Wednesday, March 6, 2013 12:00 AM
Sixty-nine years ago in the opening months of 1944, the untested Fourth Marine Division moved into action in the Marshall Islands. The first targets were the causeway-connected islands of Roi and Namur. Roi, containing only an airstrip, easily fell without major resistance, but the situation on Namur was quite different.
Neshoba County Private First Class Herman Leo Johnson, Company E, Second Battalion, 24th Regiment of the Fourth Division, fought with a machine gun squadron, near a large Japanese blockhouse, a building that protected a hidden sniper. Another Mississippi,
Roy Pittman, threw a 25-pound satchel charge into the stronghold, jumped into a hole for cover, awaiting the blast. Private Johnson, about 100 yards away, lay flat on the ground for protection.
Unknown to the Marines, the concrete building actually contained 84 tons of torpedo warheads. Johnson, knocked unconscious by the tremendous explosion, later recalled that the detonation "rocked ships 10 miles at sea."
The force also severed the heads from the standing American soldiers, and the death toll included about 30 Marine infantrymen.
The Fourth Marine Division then returned to Hawaii for replacement troops.
Army Air Corps Master Sergeant William Brooks Hooper also faced hazards and dangers of his own, but far different than those that confronted Private First Class Herman Johnson. His islands were the desolate Aleutians, Territory of Alaska, and his command was the 42nd Troop Carrier Squadron.
For nearly two years, the 42nd Squadron flew C-47 cargo planes laden with men and supplies from Alaska down the entire length of the chain through some of the continent's harshest weather conditions.
On the return flights, the C-47s served as hospital ships to bring out casualties from little known islands named Attu, Kiska, Adak and Umnak.
After rotating to Lawson Field, Georgia, March 1944, Sergeant Hooper recalled some of the problems: "Weather was so bad that crews slept in heatless aircraft to protect them against shifting winds.
Ice formed on wings up to 10 inches thick. Gasoline 'jeep' stoves refused to operate because of extreme cold. Hands froze to spark plugs when they were changed."
During combat, the lumbering transports often served to lead fighter aircraft through snow, sleet and fog, to their targets, and then guiding them to their return bases.
The 42nd Squadron logged more than 8,900 hours during their 24-month assignment in Alaska.
Civil War Veterans
Wilson, James Cook, M.D. - Private to First Sergeant; enlisted July 8, 1861, at Pleasant Springs, Kemper County, Mississippi, in Company D; age twenty-three; physician; received $22.00 for two month's pay as a private, November 1, 1861; probably appointed second sergeant after the death of Isaac G. Perry at Sharpsburg, September 1862; appointed first sergeant, probably in January 1863, and served in that position until the close of the war; wounded in the hand and two fingers amputated at the Weldon Railroad, August 18, 1864; furloughed for forty days, September 5, 1864; captured at Hatcher's Run, April 2, 1865; imprisoned at Point Lookout, Maryland; released at Point Lookout, June 22, 1865; received at Washington, D.C. and transportation furnished to Meridian, Mississippi, June 23, 1865; described as five feet eight inches tall, dark complexion, black hair and blue eyes; after the end of the hostilities, members of the famed Neshoba Company unit returned the bullet-ridden and blood-stained flag to Mrs. Ruth S. Jay, who in 1861 had presented the banner to the Neshoba Riflemen; the Jay/Stribling/Wilson family members maintained possession of the original flag for over 110 years; grandson and namesake James Cook Wilson inherited the flag in 1956 and preserved it until his death in 1975; in 1976, Roger Melvin Rowe, of Houston, Texas, inherent owner, grandson of J. Cook Wilson, loaned the flag to the Neshoba County Public Library, where the historic banner is currently exhibited; plans to loan the historic colors to the Philadelphia- Neshoba County Historic Museum are under discussion.
World War II Veterans
Williams, Amzie Cooper - Private to First Lieutenant; enlisted on June 7, 1941 at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, in the United States Army; age twenty-two; college student; served and trained in the American Theatre of Operations; served also in the Asiatic-Pacific Theatre of Operations with the Fourth Field Artillery Battalion, April 1942 to April 1943; served again in the American Theatre of Operations; attached to the Unassigned Student Regiment at Fort Sill, Oklahoma; graduated from Officer's Candidate Course #73 at Fort Sill, July 14, 1943; discharged as a corporal at Fort Sill, July 14, 1943, to accept a commission as a second lieutenant; re-enlisted at Fort Sill, July 15, 1943; stationed at Camp Roberts, California, October 1943; served too in the European Theatre of Operations as a forward observer with Service Battery, 405th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, Eighth Armored Division, Ninth United States Army; participated in the campaigns in the Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace and Central Europe, November 1944 to August 1945; awarded the American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal (with three bronze service stars), Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal and the Bronze Star; discharged at the Borden General Hospital at Chickasha. Oklahoma, December 11, 1945, demobilization; described as six feet two inches tall, weighing 190 pounds, with black hair and brown 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