Captain Edwin Floyd of the Columbus Army Air Field presents Mrs. Mattie Burnette of Columbus with her son’s Air Medal after his death in aerial combat over Europe. Photo by: Courtesy photo
May 25, 2013 8:28:14 PM
Often the photos are faded and bent, and though fewer and fewer remain who remember the names, their sacrifice is still ours to honor. They include the members of the "Greatest Generation," who gave their lives so we could be free. That whole generation is fast leaving us, which means it is up to us to pass on their legacy.
Growing up in Columbus in the 1950s and '60s, I recall hearing the stories of heroes like Jessie "Red" Franks and Howard Nolan. They are names I rarely hear now but names that should not be forgotten. They and many other Americans lost their lives in the service of our country. This Memorial Day weekend, I think we all need to take time from our holiday to remember those who have enabled us to even have a holiday.
During World War II, my father was a tail gunner on a B-17 that was shot down over Frankfurt, Germany, and he spent a year as a German prisoner of war. His mother kept a scrapbook during that time, placing in it the newspaper accounts of many area servicemen who were killed.
There was Gunter Watson, a first lieutenant in the 350th "Battle Mountain" Regiment of the 88th "Blue Devils," serving in the Italian campaign.
Lt. Watson was killed in combat "purportedly near the Po Valley and Bologna." Shortly before his family received a telegram notifying them of his death, his father had received from him a German helmet and German pack mule saddle he had seized. Watson was awarded the Bronze Star posthumously.
David Tandy was a graduate of Lee High School and was attending Mississippi State, where he was a Kappa Alpha and business manager of the football team when Pearl Harbor was attacked. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps and became a B-26 pilot in Europe. He died in France on Jan. 22, 1945 due to injuries received in action. PFC James Hollingsworth was also killed in France in January 1945, but details of his death were not provided.
Lt. Howard Noland of Columbus was a B-26 pilot in the European Theater and died as a result of injuries suffered in an aircraft accident at Hatfield Heath, England. Second Lt. James Burnette of Columbus was also killed on a bombing mission over "enemy-occupied" Europe.
Captain James Dickson of Aberdeen was attending Ole Miss before enlisting in the Army Air Corps in January 1942. He was a fighter pilot in the 8th Fighter Command of the 8th Air Force and was credited with destroying five German planes. He first flew a P-47 Thunderbolt and later a P-51 Mustang. He was shot down and killed over Germany on April 8, 1944.
For "extraordinary achievement" in flying 80 combat missions and for the destruction of enemy planes in aerial combat, he was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with one Oak Leaf Cluster and the Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters.
A story that has always stuck in my mind is that of one of my father's close friends, "Red" Franks. Jessie "Red" Franks was the son of Dr. Jessie D. Franks, the minister at First Baptist Church in Columbus. Red was popular and a born leader. He attended Mississippi State, where he played football and was elected student body president. After graduating from State, he pursued his goal of following his father's calling and enrolled in the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. When World War II broke out, he was exempt from the draft because he was a theology student, but he felt he owed a duty to his country and enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He became a bombardier on a B-24 Liberator stationed in North Africa.
On Aug. 1, 1943, 178 B-24s took off from airfields in Libya, headed for the important German oil refineries at Ploesti, Rumania. Red was a bombardier on one of those planes.
His was one of 53 B-24s that were shot down, and he was killed. Realizing the danger of the raid, Red had written to his father the night before that although the B-24 was designed for high altitude bombing "we are going in at 50 feet above our target." Red was "glad" to be in a position to help destroy an important Nazi facility and added, "So, Dad, remember that, and the cost, whatever it may be, was not in vain."
Memorial Day is a time we should pause and reflect on all who have come before us and given their lives for us, be it in Europe, Africa, the Pacific or Vietnam or the Middle East or wherever Americans have served.
All too often, Memorial Day becomes more about beer and barbeque and not about remembering the faded images of those who died in service to America.
So this day, let us all stop and take some time to reflect and honor those who, in giving their lives, made it possible for us to enjoy ours.
Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at [email protected]
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