Wednesday, May 22, 2013 1:00 AM
Sixty nine years ago, during the spring of 1944, two Neshoba County nurses, Lieutenants Annie Ruth Cook and Edna E. Skipper were stationed with the 64th General Hospital at a little village, Madollania, 25 miles north of Naples, Italy.
On May 11, 1944, the Allies opened a massive attack on the Cassino line in a final push toward Rome. The French Expeditionary Corps, consisting of one French Division, the Third Algerian Division, the Second Moroccan Division and another Moroccan Division, attacked the line through the Aurunci Mountains, and made enough penetration to cause the German defense front to shatter.
Part of the reason for the success was the tenacity and skill of the mountain-bred French Moroccan troops, the Goumiers or Goumes. Using pack mules along the mountainous trails, the Goumes literally knifed their way through the line west of Cassino, turned right into the Liri Valley and threatened to cut off the Germans.
Many of the wounded Moroccans were sent to the 64th Hospital for treatment.
Operating room nurse Annie Ruth Cook remembered: "We set up our hospital in an old school building. We lived in another building nearby. In about May, the Allies started the push toward Rome. Cassino was shelled, bombed, etc. We were about 15 miles from the front. We received 700 casualties in one day. The push had started and it moved rather fast. We received the Goumes (French speaking)." As the Allies pushed northward, Lieutenant Cook joined with a surgical team that transferred to the 94th Evacuation Hospital, while awaiting the removal of the 64th General Hospital to Leghorne, Italy. During her stay there, a German night-time air raid struck the area, as Lieutenant Cook later recalled: "... while [we were] doing an amputation. All the lights went out, but we had a battery operated light that we finally got turned on."
After the 64th Hospital moved to Leghorne, Cook had a chance to visit Naples, Caserta, Pisa, Rome and Florence. In a group audience visiting the Pope in Vatican City, Pope Pius, XII, stopped in front of the Mississippi nurse, and asked her name and her place of resident, quite a thrill for the young Irish-Catholic nurse from Neshoba County.
Private First Class William E. "Billy" Stribling did not have the opportunity to visit famous foreign cities like Lieutenant Cook, but he did have a small stroke of luck on a visit to New Orleans, Louisiana, in May 1944.
The twenty-three-old former movie theatre manager was waiting for a buddy on Canal Street near the famed French Quarter, when he encountered a familiar and famous face, Maurice Woodward Ritter.
The man, known by most as "Tex," and one of Hollywood's singing cowboys, saw Stribling, ambled over and inquired, "Aren't you the blond-haired boy who worked in a theatre somewhere in Mississippi?"
The taken-back Neshoba lad managed, after a little pause, to acknowledge that he was indeed the same person. After a brief chat of several minutes, the two agreed that the conversation should be finished over a hamburger or two.
Later, Billy Stribling said, "New Orleans is a swell place to meet people you least expect to see."
The fame and fate of Tex Ritter, the man that young Stribling met in historic New Orleans, was never again mentioned in any recollection of this chance encounter.
While young Stribling was on leave in New Orleans, a group of Neshoba boys were also playing in Napes, Italy.
Sergeant James "Tite" Bowie described this journey in a letter back home, dated May 1944. Bowie wrote: "I had to go to Naples a few weeks ago... I found a Neshoba Democrat on that plane... I saved the paper to take to Richard Molpus. I got to Naples and got in touch with Richard... On the way... we stopped at one of the hospitals and saw Annie Ruth Cook. We talked about everyone in Neshoba County. Richard and I hadn't seen her since we finished high school... I just wish I was permitted to tell you everything-If the people in Neshoba County could see the job that those Neshoba boys were doing, they would burst every button off their vest, boy they are something to be proud of."
Civil War Veterans
Brown, Joseph T. - Private; enlisted November 15, 1862, at Richmond, Virginia, in Company D, 11th Mississippi Infantry Regiment; Muster Roll, November 1862: "Recruited in Miss;" probably present at Gettysburg, July 3, 1863; captured at Falling Waters, West Virginia, July 14, 1863; hospitalized with gastritis at the U.S.A. Old Capital Prison Hospital at Washington, D.C., July 23 to August 3, 1863; admitted with facial neuralgia to the U.S.A. Lincoln General Hospital at Washington, August 3, 1863.
Hospitalized with chronic diarrhea at the U.S.A. Hammond General Hospital at Point Lookout, Maryland, December 23, 1863; died at the Hammond General Hospital, January 9, 1864; buried in the prisoner of war grave yard (Confederate Cemetery) at Point lookout.
World War II Veterans
Kennedy, Imogene - Second Lieutenant to First Lieutenant; enlisted in June 1941 in the United States Army; age twenty; American Red Cross nurse; nick-named "Jean;" served and trained in the American Theatre of Operations with the Army Nurse Corps at Fort Benning, Georgia, July 1941; served also in the Asiatic-Pacific Theatre of Operations, October 1941 to February 1945.
Stationed first at Fort William McKinley, Philippine Islands, October 1941; transferred to the Bataan Peninsula, Luzon Island, Philippine Islands, March/April 1942; moved to the Fort Mills Hospital on Corregidor Island, April 1942; captured on Corregidor, May 6, 1942; detained for four months in the Malinta Tunnel; reported missing in action by the War Department, June 1942; then imprisoned at Santo Tomas Internment Camp near Manila, Philippine Islands; freed from Santo Tomas, February 3, 1945.
Stationed again in the American Theatre at Lake Placid, New York, and at the Army Regional Hospital, Oakland, California, June 1945; awarded the American Defense Service Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal (with three bronze service stars), Philippine Islands Liberation Medal, Presidential Unit Citation and the Bronze Star; discharged at the Regional Hospital at Oakland, September 21, 1945; described as five feet five and one-half inches tall, weighing 125 pounds, with brown hair and blue eyes.
Philadelphia-Neshoba County Historical Museum
Steven H. Stubbs, Curator
303 Water Avenue South Philadelphia, Mississippi 39350 (601) 656-1284
10 a.m. - 3 p.m.;
Monday thru Friday