Wednesday, April 9, 2014 1:00 AM
While the men and women of Neshoba County in service eagerly awaited letters or newspapers from home, a telegram from the United States War Department, on most occasions, brought unwelcome, but necessary news.
During the early days of the last full week in October 1944, the recipients of such a message were Wheeler Lewis and Susan Frances Cumberland, part of a prominent family living in the eastern section of the city of Philadelphia, Mississippi.
Private Hairston Cumberland, 116th Regimental Combat Team, 29th Infantry "Blue and Gray" Division, had fallen in Holland, October 7, 1944.
On October 27, 1944, a headline in The Neshoba Democrat, "Hairston Cumberland First Casualty from this City," broke the story.
The byline was technically correct at that time, as the War Department declared twenty-five year-old First Lieutenant Harold Hutchison Howell, missing in action, March 3, 1944, seventy years ago.
The Department later changed the status of the son of Benjamin Lewis and Janie Hutchison Howell, another well-respected local family, to missing in action and presumed dead, making him the first from the city to pay the supreme price in defense of freedom.
The mission was Howell's first as a B-24 co-pilot, having arrived in England, only a few weeks before.
On March 2, 1944, Howell met Robert Herman Clark, another pilot and West Point graduate from Neshoba County, at an English pub, and the two planned to meet again the next night.
Later in July 1944 on his 57th mission, Clark suffered a similar fate when his aircraft went down in Germany.
German infantrymen captured Clark and held him in captivity until the Allies liberated him in April 1945.
Regardless of the order of death, Philadelphia had lost two of its finest young men, Harold Howell and Hairston Cumberland. The "tragic pangs of war" had truly touched the city.
The fact that Cumberland, the 19-year-old infantryman, not only excelled in athletics, but was one of the local high school's outstanding students made the loss doubly hard to bear.
One year earlier, A Neshoba County woman received an award issued by the National Emblem of Honor, an organization located in New York City.
Mrs. Grace Carroll Latimer, wife of Levi Carter Latimer, received the Five Star Emblem of Honor Pin for having five sons in the service of the United States Armed Forces.
Captain Robert Bruce Latimer, Sr. served at Camp Gordon, Georgia, and First Lieutenant Hugh Willie Latimer at Camp Livingston, Louisiana, both as members of the United States Army.
The two officers attained the rank of major before their military careers ended. During the first week in September of 1944, Captain Bruce Latimer received a Silver Star for "gallantry in action against the enemy," along with a promotion to major.
On D-Day, June 6, 1944, the Fourth Infantry "Iron Horse" Division attacked Utah Beach.
The Fourth was the first division ashore in that assigned area and Captain Latimer commanded a company in that attack.
His Silver Star citation read in part: "Major Latimer's able leadership and efficiency as company commander were instrumental in his company's successful completion of the mission throughout a vital period..."
Major Bruce Latimer continued to serve in the European Theatre of Operations, later as an infantry unit commander with the 136th Regimental Combat Team, 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division.
By the time of his discharge on January 12, 1946, the Neshoba County officer earned, in addition to his Silver Star, the Combat Infantryman Badge, American Defense Service Medal, European-African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, and the Presidential Unit Citation.
Major Hugh Latimer also served in the European Theatre with the 61st Quartermaster Base Depot of General George S. Patton, Jr.'s Fifth United States Army.
Technical Sergeant William Hansford "Jim" Latimer, trained at Camp Gruber, Oklahoma, and served later as a First Lieutenant of the 582nd Field Artillery Battalion in the European Theatre.
Corporal John Carroll "Snooks" Latimer, also trained at Camp Gruber, and served later as a Technician Fifth Class with the Tenth Armored "Tiger" Division in Northern Africa and Italy and Private First Class Leon Calvin Latimer, stationed at Camp Rucker, Alabama, and the 81st Infantry "Wildcat" Division in the Asiatic-Pacific Theatre, completed the quintet.
Mr. Martin Stern, secretary of the Association stated that: "We believe that any woman who contributes so handsomely to the defense of her Country is deserving of an award of this kind and recognition, not only by her own community, but by the Nation-as-a-whole."
Two other children of the Latimer family entered the service only months after Mrs. Grace Latimer received her Five Star pin.
Daughter Mildred Latimer, chief clerk of the Neshoba County Draft Board, volunteered in January 1943, entering into the Second Signal Service Battalion of the Woman's Army Corps.
Grace and Levi Latimer's 31-year-old son, Ikeler Montgomery "Boy" Latimer, enlisted on November 10, 1943, and later served as a sergeant with the 3860th Service Company at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana.
Neshoba was at war!
Civil War Veterans
Merkel, James H. - Private; enlisted September 8, 1861, at Camp Jones, near Bristoe Station, Virginia, in Company D, 11th Mississippi Infantry Regiment; age twenty; farmer; Muster Roll, September-October 1861: "Sick in Warrenton Hospital."
Died with acute bronchitis at the General Hospital at Warrenton , Virginia, November 6, 1861; buried in the Warrenton Cemetery; death benefits of $44.80 claimed by Joseph Merkel, August 4, 1862; described as five feet eight inches tall, fair complexion, dark hair, and grey eyes .
World War II Veterans
Howell, Harold Hutchinson -- Private to First Lieutenant; enlisted in 1941, at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, in the United States Army; age twenty-three; surveyor; nick-named "Dixie;" served and trained in the American Theatre of Operations as a trumpeter with the 106th Engineering Battalion, 31st Infantry "Dixie" Division at Camp Blanding, Florida, 1942.
Re-enlisted on December 5, 1942 at Cal Aero Flight Academy at Ontario, California, with the Army Air Corps; served again in the American Theatre of Operations as an aviation cadet at War Eagle Field, Lancaster, California, March 1943; stationed for advanced flight training (Class 43-F) at Marfa, Texas, April 1943.
Commissioned as a second lieutenant at Marfa, June 22, 1943; stationed with the 462nd Bombardment Squadron at a bomber base at Scotts Bluff, Nebraska, August 1943; served also in the European Theatre of Operations with the 755th Bombardment (B-24 Liberator bombers) Squadron, 458th Bombardment Group, Eighth Army "Mighty Eighth" Air Force in England, January 1944 to March 1944.
Aircraft lost over the North Sea on a bombing mission (the first daylight raid over Berlin, Germany), March 3, 1944; listed first as missing in action; later changed to killed in action.
Awarded the Air Medal and the Purple Heart Medal; memorial marker in the Cedar Lawn Cemetery, Neshoba County, Mississippi; described as five feet eight inches tall, weighing 132 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.;
Tuesday thru Friday