Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Photogenic Family

We are fortunate that the Harrison and Lydia Hood family took time out for family photographs. This is the third group picture in our possession, and I can only wish that more of our families had gotten together for photographs. The photo below was taken with the Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in the background. Eight of the siblings are pictured with their mother Lydia. Not pictured are daughter Effie and son Riley. Riley died in 1901.

Note that each person in the photo is wearing a hat, primarily white. And note everyone is dressed in white or light-colored clothes except Durell who is wearing dark pants. I wonder if this is perhaps "Decoration Day" at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church.

Kneeling in front are Jeff and Dennis Hood. In the back are Charlie, Alma, mother Lydia, Eula, Ellie, Durell and Richard.

If you have a sharp eye, you might can match the faces in this photo with the ones listed as unknown in the earlier photo. Please let me know if you do! Thanks again to Don Dulaney for providing the photo to me, and he credits James and Betty Johnson for passing along the photo and information to him along with assistance from Mrs. Jesker Hood Miles.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

December 30, 1955

Betty Jean Pennington wed James Luke Robinson on December 30, 1955 at the home of Bro. and Mrs. Grady McWhirter in Amory, Mississippi. Best man was Kelly Wade Prestage while maid of honor was her sister, Jo Ann Pennington. Within two weeks, the newly married couple left for France where he was stationed in the Army.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Harrison and Lydia Hood with some children

Pictured below are Harrison H. and Lydia Ann Hood with some of their children. The back of the photo had the following names and dates but no identification of exactly who's who in the photo: Charley (1887), Den (1897), Richard (1894), Durell (1899), Ellie (1902), Eula (1904). Being the only girl in the photo, we can safely guess that Eula is standing next to her mother on the front row. Charley, as the oldest living son, is very probably the young man seated to the left of his father. Richard is likely the tall son in the middle rear. Den, or Dennis, is likely the one on the left rear. That leaves Durell and Ellie, the two youngest sons, and I don't know enough to identify which is which. I would guess that the photograph was taken about 1910 or so. Harrison died in 1921, but Lydia lived until 1945.

Thanks to Don Dulaney for sharing the photo and for visiting with Mrs. Jesker Hood Miles to get information on this family. Mrs. Miles' father was Ellie Hood, one of the little boys in the photo.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Hood Siblings

Left to right, front row: Charley, Alma, Effie and Jeff. Back row: Richard, Dennis, Durrell, Ellie and Eula.

Don't you just love the crossed arms! These siblings were children of Harrison H. Hood and his wife, Lydia Ann Minyard. Another sibling, Riley, died in 1901. Below is what I have on the Hood siblings.

1. Riley, the oldest child, was born August 10, 1882 and died July 21, 1901.
2. Charley Gilbert Hood was born July 25, 1887 and died September 30, 1958. He was married to Bertha L. Funderburk.
3. Alma Etta Hood was born February 28, 1889 and died February 16, 1970. She was married to James Nathan Johnson, and their daughter Pearl was my husband's grandmother.
4. Effie Adder Hood was born August 2, 1892 and died unknown. She was married to Joseph Richard Rogers.
5. Jeff Aaron Hood, twin to Effie, was also born August 2, 1892. He died May 13, 1959 and was married to Lillie Fay Rogers.
6. Richard H. Hood was born October 7, 1894 and died April 16, 1960. He was married to Effie S. Rogers.
7. William Dennis "Den" Hood was born March 21, 1896 and died March 1975. He was married to Lois Moses.
8. Durrel Fred Hood was born December 1899 and died unknown.
9. Ellis H. Hood was born August 10, 1902 and died June 12, 1975. He was married to Dora Verah Randolph.
10. Eula A. Hood was born October 3, 1904 and died August 4, 1994. She was married to Wister Curtis Conwill.

If you noted that three Hood siblings married three Rogers, you have a sharp eye. The Rogers were all siblings and were children of Joseph C. Rogers and Laura Belle Funderburk. Don't quote me on the above dates of birth and death; I may have transcribed them incorrectly or the sources could be wrong. If you have corrections or additions, I would love to have them!

Double points if you noticed that Ellis Hood was married to Dora Verah Randolph, another surname in the Mills ancestry. Dora was Onady Randolph Mills' niece, daughter of Onady's half-brother Jefferson Davis Randolph.

Special thanks to Don Dulaney for providing the photo.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Lydia Ann Hood with children

Lydia Ann Hood is pictured here standing by her husband's gravemarker at the Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church Cemetery in Itawamba County. Behind her are nine of her ten children.

Lydia's husband was Harrison H. Hood, son of Joshua Hood and Margaret Johnson. By the way, Harrison's brother William was Elvis Presley's great-grandfather. Harrison was born December 15, 1855 in Alabama and died July 30, 1921 in Itawamba County. He and Lydia were married February 26, 1880 and had ten children together.

Lydia can be found as a six year old child in her parents' household in the 1870 census, shown in the census as Thomas and Martha Minyard. Some researchers have indicated that the surname was Maynard however. I've been unable to locate Thomas and Martha in the 1880 or 1900 censuses. Lyda was born August 27, 1863 and died September 8, 1945. Her tombstone shows her name as Lydia Ann, but according to descendants, her full name apparently was Lydia Ann Rebecca.

Pictured above with Lydia in the cemetery are (left to right): Richard, Jeff, Effie, Alma, Charley, unknown, unknown or Ellie, unknown or Ellie, and Eula. Ellie is either the second or third from the right, and yes, he was a son. The two unknown men are likely sons Durell and Dennis (or "Den") but I don't know which is which. Another son, Riley, died in 1901 when he was eighteen years old and thus is not pictured here.

Mrs. Jesker Hood Miles gave the photo and the names to Cousin Don Dulaney who provided both to me. Hat tip to Don and Mrs. Miles.

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Fessie Story

Those of you who enjoyed reading about Fessie's adventures during World War II will also enjoy hearing this Fessie story. You may wonder why Fessie is wearing a wig in the photo. Any what is that naked mannequin doing in the back of his pickup?

Here's the story. The mannequin was brought to Fulton by my father who, with my mother, played a practical joke on Fessie and Beck by placing the mannequin in my brother's bed under the covers. When Fessie and Beck arrived for a visit to their house, where my brother also lived, my parents indignantly told them that my brother had a woman in his bed and led them to the bedroom. It took a while for them to determine that the 'woman' was actually a mannequin, and Fessie had great fun being fooled by it.

Fessie didn't want the fun to end there. He placed the mannequin in his pickup truck, wig on her head, sitting up next to him in the cab. As he drove home to Peaceful Valley, a full twenty minutes away, Fessie got quite a few stares from people along the way. He enjoyed waving to his neighbor, Mr. Jack Johnson, who was astounded at the naked woman in Fessie's truck. After driving past the Johnson house, Fessie proceeded up the road to toot the horn in passing at the homes of Hershel Blake and Herman Blake. The conversation that afternoon in Peaceful Valley was who was going to break the news to Beck about the naked lady.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas, Y'all

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Childs Place

copyright 2008 by Mike Mills

Some years ago a lawyer friend of mine from Fulton fell into a piece of Tishomingo County land lying south and west of Woodall Mountain, the highest point in Mississippi. The lawyer’s grandfather, a Belmont timberman, bought the land during the Depression from an African-American family. Local tales abound of the old black gentleman who reared a passel of children on the property, scratching out an existence on corn and peas grown in the hollers, life always bounded by the sandy ravines and steep hills falling away from Woodall. Maybe the children sang old slave tunes and learned soulful harmonies as they gathered corn and picked cotton on their isolated little hill farm at the turn of the 20th Century. Perhaps we will never know.

My friend is Tom Childs, a kind man and the kind of man who would never say an unkind word about another. Careful in conversation. Truthful. Words mean something to Tom who grew up in Eupora, he and his sister Jolee helping tend their father’s small country general store. I have known Tom since the early 1970's when he turned down fellowships at Harvard and New York University to come to Fulton as an assistant football coach at IJC. He also joined his friend Stacy Russell’s law office. I have tried cases with Tom and against him and never questioned his word. If you have the good fortune to talk to Tom, watch his eyes. His blue gray eyes speak of humility. I trust men and women of humility. I believe what they say.

The headwaters of the old Tombigbee River are born as fresh flowing springs bubbling out of hills leaning west of Woodall Mountain. From these hills, the Tombigbee flows south through northeast Mississippi into Alabama and down to Mobile. African-American folklore tells of an old slave song, “Follow the Drinking Gourd”, which slaves sang in code, telling their fellows how to follow the old Tombigbee north to freedom.

The Drinking Gourd is the Big Dipper, which may be used to find the North Star. According to the lyrics, one should follow the Drinking Gourd north along the Old Tombigbee until:

The riva ends tween two hills,
Foller the drinkin’ gourd,
Nuther riva on the other side,
Foller the drinkin’ gourd.

Where the little riva
Meets the great big un,
The ole man waits.
Foller the drinkin’ gourd.

The “nuther riva on the other side” is the Tennessee River, which curves north around Woodall, eventually meeting the “great big un”, the Ohio River, where the “old man waits” to take them across the river to freedom. Supposedly the trip from Mobile to the Ohio would last about a year, with the fugitive meeting the old man in the winter, when the Ohio was frozen, so the escaped slave could walk across the river on ice. The past is silent as to how many slaves may have followed the Tombigbee to freedom. We might imagine one or two now and then, sometimes maybe a family, ill clothed and poorly fed, heading up the river at dusk, dodging search parties and snakes, slapping mosquitoes, hungry and tired, always following the Drinking Gourd further north like the children of Israel following a Pillar of Fire. Some say the song is just myth but I’m not so sure.

Several years ago Tom Childs made a new friend, Buster, a stray someone had deserted. Jolee says Buster was a rather non-descript fellow. Undistinguished. Not the kind of dog many folk would notice. Yet for years Buster was Tom’s sole companion as they labored and piddled on the old farm. Tom and Jolee dragged their grandfather’s little Belmont timber office out through the country to a hill on the place overlooking a wide green meadow. Tom is turning it into a cabin of sorts. Under the cabin live seven big healthy hounds someone dropped off as week old pups a few years ago. Of course Tom took them to raise and they greet all visitors with a heavenly dog chorus, baying frantic excitement. Felix and Gomer are buried nearby. For the second time. They were Tom’s uncle’s dogs, previously interred near the timber office in Belmont, now a Piggly Wiggly parking lot. Tom said he couldn’t bear the thought of asphalt being poured over the dogs who had been buried there for decades. So he dug them up and moved them to the hills.

Tom’s place has one of the largest naturally flowing springs in the State of Mississippi. Clear cold waters bubble up in area about the size of a small tenant house and flow in an un-named stream toward the Tombigbee River bottoms, headed to Mobile. I am troubled that this beautiful stream has no name. So I think I will name it Childs Stream. And not just for Tom.

Just above the spring ancient oaks shade a gentle knoll where pieces of flint peek up from the earth. No doubt this was an old Indian campground. Maybe fugitive slaves rested here too. Tom tells me that late one evening a few years ago, just before Christmas, he and Buster were standing on the old campground when Buster suddenly perked his ears and looked over the spring toward the woods. Tom looked too but saw nothing. He then heard a snatch of song floating on the breeze. He quickly recognized the voices of two young black children, a boy and a girl, harmonizing in the chilling air:

O little Town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie!

The voices startled Tom and Buster. They had heard no one approach the property. They thought they were alone. Excited, they stumbled toward the voices which seemed to be coming from a small copse of woods just beyond the spring.

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by ....

As they hurried toward the trees the words seemed to drift away, the melody passing down the valley and on between two hills. Tom tells me that he and Buster never saw a single soul, yet he knows they heard children singing. I believe him though I only have Tom’s word for this for Buster now sleeps in eternity, buried near the cabin on the hill. Tom says he will be buried there too some day.

We hear the Christmas Angels
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Immanuel ....

[My note: This is an original composition that my husband wrote for an Oxford publication and is reprinted here with his permission.]

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ethel Dee Sloan

A young and pretty Ethel Dee Sloan. Dee married William Hugh Pennington on December 24, 1904 - Christmas Eve, 104 years ago. Happy Anniversary, Big Mammy and Big Daddy!

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Robinson Christmas in Columbus

Uncle Lawson Robinson, pictured far right, was a Methodist minister and as such, he and his family spent Christmas throughout the years in various towns scattered across northeast Mississippi. Here, Uncle Lawson is pictured with, from left to right: daughter Lucy seated, brother-in-law Fred Broom (brother to Itawambian Victor Broom), Aunt Lucille, Lawson's granddaughter Lynda Sue Whitfield, Aunt Jewell Broom. Seated next to Lawson is Kathleen Broom, daughter of Jewell and Fred. The photograph was taken at the Columbus Methodist parsonage in the early 1950s. Lawson and Jewell were both born near Tremont, children of Gideon and Thusie Robinson.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


A fun time was had by all.....

at last night's Pennington Christmas party. Pictured are bingo cards which have been used for years and years along with some of the night's "prizes." The food wasn't too bad either!

Pennington Christmas 1957

Yep, that's me as a baby. That's how I know the photo was taken in 1957. That's my Aunt Jo holding me in front of the Pennington Christmas tree with my great-uncle Jessie Pennington looking on to the left. The is the same location used as the background in Beck and Fessie's photo in the previous post, and it is interesting to compare the change in wallpaper and furnishings.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Pennington Family Christmas

The children of Hugh and Dee Pennington had a family tradition of gathering every Christmas Eve, a tradition continued today by their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The above photo was taken in 1973 at the home of Clarence and Tootsie Wardlaw and includes all of Hugh and Dee's children except for their son Frelon who was living in Washington D.C. and son Jessie who died in 1961. Pictured left to right, front row: Gaylord Pennington with his wife, Orva Rae Rutledge Pennington, and Vivian Pennington Bethay and her husband Johnny. Back row: Maxine Pennington Roberts with her husband, Phillip; my grandparents Fessie and Rebecca Davis Pennington; and Clara Nell "Tootsie" Pennington Wardlaw with her husband, Clarence. Today, only Aunt Tootsie and Aunt Maxine are still living. I'm looking forward to some of Aunt Tootsie's ham tonight at our Pennington gathering in Fulton.

Fessie and Beck dressed up and on their way to the Pennington Christmas party in 1973. The Pennington get-together usually included Christmas carols and bingo games and, of course, lots of good food. Seems everyone had their "specialty." Aunt Orva Rae always brought candied apples while Aunt Tootsie's potato salad and sauerkraut were regulars each Christmas. And everyone looked forward to Beck's coconut cake.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Santa Claus c 1967

Santa disappeared off my porch last year. It was dark when I arrived home from work just after 5 o'clock. No one was home, and the house was dark both within and outside. As I got out of the car and bounded up on the porch, I instantly noticed something was wrong. Very wrong. Santa Claus was gone.

In a panic, I turned on the porch light and searched around outside. Where could he have gone? In disbelief, I searched through the house. Did someone bring him inside? Where was Santa?

Finally the cold truth settled in my brain that Santa Claus had been stolen. It was a hard hit. You see, this Santa was special. He came home one day with my father who found him at Gibson's Department Store when we lived in Greenville, Mississippi. When it came to Christmas, Daddy was a child at heart and a sucker for Christmas decorations. This 31 inch plastic Santa with a light bulb inside was a novelty that year, and Daddy couldn't resist him. So he came home to live with us that Christmas.

Every year Santa came out of hiding to be plugged up outside on the porch along with the other Christmas decorations. We moved from Greenville to Fulton in 1969, and Santa came with us. After a few years, however, Santa was no longer high-tech. Some Christmases he stayed in the attic, replaced by more current holiday decor.

And there he stayed until one Christmas when Daddy took Santa to Peaceful Valley to his new home in the country. My parents had bought Big Daddy's house from the rest of the family, and previously unused Christmas decorations suddenly had a new lease on life. I wish I had a picture of old Santa Claus, perched on top of the newly refurbished outhouse, all lit up and perfectly, wonderfully visible from the road to passers-by. Daddy had run an extension cord from the outhouse to inside Big Daddy's house. Santa Claus was back in business again.

After Daddy died, Santa came home with me. His first Christmas in Oxford passed without incident on our front porch, and every time Santa's body was filled with a warm glow, mine was likewise, full of fond memories of Christmas past. Until that dark December day when Santa was gone. Stolen. I don't know what kind of person would steal a forty-year old Santa Claus. Not a very nice one, I can tell you that.

Thanks to the wonders of e-bay, a nearly identical Santa Claus was found, and within days he was in Oxford, but not on my front porch. Nowadays, Santa is enjoying life inside our house where he takes his place amid decorations both old and new, low-tech and high-tech. And even though he is not the same Santa that we enjoyed for forty years, he still brings joy and he still provides that warm glow.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas Greetings from 1918

This 1918 postcard was sent by Jesse Davis Moore to his sister, Louzetta Moore Enlow, while he was stationed in France during World War I.

He writes, "I am sending you a card from France. Am hoping you [have] a Merry Xmas and a jolly good time. So I'll close for this time. Your bud. Pvt. J.D. Moore 199 Aero Sqd A.E.F. France"

Jesse and Louzetta were children of Charles Davis Moore and Elizabeth Simmons Moore.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Lick Skillet Play c 1933-1935

Once upon a time there was a Lick Skillet School in Peaceful Valley. Many of the Pennington children attended this small one-room school in the 1920s and 1930s in southern Itawamba County. The school burned sometime before 1940, and instead of replacing the school building students were sent to other schools in the area. Although it burned before she started school and thus never attended there, my Aunt Tootsie remembers tagging along with her older sister, Vivian, who taught at the Lick Skillet school. She recalls eating canned pork and beans heated on the old wood heater.

The accompanying photo was provided by Aunt Tootsie. It is a picture of a group of young adults dressed for a play that was held at Lick Skillet School. I don't think that they were students of the school at the time, just residents of the local community. Most of the young people in the photo can be found in the 1930 census living with their parents on the Carolina-Barrs Ferry Road. As to the date of the photo, I'm guessing around 1934 or 1935, based on the ages of Vivian and Gaylord Pennington, siblings of my grandfather Fessie Pennington.

The young men standing in the back row have been identified by my mother as follows: Hershel Blake, Hudson Blake, unknown, unknown, Billy Blake, Elvie Burdine, and Gaylord Pennington.

The seated women were TeBee Blake, Gladys Neal, Icee Malloy, Vivian Pennington and Audie Neal. For a few years before her marriage to Johnnie Bethay, Aunt Vivian taught school at Lick Skillet.
The Blake, Burdine, Neal and Malloy families intermarried with the Sloan and Pennington families.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Frugality revisted

Bob Franks has a wonderful post regarding frugality over at his blog, Itawamba History Review. Please link on over and read his article for a trip down memory lane. The mention of "tin foil" particularly hit a nerve with me. My mother and grandmother and aunts used aluminum foil to pat out their homemade biscuits each day, and afterwards they would carefully clean, fold and store the foil for use another day. The biscuits themselves were often cut out with a clean "tin can" that used to hold vienna sausages. After I got married and started making homemade biscuits of my own (not a regular occurrence, let me tell you!), I too would fold and save the aluminum foil without really thinking about why I was doing it. I was merely mimicking what I saw and later, after a few years, it dawned on me that I didn't need to save that small piece of foil for use later, that I could just get a new one each time. How liberating! And luxurious! Nowadays, my biscuits come from the frozen food section of the grocery store and taste better than any biscuit I ever made, and I surmise that this is where many other former biscuit-makers are getting their biscuits. The consistency is there but what I wouldn't give for one of my Mamaw's biscuits covered with Golden Eagle syrup.

Bob, I also loved the reference you made to saving old mayonnaise and pickle jars. Those empty jars had many uses. Once, my husband's grandmother accompanied him out of town on a trip. She climbed in his car that morning with a brown paper bag, recycled of course, full of homemade biscuits with sausage and other treats, along with a mayonnaise jar full of iced tea. No need to stop to eat!

After my grandmother died, we found all sorts of items that she had carefully put away for re-use. In her closet was a wad of rubber bands that she had saved from the daily newspaper along with a collection of the plastic bags that covered newspapers on rainy days, both just waiting for another use.

Thanks, Bob, for the memories!

Melissa Caroline Potts Sloan

What a pretty name - Melissa Caroline - and so contemporary for that time!

Melissa was born November 15, 1852 to Jesse Potts and Frances Jane Rolen. Jesse died during the Civil War and Frances was left to raise her children all by herself, which she did without remarrying, quite unusual during that time. Melissa was 26 years old when she married Jackson Samuel Sloan on January 1, 1877.

Melissa and Jackson owned land along the Tombigbee River in southern Itawamba County. Some of this land is still in the hands of their descendants today.

Jackson died in 1930 and Melissa shortly thereafter in 1933. At the time of her death, she was living with her daughter Zadie Sloan Blake in Peaceful Valley. Aunt Tootsie, Melissa's granddaughter, has vivid recollections of the night of "Granny Sloan's" death.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Big Daddy and Big Mammy

William Hugh Pennington was affectionately known to his grandchildren as "Big Daddy" while his wife, Ethel Dee Sloan Pennington, was called "Big Mammy." The Pennington and Sloan families lived in the Peaceful Valley community of southern Itawamba County, settling there after the Civil War.

Hugh and Dee are pictured here with their "baby" daughter Clara Nell, sitting on the steps of their new home in 1944 or 1945. Dee died in September 1945 so this picture was taken before her death. The home was built with funds provided largely by their son, Frelon, who served in World War II and sent home money to his parents Also, their son Jessie was a foreman for Gilmore-Puckett Construction Company, and his expertise and labor were an important contribution as well.

The new house replaced an older one that was several decades old, a typical Southern dog trot house that likely was built by the land's former owner, S. L. English.

"Big Daddy's" house is what we called it growing up. After his death in 1959, the house pretty much stayed empty except for a few occupants here and there. Mike and I even lived in the house during a couple of summers. With no bathroom, we had to be creative. A shower "stall" was rigged up just out the back door, and for a shower "head" we used a tin bucket with holes punched in it. Water was provided courtesy a water hose snaking from the kitchen sink. Unfortunately, damage caused by termites required the house to be brought down a couple of years ago, but not before salvaging the mantel, the cast iron enameled sink, and some doors as well as some of the original lumber and planks that had been re-used from the original dog trot house.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Arthusa Parneshia Evans was a mouthful so most folks called her Thusie. She was born November 8, 1875 near Tremont to Elizabeth Ann Bishop and John Thomas Evans. At the age of 19, she married a fellow Itawambian, Gideon Robinson, and together they raised six children, including my grandfather Luke Lee Robinson. Gideon, who was the son of George Emerson Robinson and his first wife, Charlotte Purnell, was born November 6, 1868 near Tremont. Gid was 26 years old when he and Thusie were married on November 25, 1894.

Thusie and Gid apparently started their married lives together in a small house near her parents. The house is no longer standing but has been described as a one-room cabin with a big stone fireplace at one end and a small sleeping alcove at the other.

After the death of their oldest son in World War I, the couple moved closer to Tremont to be near his grave. Then, before 1930, they moved to Fulton. Well, actually, their land was located just outside the small town of Fulton. Today, however, the land is well within the city limits.

If you have ever driven along Mimosa Drive or Willow Road, then you've driven along land that once was owned by Gid and Thusie. The old home is, of course, gone but several large trees stand sentinel over the old homeplace. Their home was simply built with two large rooms across the front and two smaller rooms on the back side. There also was a "plunder" room which was used mostly for storage. A porch stretched across the front of the house and included a swing while a path led to the outhouse in the back yard. Thusie kept the yard swept clean with a broom to keep snakes and other creatures away from the house. Sweeping the yard was a common practice of the time.

Thusie loved flowers and enjoyed gardening. Alongside the yard to the south were several large, pink crepe myrtle trees that usually sported birdnests. However, Thusie was especially proud of her peach trees. Many pies were provided out of the fruit of those trees as well as switches for the legs of her grandchildren! Thusie had a special, small screened window in her kitchen that she used for the cooling of her pies. Her grandson James, my father, was partial to her sweet potato pies that she prepared without using eggs or sugar.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

IAHS Football Team 1950-1951

This photo is as large as I can get it here, but if anyone is interested let me know and I'll e-mail a copy to you. Here is a list of team members with their coach Mitch Grissom (far right):

Front row, front to left: Billy Spigner, 26; David Mattox, 15; James "Peewee" Robinson, 37; Jackie Frost, 31; Jerry Loden, 27; Bobby Armstrong, 38; Edward Holiday, 48; K. F. "Red" Collier, 51; Harold "Humpie" Chatham, 24.

Second row: John Moore, manager; Gayle "Ace" McFerrin, 3; Frank Davis, 1; Louie Yawn, 35; Travis Staub, 16; Billy Wheeler, 21; Cortez Guntharp, 11; Rudolph Franks, 17; John McFerrin, 36; Huey "Hormone" Haynes, 9.

Third row: Billy "Ghost" Gilliland, manager; Oneal Maxcy, 4; David "Sonny" Riley, 5; Frank "Skeeter" Pierce, 23; Stanley Moses, 44; Charlie McCarthy, 10; Clarence Kent, 50; Marlin Shaw, 41; Durrell "Rusty" Wiygul, 7; Jerry Cummings, 42.

For those out of the loop, IAHS stands for Itawamba Agricultural High School. Any stories about this team would be much appreciated!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Number 37

Just noticed tonight that both of these football players had the same jersey number. The black and white photo is of my father who played on the 1950-1951 IAHS football team. The other photo is of his grandson.

Uncle Louis and car

Another photo of Louis and his car. This one was taken in front of the Johns-Manfield Company where Uncle Louis worked in the 1950s. I believe the factory was located near Zion, Illinois, and it manufactured asbestos tile.

Louis served in the South Pacific theater in World War II, clearing airfields. He brought back a bloodied bayonet that he later gave to his nephew James, my father, along with the tale of using the bayonet to chase and kill a Japanese soldier in a cave. This story has merit as there are several stories of Japanese soldiers hiding out in caves on the captured islands of the Pacific during World War II.

After the war, Louis went to school at Ole Miss on the GI Bill with intentions of becoming a lawyer. However, he eventually wound up moving to Illinois. When Uncle Louis retired in the early 1970s, he and Aunt Maggie moved back to Fulton.

The photo at right is of Uncle Louis walking down the street in Illinois, probably Chicago. The slim build is typical of the Robinsons although my father did not inherit this trait, hence his nickname "Peewee."

Three Generations

The toddler pictured is my father, James Luke Robinson, with his Uncle Louis and Grandmother Robinson. The photograph was probably taken about 1935 or 1936 near the Robinson home in Fulton.

Uncle Louis = Louis Gideon Robinson
Grandmother Robinson = Arthusa Parneshia Evans Robinson, or Thusie

Uncle Louis was the fifth child of Thusie and Gid Robinson, born September 18, 1908 near Tremont in Itawamba County. He died February 24, 1976. My father was close to his Uncle Louis. I suspect that Louis was frequently around the house while Grandmother Robinson kept James as a little boy while his parents were at work, and this fostered a close relationship between uncle and nephew. I've got several photographs of the two together. And I don't know for sure, but the car or pickup in the photograph probably belonged to Uncle Louis.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Jonathan T. Sallis and Sarah Jane Green

Thanks to Barbara, a descendant of Jonathan and Sarah, for sharing these photographs.

1900 Census
Itawamba County, Mississippi
Beat 4
John T. Sallis 44, born April 1856 in Mississippi
Sarah 43, born November 1856 in Mississippi
Calista A., daughter, born June 1881
Andrew J., son, born May 1886
Desie O., daughter, born June 1890
Howard E., son, born Sept. 1892
Arthur, son, born Oct. 1895

Next door:
Elias Sallis, 66, born Feb. 1834 in Alabama, father born in Georgia, mother born in South Carolina
Mary 64, born April 1836 in Alabama, father born in South Carolina, mother born in Tennessee
Leticia 35, daughter, born Sept. 1864
Jahuey 30, son, born Mar 1870

Sallis Mill c 1910 at James Creek

Sallis Mill
circa 1910
James Creek, Itawamba County

A descendant of Jonathan Thomas Sallis and Sarah Jane Green provided this photograph of the Sallis Mill at James Creek in extreme eastern Itawamba County. My connection to this family is through Sarah Jane Green's mother, Elizabeth Caroline Robinson, who was a sister to George Emerson Robinson, my great-great grandfather.

The Sallis surname is also found spelled Silas.

Jonathan and Sarah Jane moved from Itawamba County to Oklahoma sometime around 1900. Jonathan died in Tulsa County, Oklahoma in 1941 but it is not known where or when Sarah Jane died. Jonathan was born in 1856 near Smithville, the son of Elias Dejarnette Sallis and Mary Ann Kennedy. Both the Dejarnette and Kennedy surnames are found in old Abbeville District, South Carolina but I don't know if that is where this particular family originated. Sarah Jane was born in 1865 in Itawamba County. Her parents were Elizabeth Caroline Robinson and Jacob D. Green.

The persons in the photographs have been identified although not by me - this is how I received the photo. In case you can't read the labels, they identify the following people, pictured from left to right: Bud Falls, Howard Sallis, Sam Sallis, Laz Sallis, Curtis Lockridge, E. D. Sallis, Nurby Sallis, Jake Sallis, E. McNiece, and Bradley Sanders. Forgive me if I have butchered the names. I believe Sam Sallis and Howard Sallis were sons of Jonathan and Sarah Jane. E. D. Sallis must be Elias Dejarnette Sallis. Not sure about the others.

I'd like to hear from anyone who knows about this mill or this family, and particularly more information about Sarah Jane Green.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Yadkin River Valley in North Carolina

One of my favorite photographs. This snapshot was taken on the drive between Wilkesboro and Happy Valley in North Carolina. The Millses left the Yadkin River Valley around 1800-1810 to cross over the Appalachian Mountains into Tennessee. They just traded one set of mountains for another, although I have to say this is one of the loveliest spots on earth that they left behind.

Tennesse Mountains - Orville's Birthplace

William Orville Mills was born in these mountains of eastern Tennessee in spring of 1846. This photo was snapped in 2006 during a visit to Hancock County. The Mills family settled on the north side of the Clinch Mountains along War Creek.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Onady's Uncle William, buried at Camp Morton in Indianapolis

William Randolph died March 23, 1862 at Indianapolis, and his remains were buried at Crown Hill Cemetery at Camp Morton.

Camp Morton was established at Indianapolis by Governor Morton of Indiana in response to the need to detain the numerous Confederate soldiers captured at Fort Donelson. The first group of prisoners arrived on February 22, 1862 with much fanfare, and a total of 3,700 prisoners would arrive over the next few days. Many of the prisoners arrived sick and in poor physical condition. In addition, typical of most prison facilities at that time, Camp Morton was unprepared for the large influx of prisoners. Medical care, food, and sanitary conditions were inadequate. The Indianapolis Journal, on March 4, 1862 described the health of the newly arrived prisoners as follows:

"Of the sick prisoners at the military prison and hospitals of this city, the greater proportion are Mississippians. Though some of the Tennesseans and Kentuckians are quite ill, their maladies are not so deep seated as those of the First, Fourth, and Twenty-Sixth Mississippi prisoners. These regiments were at Fort Henry, and at the time of the attack made upon it by Commodore Foote they retreated so rapidly that they left behind most of their baggage, including many articles of clothing much needed for their comfort. On arriving at Fort Donelson they were (thinly clad as they were) put at work immediately upon the fortifications, and were compelled to labor upon the trenches constantly. During the siege of the Fort, they lay in the ditches and rifle pits, day and night. Such exposure would produce disease in the ranks of the most able-bodied soldiers, but when incurred by men of feeble constitutions, the seeds of disease are so firmly planted that no medical skill can remove them. Of the latter class are those now in hospitals. Many are under eighteen years of age, and the large majority are persons of feeble constitution."

William was 22 years old when he died at Camp Morton. The dead prisoners were interred in a lot located next to the City Cemetery of Indianapolis. Weaver and Williams, an undertaker firm, furnished plain wooden coffins at $3.50 each. Upon burial, a wooden marker bearing a painted identification marker was placed at the head of each grave. In 1931, the prisoners buried at City Cemetery were exhumed and reburied at Crown Hill Cemetery in a mass grave in Section 32. In 1989, two Indianapolis police officers led an effort to have the graves of the Confederate prisoners of war marked, and William Randolph of Company G, 26th Mississippi Infantry was identified as one of the buried Confederate soldiers. Today, Crown Hill Cemetery is the third largest non-government cemetery in America.

The photo above is of Camp Mortion in 1864, a couple of years after William died. By then the POW camp had been well established with adequate housing. Photograph from Camp Morton website maintained at rootsweb.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Henry Randolph 1836-1914

Onady Randolph Mills' father was Henry Randolph. Pictured at left is his tombstone at Gilmore Chapel Cemetery in Itawamba County. This little Methodist church and cemetery is located just south of Marietta along the Prentiss County border, on land formerly owned by the Randolphs and not too far from where the Randolph family settled when they arrived from Georgia around 1855.

Henry was a veteran of the Civil War, serving in Company G of the 26th Mississippi Infantry Regiment, one of the first Mississippi regiments to engage in battle. Company G, also known as the Marietta Rifles, was formed in August, 1861 at Iuka. Henry's mother, Nancy Sanders Randolph, had four sons and a son-in-law who marched off that summer day in August to join the war. One was dead within a year. William Randolph died in March 1862 at Camp Morton in Indianapolis after being captured at Fort Donelson in February.

Although most of the men of the 26th Mississippi were captured at Fort Donelson, some were able to escape back home to Mississippi. It is not known in which group Henry found himself. The original muster roll for this regiment is held by the Mississippi Archives in Jackson, and I was recently able to examine it. The muster roll indicated that Henry Randolph was discharged in November 1864. This means that Henry rejoined his regiment following the defeat at Fort Donelson either as an escapee or as a parolee from the prison camp.

According to Dunbar Rowland's history, the 26th Mississippi regrouped at Holly Springs in December 1862, joining other troops to halt Grant's advances in the state. Later, the regiment fought at Grand Gulf and into Louisiana before circling back to take part in the defense of Jackson in their home state. In early 1865, the regiment was ordered to join the Army of Northern Virginia where they participated in several battles in Virginia. Although the regiment fought until the end of the war in April 1865, Henry mustered out a few months early in November 1864.

Out of the original 159 members of Company G, only 42 remained active till the end of the war.

Henry was married five times, the first time around 1861. This marriage produced a son, Jefferson Davis Randolph. His wife, whose name is not known, must have died during the war because Henry remarried upon his return from service, this time to Elizabeth King who produced three daughters before her death before 1875. The third wife was Onady's mother, Lucinda Rachel Fowler, daughter of Posey and Mary Fowler. Rachel and Henry had seven children together before her death sometime between 1890 and 1895. As far as can be determined, Henry did not have any children with his last two wives, Mary Rogers and Tennie Collum. Henry's daughter, Onady Randolph Mills, kept a family Bible but unfortunately this Bible was burned during a housefire and only scraps remain of it. Family members have preserved what was left, however, and this Bible record has the following hand-written information:

"Pappy married the 4 time March the 9 1895"

In the 1910 census, we find Henry and Tennie living next door to Henry's daughter Onady and her husband, Jesse Thomas Mills, and their children Millard, Rachel and William Henry. Also next door was Jim M. Randolph and his wife Frankie; and Jeff Randolplh and his wife Katie. Next to Onady and Jesse were William Orville Mills and his wife Telitha. Just a tight wad of Randolphs and Millses at Kirkville in Itawamba County.

Henry Randolph was born October 12, 1836 in Georgia and died March 17, 1914 in Itawamba County.

Zilpha Emeline Cockrell Cofield

Zilpha Cofield was born February 14, 1852 in Randolph County, Alabama and died November 3, 1900 in Marion County, Alabama.

An account of Zilpha's death appeared in a newspaper dated November 15, 1900.

"On the evening of November 3, 1900, the death angel visited the home of our friend S. L. Cofield, near Cockrell, Alabama, and snatched from it the beloved wife and mother, Zilpha Cofield, who was about 47 years and 8 months old. She leaves a husband and three children. Her remains were deposited in the Shady Grove Cemetery. The funeral service was conducted by Rev. J.R. Holladay. Our prayers go out to the bereaved family."

Note that the community where the Cofields lived was called Cockrell, after the Cockrells who settled the area. A post office was established at Cockrell in 1893 but discontinued in 1905.

Shady Grove was apparently the name of the cemetery that is now referred to as the Cockrell-Cofield Cemetery. The cemetery has no sign, and my husband and I were driving around looking for it one day without success. Finally, we stopped at a small country store, and I went in to ask for directions. No one seemed to know anything about a Cockrell-Cofield cemetery until an elderly gentleman indicated that I should follow him in his truck. Follow we did, otherwise we would never have found it.

Wish I had a picture of Zilpha!

Cofield Home Place

In 1980, the ladies of the Shottsville area sold calendars as a fundraising project. For one of the months they used a drawing of the Samuel L. Cofield house. The house still stands today, unoccupied and crumbling, along County Road 157 not far from the entrance road to the Cofield Cemetery.

The home is made of logs that were covered at some time with planks. Mrs. Velma Williams, a close friend of the Cofields, told Sam's great-grandson, Hunter Stone, a story about the time that Sam kept having his milk disappear. The milk was being saved for making butter, and no one could figure out what was causing it to disappear. Finally, a large chicken snake was discovered hiding in the space between the logs of the house where it wasn't fully caulked. When the snake was shot, milk flowed all over the place!

Samuel Lewis Cofield, 1854-1920

Sam Cofield

Samuel Lewis Cofield was born February 18, 1854 in Randolph County, Alabama to Lewis Elbeny Cofield and Mary Ann Collins, both Georgia natives. He was the fourth of fifteen children.

Sometime around 1871 or 1872, Sam married Zilpha Emeline Cockrell, daughter of Tobias and Abigail Cockrell. Their oldest child, Mary Emeline, was born November 18, 1872 in Randolph County and shortly thereafter the young family moved across the state to Marion County. A son, John Richard Cofield, my great-grandfather, was born in 1875 and in 1880 their third and final child, Lou Vannah Cofield, was born.

Zilpha died in 1900, and Sam remarried to Nancy Jane Goggans, daughter of Albert and Cynthia Goggans and first cousin to Sam's son-in-law, Dr. Kimbro Goggans.

Sam was a good man. When his son died, and later his son's wife, Sam took in and raised their two young sons who were 8 and 12 years old at the time. Sam was 58 years old when the two boys were placed in his care. A later obituary for one of the young men indicated that Sam, as their surrogate father, was "always willing to sacrifice his delight" to provide for his grandsons.

Sam died June 14, 1920. His widow, Nancy, retained a life estate in their home until her death in 1970 at which time the house and 250 acres were sold to Henry H. Lindsey.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Hat Gang: Sam Cofield and Men

Samuel Lewis Cofield, far left

I don't know for sure, but the men pictured here with Sam Cofield were likely his brothers. This is based on other photos that bear a similarity to the men in this photograph.

In 1873, Sam Cofield moved to Marion County from across the state in Randolph County, Alabama where the Cofields had settled sometime around 1840. As far as I can tell, Sam was the only one from the Cofield family that made the move although some of his cousins came later including James L. Cofield, son of Cosby Vina Cofield. Sam was newly married to Zilpha Emeline Cockrell, daughter of Tobias and Abigail Cockrell, and it was with her family that they traveled, settling in the western portion of Marion County near the Itawamba County line. Other Cockrell family members kept going a bit further west, stopping near Mantachie where many of their descendants live today.

Sam's son-in-law, Rip Harbor, was a photographer, and I suspect that he took this picture. It's pure speculation on my part, but perhaps Sam's brothers came for a visit from Randolph County and Sam requested a photograph. We may never know, but I'm just thankful that the photograph turned up. After my father died in 2005, I wrote his first cousin who lived in Baltimore, Richard Cofield, the only surviving Cofield male from Sam's line and someone I had never met. We soon had an e-mail correspondence, and among the many delightful photos he shared with me was this one. He had found it in his deceased father's desk years ago, didn't know who the men were but had saved the picture nonetheless.

Sam's brothers were William J. "Bud" Cofield, Cosby W. Cofield, John Henry Cofield, Joseph Thomas Cofield, Frances Marion "Frank" Cofield, Elijah Wyatt Cofield, and Madison DeKalb Cofield. Madison died in 1893 so he wouldn't be in the photo. Bud died in 1904 so it is possible he is not pictured as well. That leaves five brothers that could be pictured together. Maybe one day someone will contact me with positive identification of the men.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Onady Randolph Mills with some of her children

Onady Randolph Mills is pictured here with all of her children except Burl who was deceased at the time this photo was taken. The occasion appears to be Onady's birthday - note the cakes. Pictured left to right are Henry, Rachel, Onady, Clinton, Beatrice, Millard and Herschel. Since Burl died in 1959 and Henry died in 1963, this photograph must have been taken sometime between those years.

Onady was the daughter of Henry Randolph and his third wife, Lucinda Rachel Fowler. Henry was born in 1836 in Georgia to James Randolph and Nancy Sanders. This family moved to Old Tishomingo County before 1860, settling near Hickory Plains in what is now Prentiss County. An 1860 map of old Tishomingo County shows the village of Hickory to be along a road between Jacinto and Marietta. Onady's mother, Rachel, was the daughter of Posey Fowler and Mary Gotcher (Goocher) who moved to the area from Perry County, Alabama about 1840.

I'm not sure how Onady got her name. It is certainly an unusual one. I've seen it on several deeds and census records as Odie, and more importantly written as Odie in her own Bible, so I wonder if perhaps it originally was Odanady, which was eventually shortened to Onady.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Another World War II Veteran - Burl Bonnie Mills

While we are on the subject of World War II, here's another Itawamba veteran. Burl Bonnie Mills enlisted early, in 1942, when he was 26 years old. Unlike some of his brothers, Burl was slight in build. His enlistment record indicates he was five foot, five inches tall and weighed only 115 pounds. Nonetheless, he quickly earned the nickname of "Little Scorpion" for his feistiness while he was stationed with a tank regiment in Casablanca. Burl was shot in the arm and knocked down into a well, breaking his back during the fall, but he made it back home to Itawamba County.

Burl was the son of Jesse Thomas Mills and Onady Randolph and brother to my husband's grandfather. I suspect that he was named after his great-uncle, Burrell (or Burwell) Randolph. He was born September 30, 1916 and died June 7, 1959. He was married to Rubye Johnson who is still living.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Baptism revisted

The baptismal site has been identified as Bennett's Pond. Thanks to Jessie Senter Jamerson for confirmation. She believes the pond was located on Roddie Bennett's land and was likely destroyed during construction of the Tenn-Tom Waterway. See here for the original post regarding this baptism scene:

Sure enough, there is a household listed for Roddie H. Bennett in the 1930 Itawamba County census in Beat 1 along the Baldwyn-Russellville Road. Roddie was born in 1886 to Francis M. Bennett and Nancy Margaret Houston.

Jessie is the daughter of Jessie Alvin Senter and Nervie Mae Dulaney. She married Harlon Wilburn Jamerson who died in 1982. Most important to me, however, is that Jessie is the grandmother of Jada Jamerson Mills, my daughter-in-law.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Fessie Pennington SS2 comes home

Fessie Pennington with wife Rebecca

This photo was likely taken when Fessie was home on leave, either during the Spring of 1944 while he was still in Navy boot camp or the following year after the USS Reno made it to the port of Charleston for repairs. My cousin Vicky has the blue sailor's uniform that he is wearing in this picture.

Fessie was a man of strength, both before the war and after, and certainly during. He was tough, a man's man - ask anyone who knew him. And yet the war left its mark in a way that no one ever knew until after his death.

Recently, we were able to obtain his discharge and medical records from his Navy service. These records indicated that Fessie was being treated for traumatic neurosis following his return stateside after the Reno's removal from the Pacific Theater. The doctors' notes revealed a troubled Fessie who had anxiety and difficulty sleeping, an all too-common malady for those soldiers and sailors returning from the horrors of war. This revelation was surprising to me as it would be for anyone who knew Fessie Pennington. Not Fessie. He was as tough as they came, could handle anything, yet even this strong individual wasn't immune from what today we would call post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Fessie had one more challenge to endure before returning home for good. In September 1945, his mother, Ethel Dee Sloan Pennington, died while Fessie was still in Charleston. After her sudden death, Fessie was granted leave to return home for the funeral. His daughter, Betty Jean, my mother, recalls a heart-broken, sobbing Fessie upon his arrival home, an unusual display of emotion for him. One has to wonder if Fessie's grief over his mother also included an overlay of grief for his scars of war, a catharsis of weeping that perhaps helped him recover from his experiences.

Shortly after his mother's death, Fessie was discharged home for good. In later years, he would occasionally speak of his time during war, and being the good story-teller that he was, I'm sure there was some embellishment here and there. But the record speaks for itself, and Fessie's stories match up exactly with the record for the USS Reno.

One more thing before leaving the subject of Fessie's World War II service. Remember the typhoon? The crow's nest? Once Fessie returned home, he had a healthy respect for a "storm cloud." It didn't take much for Fessie to drop everything at the hint of a bad storm to head for the storm cellar that he had built in the side of a hill near his house. Lightning strikes brought back memories, I'm sure, of his time spent in the crow's nest. One can only imagine.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Fessie rides out typhoon in crow's nest

As the torpedo-damaged USS Reno was being towed to port for repairs, it faced the always-present danger of enemy submarines, but the threat of bad weather was also a real problem that November. A severe Pacific typhoon threatened the crippled cruiser and its escorts as they encountered strong winds, high seas, and generally rough weather. The cruiser, already in danger of capsizing from its injuries, had to struggle to stay afloat in the typhoon with a skeleton crew.

By late evening on November 5, not quite 48 hours after the torpedo attack, the wind increased and the seas roughened. On November 7, the typhoon came closer with gusting winds and churning seas. The Reno’s stern was often two feet under water, and the ship almost capsized. It wasn’t until November 9 that calmer seas allowed repairs to resume topside.

Fessie had a "personal" relationship with the typhoon, and as with his life jacket incident, he once again disobeyed orders. Rather than going down below deck to weather the storm, as he was ordered, Fessie hid out behind one of the bulkheads where he had previously stashed some rope. As the storm approached, he climbed into the crow’s nest and lashed himself to the ship's pole. Here, he rode out the typhoon for two days. His logic, as he related later, was that he wouldn’t have a chance for survival if the ship went down and he was barricaded under the main deck. To prevent the seas from sweeping over the main deck and pouring into the second deck compartments, a wooden barricade had been built around some of the hatches. Fessie figured he would have a better chance for survival in the crow’s nest if the ship capsized. He told how the waves would pitch and roll the ship from side to side and front to back, the crow’s nest almost touching the water before rolling over to the other side. On November 9, the seas receded, and an exhausted Fessie couldn't even untie his rope to climb down. It took a crew of men to get him down, and Fessie spent time in the brig for disobeying orders.

The USS Reno was fortunate in at least one respect. Had the ship not received the torpedo strike, thus putting it out of commission, it would have been with Admiral Halsey’s Third Fleet when the fleet encountered Typhoon Cobra in December 1944. This monster typhoon killed nearly 800 sailors and destroyed several naval vessels, including three destroyers. The surviving ships endured 185 mph gusts and 70 foot waves. The typhoon inflicted more damage upon the U.S. Navy than any single encounter with the enemy.

After reaching the safety of port, the Reno underwent temporary repairs for a couple of months that allowed it to sail under its own power to Charleston, South Carolina, arriving on March 22, 1945. Fessie had been at sea nearly a year, but it would be several more months before he was discharged home to his family in Peaceful Valley. Permanent repairs were needed on the Reno, and the ship's crew assisted in those repairs. Years later, Fessie recalled the stench of decayed human flesh that he and others had to clean from the damaged areas.

As for the USS Reno, an official War Damage Report gave much credit to the "courage and perseverance" of the ship's crew for their efforts in saving the ship following the torpedo attack. Repairs were completed in time for the Reno to participate in bringing home troops from Europe as part of "Operation Magic Carpet" following the end of the war. The ship was decommissioned a year later on November 4, 1946, and in 1962 the light cruiser was sold for scrap.

USS Reno hit by torpedo, almost sinks

USS Reno damaged by torpedo and nearly sinking

After surviving a kamikaze attack as well as the largest naval battle ever, the USS Reno began preparations with the rest of the task force for a strike against the island of Luzon in the Philippines. Just before midnight on November 3, 1944, in the San Bernadino Strait, a torpedo hit the USS Reno on her port side, striking a fuel oil tank. Fuel oil was blasted through the large holes created by the torpedo, and water immediately flooded into the ship. Continued water seepage caused short-circuiting of the electrical system and created small electric fires. By 2:30 a.m., all electrical power was lost throughout the entire ship, and a battery-operated radio was the only means of communication.

Francis S. Key, a seaman on board the USS Reno, survived the attack and related the following story, “I felt my leg was being sucked into a fire, like Satan was after me and pulling me into Hades. The guy next to me caught a piece of shrapnel in his leg, and the guys on the other side of him were all dead.” The torpedo hit just below where Key was sleeping in his bunk. Key said that men were ordered to abandon ship after the attack.

The torpedo caused extensive damage, killing 46 crewmen and wounding many others. By the time the USS Caperton reached the USS Reno, the cruiser was close to capsizing, tilting so badly that water was sloshing over the deck, and drifting helplessly with a gaping hole in her side. The USS Caperton picked up 120 men. The 46 seamen were given burials at sea.

Some men had started jumping overboard and were crushed between the two ships. The USS Anzio, an aircraft carrier, also joined in the rescue efforts, arriving November 4, along with Navy salvage tugs USS Zuni and USS Arapho. With lines, nets and life boats, the surviving men of the USS Reno were rescued.

Fessie recounted the events surrounding the rescue several years later, telling of the rough seas and chaos. He said that he was one of the last men to abandon the ship and when he jumped into the ocean to grab a line to pull him toward the rescuing vessel, the rope had disappeared and he had to find his way blindly through the rough waves. It is not known which vessel Fessie swam to for rescue.

Fessie told the following story about his life jacket and how it saved his life. Days earlier, a commanding office had ordered the men to wash their life jackets. Fessie knew better than to do so since washing would remove the protective film of the life jacket, thus its buoyancy, thereby disabling the life saving capability. Fessie’s disobedience resulted in a reprimand but saved his life. Others were not so fortunate, he said, and drowned.

The USS Zuni, assisted by the USS Arapho, towed the USS Reno to Ulithi, 700 miles away, where temporary repairs were completed on the Reno. The destroyer USS Cogswell and the aircraft carrier USS Anzio guided the the wounded ship’s passage to Ulithi, providing protection from enemy attack in sub-infected waters. Each night, salvage operations stopped and all lights above deck were extinguished due to the ever present menace of enemy submarines.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Fessie survives kamikaze attack and largest naval battle in world

Fessie Pennington participated in the Battle of Leyte Gulf , the last great naval battle of World War II as well as the largest naval battle ever fought anywhere. On the first day of battle - October 24, 1944 - the USS Reno spent most of the day assisting the USS Princeton, as noted in an earlier post. The following day the light cruiser rejoined the task force under the command of Admiral William F. Halsey and proceeded to engage the Northern Force of the Japanese Navy at Cape Engano, the final battle in the Gulf of Leyte. At the end of the three day conflict, the task force had destroyed 3 Japanese battleships, 2 light carriers, 1 large carrier, 10 carriers and 11 destroyers.

Fessie served as a gunner's mate, responsible for feeding ammunition to the anti-aircraft guns while the gunner shot down enemy planes. After the war he spoke about seeing the eyes of Japanese pilots as they swooped down upon the ship. They came close enough for Fessie to see the grimaces on their faces, and once he had to take over the firing of the gun when the gunman of his turret was wounded.

The Japanese increased their use of kamikaze planes to counter their diminished air strength. Prior to World War II, kamikaze, or “divine wind,” was a relatively obscure world and referred to the typhoon that sunk a Mongul fleet in its attempt to invade Japan in the 13th century. Following the war, however, nearly everyone knew what a kamikaze pilot was.

One of the first recorded kamikaze attacks of World War II took place on the USS Reno. In the waters off Formosa, on October 14, five planes converged upon the cruiser at the same instant. One of the planes never waivered from its course, crashed into the fantail of the ship, skidded across and then exploded on the USS Reno’s main deck, badly burning six seamen.

The USS Reno survived the kamikaze attack and survived the Battle of Leyte Gulf but faced even larger challenges in the days ahead.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

USS Reno and USS Princeton

Itawambian Fessie Pennington served as Seamen Second Class with the USS Reno, pictured here as she comes to the aid of a sister ship, USS Princeton, on October 24, 1944, the first day of the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The USS Princeton had been hit by a kamikaze plane and suffered extensive damage. Five times the Reno pulled alongside and rescued men from the Princeton, braving heat from the fires that were raging on the ship. During one rescue attempt, the Princeton crushed one of the Reno's gun mounts.

Another light cruiser, the USS Birmingham was ordered to assist the Princeton, but efforts to save the ship were in vain as fires continued to burn and reach the cache of torpedo warheads. A huge explosion erupted just five hours after the initial hit, and 903 sailors were killed, most of them on board the Birmingham which suffered extensive damage itself. Finally, orders were given to scuttle the Princeton.

Papaw recalled the tragedy several years later in the safety of his living room. A destroyer, the USS Irwin, was called upon to torpedo the Princeton after it was determined that the ship could not be saved. The first torpedo fired by the Irwin missed the Princeton entirely. So did the second one. When the third one was fired, it ran true for several yards toward the Princeton before making a U-turn back toward the Irwin. Papaw showed us with his hands how the erratic the torpedo was and said that the Irwin had to outrun its own torpedo. His own ship and others had to manuveur violently to evade the errant torpedo.

After two more torpedoes missed their mark, the USS Reno was assigned to destroy the damaged carrier. The anti-aircraft cruiser fired two torpedoes into the Princeton, triggering a huge explosion that was set off by the carrier’s 70 tons of explosives. The USS Princeton disappeared into the sea in about 45 seconds, but it provided a lasting memory for Fessie Pennington back home in Peaceful Valley.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Sailor Fessie

Fessie Manuel Pennington
c 1944

My grandfather was thirty-one years old with a wife and three young daughters when he walked to Fulton from his home in Peaceful Valley to enlist in the Navy on February 2, 1944. Fessie was home on break from his work in the shipyards of Mobile, Alabama. By the end of the month, he was in Navy "boot camp" in Bainbridge, Maryland and by mid-May Fessie was in the Pacific participating in airstrikes against Japanese strongholds.

I can't help but wonder what went through his mind as he traveled by train and bus, and then later by ship, to places he had never seen or ever thought about seeing. Our country asked a lot of men like Fessie . They left the comfort of their homes and families, experienced the atrocities of war, and returned home to business as usual to pick up their lives right where they left off.

Like many other mothers, Ethel Dee Sloan Pennington, had more than one son to worry over during World War II. In addition to Fessie, his brothers Gaylord and Frelon also fought in the war.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Many Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving!

Image from Currier & Ives, Printmakers to America

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Fisher and Nora

Fisher D. Johnson and
Nora Thornton Johnson

Fisher's nephew, Randal Owens, told us that Fisher's middle initial stood for "Demarcus" which is probably correct since Fisher's son Julius has a middle name of Marcus.

As for Nora's name, it was actually pronounced Norie. Cousin Randal has a story about her name too. Seems she and Fisher got into an argument with Fisher implying that Nora wasn't as smart as he was. Nora said, well you're so smart you didn't even know my real name when we got married. What is your real name, Fisher asked. Toliethel, she replied. Fisher, who apparently had quite a wit, said, "Well, if I'd known your name was Toliethel, I wouldn't have married you."

I'm not sure if Toliethel was Nora's real name. Most records, including social security, show only Nora, but the 1930 census lists her as Nora E. Maybe her name was Nora Ethel?

Fisher was a playful, fun-loving character in contrast to the serious-minded Nora.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Mother and Child c 1935

This photo is not the greatest, but it is one of the earliest photographs of Glader Johnson Mills.

Love the hat.

She is pictured with son Paul who was born in June 1935.

Lewis Millard Mills

Millard Mills with
an unknown baby, probably
a younger sibling.

Uncle Millard was a sweet, gentle person like most Mills men. He was the oldest child of Jesse Thomas Mills and Onady Randolph, born January 24, 1905. Since Millard looks to be about 8-10 years old in this picture then it is possible that the baby could be Clinton, Burl or Herschel, his youngest siblings (just guessing).

Millard married Syble Johnson, daughter of Fisher D. Johnson and Nora Thornton, on November 6, 1927. When he died on February 8, 1991 he was buried in the cemetery at Jones Chapel outside of Nettleton, Mississippi where he had lived and worshiped for many years.

There is something about Millard in this photo that reminds me of my husband's boyhood photos, not too surprising since everyone says that Millard and his brother Henry looked a lot alike.