Wednesday, June 18, 2014 1:00 AM
During the World War II invasion of mainland Europe in early June 1944, First Lieutenant Anselm Joseph Dees, son of Willie Donald Dees and the late Paul Dees, and his 405th Fighter Squadron flew continuous ground support for the advancing Allies in Normandy, France.
On June 17, 1944, Lieutenant Dees' P-47D Thunderbolt aircraft, on a dive-bombing mission, received both flak and small arms fire at a very low altitude, catching fire and forcing Dees to eject behind German lines. With a bit of luck and the help of some local French citizens, Anse Dees avoided capture and within three days was back in England at his air base. Dees related his ordeal to his mother in a letter written a few days after his return.
Dees' message read: "I was strafing [a gun emplacement] and the oil line on my plane was shot out and it caught on fire. I was 50 or 100 feet off the ground but rolled up to about 1000 feet and rolled my plane over and bailed out. I was approximately six miles behind the Germans so when I hit the ground (where my neck and hand was hurt), I ran and hid in the woods and lay perfectly still for about one hour. I heard Jerry [German soldiers] looking for me. I could hear them clicking the bolts on their guns and talking but they did find me. I got up after they left and started through the woods. I came upon a French boy, who could speak a little English. I finally convinced him that I was an American and he said Jerry was not around and that he would bring me some food. Told me to wait. I was sitting in a ditch waiting when some German [air] ships dive-bombed right where I was. As I was in the ditch I didn't get hurt but a fragment missed my head about 8 inches. I decided I would not wait for the boy and went through the woods to try to find a little softer place to sleep.
"I came upon a house and watched to see if Jerry was around - he wasn't, so I went into an old car in a garage and slept in the front seat... That night about 9 o'clock our artillery opened up on the house and I jumped down and ran, got in a ditch and our shell fire was hitting all around me for hours. It finally ceased and I went to sleep, and the next day I walked and walked. One time I came up by a hedge and looked over the side and two Jerries were sitting there eating (I hadn't a bite in two days), they did not see me, so I just turned away and walked off... I finally got so hungry I went to a French house, and saw a man sitting by the house, and I made him understand that I was an American and had bailed out and was hungry. He was tickled to death to help me, so he took me in and we drank cider - they cooked me 3 eggs, had bread and plenty butter, and a pan of milk. They made coffee and put Cognac (as they call it) in it and we drank it. It was terrible, but I drank it." The Allies lines were only a mile and one-half away and the Frenchmen guided Dees there. Then a jeep drove him to an air strip. On the way back, Anse Dees noted, "What destruction - I have never seen. They had really been fighting - German equipment was all over the place." In his final paragraph, the Neshoba fighter pilot told his mother, "Well, I will tell you just how scared I was most of the time when I get home. But I guess you can imagine, especially being dived-bombed and in a barrage of artillery."
Just weeks after Lieutenant Dees returned to his air base in England, the 35th "Santa Fe" Infantry Division, on July 5, 1944, landed on Omaha Beach and moved toward battle in the hedgerows of Normandy, north of St. Lo. Serving as a medical corpsman in the Third Battalion Medical Detachment, 137th Regimental Combat Team, was Private First Class Earl Woodward Gray, Jr. "Junior"
Gray remembered his first night in France "was spent in a French barnyard and the evening meal was K rations. This pretty much set the stage for the rest of the war - sleeping on the ground, in barns, and subsisting on K rations. We didn't know what a bed was, or a regular meal."
During the fierce battle for St. Lo, Medic Gray remained close to the front to treat his many wounded comrades.
On July 12, 1944, while tending one casualty, a German M-88 shell exploded near Gray, embedding a piece of shrapnel in his right leg.
Without leaving his patient, Gray calmly removed the metal fragments from his leg, poured sulfur into the hole, bandaged his wound and kept on administering aid to the wounded.
The Neshoba corpsman also refused to report to an aid station until he had treated all the wounded.
Just a few days after Gray suffered his leg injury, fellow medical technician Jack Ulmer received a wound to his hip and thigh.
Later, Ulmer wrote, "PFC Gray again exposed himself to enemy fire to save my life. If he had not acted when he did, I would have died. Not only should PFC Gray be granted a Purple Heart, but he should have received the highest decoration possible for the bravery he exhibited while taking care of me and all of the soldiers in our unit."
These events occurred seventy years ago.
Civil War Veterans
Saddler, Absolom W. - Private; enlisted March 1, 1862, at Philadelphia, Mississippi, in Company D, 11th Mississippi Infantry Regiment; age twenty-nine; farmer; Muster Roll, March-April 1862: "Absent, sick at Richmond;" died with febris typhoides at the University of Virginia Hospital at Charlottesville, Virginia, June 26, 1862; death claim filed by Jeremiah Saddler, February 12, 1864; claim noted that there was no living wife, mother or father; buried in the Confederate Soldiers' Cemetery, University of Virginia, Charlottesville.
World War II Veterans
Keene, George Henry - Private to Private First Class; enlisted July 10, 1941, at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, in the United States Army; age twenty-five; farm hand; served and trained in the American Theatre of Operations at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas, Fort Lawton, Oklahoma and Camp McCoy, Wisconsin; served also in the European Theatre of Operations as gun crewman with Battery C of the, 370th Field Artillery Battalion, and with Company C, 15th Field Artillery Battalion, Second Infantry "Indianhead" Division, October 1943 to September 1945; participated in the Invasion of Normandy (June 7, 1944) and the campaigns in Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace and Central Europe; wounded in action in one leg and nose, with loss of hearing on January 24, 1945 and February 22, 1945; awarded the American Defense Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal, European-African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, Purple Heart (with one oak leaf cluster) and the Bronze Star; discharged at Camp Shelby, October 3, 1945, demobilization; described as five feet four inches tall, weighing 140 pounds, with brown hair and hazel eyes.
Philadelphia-Neshoba County Historical Museum
Steven H. Stubbs, Curator
303 Water Avenue South Philadelphia, Mississippi 39350
10 a.m. - 3 p.m.;
Tuesday thru Friday