My father, Carlos Williamson, was a quiet and often humble man. The earliest memory I have of dad was when I was a very small child lying in bed at night as he told me the story of Jenny Wiley. As many people know, Jenny Wiley was an early pioneer who was captured in Virginia by a small band of Indians in 1789. The Indians killed her three older children and her brother. Jenny was taken captive along with her baby son. Later, when the baby began to slow the savages down in their escape through the hills, the baby was slammed against a tree and killed. About a year later, Jenny escaped from the Indians.
The Jennie Wiley story has been handed down through generations of my family and others. The connection to my immediate family is that Jenny’s oldest child, who was born in 1791 after Jenny’s return from Indian captivity, was also named Jenny. She married Richard Williamson, who was my grandfather’s (Amos) great –grandfather. The Williamson name is spread throughout parts of Wayne, Lincoln, Logan and various parts of eastern Kentucky, where in Prestonsburg the Jenny Wiley Theatre and popular State Park is named for the woman often referred to as the “white squaw.”
For as long as I can recall, our family has celebrated each year with a family reunion. This year’s reunion is slated for September 10th at Chief Logan State Park. It was at a family reunion just a couple of years ago that I was told something about my father that none of the family knew. My uncle, Sherman “Rudy” Williamson, dad’s youngest brother, out of the blue came up to me and said, “You know, your dad fought in a bunch of key battles in World War II. You should check into that.”
My father never spoke of the war to anybody in our family that I am aware of. Thinking back, I remember as a small child sifting through a cedar chest drawer and seeing these strange looking objects that I realize now were medals. I do not have a clue as to their whereabouts today.
Out of curiosity, I went to the Logan County Clerk’s office, but realized that dad had entered the service when he lived in the tiny rural community of Wilsondale in Wayne County. Therefore, I figured I eventually would visit the county seat of Wayne to view his discharge papers. Recently, my brother, Jimmy, brought some papers to me that he found in a box that belonged to my mother, Ethel. One of the papers was a certificate I quickly identified with because it was signed by the late Raymond Chafin, who served as Logan County Clerk. The certificate indicated that dad was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army October 16, 1945. More importantly, it noted that his discharge papers were on record in the clerk’s office here and it cited the book and page number for them.
Why my father waited 22 years to record his discharge papers, I’ll never know. However, when I finally got back to work from a broken femur on July 18th, County Clerk John Turner came into my office to say hello. I told John about the certificate and he offered to make me a copy. However, I told him I would get around to it myself sometime later in the week. Very busy until Friday of that week, I went up to get the copy and ran into John, who said: “I was going to make you a copy, but after reading it, I decided to let you get it yourself. It is amazing.”
Born in 1924, dad was 19 when inducted into the service April 8, 1943. He arrived in the European-African Theater April 16, 1944, according to the discharge papers. Less than two months later, he, along with thousands of Allied forces, would storm the beaches of Normandy, France in the largest amphibious invasion in world history. There would be 120,000 allied casualties as a result of this “D-Day” invasion that was launched from the south coast of England. In a letter to my grandparents, my father wrote that, “I’m somewhere in England.” So, it would seem even the soldiers were uninformed of the top secret planned invasion that involved 1,332,000 allied soldiers. Carlos Williamson, who was described on his enlisted record as 5-10 in height and weighing 160 pounds, would receive the first of what would be FIVE Bronze Stars as a result of the Normandy success and other major battles. He was listed as being a “sharpshooter” and a “heavy artillery gun crewman.”
The Bronze Star is awarded to members of the Armed Forces for either ‘heroic achievement, heroic service, meritorious achievement, or meritorious service in a combat zone.” I will never know the exact reasons for my father’s awards because he didn’t speak of the war—ever. However, his discharge papers show that he was involved in the “Battle of the Bulge,” which was a major German offensive launched through the densely forested Ardennes region of Belgium in which United States soldiers incurred their highest casualties of the entire war—108,347 American casualties, including 19,246 killed, 62,489 wounded and 26,212 missing. This battle was described as “the bloodiest battle for U.S. forces in World War II.”
Three other major battles my father fought in are described on his discharge papers as the battles of Rhineland, Central Europe and Northern France, which basically means that from the time of the Normandy Invasion June 6, 1944 until the end of the war he saw continuous combat action, and moved from one major battle to another. To survive one major battle is one thing, but too survive five is, to me, monumental. The horrors of war experienced by my father must have been awful.
Growing up in a crowded coal camp house, I remember my father moaning and sometimes almost screaming in his sleep. I never knew why, until now. This, of course, was long before anybody had heard of PTSD. I’m sure there were many other soldiers who came home from various wars with the same unidentified problem.
In the January 29, 1945 edition of The Logan Banner it listed the names of all Logan County soldiers who were in the military as of January 1st of that year. I counted the names and it turns out that 610 men represented the county. However, I found several deaths from WWII that were in the newspaper whose names were not listed in the 610 number. Therefore, I believe the number to be closer to 700. Based on the many stories in The Banner back then of heroism and bravery displayed by Logan County soldiers, our people should be proud of our veterans of all branches of service.
Though you won’t find his name attributed to any bridges or roadways like so many other deserving veterans of the area, I’m here to tell you that the coal mining father of seven children was a true hero, who sought no glory for himself. However, I suppose he did want to honor the Supreme Allied Commander of World War II. After all, he did name his eldest son, Dwight, after General Eisenhower. And, you know what? He never even told me so.
BITS and PIECES
Despite the fact that at least 40 states have laws punishing people who burn or otherwise desecrate the American flag, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1989 and also in another case in 1990 ruled that flag burning and other forms of damage are constitutionally protected…..never one to ever argue against freedom of speech or of the press, I cannot agree with the court’s ruling…..in my opinion, to do so would be a dishonor to my father and millions of other veterans…..still, some states in the south even have laws protecting the Confederate flag…..the May Primary Election may have produced some surprises in Logan County, but the truth is, there were many changes across the state…..for instance, in neighboring Boone County, the only incumbent to win was the sheriff, while in Mingo County, the political machine, “Team Mingo,” was decimated…..in fact, the only magistrate re-elected there was my friend, Jim Harvey, who was not on that political side…..a friend with West Virginia Supreme Court tells me that there will be 31 new magistrates in the state come Jan. 1 due to retirements and political defeats…..I’m also told there have been many layoffs and other cuts within the court system due to lack of funding…..speaking of money, with billionaire Donald Trump and millionaire Hillary Clinton contenders for president, readers might want to know that Harry Truman was the “poorest” of all U.S. presidents, as he was worth less than $1 million in today’s dollars…..Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Jackson also were worth less than a million, while George Washington, by today’s standards, would be the richest ($525 million in today’s dollars) and Thomas Jefferson ($212 million) and Theodore Roosevelt ($125 million) follow…..remember Charlotte Pritt?…..some may recall her seeking the governor’s office some 20 years ago when Cecil Underwood defeated her in the General Election (thanks to the help of Joe Manchin), who she defeated in the Primary, organizing “Democrats for Underwood”……Pritt, who is in support of legalizing marijuana in the state, is a candidate of the Mountain Party and could draw enough votes to make a difference between Republican Bill Cole and Democrat Jim Justice, who himself is really a Republican…..DID YOU KNOW that doctors in Los Angeles went on strike in 1976 to protest malpractice insurance rates?…..during the strike, the death rate dropped 18 percent…..a childhood friend and coal camp neighbor, Kathy (Evans) Manley, a retired Logan County teacher and resident of Chapmanville, has written a book titled “Daddy’s Leg”…..the book is about her family and her childhood…..Kathy’s family was the poorest in our neighborhood, and that’s saying something…..the title of the book comes from the fact that her father had a wooden leg, which he constructed himself from wood and other material she and her dad found at a trash dump…..I will alert readers when the book is available and I strongly urge its reading…..the suspension of New England quarterback Tom Brady for four games is ridiculous, even if the footballs were underinflated…..I hear that US Cellular phone service has pulled the plug on all of its stores in West Virginia due to actions taken by employees at the Logan store that was on Dingess Street…..instead of handing out free cell phones to those who qualified, I’m told employees there were charging money for them, and keeping the funds (only in Logan)…..QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “You can get much farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone.”—gangster, Al Capone….FINAL NOTE: When I first started this job 16 years ago, retired former Mingo County magistrate John Moses, a resident of Whitman, was working in place of Leonard Codispoti, who was off following surgery. John, who was the father of Williamson High School basketball star, Danny Moses—a 6-11 center for the Wolfpack in the 1970’s that many Logan fans surely remember—died recently. I learned a lot from John and appreciated him. Once, at a Magistrate Convention at Pipestem Park, John and I played golf against two other state magistrates. After seven holes, we held a surprising lead. Suddenly, John quietly said he thought it best he quit the round. “I didn’t want to say anything about it,” John explained, “but I’m going to have open heart surgery next week.” John had his surgery and it did not go well, as after a long period of time, the doctors advised his wife, Lois, to allow him to die peacefully. Lois refused to give up on her husband and consequently, John was sent to Guyan Valley where he made a miraculous comeback. He later continued to both work and play golf. We in Magistrate Court extend heartfelt condolences to the Moses family.
Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.