Tag: World War II

In Memorium

ArmyPicIt was a cold January day when the doorbell rang at our little house on the dead-end of Netherwood Street. My father answered the door, and a lady presented a telegram from the War Department. There was anguish in his voice when he alerted mom, “Mother, Jimmy is dead”. My brother, Jimmy, had been killed on December 24, 1951 in Korea.

I remember these things as if it were yesterday. Everyone in the whole house went into screaming fits of crying, with my mother and father retiring to their bedroom with their grief. It was not their first son to die for his country. Their first-born, Charles, had been declared dead after missing in action in the South Pacific during World War II.

It was what every soldier’s parents fear the most. Their child will come home, no more.

Jimmy was a big guy, standing about six feet, two inches tall. He would come home from school, or delivering newspapers and throw me over his shoulder, rough-housing with me like big brothers do. He was the guy everybody liked, and he sang bass in a gospel quartet. Somewhere in our family keepsakes is a small vinyl record he and a group of soldiers cut while on leave, singing a gospel song titled, “Keep On The Firing Line”.  It was appropriate for a singer of Christian songs, and a soldier.

While in high school, Jimmy talked our parents into signing for him to join the National Guard in Memphis. This was supposed to keep him out of the war in Korea because the Guard was not expected to be called-up for active duty in that war.

The National Guard was federalized, and units from all over the country were used to bolster the fighting units having a hard time in Korea. The Memphis unit was the 196th Field Artillery. It was a battery of 155 millimeter howitzers. Those are the really big guns.

At times he would send home pictures, and one set showed a field littered with the bodies of dozens of Chinese soldiers. I don’t know how Jimmy got these pictures past the censors, but we still have them.

The 196th had been firing their howitzers for over 24 hours when it happened. Jimmy was the crew leader, and they loaded a defective round. It exploded in the gun’s breech, killing the entire gun crew. Years later as I was graduating  from college with my engineering degree, I interviewed with a unit of Sperry-Rand out of Louisiana that had manufactured ammunition for 155 mm howitzers. The interviewer told me that there had been a problem with defective ammunition they had manufactured during the Korean War.

If you remember I spoke of two brothers dying while in service to their country. I never knew the brother killed in World War II. He was also much-loved, and it was years before my father stopped going to the train station in Memphis, looking for a son who never returned from the war. I am writing about Jimmy because he is the one I knew.

Some people don’t understand why we honor our war dead. In my opinion those who don’t understand this just don’t understand honor. Honor is not something automatically given, it has to be earned. Just living a life and dying does not generate honor in and of itself. Honor is given to those who serve others.

It is this service to others we honor, and do so in memory of those who gave their lives in battle for things some people don’t understand.

D-Day Remembrance

picture of cemetary in France with American War Dead Graves
Thousands of American Soldiers Are Buried At Normandy

Today is June 6, 2012. Sixty eight years ago , over 6,000 American soldiers became casualties at Normandy, and about 2,500 of those died. That’s a lot of soldiers, but that is not the whole story.  About 3,000 other Allied troops died that day. They were from England and Canada.

Around 19,000 French civilians were killed in the bombardments leading up to and during the Normandy invasion. The Germans lost around 80,000 soldiers. Casualties are usually lighter on the winners side, but the blood shed for the future generations of Europeans, Englishmen, Canadians, and Americans was very high. I believe we improved the future for the German people, too.

Today is a day to be remembered. It was the beginning of the end of Nazi Germany, one of the most egregious and cruel regimes in modern times. Their legacy was genocide, and we can never forget.

Even today, there are entire nations and religions that deny the evils perpetuated by the Nazi’s. Islamic leaders in Iran deny the holocaust because they hate Jews. Indeed, they are dedicated to finishing the extinction of the Jewish people. How others overlook this documented goal of an entire nation is a sign of danger in itself.

Today, we are faced with some of the same choices that the German people faced. Do we move our government into a socialist entity like Nazi Germany (National Socialism), or do we strive to keep free markets and free people as our goals. Do we rob ourselves of free speech by instituting a fairness doctrine, or do we insist on our sacred rights of being able to say anything about anything?

Our choices diminish daily with the arrogance and ignorance exhibited by our leadership in Washington, DC. We need to make the choice for freedom, now, or we will learn the meaning of the words written by Frederich Hayek:

Perhaps the fact that we have seen millions voting themselves into complete dependence on a tyrant has made our generation understand that to choose one’s government is not necessarily to secure freedom.

Honor freedom and make your choice for freedom while you have the chance. Maybe we will not have to fight another World War II to get it back if we pay attention, now.

Honor To Our Brothers

Picture Pearl Harbor as viewed by Japanese plane on Dec 7, 1941
Pearl Harbor from Attacking Japanese Airplane

Today, I want to memorialize two 19-year-old men who were killed in wars, my brothers Charles and Jimmy.

Charles was the first-born in the family, and was born into a poor, rural household. The year was 1923, and the Great Depression was just around the corner. The entire South was in poverty in the early twentieth century, not having gotten over decades of discriminatory Reconstruction, depression, and destructive farming techniques.

On February 4, 1941 Charles enlisted in the Army at Ft. McPherson, GA. He was radio operator, and was sent to the Hawaiian Department.  That was before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7 of that year. He got there in time for the attack, and eventually wrote a letter to his younger brother, Ray, telling him of the experience. We still have copies of that letter.

After the attack, personnel were confined to the base. Charles got an opportunity to go on an air freight mission, ferrying a load of aircraft parts from Hawaii to Christmas Island. The plane got off course, and eventually ran out of fuel. My brother radioed in the coordinates, speed, and course, but they were never heard from, again. A resulting search turned up nothing.

Charles is listed as Missing In Action on June 16, 1942.  More than a year later, my parents received a death certificate from the Army Department listing the MIA date as June 16,  1943, an obvious error. My Dad flew into a rage, and called the White House, cursing and telling them of the error. Mom and Dad, later, received another certificate with the correct dates.

My brother Jimmy was just in high school when the Korean War broke out. My parents signed for Jimmy to join the National Guard so that he would not be drafted into the Army to serve in Korea.

Picture of 155 mm Howitzer
155 mm Howitzer – Still In Use

The US was in trouble in Korea, and President Harry Truman nationalized the National Guard. My brother was sent to Korea as part of a 155 mm howitzer gun crew. If you are not familiar with this cannon, it was big, with the shell being over six inches in diameter.

We received lots of souvenirs from Korea like silk smoking jackets (everybody smoked in the 1950’s) and  Korean currency. At least once, we received battlefield photographs showing dozens of dead Chinese troops. Although I don’t remember what happened to the pictures, I do remember pictures of corpses lying on the ground, dozens of them, looking like so many rag dolls thrown down in random positions. I was six years old, and didn’t understand what had happened.

On December 23, 1951 the crew had been firing their howitzer for over 24 hours. As they were re-loading the smoking hot gun, the round exploded in the breech. The entire gun crew was killed. This is the story told to our family by the Army.

Almost twenty years later as a graduating engineer interviewing for a job, I talked to a recruiter with a company that had manufactured 155 mm ammunition during the Korean war. He told me that there had been a problem with defective rounds. Today there would have been investigations and law suits. Back then, we only knew that Jimmy was dead.

Here is a description from the records of the Korean War Veterans Honor Roll:

Sergeant (last name deleted) was a member of Battery C, 196th Field Artillery Battalion, X Corps. He was seriously wounded while fighting the enemy in North Korea on December 23, 1951 and died of those wounds the following day. Sergeant (last name deleted) was awarded the Purple Heart, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Presidential Unit Citation and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.

These two men were so young to have paid such awful prices. We remember and honor them, today.

Note: 5/29/2012 – A perusal of the Tennessee National Guard web site states the following:

During the Korean War, Tennessee mobilized 11 units, with four seeing combat in Korea. The 196th Field Artillery Battalion received a presidential unit citation for helping to repulse the massive Chinese invasion in 1951.