A series of articles written by Joe C. Fling on our service men who died during World War II. These originally appeared in the Eagle Lake Headlight.
|Leon Phillip Kallina (#1)||
#14 is missing
By Joe C. Fling
Monday is Memorial Day. Observed annually since 1868, this is the day in which we honor our America's service personnel killed in wartime. Originally called Decoration Day, it is traditionally observed with the decorating of graves with flowers and flags. The observance was initiated to honor Civil War dead, but is now observed in respect of the dead from all wars.
I encourage you to visit the cemeteries this Monday. See the flags. Take your children. Have a talk with them about what it means to be an American. See the graves of those who gave their lives for us in the wars. Some twelve World War II dead are remembered by burial or memorial stones in the cemeteries of Eagle Lake. They are Weldon Davis, William R. Cook, Maurice Parker, Gerald P. Shirley, and John B. Westmoreland in the Masonic; and William David Austin, Glenn E. Eggers, Richard L. Eggers, Arthur Hodde, Johnnie David Hutchins, William Lee Stapleton and J. Dick Woolridge in the Lakeside. The military stones are a wealth of information. Read them. They will tell you a man's name, the state he enlisted from, what his rank and the unit that he served in; besides dates of birth and death.
Many of us have parents, uncles and other relatives who fought and served our country valiantly in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, and too many other conflicts around the globe. My personal passion is for those who died in the wars. For while Colorado County lost some 51 men in World War II, I am aware of only three who left children behind. For those other 48, who will remember?
This year marks 60 years since the first full year of American involvement in World War II (1942). Therefore it has been 60 years since our fallen heroes of World War II made the ultimate sacrifice of their lives for the freedoms which we today hold so dear. Which we have all been so painfully reminded of this last few months.
Sixty years ago all of the newspapers in the county gave front page coverage to the death of Colorado County's first combat casualty of the war. It was Second Lieutenant Leon Phillip Kallina of Garwood. Kallina was killed May 28, 1942. He had been born August 23, 1918 to Frank and Millie Frnka Kallina. Graduating from Eagle Lake High School in 1935 and the University of Texas at Austin in 1940 he served in the U.S. Army Air Corps (the predecessor of the Air Force).
Kallina was a navigator on a four engine bomber (B-17 or B-24) and was killed in the heavy fighting that continued around New Guinea and the Solomon Islands between the Battle of Coral Sea and the invasion of Guadalcanal. Reports were that a Japanese Zero fighter plane strafed Kallina's bomber while it was on a mission over the Coral Sea. The wing of the bomber was set on fire, and when Kallina stood to inform the pilot, was hit with a bullet in the chest. He survived until his plane returned to base, but died in the hospital there. Kallina's death certificate says that the place of death was Lae/Port Moresby, New Guinea.
Lt. Kallina's body was returned from New Guinea for burial in St. Mary's Catholic Church in Nada in 1948. Kallina was survived by his mother, two three brothers: Joe, Frank and Fred and a sister, Mrs. Seth Henderson.
Abraham Lincoln said at Gettysburg, "It is for us to be here dedicated to the task remaining before us that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion, that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain."
By Joe C. Fling
This year marks 60 years since the first full year of American involvement in World War II (1942). Therefore it has been 60 years since our fallen heroes of World War II made the ultimate sacrifice of their lives for the freedom which we today hold so dear. Which we have all been so painfully reminded of last September 11.
Sixty years ago this month, Eagle Lake suffered its first battle death of World War II, when William R. "Billy" Cook died in the South Pacific, although this was not known for some weeks later.
Cook was the son of George E. Cook of Lissie, and graduated from Eagle Lake High School in 1933. He was active and athletic, and reportedly well-liked by all who knew him. Congressman J.J. Mansfield appointed Cook to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, where he finished, receiving his officer's commission in 1938. Before the war, Billy served on numerous ships, reportedly virtually sailed the seven seas, visited numerous ports of call around the world. While aboard the Battleship Colorado, Cook passed thorough the Panama Canal.
As World War II broke out, Cook was aboard the U.S.S. Wasp, which was on loan to the British Royal Navy for the transport of fighter planes to the besieged Mediterranean island of Malta. When Wasp completed a second shipment of badly needed Spitfires, a grateful Winston Churchill cabled President Franklin Roosevelt, "Who says a Wasp can't sting twice."
The day those planes were delivered, the carrier Lexington was lost in Coral Sea. Wasp was rushed to the Pacific theatre of operations. During a brief stopover in its home base at Norfolk, Virginia, Cook was married to Charlotte West, on May 30, 1942. Cook wrote to his parents about his action in the Mediterranean Sea, "The angel of God was with us." Lest than four months later, Lt. Cook was lost when the ship went down in the Solomon Islands.
In the hard fighting in and around the Solomons, after the marines landed on Guadalcanal, the Japanese sank in a period of three months, Japanese air and sea power decimated the U.S. Navy. On September 15, 1942, Wasp was hit by three torpedoes from two Japanese submarines. Time magazine reported that "Wasp died so fast that there was no time for an orderly Abandon Ship." Explosions ripped the ship from stem to stern and she went to the bottom in a matter of minutes. Although over 1800 men survived and were rescued from the sea, 193 others, including Billy Cook went down with the ship. No doubt many died in the fires and explosions that destroyed the carrier. Yet, Richard Hummel writes in his book on the carrier war in the Pacific, "If ever a warship went to its doom with her last mission fulfilled, it was Wasp. The transports she had been covering landed 4000 men of the 7th Marines to join the garrison on Guadalcanal."
Ironically, Franklin Reese of Eagle Lake was serving on the same ship, and returned home on an unexpected leave on October 14. He was tight-lipped about the reason that he was home, and about what had happened in the Pacific. Reese's situation proved awkward indeed since the Cook family was anxious about news of the their own son until the U.S. government released news of the sinking of the Wasp a couple of week's later.
Lizzie Westmoreland dashed off a poem, printed in the Headlight on October 30 which concluded with the words:
"Our own lives must reflect that courage
In the will to give ourselves in service constantly
As other boys at home and overseas must carry on
Until the fightings done and Freedom and the right to live
For all the world is won."
Miss Lizzie's own son John Westmoreland would die in the service less than 90 days later.
Lt. W.R. Cook is memorialized with a marker in the Masonic cemetery in Eagle Lake, only a short way from Congressman Mansfield. As many of you know of course Cook has numerous family still living in and around Eagle Lake, including a namesake Billy Cook and State Representative Robbie Cook.
Number Three is a series in remembrance of our World War II dead
By Joe C. Fling
This Wednesday, October 16, marks the 60th anniversary of the death of William Lee Stapleton. Stapleton was, at the time of his death, and is still, in the hearts of many local people, acknowledged as Eagle Lake's first casualty of World War II. This confusion stems from the secrecy that shrouded the loss of the carrier Wasp for about six weeks. During this time, the death of Billy Cook (number 2 in our series) was still unreported, so that when news of the death of William Lee Stapleton on October 15, 1942 was received, the Eagle Lake Headlight reported his loss as "Eagle Lake's First Casualty".
Billy Stapleton was born August 29, 1922 in Eagle Lake, the only child of Ben Lee and Eunice Hoover Stapleton. He enlisted in the Navy as a volunteer before the war broke, leaving Eagle Lake on July 16, 1941 at the age of eighteen. Billy took basic training with six other Eagle Lake boys at San Diego, and was stationed aboard the U.S.S. McFarland, which left the port of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii in November 1941 for duty in the Pacific. Stapleton held the rank of Seaman First Class.
On this trip, Billy wrote to his parents, describing his voyage into the southwest Pacific, including a stop at Palmyra, in the Line Islands. Billy told of climbing trees for coconuts, fishing and swimming in the pre-war paradise. Being November he yearned to be deer hunting again. He had been a member of the Baptist Church and had been active in Sunday School. He was well liked by all who knew him.
For two weeks after Pearl Harbor was bombed, the Stapleton family waited anxiously for word of their son's well-being and got happy news just before Christmas, 1941. Stapleton's family received word from him that he was "safe, well and happy, don't worry" after the surprise Japanese attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet that launched America into the war.
During 1942 many Eagle Lake men were involved in the fighting in and around Coral Sea, Guadalcanal and New Guinea. The McFarland took part in much of that action. Stapleton's family received regular correspondence from him through that summer. However, they received no word from their son during the anxious weeks following the American invasion of Guadalcanal. When news finally came to the anxious family, it was bad. Stapleton had been killed in action, on October 16, 1942. The Headlight, unaware of Billy Cook's earlier death, headlined its report: "William Lee Stapleton, Eagle Lake's First Casualty."
Of course at the beginning the place and circumstances of his death were unknown. He had been killed in the fierce fighting in the seas around Guadalcanal. After Wasp was sunk, the United States had only one operational aircraft carrier in the Pacific, Hornet, from which Jimmy Doolittle had bombed Toyko only six months before. The Japanese undertook daily air searches to find and sink Hornet.
On October 16, 1942 the McFarland sailed to Lunga Roads, the supply docks for the marines on Guadalcanal, towing a barge which carried 40,000 gallons of gasoline and some ammunition. At about six in the evening, as she was unloading the supplies and taking on some wounded marines for evacuation, Japanese dive bombers, returning from a fruitless search for Hornet attacked. McFarland cut loose the barge and got under way, putting up what feeble anti-aircraft fire the old seaplane tender could. Her gunners downed one Japanese Aichi Val bomber, but it was enough. One enemy bomb hit the barge, incinerating in a fireball of burning gasoline. Another bomb hit McFarland setting off depth charges on her decks, severing the stern of the ship. Twenty-seven crewmen died and as many more were wounded. Seaman first class Stapleton was among the dead.
McFarland safely reached the American base on Tulagi around midnight. The dead were buried on this island with full military honors until they could be returned home to their final resting places.
Six long years passed before that could happen. Stapleton's body was returned aboard the U.S.S. Cardinal O'Connell along with more than 2800 other war dead. The newly formed VFW chapter in Eagle Lake was named in Stapleton's honor. He was finally laid to rest at Lakeside on March 7, 1948, where he lies today between his parents. Pallbearers were four buddies who went with Stapleton through bootcamp: Franklin Reese, Frank Mazac, Raymond Kohleffel and Fred R. Frnka plus Charlie Braden, Dale Cassady and Claude Brewer. His tombstone recites that he held rank of Gunnery Mate 3rd Class.
Understandably, Eagle Lake was shaken by the blows of the deaths of Cook and Stapleton so close together, so far away from home. Reportedly, the family had kept Billy's room intact, and he had put away all of his trinkets, including his favorite fishing rod before he left. The tenderness of such reports, contrasted with the harsh reality of death in battle highlighted for many the preciousness of our liberty, and the dear cost that our country would pay to keep it.
Number Four in a series in remembrance of our World War II dead
By Joe C. Fling
Not every one who dies in war dies a heroic death in combat far away like Billy Cook and Bill Stapleton. Sixty years ago this month, the community of Eagle Lake found out that training for war time could be as deadly as combat itself. In all Colorado County lost seven young men during World Wart II to training mishaps, traveling to and from posts or other stateside accidents. In October, 1942 Lizzie Westmoreland wrote a poem, published in the Headlight upon the death of Billy Cook. One of the great ironies of Eagle Lake's contribution to World War II is that the next local boy to die, within three months, was Lizzie's own son.
John Blasdel Westmoreland was born July 20, 1920 in Eagle Lake. He was the son of R.Thomas Westmoreland and Lizzie Blasdel Westmoreland. He graduated from Eagle Lake High School in 1937. John was athletic and popular. He won the coveted award of Outstanding Male athlete at Eagle Lake High School in 1937. John went on to attend the University of Texas in Austin where he was a student when news came of the attack on Pearl Harbor that thrust America into the fray. John and many of his friends put aside their personal dreams and career plans to enlist. John, having college work behind him would become an officer in the Army Air Corps.
Westmoreland trained at Vernon, Texas and Enid, Oklahoma; and graduated from the Lubbock Flying school on October 9, 1942 receiving his flying "wings". He went from there to Tarrant Field where he completed a nine-week course at the combat crew school. The combat school reported trained officers, who had already earned their wings in two engine planes, to fly the four engine, Consolidated B-24. This was a complete instruction to be a first officer of such a craft; including ground schools, flight training in all weather conditions and navigator training. One of the recently deceased renowned historian Stephan Ambrose's final works The Wild Blue: the story of the men and boys who flew the B-24's is an excellent read for anyone interested in the second world war, and the workings and operation of heavy bomber operations in particular.
Westmoreland completed combat flight school in December, 1942 and was eventually transferred to Patterson Field, Fairfield, Ohio. Westmoreland was killed January 26, 1943 in a flight to test a new four engine bomber. Westmoreland sat in the co-pilots' chair on the flight. A Captain Harris Collier piloted the plan. The plane reportedly climbed to 35,000 feet, and was descending to land. No communication was heard from the plane after a report of 'all's well' at 11,000 feet on the descent. The craft apparently went into an uncontrollable dive which rendered the crew unable to recover. The aircraft crashed on the railroad tracks of the New York Central Railroad 10 miles from Springfield, Ohio near a school.
Only eleven days Westmoreland's death, the Weimar area suffered its first war death. Flight Officer Frank J. Krejci, Jr. of Borden died in Louisiana under almost identical circumstances. In Krejci's case the medium (that is, two engine) bomber, probably a B-25 or B-26 similar to the planes used by General James Doolittle's Toyko raiders, flipped over and crashed during night exercises, killing five men. The two men both died in training crashes of bombers within the United States, and were buried in their home towns only two weeks apart.
Westmoreland's funeral was a tremendous event. The Headlight reported that "the entire community turned out en masse to show their esteem for this world war volunteer." The young man was bright and personable with a unlimited future ahead of him. His family were stalwarts in the community. And since his death was the first of an Eagle Lake boy within the confines of the United States, his funeral was the first held in the community. The funeral was conducted from the Westmoreland home, with interment in the Masonic cemetery.
Included in the service were color bearers and rifle squad from camps Hulen and Wallace, and aircraft flying in formation from Foster Field, Victoria. Pallbearers were Cpl. Leonard Seaholm, G.A. Seaholm, A.P. Powers, F.A. Hoeninghaus, Joe D. Luna, Donald Obenhaus and Will Merriwether. Also a Lt. Truman Salyer traveled from Ohio to address the mourners. He told how Westmoreland had died in his place. Salyer had been scheduled to make the flight, but when the plane had arrived early for its test flight, Westmoreland volunteered to take his place.
The Headlight summed up the matter in saying, "Lt. Westmoreland's tragic death electrified the community. It revealed to all the somber sequel of this war. Each sacrifice brings the conflict miles and miles nearer to us. John Westmoreland's record of life was clean. He was an exemplary son of exceptional ability and he leaves a good name as a monument to his memory and a name that will be inscribed on the roll of his country's heroes. He loved that country and was proud of his uniform. His likeable and admirable personality caused his death to be marked by sorrow of the tenderest feelings."
If you visit John Westmoreland's grave in the Masonic cemetery, you will note an engraving of pilot's 'wings' and the inscription, "died in line of duty."
Other sites remembering John Blasdel Westmore include
Eagle Lake Masonic Cemetery
Number Five in a series in remembrance of our World War II dead
By Joe C. Fling
Maurice Walter Parker was another casualty of World War II who met his end by means called "accidental." Parker was born November 13, 1903. When he died, sixty years ago, this month, he was the oldest man from Eagle Lake to die in World War II and one of the oldest three from the whole of Colorado County. At his age he may not have had to go to war. Parker enlisted, and died in the line of duty defending his country.
Parker was the son of George Walter Parker (1872-1940) and Georgia Tate Parker (1871-1948), and lived his early childhood and youth in Eagle Lake. He graduated from Eagle Lake High School in 1923 and married Frances Cabaniss of Eagle Lake February 28, 1931. He moved from Eagle Lake about that time and resided in Houston for about 12 years, where he held a position with Humble Oil at the time the war broke out.
Maurice enlisted in the service of his country on November 14, 1942 and trained for a time at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana. He served in an Engineer Petroleum Unit. Whether this was a unit involved in the production of petroleum or the supply of fuels and oil to Allied ships is unknown. It also would seem likely that Parker's age and work experience with Humble Oil may have dictated his service in a non-combatant, supply unit. In addition, at the time of his death, Parker held the rank of Tech. Sergeant. Meaning that he had some supervisory authority.
Parker wrote to his wife in Houston and other members of his family on February 2, 1943 that he was departing from New York for an unannounced destination. The next news that the family heard of Maurice was the notice of his death. The notice came to his wife Frances, in Houston, in the form of a War Department telegram, on a Saturday, eight days after his February 12, 1943 death. The notice said only that Parker "was accidentally killed in North American area, date and circumstances unreported. Letter follows."
Parker's death was one of so many that happened so quickly after a man shipped out from stateside that the shock must have been beyond human comfort. Here was a married man of mature age, who volunteered his services to his country and died within three months of enlistment. In this age of instant messaging and electronic news coverage, it is hard to comprehend the agony and pain of waiting for news. Loved ones gathered at the home of Mrs. G.W. Parker and grieved over a loss, the details of which could only be imagined.
About a month later, on March 12, Frances Parker received additional information which specified the date of death and the place of burial of Tech. Sgt. Parker, which was at Fort Bello, on the island of Bermuda.
Parker was survived by his wife, mother, a twin sister, Mrs. O.A. Bunge, and three brothers, Noel, Tate and Percy Parker. Unlike John Westmoreland who was returned from Ohio for immediate burial in Eagle Lake after his death, Parker remained interred in Bermuda for the duration of the war.
During this time, a memorial stone was erected in the Eagle Lake Masonic Cemetery which reads in part: "in memory of Tech Sgt. Maurice W. Parker, killed in the line of duty, buried at Fort Bello, Bermuda."
To the uninformed observer, this would appear to be like the cases of William R. Cook and Gerald Shirley (also in the Eagle Lake Masonic) a case of a memorial stone only in memory of one lost at sea, or buried overseas. For Maurice Parker this is not the case. Although the stone does not tell us this, when you look at this gravestone, know that Parker's remains were relocated and interred at this spot on December 9, 1947. The Eagle Lake Headlight wrote "May He who doeth all things well be near to comfort and bless all in their hour of sorrow is the prayer of numerous friends."
Number Six in a series in remembrance of our World War II dead
By Joe C. Fling
Far and away the most honored and laurelled of Eagle Lake's World War II dead is Johnnie David Hutchins. Hutchins was posthumously awarded our nations highest military decoration, the Congressional Medal of Honor for the action in which he gave up his life in the American assault at Lae, New Guinea 60 years ago, September 4, 1943.
Honors accorded Hutchins have been numerous. A building at the Naval Air Station in Dallas. A building in Virginia. A World War II destroyer the U.S.S. Johnnie Hutchins, christened by Hutchins' mother. In 1991, Ridgelea, the street leading to the new Eagle Lake Primary school was renamed Johnnie D. Hutchins Drive. The Texas LST Association held a special wreath laying service at Lakeside cemetery on Labor Day, 1998. Another graveside service is being planned for this September 6.
Hutchins continues to be honored to this day. A plaque honoring Hutchins hangs on the wall of honor at the Nimitz Museum in Fredricksburg. Another plaque on the same wall was placed by the crew of the destroyer named in Hutchins' honor. His original gravestone was replaced with a special military marker engraved with the Medal of Honor. Another Medal of Honor stone lies in a place of honor at the Wharton County Veterans Monument on the courthouse square in Wharton.
With all these honors and accolades, who was Johnnie David Hutchins? He was born at Weimar, August 4, 1922 the son of Mr. & Mrs. John Marion Hutchins. Later, his sharecropper parents moved the family to Lissie. Like so many other boys from that area, Johnnie attended Eagle Lake schools. He played on the 1938 Eagle Lake Eagles football team with Franklin Reese who served aboard the Wasp with Billy Cook when it went down, and with Fred Estlinbaum who was killed in action in Germany in 1945. Hutchins volunteered in November, 1942 at age 20. Less than a year later he was dead, and the bravery that he showed in the face of death has not been forgotten to this day.
The citation on the presentation of the Congressional Medal of Honor states that it was awarded to Hutchins,
For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous valor above and beyond the call of duty, while serving aboard a landing ship, tank, during the assault on Lae, New Guinea, September 4, 1943. As the ship on which Hutchins was stationed approached the enemy occupied beach under a veritable hail of fire from Japanese shore batteries and aerial bombardment a hostile torpedo pierced the surf and bore down upon the vessel with deadly accuracy. In the tense split seconds before the helmsman could steer clear of the threatening missile, a bomb struck the pilot house, dislodging him from his station and left the stricken ship helplessly exposed. Fully aware of the dire peril of the situation, Hutchins although mortally wounded by the shattering explosion, quickly grabbed the wheel and exhausted the last of his strength in maneuvering the vessel clear of the advancing torpedo. Still clinging to the helm, he eventually succumbed to his injuries, his final thought concerned only the safety of his ship, his final efforts expended toward the security of his mission. He gallantly gave his life in the service of his country.
Details of the battle were forthcoming. The U.S. Navy was ferrying troops of the Australian 9th Division from Milne Bay to beaches east of Lae, New Guinea in a coordinated attack to turn the tide of fighting in the Southwest Pacific. It was a trip of almost 200 miles. In route to the beaches, on September 4, 1943, still many miles out at sea the little squadron of six LSTs, three minesweepers and two subchasers came under heavy attack from Japanese dive bombers and torpedo planes. They were unable to put up sufficient firepower to knock down the enemy planes.
A half dozen Japanese 'Val' dive-bombers concentrated on LST-473, which was Hutchins' boat. They scored two direct hits which crumpled the pilothouse of the boat at 1:58 p.m. Immediate casualties were Six American dead and 13 wounded, with 18 of the Australian soldiers aboard wounded. Among the wounded were Fredrick Erickson, helmsman of the boat, who was thrown clear of the pilot house by the blast; and Seaman First Class Johnnie Hutchins. Now twelve 'Betty' torpedo bombers bore down on the stricken LST, and launched their torpedoes. Hutchins, grievously wounded got to the wheel first and spun it full right so that one torpedo shaved the bow wave and another the wake. The rest of the crew responded, manned their guns and fought fuel fires on the LST and saved it. But by the time anyone else could reach the shattered pilothouse, the pharmacist's mate found Hutchins slumped over the wheel, dead. He clutched a spoke of the wheel in each hand. The mate could not move his body and had to get two other sailors to help remove him from the wheel.
The initial reports of Hutchins death did not stir any extra ordinary reaction. The commotion began in earnest when it was announced that he was being awarded the Medal of Honor. Only about thirty Texans won the Medal of Honor in World War II, making it a select honor above all others.
After that announcement honors rolled in. The Navy christened a destroyer, the U.S.S. Johnnie D. Hutchins on May 2, 1944 at Orange, Texas. The christening of the ship was attended by the whole Hutchins family who rode by special train from Lissie to Orange. Johnnie's mother had the honor of christening the ship. At the ceremony Lt. Rowland Dillard, a ship mate of Johnnie's said, "Hutchins was the best helmsman. That's why I had him at the wheel. I had picked him for advancement to coxswain after the little show at Lae." To this day, ship mates of Hutchins speak quietly and emotionally of what Johnnie did that day, 60 years ago.
The Medal of Honor was presented by Rear Admiral A.C. Bennet in a public ceremony September 21, 1944 at the Sam Houston Coliseum. Houston mayor Otis Massey was master of ceremonies. The event was kicked off by a short parade down Main Street in Houston, featuring a detachment of U.S. Marines and the Ellington Field Military Band.
Honors have continued to come to Hutchins' memory on a regular basis. Hutchins Hall at the Dallas Naval Air Station, dedicated 1981; a Memorial plaque at Nimitz State Historical Park, was placed in 1989 by the Texas LST association, which leads those who honor the memory of what Johnnie did. The Medal of Honor now rests in the Pacific War wing of the National D-Day museum in New Orleans. The Prairie Edge Museum has a display devoted to Hutchins. For perspective on the times, the U.S. Government death benefit to the family of the hero was $475.20, which was used to purchase the family home from Mose Thomas.
Johnnie D. Hutchins is now buried at the back of Lakeside cemetery, his grave marked by a tall marker engraved with the image of the Medal of Honor. Other remarks by his commander Lt. Dillard are suitable to his memory: "Hutchins was an outstanding young man. He was neat and clean at all times. He was determined, intelligent, ambitious, cheerful, a good leader, loyal, and had good judgment. He was a good "man-o-wars-man," a good shipmate."
Hutchins would be 81 years old if he were alive today. But he died a month past his 21st birthday. The survivors of the men he died to save are all in their 80s today. But when you hear them speak of him at the frequent memorials given to Johnnie, you know that in their minds, he is still the smiling, energetic, 21 year old blond headed boy they knew on LST-473. The boy who thought not of himself, but of shipmates, honor and duty. I have talked to some of these men. They remember what he did 60 years ago. Eagle Lake ought to remember as well.
Number Seven in a series in remembrance of our World War II dead
By Joe C. Fling
In the six months after the death of Maurice Parker in February, 1943 no one from southern Colorado County was lost in World War II. Beginning with the death of Johnnie D. Hutchins on September 4, eight men would die over the next six months including the fall and winter 1943-44.
Israel Ed Selph was born on May 6, 1909 at Sublime in Lavaca County, the son of Madison and Laura Cole Selph. Selph grew up in Sheridan. After school, Ed had joined the New Deal program the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and gone to California to work. Later he was working in Nevada when he entered the service of his country. Selph volunteered and was inducted into the service on February 28, 1941 at the age of 31. He trained and served in the Quartermaster corps until October, 1941 when he was discharged from active duty. Reports were that at the time there was a 28 year old age limit for keeping young men in the service.
Pearl Harbor, of course, changed all of that, as a massive American military build-up began, which in a period of about two years increased the number of American military personnel from only a couple of hundred thousand to 16 million. Selph and many others were recalled to active duty, going back on active duty June 29, 1942. Ed found himself placed in an engineering unit.
Through September, 1943 some sixteen Colorado County men had died, all but one of them in stateside accidents, near home, or in training or in combat in the Pacific and Asiatic theatres of operations. The beginning of U.S. military offensives in North Africa, Sicily and Italy would greatly increase the chances of servicemen dying in infantry combat in the fall of 1943. Ed Selph would prove to be Colorado County's first battle death in battle against the German army.
In November of 1942 the U.S. invaded occupied Algeria and Morocco and advanced through Tunisia, invading Sicily in July, 1943It was reported that Selph had shipped overseas in October, 1942, which would have made him a part of the first units into North Africa. He took part in all of the major campaigns in North Africa, Sicily and Italy in 1942-43. The last letters that he sent home indicated that he was in Sicily. According to Selph's nephew Dean Varley, Ed's landing craft was sunk when they were going ashore in Sicily and Ed and his fellow soldiers had to swim to the beaches.
It was for his heroics in the fighting on Sicily that Selph was awarded the Silver Star, the third highest award given during World War II. His citation for valor stated that Selph ignored a machine gun some 300 yards away and continued to remove mines, for which he was awarded the silver star.
With Sicily secured, General Mark Clark's U.S. 5th Army went ashore at Salerno, Italy on September 9, 1943. Selph had attained the rank of Sergeant and was killed during the first month of fighting in Italy. Serving in the 10th Engineering Combat Battalion of the U.S. Army's famed 3rd Infantry Division, he was involved in clearing land mines from a vital supply route at the time of his death. This was in fighting after the Salerno landings and before the Germans were driven from Naples, retreating behind the Volturno River. In the process of such duties a mine blew off both of his legs, and he died of his grievous wounds soon thereafter. According to his nephew, Selph had finished a removal job and picked up a stick to throw it off of the road. This causal act had detonated the mine, and took Selph's life.
The Silver Star decoration was awarded seventeen days, later. Selph is buried in Italy, in the Sicily-Rome American cemetery at Nettuno, Italy.
When he died, October 1, 1943, Selph was one of the 'old men' to die in the war, being 34 years old. He was among the half-dozen oldest from Colorado County to die in the War.
Selph was survived by six sisters, Opal Varley, of Sheridan; Elige Briscoe, of Rock Island; Ann (Mrs. Johnny) Miller; Mrs. I.E. Wiley; Mrs. Thurman Humbird, and Mrs. G.T. (Sadie) Eaton, all of California; as well as two brothers M.E. Selph of Chesterville and Sgt. Henry Selph, who was then serving somewhere in the same North Africa-Sicily-Italy Theatres of Operations as Ed.
Awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart (America's oldest military decoration, given to all those wounded or killed in action). The Silver Star was the third highest award that could be given in the U.S. Army during World War II and only two of Colorado County's World War II dead received any higher awards (Johnnie Hutchins' Medal of Honor and Clarence Michulka's Distinguished Service Cross). When Selph's mother and sister brought the awards by the Headlight office, the editor remarked in print, "The decorations are of a beautiful design and are a mute symbol of a noble son's valor in defense of his country."
Number Eight in a series in remembrance of our World War II dead
By Joe C. Fling
Beneath two huge oak trees beside the Lehrer Memorial United Methodist Church in Garwood are placed two granite memorial stones. The stones are placed there in honor of two Garwood Methodist boys who gave their lives in service to their country in World War II. Both are buried elsewhere. One of these stones is in memory of Norman Lanier who we will remember in October, 2004. The other stone is in memory of Bill Foster, who died 60 years ago in service to his country.
William Newton "Bill" Foster was born June 17, 1917, near Vanderbilt in Jackson County. His parents were Mr. & Mrs. F.R. Foster. His family moved to Garwood in 1932 where he graduated from high school in 1935. He became a member of the Garwood Methodist Church. He had joined the Methodist faith when he was 10 years old. Foster was employed as a civil engineer. His family were farmer-ranchers.
Hundreds and hundreds of men from Colorado County were inducted into the United States Army in the spring and summer of 1942. Foster went into the army on May 18, 1942 and joined the Army Air Corps.
Foster trained at Sheppard Field and earned his "silver wings" at Ft. Meyers, Florida. Foster had received a wide range of training including aerial gunner, mechanic and machinist. He was shipped oversees in September, 1943.
The American and British Armies had pushed the Nazi Germans out of North Africa by way of Tunisia in May, 1943; and from that time forward bases in Libya, Egypt and Algeria were vital platforms for the Army Air Corps bombing campaign against Italy, Southern France and the Balkans, including the vital oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania.
Foster had attained the rank of Staff sergeant and served in the 310th Bombardment Group, 47th Bomber Wing out of North Africa. He was reported killed in an air crash only two months later, on November 14, 1943, near Tobruk, Libya. Original reports speculated that he was on a mission over the Mediterranean when he lost his life. However, after the war was over, in January, 1946, the War Department of the United States listed his death as "non-battle" which would tend to indicate some accident or a flight that was not combat related.
One of the stark realities of war was that death could be stunningly quick. Foster trained for 16 months at several bases, and died in less than two months oversees. I can recall, how when I was younger, my father, Curtis Fling who was good friends with Foster, would muse over how quick the news of his death came back to Garwood, "Bill barely got off the ship" he would frequently say.
It is interesting to note also, that until the invasion of France in 1944, almost all American prisoners of war held by the Germans were downed airmen. When it was discovered that the German prisoner system treated officers far better than they treated enlisted men, the decision was made that all aircrews would be made up of exclusively of officers (including sergeants who were considered non-commissioned officers). (Other Colorado County airmen afforded this rank, who were killed in action included Almous New, Jesse P. Yanez, Fred E. Estlinbaum, Edward H. Bubolz, Jr. and Leonard F. Maxwell).
For a full and informative discussion of life in the North African and Italian U.S. bomber bases, and the intense training that these men went through, including the kinds of personalities which seemed to gravitate to the Air Corps, we recommend the late Stephen Ambrose's The Wild Blue: the story of the men and boys who flew the B-24's.
Foster was survived by his parents and an uncle, D.E. Foster of Columbus. After the war, the family brought his body back for burial in Bay City, Texas where he lies buried beside a younger sister, Lucille who died in 1920.
A funeral service was held on June 23, 1949 in the Garwood Methodist Church with Rev. Calvin Froehner officiating. Alma Dale Pinchback played piano. The pallbearers were all Garwood veterans: Sgt. Clyde Muesse, S/Sgt. Carl Smith, T-Sgt. Melvin Schiurring, Sgt. Melvin Rees and Capt. Ted Danklefs. He is memorialized by a simple marker in Bay City and the more elaborate stone at the Garwood church.
Number Nine in a series in remembrance of our World War II dead
By Joe C. Fling
Americans under the direction of Admiral Chester Nimitz opened the offensive that became known as the Central Pacific Campaign in the fall of 1943 with an assault on a tiny coral atoll known as Tarawa. The campaign began with twin assaults on Tarawa and its companion island Makin on November 20, 1943. Although casualties among the U.S. Marines were heavy for such tiny specks of sand and coral (991 dead on Tarawa's 261 acres alone). The greatest loss in the attack was the loss of escort carrier Liscome Bay part of Nimitz's supporting fleet. Among the casualties of this sinking 60 years ago this month, was John Henry Stahl of Rock Island.
Liscome Bay CVE-56, a Casablanca Class escort aircraft carrier was built by Kaiser Ship Building Company, Vancouver and commissioned August 7, 1943. The escort carriers were small, rapidly constructed support ships built as a stop-gap to fill the void left by the loss of four fleet carriers (Lexington, Yorktown, Wasp and Hornet between May and October, 1942). The Liscome Bay was 512 feet long (much smaller than the Lexington's 901 feet for example) and carried a complement of 916 men and 28 planes (to Lexington's 3373 men and 86 planes).
When Liscome Bay put to sea from Bremerton, Washington in the fall of 1943; a Colorado County boy was aboard, Seaman Second Class John Henry Stahl. Stahl was the son of Lee Stahl and a resident of Rock Island. He had attended Columbus High School but enlisted in the Navy in February, 1942 some four months before his scheduled graduation.
On November 10, 1943 Liscome Bay sailed from Pearl Harbor as the Escort Air Flagship of Rear Admiral Henry M. Mullinnix, in support of operation "Galvanic," the invasion of Tarawa. The last two letters that Stahl's family received from him were dated November 12 and November 21, even as the ship was engaged in the battle of Tarawa.
The American fleet put troops ashore on November 20, and the Japanese put up stiff resistance, including air and submarine counter attack. Eight submarines (called "I" boats) were sent to do what damage they could to the American supporting vessels. The major damage turned out to be the sinking of the Liscome Bay on November 24.
Japanese submarine, I-175 commanded by Lt. Commander Sunao Tabata had arrived off Makin on November 23. He encountered a small task group built around Mullinnix's three escort carriers and the Battleship New Mexico. Before dawn New Mexico's radar showed surface contact with an unidentified target, and all ships in the task group took evasive action. At 5:05 a.m., Liscome Bay went to General Quarters.
As the first light of day hit the sky at 5:13, a torpedo hit the Liscome Bay amidships. There resulted a terrible explosion, sending an orange flame a thousand feet high. Within seconds aircraft bombs stowed in the hold exploded and with a mighty roar the ship burst apart so violently that the deck of the New Mexico, 1500 yards away, was showered with fragments of steel, clothing and human remains.
Explosions raked the ship until she went down only 23 minutes after the torpedo struck. She sank in 2000 fathoms of water. Admiral Mullinnix was lost along with 52 other officers and 591 enlisted men. Survivors of the explosions faced a spreading pool of spreading oil. Only 273 men survived. The loss of a fleet admiral was a stunning blow to the navy.
On December 7, 1943, Lee Stahl received a telegram reporting that John Henry was listing as missing. The news media had already reported the sinking of Liscome Bay, and the father was understandably apprehensive. Lee Stahl, employed as a carpenter in Eagle Lake at the time, reported to the Headlight that when his son wanted to join the service in high school, he had at first refused to sign the papers permitting it, until his son's extreme dismissal disappointment caused him to relent. Now his son John was missing and other son Elmer was in service in the Atlantic.
When the final death toll of Liscome Bay was tallied, John Henry Stahl was among the lost. His body never to be recovered. He was survived by three sisters: Marie Cooper of Rock Island, Selma Stahl of El Campo, Emilee Newman of Yuba City, California; and one brother Elmer Stahl who was then serving with the navy in the Atlantic. Stahl's mother had preceded him in death by over a year. Stahl is memorialzed on the Tablets of the Missing at the Honolulu memorial in Hawaii. So far as we know, no other stone marks his memory.
Another noteworthy sailor lost on the Liscome Bay was Doris Miller, famed for winning the Navy Cross at Pearl Harbor. On December 7, 1941, Miller (played by Cuba Gooding, Jr. in the recent movie Pearl Harbor), a mess attendant, aboard the Battleship West Virginia took over a gun that he was untrained on, and shot down at least two Japanese Zeroes. After serving aboard Indianapolis, Miller was still a galley attendant stationed aboard Liscome Bay, when he met his own death along with the Captain of the ship, seaman Stahl and more than 600 of his shipmates.
In this war the famous and the mighty, the small and insignificant often shared honor and too often a watery grave. Thousands of America's heroes lie at the bottom of the seas or in unmarked graves, we must remember them as well as the many who have fine marble and granite monuments and plaques to their honor. Their sacrifice is just as great, and their memory just as important.
Number Ten in a series in remembrance of our World War II dead
By Joe C. Fling
One of the more interesting gravestones for one of Eagle Lake's war dead is the tombstone of Richard Lloyd Eggers in the Lakeside Cemetery. In addition to the usual information of dates of birth and death and branch of the military that Eggers served in, the stone is engraved with the image of a submarine conning tower with sea creatures swimming beside, which further indicates Eggers' military service.
Twenty year old Richard Eggers was serving aboard a submarine, stationed at San Diego, California in the fall of 1943, when he met his death in a freak accident.
Eggers was born August 13, 1923 in Bonus, the son of Richard L. and Geraldine Eggers. Eggers' father was killed in 1927 in an equally unusual threshing accident on Ernest Seaholm's farm. By the time of her son's entry into the service, Geraldine had remarried, to George Cason and had another son, George, Jr.
Submarines relied heavily on their batteries for underwater operations, and as such they were a major security concern, being as was supposed, a prime target for saboteurs. Eggers, who had reached the rank of electricians mate 3rd Class was on guard duty looking after the sub's batteries. Ironically, Eggers had just received promotion from EM-2c, on December 1st, the day of the accident that claimed his life. When his shift ended, another sailor came on duty to relieve him. As that man, following regulations, checked and adjusted his .45 automatic sidearm, the gun went off and the bullet hit Eggers in the abdomen.
Eggers was rushed to the naval base hospital in San Diego. Word quickly reached Eagle Lake. According to the Headlight, local physician J.R. Laughlin telephoned the base hospital on behalf of Eggers' mother but could not obtain any concrete information about Eggers' condition. Thereupon David Wintermann, who was at that time head of the local Red Cross arranged for Mrs. Cason to fly to California to be with her son.
Eggers' mother arrived at his side on December 2. Eggers was reportedly able to talk to his mother, and scores of visitors from among his shipmates but he died on the following Sunday afternoon, December 5, 1943 in that navy hospital.
Geraldine Cason holds a unique distinction among the mothers of men who died in World War II from Colorado County. Only she was able to go to her wounded son's side before he died and speak to him. All others got the news by telegram, weeks or months later, or found their sons listed only as "missing" for over a year before being classified as "lost" or "killed in action." And for most, the funerals were years after death, some as late as 1950, and many were never returned home for burial, and a few were never recovered from the sea.
In fact, Eggers was only the second war-time burial of a serviceman in the city of Eagle Lake (John Westmoreland being the first in January, 1943) and would be the last until Maurice Parker was brought home from Bermuda and laid to rest in the Masonic cemetery December 9, 1947. The intervening four years saw countless memorial services and news of burials in foreign lands, but no actual funerals in the city for any war dead.
Mrs. Cason arrived back in Eagle Lake two days after her son's death on the train bearing Richard's remains, accompanied by a military escort. The funeral was held at Colley Memorial Methodist Church in Eagle Lake on December 11, with Rev. J.N. Thompson, pastor of Garwood Methodist officiating. Ten sailors came from California to guard and bear the casket. A 13 year old bandsman, Draper Stephens played "taps" on the bugle. Eggers' body was laid to rest near the top of the hill in Lakeside Cemetery, where he would be joined on November 10, 1947 by his cousin Glenn E. Eggers, who gave his life serving in an armored regiment in China. Eggers was survived by his mother and ten year old George, Jr.
Number Eleven in a series in remembrance of our World War II dead
By Joe C. Fling
The tiny village of Lissie gave more than its share to the effort in World War II. Among those who gave their lives with ties to this tiny hamlet were Billy Cook, Johnnie D. Hutchins and Robert W. Brown. In addition Preston Brasher and Everitt Wright had lived in the Lissie/Chesterville area.
Robert W. Brown, Jr. was born at Sheridan and moved to Lissie as a small child. Like most of the others from Lissie who were killed in the war, Robert attended school in Eagle Lake, where he graduated in 1940.
Brown enlisted in the Army Air Corps on October 14, 1940 and must have performed well. Most of the men who became pilots in World War II had had some college, but Brown had not. Nevertheless he was recommended for officer's candidate school and became a multi-engine pilot. His training included the B-24 Liberator heavy bomber. As before, I recommend Stephen Ambrose's The Wild Blue. There is no better book on the mechanics and operation of the B-24; the character of the men who flew them; and the importance of their missions against Nazi Germany. Read this book and you will understand what Robert W. Brown and men like him did. How unnerving and physically demanding it was to pilot the huge Liberator. How unrelenting and dangerous the missions against Nazi targets were.
The Heavy bombers were one of America's primary ways of taking the war to the enemy. They performed tactical and strategic bombing and delivered fear, perhaps even a more palpable weapon than their 1,000 pound bombs. The bombers flew on missions of over 1000 miles, which took as much as 12 hours to fly; and struck fear deep into the heart of Nazi Germany and its conquered territories.
Brown's outfit, the 515th Bomber Squadron of the 376th Bombardment Group, 15th Air Force left the United States and arrived in North Africa in November, 1943. Brown would have been involved in missions similar to those in which Bill Foster of Garwood lost his life that same month. The Americans had jumped from North Africa to Sicily and on to Italy. Soon Brown's squadron was transferred to a new Italian base.
On December 20, 1943, Brown's plane participated in a bombing mission over eastern Bulgaria. His aircraft came under anti-aircraft fire, then collided with an enemy fighter in mid-air and fell to earth.
A notice came from the War Department listing Brown as missing in action over Bulgaria. Brown's death was later confirmed. He was survived by his parents, his wife of Blytheville, Arkansas, and a sister Esther Raasch of Lissie. Brown is buried in the American Cemetery in Florence, Italy. He was awarded the Purple Heart and the Air Medal.
Robert W. Brown was an exemplary young man. His peers and superiors recognized this and entrusted him with a mighty battle machine and a crew of men under his care. The U.S. Air Army Air Corps entrusted to hundreds of men like Brown the mission of strategic bombing: the breaking of the Nazis ability and will to make war. His name is recorded on the Wharton County Veterans monument and the plaque of the dead from Eagle Lake High School, now on display at the Prairie Edge Museum but not elsewhere. Men like this saved the world, and preserved the freedoms that we all hold so dear. We must not forget them.
Number Twelve in a series in remembrance of our World War II dead
By Joe C. Fling
As 1943 gave way to 1944, the war raged on all fronts, from the South Pacific to Italy. There would be no more war casualty funerals in Eagle Lake until 1948. There would be no more training accident deaths. Just a steady stream of reports of casualties on foreign soil, far from home. Nine Eagle Lake area boys would die in 1944 followed by nine more in 1945. The first of these was Felton Forrest Alley.
Felton Forrest Alley was born March 7, 1924 in Ramsey, the son of Joe Dan and Della Parker Alley. He was descended from one of the oldest families in Colorado County whose relatives settled east of the Colorado River during the days of Stephen F. Austin.
Alley attended school in Columbus. Alley enlisted in the army on June 4, 1943 right out of High School. The Headlight stated that Alley, "gallantly went off to serve his country in a time of stress although he was only a youth of 18 years."
Alley received his basic training at Camp Wolters in Texas and had come home for an October visit before going overseas. His last time to mingle with all his friends was at a Halloween Carnival in the city park. He left the next day for New Jersey where troops were shipping out to reinforce Operation Torch, the Allied Invasion of North Africa.
Like so many young men, he would be trained and shipped overseas in a remarkably short time. In fact he would be killed within eight months of his enlistment. Alley served as a private in the Army's 45th Infantry Division. He participated in the invasions of North Africa and Italy.
The fighting in Italy had dragged on since the fall of 1943 when the allies tried to solve the stalemate on the Cassino Line by an amphibious end run. Two divisions of British and American troops were landed seventy miles behind German lines at Anzio on January 22, 1944. The enemy reacted quickly however and bottled up the Allied troops on a small beachhead. Four more American divisions were sent in to reinforce the effort, including the 45th division on February 3. Alley was most probably deployed with these troops. The fighting was fierce on the Anzio perimeter.
Only two days later, Alley was killed. Newspaper accounts relate only that he was in the battle for Rome when he died. Alley's mother received his Purple Heart citation in March, 1944. The War Department listing stated that he was "killed in action," and interred on Italian soil. For a time, he was interred in the large Sicily-Rome American Cemetery at Netunno, where Marion Jackson of Columbus and Israel Ed Selph of Sheridan are buried, but was later returned home for burial.
One of the youngest men from Colorado County to die in the war, Alley was a month short of his twentieth birthday.
Alley was survived by three sisters, Edna Nohavitz, Mrs. Nick Marsalia, Aileen Glueck and four brothers, Carl, John Ross, Wylie and Joe Dan, Jr. Alley's father had preceded him in death in 1938.
On July 24, 1948, over four years after his death, Alley's body was returned from Italy to Colorado County and buried in the Alley family cemetery at Ramsey. The funeral was conducted by Rev. Leo Ross, pastor of the Columbus Methodist Church with the Columbus American Legion conducting the military honors for the burial. Pallbearers were August Stancik, Willie Williams, Arthur Brune, Leon Stolle, Frank Strieder and Elton Litzmann, all of Columbus.
Number Thirteen in a series in remembrance of our World War II dead
By Joe C. Fling
Almous C. New was born at Iago in Wharton County, on June 29, 1922, the son of Johnnie Joshua New and Lalla Beatrice New. He lived in Bonus for 12 years, and graduated from nearby Crescent High School in 1939. With such strong ties to Wharton County, including as you will see, his place of burial, it could be assumed that New was actually a Wharton County man.
As has been previously stated in these articles, "home county" designations were often indistinct. This was of course most true to the heroic dead, who are often honored in multiple counties. One might think this was the case with New. You would be wrong. New was listed on the original 1946 War Department list of Colorado County casualties, and is not duplicated on the Wharton County Veterans marker, or on the list provided for Wharton County casualties by the War Department.
New joined the Army Air Corps in September, 1942 and trained at Sheppard Field, Texas; Ypsilanti, Michigan and Harlingen, Texas where he received his wings. He received training as a gunner. New was sent oversees around Thanksgiving, 1943. New went first to England, then North Africa and Italy, where he served with the 15th Air Force. New was assigned to the 451 AAF Bombardment Group. New was a B-24 waist gunner and attained the rank of Staff Sergeant.
New was awarded numerous citations, including the Purple Heart, the Air Medal, and three battle stars. The crew of New's bomber was lost in a raid on the French harbor at Toulon on March 11, 1944. Toulon was a primary Nazi held port on the French Mediterranean coast and was vital both for supply of Italy and the defense of southern France, which was invaded by American troops later in the year. New's plane was shot down and crashed into the sea. German records found at the close of the war showed that New's body was recovered, identified and buried, later being moved into an American cemetery.
New was survived by his parents, who are now buried in the same cemetery lot as Almous; two sisters: Iola (Mrs. W.C.) Dixon of Alvin, and Melba Lou New, and three brothers: Alton of Lissie, Leland and Truett of Texas City. The New family still lived in Bonus.
New's body was returned from overseas for burial in 1948. The casket was accompanied by S/Sgt. Kent D. Wisdom, who had also served in the 15th Air Force. Services were conducted in Eagle Lake at the Mill Funeral Home, with Revs. L.W. Crouch of Bay City and Albert Brown, Eagle Lake Baptist minister officiating. Burial was in a family plot in the Wharton City Cemetery. Interment was on November 19, 1948.
His gravestone states that he died in 1943; although the newspapers from his 1948 burial state that he died in 1944. Another evidence of New's Eagle Lake connection is that the town's W. Cherry-M. Perry American Legion Post handled military honors. J.B. Wesson, Earl Braden and Fred Frnka among others participated. His funeral was attended by many out of town relatives and friends.
Number Fifteen in a series in remembrance of our World War II dead
By Joe C. Fling
Weldon Davis Cauthan was descended from a very old Eagle Lake family. Davis, as he was known was born February 19, 1917. Cauthan was named for his grandfather Weldon E. Davis; and is also descended from George Montgomery. The Montgomery family were major landowners of property in the Matthews area prior to and after the Civil War.
Davis grew up in Trinity, Texas but had close ties to the Eagle Lake community and is memorialized in the Masonic Cemetery. Davis spent much time in Eagle Lake, with his grandmother Mary Davis, and married an Eagle Lake girl, Gloria Tilson. Cauthan’s mother Christine died in 1940. Cauthan entered the navy and attained the rank of Lieutenant. He served in the Pacific theatre of war as a pilot, probably of a carrier based plane.
Sixty years ago, in the Eagle Lake Headlight of July 28, 1944, he was reported missing. It was some time before the sad news was confirmed that he was killed in action. It was later learned that his plane had been shot down in action on July 17, 1944. This chain of events would indicate that Cauthan was shot down in action at sea, and his body lost. This would necessitate the passage of some time before the Navy would change his status from Missing to Killed in Action.
In July, 1944 the fighting that had engaged the attention of the U.S. Navy and its carrier based air crews would have been the landings in the Marianas: Saipan (June 15) Guam (July 21) and Tinian (July 24), as well as the fighting leading up to the invasion of the Philippines. If it can be presumed that Cauthan piloted a carrier based aircraft, such as the Douglas Dauntless and Grumman Avenger bombers or the Grumman Wildcat and Hellcat fighters, it would be likely that Cauthan was lost in some of that fighting. If this is so, then Cauthan also likely took part in some of the fiercest carrier fighting of the Pacific war, including what came to be known as the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot” June 19 and the Battle of the Philippine Sea, June 20-22.
Cauthan’s sacrifice in the line of duty is remembered by enumeration of his name on the Tablets of the Missing at the West Coast Memorial at Presidio, California. There is also a memorial stone in the Eagle Lake Masonic Cemetery. The stone is surrounded by the graves of Cauthan’s close relatives including his mother Christine Cauthan; and aunts Mrs. A.F. (Mildred) Harbert, Myra Weldon Davis Shacklett, and Mary Ethel Davis Stubenvel, as well as his grandmother Mary Davis. Davis Cauthan was survived by his wife, Gloria; a brother, Hamilton Cauthan, grandmother, and aunts. His closest descendants living in Colorado County today include Davis family cousins descended from Fulton and Herbert Dromgoole.
I am reminded at this time of the fact that the memory of these men who died in the Second World War are receding into the distant past. It has been sixty years. The deaths in the last two weeks of Mrs. Lauralynne Shirley Powers and Mr. E.H. “Sonny” Breithaupt greatly reinforce this thought. Each of these had brothers (James Gerald Shirley and Reinhardt Breithaupt) who died in the war. With the passing of family and friends our community need not let the memory of those who gave their lives in battle be lost with them.
Number Sixteen in a series in remembrance of our World War II dead
By Joe C. Fling
Sixty years ago, the D-Day invasion of Nazi-held France, brought additional hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers, many of them from Colorado County, into harms’ way. The first to die in ground action in the European theatre would be Preston P. Brasher.
Brasher’s family had come to Chesterville from East Texas. He was born August 18, 1919, the son of James W. and Mattie (Gilcrease) Brasher, He had several siblings, all of whom are now deceased. Preston married Jewel Horn in 1942. At the time of his induction into the service the family was living in Pasadena, and working in Houston. Brasher received his induction notice on November 10 and entered the service on November 23. Brasher had begun his training at Camp Wallace, and also trained at Fort Bliss; in California, Colorado and Maryland before going overseas. Brasher was trained in a coastal artillery unit.
Brasher wrote home that he had shipped from England to France on August 25, 1944, eleven weeks after D-Day. Soon after his arrival, his wife received the unwelcome notice that Preston had been reported missing in action. It would be an excruciating, six month long wait before the War Department notified her that Preston had in fact been killed in action in the area of Luxembourg and Germany. Compounding the frustration, the family never received any details of his death and no personal effects were ever returned. This may have contributed to the decision to leave him buried in Europe. News of Brasher’s death was reported in the county’s newspapers in the first days of May, 1945 as the war in Europe was ending.
Mrs. Briscoe is one of many who have expressed dismay that a soldier was trained in one area (artillery), but was subsequently sent into action in another area (infantry) without a sense of his being adequately retrained for action in the new unit. His death within a month of arriving in France seems to bear this out. The late Stephen Ambrose, in his book Citizen Soldiers, is harshly critical of the method of replacement that was done in the European theatre of operations. Once ashore in Normandy, units were resupplied piecemeal from the replacement depots with men who had trained with other units and often for other action. In Brasher’s case, having trained in coastal artillery, he went into action in the infantry. This would have placed Brasher into combat with men he did not train with and with duties other than those that he had trained for.
Brasher was serving as a private in the 112th regiment, 28th infantry division at the time of his death. The 28th is one of the divisions often seen in photographs of the liberation of Paris on August 25, 1944, marching parade style down the Champs-Elysees under the Arch de Triomphe. What is less widely known is that the 28th did not stop for rest and relaxation in Paris. They were on their way east, on their way to battle. Brasher had arrived in France from England the same day Paris was liberated.
If one tries to make an educated guess at what action Brasher may have died in, we note that September 17, 1944, the date he was reported missing, was the same date that three American and British Airborne divisions jumped into Holland in Operation Market Garden. The rest of the line, down south, notably Patton’s 3rd Army and Hodge’s 1st Army were shorted on gas and other supplies for the risky gamble in Holland. Fierce fighting was going on all along the front, with the Germans offering stiff resistance as the American army approached the Germans’ home soil.
Brasher is buried in the Luxembourg American Cemetery in Luxembourg City, Luxembourg, where some 5,076 American soldiers including 3rd Army’s commander General George S. Patton, Jr. are buried. Back home, a memorial service was held at the United Evangelical Brethren church in Lissie, with Rev. N. H. Peterson officiating. The family later received, in 1945, the Purple Heart Award and a certificate from Governor Coke Stevenson placing Brasher’s name on the State’s list of honored war dead.
Brasher was survived by his parents, his wife and a two-year-old daughter Patsy Ann. (Eagle Lake residents will know her as Mrs. John A. Meitzen.) Brasher’s widow, who later married Jack Briscoe related some ten years ago, that like so many others whose loved ones are buried in military cemeteries in Europe, that no member of the family had ever visited the gravesite. However in the last few years she was able to get a photograph of the gravestone when a relative toured Europe.
Number Seventeen in a series in remembrance of our World War II dead
By Joe C. Fling
The war casualty news from Europe continued to grow worse, as reports of missing and killed soldiers appeared in the local papers regularly. Beginning with September, 1944, 12 of southern Colorado County’s young men would die in action before the war ended eleven months later. Private Norman Lee Lanier of Garwood was one of these.
On August 15, 1944, while the Allies were still short of liberating Paris from the north, the U.S. Seventh Army launched a second front on the Mediterranean coast of France. The goal of this fighting was to draw German forces away from Normandy and squeeze the enemy in a vise-like action. General Lucian Truscott’s VI Corps, veterans of North Africa and Italy, including the 3rd, 16th and 45th Infantry divisions, were the first troops ashore. Norman Lee Lanier of Garwood was involved in this fighting.
Lanier was born March 2, 1925, in Lissie, the son of David Leslie and Ola Belle Smith Lanier. The Lanier family had moved to Garwood in 1929 and Norman graduated from Garwood High School in 1942. He was inducted into the service on June 21, 1943, received six weeks of basic training and went overseas to join up with the with the 45th Infantry.
General Troy Middleton commanded the U.S. Army’s 45th Infantry which took part in landings at Scoglitti, Sicily in July, 1943; Salerno, Italy in September, 1943; and Anzio, Italy in January, 1944, including the fighting for Rome; before the August 15 landings in Southern France. Lanier took part in the Italian portions of this fighting.
The landings in France took place on the French Rivera between Cannes and St. Tropez. At first they met little resistance and took only light casualties. Eleven days after the southern France D-Day; Lanier wrote to his brother Foy that he had been made a scout; and wrote to a friend in Garwood that he had seen the Coliseum in Rome; but had been unable to get a pass to get to the leaning tower of Pisa and other sights that he had studied in school.
The offensive in Southern France drove up the Rhone River valley, covering almost 300 miles in thirty days. They accomplished all of their objectives and linked up with Patton’s Third Army southeast of Paris on September 11. 7th Army then turned East to join the offensive toward the heart of Germany through the Alsace and Lorraine provinces of France. By the end of September, the line of battle extended from Belgium, through Metz and Nancy to the Swiss border. In the fighting along this line, Lanier met his death.
Lanier had the rank of private and served as an army scout in the 180th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division. His last letter to his parents told of a narrow escape when a bullet pierced his helmet and wool cap. Shortly after they received that letter, the family received the Army’s notice that he was missing in action. Two weeks later, the news was confirmed that Lanier had been killed in action on October 3, 1944. At nineteen years, seven months, Lanier was one of the younger men to die in the war from Colorado County.
Norman had several siblings. He was survived by four brothers, Jack, Foy and M. G. who were all already in army uniform and Leo, the youngest who would join later. M. G. reported that he was in Canada, receiving Air Corps radar training when he received the news of Norman’s death from his parents. Lanier was also survived by two sisters: Hazel, and Berta Rhea. Lanier’s mother was one of those honored mothers who had five sons in the military, a ‘five-star mother.’
Lanier was buried with military honors at the American Cemetery in Epinal, France, where 5,255 American war dead are interred. Though his remains were not returned to the United States, two markers in Colorado County commemorate his life, service and death. The Garwood Methodist Church where the Laniers were members erected memorial stones and planted oaks which have grown in the last sixty years to a huge size, one in honor of Lanier, and the other in honor of William N. Foster, killed in North Africa in 1943.
Several years ago, Lanier’s brother M. G. placed another stone in the family plot at the Odd Fellows Rest Cemetery in Columbus. Each year on Lanier’s birth date, his two surviving brothers, M. G. and Jack have flowers placed at the grave in Epinal.
Number Eighteen in a series in remembrance of our World War II dead
By Joe C. Fling
Does anyone in Colorado County remember Louis Donald Vaughan? This young man died in the Pacific in the fall of 1944, and is included in the War Department’s list of World War II dead from Colorado County, but searches of local courthouse and school records show no signs of the family.
In the Pacific, October 1944 was the month that McArthur returned to the Philippines. Louis Donald Vaughan of Sheridan was killed on October 26, 1944, almost certainly in the fighting for the Philippines. The Philippines were fought over twice in World War II. First when the Japanese captured the islands in the winter and spring of 1942 and again in the fall and winter of 1944-45 when the Americans drove the invaders out.
Vaughan was the son of Jessie Picard Vaughan, who lived in Sheridan at the time of Vaughan’s death. Vaughan was in the United States Navy, serving as a Aviation Radioman 3rd Class. This would no doubt have meant that he was on one of the three-man carrier-based bombers. These planes, including the Dauntless and Avenger dive-bombers, carried a pilot, a gunner and a radioman.
Vaughan’s date of death indicates that he was killed in the fighting immediately after the American landings on Luzon Island. The major air and sea battles, which came to be known as the Battle of Leyte Gulf, were fought there beginning on October 24, 1944. These battles marked the final destruction of the Japanese navy as a viable fighting force. The first fighting was done by American destroyers, but carrier-based planes later became involved and pursued the defeated Japanese fleet as it fled from the battle.
Vaughan was listed by the Navy as “Missing in Action or buried at sea.” Vaughan’s name is included on the Tablets of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery at Manila, the Philippines. This cemetery at Manila is the largest American military cemetery outside of the United States. The cemetery includes the graves of 17,206 American dead, and commemorates another 36,282 missing in action. This one cemetery marks the final resting place of more men than were killed in many of the lesser conflicts and wars fought by the United States.
Vaughan’s name was reported to Colorado County as a war death after the plaque at the Colorado County courthouse was cast, which leads to the conclusion that he may have been listed as missing for an extended time before the final finding of lost at sea or killed in action was made.
Since Vaughan’s name does not appear from any search of local records, perhaps his father had come to Sheridan for employment at Shell, and the family left no lasting record of their presence. I would appreciate any information from any source that would enlighten us on the subject. Where did Vaughan come from? What became of his family? Does anyone remember? The passage of time should not make the sacrifices of life that were made by so many of our young men fade from memory.
Number Nineteen in a series in remembrance of our World War II dead
By Joe C. Fling
The fall of 1944 was a deadly time for our servicemen. American forces were in action across France as well as pushing back the Japanese from many directions.
Ernest August Herndon was born April 23, 1922. He was the son of Charles William and Ida Minnie Meyer Herndon of Ramsey. “Buddie” as he was known to his family and friends, attended Eagle Lake schools and the family were members of First Baptist Church of Eagle Lake.
Herndon received his induction notice November 20, 1942, and was trained in armor. Herndon trained at Camp Robinson, Arkansas and at Camp Maxey. He was one of a relatively small number of servicemen to fight both the Japanese and the Germans.
In his first overseas action, Herndon went to the Aleutian Islands for six months in July, 1943. He took part in the recapture of Attu and Kiska from the Japanese.
In August of 1944 Herndon was sent to Luxembourg by way of England. He was killed there, in the fighting leading into Germany on November 5, 1944. Herndon held the rank of Private First Class in a mechanized cavalry unit.
The news of his death in action arrived by telegram from the War Department on November 17. It came as a particularly harsh blow to the family who had lost another son, Oscar to pneumonia, who died October 13 in the Columbus Hospital. Oscar was 27 years old, five years older than Ernest.
Herndon never knew his brother had died three weeks before him. His last letter from the front, dated October 30, was received by his family on the very same day the dread telegram arrived. In his last message to his family Herndon expressed hope in his brother’s recovery, and closed with the words, “God bless you all. The Lord is taking care of me.”
Herndon was survived by a brother William Fred Herndon who was then serving in the Navy and two sisters, Henrietta Hassie Herndon, then living in Illinois; and Elvie Nell Goekler who was his twin. The family still lived in the Ramsey area when Herndon was killed.
After the war Herndon’s remains were brought home in November, 1947 and reburied at the Oddfellows Rest Cemetery in Columbus. The Headlight concluded its November 24, 1944 story that reported his death, with the words which could apply to all who have suffered such loss in any war, “May He who comforts others who are bearing similar burdens speak comfort to the family circle.”
Number Twenty in a series in remembrance of our World War II dead
By Joe C. Fling
The deadliest year of the War so far ended with reports that Everitt Wright had been lost at sea. To put things into perspective, government records show that all of Colorado County lost only ten men in Korea, Vietnam, and the Two Persian Gulf Wars combined, conflicts that combined for over 15 years of warfare. Southern Colorado County lost nine men in 1944 alone; followed by eight more in 1945.
To those of us born after the war, World War II had been fought on a scale that seems incomprehensible today. The commitment of the nation and the sacrifice of life touched every home and heart in our communities.
Everitt Wright was born April 11, 1920 in Eagle Lake, the son of Mr. & Mrs. Will Wright. Later, his family moved to Brazoria County where he graduated from Angleton High School. Wright entered the Navy in 1939, in Virginia, at the age of nineteen.
Wright served on the U.S.S. Monaghan, a Faragut class destroyer, DD-354. The Monaghan, designed to carry a complement of 251 men, was armed with 5” guns and torpedoes. The Monaghan was built at the Boston Navy Yard and commissioned in 1935. If Wright served on the Monaghan throughout the war, he was involved in some of the most important fighting in the Pacific War.
Monaghan’s battle record included sinking a Japanese midget submarine in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941; serving in screening support for carrier forces at the Battles of Coral Sea and Midway, as well as covering for the invasions of the Aleutians, Tarawa, Eniwetok, Kwajalein, Guam and Luzon, She also participated in the longest sea battle of the war at Komandorski Islands. Her last fight was Leyte Gulf. It was after this battle that disaster struck.
Admiral Halsey’s Third Fleet withdrew toward the Marianas to refuel in mid-ocean. On December 18, 1944, at the worst possible time, with ships low on fuel and riding high in the water, a typhoon with 140 mile per hour winds, lashed the fleet. A huge swelling sea and wind that drove the rain on a virtual horizontal pounded the fleet, inflicting great damages on escort carriers and other smaller ships. Many planes were wrecked and there was much loss of life. The high seas rolled many of the ships over as much as 70 degrees to starboard and then 70 degrees to port. Yet many such ships survived.
Three destroyers, Monaghan, Hull and Spence capsized and sank, taking with them 790 men. Of 790 men on these three ships, less than 100 survived; including only six men from Monaghan.
It was later determined by a court of inquiry that the three destroyers likely went down because their skippers attempted to stay on station within the fleet for too long before trying to make their own way in the storm. Admiral Nimitz would later remark that this was the greatest damage to material and loss of life sustained by the U.S. Navy since Pearl Harbor.
Wright was listed as missing in action for many months, but finally determined to be lost at sea. He was survived by his father and step-mother, his wife who resided in Houston and four brothers. Two brothers were in the service: Warrant Officer Willie Wright, then in Belgium and Private Henry Wright then in Louisiana. Still at home in Eagle Lake were brothers Robert and Terry, and sisters Lena Mae Landry and Letha Wright.
Wright’s name is on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Cemetery in Manila, the Philippines. Many members of Wright’s family are buried in Lakeside Cemetery.
Number Twenty-one in a series in remembrance of our World War II dead
By Joe C. Fling
Sixty years ago this month World War II entered its last year. The New Year brought news of the death of twenty year old Fred Estlinbaum on January 10, 1945.
Estlinbaum was born December 10, 1924 in Wallis. His parents were William D. and Emma Lambert Estlinbaum. Fred had been named after his grandfather Estlinbaum. They lived for a time in Wharton County. Fred’s father worked at Eagle Lake Lumber Company. Fred attended Eagle Lake schools through grammar and high school, graduating in the class of 1942. He was reported to be an exceptionally popular student, who took part in many school activities.
After graduation, Estlinbaum attended Texas A & I College in Kingsville, but left school after a year to join the Army Air Corps on June 5, 1943. Estlinbaum went through the extensive training required of all air corps members. He took basic training, flight school and was trained as a radio operator, and sent to England in November, 1944 to join the 8th Air Force’s bombing efforts against Nazi Germany.
Estlinbaum served as radio operator on a B-17 bomber and held the rank of Sergeant. He was assigned to the 527th Bomber Squadron, 379th Bomber Group, Heavy (indicating 4 engine B-17’s and B-24’s). He had been in England only six weeks and flown nine bombing missions, when the War Department advised that he was missing in action since January 10, 1945. It seemed that his plane had collided with another bomber. This was not an uncommon occurrence, as formation of hundreds of the huge planes flew tightly bunched together as protection against enemy fighter planes.
By chance, the family received some hope a month later when Fred’s oldest brother, Cpl. Ervin W. Estlinbaum, also serving in England wrote to the family. It happened that Ervin had spent five days with Fred, leaving his base only two days before the fateful mission. When he learned that his brother had gone missing, he rushed back to Fred’s base and located other men who were on the same bombing run. Indications were that eleven parachutes came out of the two planes after they collided, being nine, it was supposed from Fred’s plane and two from the other plane. This raised high hopes that Fred had survived the collision, and might be held as a prisoner of war by the Germans.
Nothing more was known, for five months, until, after the surrender of Germany in May, the hopes of the family were shattered by final word of Estlinbaum’s death. Two members of Estlinbaum’s crew were liberated from German captivity and it became known that the other members of this crew had not survived. Apparently the nine chutes had come out of the other doomed bomber.
The Headlight reported on June 8, 1945, after the war in Europe ended, that Estlinbaum had died in the raid against Cologne and Bonn. Cologne was known to have been a dangerous target, the home of vital strategic German industries. Countless American airmen lost their lives in raids on this city over the three-year bombing campaign against Germany.
Fred left behind three brothers, all in the service, including twenty-seven year old Marine Lt. Raul M. Estlinbaum on Guam; thirty year old Cpl Ervin W. Estlinbaum in England and twenty-three year old Lt. Ray Edward Estlinbaum in Germany. He had one sister, twenty-nine year old Alice who was married to Leroy Forbes. Estlinbaum’s mother and father died in 1967 and 1968 respectively and along with brother Ervin who died in 1978 are buried in the Eagle Lake Masonic Cemetery.
Estlinbaum is buried in the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten, Netherlands. Margraten is the third largest American Cemetery in Europe and contains the remains of 8,302 American servicemen killed in World War II.
Estlinbaum’s last letter home, written shortly before his death told his mother not to worry, assuring her that he was completely happy doing the one thing that he wanted to do---fly in the Army Air Corps for his country.
Number Twenty-two in a series in remembrance of our World War II dead
By Joe C. Fling
The Allies broke the back of the German army during the vicious winter battle that we know as the Battle of the Bulge. After that fighting, the Allies turned east into Germany to complete the defeat of the Nazis. In those last three months of combat in Europe, four more Southern Colorado County men would die. They were killed in the relatively short span of 55 days.
Arthur Hodde was the first of these young men to die. Hodde was born November 3, 1916, in Eagle Lake, the son of Ed and Ida Hodde. Arthur’s mother preceded him in death in 1941. Arthur also had a cousin, Edward Joseph Hodde who had been killed in 1943 while serving as a civilian flight instructor in New Mexico. Arthur had been captain of his Eagles football team in the 1930’s. After graduation, Hodde went to work in Houston and rose to be a superintendent in Otis Massey’s construction firm. Massey would later be Mayor of Houston.
Hodde entered the army on August 12, 1942. He trained in Oregon and Colorado and served in the military police, before being sent to Europe in January, 1945. Hodde, who held the rank of Private First Class, served in the 328th Regiment, 26th Infantry Division which fought in Germany. The 26th Infantry was one of those units of General George S. Patton, Jr.s’ Third Army that performed so heroically in the Battle of the Bulge during December, 1944 and January, 1945.
On February 19, 1945 in fighting that led to the crossing of the Rhine River, Hodde’s company advanced on heavily fortified houses in Fraulaurten, Germany. Encountering heavy resistance, Hodde and a small group of men took refuge in a barn. Shortly afterward, a bazooka shell hit the building, igniting munitions stored inside. The barn collapsed, burying the men inside. Efforts to rescue them proved fruitless as the Germans kept up heavy fire all day, and -- aided by flares -- through the night.
Hodde was buried there in Germany until the war was over and the option was given to return his remains to the United States. Hodde is believed to be the last Colorado County man returned to the county for burial after World War II. His remains were not returned to Eagle Lake until 1950. On September 22, 1950 Rev. D. Rhea Allison conducted services from the Mill Funeral Home. Burial was in Lakeside Cemetery. He is buried on the right if you are going up the hill on the south road in the cemetery. Buried near him are his parents Ed (died 1961), mother Ida (1941), sisters Edna (1996) and Sophie (1998). As had become routine during the war, businesses in town closed for a couple of hours to allow employees to attend the funeral.
Hodde was survived by wife Beatrice and father Ed, both of whom lived in Houston. He also left behind two sisters and four brothers, some of whom have passed away fairly recently: Edna Taylor, Sophie Zoeller, W.E. Hodde, Floyd Hodde, Dallas Hodde and Ben Hodde. Ben was on a submarine tender in the Pacific Theatre when Arthur was killed.
In addition to local memorials, Hodde’s name was inscribed on the Harris County War Memorial Monument in Houston’s Bear Creek Pioneers’ Park on Zorn drive, off Eldridge in West Houston. The Monument honors over 1500 men from Harris County who died in the two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf. Also, in October, 1945, Hodde was selected to be honored as representative of the city of Houston’s war dead at a Disabled Veterans’ National Convention.
As with so many other young men, Hodde represented the best and the brightest of the community. Captain of the football team, construction superintendent. One can never know what our communities lost in leadership when some of these young men fell. In this we remember that every life is precious and the sacrifice of them must never be forgotten.
Number Twenty-three in a series in remembrance of our World War II dead
By Joe C. Fling
Jerrald Preston Evoritt, called Jerry, but known to his friends as ‘Squirrel,’ was the son of C. E. Evoritt. Evoritt graduated from Eagle Lake High School in 1940, where he had been a popular student, involved in sports and social activities. Jerry attended the University of Texas for two and one-half year when he volunteered for the Army Air Corps on January 31, 1943.
Jerry trained at numerous bases, receiving pilot training. He served for a time as an instructor before being sent to England in 1944. Evoritt attained the rank of Flight Officer and eventually was stationed at an advanced tactical air fighter base in France. He served in the 367th Fighter Squadron, 358th Fighter Group. Rather than flying out of England, like the heavy bombers, these planes were stationed as near as practical to the front lines, to provide close in support to ground troops.
Evoritt was the pilot of a Republic P-47 “Thunderbolt” fighter-bomber. His squadron of planes was called the “Orange Tails” which provided air support for the U.S. Seventh Army as it moved through France and into Germany. The “Thunderbolts” which the Allies called “Tank Busters” and which the Germans called “Jabos” (after the German jager, meaning “hunter”) had a decisive effect in France and Germany in 1944-45.
Historian Stephen Ambrose in his superb book about the American victory over Nazi Germany, Citizen Soldiers, says that in his interviews with German army veterans, they all still spoke in awe of the sheer terror of having a Jabo coming at them, all guns blazing. Ambrose quotes one soldier, “The Jabos were a burden on our souls.”
Evoritt’s duties were to strafe and bomb ahead of ground troops, hitting German convoys and concentrations of men, equipment and munitions. Evoritt saw a lot of action. He had flown 70 combat missions, had been cited for shooting down three German Messerschmitt ME-109 fighters, and damaging four other enemy aircraft. He had been awarded the Air Corps highest award, the Distinguished Flying Cross as well as the Air Medal with 15 oak clusters.
In March, 1945, this distinguished pilot was reported missing in action over German soil. Later, it was confirmed that he had been killed at 5:15 p.m on March 13, 1945 near his target at Hiebroon, Germany.
In his last letter to his parents, dated March 12, Evoritt told of just returning from an unexpected leave on which he had visited Paris. This led the family to believe that Evoritt had been killed on his first mission after his leave.
More information was provided by the chaplain who conducted the service for Evoritt’s burial in Germany. He related that Evoritt had been strafing traffic on a main road in southwest Germany when he was shot down by anti-aircraft fire. German civilians reportedly recovered his body and buried it in a local cemetery. His remains were later relocated to regular U.S. Military Cemetery. Evoritt was eventually interred at the Lorraine American Cemetery in St. Avold, France. Lorraine is the largest World War II American cemetery in Europe. It is the final resting place of 10,489 American servicemen.
Colonel James Tipton lauded Evoritt, stating that he had a remarkable ability to see enemy targets through camouflage, an ability that led to being nicknamed “radar eyes” by his fellows in the service. He was survived by his parents, brother C. E. Evoritt, Jr., sister Marjorie and grandfather J.M. Evoritt. Like so many others, Evoritt also has a nephew named after him.
Number Twenty-four in a series in remembrance of our World War II dead
By Joe C. Fling
Sixty years ago this month the war against the Nazi Germans was rushing to its climactic end. After the German Army’s last gasp Ardennes offensive was stopped in the Battle of the Bulge, the Allies pushed on to the Rhine River. The Allies crossed that river and entered Germany on March 7, 1945.
The end of the war in Europe was near, but Eagle Lake and Colorado County were destined to lose several more men before the fighting came to an end in May. Robert Shimek was one of these young men. He was born September 3, 1925 in Rosenberg. He was the only child of John and Betty Shimek.
The Shimeks moved to the Garwood-Nada area in 1933 where Robert graduated from Garwood High School after World War II started. He entered military service on December 14, 1943. He received training at Camp Fannin, Texas and was shipped to Fort Meade, Maryland for deployment overseas, and would have probably taken part in the Normany invasion except for his youth.
When his officer learned that he was only eighteen, Shimek was sent to Camp Van Dorn, Mississippi for further advanced training. He was then shipped overseas in November, 1944, soon after his nineteenth birthday.
Shimek was in the army infantry and was trained in the use of the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR). The Browning was a potent piece of hardware, and those who carried them were held in high regard. Robert served in the 254th Regiment, 63rd Infantry Division of the U.S. Army. The 63rd division entered combat in Europe on February 6, 1945 and suffered over eight thousand casualties.
As we have said before, the casualties after the D-Day invasion of Normany in June, 1944 caused many men to be rushed into the line. Many of these were our youngest recruits, and some have expressed that they did not feel adequately prepared for their duties. Shimek wrote to his parents on April 1, 1945 and told that he was delighted that he had just received a double battlefield promotion from private first class to sergeant. This indicates two things: Robert showed ability in the field, worthy of trust and commendation; and the casualty rate in his unit must have been high.
Two days after he wrote that letter, and certainly well before his parents received it, Shimek was killed in action. Reports are that while Shimek’s patrol was retiring from the front, a straggling German soldier threw a grenade into the group of men, killing Robert. At age nineteen, Shimek was among the youngest to die from the county.
The Eagle Lake Headlight, in its April 20, 1945 edition, reported that the Shimek family had received a telegram on April 17, which stated Robert was missing in action since April 3. The news that their only child had in fact been killed in action arrived by telegram the first week of May, and was reported in the newspaper on May 11.
Robert Shimek was buried in the field, but eventually interred in the Lorraine American Cemetery in St. Avold, France. This is the same cemetery that Jerrald P. Evoritt is buried in.
The story of Robert Shimek is special to me. He was from Garwood, where I grew up. Today, His picture hangs in the Garwood Veterans’ Memorial Library, along with Leon Kallina, William Foster and Norman Lanier, others from the community who gave their lives in World War II. But his story is also the impetus to the research and writing that I have done on our war dead.
For years I had thought this would be a worthy thing to do, to remember those who gave their lives for our freedom. Then in 1993, wearing my lawyer hat, I had the opportunity to handle the estate of Betty Shimek. In doing so, I became aware that her only child had died in World War II, and that his name was on our courthouse plaque in Columbus.
Robert’s mother had died, and I had lost any opportunity to talk to her about her son. Before long no one would be alive who knew these honored dead. I knew then, that it was time to tell their stories.
Number Twenty-five in a series in remembrance of our World War II dead
By Joe C. Fling
Just days after the death of Robert Shimek, another young soldier from the area was killed. Clarence J. Miculka was serving with distinction in the U.S. 7th Army when he was killed. He received the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC), the highest award that the Army can give for his heroism, in the fighting that resulted in his death. He was also the last southern Colorado County death in the European theatre; several more men were destined to die in the war against Japan.
Miculka was born June 30, 1916 on Ed McRee’s farm on the Colorado-Wharton County line. He received his education in the schools at Matthews, Nedra and Eldridge. He was farming when he was called into the service shortly after Pearl Harbor.
He entered the Army in the spring of 1942 and went overseas very soon. Milculka served overseas for two and a half years. He had seen action all over the European theatre. Going overseas in 1942, and serving in 7th Army, Milculka must have fought in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and Southern France. While Patton’s Third Army got most of the headlines in 1944-45, General Alexander Patch’s veteran Seventh Army drove through southern Germany capturing Stuttgart and Munich. Eventually they reached the Danube River. It was here that Miculka would meet his fate.
Miculka had attained the rank of corporal and was serving as a gunner in the 441 Anti-Aircraft Automatic Weapons Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division. Miculka’s unit had received their commander’s extraordinary praise in a commendation issued in October, 1944.
As with action on the Rhine, once the Americans had captured bridges and made crossings of the Danube, the Germans desperately tried to destroy these bridges. They would use high explosives on the structures; or if they lost the bridge, the German Luftwaffe (their air corps) would try to bomb the bridge. Miculka was involved in some of this action.
High drama took place on the bridge at Dillengen en der Donau, a small town on the north bank of the Danube in Bavaria. On April 22, 1945 troops of the Seventh Army dramatically snatched fuses from demolition charges already set by German engineers to destroy the bridge. Failing to destroy the bridge before it was captured, the Germans turned to their airmen. The 441st Battalion took up positions to defend the bridge against air attack. Miculka died doing just that.
The posthumous award of the DSC relates how he fought and died:
“For distinguished heroism in action April 24, 1945 near Dillengen, Germany. When his battery was defending the only Allied controlled bridge over the Danube River, Corporal Miculka braved a strafing attack by two Messerschmitts. Although he received a fatal wound from the 20mm gun of an attacking plane which severed his right leg and shattered his arm, he continued to engage the hostile aircraft with his 37mm cannon. Bleeding to death and with his vehicle riddled in twelve places by German fire, he fought on to damage and destroy the enemy. He died a few minutes later after accomplishing his courageous, self-assigned mission.”
In February, 1946, the DSC was presented posthumously to Miculka’s father Charles Miculka. Clarence’s mother had died on January 3, 1945, just weeks before her son met his own death. News of Clarence’s death broke in the May 11, 1945 Headlight. The family had received the news on V-E Day; the very day that President Truman announced the end of the war in Europe and the whole country was basking in the joyous news.
In 1949, Miculka’s body was returned to the United States for burial. Services were held out of the Heights Funeral Home, and burial in Forest Park Cemetery in Houston. Clarence was survived by his father, four brothers, Charles, Jr., August (who was serving in the Seabees when Clarence died), Henry and Alphonse (U.S. Army, military police, in Ft. Worth). He also left four sisters, Mary Dittrich, Adrana Meyer, Ella Wilkins and Annie Bennett.
Clarence Miculka performed outstanding service and is worthy of our gratitude and remembrance. He served long and in the end laid down his life for ours. Chaplain Ronan Foley who conducted Miculka’s original burial in Germany wrote the family in May, 1945, “Clarence was a good soldier and popular with the men of the battery. He paid a great price that we as a free people might continue to enjoy all those things that make life worth living.”
Number Twenty-six in a series in remembrance of our World War II dead
By Joe C. Fling
It was May, 1945. The war in Europe was over. But the fighting raged on in the Pacific. Okinawa. Okinawa was a terrible battle. It was the largest amphibious operation of the Pacific war and was the most deadly to both the Americans and the Japanese. Four Weimer men (George Huepers, Daniel Christen, Leroy Pavlik, and Bernard Kubenka) as well as Columbus’s Elo Ahlgrim died in action in less than five weeks there. The carnage of this long battle fought in April and May of 1945 has been said to have solidified American resolve to use the atomic bomb to bring the war to an early end.
Then came the kamikazes. These Japanese suicide planes came as waves crashing on the decks of American carriers, trying to destroy the advantage of air and sea power enjoyed by the U.S. late in the war. The American defense was to set up a picket line of radar-equipped destroyers to be a first line of defense. These ships took a horrific beating. Eagle Lake’s James Boyd Harris, Jr. served on one of these destroyers, the Braine.
Harris was born in Eagle Lake on January 18, 1927. He was the son of James Boyd “Jodie” Harris and Alice Woolridge Harris. He was the grandson of Tom Pettus, with whom he resided much of his young life. The elder Harris was a nineteen-year Army veteran who had served in Europe during World War II. He was wounded twice in fighting in North Africa, Sicily and Italy, and was discharged with the rank of Sergeant. A brother Miller Ray Westmoreland served in the Air Corps. Harris attended schools in Eagle Lake and was a member of Mount Olive Baptist Church.
Eager to follow in his father’s footsteps, James fudged a little on his age and managed to get into the Navy at the age of fifteen. Harris’s sister, Mildred Faye Johnson relates that their parents did not want to let James go, but he begged them to let him enlist, and they finally gave in. A.J. Williams who married Harris’s cousin Marlene recalled that when the first young men came back from the service in their snappy white navy outfits, everyone wanted to join up.
Johnson and Williams also related the poignant story about Harris’s last trip home. Although he had been in the service for three years, Harris expressed grave reservations about returning to action. The family gave him a going away party and after midnight put him on a train at the Eagle Lake station. Harris’s feeling was true. He would never see Eagle Lake again. He shipped out on the Braine in the summer of 1944 and sailed for the Philippines by way of Pearl Harbor.
Braine DD-630 was a Fletcher Class destroyer, built by Bath Iron Works and commissioned in 1943. She was 2050 tons, armed with 5-inch guns and torpedoes and manned by a crew of 329. Braine had seen action at the invasions of Torokina, the Green Islands and Tinian.
In 1944, Harris, a Steward’s Mate First Class, saw action aboard Braine in the Battle of the Philippine Sea, and the landings at Leyte and Lingayen. Braine was attached to the Seventh Fleet and was under the command of Cmdr. W.W. Fitts. Her last action was on the Okinawa radar picket line.
On May 25, Braine’s gunners shot down four Japanese bombers. On May 27, the Japanese launched what would be their last 100 plane strikes of the war. Braine was on picket duty with Anthony, another Fletcher class destroyer, when three or four Japanese Aichi D3A“Val” dive bombers fell out of the clouds at 7:44 a.m. According to Captain Samuel E. Morison in his monumental 13-volume work History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, relates how Braine and Anthony opened fire, splashing the first plane. The second was set on fire about 2000 yards from Anthony, passed over that ship, made a hard turn to port and crashed into Braine, demolishing the wardroom.
A second “Val” crashed the sickbay and its bomb exploded in the No. 3 boiler intake, leaving Braine aflame in three places. Communications were lost and the ship was dead in the water. Two LCS’s picked up survivors, while the Anthony came alongside to fight the fires, which were eventually controlled. Anthony towed Braine into the U.S. base at Kerama Retto. Braine suffered 66 dead and 78 wounded out of its crew of 329. Harris was one of the dead. The dead were buried at sea. The war was over for Braine, as the war would end before repairs could be completed.
At least 132 American warships suffered air attack casualties off Okinawa in the four months of fighting, but only nine lost more men than Braine did on this day.
Word of Harris’s death reached his family on a Sunday night when they got home from church. Just a few months past his eighteenth birthday, Harris was Colorado County’s youngest war casualty, although he was a three-year veteran.
Only four young black men from Colorado County are known to have died in World War II, Harris the only one from Eagle Lake. He is memorialized on the Tablets of the Missing at the Honolulu Memorial in Hawaii. The names of 18,096 men missing in action, lost or buried at sea are included on this monument.
There is also an exhibit honoring Harris at the Prairie Edge Museum here in Eagle Lake. If you have not seen this display, you will be stirred by the young, almost baby-faced picture of this heroic young man.
Number Twenty-seven in a series in remembrance of our World War II dead
By Joe C. Fling
IThe war in Europe ended May 8, 1945, but the fighting and dying went on another three months in the Pacific. The re-conquest of the Philippines, which began in October,1944 extended to the end of the War. The fighting at Luzon and Leyte which took the lives of Louis Donald Vaughn (October 26) and Everitt Wright (December 18) ended, and General Douglas MacArthur set out to rid the scores of tiny islands in the Philippines from Japanese control.
Conducted between February and May, 1945, the campaign consisted of thirty-eight, rapid amphibious thrusts on various islands conducted by regimental combat teams staged by Admiral Daniel Barbey’s 7th Amphibious Corps. Fighting continued on some of the islands until the Japanese surrender in August. John Paul Henry of Rock Island was a member of one of these regimental assault teams.
Henry was born on October 21, 1921 in El Campo. He was the son of John Davis “Jake” Henry and Cutie Ellen Vordick. He lived in Rock Island almost his whole life, and attended school there. He enlisted in the army on September 27, 1942.
Henry went to the Pacific and for a time was stationed in Australia. He saw action in the Philippines while serving with the 132nd Infantry Regiment. He was killed in the fighting for Cebu island. He was awarded the Bronze Star for heroism and the purple heart. Whether the Bronze Star came in the action which resulted in his death or from previous fighting is unknown.
Cebu was one of the scores of islands retaken during this period by Barbey’s troops. Troops were put ashore on March 26, 1945. Although the island was considered secure by April 18, fighting continued. The 132nd Regiment, along with the 164th and 182nd, all part of the veteran Americal Division that fought at Guadalcanal, forced the Japanese defenders out of their prepared defenses around Cebu City. The Japanese fled into the hills from which they conducted guerilla attacks on American troops. The United States army suffered 410 deaths and 1700 wounded in retaking Cebu. Henry was killed on June 8.
The young soldier was survived by three sisters: Willie Mae, Dorothy and Doris as well as six brothers: Raymond, Wilbur, John Davis, Jr., Gentle Lee Thomas, and Billie Earl.
Henry’s remains returned to Rock Island for burial after the war. The same issue of the Headlight that reported his funeral also included news that Staff Sergeant Almous C. New’s body was being returned from France for burial in Wharton. For friends and acquaintances, little time was left to mourn one death before news of another cried for sympathy.
John Paul Henry’s funeral was held in October, 1948 at the Rock Island Methodist Church with interment in Myrtle Cemetery. Eagle Lake’s Cherry-Perry American Legion chapter provided the military honors. Harry Larson served as chaplain. Pallbearers included my father Curtis Fling, as well as A.J. Kerr, Woodrow Hardman, Pete Eaton, Norman Jacobson and Bob Criswell. Color bearers were Kennie Bauer and Rueben Muench. The firing squad, firing a volley in honor of Henry were Fred R. Frnka, L.J. Spanihel, Lawrence Herring and Earl Braden.
The little town of Rock Island had not buried a war casualty in the six years since January, 1942 when Orville Baker (who died of blood poisoning from a ruptured appendix while on duty with the Navy in California) was laid to rest. Between these two funerals 68 Colorado County men would die in the service of our country. The world had changed immeasurably in that time. Whereas before December 7, 1941 most Americans had never even heard of Pearl Harbor; now places like Guadalcanal, Okinawa, Salerno and Normandy were all too familiar. Such names, and the battles they represent have become seared into our national consciousness and the sacrifices made there written in the life-blood of our young men.
Number Twenty-eight in a series in remembrance of our World War II dead
By Joe C. Fling
The last man from Eagle Lake, and in fact all of Colorado County to die in combat in World War II was James Gerald Shirley. Shirley was born in Jacksonville, Texas on December 24, 1924. He was the son of Edward H. and Zora (James) Shirley. The Shirley family moved to Eagle Lake in 1937. His father was roadmaster for Southern Pacific Railroad in Eagle Lake and later mayor of the city. Gerald graduated from Eagle Lake High School in 1941. He was a member of the First Baptist Church.
Joining the Navy, Shirley served in aviation. He was trained as a radio operator on a carrier based bomber. At the time of his death, Shirley was classified as an Aviation Radioman, third class. In August, 1945, his crew was flying off of the Shangri-La. Shangri-La CV-38 was an Essex class carrier built at the Norfolk Navy Yard and commissioned May 8, 1944.
Heavy bombing of the Japanese home islands began after the capture of the Marianas (Saipan, Tinian and Guam) in the summer of 1944. The capture of Iwo Jima in February-March, 1945 gave the U.S. Air Corps a much needed advanced refueling and fighter support base. The Navy’s contribution of the end game against Japan was a devastating series of extended bomber strikes by Admiral Nimitz’s fast carrier attack forces. With the Japanese Navy and Air Force in ruins, by mid-July Admiral Halsey moved close enough in to shell Japanese targets with his battleships.
Admiral William Halsey commanded Third Fleet; while Vice-Admiral J.S. McCain commanded Task Group 38.4 from the Shangri-La which was his flagship. Shangri-La was engaged in these hit-and-run carrier raids from February through August of 1945.
Task Force 38 was in the waters of the Japanese home islands from July 6 to the end of the war. They played a major part in the final downfall of Japan. While the Army Air Corps from Saipan and Tinian leveled Japanese cities with B-29 heavy bomber strikes, Task Force 38 launched countless sorties from close in. They bombed Tokyo on July 10, followed by raids on Kobe, Nagoya and the inland Sea of Japan in July. More raids were sent against Hokkaido and Honshu in early August.
There was a brief stand down after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima (August 6) and Nagasaki (August 9) during which time, it was hoped, the Japanese would give up the fight. It is well documented that this was a very hard decision for the proud Japanese to reach. Only the prospect of the leveling of all of their cities and the total destruction of their society finally tipped the balance in favor of surrender. A major part of the destruction of country was being carried out by the U.S. Third Fleet.
Full deck loads of bombers from twelve fleet carriers were launched against Toyko from only a hundred miles out on August 13. Torpedo Squadron 85, including Gerald Shirley’s plane took part in these raids. Cloud cover kept them from hitting their primary target, but a target of opportunity presented itself: a submarine pen at Shimoda. Some flak was encountered and it was afterward thought that some of it had penetrated the plane’s engine area. An inquiry into the circumstances of Shirley’s death yielded the following information:
On the return trip from this last raid to the carrier, about twenty-five miles from land, and over 100 miles from the Shangri-La, the engine began to fail. Radio man Shirley and gunner Harry M. Galloway huddled in the bilge, securing their parachutes and waiting for the order to bail out. As they did so, the pilot, Richard Paland decided to try to put the plane down on the sea. Galloway clamored back to his turret, and Paland set the plane down cleanly on very rough water.
Paland and Galloway soon scrambled onto the wing, where Paland began inflating the life raft. Galloway spotted Shirley swimming beside the plane, and then clinging to the tail, where he shouted for a life jacket. His own jacket had failed to inflate and he was further hampered because he had not been able to remove his parachute harness. Before Galloway could respond, the plane nosed into the sea, and the rising tail struck him in the head. Galloway managed to regain the surface and get into the raft, but by that time, Shirley was nowhere to be found.
In a sad irony, the flight was the last mission that the crew was destined to complete. The next day, August 14, Shangri La dispatched more planes to bomb Japan, but recalled them upon receiving news that Japan had accepted American’s surrender demands. Shirley was Eagle Lake, and Colorado County’s last casualty in action during the war, and among the very last anywhere in the war.
Details of the death of this gallant young sailor were given by Harry M. Galloway, of Detroit, Michigan, the gunner on the plane. When Shangri-La docked on the west coast at the close of the war, Galloway came to Eagle Lake to relate his sympathy and the first hand account given here.
Shirley’s body was never found. It was believed that he drowned due to complications of being unable to remove his parachute harness before the plane ditched. He was survived by his parents, sister Lynn, the late Mrs. Orville Powers; and brother Sgt. E. H. Shirley, Jr. He is listed among the 18,096 names of the missing and lost at sea on the Honolulu Memorial. His name is among those of William R. Cook who went down on the Wasp in the Solomons in 1942; John Henry Stahl who died when Liscome Bay sank at Tarawa in 1943 and James Boyd Harris who died when a kamikaze crashed the Braine off Okinawa in 1945.
Shirley is also remembered by a stone on the Shirley family plot in the Eagle Lake Masonic cemetery. His stone rests near the graves of his parents.
The Headlight reported that Gerald possessed a charming personality, which endeared him to young and old alike and made him perhaps one of the best known boys in this entire vicinity. His winning smile and wonderful sense of humor kept him in the center of activities, and he leaves a void in the hearts of his many friends wherever he chanced to bestow his friendliness.
When I presented a slide show and program in honor of all of Colorado County’s World War II dead in November, 1995 at Living Hope Church, we were honored to have among other relatives, Gerald’s sister Lynn Shirley Powers as our honored guest. At the conclusion of the program Mrs. Powers took my hand and said tenderly, “I believe my parents are looking down from heaven and smiling tonight.” For me, to know the hearts of the loved ones left behind makes it all worthwhile.
(This discussion was not published in the Headlight, but is drawn from the Nesbitt Library Journal Article on Eggers published September, 1995)
By Joe C. Fling
Richard Lloyd Eggers had died December 5, 1943 while serving on a submarine in San Diego, California. He was laid to rest at Lakeside cemetery on December 11. Four years later, on November 10, 1947 he was joined by his first cousin, Glenn E. Eggers.
Glenn was the son of William Thomas Eggers and Mamie Anderson Waddell. He was born January 18, 1920. He attended Eagle Lake schools for several years before his family moved to Houston.
Eggers entered the army on August 15, 1940 and went over seas in July, 1944. He saw action in China with the Mars Task force of the 124th cavalry (armoured tanks). He died on May 8, 1945. and was buried back in Eagle Lake beside his cousin Richard.
(This discussion was not published in the Headlight, but is drawn from the Nesbitt Library Journal Article on Martin published September, 1995)
By Joe C. Fling
Howard Van Martin was brought to my attention by veterans of World War II at a 50th anniversary observance of the end of World War II held in September, 1995 by a group called Help Eagle Lake Remember our Servicemen and women (H.E.R.0.S.) headed up by Jeff Frnka, whose father Fred R. Frnka was of course a veteran and instrumental in sustaining the memory of those who served. At the end of my speech, several veterans said that I had left out Howard Van Martin.
What I learned about Martin is that his family moved into Eagle Lake from Vidor in 1941. He completed his junior year in high school at Eagle Lake High School in the Spring of 1942. Skipping his senior year, Martin got a job at the Beaumont shipyards. Later going into the army, he served with General George S. Patton, Jr’s U.S. Third Army and was killed in the spring of 1945.