History of Ray City School

In 1918, a contract for a new school building in Ray City, GA was let out by the Board of Education. Plans for the building were drawn by Valdosta architect Lloyd B. Greer. The contract for materials went to A. H. Miller Hardware Store in Ray City.

Industrial Development and Manufacturers Record, September 25, 1919, announcement of construction at Ray City, GA

Industrial Development and Manufacturers Record, September 25, 1919, announcement of construction at Ray City, GA

Construction on the brick school building, which has been preserved in Ray City and which now houses the Joe Sizemore Community Library, began in 1920.  The Ray City School opened in 1922.

Ray City School, March 11, 1927. In 1918, the Berrien County School Board put out a contract for a new school building in Ray City, GA. Plans for the building were drawn by Valdosta architect Lloyd B. Greer. Materials were supplied by A. H. Miller Hardware Store in Ray City. The school opened in 1922.

Ray City School, March 11, 1927.

The brick school building at Ray City, GA was designed by Valdosta architect Lloyd Greer.  Among other buildings designed by Greer were:  Federal Building and Post Office, Valdosta, GA; Carnegie  Library, Valdosta,GA; First Church of Christ, Scientist, Tallahassee, FL; James Price McRee House, Camilla, GA; Dasher High School, Valdosta, GA; Barney School, Barney, GA; Barber-Pitman House, Valdosta, GA; Lanier County Auditorium and Grammar School, Lakeland, GA; Ilex Theater, Quitman,GA; Moultrie Theater, Moultrie, GA; United Cigar Store Building, Jacksonville, GA; Quitman Library, Quitman, GA; Echols County High School, Statenville, GA; Barrow Hall, Emory Junior College, Valdosta, GA; Pine Grove School, Fitzgerald, GA; Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta, GA; Douglas Negro High School and Douglas White High School, Douglas, GA; Nichols House,Valdosta, GA; Berrien High School, Nashville, GA. The Lyric Theater, Waycross,GA was designed by Greer.

Old Wooden School at Ray City, GA

The Ray City High School Class of 1949 wrote, “The school of our community was begun long before our town received its present name having been known as Rays Mill. “

Among those early teachers of Ray’s Mill (now Ray City) was  Henry Harrison Knight (1840-1898).  These teachers   taught in the little one room log house schools  of Berrien county, and were often paid in “found” – bartered, homegrown commodities such as ham, chickens, eggs, or butter.

The first school building was located on the east side of town. This building was destroyed by fire. Then a log cabin called the Alliance Building was constructed in 1898, and was used for about two years.

In January 1898, the Tifton Gazette reported that Robert Crawford Woodard was the teacher at the Rays Mill academy.  He later went on to become a physician.

In 1900 the interested people of the community decided to make an improvement in the school plant. Trees were cut from their lands and carried to Sutton’s Sawmill to be made into lumber, for the purpose of erecting a frame building. That stood where our present building is now standing. It consisted of one large room. Some of the interested patrons who helped with this building were: J. S. Swindle, W. E. Langford, Isaac Burkhalter, Redding Swindle, and W. M. Knight. With the aid of other patrons they completed the first Ray City School. -History of Ray City School (1948-49 Yearbook)

The town experienced a boom period when the Georgia & Florida Railroad came to Ray City in 1909.The increased population made it necessary to make an addition of two more rooms to the school.” -History of Ray City School (1948-49 Yearbook)

The January 19, 1911 edition of the Valdosta Times reported news of the school in Rays Mill (now Ray City).   Husband and wife team James Marcus Patten and Ida Lou Hall Patten were running the school. Professor J.M. Patten was college educated, having completed the teacher education program at North Georgia Agricultural College, and had twenty years experience teaching in the common schools of Berrien County.

In 1918,  the Reverend John W. Shoemate and Mrs. Harriet M. Shoemate came to Ray City to take charge of the school.   Reverend Shoemate was a native of Tennessee, and a Baptist minister.  Mrs. Shoemate was a native of South Dakota, and college educated. In Ray City, they were the neighbors of Professor and Mrs. J. M. Patten.  Mrs. Patten was also then occupied teaching public school.  The Ray City School was then still held in the three-room, wood frame building, and educated  students through the eighth grade. One student from this time period was Claudey Belle Hester, who wrote well enough for publication in Progressive Farmer.

According to the Annual Report of the Department of Education, in 1920 the public high school in Ray’s Mill was a 2-year Junior High School. Sankey Booth was Superintendent of the school and later served on the Berrien County Board of Education. One of the teachers in old Ray City was Louannie Eudell Webb (1902-1972), who started teaching by age 17.  She was a daughter of Luther Webb and Mary J. Albritton, and had only an 8th grade education herself. She married Leroy Lorenzo Carter on August 3, 1922. Another teacher at Ray City in 1920 was Lucile Fountain; she taught the fourth grade class. According to later census records, she herself had only attended school through the 4th grade.  It was the talk of the town when her beau, Calvin Simmons, came and got her out of class  and took her to get married on February 13, 1923. Maria Antoniette Poblete Knight worked as an art teacher at the Ray City School in the 1920s.

The Brick School

That [multi-room wood school house] was used until 1920 when work on the present building was started. -History of Ray City School (from the 1948-49 Yearbook)

Ray City School, 1948-49, C. W. Schmoe, Principal.

Ray City School, 1948-49, C. W. Schmoe, Principal.

In 1924, the Georgia Library Commission added the Ray City School as the only station in Berrien County for the Georgia Traveling Library.   the Georgia Library Commission had been created in 1919 by the General Assembly with and annual appropriation of $6,000, which included funds for the maintenance of traveling libraries.  These traveling libraries typically provided 50 or 100 books, which were available for a few months before being passed on to the next station.

Wilma Harper began her 60 year teaching career at the Ray City School in 1928 at the age of 18.  There she met and fell in love with Prentice M. Shultz, who taught and was principal at Ray City School. A year later they were married.

In 1928, the Georgia Library Commission reported  library service offered in Berrien only at Ray City, through the Ray City School and at the Kings Chapel School.

The Great Depression took a great toll on Berrien County, and Ray City struggled with funding to keep the school open. Only through the generous contributions of local citizens and by charging students a tuition, was the school able to continue for the full term. In 1930, the school could not even afford to hold graduation exercises.

In the 1930s many schools in smaller communities were consolidated. In 1936, Pleasant Vale and Sapling Grove schools were closed and the students sent to Ray City.

The Ray City School held a junior high school rating until 1936, when it became an accredited senior high school. Another classroom building was added that year to the school plant. -History of Ray City School (from the 1948-49 Yearbook)

By the 1940-41 school term, New Lois High School was also consolidated with Ray City High School.

In the early days students at Ray City School brought their own lunches to school and ate outside on the school grounds, as there was no lunchroom or kitchen to prepare food.  David Miley recalled a sow that used to come into the playground, and snatch the lunch bags of unsuspecting kids. The school grounds were fenced and had a cattle gap to keep free ranging livestock from entering the schoolyard.  Even so, livestock could and did occasionally get into the school yard.  By 1941, the school had a lunch room serving 150 students a day.

In 1950, half of the Ray City grammar school students appeared barefoot in the annual school photos.

In 1950, half of the Ray City grammar school students appeared barefoot in the annual school photos.

William E. “Bill” Griner (1902-1984) was the janitor at the Ray City School. He came to school very early every day and built a fire in the potbellied stove in every room. There were four classrooms and the soup kitchen in the old wooden building. In the brick building there were six classrooms, the principal’s office and the laboratory, each with their own stove.  At Christmas, every student brought Bill a gift. Bill had a nephew nicknamed Peanut, and although Bill himself had only two years of formal schooling, he worked hard to make sure that Peanut made it through high school. Peanut later became a policeman at Remerton, GA.

 

Fence and cattle gap in front of the Ray City School kept livestock out of the schoolyard, 1949.

Fence and cattle gap in front of the Ray City School kept livestock out of the schoolyard, 1949.

During WWII, Ray City School did its part.  Wilma G. Schultz was the draft Registrar for the Ray City School precinct.   Vocational agriculture teacher St. Elmo Lee gave up his classrooms at Ray City  and New Lois, GA for the U.S. Army. Graduates and former students left Ray City to go to war. Some never came back.  Hubert Comer (RCHS 1940) joined the Navy and was killed in the D-Day invasion of Normandy Beach. Harry Elmore Devane (RCHS 1938) also joined the Navy.  On D-Day Devane was a boat officer on a tank landing craft at Omaha Beach. He was killed in an accident aboard the aircraft carrier USS FDR after the war. James A. Swindle (RCHS 1936) captained a B-26 Marauder and flew 75 bombing missions; he was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross. Maurice “Max” Johnson (RCHS 1940) served as a B-24 pilot during WWII from 1942 to 1945. Leland E Langford (RCHS 1939) enlisted on June 12, 1941, serving as an Army pilot until he was killed in a plane crash in 1949.   J.I. Clements (RCHS 1938) joined the Army and fought in Germany. Many other alumni of Ray City School served as well.

 

In 1940, Lelia McConnell was a cook in the WPA school lunch room. Allie Starling was lunchroom supervisor and Martha Burkhalter was lunchroom waitress.  Earl W. Deloach was a bus driver.  Prentiss M. Shultz was superintendent and his wife, Wilma G. Shultz was a teacher.  Mary Peele was a music teacher. Other teachers were Jessie Francis Webb, Hazel Tabor, James Gaskins Grady, Earnestine M. Zeigler, Eloise M. Williams, Josephine Collier,  and Dorothy Chisholm. Maurice “Max” Johnson (RCHS 1940) was assistant janitor.

William R. “Mac” McClure was principal of the school in the mid 1940s. Charles Woodrow “Woody” Schmoe served as principal in the late 1940s and early 1950s. His wife, Nancy Young Schmoe, taught 5th Grade.

 

In 1947 a fifteen thousand dollar gymnasium was constructed by the patrons, a building in which the whole community justly takes pride (1948-49 Yearbook).  The town dedicated the building with a big dance celebration and the crowning of the Queen of the Harvest.  One of the teachers that year was Emily Britton Parker, wife of the Methodist Minister Pledger Parker.

In 1948, a vocational building was erected by the veterans of World War II, at the end of five years this … [became] a part of Ray City School.

It was in 1949 that veterans of World War II built  a “very modern and up-to-date lunchroom” for the school.

In 1954, Ray City High School and all other white high schools in the county were combined into Nashville High School.  The brick school building at Ray City continued to serve as an elementary and middle school until 1994, when all county schools were consolidated into facilities in Nashville.

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.  His sister, Carolyn DeVane, attended Georgia State Womans College (now Valdosta State University).

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.

Portrait of Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Harry Elmore DeVane (1922-1946) U.S.N. in winter service dress uniform

Portrait of Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Harry Elmore DeVane (1922-1946) U.S.N. in winter service dress uniform.

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 horrible 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. Caulie 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

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Ludwigslust and Wöbbelin: Ray City Boy Describes German Prisoner Camp

Today, May 5, 2016 is  Yom Hashoah, the Holocaust Remembrance Day.

One witness to the Holocaust was J. I. Clements, Jr., of Ray City, GA.

J.I.Clements  grew up in Ray City, GA. After graduating with the RCHS class of 1938, he completed two years of college at Norman Junior College, Norman Park, GA. Two days after D-Day, he joined the Army for service in WWII ‘for the duration of the War or other emergency, plus six months, subject to the discretion of the President or otherwise according to law.”   He enlisted  at Fort McPherson, Atlanta, GA on June 8, 1944. Other Ray City men trained at Fort McPherson include Leland E. Langford, St. Elmo Lee, Billy Clements, Charles Otis Ray,  and William Crawford Webb.

J. I. Clements served on the faculty and coached at Georgia Teachers College ,now Georgia Southern University, in 1952.

J. I. Clements served on the faculty and coached at Georgia Teachers College ,now Georgia Southern University, in 1952.

After training, J.I. Clements, Jr. was sent to serve with American forces in the liberation of eastern Europe and  in Germany. By early May of 1945, he was among the Armerican troops detailed to the newly discovered Wöbbelin concentration camp at Ludwigslust, Germany, about 90 miles northwest of Berlin. Clements witnessed first hand the horrific condition of the survivors and the dead at Wöbbelin, and wrote home about what he saw at the  concentration camp on May 7, 1945. Germany surrendered the following day, May 8, 1945.

After the liberation of the Wöbbelin concentration camp, the US Army ordered the local townspeople to bury the corpses of prisoners killed in the camp. This photograph shows troops observing a moment of silence at a mass funeral for victims of the Wöbbelin camp. Germany, May 7, 1945. J. I. Clements, Jr. , of Ray City, GA was among the soldiers present on that day.

Wöbbelin, Germany, May 7, 1945.
American troops observing a moment of silence at a mass funeral for victims of the Wöbbelin concentration camp.  J. I. Clements, Jr. , of Ray City, GA was among the soldiers present at Wöbbelin on that day. After the liberation of the Wöbbelin camp, the US Army ordered the local townspeople to bury the corpses of prisoners killed in the camp. The prisoners of Wöbbelin, approximately 25 percent of whom were Jews, came from Belgium, Holland, Poland, Czechoslovakia, France, the Balkans, and Russia.

Clements’ letter was later published in the Nashville Herald:

The Nashville Herald
June 28, 1945

Ray City Boy Describes German Prisoner Camp

(Editor’s Note: The below article was received this week, written by J.I. Clements Jr., a Ray City boy, now with American forces in Germany. The letter was dated May 7, 1945.)

      Just a few lines about an experience I had today. I got a chance to go and see one of Germany’s Concentration camps located at Luduigslust. The people in America don’t know how to appreciate what they have until they see such as this because I did not while in the states. I did not know that such things could be carried on by any human being, but the Germans aren’t human after this. The Germans are treated like kings in America compared to the way the people were treated here.
       The beds were made of crude logs with barb wire strung across for springs, with a few limbs on top. Inside some of the buildings I found raw Irish potatoes and turnip roots for the people to eat, but that was thrown in before the Americans arrived to try to create an impression. Really they had a bowl of bean soup, two potatoes and a slice of bread per day. At first when the prisoners would die they were thrown over the fence in a pile and buried but were later buried in large pits in stacks of ten to fifteen.            In uncovering some of the graves so as to have services it looked like some had been buried alive because they had their elbows over their faces for protection. The German prisoners were made to dig up the graves and the civilians carried them to town in wagons where the people in town had been made to dig graves for the burial ceremony. They were buried in the parks and on the square to remind the Germans of what they did.
      I later talked with one of the prisoners and was told how they ate the grass that was two feet high, when they were first brought to this camp, for food. Also, of the men that cut meat off their own thigh and fried it so they might have something to eat. I walked into one of the buildings and found men stacked up in a pile and they were nothing but bones with skin over to hold them together.
This was the most horrible thing I have ever seen or hope to see. Well, I will close but hope you have an idea of the things that all of us are seeing over in this uncivilized country.

The Polish underground had made known the existence of Nazi extermination camps as early as 1942. Although the genocide was reported in the New York Times and forcefully denounced by the United Nations, those early accounts were largely ignored by the American public. But in June 1944,  the Russian army discovered the Majdanek concentration camp at Lublin, Poland abandoned by retreating Germans. In the following weeks, Soviet troops liberated the abandoned extermination camps of Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka where hundreds of thousands of people were murdered as part of the “final solution”.  The liberation of more “horror camps” followed.  In January 1945, the Russians liberated Auschwitz.  The first concentration camp encountered by U.S. troops was Ohrdruf, liberated in April, 1945.  As the Nazis were forced to retreat from these camps, they attempted to destroy the evidence of their existence and purpose. Prisoners from the abandoned concentration camps were forced on death marches deeper into German-held territory to prevent their liberation by the Allies. Those who were too ill to move were executed; thousands more died on the death marches. The Nazis attempted to burn the bodies they left behind, and to burn the camps themselves.  Incredibly, documenting the extent of “the many camps, ghettos, and other sites of detention, persecution, forced labor, and murder the Nazis and their allies ran” continues to this day, the number of such places exceeding a staggering count of more than 42,000 cataloged sites.

According to the US Holocaust Museum, the Wöbbelin camp J.I. Clements visited “was a subcamp of the Neuengamme concentration camp. The SS had established Wöbbelin in early February 1945 to house concentration camp prisoners whom the SS had evacuated from other camps to prevent their liberation by the Allies. At its height, Wöbbelin held some 5,000 inmates, many of whom were suffering from starvation and disease…When the Allied units arrived there, they found about 1,000 inmates dead in the camp. ”

German civilians from Ludwigslust file past the corpses and graves of 200 prisoners from the nearby concentration camp of Wöbbelin. Image source: U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

German civilians were forced by the American commanders to gather the dead from the Wöbbelin concentration camp and bring them to nearby Ludwigslust for burial on the palace grounds of the Archduke of Mecklenburg (now known as Schloss Ludwigslust). In this photo, the residents of Ludwiglust file past the corpses and graves of 200 prisoners from Wöbbelin prior to the burial ceremony conducted by U.S. Army chaplains. Image source: U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

The notes of the U.S. Signal Corps, which documented, photographed, and filmed the conditions at Wöbbelin, provide the following description:

NEW NAZI HORROR CAMP DISCOVERED.

One of the worst Nazi concentration camps uncovered by Allied troops was liberated at Wobbelin, Germany, a small town five miles north of Ludwigslust and 90 miles northwest of Berlin. Soldiers of three Allied units — the 82nd U.S. Airborne Division, the Eighth Infantry Division of the Ninth U.S. Army and airborne troops of the Second British Army — entered the camp and found sick, starving inmates barely surviving under indescribable conditions of filth and squalor. They found hundreds of dead prisoners in one of the buildings while outside, in a yard, hundreds more were found hastily buried in huge pits. One mass grave contained 300 emaciated, disfigured corpses. The dead included Poles, Russians, Frenchmen, Belgians, Dutchmen and Germans, all of whom had been working as slave laborers for the Nazis. It is estimated that at least 150 of the original 4,000 prisoners succumbed daily, mostly from starvation and savage treatment at the hands of Nazi SS troops who operated the camp. Some of the bodies found were burned almost beyond recognition and systematic torture of the inmates was revealed by the physical condition of most of the survivors. Military Government officers immediately ordered leading citizens of nearby Ludwigslust and other towns to march through the camp and witness the atrocities committed by representatives of the German Government. Most of the civilians disclaimed any knowledge of the camp’s existence despite the fact that many of the prisoners worked in the area. The local residents later were made to exhume the bodies from the mass graves at the camp and provide decent, respectable interment of all dead prisoners. Two hundred were buried in the public square of Ludwigslust May 7, 1945, and an equal number were buried in the garden of the highest Nazi official of Hagenow. Eighty more were laid to rest in the town of Schwerin.

BIPPA EA 66641

THIS PHOTO SHOWS: German soldiers stand bareheaded at the graves of these victims of German cruelty. In the background, soldiers of the 82nd U.S. Airborne Division witness the burial proceedings at Ludwigslust. U.S. Signal Corps Photo ETC-H-45-46088. SERVICED BY LONDON OWI TO LIST B CERTIFIED AS PASSED BY SHAEF CENSOR

THIS PHOTO SHOWS: German soldiers stand bareheaded at the graves of these victims of German cruelty. In the background, soldiers of the 82nd U.S. Airborne Division witness the burial proceedings at Ludwigslust. U.S. Signal Corps Photo ETC-H-45-46088 [and caption].
SERVICED BY LONDON OWI TO LIST B
CERTIFIED AS PASSED BY SHAEF CENSOR

On May 7, 1945,  the date J.I. Clements, Jr wrote his letter from Ludwigslust, a memorial service was held by the Americans. Chaplain Major George B. Woods of the 82nd Airborne Division, spoke to the assembled townspeople. Standing beside the two hundred grave-sites, the GIs, the German officers and civilians, Major Woods gave this eulogy:

We are assembled here today before God and in sight of man to give proper and reverent burial to the victims of atrocities committed by armed forces in the name of and by order of the German Government. These 200 bodies were found by the American army in a concentration camp 4 miles north of the city of Ludwigslust.

The crimes here committed in the name of the German people and by their acquiescence were minor compared to those to be found in concentration camps elsewhere in Germany. Here there were no gas chambers, no crematoria; these men of Holland, Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and France were simply allowed to starve to death. Within four miles of your comfortable homes 4,000 men were forced to live like animals, deprived even of the food you would give to your dogs. In three weeks 1,000 of these men were starved to death; 800 of them were buried in pits in the nearby woods. These 200 who lie before us in these graves were found piled four and five feet high in one building and lying with the sick and dying in other buildings.

The world has long been horrified at the crimes of the German nation: these crimes were never clearly brought to light until the armies of the United Nations overran Germany. This is not war conducted by the international rules of warfare. This is murder such as is not even known among savages.

Though you claim no knowledge of these acts, you are still individually and collectively responsible for these atrocities, for they were committed by a government elected to office by yourselves in 1933 and continued in office by your indifference to organized brutality. It should be the first resolve of the German people that never again should any leader or party bring them such moral degradation as is exhibited here.

It is the custom of the United States Army through its Chaplain’s Corps to insure a proper and decent burial to any deceased person whether he be civilian, or soldier, friend, or foe, according to religious preference. The Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces has ordered that all atrocity victims be buried in a public place, and that the cemetery be given the same perpetual care that is given to all military cemeteries. Crosses will be placed at the heads of the graves; a stone monument will be set up in memory of these deceased. Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish prayers will be said by Chaplains Wood, Hannan and Wall of the 82nd Airborne Division for these victims as we lay them to rest and commit the into the hands of our Heavenly Father in the hope that the world will not again be faced with such barbarity.

holocaust-graves-at-Schwerin

Under orders from officers of the US 8th Infantry division, German civilians from Schwerin attend funeral services for 80 prisoners killed at the Wöbbelin concentration camp. The townspeople were ordered to bury the prisoners’ corpses in the town square. Germany, May 8, 1945.  U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Epilogue

In 2001 WWII veteran Manny Steinfeld, who participated in the liberation of Wöbbelin, went back to Germany to film a documentary.

“He returned to Ludwigslust, but found almost no trace of the Wobbelin cemetery.

Over the years, some of the wooden markers had rotted away, while the local population had used other markers to aid them during a fuel shortage.

Steinfeld approached local authorities for an explanation. They informed him that communism had taken its toll on the cemetery, the grounds of which were located in East Germany until the reunification of the country in 1992. The only noticeable remnant of the cemetery, according to Steinfeld, was a small sign stating that 200 victims of fascism were buried there, which made no distinction between the Jewish and non-Jewish victims.

Appalled, Steinfeld offered to put up more than half the funds to rededicate and recreate the cemetery for the victims. The United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad and veterans from the 82nd Division paid additional funds to make the refurbished cemetery possible. This time, the grave markers were made thicker and heavier 120 pounds each preventing neo-Nazis and skinheads from harming them.

More than 1,000 people attended the rededication ceremony in front of the Ludwigslust castle. They included the following: officials from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, and the American Consulate General in Hamburg in addition to local Ludwigslust citizens, plus 100 Holocaust survivors.
JUF News

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Elizabeth Roena Patten Clements (1858-1951)

Elizabeth Roena Patten Clements,  matriarch of the sawmill family of Ray City, died in 1951. She was the widow of Levi J. Clements and  a daughter of William and Elizabeth Register Patten.   In the early 1920s the Clements Lumber Company  was the largest business in Ray City, GA.

Obituary of Roena Patten Clements.

Obituary of Roena Patten Clements.

Valdosta Times
Friday, February 2, 1951

DEATH CLAIMS MRS. CLEMENTS OF RAY CITY

Mrs. Levie J. Rhoena Clements, 93, passed away at her home in Ray City this morning about 10 o’clock. Funeral services will be held at New Ramey Primitive Baptist Church at Ray City at 3 p. m. Saturday. She is survived by a daughter, Mrs. Lillie Gaskins, five sons, Dr. H. W. Clements, Adel; J. L. Clements, Fort Meade, Fla; W. G. Clements, Ebb, Fla; and J. I and J. S. Clements of Ray City.  Twenty grand children and 28 great-grandchildren also survive. Mrs. Clements was born in Berrien county and was a resident of that section all her life. Pallbearers will be the grandsons. Elder Marcus Peavy, pastor at Ray City, will conduct the services.  He will be assisted by the Rev. John W. Harrell, pastor of the Ray City Baptist Church. Wiseman Funeral Home, Adel, will direct the arrangements.

Funeral of Roena Patten Clements was held Saturday, February 3, 1951 at New Ramah Baptist Church, Ray City, GA

Funeral of Roena Patten Clements was held Saturday, February 3, 1951 at New Ramah Baptist Church, Ray City, GA

Mrs. Clements Is Laid To Rest

     Funeral services for Mrs. Rhoena Clements were held Saturday at 3 p. m. at the New Ramah Baptist Church.  Services were conducted by Elder M. C. Peavey and the Rev. John W. Harrell.
Mrs. Clements died Friday morning after an illness of several months.  She was a member of an old and prominent Ray City family.
Amazing Grace and I’m Going Home were sung by a mixed choir.  Interment was in the churchyard cemetery.
Active pallbearers were Donald Clements, Hugh Clements, Mason Clements, Kief Clements, J. I. Clements, Jr., Ralph Clements, Austin Clements and Dr. Fred C. Clements.
Honorary pallbearers were H. P. Clements, J. H. Swindle, Y. F. Carter, L. H. Webb, W. A. Clements, P. N. Sirmans, R. P. Swindle, C. W. Schmoe, Morris Johnson and H. W. Nelson.

Roena Clements 1858-1951, New Ramah Cemetery, Ray City, GA

Roena Clements 1858-1951, New Ramah Cemetery, Ray City, GA

Children of Elizabeth Roena Patten Clements and Levi J. Clements:

  1. Henry W. Clements, M.D.,   b. 1877, Ray City, Berrien Co., GA ,   d. 6 Feb 1952
  2. Lucille “Lillie” Clements,   b. 17 Feb 1879, Berrien County, GA,   d. 25 Apr 1967
  3. Lucius Jordan Clements,   b. 26 Dec 1880, Berrien County, GA ,   d. 20 Dec 1965, Ft. Meade, Polk County, FL
  4. Pearle E. Clements,   b. 6 Oct 1882, Berrien County, GA,   d. 9 Sep 1904
  5. William Grover “Bill” Clements,   b. 1 Oct 1884, Ray City Berrien Co., GA ,   d. 30 Jul 1984, Cross City, Dixie County, FL
  6. Joseph S. Clements,   b. 14 Aug 1886, Berrien County, GA,   d. 23 Aug 1963, Berrien County, GA
  7. James Irwin Clements,   b. 14 Aug 1886, Berrien County, GA,   d. 9 Feb 1965, Berrien County, GA

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