Sunday, August 30, 2009



James Adams, known to his buddies as "Speedie", was one of nearly a hundred graduates of the Dublin High School Class of 1937. The winds of war were howling in Europe. Four of his classmates went off to war - never to return home again. Hiram Scarborough was the first Laurens Countian to lose his life in the war. Wex Jordan, an all conference football player at Georgia Tech, lost his life in a plane accident at San Diego. James and his buddy Jack Flanders, decided to enlist in the Army at Fort Jackson, South Carolina on September 17, 1940. They were assigned to the 3rd Battalion, Hwq. Detachment of the 121st Infantry, 30th Division. Many of their friends were members of Company K of the 121st, the local National Guard unit station in Dublin. James enrolled in flight training as an Air Corps Cadet at Maxwell Field, Montgomery, Alabama. He earned his wings and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant on November 21, 1942.

Lt. Adams was awakened early on the morning of January 13, 1944. He had just completed his 27th combat mission, flying eight in the last ten days. That day was supposed to be a day of rest. Another navigator/bombardier was sick that morning. Lt. Adams was the only man to take his place. After a quick breakfast Lt. Adams climbed into the plexi-glass nose of his B-25. The mission was to bomb the airdromes around Rome, Italy. The mission was going well. Adams was, like always, choking on the strong acrid smell of gunpowder from the anti-aircraft flak hurled at the American planes. The bombs hit the target. The plane was pulling away. All of sudden something went wrong. The bomber suffered a direct hit in the tail. Sgt. Joseph Grady, the turret gunner, was mortally wounded. The first pilot, Lt. Henry Luther, managed to continue flying despite the loss of power and maneuverability. The crew bailed out except for Lt. Luther who escaped just before the plane crashed.

Lt. Adams landed safely with his parachute on top of him - his fall cushioned by a few inches of snow. As his crawled out he was shocked to find a large contingent of German soldiers surrounding him. One soldier tried to pistol whip him, but the frightened young man was rescued by a superior officer. Adams was taken to the unit commander. As a former prisoner of war in World War I, the English speaking German officer showed compassion toward Adams, allowing him to keep his cigarettes and a New Testament Bible, which Adams had received from his sister Lois just two days before. An inscription in the Bible read "May this protect you from harm." Adams returned the favor by sharing a smoke with the officer. Lt. Adams found Sergeants Frank Maraia and Robert Wooten, the radio operator and the tail gunner. They were much more seriously injured than Lt. Adams. The airmen were given a hot bowl of stew, their first meal in many long hours. Luckily the group were put in the care of another compassionate German. The English speaking doctor gave them the best medical care available and saw to improving the food and sanitary conditions in the camp.

The prisoners were run through a series of filthy cramped cells and prisons. For a brief period they were taken to Ciampino Airdrome, the target of their last mission. Nearly a week later, Adams ran into Morton Mason, Jr., who happened to be from Dublin. The pair almost didn't recognize each other in their emaciated condition. Adams kept searching for his crew. Adams finally wound up at his permanent prison camp, Stalag Luft 1 near Barth, Germany on February 6, 1944. Pilot Luther managed to elude the German army for two months before being captured and taken to Stalag Luft III. He managed to escape just before the end of the war. Adams wouldn't learn of his fate for another 44 years. Lt. Joe Berger, the co-pilot, also managed to avoid capture for a short while, but was eventually taken to Stalag Luft I, in the same cell block with Lt. Adams. Sgts. Maraia and Wooten landed in Stalag IV in Poland.

Lt. Adams made many lifelong friends. He kept a diary and his fifty year friend, Ed Dunlap, sketched revealing pictures of prison life. The ingenious prisoners took dozens of photographs with a hidden camera. Every attempt at escape was turned away by the guards, who even used earthquake detectors to detect the digging of tunnels. While the conditions were bad, the prisoners were treated tolerably by their captors. The prisoners kept up with the progress of the war with a make-shift radio tuned to the BBC. They knew the end of the war was coming. They could hear it in the rolling thunder from the countryside. One day they awoke and the guards were gone - running in fear of the oncoming Russian army. The prisoners remained in the camp for two weeks. The long journey back to France was the shortest trip they ever made.

Fifty years after coming home, 61 ex-POW's went back Europe. They met some of their Russian saviors. The highlight of the trip was the trip to Stalag I at Barth. The prison was gone. Visions of their 15 month home must have appeared in the now abandoned field. Half of the crew is still living: Lt. James Adams in Concord, North Carolina, Sgt. Frank Maraia in Staten Island, New York, and Lt. Henry Luther, the pilot, in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. The story which Lt. Adams would like to be told "is not the horrible part of it - it was horrible - but how many of us lived!"

Taken from the memoirs of Lt. James C. Adams, United States Army Air Corps, donated by Lt. Adams to the Laurens County Historical Society.

Sunday, August 23, 2009



Wars are not supposed to be fought during the winter. This time the war couldn't wait until the end of winter. Until the invasion of Normandy in June of 1944, Laurens County's men had been spared the brutal fighting of an infantry war. As the summer of 1944 progressed more and more reports of injuries and death came back to grieving families. The "Hellcats" of 12th Armored Division were pushing inch by inch, mile by mile across Europe. Berlin, Germany was their ultimate destination. Utweiler, Germany was the first German town to fall justbefore Christmas of 1944.

A young Dublin sergeant was a member Combat Command A, 66th AIB. On the 16th of January, Command A was viciously shelled by German artillery near Offendorf. The young sergeant was seriously wounded in the left hip. Three years before he was a Boy Scout in Troop 65 and a Junior Wildlife Ranger led by Wildlife Ranger, John N. Ross. The twenty year old boy, now a man, quickly recovered and rejoined his unit on February 15th. His mother feared he was dead. By mid-April the "Hellcats" were approaching the Danube River. No invading army, not even the armies of Julius Caesar, nor Genghis Khan, nor the immortal Napoleon had ever managed to cross the river.

Reports came in that the German army had left one bridge, at Dillingen, intact. The American armored units sped toward the bridge. There was no time to waste. The German 6th Panzer Division was a stubborn and formidable foe. The dash was so rapid that the German forces had little time to organize their defenses. The date was April 22, 1945. "Berlin Sally" was broadcasting that the bridge was scheduled to be destroyed. The Americans pulled out of camp at 0700 hours and 4 hours and 32 miles later they arrived in Dillingen. Sally warned that the German Army was dug in - ready for a fight. When the Americans got to the bridge, it was still up. Captain Riddell and Platoon Sergeant Houston were the first on the bridge. They shot a couple of men who were trying to blow the bridge.

Sgt. Houston called for a squad to cross the bridge. Near the end of the bridge were six five-hundred pound bombs, hundreds of pounds of wet Italian dynamite, sandbags, and wires running off in many directions toward the edges of the bridge. Sergeants Houston and Welch pulled back across the bridge. The young Dubliner led the remaining men as they ran across the bridge. The first task was to clear the area and establish a defensive position at the eastern end of the bridge. Other members of the squad were Frank Zendell, Robert Crumpton, Edward McGarr, William Moore, and John Horne.

The German army tried to explode the bridge. Six planes were shot down. Elements of the 199th Armored Engineers were sent to remove demolitions from the bridge. With the aid of only the moonlight the sergeant and his buddies spotted mines floating down river were captured in a net strung over the Danube. Hundreds of German soldiers were killed. The Americans repelled all attacks and captured over a thousand prisoners. Edward McGarr captured two prisoners with an empty rifle. Artillery fire poured into American position. The second most important bridge in the European War Theater was now open. The Bridge at Remagan may have been bigger, but the bridge at Dilligen remained intact. The 12th Armored Division poured across the bridge. The next four days were spent fighting off large scale air and artillery attacks. On April 28th the Hellcats crossed the railroad bridge at Landsburg and feinted on Munich. The actions of these young American heroes paved the way for the final push into Berlin ten days later when the war ended in Europe on May 7, 1945. One survivor of Dachau Concentration camp credited the rapid capture of Dilligen Bridge as the reason that the lives of himself and the rest of the people in the camp were saved.

The citizens of Dublin were proud of their young hero. Dublin Theatre manager Bob Hightower planned a special 7th War Loan premiere of the new Tracy and Hepburn movie, "Without Love." The purchase of a war bond was the ticket for admission to the movie in honor of the first American soldier to cross the Danube. That day, June 27, 1945, was "Buck" Porter Day in honor of Dublin's young war hero, Lester Porter.

Lester Porter, son of Attorney Lester Lee and Ruth Guyton Porter, was born in Dublin in December of 1924. Lester graduated from Dublin High in the first year of World War II. After one year at North Georgia College, Porter began serving in the 12th Armored Division of the Seventh U.S. Army. For his actions in World War II, "Buck" Porter was awarded the Purple Heart, World War II Victory Medal, Presidential Unit Citations, Croix de Guerre and Foix de Guerre, the Rhineland Battle Star, and many other service ribbons. After the war Porter graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in Zoology. He then graduated from Northern Illinois College of Optometry.

Dr. Porter and his new wife Katherine Davis Porter returned to Dublin in 1951. Dr. Porter began his practice of optometry here and forty six years later, he is still practicing, now with his son, Dr. Edwin Porter. Dr. Porter has been active in civic and governmental affairs for all of that time. He has served in statewide Optometric positions for several years and has served as President of the Moore Street P.T.A., Lion's Club, Dublin Association of Fine Arts, and the Dublin-Laurens Chamber of Commerce. Porter served two terms as Mayor of Dublin from 1970 to 1974.

Laurens County has a rich heritage of his sons who served their country during World War II. The stories are moving and fascinating. They are stories of ordinary men, who when there time came, stepped forward and exhibited outstanding feats of courage.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


The Story of Felix Powell, P.O.W.

Heroes by the thousands have passed through the wards of the Carl Vinson Medical Center in Dublin. This is a story of one of those ordinary men who, when his time came, exhibited the courage and fortitude which so typifies the American spirit of freedom. Felix Powell was born to be a sailor or so his mother told him. His granddaddy encouraged him by calling him admiral. Felix was a typical country boy of the thirties. His father's folks were from Treutlen County. Most of his free time was spent playing marbles and fishing and swimming in the biggest body of water he knew, the Ohoopee River, near his boyhood town of Norristown. Felix was a star basketball player for the perennially powerful Adrian Red Devils. As he grew older he dreamed of becoming a sailor and perhaps wearing the gold braid on his dress whites. But never in his dreams did he ever fathom the bloodshed he was about to witness.

Felix, fresh out of high school, enlisted in the Navy in the late 30s. Seaman Powell volunteered to serve in the Asiatic Fleet, also known as the "Suicide Fleet". His first assignment was aboard the "U.S.S. New Mexico" in 1940 at Pearl Harbor. As 1941 progressed rumors of war ran rampant throughout the fleet. Most people remember December 7, 1941. In the days that followed Felix's Powell's "Hell on Earth" was just about to begin. Felix was assigned as a Fireman 1st Class at the Cavite Navy Yard in the Phillipine Islands. Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor the Japaneese launched a vicious attack on the islands. From their shipboard perch they witnessed the horrible death and daily destruction of Manilla.

Soon the Phillipines fell into the hands of the Japaneese. Powell, at that time, was stationed in a fortification known as Fort Hughes. Nearly every American on the islands was taken prisoner. The captors allowed the men to bring only the clothes on their backs. Their possessions were plundered. The prisoners were immediately put to work burying the dead and assembling military supplies. Many times his fellow Americans had to be placed in mass graves in bomb craters with little or no cover. The men worked all day with little rest and even less food and water. Felix couldn't sleep for thinking of food and water. Oh what he would give to get some of his mamma's cooking. When word of his capture got back to Adrian, his mother, his sister Delia, and Claudie Thompson were busy preparing jars of pickled cucumbers. Food half eaten by the guards and even catsup mixed with water were real treats. In the early days the prisoners had to use iodine to help purify their drinking water which was often mixed with bath water.

The prisoners were then herded in ships like cattle. Some of the men died due to the extreme heat. Others, like Peter Fred Larsen of Dublin, were struck by friendly fire in unmarked prison ships. Some of the transport pens were covered with manure, which reminded Felix of his mule lot back in Norristown. Powell and his mates were taken to Corrigador where the food situation was a little better, but not much. There the lucky ones found blankets to steal. Felix and his buddies patched up an old garbage can with tin can lids for a water container, the envy of the entire camp. Rain was sometimes a blessing, for drinking water and taking baths, and sometimes a curse, when it was cold and no one had any dry clothes.

The American prisoners were forced to participate in the "March of Humiliation" through the streets of Manilla. Grateful Filipinos showered the Americans with candy, bananas, and cooked eggs. The guards mashed as many as the could, punishing those who tried to bend down and pick up the gifts. The march began to take its toll on the "long legged" boy from Adrian who never had any trouble running up and down the basketball courts. Powell was taken to Cabanatuan Camp # 3. Next was Pasay Concentration Camp, the home of "the White Angel." "The White Angel" was no angel. He his fellow goons "Cherry Blossom", " The Wolf", and "Pistol Pete" were among the most brutal war criminals. They were eventually prosecuted for the crimes of reprehensible brutality. At Pasay, Powell was sentenced to be executed by firing squad with 28 other men. The man who had caused the disturbance was executed instead and Felix's life was spared. But what life? By now Felix, a six foot tall man, weighed only 98 pounds and for many months had no shoes. Food scraps were prized among the prisoners. Little things like the man he met from Lyons, Georgia, kept Felix going, living - just surviving.

Felix returned to Cabanatuan Camp # 1 where he remained until the end of 1944. In 1945 the Japanese government moved thousands of prisoners to the Japanese Islands to work in the coal mines. Felix was stationed on the Island of Kyushu. Felix and the prisoners were forced to work day and night in the mines. For several days after the second atomic bomb was dropped, the men remained in the mines. Finally they came out and began the arduous task of finding their way back to friendly forces. American planes dropped relief supplies but they weren't quite enough. Felix witnessed the total destruction of Nagasaki, a sight he never forgot. Finally he and many others made it back aboard ship. Felix knew he was getting close to home when he recognized a man from Metter whom he played against in the region tournament in 1938. From Japan he was taken to the Islands of Okinawa and Guam. Doctors determined that Felix had developed tuberculosis in his left lung, probably a result of his long stay in the mines. Once again he was confined, this time to the hospital isolation ward. Finally in October of 1945 Felix spotted the Golden Gate Bridge. There was one more bridge he wanted to see. That was the Route 80 bridge near Thompson's store on the Ohoopee. But fifteen more months of hospitalization was in order. Powell spent time in Oakland and New York hospitals, with a too short stay at the Naval Hospital in Dublin. Fifty years later Felix Powell is back in the Vinson V.A. Medical Center in Dublin.

Felix Powell wrote of his days in the war in his unpublished 560 page manuscript, "Brush Harbor" or "Gold Braid and Blood." The next time you pass by the V.A. Hospital and see the American flags, thank Felix Powell and the thousands of Americans who have been inside those brick walls and who fought, died, and survived to protect our most precious freedoms.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


Dublin and Laurens County once again stepped forward and sent thousands of young men into military service during World War II. Scores of Laurens County boys joined the National Guard, which was attached to the 121st U.S. Infantry division. The Guard mobilized in September of 1940 into Federal service.

Alta Mae Hammock and Brancy Horne were the first women to join the W.A.A.C.. Marayan Smith Harris was the first woman to join the WAVES. Louise Dampier also served as a yeoman in the U.S. Navy. Seaman Elbert Brunson, Jr. was onboard the U.S.S. Greer on September 4, 1941. The destroyer was the first American destroyer to fire upon the dreaded German U-boat submarines in an incident which accelerated the country’s declaration of war against Germany.

Despite strong support from all the communities of Central Georgia and Cong. Carl Vinson, the powerful chairman of the House Naval Affairs Committee, the federal government denied the location of a naval air training station on the Oconee River just below the city due to the lack of a large labor force and the heavy infestation of mosquitos in the area.

Several Laurens Countians were at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Marjorie Hobbs Wilson and her husband were eyewitnesses to the bombing. Also at Pearl Harbor on the “Day of Infamy” were George Dewey Senn, William Drew, Jr., Bascom Ashley, Walter Camp, Joel Wood, Harold Wright, Charles Durden, Hardy Blankenship, Rowland Ellis, Wade Jackson, Nathan Graham, Obie Cauley and Claxton Mullis. Lts. William C. Thompson, Jr. and Everett Hicks were serving in the Philippines and Woody Dominy was stationed on Wake Island.

Alton Hyram Scarborough, of the D.H.S. Class of '37, was the first of one hundred and nine casualties of the war. Robert Werden, Jr. loved to fly and was so anxious to fly planes in World War II that he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. When the United States declared war, he joined the Army Air Force, only to be shot down and killed in the early years of the war.

Capt. Bobbie E. Brown of Laurens County was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism in the assault on Crucifix Hill in Aachen, Germany. Capt. Brown, a career non- commissioned officer, personally led the attack on German positions, killing over one hundred Germans and being wounded three times during the battle. Capt. Brown was the first Georgian ever to be awarded the Medal of Honor, along with eight Purple Hearts and two Silver Stars. At the end of the war, Captain Brown was the oldest company commander in the United States army and first in length of service. Paratrooper Kelso Horne was pictured on the cover of Life during the invasion of Normandy. Lt. Horne, a member of the famed 82nd Airborne Division and one of the oldest paratroopers in the U.S. Army, parachuted behind German lines near St. Mere Eglise in the night time hours before the amphibious invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. Ensign Shelton Sutton, Jr., a native of Brewton and a former center for Georgia Tech, was killed while serving aboard the U.S.S. Juneau, along with the famous Sullivan brothers. Nearly two years later in 1944, the U.S. Navy commissioned the U.S.S. Sutton in his memory. His teammate Aviator Wex Jordan, an all-Southeastern guard for Georgia Tech in 1941, was killed in an air accident while training in San Diego on Veteran’s Day in 1943.

Like the fictional Captain John Miller in “Saving Private Ryan,” Dublin and Laurens County teachers left the classroom to fight for their country. Robert Colter, Jr., who had been teaching Vocational-Agricultural classes at Cadwell High School was killed on February 20, 1945 in Germany. Captain Henry Will Jones, the Vocational - Agricultural teacher and football coach at Dexter High School and a paratrooper, was killed at Peleliu Island in the South Pacific in October 18, 1944. In recognition of his exemplary valor, Capt. Jones was posthumously awarded the Silver Star. Lt. Lucian Bob Shuler, a former Cadwell High School basketball coach, was an ace, having shot down seven Japanese planes in combat. Captain Shuler was awarded eleven Distinguished Flying Crosses and twelve Air Medals. Cpt. William A. Kelley, a former Dublin High School coach, was flying the “Dauntless Dotty” when it crashed into the sea on June 6, 1945. The B-29 Superfortress was the first B-29 to bomb Tokyo. Kelley and his crew, who flew in a bomber named “The Lucky Irish,” were the first crew in the Pacific to complete 30 missions. They were returning home to headline the 7th War Bond Drive when the accident occurred. Randall Robertson and James Hutchinson, both only a year or so out of Dublin High School, were killed several weeks apart on the same beach on Iwo Jima in 1945.

Hubert Wilkes and Jack Thigpen survived the fatal attack on the “U.S.S. Yorktown” at the Battle of Midway. John L. Tyre volunteered for six months hazardous duty in southeast Asia in an outfit dubbed “Merrill’s Marauders.” The Marauders, the first ground soldiers to see action in World War II, fought through jungles filled with Japanese soldiers, unbearable heat and slithering snakes. Only one out six managed to make it all way through the war.

Commander Robert Braddy was awarded the Navy Cross, our nation’s second highest honor for naval heroism, for his actions in North Africa in November of 1942. Rear Admiral Braddy retired from the service in 1951. Captain William C. Thompson was awarded a Silver Star, two Gold Stars, a Navy Cross and a Bronze Star for his outstanding naval submarine service. Captain Thompson was the executive officer aboard the submarine Bowfin, which was credited with sinking the second highest Japanese tonnage on a single war patrol. Thompson was aboard the U.S.S. Sealion when it was struck by Japanese planes at Cavite, Philippines. The submarine was the first American submarine to be lost in World War II. Both men are buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Captain Thompson’s first cousin, Sgt. Lester Porter of Dublin, led the first invading forces over the Danube River in nearly two millennia. Marine Corporal James W. Bedingfield, of Cadwell, was awarded a Silver Star by Admiral Chester Nimitz for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action against the Japanese at Namur Island, Kwajalein Atoll, on February 6, 1944. His kinsman, Capt. Walter H. Bedingfield, was awarded a Silver Star for heroism in setting up a field hospital in advance of American lines at Normandy on D-Day. T.Sgt. Thurman W. Wyatt was awarded a Silver Star for heroism when he assumed command of his tank platoon following the wounding of the commander and guided it to safety. Tech. Sgt. Luther Word was awarded the Silver Star, the nation’s third highest award for heroism, just prior to his being killed in action. Lt. Paul Jimmy Scarboro was awarded a Silver Star for gallantry as a pilot of a Super Fortress in the Pacific Ocean.

Lt. Colonel James D. Barnett, Col. Charles Lifsey, Col. George T. Powers, III, and Lt. Colonel J.R. Laney, former residents of Dublin and graduates of West Point, were cited for their actions in India and Europe. Laney was a member of the three-man crew of the Douglas XB-42 Mixmaster, the world’s fastest transcontinental plane, when it crashed into a Washington, D.C. suburb in December 1945. Lt. Col. Laney survived the crash to complete a distinguished thirty year career in the Army.

Captain Alvin A. Warren, Jr., of Cadwell, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for flying 70 missions in the Indo-China Theater night and day through impassable mountain ranges and high clouds. Walter D. Warren, Jr. was a member of the famed Flying Tigers in China-Burma-India Theater. Flight officer Emil E. Tindol also received the same award, just days before he was killed in action while “flying the hump” - a term used for flying over the gigantic mountain ranges of India and Burma. For his battle wounds and other feats of courage and bravery, Lt. Clifford Jernigan was awarded the Purple Heart, an Air Medal and three Oak Leaf clusters in 1944. Lt. Gordon Cartee served as the wing man for Major George Preddy, the most highly decorated P-51 fighter pilot in Europe. Lt. Garrett Jones was a highly decorated pilot who participated in the first daylight bombings of Germany. Calvert Hinton Arnold was promoted to Brigadier General in 1945. Lt. Col. Ezekiel W. Napier of Laurens County, a graduate of West Point, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and retired from the Air Force in 1959 as a Brigadier General. The "Pilot's Pilot," Bud Barron of Dublin, was credited with the second most number of air miles during the war, mainly by ferrying aircraft to and from the front lines. Barron has been inducted into the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame. Dublin native Lt. William L. Sheftall, Jr. flew 74 missions in Italy and was awarded the Silver Star for heroism. Sidney Augustus Scott, the Chief Engineer of the SS Charles Morgan, was awarded the Merchant Marine Meritorious Service medal for his heroism in the landing of men and material on the beaches of Normandy just after D-Day.

James Adams, Morton C. Mason, Wilkins Smith, Russell M. Daley, Gerald Anderson, Marshall Jones, Robert L. Horton, Loyest B. Chance, Needham Toler, William L. Padgett, Joseph E. Joiner, W.B. Tarpley, Owen Collins, Loy Jones, Thurston Veal, James B. Bryan, Cecil Wilkes and others were surviving in P.O.W. camps in Germany, while Alton Watson, James W. Dominy, and Alton Jordan were held prisoner by the Japanese. Lt. Peter Fred Larsen, a prisoner of the Japanese army, was killed by American planes when being transported to the Japanese Mainland in an unmarked freighter. Future Dubliner Tommy Birdsong was digging coal in a Japanese coal mine when an atomic bomb near Nagasaki was dropped. Earlier he survived the infamous "Bataan Death March." Other future Dubliners who survived the Bataan Death March were William Wallace, A. Deas Coburn, and Felix Powell.

PFC Wesley Hodges was a member of the 38th Mechanized Calvary Recon Squad, the first American squad to enter Paris on August 25, 1944. Seaman James T. Sutton survived the sinking of the “U.S.S. Frederick C. Davis,” the last American ship sunk by the German Navy. The 121st Infantry of the Georgia National Guard, which was headquartered in Dublin until 1938 and of which Company K and 3rd Battalion HQ Co. were located in Dublin, won a Presidential Unit Citation for its outstanding performance of their duty in the Battle of Hurtgen Forest during Thanksgiving 1944. Edward Towns was cited for his meritorious service to the submarine forces of the United States. Curtis Beall, after being voted by his classmates as the most outstanding senior at the University of Georgia in 1943, joined his brother Millard in the United States Marine Corps. Capt. John Barnett, a twenty-one-year-old Dubliner, was credited with being the youngest executive officer in the United States Army in 1944. Lt. Arlie W. Claxton won the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1943. These are only a few stories of the thousands of Laurens County's heroes of World War II.

Major Herndon “Don” M. Cummings was a bomber pilot in the 477th Bomber Group. Though his unit was never saw active duty overseas, Major Cummings and his group were known as a group of units collectively called the “Tuskegee Airmen.” Cummings was incarcerated along with a hundred other fellow pilots for attempting to integrate an all-white officers club at Freeman Field in Indiana in 1945. Through the efforts of future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall and the actions of a newly sworn President Harry Truman, the pilots were freed and later exonerated of all charges against them. Cummings remained in the reserves for twenty years after his retirement from active duty.

Laurens Countians supported the war effort on the home front. A State Guard unit was formed by over-age and under-age men. Everyone from school children to grandmothers did their part. Many Laurens Countians commuted to Warner Robins and Macon to work for the war effort. Laurens Countians opened their homes to soldiers from Camp Wheeler, near Macon and British R.A.F. cadets from Cochran Field in Macon. Angelo Catechis bought war bonds with his life's savings to help rescue his family in Greece. The women of Laurens County worked diligently on the home front. The women made bandages, surgical dressings and sponges by the scores of thousands, along with knitted garments. Carolyn Hall, blind since birth, was one of the most proficient knitters in the community. Laurens Countians contributed hundred of hours of time to the Red Cross, U.S.O. and numerous Civilian Defense programs. Bessye Parker Devereaux was the first woman in the Charleston, S.C. shipyards to be awarded the Outstanding Worksmanship Award by President Roosevelt. In the summer of 1944, the U.S. government honored the citizens and Laurens County for their contributions to the war effort by naming one of the reconditioned "Liberty Ships" the "U.S.S. Laurens."

Sunday, August 2, 2009


Hero From The Sky

Kelso Horne never claimed to be a hero. He said to me, "I didn’t do anything heroic," which is a typical response from a hero. A photograph of the face of Kelso Horne appeared on the cover of "Life" magazine on August 14, 1944. The picture is known to some as "the face," not the face of Kelso Horne, but the face of the infantryman of the American Army. In fact, when the editors of "Time" magazine published an issue on the history of the 20th Century, the picture of Horne’s face was chosen to represent the millions of American servicemen who served their country in World War II and saved the world from Nazi imperialism.

Kelso Crowder Horne, the third child of Josiah H. Horne and Maude Crowder Horne, was born on November 12, 1912. When World War II began in 1941, Kelso didn’t wait to be drafted. He wanted to see some action, "not something just anybody could do," Horne said. As a boy, Kelso had seen air shows in Dublin. "They had people jumping out of airplanes," Kelso remembered. Kelso joined the U.S. Army in June of 1942 in Macon, Georgia. He was assigned to Camp Wheeler for basic training for thirteen weeks. Kelso remained adamant in his desire to be a paratrooper. After four weeks of training in an NCO school, Horne was shipped down Highway 80 to Fort Benning in Columbus.

In February of 1943, Kelso Horne, became 2nd Lt. Kelso Horne. He immediately applied for entrance into jump school. Horne and the other candidates were taken out for a field demonstration. A rocket carrying a dummy paratrooper was fired into the air. As it fell to the Earth, the mannequin was riddled with machine gun fire. "That’s what can happen to you. Now, how many of you want to change your mind?," the instructor inquired. Kelso stood firm in his desire and completed jump school at Benning.

Horne was assigned to the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment in March of 1943. After reporting to the regimental commander, Kelso was placed in the 1st platoon of Co. I, 3rd, Bn.. He trained at Camp Mackall, N.C. and Lebanon, Tenn. until Dec. 20, 1943, when the regiment assembled at Camp Shanks, NY. Camp Shanks which was located less than an hour from Broadway in New York City. After three days of administrative duties and learning how to abandon ship, Kelso and his buddies were given an evening pass into New York for one last fling. The 508th spent that Christmas day in camp. Their next Christmas would be spent right smack dab in the middle of the Battle of the Bulge. The regiment boarded the U.S. AT Parker for a 12 day trip to Belfast, Ireland. Two months later, the 508th sailed to Scotland for even more training.

The men knew that they were training for an invasion of Europe, but they didn’t know when or where. As the hour of D-Day approached, Kelso and the rest of the regiment was told that their destination would be eight to ten miles inland from the eastern coast of the Cotentin Peninsula west of St. Mere Eglise, France. The 3rd Bn.’s mission was to organize a defensive sector and the join with the 4th Infantry Division, which would be staging an amphibious landing on Utah Beach. As the skies began to darken on the 5th of June, 1944, final preparations were being made. Equipment checks went on until the last minute. The men ate one last meal, a least for many of them it would a last meal. After downing a few more cups of coffee and a couple doughnuts, the men took the smut from the kitchen stoves, blackening their faces for the nighttime jump. At 2:06 a.m. on the morning of June 6, 1944, Kelso Horne moved to the door of the C-41, which was flying through a dark and moonless night. Just as Kelso saw the waves breaking on the Normandy shore, the green jump light came on. Men began yelling "go!" Kelso waited; it wasn’t time to go just yet. When Kelso spotted the Merderet River and the railroad, he jumped, landing between the two landmarks, just where he was supposed bo be.

The C-41s were drifting away from each other. Night flying formations were tough, even for experienced pilots. Most of the eight hundred and twenty pilots flying into Normandy had never flown at night. Some were shot down. Bob Mathias of 2nd Platoon, Co. E, was standing in the doorway when he was struck by an artillery fragment. Despite his wounds, Mathias jumped. He died before he reached the ground. Historian Stephen Ambrose credits Mathias as being the first casualty of the invasion and being the oldest paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division. Kelso, at 31 years of age, was three years older than Mathias. He believed he was the second oldest paratrooper in the 82nd. Most of the men who jumped that night were less than twenty years old.

Kelso found that he was in a small field about a mile from St. Mere Eglise. He found it difficult to get out of his harness. It wouldn’t unsnap or cut with a knife. After a few moments, Kelso calmed down and managed to escape from his harness. As he was heading for the woods, Lt. Horne realized that he had left his field bag behind. Just as he retrieved his bag, Kelso noticed a figure of a man approaching him. He put one round in the chamber of his rifle. Kelso spoke first when the man was twenty feet away. The man, who turned out to be the messenger of the company commander, gave the correct response to Kelso’s challenge. The two men crawled into a ditch to determine their position. Just after another man approached them, the green signal flare went up, signaling the 3rd Battalion to move to the assembly area.

The battalion rendezvoused at a farm house surrounded by an orchard of apple trees. When Kelso got into the house, he went over to put a cup of water by the fire to make himself a cup of coffee. The building became the headquarters of Gen. Matthew Ridgeway. Lt. Horne and his fellow lieutenants gathered up as many men of the 508th as they could find. They took their men to the Merderet River Bridge at La Fiere Manor.

Col. Lindquist, the 508th’s commander, sent Kelso and fifteen to twenty men down the road to clear out a farm house from which the Germans had been firing on the American troops. The squad ran down a sunken lane toward the two-story house. The corpses of four or five German soldiers were strewn around the outside of the house. While the Germans inside the house were distracted by fire from the sunken road, Horne and a sergeant moved into the first floor of the house. The sergeant sprayed the rooms and the ceiling with machine gun fire. A dozen or so Germans came down the steps and surrendered. In the excitement of the moment, Kelso once again left his field bag behind. Ordinarily the bag could be replaced, but a Bible which had been a gift from his wife Doris was in the bag. Kelso never found the bag or his Bible. Kelso noticed that a group of G.I.s were trying to cross the river. The Germans began firing at them. Kelso yelled out in vain trying to warn his buddies, but to no avail. "Not a one of them, as far as I know, made it all the way across," Kelso remembered.

Kelso picked up an M-1 rifle . It had belonged to a major, who had the fatal misfortune of being ambushed in a fake surrender trick by the Germans. With only an hour of rest, Kelso and his men were suddenly subjected to intense artillery fire. Col. Lindquist gave orders for the men to run, in order, to headquarters. They made it to the railroad track and then to the bridge at Chef du Pont, where they remained for the rest of D-Day.

The next day, General Gavin led his forces toward the command point, yelling "Come on! Let’s go! Nobody lives forever!" Horne remembered very little after D-Day plus one until Independence Day. He was tired. The daily fighting and expectations of combat at any time allowed no time for keeping a diary. He did remember the capture of 1820 German soldiers by his troops and those of the 90th division near Cherbourg. After things began to calm down, Lt. Horne was relieved to learn that all of the men in his platoon had made it that far without casualty - a lucky streak which wouldn’t last too much longer.

When Kelso crossed the La Fiere Causeway, he came upon a group of dead German soldiers lying in a ditch. He was standing astride what he thought was a dead soldier. The man, only dazed and not dead, spoke to Horne, yelling "Komrade! Komrade!" Despite the urging of some of the men, Horne refused to shoot the helpless man. Only a few moments later after Horne had left the scene, an inflamed young soldier came across the road. He machine gunned the German to death. "That happened a lot," Kelso remembered.

About a week after the invasion, Kelso and his platoon from Co. I were walking down a road toward a French town. Gen. Lawton Collins, commanding the 7th Corps, drove up along the column and asked to speak to the officer in command. Horne advised the General that there were Germans in the town because they had firing on our troops earlier in the day. Collins, owing to the fact that discretion is the better part of valor, ordered the driver to turn the staff car around. Before the car left, Bob Landry, a photographer for "Life" magazine asked permission to take a picture of Kelso Horne. Landry instructed Horne to kneel down and look off in the distance. Horne complied and thought not much more about the snapshot. Horne had mentioned it to his wife Doris in his letters. The photograph was selected by the editors of the magazine to grace the cover of the August 14th issue. Horne’s family and everyone in Laurens County were elated.

The original photograph - cropped for the cover of Life. @ Time Life, Inc.

As Independence Day approached, the 508th was moving north of la Laye-du-Puits. Their objective, Hill 95. Horne and his men knew the Germans were up there on the hill. They heard them talking during the night. Early on the morning of July 4th, Lt. Horne was giving his daily report to Sgt. Raymond Conrad, 1st Sergeant of Co. I. While listing those who had been killed and wounded, a round pierced Conrad’s body from one side all the through to the other. Kelso was terribly shaken. The two men had gone through basic training together and were close friends. A little while later, Lt. Horne was walking with his messenger, when the young man was hit in both legs with machine gun fire. Once again, Kelso had narrowly escaped being shot. Things were getting worse. One of the company mortar men and the platoon sergeant were severely wounded.

Kelso began to question the prudence of the decision to attack the hill. Col. Mendez was adamant. Lt. Horne knew that the land approaching Hill 95 had no cover, not even a rock to hide behind. Col. Mendez grew angry when Kelso intimated that the colonel would be safe in the rear behind the rocks, while he and his men would be in untenable danger. The attack went off just as planned at eleven o’clock in the morning, five minutes after the artillery barrage began. Lt. Horne was ten feet out of the hedgerow when he felt something. "I never heard the shell. I know it was a shell, because it was a fragment that hit me. It just felt like somebody hit me in the chest with a baseball bat. It knocked me down and when I got up my pistol had fallen out of its holder," Kelso told his biographer, Perry Knight. Pat Collins, who was standing beside Horne, took a hit and fell. Horne told Collins that he had been hit in the arm. Collins looked over at Horne and said, "You’re hit, too! You’ve got a hole in your jump suit. You got it bad," Collins said. Horne noticed he was bleeding and moved back to the security of the hedge. He disassembled his rifle, threw the parts in different directions, and began to move back toward the rear. Horne noticed that he had left his pistol at the point where he had been shot. He crawled back to the spot, picked his pistol up, and then had the strength to walk back to the rear field hospital. Horne was sent to a hospital in Cheltonham, England, where he arrived a couple of days later. The attack fizzled that day, but the regiment took the hill the next morning after the Germans had abandoned it on the night of the 4th.

Kelso remained in Cheltonham until the early days of August. One day while he was lying in the bed, the man in the next bed said, "You’ve got a boy!" Horne was momentarily puzzled. He knew that his wife Doris, the former Miss Doris Garner, was expecting a child, but didn’t know how the man would know about it. Doris had tried to get word to Kelso through the Red Cross. Horne’s uncle, Frank Cochran, knew about the slowness of sending a message to a soldier overseas. He sent the announcement to the military newspaper, "Stars and Stripes." The July 25th edition of the paper carried the news of the birth of Kelso’s son, Kelso C. "Casey," Horne, Jr. who had been born on July 18th. Casey joined the U.S. Army like his father. Today he practices law in Dahlonega, Georgia. Kelso C. Horne, III became a third generation paratrooper in the mid 1990s. At the awards ceremony at the end of jump school, Kelso C. Horne, III had his wings pinned on him by his grandfather. They weren’t a new pair of wings. They were the same wings that had been pinned on Kelso, Sr. in 1943. Pride and tears overflowed that day.

From Cheltonham, Horne was sent to Wales for further rehabilitation. Horne returned to the 508th the day the unit left with the 82nd Airborne Division for a jump in Holland. Unable to return to duty, Horne remained behind with orders to help care for the wounded until the unit’s return. Horne remained with the 508th throughout the Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944. On Valentine’s Day, 1945, Kelso returned to the states. He was sent to Finney Hospital in Thomasville, Georgia - close to home, but not close enough. Kelso was sent even further away from home, this time to Miami, Florida. He returned to duty as a training officer at Fort Benning, where he was discharged in October, 1945.

Kelso and Doris returned to Dublin to make their home. Kelso continued to serve his country with the United States Postal Service. He died on a Saturday, the Saturday after Thanksgiving. In this holiday season, more than fifty years later, let us give thanks for men like Kelso Horne, the man behind the face, and all of the men who risked their lives for to preserve the freedoms we enjoy today.