Billy Clements was a Combat Engineer

1942 recruitment poster for the Army Corps of Engineers

1942 recruitment poster for the Army Corps of Engineers

On August 2, 1942, William A. “Billy” Clements enlisted “for the duration of the War.”  He was inducted first as an Army private at Fort Mcpherson, Atlanta, GA.

A line of soldiers during induction at Ft. McPherson, Atlanta, GA, 1942.

A line of soldiers during induction at Ft. McPherson, Atlanta, GA, 1942.

Billy had four years of college education, and after basic training it was decided his “civilian occupation, training and background were more suited for conversion to Specialist use in the Engineer Corps than in other branches of the services…The army engineer is a builder as well as a combat soldier.”  It was in 1942 that the construction of domestic military bases reached its peak.

On October 5, 1942 The Atlanta Constitution reported William A. Clements had been transferred to the Engineer Replacement Training Center at Fort Leonard Wood, MO.

William A. "Billy" Clements was assigned to Fort Leonard Wood in October of 1942.

William A. “Billy” Clements was assigned to Fort Leonard Wood in October of 1942.

The Atlanta Constitution
October 5, 1942

The Army and Navy

Fourteen Georgians are now stationed at the Engineer Replacement Training Center at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
    From Atlanta are Herbert C. Johnson, of 476 Lytle avenue, S. E. and James B. Owen, of 1189 McLendon avenue.
    Other Georgians are: Earl L. Nash, of 3787 Highland avenue, Hapeville: Thomas B. Jordan, of Greenville; Roy W. Smith, of Jonesboro; Philip E. Williams, of Colquitt; Glen B. Phillips, of Forest Park; James E. Terrell, of North Roswell; Charles A Lindsey, of Dalton; Arthur L. Long, of Woodbury; Robert F. Meek, of Smyrna; William A. Clements, of Ray City; John V. Benson, of Nelson, and Frank W. McCrae, of Raleigh.

New arrivals at Fort Leonard Wood were greeted with a pamphlet, Introdution to ERTC Fort Leonard Wood,  which provided an orientation to the base and the Army Corps of Engineers.

“The prime reason for your being here is to be trained as a combat engineer.  You will learn the use of hand and motorized tools, to construct fixed and floating bridges, to build roads and obstacles, to execute demolitions, and to protect yourself against  enemy attacks.

WW II era yearbook, Fort Leonard Wood

After the War, Billy Clements returned to Ray City, GA. He later became the owner of the Victory Soda Shop, Ray City’s iconic landmark of World War II.

Billy Clements (left) on Main Street outside the Victory Soda Shop after the Ray City fire of March 1969. Image courtesy of

Billy Clements (left) after the Ray City fire of March 1969. Image courtesy of


The Berrien Press 
February 2006

The Berrien Press — William A. “Billy” Clements, 88, of Ray City died February 2, 2006 at Louis Smith Memorial Hospital in Lakeland. Born October 3, 1917 in Berrien County to the late William A. and Mary  Elizabeth Clements, he owned and operated Victory Soda Shop in Ray City for 33 years. He served in the U.S. Army during WWII and was a member of First  Baptist Church in Ray City. Survivors include his wife, Helen Wood Clements of Ray City; three sons, Richard Clements of Chula, David Clements of Ray City, Chris Clements of Virginia Beach, VA; two sisters, Ann Ryals of Valdosta and Grace Howell of  Houston, TX; one brother, Wendell Lee Clements of Conyers; seven grandchildren, five great-grandchildren. Funeral services were held February 5 at 2 p.m. at First Baptist Church in Ray City. Interment was in Beaver Dam Cemetery. Music Funeral Services of Lakeland was in charge of arrangements.


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Clements Cousins at G.S.W.C.

In the 1940s Annie Ruth Clements and Frances Clements, Ray City cousins, both attended Georgia State Womans College, now known as Valdosta State University.  The Clements girls  were descendants of one of the pioneer families of Ray City,GA and were both  granddaughters of John Miles Clements (1859 – 1937).

Ann Ruth Clements (L) and Frances Clement (R), of Ray City, GA. In 1943, the Clements girls were freshmen at Georgia State Womans College, Valdosta, GA (now Valdosta State University.)

Ann Ruth Clements (L) and Frances Clement (R), of Ray City, GA. In 1943, the Clements girls were freshmen at Georgia State Womans College, Valdosta, GA (now Valdosta State University.)

Annie Ruth Clements was born at Ray City, GA about 1924, a daughter of Mary Elizabeth Lee and  William A. Clements. Her father was a farmer and butcher at Ray City.  She was a  sister of Billie Clements who would later own the Victory Soda Shop in Ray City. The long-time Ray City landmark opened in 1943, during WWII, and during the time Annie Ruth was  attending G.S.W.C.

Frances Clements was born about 1925, also at Ray City, GA, a daughter of Alma Florence May and Hosea “Hod” P. Clements.  Her father was a graduate of Georgia Normal College and Business Institute, and a prominent businessman of Ray City.  After college, Frances Clements married Lawrence Carter and the couple made their home in Valdosta.

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Mail Me Monday

Mail Me Monday

One of the historic businesses of Ray City, GA was a mail order accounting service called Mail-Me-Monday.

1948 Classified Ad for "Mail-Me-Monday", Ray City, GA

1948 Classified Ad for “Mail-Me-Monday”, Ray City, GA. The business was owned by W.R. McClure.

Mail Me Monday was a business franchise that was created by Jack Hession to provide bookkeeping services for small businessmen. “They needed it badly because 1) most of them didn’t know how to keep books and 2) they couldn’t afford a part-time bookkeeper to do the job.  Why not, thought Hession, a mail order service which would charge a small fee to keep the books?”

The Mail-Me-Monday franchise in Ray City was owned by William R. “Mac” McClure. The business was located on the second floor over the Victory Soda Shop on Main Street.  Mr. McClure served as principal of the Ray City School.  His daughters were Reba and Sarah.   Reba married J.I. Clements who went on to become a baseball coach at Georgia Southern University.  Sarah  became a bookkeeper in Valdosta.   The McClures lived on the Teeterville Road, right on the edge of town.

1947 advertisement for "Mail-Me-Monday" franchises.

1947 advertisement for “Mail-Me-Monday” franchises.

Early Telephone Systems Operated In Local Towns

The 1920 Report of the Railroad Commission of Georgia reported that the offices of the Ray City Telephone Company were located in Hahira, GA.  For the year 1921, the company had gross earnings of $1872.59 and $2359.75 in operating expenses, for a net deficit of $487.19.

In 1924, the Atlanta Constitution reported that a Ray City entrepreneur would purchase the Hahira telephone system.

Atlanta Constitution
March 8, 1924, Pg 8

    Hahira, Ga., March 7. – (Special.)  M.G. Melton, of Ray City, Ga., has purchased the Hahira telephone system from the Bank of Hahira, and will assume management at once.
    The system is comprised of 225 telephones, with rural lines running into adjacent communities, as well as being connected by the Southern Bell system for long distance service.

Unidentified 1920s Georgia switchboard operator. Vanishing Georgia, Georgia Archives, Office of Secretary of State.,7216

Unidentified young man, 1920s Georgia switchboard operator. Vanishing Georgia, Georgia Archives, Office of Secretary of State.,7216

By the time of Melton’s Hahira investment, Ray City also had a well established telephone system.

Ray City Public Service Company

The Rays Mill Public Service company was established some time prior to 1912. By 1919, the Ray City Public Service Company served as the telephone company for Ray City, Georgia.  The Report of the Comptroller-General of the State of Georgia for the year ending December 31, 1922 shows that there were no less that 152 telephone companies operating across the state.  In the local area, Ray City, Nashville, Milltown, Hahira, Homerville, Cairo and Quitman all had telephone companies.

It is said that the first telephone in Ray City was installed at the drugstore that later became the Victory Soda Shop.  Ike Fender and Gillie Ann Cowart were among the town’s first telephone operators.

By 1922, the Ray City Public Service company had 16 miles of telephone poles and 75 miles of telephone wire.  The company paid $9.50 for telephone company taxes, and the  total value of the company property was $1,900.00.   In the Report of the Comptroller-General of the State of Georgia for the year ending December 31, 1925, the company name is given as Ray City Telephone Company. The total value of the company property was $1,888.00, and the company paid $9.44 in state taxes.

Later, M.G. Melton relocated to Hahira, but continued his commercial investments in Ray City.  An earlier post told of his intention to operate a telephone exchange in Ray City.

Ray City News, Jan 3, 1929
M.G. Melton Buys A. Turner Brick Bldgs.

   A transaction of much interest to the people of Ray City and surrounding  community is that in which Mr. M. G. Melton of Hahira purchased the two large brick buildings known as the Andrew Turner Buildings.  One of the buildings is two stories high and the top floor is needed for the telephone exchange.

In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps assisted with the construction of rural telephone lines. Eventually, the larger telephone corporations bought out the local exchange operators.  In 1950, the telephone service in Ray City was provided by Consolidated Telephone Company, which also served Berlin, Boston, Coolidge, Doerun, Hahira, Lakeland, Meigs, Morven, Moultrie, Norman Park, and Pavo.

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Putnal Family ~ Town and Country

Putnal Family of Ray City, GA

The  farm place of Wayne and Ellen Gaskins Putnal was located on the south side of Ray City, on Park Street.  Wayne Putnal worked the farm during the week and on Saturdays he could be found in town at Leon Bradford’s barbershop.  The barbershop was located on the south side of Main Street just opposite the Victory Soda Shop.  Mr. Putnal worked many years there, cutting hair and giving shaves. In his later years he had a noticeable tremble, but his customers could always be confident that he would apply scissors to locks or straight razor to whiskers with the steadiest hand.

There were seven children in the Putnal household, and they attended the Ray City School. They would walk up the dirt road that was Park Street to Johnson Street, then east to the school, joining the other farm children who lived along the way.

Children of Ellen Gaskins and Wayne Putnal:

  1. Leston L. Putnal
  2. Grace Marguerite Putnal
  3. Clifford Earl Putnal
  4. Cary W. Putnal
  5. Nelda E. Putnal
  6. Dorthy E Putnal
  7. Glen H Putnal

Leston Putnal married Louise Cooper after graduating from Ray City High School. During WWII, he joined the Air Force, and it became a 30 year career. While he was away during the war his wife and son rented an apartment in Effie Guthrie Knight ‘s house on Park Street. The large old house had once served as a hotel for tourists visiting the Mayhaw Lake Amusement Park. Later, Leston Putnal and his family lived in Adel, GA.

After high school, the sisters Grace and Nelda Putnal went to Jacksonville, Florida. Nelda  got a job as an operator for the Standard Oil Company and in 1947 she married Charles J. Vance.  Grace Putnal  found work as a bookkeeper.  She married Bobby Earnest  in Duval County, Fl in 1953.

Cary W. Putnal moved to Macon, GA.

Earl Putnal   was known to other Ray City students by the nickname, “Guinea.”  Like his older brother, Earl fought in WWII. He served in the Navy and was wounded in action.  After the war,  he returned to Ray City and married Helen Marie Lee. She was the daughter of   Letha Brantley and Loren Lafayette Lee.   Earl and Helen moved to Jacksonville,  where Earl took a job as a clerk with Spencer Electric company. Later, they moved to Galveston, TX where Helen’s parents had already relocated.

Dorothy Putnal married Payne Webb, a successful merchant of Ray City.  He owned a liquor store located on the south side of Main Street, opposite the present day location of the Dollar General store. The couple spent their honeymoon in Atlanta, and returned to Ray City to make their home. After marriage, Dorothy went on to attend Georgia State Womans College at Valdosta, GA (now Valdosta State University.)   After Payne died of cancer she relocated to Atlanta and remarried.

Glen Putnal became a dentist.

When Wayne and Ellen Putnal were ‘senior citizens,’ they moved from their home on Park Street to a place in town.  Annie Mae Clements sold the Putnals a lot on the west side of her house, the Clements house being located on the southwest corner of  Jones and Ward streets.  Using  the same building plans from which their farm home had been constructed, the Putnals had a house built on the town lot.  In their new home the Putnals were known as “nice people and good neighbors.”

The Putnal house on Park Street is long gone, but the town home still stands on Jones Street in Ray City, GA.

Ray City Masons Celebrated Saint John the Baptist Day In 1936

Masons Lodge 553, Ray City, Berrien County, Georgia

Masons Lodge 553, Ray City, Berrien County, Georgia

A 1936 newspaper clipping commented on the activities of the Ray City Masonic lodge No. 553,

Atlanta Daily World
July 8, 1936 Pg 2
Valdosta, Ga.

St. John’s Day was held at Ray City last Sunday. Prof. C.O. Davis was the speaker. Prof. Davis is the Deputy Grand Master of the Masonic Grand Lodge of Georgia.

Masons have been a part of Ray City, GA history since the beginning of the town.   The lodge in Ray City was constituted in 1909. In 1910, as the Methodist church was being organized in Ray City, a revival was held in the Masonic hall.

Ray City founder Thomas M. Ray was a Mason, as were Perry Thomas Knight, A. J. Pert, James Henry Swindle, Caswell Yawn, Dr. Pierce Hubert, Hod Clements, D. Edwin Griner and Lucius Jordan Clements among others.   In 1909, Lacy Lester Shaw served treasurer of Ray City lodge No. 553. From 1858 to 1878 Hardeman Sirmans was a member Butler Lodge, No. 211 in Milltown.

At the time of his death in 1907 Judge A. H. Hansell, of the Southern Circuit, was the oldest living Mason in the state of Georgia.

A marble stone set in the only remaining commercial brick building in Ray City, designates it as the “Masonic Building,” one time home of the Free & Accepted Masons Lodge No. 553.  At Brian Brown’s  Vanishing South Georgia blog, Ray City residents have commented on the history of this building, which once was home to the Ray City drugstore and later, the Victory Soda Shop.

Lucius Jordan Clements and Eugenia Watkins Clements in Masonic garb.

Lucius Jordan Clements and Eugenia Watkins Clements in Masonic garb. Image courtesy of

The Free and Accepted Masons were active in the Wiregrass long before the formation of the lodge at Ray City in 1909.   Lodge No. 211 was incorporated 50 years earlier at Milltown (nka Lakeland, GA) in 1858.  Somewhat earlier, St. John the Baptist Lodge No. 184 was constituted at Troupville on November 2, 1854.   Circuit riding Methodist reverend John Slade was a member there,  as were Norman Campbell, and William C. Newbern.   Andrew J. Liles,  postmaster of Milltown, was a member. The Masonic lodge at old Troupville met on the first and third Tuesday nights upstairs in Swains Hotel, situated on the banks of Little River and owned by Morgan G. Swain.

According to the History of Lowndes County, GA, the officers  of St. John the Baptist Lodge No. 184 were:

Reverend Thomas W. Ellis, Worshipful Master;
Ephriam H. Platt, Senior Warden;
Benjamin C. Clay, Junior Warden;
Charles H. Howell, Secretary;
John Brown, Treasurer;
William H. Dasher, Senior Deacon;
J. T. C. Adams, Junior Deacon;
John B. Cashan, Tyler.

Other founding members in addition to  those mentioned above were:

William T. Roberts, James H. Carroll, Adam Graham, Thomas Moore, William Dees, Daniel Mathis, Thomas D. Wilkes, S. D. Smith, James Harrell, J. N. Waddy. William J. Mabry, George Brown, William Jones, J. C. Pautelle, J. R. M. Smith, Reverend F. R. C. Ellis, Robert B. Hester, , William Godfrey, W. D. M. Howell, Hustice Moore, J. Harris, W. H. Carter,  William A. Sanford, Willis Allen, Jeremiah Williams, William A. Carter, John R. Walker, William D. Martin, J. E. Stephens, R. W. Leverett, L. M. Ayers, S. Manning, James Carter, Willis Roland, John W. Clark, James A. Darsey,  the Entered Apprentices Judge Richard A. Peeples, William Ashley, J. J. Goldwire, snd Fellowcrafts William T. Roberts and Moses Smith.

Troupville lodge member William J. Mabry, moved in 1856 to Nashville, GA, seat of the newly created Berrien County, where he built the first Berrien court house in 1857 and also became the first Worshipful Master of Duncan Lodge No. 3. Later, the St. John the Baptist Lodge No. 184 was moved from Troupville to Valdosta, GA.

A post on the Masonic Traveler Blog by mason and artist, Greg Stewart explains the significance of Saint John the Baptist Day.

The Saint’s Johns appear to Freemasons in several places in our catechisms. Their proximity and use in our rituals have been questioned for many years as to their use and placement. Looked at together, saint John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist serve to represent the balance in Masonry between zeal for the fraternity and learned equilibrium. The Saints John, stand in perfect parallel harmony representing that balance.

From a historical approach, The Saint John’s festival is said to be a widely celebrated Masonic holiday. Traditionally June 24th (or the summer Solstice) is taken to be John the Baptist’s day, which is celebrated in many cultures around the world. According to McCoy’s Masonic Dictionary, the Festival of St. John in summer is a duty of every Mason to participate in, and should serve to be a renewal and strengthening of fraternal ties and a celebration of Masonry from “olden-times”. It functions as a connection between the past and the future.

More on St. John’s Day via Masonic Traveler: Saint John the Baptist Day, Duality in One. June 24th.

Other Ray City Masons:

  • Eddie D. Boyette
  • Philip Dewitt Carter
  • Lorenzo D. Carter
  • William I. Barker
  • Dr. B. F. Julian
  • William Lawrence Swindle

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Jewel Wood and Ray City’s Victory Soda Shop

Jewel Wood worked in the Victory Soda Shop in down town Ray City, Georgia. She was hired in 1943 by Ralph Gaskins, the shop’s original owner, and was employed there for more than 40 years.

In its heyday the Victory Soda Shop was one of the best known  landmarks of Ray City.  It was located in a brick commercial building on the corner of Main Street and  Street. The shop was a popular gathering spot for local citizens, and once boasted the town’s only telephone.

 In a 1984 newspaper article Wood reflected, “I was there when they first had fountain drinks. They provided special glasses with marks to show you where to put the syrup, the soda, and the ice.  The brass cash register is still there, the five and one cent keys all but worn out from the days when coffee was a nickel and candy was a penny.”  Besides the obligatory soda fountain offerings, she served the patrons quick fare like hamburgers and hotdogs. The Victory Soda Shop’s hand squeezed lemonade was widely regarded as the best in the area.  In the early days, she knew all the customers by name. One any given day, you could expect to find the town’s old timers, pundits and sages gathered around a table swapping yarns, offering advice, or analyzing current events over a cup of coffee.

From behind the counter, Jewel Wood saw Ray City change with the times.  With the triumph of the Allies in World War II, the little shop earned its name. In the Sixties, the Civil Rights movement ended the segregation of the shop’s clientel. Later, the construction of Interstate 75 meant less traffic passing through town, but the local fame of the Victory Soda Shop would still draw the occasional visitor from the highway.

Over the years the shop had different owners.  Billy Clements was the proprietor for many years.  In 1984 it was owned by Jewel Wood’s son, Johnnie Wayne Wood.  The Victory Soda Shop is closed now, although the brick building where it was located still stands, the last remaining commercial brick building in Ray City.

 A previous Ray City History post included a newspaper photo Victory Soda Shop ~ Ray City, GA 

Brian Brown  provides a photograph of the building that once was home to the Victory Soda Shop at

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Victory Soda Shop ~ Ray City, GA

Ray City History

Victory Soda Shop

Billy Clement’s Victory Soda Shop was one of the historic businesses of Ray City, GA. The Victory Soda Shop once occupied the western half of the brick building which now stands on the northeast corner of Main and Paralleled Street. The building was erected by James S. and James H. Swindle, prominent residents of this area.


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