Wednesday, April 12, 2017 6:00 PM
In November 1941, at the Navy enlistment station at Meridian, Mississippi, Thomas Madison Lowry, a twenty-one year-old construction worker from Neshoba County, joined the United States Navy.
The new sailor, standing five feet eleven and one-half inches tall, weighing 160 pounds, with black hair and hazel eyes, began his naval career at the Naval Training Center at Camp Bradford, Norfolk, Virginia, before an assignment to the U.S.S. Sangamon, an escort carrier. In September 1942 through May 1945, the Sangamon literally sailed the high seas in the European and Asiatic-Pacific Theatres of Operations.
The escort carrier first participated in the campaign in Casablanca, Morocco, Northern Africa, November 1942, before beginning naval service in the Pacific Ocean – Gilbert Islands, November 1943 to December 1943; Marshall Islands, January 1944 to February 1944, (a battle in which Lowry received second degree burns in performance of his duties); Palua Yap, Ulithi, March 1944 to April 1944; New Guinea, April 1944 to May 1944; Marianas Islands, June 1944 to August 1944; Leyte, Philippine Islands, October 1944 and Okinawa, Ryukyu Islands, April 1945 to May 1945.
For his service, Aviation Chief Ordnanceman Lowry received the American Defense Service Medal, Presidential Unit Citation (with one bronze battle star), Good Conduct Medal, European-African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal (with one bronze battle star), Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal (with one silver battle star* and one bronze battle star) and the Purple Heart.
During the spring of 1945, the Japanese kamikaze attacks continued against the naval task forces participating in the campaign for Okinawa. Aboard the U.S.S. Sangamon, Aviation Mate Thomas Lowry wrote on May 4, 1945, describing such an attack on his escort carrier: “Then all of a sudden the guns stopped firing and the ship gave an awful tremble, which felt like the ship was raising out of the water and then settling down into the sea again with a tremble. All this was caused by the Jap plane going through the flight deck and the bomb going off. Both doors from the manager desk were blown open, one on each side of me, and a belch of flames were pouring through the openings.
“The intense heat was almost unbearable. Finally, I stumbled over the hatch and out onto the catwalk. Standing there only for a fraction of a second, I decided to make my way to the aft-end of the flight deck, through the smoke, rather than the flames forward, which seemed to cut the ship in half.
“My helmet had blown off by the explosion so I ducked below against the side of the ship to protect myself from the exploding 50 caliber ammunition in our own planes which were on fire. Reaching the aft-end of the flight deck, I found that the only burns I had were around the nose and mouth, with singed eye lashes, eyebrows and hair. I helped push about four planes over the side, then I grabbed a hose and started fighting the fire ahead of someone who was spraying water on me from behind.
“We fought it like this until all of the fire was out on the flight deck. I then had my burns taken care of. Our compartment had about eight inches of water in it, and no ventilation, so I slept the rest of the night in another compartment in a bunk that belonged to a guy that had jumped over the side.”
On the day after the deadly assault, the U.S.S. Block Island, another escort carrier, replaced the Sangamon in the task group, and the damaged carrier limped back to the West Coast for repairs. Before his career ended, Lowry had participated in both theatres of World War II, along with seven invasions. On October 25, 1945, the Neshoba County sailor received his discharge at New Orleans, Louisiana.
Another Neshoba County native, Captain Wendell Holmes Cook, Jr., a medical doctor and surgeon with the 129th Ordnance Maintenance Battalion of the Seventh Armored Division, remembered his discharge at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, eight days before Thomas Lowry received his discharge in New Orleans. Holmes Cook wrote in his memoirs:
“Then we got on troop trains going to different parts of the Country. The car that I was on headed for Camp Shelby, Mississippi. At Camp Shelby, about two more days were required for physical examinations, etc. My final release was granted on October 17, 1945… I went to the bus station in Hattiesburg, and while I was waiting to buy a ticket at the window, some man asked me where I was going and offered to give me a ride as far as Meridian. He left me off at the Greyhound Bus Station across from the Post Office in Meridian. My plan was to catch a bus to Newton and to transfer to the GM&O [Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad] to Philadelphia.
“But I stood absentminded in the bus station in Meridian and watched my bus arrive and leave, without realizing it. When I realized what had happened I grabbed a taxi and told the driver to catch my bus. We caught it just before it got to Meehan, Mississippi. I paid the driver $5.00, got on the bus, and went to Newton. I changed at Newton and finally got to Philadelphia about 2:00 or 2:30 a.m. in the morning. The bus driver let me out in front of my parents’ house. Everybody was asleep. I had made it home from the War.”
Note: *A silver battle star represents five battle stars and the bronze star represents a single battle, so Lowry participated in six military engagements for which he received these battle stars.
World War II Veterans
McMillan, James Junior – Private to Technician Fourth Class; enlisted on June 29, 1943 at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, in the United States Army; age twenty; farmer; served and trained in the American Theatre of Operations with the 116th Service Company; stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, in Washington , in Oregon, December 1943, and at Camp Gruber, Oklahoma; served also in the European Theatre of Operations as a low-speed radio operator with the 3325th Secret Intelligence A.M. Company, Third United States Army, September 1944 to March 1945; stationed in England, September 1944 to March 1945, France and Germany, June 1945; participated in the campaign in Central Europe; awarded the American Campaign Medal, European-African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, Good Conduct Medal and the World War II Victory Medal; discharged at Camp Shelby, March 18, 1946, demobilization; described as five feet eight and one-half inches tall, weighing 165 pounds, with brown hair and grey eyes.
Tubby, Tex West – Private to Sergeant; enlisted on February 27, 1941 at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, in the United States Army; age twenty-three; timber worker; served and trained in the American Theatre of Operations with the Army Air Corps; served also in the Asiatic-Pacific Theatre of Operations as a cook with Headquarters Company, 90th Bombardment (Heavy) Group, September 1942 to September 1945; participated in the campaigns in Bismarck Archipelago, Air Offensive China, New Guinea and Luzon, Philippine Islands; awarded the American Defense Service Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, Philippine Islands Liberation Medal and the Good Conduct Medal; discharged at Camp Shelby, October 7, 1945, demobilization; described as five feet eight inches tall, weighing 135 pounds, with black hair and brown eyes.
Philadelphia-Neshoba County Museum Steven H. Stubbs, Curator
303 Water Avenue South
Philadelphia, Mississippi, 39350
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Monday thru Friday