American Legion Post 186 will celebrate Christmas 2010 at the post with a Christmas party and dinner on Saturday the 18th of December at . The cost for the dinner is $10 a couple or $5 if single.There is no charge for the widows of former members.There will be a fun Christmas gift exchange (white elephant/Yankee swap-there are many names for it): women are to bring a $5 gift for a woman and men bring a $5 gift for a man.
American Legion Post #186 was well represented at the parade in Manchester.
Hubert J. Whitlock and Pierce Tidwell have a great ride underneath them.
Toots Hobson designed one of the floats and made the decorations and costumes worn by the riders: Jake and Morgan James, Joshua London, and Machala, Mitchell and Mathew Ralich. The posters and the Purple Heart were made by Vic of JT Signs of Manchester. Putting the float together on the trailer (loaned by Kerry James) was accomplished by Ed Hobson, Toots, Danny Sharp, John Norris and Buster McCoy. The week before the parade was wet and windy and cold so many thanks to those with red noses and frozen fingers who did the work.
There were a lot of moments that brought back good memories:
Greenville’s American Legion FDR Post 186 has been conducting interviews at Camp Cecil Perkerson of our World War II veterans for the Library of Congress’ Experiencing War: Stories from the Veterans’ History Project. Norman K. Rowe of Luthersville was interviewed February 25, 2010 and the following interview is in his words.
I was born September 1926, six miles from where I live now. It’s about six miles from Luthersville in the Wooster Community (it was not called that then). The house I was born in had been there until ten years ago.
My parents farmed. We had crops and I plowed an old mule. We raised cotton and corn. The corn was for the farm and family and what was leftover you sold. We had milk cows and as I got grown got we went into the beef business. The farm was 60-80 acres 60 now, then it was 80. My brother took one side of road and I took other. The side I took had the house I live in which was already built when the family moved into it. It was built in 1833.
I have lived in this house where I am now since 1931. I graduated from Luthersville
High School in 1943. It was a class of ten with five girls and five boys. Most boys
enlisted a few months after graduation-two went with me to Macon. We went to the post
office to join up. I chose the Navy because I didn’t want to be walking on my feet in the
army! I thought I would like the Navy and tried it. I enlisted in the Navy in Macon
in1944. I was first in the Naval Reserves then joined the regular Navy and served from
1943 to ’53. I changed from the Navy to the Air Force because those fellows were riding
in airplanes everywhere and they got to come home more often! I was in the Air Force
from 1953-73 when I retired.
I made several trips around world in the Navy. I was sent to the Great Lakes for basic training and finished in six weeks. We had to fall out every morning for roll call and the 3rd time we fell out I was assigned to a ship-glad to go because there were so many of us and it was very confining.
We left the Great Lakes and went on a cattle car-I’ll never forget they had freight cars and cattle cars and they stuffed us in them to go to San Francisco. The food wasn’t too bad. We cooked right there in the cattle cars in pots on stoves and served. We were all issued a mess kit plate made of metal that folded and had a cup and knife, fork, and spoon and you kept that through your tour and always carried it because that was the only thing you had to eat out off. It had U.S. Navy on the handle. I’ve still got it and use it occasionally.
We were issued a hammock, a mattress about two inches thick, and clothes. You carried that with you and if you lost it, you had no place to sleep. The ship had no bunks or beds but an open space with chains on the walls and you hooked your canvas mattress on those chains. We stacked them three people high. I slept on the top bunk. I still have the canvas mattress at the barn. I made sure I didn’t lose it! We stayed in San Francisco several weeks before we were assigned to a ship.
There was a staging area for 60-100 men and I was in one group. This fellow came and talked to us and it was the first fellow I had seen with a star on his shoulder. It was General MacArthur and he explained to us what we were going to do. He wanted us to take all these islands back from Japan. I thought it was real nice that he explained what we were going to do and how to do it and he said, “I’ll see you on the beach.” He was inspiring; he gave us a pep talk and it helped.
We had two large boats and two small boats and my job was to drive one of the small boats with men to the shore; the large boats took tanks, jeeps, and big equipment. We got the boats off the ship using a hydraulic crane or by letting the big ship take on water and tilt so we could let the boats down in ocean. I was out at sea when I learned how the big ship unloaded. We never trained on anything like that during basics; it was train and learn as we’d go.
There was usually mass confusion because there were so many people there and you didn’t know what was what. The ship could carry 6000 men at a time and would come within two miles of the shore and we fellows with small boats had to bring the men in safely to the island. They came off the side of the ship on rope ladders and into our small boats-there were many accidents just getting from the ship into the boat. They all stood in the boats, 60-100 standing up, and when we got to the beach, I’d let the ramp down and they’d try to get to shore.
It was tough-time and time again when I went to the beach not a single man had made it. You saw your friends go in the water. I don’t know how many we lost but I read later one of the toughest places was Iwo Jima and that Americans lost 10,000 men and the Japanese lost 30,000 in the three days we were there. I remember carrying seamen into shore and between the dead Japs and dead Americans I couldn’t get through the water-there were too many dead men floating in the water. But we got the soldiers to shore and we got the job done. For a period after the war I had nightmares from what I saw, but I got over it, blocked it out.
I still get information from the Navy Department and get magazines and they tell stories about different battles. All I can say is the Lord was with me. I was sitting right up there, in front, under fire. One of the men gave me a steel plate, and I remember holding in front of me to protect me and it helped.
Throughout 1944 we went to islands like Saipan and Marshall. We would go in a group of 50-60 ships that left and went from island to island. I found my ship was a replacement from the Normandy invasion. I was not in Europe but talked to fellows who called us “the replacements.”
We knew the Japanese were on all these islands. “Mass confusion” best describes the scene: the air was full of helicopters and blimps flying around the islands in such a large operation. You had to keep in your mind what you were supposed to do and get the job done. Today communication is better but back then we didn’t have so much. We got aboard the ship and the captain would get on the loud speaker and maybe it worked, but if it didn’t, he hollered and you hoped you heard it all.
When we went into the island we carried rifles and flame throwers. Flame throwers were a big thing because the Japanese were in caves and were shooting at us from them. We’d discharge the flame thrower in the cave opening and you could hear them holler ’cause it got everybody in there.
We would leave as many men on the islands to hold them as we could spare. We survived the best we could. Some had mattresses to throw on the ground some didn’t. If you were wounded you were sent to the medics on the beach and treated and if you survived, you were sent back to the hospital ship. We normally had a hospital ship close by. Lots of times I would take a bunch to the beach and bring wounded back to ship to drop them off-it was a fast turn around. Most of the time they were loaded and unloaded with rope ladders or we’d drop a basket down for the wounded and pull them up by hand.
The men knew the job that had to be done. Storming a beach they would fall in and do it. There were some that lost their mind and went berserk and your buddy had to hold you down because you couldn’t stop or you wouldn’t get into beach. It was do or die. And you knew you had to do it.
The water depth varied sometimes we’d pull up to beach and drop the ramp on dry ground, next time in five feet of water and they had to wade-you went in as close in as you could go. I’d say “get out” and they jump out and then you’d backup. The coral was rough. Sometimes it was sandy, sometimes muddy, but coral could cut the boat or cut your feet to pieces. I have seen it too rough to go in so we’d back up and go 100 yards down the beach to where it was perfectly smooth.
When the war ended I was in Guadalcanal. We had gone there and invaded it and took it over and we were loading ships with supplies to invade Tokyo and we were told we’d take over Japan so we had to take supplies with us. We always left from the port after so no one could see you or know when we were leaving.
When we heard that the war was over we were excited. We threw the trucks, bulldozers, and all heavy equipment overboard when they said you fellows can head home. We opened the side and dropped everything over in a few hours. There are a lot of 2 ton trucks, tanks, and bulldozers at bottom of ocean. We carried some stuff with us but we had to make room for men and we wanted to come home.
I got home six months later. I was transferred to another ship that carried the wounded to San Francisco. Then they moved me by troop train from San Fran to Jacksonville, Florida to get discharged in 1946. I was in the active reserves and stayed in that for several years but I guess I couldn’t stay still long so I joined the Air Force.
Last few years I have lost contact with many. Most have passed on. I went to reunions at first but haven’t for the last ten years.
I got married in 1948 to one of those five girls that was in my graduating class-Georgina Martin lived right up the road from where I lived. We wrote letters while I was in service. She did more corresponding than I did because she could write better than I could. We married 12 December 1948 and lived in Atlanta for about a year then came back to Luthersville and the homeplace. She had family in the Air Force and one in the army and one was a pilot. Between getting out of Navy and joining the Air Force I got into politics and was a county commissioner for four years and worked at several other jobs. I had a friend who was working for Holiday Inn and said if I came to Birmingham I could be the food service manager. Hotel management was a good job and I enjoyed it but it didn’t suit me so I moved on and joined the Air Force first with food service then as club manager of the NCO officers club. I went to the Philippines and moved about every two years: Tampa, Florida, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and more. I flew into Korea twice taking equipment but didn’t stay.
After the Air Force, I came back to Luthersville and was county commissioner again. I went to UGA for a short period of time under the GI Bill. I did not finish my degree in personnel management.
Shore leave did not happen much. I was a young fellow and in San Francisco or Treasure Island we were at liberty for 2-3 days. I visited San Diego, went to the zoo and to Mexico. Tijuana-that was a knock down, drag out place!
Pranks went on all time as you had to do something for amusement. We had these bunks that hung from the ceiling bulkhead and they’d get in there and short sheet us. You’d jump in at night tired, or they’d put in a balloon full of water and it would burst. Typical GI harassment and pranks. Or you’d fold the sheet back and they’d used a bottle of ketchup and you’d see the red on your hand and think you’d cut yourself. Showers and toilet pranks- you name it, GIs would think about it and do it.
The black market was something I didn’t involved in it except to get silk hose stockings or we always managed to get a case of beer here and there and trade it for this or that or cigarettes or food or entertainment. I went to USO shows. I remember meeting Bob Hope and got his picture signed and he handed it to me. USO shows had well known entertainers and when I ran the club in the Philippines we had contracts with some to come there-it was always a big deal when they came.
Camp Cecil Perkerson Post 186 will be holding a Spaghetti Supper on Saturday 18th of September from 5:30 until 7:30. Meal ticket price is $5 and children under six are free. Tickets may be obtained from Larry Whitlock, Claude Harman, Larry Dunaway, Dan Branch, Buster McCoy, Pete Johnson, Rob Cato, Ed Hobson, and John Norris.
I was born in a little place called Alps, Georgia. There wasn’t anything there but an old post office-three miles from Alvaton. I was born on an 140 acre farm. My daddy farmed cotton and corn, bought and sold hogs, and ran a little grocery store. I went to school in Alvaton and finished there in May 1940. I asked my dad if I could go in the Navy (they had to sign to let me go in) I told him I would stay there and help him make the crop this summer.
What made me interested in going in the Navy was I had two cousins and they came home in the summer of 1939 and had on white uniforms, shined shoes, and they had money in their pockets. That set me on fire and I said that’s what I want.
I went up to join the Navy in Atlanta and when I got there they told me they changed the rule and you signed from four years to six and that sort of scared me. I didn’t know if I wanted six years or not. Across the hall was the Coast Guard and you signed up for three years. I went over and talked with them and went into the Coast Guard September 2nd, 1940.
They sent me to Curtis Bay, Maryland for my basic training. I was there for about a month. I was supposed to be there for twelve weeks but they asked for volunteers to go open an air base in New Orleans. To show you how smart I was, I didn’t even know where New Orleans was. I stayed in New Orleans about a month. Back then the salt water was like drinking sulphur and I broke out in boils all over and they had to transfer me.
Then I was sent to a Coast Guard station in Sabine, Texas on the Sabine River and our duties were to check the ships on the river, it was a big river with ships with American pilots that would meet them in the Gulf and bring them in, and I would take down the name of the ships and what yard they were going to. The crux of things was I had never talked on a telephone in my life and liked to have scared me to death. I also had never ridden on a bus but had been on a train once. I stayed in Sabine from Dec. 1940 to June, 1941 when I was transferred to Paducah, Kentucky and went on this old Coast Guard buoy tender, old stern wheeler steam boat with big coal barge in front and we rolled it back to the machinery in a wheelbarrow.
Anyway we ran from Paducah to Chattanooga and it took about a week each way. Going one way we’d go through locks that would raise you up and then the other way let you down. It was exciting and had a lot of fun. The rivers: Ohio and Mississippi rivers merge at Paducah and around Cairo, Illinois the Tennessee River comes in and we traveled Huntsville, Guntersville, Decatur, Alabama. We had a lot fun. It was summertime and every night we’d rob people’s corn field and get groceries.
We were in Sheffield, Alabama when the war started or was declared. When we got back to Chattanooga they transferred me. I went to Curtis Bay, Maryland to the Calypso. We did North American convoy duty and escorted tankers and freighters helped with their protection. I was a gunner’s mate by that time. My training was on the Battleship New York for my gunnery training. The Calypso did not even have radar at first but they got radar by the time we started on our patrols-the first 6-8 months of the war was all visual. We would leave with fifty or sixty ships and escort them and maybe lose twelve or fifteen of them to submarines. We ran from New York to Key West, Florida and sometimes go to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. We would pick up convoys going north; the ones going south would usually go to North Africa. We would go so far and another convoy would pick them up.
I actually saw two ships sunk within sight of Virginia Beach-sunk by German subs. People would even be out there swimming that’s how close they were. After 8 or 10 months of subs, they started sending out dirigibles-balloons-to escort us and they could spot submarines underwater. They couldn’t go but thirty or forty miles per hour and we were running 10 to 12 knots. In bad weather we had old PVYs would escort-PVY planes based in Charleston, Savannah and Atlanta and other places.
We would help with rescue when ships would go down-the Calypso picked up 173 people over a period of two years. One distinct one was we were headed north and it was a Navy ship right in front of us and it was torpedoed and in two minutes it was gone-torn all to pieces. We picked up 20 something survivors. The worst experience I had in the whole war was when I was assigned to get a man back in the boat who was burned real bad. My duty was to man the depth charges. But I had to help the man, I grabbed hiss arm and came up with a handful of skin and meat. The man died later on the ship. He said he didn’t want to be any trouble but he was burned real bad. We picked up 23 that time.
One time we saw this boat with three men sitting up in it. When we got up to it-it was in the winter time-they were frozen stiff as a board-everyone was dead.
I was on the Calypso until April of ’43. I went aboard this ship before it was even finished being built. We went on as guards at night and I saw them pull the pin and launch it. The lady who was going to slam the champagne missed the ship, but when the ship hit the water it went against it and busted it. We had a month or two of exercises and break in the ship.
The AKA stands for Amphibious Cargo Attack. We carried the troops, boats, tanks, whatever. We went to England and then to Scotland and did training in each place. We were there for about the next months.
I never was out for rank. I knew I wasn’t going to stay in. I was a second class gunner’s mate. I was in charge of the 30 inch gun on the stern. I kept up with and maintained it. It took seven people to do operate or man it.
From North Africa we headed to Normandy but our captain had a heart attack and we were sent back so I missed Normandy but a month later we went back for the Invasion of Southern France in 1944. Naples was torn all to pieces from bombs. We tied up to a ship that was sunk on its side in the harbor. The Cepheus always traveled in formation with other ships. Our ships were escorted to Europe-we did not travel fast in a convoy.
We were on a ship that sent the boats and troops to the invasion and we were three or four miles from the beach and sent boats in to unload. I was on the five inch guns and shooting-I got orders with whatever angle to aim. One time my buddy who had to put the bullet in the gun and I pulled the lever and it was so big that it almost took his finger off-he never let me forget it. It happened to be in Marseilles when I did get to go ashore. It had not been bombed. It was a beautiful city. The German commander had told the man in charge to destroy the city and he did not do it. A lot of buildings were out of white marble. We saw very few people-the people were out in the country away from the shooting.
Ships had regular routines: breakfast every morning, lunch, dinner. About 450 people were on the Cepheus. There were staggered meal times by groups-150 could eat at a time. We had around 22 or more boats so 60 men could be gone. In Africa the cities were mobbed with Arabs but France was empty.
Ships had to supply shore patrol a couple of times a week. We found a place that had real good cognac. We emptied our canteens and filled them with cognac. Bringing it back to the ship we saw an MP arresting a sailor and the sailor wasn’t giving any trouble at all so we didn’t stop but we walked on by. The MP hollered that we had refused to help him arrest. We were thrown in jail and our belts and canteens were taken off. But the MP captain came and vouched for us and we got out with our canteens.
We left in Sept or Oct 1944 and came back to the states. I had three years sea duty so they made me take six months shore duty. Hardest duty I had the whole time. I went to Maine with snow very deep for guard duty. They sent me to the west coast got on a train from Bangor, Maine and got off in San Francisco. I caught a troop ship and went to the Marshall islands went on an old gasoline thing that hauled aviation fuel. I never left port because the war ended and they sent me on the coast guard cutter Spencer about 350 foot that carried troops to Jenson, Korea we stayed there a week or ten days. We carried troops to Shanghai, China.
Each ship has to supply so many shore patrols and a buddy made me his driver. So we road up and down the streets of Shanghaiin his jeep patrolling. If you had not known you would have thought you were in New York City with the big buildings. Companies came in and built refineries and all that were very modern. The Japanese yen took 400000 to make one dollar. When it was exchanged, you could not put it in your pocket. I tried to pick up things for my three sisters at home: a bracelet, a watch, a necklace and I gave my mother a watch I bought in Shanghai.
We left Shanghai on Christmas Day 1945 and went to San Diego through the Panama Canal to New York. It took 38 days. We dropped troops in San Diego and picked up supplies and moved on.
When I came home on leave in 1944 after getting off the Cepheus. My dad ran a country store. I met one of my old teachers and a young lady my daddy introduced me to named Virginia. We went together ten straight days and fell in love immediately.
After the Cepheus it was the Spencer. I was corresponding with Virginia-it took a letter about two weeks to get to us. I had three brothers in the Army I was within two miles of my oldest brother and we were all in the Philippines and none of us knew it until we got back home.
I bought a monkey in the Philippines. The captain told me I had to get rid of it so I had to put it in back on the boat. It had a chain and road on my shoulder and did tricks.
We never got to see USO shows because most were on the shore. We had a place to see movies on the ship. In Italy I was walking down the street and asking where the USO was and I heard someone yell Pierce. It was a neighbor who farmed next to my granddad’s and we played together in the summer.
Entertainment on the ship: Poker and pulled pranks. Hide things. I had a little building 10 by 8 with my equipment in it and cleaning materials and paint whatever was needed for the guns. The Cepheus had two five inch 38 guns. 8 or 10 forty mm and 8-10 20 mm guns scattered twenty or thirty feet apart. The Spencer that I was on sank the first German sub in WW2 in the North Atlantic. There were 18 or 20 survivors picked up including the captain. The ship had a place deep in the ship for prisoners or sailors. We had a Philippino cook that threw an Irish potato at the Germans and hit a shipmate and nearly put his eye out. When we had prisoners they sailed with us on patrol until we got to a convenient port. Those prisoners ended up being sent to Georgia. POWs were helping in cotton gins and with crops here.
The Higgins boat came in all sizes and we had big booms to put the boats in the water and nets lowered the soldiers into the boats. We took troops into Africa but the fighting was almost over, we took them into Sicily and Angio.
There is an old song about the Isle of Capri and I went around it, I went under it in the Blue Lagoon, and I went to the top of it. You had to lay down in the boat to get in the opening but all the colors reflecting in the cave were beautiful. They had taxis that criss-crossed up the steep mountain to get to the top of it.
The most military action I was involved in was Southern France. There was an air raid in Italy and we had to go to general quarters and one of our ships got hit, but I was not in too much actual fighting other than dropping depth charges on the Calypso.
We would be right over submarine and drop depth charges and I got to set the depth 30 to 100 feet depending on where it was. The wall of water would make a terrific pile of water sent into the air as much as a sixty feet. If we hit the sub the oil would come to the surface. I carried the key to set the depth charges in my pocket.
Carried through the war for luck: I carried a buckeye through the war for luck. Our everyday uniform was a blue denim shirt and dungarees and I got one of those white suits. We had one dress white suit with stripes on the collars. On liberty you wore the whites. Shore leave usually started at noon and lasted until the next morning. We’d go to beer joints, talk. In New York you could take a dime and go all over New York so we had a lot fun there.
I stayed in the Coast Guard from Sept 1940 to June 1946-one day I saw the bulletin board sign say “anyone that wants out, come sign up.” I went in and filled out the papers and in a week’s time I was home. We got lax and lazy after the war and didn’t have to keep up the guns. When I came home for leave in 1946 and went car looking I didn’t see what I wanted. They had a motorcycle and I bought it and next day rode to Charleston SC. When I got my discharge I got on my motorcycle and had to ride to NY and a friend rode with me. I had a girlfriend in Connecticut and I went to see her rode the motorcycle from Harvard Connecticut to Greenville, Ga in two days.
Ten days time after being discharged I had a job and went to work with Southeast Pipeline Company in Griffin, GA making $1.10 an hour and I thought I was going to be rich. I had a great uncle who got me the job. No personal problems going from military to civilian life.
I married Virginia while I was in Griffin and Virginia taught school in Sunnyside. We had been talking about going into the nursery business with her mother. She quit teaching and I quit working and we lived with her family for three years. I started growing boxwood, I sold automobiles for Hines Motor Co, I worked for the government, I sold insurance and started building the nursery. It took us ten years to get it sustaining.
The Cepheus reunions-the first one I went to was in 1999 but they had started five years earlier but I didn’t feel like I could turn loose and go. I went to Philadelphia first then Maine. I hosted it in Georgia then we met in West Texas, then New York. To this day I have had three good buddies that write or we call each other. The oldest is 90 years old and was in on the cognac story. “Dutch” Noble was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Kansas and his father came over from the old country. When they got to New York they asked where they were going and they said Pittsburgh and they were sent to Pittsburgh, Kansas where they had to sell apples on the street for a long time. They had three girls and four boys but they all grew up and got a college education. He is in the Colorado Hall of Fame for being a football coach and the stadium there is name after him. Another buddy became a football coach in Mississippi. One was an electrician, one a farmer, and another went into computers and one is in the printing business in New York.
The first reunion in 1999 there were 58 of us and the last reunion in 2009 there were 11 of us. They think this is probably going to be the last year. I am looking forward to the Honor/Freedom Flight in April 23, 2010 to Washington DC.
I never have been depressed a day in my life; I look on the bright side. I made up my mind not to stay in the service but have a good time while I was in it and not worry about rank. I went in making 21 dollars a month and when I got out I was making $96 from overseas duty pay. I bought a $75 war bond every month and sent it home. When I came home on my first leave in 1941, I had $121 in my pocket because I had no where to spend it. We had nothing to do but play cards and swim in the Sabine River. We had a savings bank and I kept my money there. My daddy in 1933 had made ten bales of cotton and got $250 for a year’s work. He had to quit farming the next year after the war. The blacks who had been helping him on the farm got better jobs so he had to stop farming and he ran the store.
Shore leave in uniform: we were treated like kings. We hitchhiked everywhere in the US and even waited on a Cadillac or Buick instead of taking the first Ford that came by because we wanted a better car! One time I hitchhiked to Atlanta in one day using only two cars.
Pictures framed: Medals-Occupation Service Medal, WW2 Medal (everyone in service gets one of those), China Service, Pacific Southwest medal, European-Africa Middle East medal where I served. June 23rd 1946 I was discharged-I got out a month and a half early. Virginia and I married in 1947 and were married 62 years.
Silver dollars-on the troop train from Maine to San Francisco. We stopped in Ogden, Utah to let another train go by and had to wait two hours. Naturally we went to the beer joint. All I had was a twenty dollar bill for a beer that cost a dime. I got change-19 silver dollars and nine dimes. He said I had to drinkup the rest! O=I picked out one it was a 1921 silver dollar that I declared I would never spend because it was minted the year I was born-I still have it.
In 1980 going to see daughter Jo in California I went back to Ogden to see the little old beer joint which was still there. I pulled out the silver dollar and the owner said it was his grandfather’s place then and that he had died two months before. We also had half dimes-not nickels-back then that I carried around too. This one is dated 1841.
Post Commander-Alfred J. Mccoy, Adjutant/Secretary-Claude P. Harman Jr., Treasurer-Herbert Y (Pete) Johnson, Senior Vice-Larry Witlock, Junior Vice-John Powell, Junior Vice-Larry S. Dunaway, Chaplain-Robert L. Infinger Jr., Judge Advocate-Vernon Phillips, Sergeant-At-Arms-Robert B. Cato, Historian-Edward Hobson, Service Officer-Henry E. Lanier.
Friday, April 23rd will live as a memorable day in the lives of eighty seven veterans from the west Georgia and east Alabama areas who took part in the Honor Flight to Washington DC.“Royal Treatment” would be the apt term to describe the adventure, tour, and special guidance ladled out for those of the “Greatest Generation” who fought for world wide freedom.
Pierce Tidwell, who served in 1944 on the USS Cepheus and its 38 mm gun crew, was part of every one of the fighting theatres back in World War II: European, Pacific, China, Burma, India plus Korea. For him this trip was, “Impressive and more.”
Pierce’s daughter Alice Brown picked him up in Greenville and he stayed overnight with her in Fortson as it was an early 4:30 wake up call for the vets to report at the airport at 6 am in Columbus. After breakfast at the airport, the special accolades began with the crowds clapping, cheering, and waving flags not to mention councilmen, the mayor, and other political representatives there to thank the vets for their spirit, sacrifice, commitment, and service.
It took time to load and unload the travelers, Pierce said, because there were a lot of wheel chairs.For every veteran there was usually one guardian.Pierce, an active and outdoors gentleman, shared a guardian with another veteran and they both enjoyed making the acquaintance of guardian Chuck Hecht, administrator of Muscogee Home Health who stayed close and really took care of them.
The man in charge at the airport sent the veterans off with the message, “See you tonight about 8 o’clock,” but Friday traffic bumped their ETA back three hours later just giving the vets more time for camaraderie and to tell tales.
The travelers were met in Washington by “Big Brass” or generals who welcomed them and thanked them for their World War II service. They loaded buses and went to the World War II Memorial located on prime real estate on the National Mall between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.
The memorial was built to honor the 16 million who served in the armed forces, the more than 400,000 who died, plus the millions at home who supported the war effort. It was built from $197 million in donations and completed in 2004. Pierce especially enjoyed seeing the pillars for each state, Freedom Wall, and the Field of Stars. The veterans made a group picture there and will be given a video of their day long trip.
Boarding the bus where they ate box lunches, the veterans toured the Korean Memorial which is near the Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool.The granite memorial and impressive sculptures contain the classic message reminding viewers that “Freedom is not Free.” Pierce enjoyed seeing the Iwo Jima Memorial immortalizing the famous photo of soldiers struggling to raise the flag.
A highlight for Pierce was touring Arlington National Cemetery a sight he had driven by but never toured.The veterans filled four large trams and took a couple hours to go through the 690 acres where war casualties, presidents, chief justices, explorers, and historical figures are buried. “The immaculate maintenance and beautiful lay out are so impressive,” Pierce said.
The group’s last stop was to see the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Pierce said he was positioned within ten feet of one end and saw everything perfectly.The veterans were amazed at the soldiers’ precision special march and salute that takes so much practice by the all volunteer group.
This Honor Flight was precluded from being given the usual military salute by fire trucks hosing down the plane because of its late departure from Baltimore as they were delayed by Friday evening traffic on the Beltway and the illness of one veteran. But the camaraderie on the trip was special too as Pierce learned that veteran Roy Goolsby’s brother was on the flight and lives across the street from his sister Betty Brown in Manchester!
Returning in the late hours to Columbus was the biggest treat of all as the weary veterans were met by a group of well wishers totaling 12-1300 waving flags and cheering.A band played military songs as the veterans walked in and met their families.Pierce had a throng of family and friends numbering over twenty five including his sister Betty Brown, Irene Matthews and Janice Garrett from Gay, nieces and nephews and their families, Piece’s daughter Alice and her daughter Ella, Pierce’s son Bo and his daughter Beth and friend Chase Hudson.
But the day was memorable for the heroes and as Pierce said, “Grand: everything I expected and more.”
American Legion Camp Cecil Perkerson Post 186 held its annual picnic on June 19, 2010 at the American Legion building in Greenville. The room had been recently transformed by Toots Hobson (center, below) into a history lesson with posters and photos of twentieth century wars and battle pictures plus local memorabilia.
The tables were decorated in festive red, white, and blue and a delicious cookout was finished with churns of homemade ice cream and pound cake. Rob Cato and John Norris presented clips of the American Veterans interviews being conducted and Sally Neal was recognized for interviewing and publishing the memories of Meriwether veterans. Dan Gabriel was thanked for his technology wizardry and equipment used in the interviews.
Post leader Buster McCoy (right) recognized and named Edward Hobson (left) the Legionnaire of the Year 2009/2010 for his Outstanding Service and Dedication to Post 186.
Greenville’s American Legion FDR Post 186 has been conducting interviews at Camp Cecil Perkerson of our World War II veterans for the Library of Congress’ Experiencing War: Stories from the Veterans’ History Project.
The following interview of Nathaniel R. Crowder, better known as Dickie Crowder, was conducted on January 14, 2010. Mr. Crowder passed away on March 5th.
In his own words, this is Part One of his interview.
I grew up on Crowder Road, Warm Springs and have been there all my life except for my military overseas tour. I attended elementary school at Durand School through ninth grade and then high school for three years at Manchester High graduating in May, 1940.
Everybody worked at scratching out a living, times were better after the Great Depression. I was tired of school and begged not to have to go to school but my parents wanted me to be a county agent. When I was digging foxholes in Italy I said if I ever get home I am going to stay at home. My sweetheart waited for me, we married, fixed up the tenant house on the farm and have been living there sixty years.
I didn’t enlist; I was drafted. I was attending West Georgia College and had been there two years. I paid for college with money I made in 4-H Club showing beef cattle. I showed Herefords; there were only three breeds then: Angus, Hereford, and Shorthorn.
I was drafted. The draft started in1940 and men would go in and get twelve months training. Every month a new group would go in. The Japs hit Pearl Harbor December 1941 and I was notified in the mail to come in. Draft classifications went from 1A to 4F. In June, 1942, I was at West Georgia College and they had lowered the draft age from 21 to 18 and colleges had a quota of men to send into the military.
Dickie Crowder in uniform
I went to Fort McPherson in Atlanta where they examined me then let me come home for four or five days. They issued us uniforms, then sent us to Camp Wolters, Mineral Wells, Texas, the Infantry Replacement Training Center. We had to walk and run everywhere we went-like to run us to death!
I spent fourteen weeks there. I was trained to shoot the Garand M1 Browning automatic 30 caliber, 30 caliber lightweight and heavy weight machine guns, 60 mm and 81 mm machine guns-the implements the infantry toted everywhere. The heavy machine guns even had a water cooling thing on them. We shot Springfield 1917 rifles too and shot tank grenades with it. Basic training did not teach saluting or parading, but trained us to go fight.
After fourteen weeks, we were sent to Pennsylvania’s Shenango Valley on troop train then to a tar paper shack in Rhode Island as it was near Newport News, our port of embarkation. I walked off the train and onto a ship July 13, 1943 that sailed the next morning and in seven days we were in Casablanca, French Morocco. We unloaded and tried to find out where we were. (They never told you where you were going because the enemy might find out.) Got the GIs on a train and they took us through the country for five or six days. It was a double header coal burning steam engine. We went through the Atlas Mountains crossing Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia to Iran and Algeria. We were covered by the black coal smoke from going through hundreds of tunnels.
Outside of Iran we joined the 34th Infantry Division, an anti tank company of the 133rd Infantry Regiment. They had fought through Africa and lost half their men
That was August 1943. We slept on the ground, saw so many shooting stars, and had the chance to swim in Mediterranean Sea.
We went to battle training. Our artillery would fire barrages and we’d move up and pray the boys moved their guns right so we would not get hit. After training, we came back to Iran and prepared trucks, guns, and equipment for the invasion of Italy under Commanding General Charles Bolte, a two star general.
The Africa campaign squad I was in was an anti tank squad of six men counting the truck driver. We fought with thirty mm guns and learned they just bounced off German tanks. They we were in the desert of Africa, sandy and windy and dusty and we saw this jeep coming with a red tag with two silver stars and I said, I bet that’s General Patton. The jeep stopped and this sergeant went to him as he was the high ranking soldier there and saluted him and Patton asked him some questions: “Where’s your rifle, son?” Sgt. Wiggs got his rifle and presented arms and Patton took it and couldn’t see through barrel because of the dust. Patton threw the rifle on the ground and cussed and told him if he had to fire, he couldn’t, he’d get killed and no one would care.”
We got our equipment ready for the invasion of Italy. We invaded on the 9th September 1943 in Salerno. We were not an invasion force but were equipped to invade. The Germans had retreated so we had a beach head to land on-an amphibious landing. They knew old Dickie was coming. On the ships we manned the guns because there was only a skeleton crew so we manned the twin 20 mm antiaircraft gun. It took three or four days in convoy going slow to get to Italy.
Going over we saw only one plane, probably taking pictures. Each boat had a cable with a balloon up at about 150 feet to keep planes from dive bombing you. Planes have to dodge the balloon and get thrown off course to get to the boat.
We landed at Salerno beachhead without trouble and went to our area and got grouped up and began to chase Germans. We were the rear guard action. We were sitting on top of a 2 ½ ton GMC six by sixes, Dodges came later but couldn’t climb the mountains. The Dodge trucks had wenches and we had to use the wenches to pull them up the mountains. But there was no need to go into the mountains because there were no tanks there.
We chased Germans out of area south and east of Naples. Every two or three months we’d get relieved for a weeks rest fifteen miles back of front lines. If Germans happened to break lines, we had to be ready. While we rested we would clean equipment and get new replacements for the men killed or wounded.
One time traffic was bumper to bumper and all of sudden, boom, boom, and German guns shot toward us and a shell hit fifty yards away. We scrambled off the truck and start digging foxholes; we could see the flash of guns but what we were hearing was delayed. Then our artillery threw a shell into them. The German blew up bridges, culverts just about anything to delay our advancing. Progress, the news reports would say, was measured in yards. We worked our way through mountains and over the Volturno River-it was either mountains or mud. In January we made it to Cassino.
Cassino was where the big monastery was, the Germans had a mainline defense across Italy and Cassino took four months to capture. There was a river in the valley down from Cassino and we couldn’t get across river at that time. We were sent to the mountains to be litter bearers and bring back the wounded. Then they pulled us away from there and set us up with anti tank guns 1000 yards out of Cassino expecting the Germans to break through and our job was to stop them. After a week of watching the monastery and the German jeeps going back and forth, they called and wanted us to shoot down the steeples that the artillery shells had not hit. We knew it would bring down German artillery fire on us. I was on my gun.
This old house we were staying in was bound to get shelled. The third day they shelled us good and heavy. A couple men were wounded but nothing serious. When the barrage was over here came this Italian mother with her thirteen year old daughter. She pulled up the girl’s dress and down panties to show us that most of the girl’s buttocks were blow away by shrapnel. There was no bleeding because the hot metal shrapnel sealed it, the girl was not crying because of shell shock. The people had been hiding under the house. We doctored it with sulphur and sent her to medics.
After 2-3 weeks there we were moved to a staging area. Rumors were flying that we were “Going home” to tour the U.S. selling war bonds. But it was just rumors, we were there to get us ready for Anzio Beach. I came down with malaria fever and they shipped me to a hospital. American nurses gave us pajamas and pills. I was in the hospital for ten days. I asked to be put back in outfit but had to be put in the “repo depo” or replacement depot down in Naples where soldiers unloaded from their boats and were sent to the different units. We could see Mount Vesuvius there as it erupted.
Meals: Two meals a day. We stood in chow lines all day-five to six hours in a chow line. But when we were mobile there were K rations and Z rations. The K ration came in a box sealed in heavy wax, like a Cracker Jack box size, with breakfast, lunch, and supper units. A can of potted meat, four crackers, package soluble coffee, pack sugar, and four cigarettes. The dinner unit had same thing but lemonade and cheese and the supper unit meat was meat and vegetable hash or stew. We got onions from the Italians or potatoes or stole chickens. We had a gas stove made by Coleman that would hold ½ pint gasoline to heat water for coffee. We threw the soluble coffee away and got ground coffee in twenty pound cans. We could heat water for coffee in coffee cans holding it with pliers over the heat. I learned dirt won’t kill you. The coffee was dirty but still coffee.
On to Anzio, Rome, and Victory
The war in Italy was fought by the U.S. Infantry and the British and it slugged through mud and over mountains. They used mules to bring us ammunition, food, and water to the front lines. The Germans had laid mines everywhere to catch us even as they retreated.
Anzio was south of Rome and there were six divisions of Germans there that stopped our invasion. We unloaded on ducks and were the first platoon when we heard a shell coming. We had heard of the Anzio Express, a gun the Germans had built on a railroad car and then backed it into a tunnel where the air corps could not reach it. The gun killed five of our men and they had just been put in our company and had seen no action.
We sat at the coastline or Beachhead for 2-3 weeks before being sent to the main line of defense to replace the troops there. I stayed there 43 days and nights in a dugout-no bath, no shave, no change of clothes, and what little water we got we made coffee out of. But on May 23rd we made the big push and broke through. What started in January was finally over and the Germans were badly beaten so we moved toward Rome. We were told we were the first army in history to have captured Rome from the South.
The Allies liberated Rome on the 5 day of June 1944 and the crowds welcomed us cheering. We went though Rome the next day at 40 mph in our truck. We got this hard candy in our rations and the people were waving and cheering us on and we threw them the candy. We could see the Coliseum in distance. Then it was back to rear guard action as the Germans were retreating and putting up a good bit of resistance.
We stayed in the Apennine Mountains that winter. There is a big valley between Florence and Bologna and we wanted to break there before winter set in. It snowed the first of December and we didn’t see the ground until the first of April. It was stand still action with a lot of artillery firing.
We had a three day battle before we got to Liverno and Pisa, but the Germans threw up a strong hold and we had a battle with them. We got in the middle of town and were stuck where the convoy stopped, and we could hear and see a German plane coming. We jumped off our truck and ran to the doorway of a building and thank goodness it was open. The pilot kicked out antipersonnel bombs (like grenades) and they were dropping down everywhere. Our truck driver was wounded by small shrapnel.
We went on with little resistance. The Italian countryside was not pretty. They tell me Italy is a pretty country but it was too torn up then. In Pisa, we went right by the Leaning Tower and up the interstate highway-they already had an autostrasse. But we turned toward the mountains to relieve an outfit that was fighting there and give them rest. I was promoted to truck driver and one day a special service officer called our company and wanted to go into Florence. “Crowder, you’ll be a good one to take us.” The officer knew the way into Florence and directed me to his meeting and I had to wait 1 ½ to 2 hours so I wandered around and peeked into buildings. I was a country boy and didn’t know the history of Florence. I did not see the Ponte Vecchio Bridge with the shops, but I saw this cathedral with lots of art work. Time was up and I took the officer back and went back to the company and into the mountains. It was late September and we wanted to break the German main line defense and get out of mountains. They stopped us. We were moved around, slept on the ground when we could sleep.
Two men in a dugout at Montecatini
We were with rifle companies or just behind them. One sunshiny afternoon all action that night and daytime had been quiet so I and six litter bearers put white crosses with adhesive tape on our helmets and left behind all our weapons even pocket knives. We worried if German machine guns would open up and mow us down. We heard “halt” and three German soldiers who spoke in English asked if we were looking for our comrade. “Got any cigarettes?” they asked and we loaded them down with them. We talked about when the war would be over and we all hoped it would. We saw a human side of the Germans and they thought like we did, we just all wanted to go home. The Germans pointed exactly where to go to find the wounded man with his leg torn up that was on patrol the night before. As we left, we looked back, but the soldiers had disappeared-they were very good at camouflage.
Then winter set in. The snow looked like baseballs falling. Things were at a standstill. But we had better clothing than our first winter and good sleeping bags.
April 16, 1945, we broke through and went into the Po Valley. My unit, the 133rd Infantry Regiment was the first troop into the Po Valley or what we called the “Promised Land.” We saw big Navy trucks and boats going to put a pontoon bridge over the Po River. We started toward Milan where the big opera house was. This was May and we were told the war was over, but when we would drive by convoys of Germans, we didn’t know if they would shoot or if they knew it was over.
The Po Valley was the "Promised Land" to GIs as WWII neared its end. Crowder took this photo from his truck as he crossed the pontoon bridge over the Po River ferrying POWs.
Finally there was no more fighting. About 3 one morning we loaded our truck and moved out driving 170 miles back to Bologna to the pontoon bridge. We moved POWS to a compound-driving for three days straight. The Germans were ready to give up. I lay down on the cement floor at my company and slept twelve hours. I woke up, ate, and I went back to sleep. The next morning had to go get more POWS.
There really was no celebrating; everyone was somber. There were various rumors that the SS troops, Hitler’s elite troops were going to raise hell and we were to be sent to stop them, but thank goodness they never showed up.
I never learned to speak much Italian other than put my knuckle into my cheek and say buono. The Italian people and Partisans finished driving the Germans out and they placed Mussolini’s bullet filled body and his mistress on display. At a service station an Italian had pictures of Mussolini and his concubine hanging by the feet. I tried to buy them, but he refused to sell them. That would be a souvenir. Over the years friends have asked what souvenirs I brought home; I really just wanted to get Dickie home!
We moved to the city of Torino and camped. There were older men who had been in service awhile and who could have gotten out 3 or 4 times that were sent home first but they still had to have replacements. There is a lot of planning to do to end a war. We waited around and cleaned equipment and generally refused to do calisthenics. We played ball though.
I drove trucks from Torino to Genoa and the Italian Riviera for the rest of my time overseas unloading soldiers and going back for more-there was no time to rest or play. We were there a month before we moved across the northern part of Italy to Trieste. From Trieste we moved to Austria and Yugoslavia. There were a lot of street fights and they wanted us to be MPs, but I’m not going to arrest the first soldier no matter how drunk he is because he would try to kill me. I would ride right past unless he had fallen and I could take him back to his outfit. The Italians and Yugoslavs had big parades that ended in street fights that we were supposed to monitor.
Finally they took us by train to Rome (which I didn’t get to see) and then to Naples to get on the boat to go home. We waited three weeks for boat to get back to take us. We got home (U.S.) and unloaded from the troop carrier on same gangplank at the Hampton Road point of embarkation that we left on. Then it was back to Camp Patrick Henry, then into rail cars going to different parts country. I went to Fort Gordon near Augusta and on 9 November 1945 was discharged from the army six days after I got off boat in Newport News.
From time I left Fort Mac to getting back to Atlanta and saw my sweetheart, I never saw a person I knew in my life. Met and made friends with soldiers from all over the United States though. Woodbury, GA was stamped on some of the boxes that got to us.
I always felt fortunate to have fought against Germans instead of Japs. Thinking back over the greatest dangers I was in: once we heard a German shell when we were crossing the Volturno River and we caught it. We had to ford the river to get away and our truck was the second truck to go over. Our driver loosened the fan belt to help it go through. The Germans had a machine gun 200 yards away that was shooting over the tops of our heads. He couldn’t lower his gun evidently and we worked under those bullets all night long. We used cables and wenches and got the truck across.
The next day was the first day I saw a German aircraft dive bombing a bridge. They came down the valley no higher than the roof tops of a one story building. The pilot would wave at us, drop bombs, and then disappear.
The thing I was most afraid of was shells coming at you. You could hear them coming and soon learned if one was coming directly at you. The shells would hit the ground and shrapnel blown around 20 to 25 feet where it burst and riddled. 150 feet away, you were safe. The tubular mortar shells at Anzio Beach were awful. Two men from the rifle company and three from gun squad stayed in a foxhole all day and just moved from day to night duty. Every night someone would go back 750 yards to get rations. One night it was quiet and I got out to relieve myself and I heard something thump, thump. I dove back in the foxhole where the three men were and just got in when two mortar shells hit not fifteen feet away. I heard the sound when they fired-doesn’t make much sound. But we had to get water and rations, and they constantly fired flares to try to spot us.
We had a battle one afternoon when they put us at a spot where they were expecting the Germans to attack at daylight. We were in a big old farmhouse and we set our gun on the road where the Germans would travel so we could knock out their tanks. We dug our guns in a circle, 18 inches deep to protect the tires. We dug and dug and found chips of pottery and pitched them out of the way. We got the truck into a garden area, put our camo net over and went to the ground floor where the livestock were and used their feeding troughs for beds. Our driver got Italian wine and drank so much he passed out. The Germans shelled us at three in morning. I drug the driver into the house as he was laying on ground. The shutters were closed on the upper floors and nobody answered, but about mid morning we heard the squeaking of shutters opening. “Americans?” They could tell by our uniforms we weren’t German and they hugged and kissed us and we got in with the Italians pretty good. The mother cooked us a spaghetti dinner. I watched her make the dough and strips and she used a rock oven and cooked bread. Her spaghetti was more like lasagna pasta strips.
Once we got into an olive grove and got into a “Bouncing Betty,” a small land mine or tin can loaded with metal scraps and a cylinder with a charge of dynamite. The Germans had rigged it with trip wires and a charge and it would bounce off the ground. We had a man get cut right in two the first night.
Seeing so much death had an affect. Our commander went crazy as he had lost a lot of men in Africa. Some soldiers refused to go back into battle and would walk right toward the Germans. I saw two men shoot themselves to keep from going back into battle-one shot himself with a Thompson in foot.
Living on C rations was no picnic. They came with three cans: one of meat, beans or stew or hash and hard tack biscuits that were so hard we would throw them in puddles and they would still be there days later.
I saw some modes and practices of farming that were fifty years behind us-plowing fields with an ox pulling wooden plows shaped from a crooked tree. They had huge hogshead barrels and we saw girls walking carrying these on their heads.
The Italians had weak wine with all their meals-they were very poor and their country torn to bits. I didn’t see many Italians as they all left the areas where the fighting was. When we did see families, they always asked for salt and soap.
We were paid every three months $42 a month then they added 10% to that when we went overseas. I had my paycheck sent home. Others were paid in cash and most gambled playing poker or craps. One guy asked me to keep his money for him as he had won 600 dollars gambling. If you didn’t gamble there wasn’t a point in having money on the front lines-we could not even buy Coca Cola but they would try to get us Cokes twice a month.
I dreamed of being home for three years and what I was going to do and say. Then I get home and I am altogether different. My family said I talked blue breeze I was just so relieved to be alive and home. I almost didn’t recognize family members who had grown up.
I had called my girl friend in Atlanta and told her what time my bus was leaving from Augusta with soldiers. I remember seeing her and her friend come in the bus station and we had a good embrace and kiss. She had written me everyday, but mail call was every two or three weeks and then I would get a handful of mail. My sweetheart wrote everyday, my mother wrote twice a week and my aunt and sister wrote every week. I am sure a lot letters never got to me, but I was very fortunate: a lot of close calls, artillery and mortar barrages, I dreaded most the machine guns you couldn’t get away from, but snipers were not after buck privates! Shipped home on the boat, I was promoted to corporal then made staff sergeant and finished as supply sergeant for our company.
Dickie Crowder's mother gave him a special book of prayer published by the Methodist Church when he left to go overseas. He carried the book in his jacket for three years while he was in WWII.
Men with a 57mm gun
Crowder met and made friends with soldiers from all over the United S. The two shown above are Gerald Betro from Walpole, MA and Willard Wiggs from Onawa, IA. They were with Crowder for most of his time in Italy. Most veterans interviewed always remember seeing a familiar face or old friends when serving in WWII, but Dickie Crowder said from the time he left Fort Mac to getting back to Atlanta, he never saw a person he knew.