Rufus Ward: Columbus and D-Day

June 6, 2010 1:53:00 AM

Rufus Ward - [email protected]


Last week was Memorial Day. It is the day set aside to honor the men and women who made the supreme sacrifice to preserve our freedom. Those souls and all who have in the past and those who today serve and protect us should be honored every day not just on Memorial Day or Veterans Day. 


Today marks the 66th anniversary of D-Day and it brings to mind the role that people from our area played in World War II. Though World War II seems like old history now, I grew up surrounded by relatives to whom it was very real.  


My father, a B-17 tail gunner, was shot down over Frankfurt, Germany, captured and taken to Stalag Luft IV where Dr. Julian Boggess was also held as a prisoner of war. Tom Hardy was a corsair pilot in the South Pacific. Jack Kaye was also a pilot in the Pacific. Bill McCarter was the forward fire control director for an artillery battery in Europe. Carleton Billups was a B-25 pilot in Europe. And 66 years ago today Orman Kimbrough of Greenwood landed on Omaha Beach, where he knocked out a German machine gun nest that had pinned down his company, thereby earning the Silver Star. 


There is a good reason that their generation has been called America''s greatest generation. Because our community has so many who have done so much, I have only mentioned relatives whose stories made an indelible impression on me as a child. 


However, there are many others who gave the greatest sacrifice and whose names are seldom now heard. Names I recall hearing included James Dickson of Aberdeen who died when he was shot down over Germany. From Columbus David Tandy and James Hollingsworth were killed in action. Gunter Watson died in the Italian campaign and Howard Nolan died in a plane crash at Hatfield Heath, England.  


There are so many others from the recent past. They were not just lost during World War II but also from Korea, Vietnam, the Middle East and accidents in performance of their duty. We should never forget what they did and always honor them for what they gave up to keep us free. 


Of all the stories I recall there may be none more poignant than that of Jesse "Red" Franks. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, Red''s father was pastor of First Baptist Church in Columbus and Red was at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky. He was studying to be a minister like his father. As a theology student, Red was not going to be drafted, but he knew what his duty was and enlisted a few days after Pearl Harbor. 


He became a bombardier on a B-24 in the Air Corps and went to North Africa with a Liberator Squadron. On Aug. 1, 1943, he lost his life during an air assault on the Ploesti oil refineries in Romania.  


The night before the raid he wrote home: "It will be the biggest and toughest raid yet ... we will get our target at any cost. ... Our planes are made for high altitude bombing but this time we are going in at 50 feet above our target. ... I know that it will save many lives from the results, so any cost is worth it. So Dad, remember that, and the cost, whatever it may be, was not in vain." 


Red''s heroism and story have survived. His photograph is included in the American Heritage History of World War II and his story is told in David Colley''s 2004 book, Safely Rest. But there are so many other untold stories. 


Over the years I have heard so many stories of unrecorded heroism and necessary but thankless jobs well done that space did not allow for them to be mentioned. So, I would encourage everyone to ensure that we remember the legacy of all who have served our country and record their stories. The Billups-Garth Archives at the Columbus Library provides a place that such accounts can be preserved so that future generations will not forget what their parents and grandparents did for them.

Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at [email protected]