This coming Sunday, December 7, will mark the 73rd anniversary of Japan’s surprise attack on U. S. naval forces at Pearl Harbor. Within days, Americans found themselves at war once again, not quite 24 years after the end of the “Great War” that many hoped would end armed conflict forever.
Five Cocke County boys—S. C. Black, Herman Hall, O. C. ‘Hoppy’ Hopkins, John ‘Pete’ Eichorn, and Orville Calfee—were stationed at Pearl Harbor that day. Another soldier, Richard Nodell, who was there, would later marry a Newport girl, Mary Louise Jones, and spend many years living here. Today Cocke County’s only living Pearl Harbor survivor is Calfee.
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of America’s entry into World War II, Cocke County High School senior English students in 1992 interviewed veterans, wives, and others about their memories of those war years. Their findings were later published by The Newport Plain Talk in a special section on May 22, 1992.
Many students interviewed their grandparents, including Josh Fancher, who talked with his granddad, Gene Fancher. “My grandfather was a corporal T-5 in the US Army and served from February 1943 until December 1945. During his first battle, the Battle of the Bulge, he was captured and held prisoner for six months,” wrote Josh.
John Grooms sat down with J. Donald Cody, who recalled, “During World War II, our family experienced the horror that hung over every American family—the death of one of our own, My brother, Darius Cody, was a wartime casualty. During the war, I wrote letter to him and to other soldiers as well.
“I also remember rationing. Tires were pretty hard to come by. All staples were pretty scarce, especially gasoline. We kept up with war news by listening to the radio and reading the newspapers. We attended special church services for the deceased veterans and the funeral services were conducted in the military manner.”
Melissa Jill Holt sat down with Buford (Dugan) Calfee, who served in the US Army’s infantry from January 6, 1943 until March 26, 1946.
Wrote Holt, “He spent his basic training in Miami Beach, then was stationed at several different locations in the United States before being shipped to the Philippines.”
Calfee told Holt, “We helped clean out the Japanese for one week,” and then began training to invade Japan, but by the time they entered Japan, the war was over.
Dustin Hommel’s grandmother, Frances Miller, shared her memories of the war years. “She was living in Morristown,” wrote Hommel, “and kept in touch with servicemen by writing letters. She remembered the difficulty in getting gasoline, sugar, coffee, shortening, and medicine. She also remembered the radio and newspapers as the main sources of war news and several patriotic parades, special prayer services, and everyone being very patriotic.
“When the war ended, she felt very relieved and joyful that her loved ones were coming home. She had a brother, a brother-in-law, and several cousins in the war. They all gathered for a family dinner to celebrate their safe return.”
Bessie Thomas also shared war memories with her grandson, Michael Thomas. “During the war, my grandfather, Andrew Thomas, served in the Army from 1940 until 1945. He served in Iwo Jima and in Japan. My grandmother said he once told her the only thing that saved him from being killed was that he had ‘little eyes like the Japs.’
“My grandmother remained in Newport during the war and remembers having to have stamps to get coffee, sugar, and other things. She remembers listening to the radio for war news and fixing cookies and candy to send.
“When the war ended, my grandmother said they got a group and marched through the streets singing. When my grandfather returned home, they all got together and had a big dinner and it turned out to be a party. They just rejoiced and were happy,” wrote Michael.
Angelia Jones interviewed Reed and Lenola Vassar, who, after more than 70 years of marriage, continue to reside on Woodlawn Avenue.
The former Lenola Gray, she was working in Washington, D. C. for Western Union when she met her future husband. During the war, they communicated by writing letters and well remember the rationing of sugar, meat, gasoline, and tires. After the war, they participated in a big Fourth of July parade in Lake Placid, New York, to honor the WWII soldiers. They rode a bus to Lake Placid to meet his parents. It was their first visit in three years, a very emotional reunion.”
Eleanor Chambers spent the war years in Cocke County and told student Leslie Harwood about receiving censored letters from her husband Vaughn, who was away at war.
“When rationing went into effect,” wrote Harwood, “Mrs. Chambers remembers such shortages as sugar, coffee, gas, candy bars, cigarettes, and leather shoes. She recalls that ration coupons were necessary before these items could be purchased. Radio broadcasts kept the citizens informed and telegrams brought the bad news to families of soldiers who had been injured or killed.
“She remembers sending Bibles to soldiers and told about Miss Elizabeth Thomas sending Bibles with steel backs and how one soldier’s life was saved because the steel stopped a bullet.”
Several people recalled where they were when they heard about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. L. A. ‘Tommy’ Thompson told student Brent Cagle that he was a high school student in Asheville when he heard about Pearl Harbor, and Mack Shaver told student Randy Driskill that he heard about the attack over the radio. Both Thompson and Shaver later served in the war.
Pearl Harbor veteran Herman Hall was interviewed by Freddy James, Jr., Rodney Erby, and Angela Miller, who wrote, “Mr. Hall was serving in the U. S. Navy as a chief boatswain’s mate and was stationed in Pearl Harbor on Sunday, December 7, 1941. He had enlisted June 13, 1934 and served his country until August of 1954.
“On December 7, he was in a small craft beside the USS West Virginia, about two hundred yards away from the USS Arizona when it was bombed. He helped put out the fires and did whatever else was necessary during this attack.
“After leaving Pearl Harbor, Mr. Hall was in the Heverdies Islands for 18 months and then was a sea pilot tender. In this job, he worked with planes that bombed at tree-top level. His last post was in the Philippines.”
Also interviewed was Herman Hall’s wife, the former Ila Mae Bryant, who told student Angie Miller, “I spent my time in Cocke County while Herman was away. I wrote him letters, sometimes censored by the government.
“I remember having to stand in line for food, gasoline, and shoes. The radio provided us news of the war’s progress. I helped register men when the war started. When the news of the war’s end came, several of my friends and I went to a local church.
“When Herman arrived home, he called me from Juanita Templin Gay’s store and I met him there. We had to go back to Washington, and later I came back home.”