Martinsville area in World War II

March 20, 2011

By HOLLY KOZELSKY - Bulletin Accent Editor

A faded black scrapbook barely contains a pile of crinkled, yellowed newspaper clippings. Looking through it brings you to another world that eerily straddles the divide between the community and people we recognize and the unknowns of war and far-away lands.

The scrapbook is the late Lucy Kellam Joyce’s collection of Martinsville Daily Bulletin newspaper clippings from the years of World War II. Her brother, George Kellam, served in Division 29, which had many men from this area, explained her son, Buddy Joyce of Spencer. The clippings in her collection have 690 references to local men and women who served in World War II, many of them from the 29th and 116th Divisions of Company H.   

Reading newspaper pages from the early 1940s has a completely different feel from reading the newspaper today. Imagine sitting down each day with your cup of coffee to read about people you know through work, the neighborhood or church who were homesick, wounded or dead — many of them not even 20 years old.

As well as listing the people and their war-related news, the clippings also provide a wealth of information about the community. They name members of the soldiers’ families and their street addresses; where they went to high school, work and church; and other details.

The mostly men and eight women in Joyce’s collection were part of the fabric of Martinsville and Henry County, ripped out of marriages, families, neighborhoods and businesses to be sent off to war. To read their stories is to read, at the same time, a tale of war far away and of an interrupted and damaged home community.

The Greatest Generation

The clippings are a bridge between history and today. The war was from 1941-1945, more than 65 years ago.

The people in those clippings grew up during the hardships of the Great Depression. In the 1940s, they fought in World War II or revolutionized the homefront by entering the workforce in new ways (women far more than before).

Returning from war, they played an integral role in rebuilding the post-war economy.

Tom Brokaw called them The Greatest Generation in his 1998 book by that name.

The clippings include three articles about Lt. Jesse Wooten III, the son of Martinsville’s mayor. The first said he was presumed to be dead; the second, that he was killed, presumably in the invasion of Tinian Island; and the third, that he was awarded the Purple Heart posthumously.

Other easily recognized names include Major Spencer Dallas of Company H, 116th Infantry; and Lee Armistead Ford (think of Lee Ford Camp in Ridgeway), who was killed in a plane crash at the age of 19.

Cpl. Lawrence G. Pratt, who served in the 6th Armored Infantry Battalion unit of the 1st Armored Division, 3rd Army, commanded by Gen. George Patton, is mentioned in Joyce’s scrapbooks. He died Tuesday at the age of 90. Pfc. James Bowling, whose article said he was on a visit home, died Oct. 27 at the age of 89.

Sgt. Clifford L. Minter, who is mentioned in a World War II article with his brothers, Dewey and Willard, is celebrating his 92nd birthday today (see Page 3-B).

An article talks about Major J. Shelton Scales’ role in the attack on Iwo Jima, something which Scales talks about in public venues. Scales was from Stoneville, N.C., and his aunt, Mrs. T.M. Fair, lived in Martinsville.

There is a big article about Staff Sgt. Paul Shorter, the most decorated local veteran. Shorter started the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 52 in the 1970s.

Other men mentioned include: Sgt. Edgar Bolejack, Tommy Childress, Battaan Death March survivor Hayne Dominick, Lt. Leon Globman, Pfc. Marvin Hill, Airman Second Class Ralph Hill, Victor A. Lester, Sgt. Edwin W. Penn, Pfc. Norman A. Schriebfeder and Sgt. Bill Windle.

Miss Storm King

and other light news

Not all stories were grim. Many simply were updates on the people who were far away. Others gave interesting details.

Hundley Roberts wrote from Pearl Harbor to say he had run into Henry Flanagan, Claude S. Eanes, Joe Howerton, Eldee W. Moran and Frank Collins, and they all sent their greetings to folks back home.

Pvt. Edwin D. Eanes of Bassett wrote to his wife, Ollie, that he was recuperating in a hospital in England with brother-in-law Sgt. Philmore G. Minter.

Davis E. Lee was trained at the Sound Motion Picture Technician School, Navy Receiving Station. Before the war, he worked for Appalachian Electric Power Co. in Fieldale. His wife and daughter lived at 412 College St.  

Sometimes the men encountered dangers other than war. Pvt. Woodrow Joyce of Bassett was serving in the South Pacific when he went out too far swimming and was rescued. The article also mentioned that he had been awarded the Good Conduct and Asiatic Pacific Campaign medals.

There also are unexpected surprises. Elizabeth “Dunkie” Joyce of Fieldale was voted “Miss Storm King of ’44” by the sailors of U.S.S. Storm King. That tidbit is in an article on Machinist Second Class J.D. “Whit” Whitlow of Martinsville. His mother, Mae Morris, worked on building the U.S.S. Storm King, the article added.

Apprentice Seaman George F. Smith was sent back from the war — when they discovered he was only 16 years old.

Church members

Local churches were mentioned. Lt. Mike Kennon Minter, the son of Claudia C. Minter of 100 Moss St. and the late Mike Minter, was a member of Broad Street Christian Church. Cpl. James W. Wagonner, the husband of Eva Harbour Wagonner of Bassett and a former employee of Marshall Field Co., was a member of Fort Trial Christian Church. Both men were killed in action.

Fort Trial Baptist Church held a memorial service for its Staff Sgt. Jesse T. Ramsey, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Stephen T. Ramsey of Bassett. Ramsey died at the same spot as his uncle for whom he was named, Jessee Frith. Frith died in France during World War I.

When Pfc. Murray Washburn was visiting his father, James Washburn of Ridgeway, he said that he received a lot of comfort from the Rev. Chevis Horne, who was his battalion’s chaplain. Horne, who had been the associate pastor of First Baptist Church, was in another article for receiving the Purple Heart after being wounded.

Brothers in service

Many families had more than one son in the war. Often, family updates in the Bulletin showed the pictures of each sibling with a report on what each was doing.

Four Settles brothers were in the war. Their parents lived in West Virginia, and their grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Billy Hurd, lived on Water Street, Martinsville. Sgt. Roy Settles was killed in action in the South Pacific.

Four Bolejack brothers also were in the war: Sgt. Edgar, Seaman Second Class Emory, Cpl. James Otis and Cpl. Thomas Warren.


Ironically, while America was fighting to stand up for democracy across the ocean, its military still practiced racial segregation and excluded women. That was evident in news clippings such as this one: Cpl. William F. Harris, the son of M.M. John R. Harris of First St., was “a company carpenter for a negro truck unit,” the article said. Harris served in the IX Air Force Service Command Unit.

The only women in all of Joyce’s clippings were:

• Capt. Eliza Wray, a chief nurse in New York;

• Margaret L. Burge of 119 Brown Street, who was at Naval Training School;

• Pvt. Marie J. Edwards of Fontaine Street, who was in training;

• Virginia Gates, the daughter of Mrs. W.N. Gilbert of 225 Broad St., who was accepted into the Army’s Woman’s Auxiliary Corps. Before that, she was a counter operator at DuPont;

• Pvt. Virginia A. Gilbert, who was assigned to a hospital in Ohio;

• Pvt. Floy Christine Lester of 308 Starling Ave., who took an aviation machinist course;

• Lt. j.g. Letty Lorine Shropshire of Bassett, a 1941 graduate of Bassett High School;

• Ensign Mary Lois Newman; and

• Nell Morris of Bassett, a secretary at a base hospital in France.

Humor and daily life

Included in the collection are several other articles that give a glimpse into life on the homefront during war. One tells housewives to continue saving fat after cooking, even during the transition away from the war economy.

Another is a contest (with $250 in prizes) sponsored by the Bulletin on what readers would do to punish Adolph Hitler if they caught him. One woman wrote that she would lock him in a room with a Bible for a year.

A Jan. 5, 1945, article titled “Paris scientists outwitted ban imposed by Nazis” talked about advancements at the Pasteur Institute.

Cartoons and comics reflected war-time lifestyles. In one frame, a bank teller tells the bank president that a patron now wants to guard two pounds of butter in a safe-deposit box. Another shows a woman telling her husband that the car insurance renewal is due, and they’d better pay it, because their son soon would be home on leave. One cartoon shows two soldiers running with guns, one telling the other that too much time overseas has made him too soft for married life.


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