The Grundy County Veteran’s Historical Society hosted the fourth annual WWII Veterans Appreciation Luncheon on December 4, at the Coalmont Community Center. Ray Winton, a veteran of the Korean War, led the ceremony of recognition.
Winton gave an emotional speech as he recalled a sunny, December 7, Sunday afternoon in Coalmont. He and his family were listening to the radio that evening at 4 p.m., and heard that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. President FDR asked Congress to declare War on Japan, said Winton, with the cry “Over there, over there, we are not coming home, till it’s over, over there!”
State Representative Kevin Dunlap addressed the Veterans in a wonderful tribute to the men, opening by saying he was honored and thankful that these brave men fought to secure the blessings of freedom. He said he had just been told that Grundy County volunteered the most people per capita during WWII.
“Each of you here today secured the ‘Blessings of Liberty’ for generations to come. We, as American citizens, have so much to be thankful for; we must look to the past and look to the lessons of the past and let us have that same bravery.” In closing, Dunlap continued, “You are our heroes! You didn’t ask for it, but you did the duty when you were called.”
Winton asked the veterans to share memories of their time in service. Many of the men spoke of their faith and their appreciation for fellow veterans.
- B. Lawrence said he was thankful for the opportunity to share a special time with his fellow veterans, stating that he started out in the South Pacific and did a lot of island hopping. “Four of us brothers went, three in the Pacific and one in Europe, and all of us made it back and I was so thankful” said Lawrence.
John K Myers Sr. wanted to give thanks to everyone for putting together the event.
William R. Curtis stated that he was drafted in 1944 and went to Fort Bragg; from there, he was sent to the Philippine Islands and stayed for a while and he went into artillery. He said they did a lot of shooting, but sometimes he was not certain what they were shooting. He went to Japan in 1945.
Hershel Curtis said that the good Lord was with him or he would not be here today. He stated he has nightmares about Omaha Beach. “We had three big battles and there were 5,000 killed at each one – those men were stacked up like wood. I made it all the way through and never got hurt until I stepped in the last step,” said Curtis who is 98.
Jean Kilgore said she could remember her grandmother anxiously waiting until the war was over as Curtis had two more brothers that served during WWII, and all of them made it back.
Carlton Thomas stated that he was with the 79th Infantry and was a prisoner of war in Austria from August 23, 1944, to May 8, 1945. “We were back there with the Germans, and as it got daylight they had a machine gun pointing right at us and gave us the choice of dying or surrendering and that is the way that happened. I want to thank all my fellow veterans for their service,” said Thomas.
Ralph Burnett stated, “I guess I was one of the youngest ones as I got in on the tail-end of the war. We were on our way to the invasion of Japan when the war was over.” Burnett served with the 37th Special Navy Seabee Unit in Pearl Harbor and as a supplier.
Thomas Rollins joined at 18, and had the honor of serving with some of the nation’s finest men in the 28th Division for over two years. He fought at the Battle of the Buldge. Rollins said, “The Lord had a hedge about me and protected me throughout the entire war and to this day.” Commenting on Tom Brokaw’s observation that WWII Veterans are the Greatest Generation, Rollins said, “There are too many others that have fought in all the wars – Vietnam, Korea, Desert Storm, and so many more – that have selflessly served, and they are just as great as any.”
Fernando “Tony” King joined 1943 and served in the 44th Infantry, stationed in St. Louis and Washington. He said he wanted to thank the Lord for saving his life. “We landed in France, went across Germany, and wound up in Austria,” stated King.
John Bohr enlisted in the Army Air Cadet Program 1944 and went into active duty on February 1, 1945. “I went to Europe – Paris, France, Casablanca, and Morocco. I missed all the action. I think the good Lord took care of me on that,” said Bohr.
Earl Rigsby entered the armed forces December 10, 1942, and said he saw terrible things; he saw American soldiers laying across each other. He also said to the group of men gathered at the luncheon, “I love you guys, you are my brothers!”
Sammy Parmley said he was born and raised in Coalmont, and when he turned 17, he wanted to be like his older brother who served and fought for three years, so he joined the Navy. Parmley said, “I really didn’t see any action, I served in the Lucian Islands and Pacific, but I was headed to Tokyo Bay when the war ended. I laugh about it now, but it made me mad back then, because I wanted to go get old Tojo. But, I’m smarter than that now.”
Marcus Hill, Jr. said, “I remember when I went into the Navy, the commanding officer mustered us all on hanger deck and said there is an adversary and we are going to put him down, some of us are coming back and some of us ain’t. You’ve got seven to nine days, and I want you to be seasoned warriors when you get on station. And, so we were.”
World War II veterans unable to intend the event were Ralph Goodman, Earl Pickett, Charles “Frosty” Byers Sr., and Charles Williams. The Veteran’s Historical Society is always looking for more information about living WWII Veterans in our area. They ask that you please contact 931-692-3621 to provide updated information.
If you are interested in joining the Grundy County Veteran’s Historical Society, contact Gayle VanHooser at 931-692-3621.