In the last week in March 1942, Captain Al Key of Meridian visited Philadelphia to bring his cousin, H. T. "Kiah" Key, up to date on the air war in Java and Australia.

Key was on a secret mission and was unable even to tell his wife that that he was on the way home.

Captain Key said, "When the plane landed, I didn't even call home, but just went on out there, and boy, wasn't there some excitement! I don't believe my daughter -she's twelve-really believes it's me yet."

The airplane bringing Key home landed at Key Field, a field named to honor Al Key and his younger brother, Captain Fred Key.

In 1935, the airfield was part of a pasture when the young men set an endurance flight record of 653 hours and 34 minutes, one still unbroken in 1942.

When Key returned, the former cattle field was a "large, bustling "Army Air Corp Base."

The Key brother's aircraft that established the endurance record carried the nickname the "Ole Miss."

On arriving in Java, the brothers requested and received permission to name their bombers, Ole Miss Two and Ole Miss Eight.

Al piloted Ole Miss Eight and Fred flew Ole Miss Two.

The two flew together on many of the same bombing missions.

"Boy can those ships take it," Fred noted and added, "That ship of mine looks like a sieve, she has been hit by so many times by Jap bullets."

Of his mission, Al Key stated: "I can't say much. I don't even know myself where I am going from Meridian. But I can say this: the boys down there who are doing the fighting aren't quitting. We've fought Japs day and night and know we can beat them if we have the equipment. We would still be in Java if we had the ships. Don't fool yourself those Japs are good fliers and good fighters.

"The boys down there are going through a living hell. It is no tea party to them. They work 18 and 20 hours a day without enough sleep, and fighting all the time. But they're not grumbling. They're doing the best they can with what they got. But it does kinda' get a fellow's goat when he hears the news from home in a roundabout way. When a fellow is all tired and maybe just had a darn close shave with some Jap or two or three of them and he hears about production being held up because of some strike it does make him feel like maybe the folks at home are not doing all they could do or should do."

The Meridian Air Crops captain, then mildly irritated about the labor situation, mused that maybe he shouldn't say anything else, because spouting off might cause him trouble.

Shortly after the onset of scattered labor walkouts, the War Department printed patriotic posters that called on all Americans: "Together We Win, Get Behind Your Labor-Management Committee." (Note: Hezekiah T. Key, a local Chevrolet dealer in the 1940s and 1950s, was a first cousin to the fighting Key brothers.)

Marine Sergeant Jesse Loumas Spears, stationed on Palmyra Island in the Pacific Ocean at the time of Key's grousing, forwarded to his mother, Mrs. Annie Spears, a poem that carried the inscription, "Mother, I like this poem. It was written by a sailor."

The sailor's verse read: "I would rather have one little rose, from the garden of a friend, Than to have the choicest flowers, when my stay on earth must end, I has rather have the kindest words, and a smile that I can see, Than flattery when my heart is still, when my life has ceased to be, I would rather have a loving smile, from a friend I know is true, Than tears shed 'round my casket, when this world I bid adieu, So bring me all the flowers today, whether pink, or white, or red, 'Cause I'd rather have one blossom now, than a ship's load, when I am dead."


Civil War Veterans

Ridout, Charles A. - Private; enlisted March 1, 1862, at Philadelphia, Mississippi, in Company D, 11th Mississippi Infantry Regiment; age twenty-nine; school teacher; absent ill during Battle of Seven Pines, May 31, 1862; received $33.00 in pay (three months), September 15, 1862; admitted with diarrhea to Howard's Grove Hospital at Richmond, Virginia, September 19 to December 11, 1862; employed as a nurse, October 27, 1862; received $29.00 for extra pay as a nurse at Richmond, April 11, 1863.

Hospitalized with small pox at Richmond, April 12, 1863; wounded in right leg (right tibia partially fractured) and captured at Gettysburg, July 3, 1863; hospitalized at the U.S.A. General Hospital at Chester, Pennsylvania, July 17, 1863; transferred to the U.S.A. Hammond General Hospital at Point Lookout, Maryland, October 4, 1863; paroled from the Hammond General Hospital, April 27, 1864; exchanged at City Point, Virginia, April 30, 1864; wounded furlough in Mississippi as permanently disabled, late summer 1864.

World War II Veterans

Breazeale, Dennis C.-Private to Staff Sergeant; enlisted on April 1, 1944 at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, in the United States Army; age thirty-two; mail clerk; served and trained in the American Theatre of Operations at Camp Wheeler, Georgia, April 1944; served also in the Asiatic-Pacific Theatre of Operations as a message center chief with Headquarters Company, First Battalion, 32nd Infantry "Red Arrow" Division, January 1945 to November 1945.

Stationed at a message center with the 24th Infantry "Victory" Division on Shikoku, Japan, December 1945 to January 1946; participated in the campaigns on Luzon and Mindanao, Philippine Islands; wounded in action on Mindanao, May 12, 1945; awarded the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal (with two bronze service stars), Philippine Islands Liberation Medal (with one bronze service star), World War II Victory Medal, Good Conduct Medal, and the Purple Heart; discharged at Camp Shelby, January 24, 1946, demobilization; described as five feet nine and one-half inches tall, weighing 144 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