,  the company’s assets were sold off piece by piece, including 100,000 acres of cut over cypress wetlands.

But the war drew Charlie Parker away before the end came for the sawmill.    His elder brother, Albert Parker, had joined the Army nearly a year before the U.S. entered the war, enlisting at Fort Benning, GA on January 21, 1941.

U.S. Army records show that Charlie Parker enlisted with the Army on November 26, 1941, eleven days before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He entered the service at Camp Blanding, FL. His physical description at induction was 5’9″ tall and 151 pounds.  His cousin Dan Simpson would be inducted at Camp Blanding the following year.

Camp Blanding was established in 1939 and by 1941, the camp had grown to be the fourth largest city in Florida with more than 10,000 buildings to accommodate two divisions, about 60,000 trainees.  In addition to housing and mess halls, maintenance buildings, PXs, field artillery and rifle ranges, the camp had a 2,800-bed hospital, enlisted men’s and officer’s clubs, bowling alleys, four theaters, and five chapels… The camp had separate training and induction centers for soldiers of both races, although they remained in separate areas of the post…During World War II, approximately one million men received basic training here, the largest of Florida’s 142 military installations built in the 1940s.

Following training, Charlie Parker was initially assigned to the 60th Ordnance Ammunition Company and later transferred to the 65th Ordnance Ammunition Company.

“The 65th Ordnance Company were the first Aviation ammunition Unit to arrive in the UK. They were set to immediate work establishing the first Aviation Ordnance Section in a General Service Depot, at Burtonwood. They were briefly transferred to Barnham before being moved to Wortley, Yorkshire to man the first depot to accept AF munitions in quantity from the US. This Unit was the first African American Unit to arrive in England!  Its arrival being the subject of an FBI document, relating to a press release, downplaying the arrival of ‘negro’ troops.”

“The all black 65th Ordnance Company who arrived from Fort Dix, New Jersey in the middle of July 1942 at the nearby small village of Wortley. They were joined the following month by a further 98 black GIs. They had come to service an aerial bomb depot in the vicinity, and were barracked at Wortley Hall, the home of Lord Wharncliffe. According to the detailed account of this by Graham Smith, the locals of Wortley and Sheffield got on very well with the black soldiers, apart from some young men who resented them having relations with local young women. They were resented too by Lord Wharncliffe, who didn’t like having them milling around his living quarters.”

When America entered the war, there were fewer than 4000 African Americans in the armed services; by the war’s end more than 1.2 million African Americans would serve in uniform. Like Charlie Parker, many black soldiers served in segregated units in support roles:

“While most African Americans serving at the beginning of WWII were assigned to non-combat units and relegated to service duties, such as supply, maintenance, and transportation, their work behind front lines was equally vital to the war effort, serving behind the front lines…By 1945, however, troop losses virtually forced the military to begin placing more African American troops into positions as infantrymen, pilots, tankers, medics, and officers in increasing numbers.  In all positions and ranks, they served with as much honor, distinction, and courage as any American soldier did.  Still, African American MPs stationed in the South often could not enter restaurants where their German prisoners were being served a meal. ”  

The 65th Ordnance Ammunition Company served in campaigns in Algeria-French Morocco, Tunisia, Naples-Foggia, and Rome-Arno. By 1945, the 65th Ordnance Ammunition Company (munitions supply) was assigned to Mondolfo Airfield, Italy.  USAAF units known to have been stationed at Mondolfo were:

307th; 308th; 309th Fighter Squadrons, P-51D/K Mustang
Primary mission was to escort B-17 and B-24 heavy bombers on missions into Northern Italy, Germany, Yugoslavia and Austria.
317th; 319th Fighter Squadrons, P-51D/K Mustang
Primary mission was to fly ground air support missions for advancing Allied ground forces in Italy.

Part of Charlie Parker’s job while serving in Italy as a corporal in the 65th Ordnance Ammunition Company was handling toxic bombs.  According to the textbook Medical Aspects of Chemical Warfare published by the U.S. Army, the US Army Air Force in WWII:

had 100-lb mustard agent bombs; 500-lb phosgene or cyanogen chloride bombs; and 1,000-lb phosgene, cyanogen chloride, or hydrocyanic acid bombs… None of these chemical weapons was used on the battlefield during the war, but the prepositioning of chemical weapons in forward areas resulted in one major disaster and several near mishaps. The disaster occurred December 2, 1943, when the SS John Harvey, loaded with 2,000 M47A1 mustard agent bombs, was destroyed during a German air raid at Bari Harbor, Italy. The only members of the crew who were aware of the chemical munitions were killed in the raid. As a result of the ship’s destruction, mustard agent contaminated the water in the harbor and caused more than 600 casualties, in addition to those killed or injured in the actual attack.

Just days before the German surrender and the declaration of Victory in Europe, Parker suffered his own chemical weapons mishap, a fatal exposure to the toxic gas from a poison gas bomb . His death was reported in the Nashville Herald.

The Nashville Herald
May 31, 1945

Cpl. Parker, Negro, Passes In Italy

        Cpl. Charlie Parker, colored, of Ray City, died in Italy April 26, in a United States Army Station Hospital, located in Southern Italy, where he had been stationed nearly two years.
        While working with toxic bombs, Cpl. Parker inhaled a concentration of the gas. After reporting to the Medical Aid Station he was admitted to the Station Hospital for further treatment. Reports stated that everything possible was done to save his life but to no avail.
        His burial services were conducted on Sunday, April 29, attended by all officers and men of his company except those on duty. Burial was in an American cemetery in Southern Italy. The letter from his commanding officer stated that Parker was a splendid soldier and well liked by those of his company.
        The deceased volunteered in the U.S. Army about three years ago, having in Italy. He was the son of Will Parker and a nephew of Frances Goff, both of Ray City. So far as known at this time, he was the first Berrien county colored person to make the supreme sacrifice in World War II.

(transcription courtesy of Skeeter Parker)

After the end of World War II, Charlie Parker’s body was returned to the United States.  The U.S. government mandated a program to return the bodies of servicemen who had been buried in temporary military cemeteries overseas. Following surveys to the population, the government decided that about three fifths of the 289,000 personnel involved would be returned in accordance with family wishes. Between 1946 and 1951, over 170,000 servicemen were returned.

After WWII, the body of Charlie Parker, of Ray City, GA was returned to Georgia aboard the U.S. Army Transport Cpl. Eric G. Gibson.

After WWII, the body of Charlie Parker, of Ray City, GA was returned to Georgia aboard the U.S. Army Transport Cpl. Eric G. Gibson.

The body of Charlie Parker was returned to America aboard the U.S. Army Transport Cpl. Eric G. Gibson, originally built as a Liberty Ship.  As a funeral ship, the USAT Eric G. Gibson was painted white with a large purple mourning band. The ship arrived at the Brooklyn Army Base, NY, in February, 1949, with the bodies of 92 Georgians along with the bodies of more than 5000 war dead from other states.

Ironically, in the 1960s, the Army loaded the S.S. Corporal Eric G. Gibson with chemical weapons of mass destruction- rockets armed with VX nerve gas – and sank it off the coast of  New Jersey to dispose of the deadly weapons. Today, the sunken ship and its deadly cargo remain one of the most dangerous chemical weapons dump sites  in U.S. waters.

In 1949, Francis Reddick Goff applied for a flat marble military headstone to mark the grave of her nephew.

Application for military headstone for Charlie Parker, WWII veteran.

Application for military headstone for Charlie Parker, WWII veteran.

 

Grave of Charlie Parker. Charles Knight Cemetery, Lakeland, GA.

Grave of Charlie Parker. Charles Knight Cemetery, Lakeland, GA.

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Homecoming for Sergeant Mitchell Moore

Mitchell Haygood Moore (1920-1944)
Killed in Air Combat over Germany,  November 26, 1944, World War II

Grave of Mitchell Haygood Moore, Union Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

Grave of Mitchell Haygood Moore, Union Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

Mitchell Haygood Moore, a young salesman from Sirmans, GA, was a son of Atticus H. Moore and Pearlie Belle Tomlinson.  In 1943, he married Mildred Lorene Clements, of Ray City, GA. His bride was a daughter of Alma and Hosea  “Hod” P. Clements.

Marriage announcement of Mildred Lorene Clements and Mitchell Haygood Moore. Clinch County News.

Marriage announcement of Mildred Lorene Clements and Mitchell Haygood Moore. Clinch County News.

Clinch County News
Friday, December 3,  1943

The marriage of Sgt. Mitchell Haygood Moore of Lanier county, and Miss Mildred Lorene Clements of Ray City, took place recently at the Methodist church in Ray City, Rev. L. D. McConnell officiating.  Sgt Moore is a son of Mr. and Mrs. Atticus H. Moore, former Clinch county residents who were cut off into Lanier when that county was formed in 1920. The bride is a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Hosea C. Clements of Ray City.

It was in the midst of WWII and Moore was as a Staff Sergeant in the Army Air Force.  Other Ray City AAF men included B-26 pilot James Swindle, B-24 pilot Max Maurice Johnson, and flying officer Jim Paulk.  Staff Srgt Charles B. Shaw, Jr., Ray City, served as a B-17 mechanic in the 8th Army Air Force, Snetterton Heath, England. Howell Shaw served at Sedalia Army Air Field and William C. Webb served in the Medical Corps of the Army Air Force. Lt. Jamie Connell, of Nashville, served as a  navigator-bombardier. Saunto Sollami served in the Army Air Corp and came to the area after the war.

Sgt. Moore was assigned  to the 854 AAF Bomber Squadron, 491st Bomber Group, flying as a crewman on a B-24 Liberator.  Some say he was a bombardier, others say he was a tail gunner. The 491st was one of seven Heavy Bombardment Groups – 488th through 494th – activated in the autumn of 1943.  By April of 1944, the 491st was  in England, and the group engaged in the long-range strategic bombardment of Germany.

A B-24 Liberator Bomber belonging to the 854 AAF Bomber Squadron. This plane was one of 15 B-24s was shot down on the Misburg Mission, November 26, 1944.

A B-24 Liberator Bomber belonging to the 854 AAF Bomber Squadron, 491st Bombardment Group. Of the 28 B-24s that flew the Misburg Mission, November 26, 1944, 16 were shot down. This plane was one of the losses.

In July 1944 the 491st Bombardment Group supported the Allied breakout at St. Lo and assaulted V-weapon sites and communications lines in France during the summer of 1944.  After August, 1944 the 491st concentrated its attacks on strategic objectives in Germany, striking communications centers, oil refineries, storage depots, industrial areas, shipyards, bridges and other targets in such places as Berlin, Hamburg, Kassel, Cologne, Gelsenkirchen, Bielefeld, Hanover, and Magdeburg; on one occasion the 491st attacked the headquarters of the German General Staff at Zossen, Germany.

The Misburg Mission ~ November 26, 1944

Destroying Germany’s petroleum production was a major Allied strategy to shorten the war.  One of the vital German petroleum plants was the large Misburg refinery with 1,060 workers, located about 5 miles east of Hanover, Germany.   On  November 26, 1944,  the 491st bomber group participated in the ninth bomber mission against the refinery at Misburg, part of a massive air strike against Germany by the American Army Air Force on that day.  Combined with other aerial engagements, the day would mark the second largest air battle of WWII.

WWII aerial reconnaissance photo of bombing of the oil refinery at Misburg, Germany.

WWII aerial reconnaissance photo of bombing of the oil refinery at Misburg, Germany. Image courtesy of San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive.

November 26 was to be a black day for the 491st.  Through a series of unfortunate incidents, the bomber group’s defensive integrity was disrupted and the group fell under heavy attack by large numbers of enemy fighters.  As fighter cover for the bomber group, 47 American P-51 Mustangs engaged with more than 250 Luftwaffe fighters in the German skies.

The 491st dispatched 31 B-24s on that day;  three turned back, 28 reached the target, 16 never returned.  According to the 491st Bomber Group website, Mitchell Moore was flying as a Left Waist Gunner on the Misburg raid.

Although more than half of its planes were destroyed, the group fought through the  German interceptor planes, and successfully bombed the target. For this action the group was awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation.

Atlanta Constitution reports bombers lost in November 26, 1944 raid on Misburg oil refinery.

Atlanta Constitution reports bombers lost in November 26, 1944 raid on Misburg oil refinery.

Atlanta Constitution
November 27, 1944

U.S. Planes Shoot Down 122 Germans

1,100 Heavy Bombers Blast Misburg Oil; 700 Fighters Along

LONDON, Nov. 26. — At least 122 Nazi fighter planes of approximately 200 which rose to protect Germany’s largest natural oil refinery at Misburg were shot down in aerial combat todayby and American fleet of 700 fighters and 1,100 heavy bombers.

The American fighters reported downing 110 of the Nazi interceptors, while 12 were destroyed by bomber crews. The escort planes also destroyed seven German planes on the ground in strafing attacks.

Thirty-seven American bombers and 13 fighters were reported missing from operations.

But it was the third largest bag of Nazi fighters shot down in combat. Just last Nov. 2, American pilots picked off 134 enemy planes Merseburg oil center – 13 miles west of Leipzig – and Germany sacrificed 117 in the same area on Sept. 11.

A gigantic battle swirled through the skies over Misburg.

Through the dense clouds stained with exploding flak from hundreds of ground guns, American pilots engaged the Germans in temperatures ranging from 40 to 50 degrees below zero.

NINTH ATTACK

Today’s attack was the ninth on the Misburg refinery, which lies 15 miles east of Hannover and has a yearly production of 220,000 tons. It followed up yesterday’s raid by 2,000 American planes on the Leuna works at Merseburg, one of Germany’s largest synthetic oil plants. Only a dozen enemy fighters were encountered on the Merseburg mission

Mitchell’s plane was one of those which did not return from Misburg.  The war raged on, and at home in Ray City, friends and families grieved and waited for word of Mitchell Moore.

The Nashville Herald,
January 4, 1945

Missing In Action

The friends and relatives of S-Sgt. Mitchell H. Moore regret too know that he has been reported missing in action over Germany since November 26, 1944.
Sgt. Moore was an aerial (torn) receiving his training at (torn) Miss., Loredo, Texas, (torn), later leaving for overseas (torn) peka, Kansas in September (torn).
His wife if the former (torn) red Clements of Ray City (torn) the present time is with her (torn) Mr. and Mrs. H.P. Clements.

On April 11, 1945, The Atlanta Constitution reported that Sergeant Mitchell H. Moore had been classified as killed in action.

The following month, on May 8, 1945 Germany surrendered – It was Victory in Europe day.   After the surrender, a memorial service was held for Staff Sergeant Mitchell H. Moore.

The Nashville Herald
July 19, 1945

Memorial Service For S. Sgt. M.H. Moore

According to an announcement made this week by the family of the late S. Sgt. Mitchell H. Moore, a Memorial Service will be held in his honor on Sunday afternoon, July 22, at 3:30 o’clock at the Unity Methodist church near Lakeland.
S. Sgt. Moore was killed in action over Germany November 26, 1944. He was well and favorably known in this section and has many friends who regret his untimely death. All friends of the family and others desiring to do so may attend the services.

Transcription courtesy of Skeeter Parker

It would be four more years before Moore’s body was returned to the United States.  The return of the living and the dead was the post-war mission of  the U.S. Merchant marines, ships worked by men like J.B. Mitchell Sirmans aboard the armed merchantman SS Wheaton Victory or Brocy Sirmans on  S.S. William G. Lee.   Moore’s final voyage was aboard the SS Haiti Victory.

Remains of S Sgt Mitchell Moore returned aboard SS Haiti Victory, 1949

Remains of S Sgt Mitchell Moore returned aboard SS Haiti Victory, 1949

 

May 8, 1949, four years to the day after Victory in Europe was declared, the U.S. Army announced the body of S. Sgt Mitchell Moore was among those of 104 Georgians being returned by the SS Haiti Victory.

May 8, 1949, four years to the day after Victory in Europe was declared, the U.S. Army announced the bodies of 104 Georgians were being returned aboard the SS Haiti Victory, among them the body  of S. Sgt Mitchell Moore.

Atlanta Constitution
May 8, 1949

Bodies of 104 Georgians On Way Home From Europe

Remains of 104 Georgians, including 14 Atlantans, who lost their lives during World War II are being returned to the United States from Europe aboud the U. S. Army transport Haiti Victory, the Department of the Army announced.
Armed forces dead originally buried in temporary military cemeteries in France, Holland and Belgium are among those being returned. Next of kin will be notified in advance of the arrival of the remains at the Regional Distribution Center of the American Graves Registration Service.

Funeral services for Mitchell Moore were held at Unity Methodist Church, and the remains were re-interred at Union Church Cemetery (Burnt Church) near Lakeland, GA.

The Nashville Herald
June 16, 1949

S-Sgt. Mitchell Moore Returned to States for Burial

Funeral services will be held Sunday at the Unity Methodist Church of Crisp Community for Staff Sergeant Mitchell Moore, who was killed with his entire crew when their plane was shot down over Hanover, Germany, November 26, 1944. Sgt. Moore will be laid to rest at the Burnt Church cemetery.

Services will begin at 4:30 Sunday afternoon with the Rev. J. W. Herndon of Norman Park, and the Rev. Bishop of Lakeland, officiating.

Sgt. Moore is survived by two brothers, W.W. Moore of Nashville, and J.P. Moore of Stockton, and three sisters, Miss Rosa Lee Moore, Mrs. Shelton Davis, and Mrs. G.E. West, all of Stockton.

Transcription courtesy of Skeeter Parker

†††

The Nashville Herald
June 23, 1949

Sgt. Mitchell Moore Laid To Rest Sunday

Staff Sergeant Mitchell H. Moore was laid to rest Sunday at the Unity Methodist Church of Crisp Community in Lanier County.

A military burial was given to the air forceman, who was killed over Hanover, Germany in 1944, by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Club of Lakeland. The Rev. J.W. Herndon of Norman Park and the Rev. Bishop of Lakeland officiated.

Sgt. Moore is survived by his wife, the former Miss Mildred Clements of Ray City, two brothers, W.W. Moore of Nashville, and J.P. Moore of Stockton, and three sisters, Miss Rosa Lee Moore, Mrs. Shelton Davis, and Mrs. G.E. West, all of Stockton.

Transcription courtesy of Skeeter Parker

Application for WWII headstone for Mitchell H. Moore.

Application for WWII headstone for Mitchell H. Moore.

The widow, Mildred C. Moore applied for a monument for her husband;  A stark white marble marker to mark the grave of a young man who gave his life in the service of his country.

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Ray City Remembers WWII

J.B. Mitchell Sirmans and the Wheaton Victory

During WWII, J.B. Mitchell Sirmans, of Ray City,GA. served as a crewman on the American armed merchantman SS Wheaton Victory. J.B. Mitchell Sirmans was a son of Jay Sirmans and Rachel Allifar Smith.

SS Wheaton Victory. <br> J.B. Mitchell Sirmans, of Rays Mill, GA was a crew member on the SS Wheaton Victory during the 1940s post-WWII

SS Wheaton Victory.
J.B. Mitchell Sirmans, of Rays Mill, GA was a crew member on the SS Wheaton Victory during the 1940s post-WWII

In the post-WWII period J.B. Mitchell Sirmans made several Atlantic crossings as a crew member of the SS Wheaton Victory.  The Wheaton Victory was one of 414 Victory ships built in 1944-45.

According to the Pacific War Online Encyclopedia, the Victory Ships were an improvement on the Liberty Ships which were built earlier in the war. Men of Ray City, GA, like others across the nation, participated in the construction of these merchant vessels, and served aboard them. Another Ray City merchant marine, Hyman Hardeman Sirmans, served on the WWII Liberty Ships.

By the time the Victory ships were being designed, it was clear the Allies were winning the war, so these ships were constructed to be of use for post-war commercial service.  Construction standards were higher, and the Victory ships were safer and faster than the earlier Liberty Ships. They were also armed with general purpose and anti-aircraft deck guns.

The Victory Ship design was controversial. There was some feeling among the shipbuilders that switching from Liberty to Victory Ships would slow production, but the Maritime Commission countered that the limited supply of steel favored construction of faster ships that could move more

In 1942-45, WPB supervised the production of $183 billion worth of weapons and supplies, about 40% of the world output of munitions. Britain, the USSR and other allies produced an addition 30%, while the Axis produced only 30%. One fourth of the US output was warplanes; one fourth was warships.

In 1942-45, WPB supervised the production of $183 billion worth of weapons and supplies, about 40% of the world output of munitions. Britain, the USSR and other allies produced an addition 30%, while the Axis produced only 30%. One fourth of the US output was warplanes; one fourth was warships.

tonnage for a given investment of steel. The Controller of Shipbuilding on the War Production Board, William F. Gibbs, preferred to see construction of a single fast cargo ship. The Army and Navy were also interested in faster shipping for use as auxiliaries. The British had already begun construction of fast cargo ships and it was feared the U.S. merchant marine would be put at a considerable disadvantage in the postwar world. The debate over construction of Victory Ships vs Liberty Ships took long enough to resolve that the program was delayed by many months, and none of the Victory ships were completed before early 1944.

The Victory Ship design was largely based on the Liberty Ship, and design changes were deliberately kept to an absolute minimum to reduce the disruption in production. However, modifications were accepted to allow greater deck loads, and the cargo handling facilities were improved…. Decks for packaged goods were added.  Because there was some uncertainty about the engines that would be available, the design made compromises to permit efficient operation over a range of powers.

Because the ships were designed and constructed in wartime, virtually all were completed as armed merchantmen. The complement and armament shown are typically of those Victory Ships serving as armed merchantmen in forward areas of the Pacific.

U.S. Customs Service records show Jay B Sirmans joined the merchant marines about 1942. He was 36 years old, 6’1″ and 160 pounds.  In 1945-46 he was sailing on the S.S. Wheaton Victory as a Junior Engineer. At that time the Wheaton Victory was busily shuttling troops from Europe back to the States.

Record of Atlantic crossings by the SS Wheaton Victory from 1945-1946 newspaper reports:

  • July 22, 1945 Wheaton Victory arrived at New York.
  • November 25, 1945 Wheaton Victory arrived at Newport News, VA with 1,915 troops including chemical salvaged company; headquarters and headquarters company, 75th Infantry Division; 2nd battalion, 289th infantry; 3rd battalion, 289th infantry.
  • December 27, 1945 Wheaton Victory arrived at Boston from Antwerp, Belgium with 1,544 troops including the 539th Field Artillery Observation Battalion with medics, 8th field artillery observation battalion with medics, and the 759th tank battalion with medics.
  • January 26, 1946 Wheaton Victory arrived at New York from Le Havre, France with 1,518 troops including 602nd antiaircraft artillery battalion and the 196th general hospital.
  • March 8, 1946 Wheaton Victory arrived at New York from Antwerp with 1,501 troops, including 559th anti-arcraft artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion and the 825th Medical Detachment.
  • April 10, 1946 Wheaton Victory arrived at New York from Antwerp with 931 troops, including 465th and 958th Quarter Masters companies.
  • May 16, 1946 Wheaton Victory arrived at New York from Le Havre with 710 troops.
  • June 25th, 1946 Wheaton Victory arrived at New York from Bremen.
  • August 3, 1946 Wheaton Victory arrived at New York from Bremerhaven with 1,372 army troops.
  • August 15, 1946 Wheaton Victory departed New York bound for the Panama Canal.
<strong>SS Wheaton Victory in New York Harbor</strong> <br />  The Wheaton Victory merchant marine ship in New York Harbor,  August 3, 1946, full of American troops returning to the U.S.A. after World War II. The Wheaton Victory is being maneuvered into port by the tug <a title="Tug Boat Information" href="http://www.tugboatinformation.com/tug.cfm?id=4790" target="_blank">Card Boys</a> and other tugboats of Card Towing company. Image courtesy of Colin Smith.

SS Wheaton Victory in New York Harbor
The Wheaton Victory merchant marine ship in New York Harbor, August 3, 1946, full of American troops returning to the U.S.A. after World War II. The Wheaton Victory is being maneuvered into port by the tug Card Boys and other tugboats of Card Towing company. Image courtesy of Colin Smith.

 

Returning WWII Troops aboard the SS Wheaton Victory in New York Harbor<br> After the war, The Wheaton Victory merchant marine ship was pressed into service as a troop transport ferrying returning service personnel back to the States. The troops crowed the decks as the ship arrived at the docks in New York Harbor sometime in late July 1946 or early August 1946.  In the crowd can be seen servicemen and officers, service women, and African American soldiers. Image courtesy of Colin Smith.

Returning WWII Troops aboard the SS Wheaton Victory in New York Harbor
After the war, The Wheaton Victory merchant marine ship was pressed into service as a troop transport ferrying returning service personnel back to the States. The troops crowed the decks as the ship arrived at the docks in New York Harbor sometime in late July 1946 or early August 1946. In the crowd can be seen servicemen and officers, service women, and African American soldiers. Image courtesy of Colin Smith.

<strong>Returning WWII Troops arriving at New York aboard the SS Wheaton Victory </strong><br />  After the war, The Wheaton Victory merchant marine ship served as a troop transport, returning 900-1900 service personnel back to the States per trip. The troops lined the decks as the ship arrived at the docks in New York Harbor on August 2, 1946. Image courtesy of Colin Smith.

Returning WWII Troops arriving at New York aboard the SS Wheaton Victory
After the war, The Wheaton Victory merchant marine ship served as a troop transport, returning 900-1900 service personnel back to the States per trip. The troops lined the decks as the ship arrived at the docks in New York Harbor on August 2, 1946. Image courtesy of Colin Smith.

<strong>SS Wheaton Victory arriving at New York August 3, 1946 </strong><br />  Image courtesy of Colin Smith.

SS Wheaton Victory arriving at New York August 3, 1946
Image courtesy of Colin Smith.

August 3, 1946,  Arrival of the SS Wheaton Victory<br> Wheaton Victory arriving at New York from Bremerhaven, Germany with 1,372 army troops on board. Image courtesy of Colin Smith.

Arrival of the SS Wheaton Victory, August 3, 1946
Wheaton Victory arriving at New York from Bremerhaven, Germany with 1,372 army troops on board. Image courtesy of Colin Smith.

SS Wheaton Victory in New York Harbor  The Wheaton Victory merchant marine ship in New York Harbor, August 3, 1946, full of American troops returning to the U.S.A. after World War II. The brigdge of the tug Card Boys,  of Card Towing company, is seen in the foreground. Image courtesy of Colin Smith.

SS Wheaton Victory in New York Harbor
The Wheaton Victory
merchant marine ship in New York Harbor, August 3, 1946, full of American troops returning to the U.S.A. after World War II. The bridge of the tug Card Boys, of Card Towing company, is seen in the foreground. Image courtesy of Colin Smith.

Returning WWII Troops arriving at New York aboard the SS Wheaton Victory

Returning WWII Troops arriving at New York aboard the SS Wheaton Victory, August 3, 1946
Image courtesy of Colin Smith.

The Merchant Marine served in World War II as a Military Auxiliary. Of the nearly quarter million volunteer merchant mariners who served during World War II, over 9,000 died. Merchant Sailors suffered a greater percentage of fatalities (3.9%) than any branch of the armed forces.

Despite reaping the praise of both President Eisenhower and General Douglas McArthur following the war, many consider the men that served aboard these important vessels the forgotten Sailors of WWII, as those who returned home were denied benefits for injuries and often over-looked in Victory celebrations. In recent years, maritime and naval historians have begun to shed light on the significant contribution of the Liberty Ships [and Victory Ships] and their builders and Sailors. Their contribution to the war effort was tremendous–they were responsible for carrying 2/3 of all cargo leaving U.S. ports in support of the Allies over-seas. This achievement is matched by their contribution to the advancement of shipbuilding technology.

Wheaton Victory_0001

Lawton Walker Johnson, WWII Sailor

Lawton Walker Johnson, son of JHP Johnson and Chloe Gardner Johnson,  was born June 14, 1908 in Ray City, GA.  During WWII, he joined in the US Navy , enlisting November 2, 1943. His younger brother, Max Maurice Johnson, was serving in the Army Air Force as pilot of a B-24 Liberator bomber.

Lawton Walker Johnson, WWII Sailor

Lawton Walker Johnson, WWII Sailor, grew up in Ray City, GA. Image courtesy of Julie Hutson.

Navy Cruise Books for World War II show Lawton Walker Johnson served on the escort carrier USS Hollandia as a Seaman 1c, USNR.

“Hollandia sailed on her maiden voyage July 10, 1944 from San Diego for a shakedown cruise to Espiritu Santo. She also transported replacement aircraft on this cruise, and on the return voyage stopped at Manus Island and Guadalcanal, arriving Port Hueneme, California on  August 27, 1944. During the next few months the escort carrier made similar cruises between the United States and the Navy’s bases in the far Pacific, Manus, Ulithi, and Guam, transporting vitally-needed supplies and passengers.”

USS Hollandia off the coast of California in 1944.

USS Hollandia off the coast of California in 1944.

“Hollandia was anchored at Ulithi on April 1, 1945 when the Navy’s massive amphibious assault of Okinawa began. She got underway next day and operated off the Okinawan coast, sending fighters to support the advancing troops. The ship then returned to San Diego, arriving on May 1, 1945.”

Navy records show Lawton Walker Johnson died June 3, 1945 while on active duty, his death “resulting directly from enemy action or from operational activities against the enemy in war zones.”  About that time, Hollandia was on a cargo and passenger run to Pearl Harbor.

Just two months after Johnson’s death, Hollandia would be pressed into service transporting survivors of the ill-fated USS Indianapolis to a Navy hospital.   Indianapolis was torpedoed and sunk after completing the secret mission to deliver parts and the enriched uranium (about half of the world’s supply of Uranium-235 at the time) for the atomic bomb Little Boy, which would later be dropped on Hiroshima.

USS Indianapolis survivors on the USS Hollandia.

Lawton Walker Johnson was laid to final rest at Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA.  In 1947 his father, JHP Johnson, applied for and received a government provided marker for his grave.

 

Lawton Walker Johnson, as    a casualty of WWII, received a government-provided grave marker.

Lawton Walker Johnson, as a casualty of WWII, received a government-provided grave marker.

 

 

Grave of Lawton Walker Johnson, Ray City, GA

Grave of Lawton Walker Johnson, Ray City, GA

 

Related posts:

 

 

Howell Shaw at Sedalia Army Air Field

William H. “Howell” Shaw was born in 1925, a son of Chester Clyde Shaw and Golie Lee Gaskins. He was a grandson of Lacey Lester Shaw, of Ray City, GA.

Howell Shaw’s father, Clyde Shaw, grew up in Ray City, GA where as a young man he was a “collector” for the telephone company in  the 1920s. His mother, Golie Gaskins, also a native of Ray City, was a daughter of William Thomas Gaskins and Vinie Ellen Hall.

Howell Shaw was first enumerated in the census of 1930, when he was five years old.  At that time his family was living in Valdosta, GA in a rented house on North Alley Street. His father was employed as a bakery salesman.

Within a few years Howell’s parents moved the family back to Ray City, where Howell spent the rest of his childhood.

As a young man, Howell Shaw found his way to Orlando, Florida where he worked for the Orlando Steam Laundry.

1929 sketch of the Orlando Steam Laundry company, Orlando, FL.

1929 sketch of the Orlando Steam Laundry company, Orlando, FL. Image source: http://orlandomemory.info/sites/default/files/documents/AlbertsonFloridaPrestologyJuly1929.pdf

On May 15, 1943 eighteen year old Howell Shaw joined the United States Army as a private. He eventually was stationed at Sedalia Army Air Field in Missouri.

Greetings From Sedalia Army Air Field Vintage Postcard

There, in January of 1944,  William Howell Shaw made the rank of Private First Class. The achievement was noted in the January 17, 1944 edition of the Valdosta Daily Times:

William H. Shaw Gets Promotion

William H. Shaw Gets Promotion

Sedalia Army Air Field had its beginnings in 1942 when US Army Air Corps officials selected the Missouri site as a training base for WACO glider pilots. Following an intensive construction project the field officially opened three months later on August 6, 1942.

In November 1942, the installation became Sedalia Army Air Field and was assigned to the XII Troop Carrier Command of the Army Air Force. The field served as a training site for glider tactics and paratroopers. It was one of the eight bases in the United States dedicated to training glider pilots for combat missions performed by the Troop Carrier Command. Pilots flew  C-47 transports and the Waco CG-4A. The forest green, fabric-covered gliders could carry 15 fully equipped men or a quarter-ton truck plus a smaller crew. They were towed in either single or double tow behind the transport aircraft and could land on fields not equipped for larger aircraft.

The 99th Trooper Carrier Squadron was activated on August 1, 1943 at Sedalia Army Air Field in Missouri. The squadron’s first combat mission was to drop members of the 101st Airborne Division into France on D-Day as part of the June 6, 1944 assault on Normandy.

Other Ray City men in the Army Air Force included B-26 Marauder pilot James Swindle, B-24 Liberator pilot Max Maurice Johnson, and flying officer Jim Paulk.  Sgt. Mitchell Moore was assigned  to the 854 AAF Bomber Squadron, 491st Bomber Group, flying as a crewman on a B-24 Liberator. Charles Shaw was sent to the 96th Bomb Group, 8th Army Air Force, stationed at Snetterton Heath, England where he joined the crew of the B-17 Mischief Maker II. William C. Webb served in the Medical Corps of the Army Air Force. Lt. Jamie Connell, of Nashville, served as a  navigator-bombardier. Saunto Sollami served in the Army Air Corp and came to the area after the war.

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Max Maurice Johnson

Max Maurice Johnson. Image courtesy of Julie Hutson.

Max Maurice Johnson. Image courtesy of Julie Hutson.

Maurice “Max” Johnson grew up in Ray City, GA. As a boy he attended the Ray City School ( see Glee Club Gave 1939 Christmas Cantata and Ray City School 1934) graduating with the Ray City High School Class of 1940. The Johnsons were a prominent family in Ray City and have been the subject of several other posts, linked below. Records of the census enumeration conducted in the spring of 1940 show Maurice Johnson was a student and also working as assistant janitor at the school. His father, JHP Johnson, was a retired merchant, his mother, Chloe Johnson, was Assistant Postmaster of Ray City, and his older brother, Glen, was working as a band instructor.

During WWII, Maurice Johnson served in the U. S. Army Air Force as pilot of a B-24 Liberator bomber. Another brother, Lawton Walker Johnson, was killed in 1945 while serving in the Navy.  Other Ray City men in the Army Air Force included B-26 Marauder pilot James Swindle, and flying officer Jim Paulk.  Sgt. Mitchell Moore was assigned  to the 854 AAF Bomber Squadron, 491st Bomber Group, flying as a crewman on a B-24 Liberator. Charles Shaw was sent to the 96th Bomb Group, 8th Army Air Force, stationed at Snetterton Heath, England where he joined the crew of the B-17 Mischief Maker II. William C. Webb served in the Medical Corps of the Army Air Force and Howell Shaw served at Sedalia Army Air Field. Lt. Jamie Connell, of Nashville, served as a  navigator-bombardier. Saunto Sollami served in the Army Air Corp and came to the area after the war.

Max Maurice Johnson died on September 25, 2012 at  LaGrange, GA. He was buried at Carrollton Memory Gardens, Carrollton, GA.

Obituary of Max Maurice Johnson

Mr. Max Maurice Johnson, 90, of Carrollton passed away on September 25, 2012 at the West Georgia Hospice in LaGrange Georgia, after succumbing to his battle with bladder cancer.

Mr. Johnson was born in Ray City, GA on May 28, 1922, the son of the late Joseph Henry Pascal Johnson and Chloe Ann Gardner Johnson. He was a veteran of the U. S. Army Air Force where he served as a B-24 pilot during WWII from 1942 to 1945. He and his wife of 69 years, Frances A. Johnson, moved to Decatur, Georgia in the summer of 1960 then to Carrollton in 2000. They built a house next to their daughter and settled into a comfortable and productive lifestyle. They became active members of the Carrollton First United Methodist Church and enjoyed good relationships there.

His career and his education were devoted to education. He attended Martha Berry College, Georgia Southwestern College and University of Georgia for his undergraduate degree and University of Georgia for his Masters in Education as well as his law degree. He was a principal both of elementary and secondary schools in Berrien County Georgia. At the age of 38, he changed careers and built a successful educational marketing business, Educational Marketing Services, selling educational products to school systems.

He was a loving and devoted husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather and is seceded in death by Timothy Max Poucher, grandson. He is survived by three daughters and two sons in law; Sandra Dianne and Robert Alan Fischer of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Suzanne Johnson of Fort Myers, Florida, and Kathryn Elaine and Carl Emil Poucher of Carrollton. Survivors also include grandchildren and their spouses; Shawn William Fischer, Ashley Ayn and James Edward Remik, Kevin Hamilton Butts and Deanna Lynn Ford, Jessica Robin and Daniel Eric Blanks, Mark Christian and Melissa Caspary- Poucher, John Gabriel and Kendall Poucher, Justin Cauldwell Poucher. great grandchildren, William Jeremy and Caleb James Remik, Noah Lane Butts, Isaiah Samuel, Judah Isaac, Chava Chloe, Aaron Levi, Ari Mordechai, and Tovia Yosef Blanks, Ethan Ry and Samantha Eve Caspary-Poucher.

Memorial Services will be Monday, October 1, 2012 at the Carrollton First United Methodist Church with Rev. Gerry Davis and Dr. Dean Milford officiating.

The family will be receiving friends and family beginning at 10AM followed by Memorial Services at 11AM.

The family requests contributions to Carrollton First United Methodist, 206 Newnan Street, Carrollton, GA 30117, in lieu of flowers and messages of condolence may be sent to the family at http://www.almonfuneralhome.com.

Funeral arrangements are being made by Almon Funeral Home of Carrollton.

Grave of Max Maurice Johnson, Carroll Memory Gardens, Carrollton, GA.  Image source: Don Sharp.

Grave of Max Maurice Johnson, Carroll Memory Gardens, Carrollton, GA. Image source: Don Sharp.

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Ag Teachers go to War

St. Elmo Lee, 1939

St. Elmo Lee, 1939, served with the 902nd Artillery at Leyte, WWII

On October 24, 1942 vocational agriculture teacher St. Elmo Lee gave up his classrooms at Ray City  and New Lois, GA for the U.S. Army.  He was inducted at Fort McPherson, Atlanta, GA for the duration of the war. He was single, 5′ 9″ tall and weighed 134 pounds.

St. Elmo Lee enlisted as a private, eventually serving as a sergeant in Battery C, 902nd Field Artillery Battalion 77th Division.  He fought in the Pacific Theater of Operations from March 30, 1944 to November 22, 1945 during which time he was involved in amphibious assaults and  campaigns on the Marshall Islands, Southern Philippines, and Ryukyu Islands.

U.S. howitzer fires on Catmon Hill, Leyte, Phillipines. October 20, 1944.

U.S. howitzer fires on Catmon Hill, Leyte, Philippines. October 20, 1944.
St. Elmo Lee, of Ray City, GA participated in the Battle of Leyte with the 902nd Field Artillery Battalion. In November 1944 the 902nd provided artillery support for the 77th Division operations in the Battle of Leyte.

In November 1944 the 902nd Field Artillery Battalion provided support for the 77th Division operations in the Battle of Leyte. In April 1945 the 902nd was with the 77th Division in the first attack on the Ryukyu Islands, seizing the islands west of Okinawa, and later moving to Okinawa itself.

St. Elmo Lee continued to serve until the end of the war.  He was returned to Fort McPherson, GA for his discharge on January 1, 1946.

Among the decorations he received were:

  • Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal with 3 Bronze Stars and One Bronze Arrowhead
  • Philippine Liberation Medal with one Bronze star
  • Good Conduct Medal
  • American Campaign Medal
  • World War Two Victory Medal

After the war, a pamphlet was published to honor the contributions of Georgia’s agriculture teachers, A Memorial to Georgia Teachers of Vocational Agriculture who fought, suffered, died and worked to win the war.

Among the area agriculture teachers who served were: St. Elmo Lee, of Ray City and New Lois schools,  J. V. Wynn from Nashville and Poplar Springs schools; W. C. Thigpen, Jr. of Barney; W.E. Rooks and Hal Godwin, of Homerville; K. N. Phillips from Ocilla; and J. I. Musselwhite, of Willacoochee; R. E. King, Jr., of Clyattville and Lake Park; John Hensley of Hahira;  H. C. Dorminey from Tifton; and Tom M. Cordell, of Abraham Baldwin.

1946 war memorial to Georgia teachers of vocational agriculture.

1946 war memorial to Georgia teachers of vocational agriculture.

 ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY-SEVEN TEACHERS ENTERED THE SERVICE

One hundred and fifty-seven teachers of vocational agriculture left their classrooms and entered the Armed Service between 1941 and 1945. More than two-thirds of these served in the army, about one-fourth in the navy, and the rest in the Marines.  

These teachers scattered to the four corners of the earth. To the damp humid jungles, to the freezing temperature of the Aleutians, to the barren sand-swept deserts, they went to do their bit for Uncle Sam. But no matter how far away from home, their thoughts stayed in Georgia.

Seven of these men made the supreme sacrifice. Some of the men were injured; they came back maimed for life, wearers of the Purple Heart. Some were captured and suffered the horrors known only to “prisoners of war.” Many were decorated for courageous actions. All made courageous contributions to winning the war.

The accumulated stories of these teachers would probably fill a book. Some were baptized in fire with American forces that swept across France and into Germany itself. Others fought from the decks of ships or cheated death in flaming battles of the skies. Still others who may have wanted to get in the active fighting were assigned to shore stations in this country or abroad.

But all of the men have stories to tell-if they wanted to talk. It is highly probable that the experience of the men give them a more international point of view. They have seen enough to convince them that this is now in reality one world. And they have had an opportunity to see where Georgia and her agriculture fit into the scheme of things.

Today, some of the teachers are returning to the classrooms they left behind; some are teachers of vocational agriculture in new fields; others are instructors in the newly developed Veterans Farmer Training Program.

Georgia is glad to welcome back her sons. They have done a good job where they were and there is still a job for them to do here. It is good to see the official family of vocational agriculture getting back together again.

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