Moore remembers time as a fighter pilot

The elementary school in Nowata, Oklahoma is named after former school superintendent and community leader Glenn C. Moore.

But before Moore made his respected reputation in education, he earned another reputation over the skies of Europe in World War II: As a combat fighter pilot.

I sat down with Moore in 2005 to remember his war-time service.

“I was a senior in the class of ’43 when I enlisted in the U.S. Army pilot training. It took a year to complete the training,” Moore said.

Moore earned his silver wings and second lieutenant’s commission by April , 1944 and was assigned to the 525th Fighter Squadron, 86th Fighter Group outside of Naples, Italy as an 18-year-old fighter pilot. “I flew nine missions while in Italy, before being sent to the island of Corsica to provide support for the invasion of France,” Moore said.

He was assigned to fly a P-47 Thunderbolt.

A letter Moore wrote to his parents on July 11, 1944 relates his first combat mission: “I flew my first combat mission on the seventh of July. I flew as the wingman for the mission leader. They said my bombs were on target but I did not see them hit,” he wrote. “It was good to get the first one under my belt. I had the same feeling of butterflies in my stomach that I use to have before the beginning of a football game.”

From Corsica, Moore said he begin flying missions against the Germans in earnest. “We really got started with heavy action from Corsica; I flew in 118 combat missions in all.”
In the middle of August an Allied campaign began to trap the German 19th Army. Moore’s unit was assigned to fly armed reconnisance patrols in the Rhone River valley; part of the mission was to strafe German units trying to escape, nearly 50,000 German prisoners had been captured.

On August 22, Moore was flying his 13th mission and was given his first command — a four-plane wing. Moore was in charge of White Flight with orders to recon around Aix toward Digne.

“We were instructed not to drop our external fuel tanks unless we were attacked by enemy planes; there was a shortage of fuel tanks.”

“After take-off, we switched to the external tanks for the 200-mile flight to Marseille. Each flight turned at the assigned location to begin the reconnaissance in its geographic area.”
Moore directed White flight to switch from the external tanks to the internal main tank. His flight was flying at an altitude of 4,000 feet in a spread formation so that each plane had freedom to look for ground targets.

“We passed the city of Aix and I thought I saw a truck drive into a tree-lined area off the highway. I called the second element (of the flight) and instructed them to stay up while my wingman and I went down to strafe the truck,” Moore related.

“We turned to enter the attack and a heavy barrage of 20mm cannon fire came up to meet us. I heard a shell explode in the tail section of my plane. At the same time, Marsh (Moore’s wingman) reported he had a large hole in his right wing. I continued my strafing pass and racked a large column of bumper-to-bumper vehicles concealed beneath the trees which lined both sides of the road.”

Moore said that coming out off the strafing pass, his wingman seemed frightened about the extent of damage to his airplane. Moore directed the second element to make another strafing pass at the column.

“I waited until my wingman and I were out of range before gaining altitude and called Marsh to join me in close formation. White Two (Marsh) continued to show how frightened he was by his calls on the radio. I remembered my first flight and knew how scared I was. The other element leader (White 3) called to report he had a hit to his left wing.”

Moore instructed the flight to reassemble over Aix and as soon as they  rejoined, they set a course for a return flight to Corsica. Moore ordered  the undamaged White Four to inspect the other three planes. “All three of the planes had sustained direct hits from exploding 20mm shells. Marsh’s plane was hit along the leading edge of the right wing, just outside of the outboard gun. White 3’s hole was in the aileron area of the left wing, but his control surface was functionally normal. The shell had exploded on the bottom of the fuselage in front of the tail wheel on my plane.”

Reaching Poretta, Moore instructed Marsh to jettison his wing tanks and was about to have all the planes jettison the tanks when he realized the tanks still had fuel in them; he ordered the other planes to keep them.

“I came in and made a normal peel up off the end of the runway for my landing approach. At the top of my chandelle, I dropped my wheels and flaps and was holding bottom rudder in my turn. I had just rolled out of my turn over the end of the runway when the right rudder pedal went full forward.”

Moore’s plane nose dropped and then crashed into the runway. He said the landing gear collapsed and the prop dug into the steel mat. The wings dropped onto the two external fuel tanks and they ruptured but quickly tore away as the plane skidded to a stop in the middle of the runway.

Moore expected the spilled gasoline to explode. ” I jumped out of the plane, dashed forward and away to the edge of the mat and dropped to the ground.”

Moore was uninjured but two days later he had a new plane and a new mission.
Moore’s  target was a railroad bridge and construction overpass combination west of Torino, Italy, combined with an armed reconnaissance of roads and rails back toward Allesandria.

“On our big briefing and situation map in the operations tent, a red heavy flak circle showed in the same location as our target. Captain William Blackwell pointed to the location and said, ‘You are very likely to receive heavy anti-aircraft fire in the target area. Collegro Airdrome is close to the target and is heavily defended with with both 88mm and 20mm guns’.”

Moore was flying in formation at about 10,000 feet on a course over the city of Cuneo. “Four rounds of 88mm came up and exploded very close. I began evasive action immediately. Several other rounds followed but non was as close as the first. A piece of shrapnel had passed through the canopy of my plane and shattered it on the left side.”
Moore reported the damage to his flight leader but felt he could continue the mission. As they approach Torino, Moore began a brief cockpit check of radio, oxygen connection, fuel tank settings and readings and adjusted his oxygen mask.

“When I looked at the floor at my fuel tank selector, I noticed blood was dripping on the left leg of my flying suit. I used my left hand to feel for the source. When I pulled my hand away from my oxygen mask, my glove was sticky and covered with blood.”

Moore aid he was alarmed and pulled off his mask. “Blood trickled down my cheek and chin and I felt a burning type pain. Feeling at the source of the pain, I located sliver of plexiglass that was embedded in my face over on my cheek bone.”

Moore pulled off his glove and pulled the piece from his face — it was about half an inch wide. “I snapped my mask back on, stuck my glove in a pocket and began to try and concentrate on what I was doing. Radio communication had begun.”

Moore remembered the battle communication: “‘Arm your bombs,’ then ‘Prepare for attack,’ ‘Break left off the target,’ ‘Go down and stay down on deck if flak is heavy,’ ‘Space out to avoid bomb blast,’ ‘Don’t carry too low,’ ‘See the target,’ ‘Wait until it is past with your left wing tip,’ ‘Take evasive action.’ These were all instruction coming from Red 1.”

“Big black puffs of 88mm fire were coming up and blooming all over the sky. I thought our turn and dive and bomb would never come. When I was in position, I did a wing over left into my dive, lined up with the target, let the nose pass over and released. I could see streams of 20mm fire going up in front of me. I turned right off the target and kept going down. I was directly over Collegro Airdrome. I saw five ME 109 fighters to my left but I couldn’t turn on them with my speed. I zoomed over two twin-engined planes I didn’t recognize. I couldn’t fire a shot. I decided to get the hell out of there.”

For action in August, Moore was awarded an Air Medal. For action in September, Moore and Marsh were both awarded 1st Oak Leaf Clusters. Moore’s OLC was awarded for his action in a machine gun attack that destroyed a pontoon bridge over the Po River. For action in November, Moore was awarded second Oak Leaf Cluster. Moore’s wingman, Glenn Marsh, was killed in action by enemy ground fire on November 20, 1944.

By the end of 1944 Moore’s unit had rebased at Pisa, Italy and were flying sorties  targeting infrastructure and trains. Moore said. “We really liked hitting the locomotives, that was our main mission.” Moore was part of a three-pilot mission that destroyed two locomotives, eight motor vehicles and five rail cars; an additional three locomotives were damaged near Verona, Italy. on Dec. 1.

On Dec. 20 according to declassified action reports, Moore led a four-plane group that bombed and strafed rail lines and rail activity in Voghera, Italy.  This “very successful” mission earned Moore the Distinguished Flying Cross. According to the award citation, after completing the bombing, two of the planes were damaged and forced to return to base. “Continuing with his wingman in search of other targets in the area, Lt. Moore sighted a concentration of rolling stock and motor transports near Voghera. Immediately pressing a vigorous attack in the face of heavy enemy ground fire which damaged his aircraft, Lt. Moore repeatedly strafed the objective destroying or damaging 16 locomotives, 10 motor vehicles, a tank, and a large number of freight cars. On more than 75 combat missions, his outstanding proficiency in combat and stedfast devotion to duty have reflected great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of The United States.”

Moore had one more crash landing — in January 1945, he was forced to bring his plane down on its belly. Moore had been flying a cover mission for B-17 bombers when his plane was damaged and he was forced to make an emergency landing.

From there, Moore’s unit rebased in Tantonville, France to support the invasion of Germany. On April 12, 1945 Moore led a 12-plane attack near Beyreuth. Moore launched an attack on two airfields — the planes stayed on sight attacking the fields until they had depleted their ammunition. Seven ME109s, two 190s, 1 JU 87, one HE 111, four trucks and a building were destroyed. Thirteen other aircraft were damaged.

The unit moved to Braunschardt, Germany in late April. As the war ended, Moore was appointed Assistant Operations Officer and then Squadron operations Officer; Moore ended action earning his 7th Oak Leaf Cluster and his second Distinguished Flying Cross.

After the war Moore spent 60  days recovery in hospital from battle fatigue; he then went to college and began a successful career in education.

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Ten fallen officers honored by Alluwe monument

Each year a tribute is held for fallen Nowata County law officers at the Ray Coffey Memorial in Alluwe, Oklahoma’s Clark City Park.

The memorial was dedicated on July 4, 1992 in honor of Ray Coffey, who had served as a deputy for 25 years before his death on September 7, 1991.

The memorial lists just a few fallen officers. To set the record straight I dug through old newspaper articles, state and tribal archives and other sources to find that at least 10 law officers have been killed in the line of duty in Nowata County; in addition one other man born in Nowata County lost his life working as a state trooper.

Those killed in Nowata were county sheriffs Hugh Owen and James Mayse, county deputy sheriff James P. Gibson, deputy U.S. marshals Floyd Wilson and W.C. McDaniel, Nowata city marshal John Wilson, Delaware city marshal Charles L. Bullock, Delaware city deputy John Garrison and Nowata’s Cherokee city marshal John Pushmataha and his deputy William Fulsom. Also killed in the line of duty was South Coffeyville born Edward A. Elliott, an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper.

— During the early 1890s Pushmataha, also known as John Fulsom, was appointed by the Cherokee tribal council as marshal of the Cherokee chartered town of Nowata.

During these confusing times the U.S. government began to take steps to end Cherokee rule. Nowata was thus divided and governed by two separate governments at the same time, the Cherokee Corporation and the Arkansas Corporation.

Racial tension was very high and the Arkansas Corporation appointed its own marshal, a well known gunfighter and U.S. Deputy Marshal named George Goodell.

Goodell was a tough no nonsense lawman who had served as a deputy to Wyatt Earp, Bill Tilghman, Bat Masterson and Doc Holiday.

Marshal Pushmataha and his half-brother William Fulsom, a Cherokee deputy marshal, broadcast around town that Goodall had better leave or face the consequences.

Not one to suffer threats easily, Goodell promptly arrested Fulsom in November of 1897 for being drunk. Pushmahata broke his brother out of jail that night but Goodall tracked Fulsom down the next morning, called him out and shot him in a duel on Maple Street.

Fulsom was carried into a drug store on Cherokee Street where he died. Pushmahata rushed to the building to confront Goodall. Goodall had the faster draw and killed the Cherokee Marshal in a street duel.

Goodall was sent to prison but was pardoned by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1903.

— Bullock and Garrison were killed on January 6,1917 in a gunfight with the Poe/Hart gang at Blue Canyon.

A Delaware man named Thornbrew had been robbed and witnessed the Delaware grocery store being robbed. He was able to identify the culprits as the deadly Poe/Hart gang. A posse of seven men was formed, led by Marshal Bullock and two brothers named John and Ed Garrison.

The posse learned the gang was hiding in the Blue Canyon, located in the northeast part of the county, and went in pursuit.

A local rancher warned the gang that a posse was near them by ringing a school bell — the bell is in the Nowata Historical Museum. The gang set up an ambush and killed two of the posse and wounded Ed Garrison. Within 12 days the gang would be cornered two more times with all of the members shot dead by January 18.

— Trooper Elliott, born March 15, 1938 in South Coffeyville was killed on August 24, 1980. Elliott had stopped a speeding motorist on the H.E. Bailey Turnpike. While standing between the two vehicles, Elliott was struck by a passing motorist who had taken his eyes off the road to adjust his radio. Elliott was knocked underneath a semi-trailer, sustaining fatal injuries. He was survived by his widow, two daughters and a son.

— Deputy Marshal Floyd Wilson was searching for Henry Starr with a warrant for his arrest for robbing the train depot in Nowata. Wilson found Starr on December 13, 1892 on the Dewey to Nowata wagon trail near Wolf Creek.

Facing each other on horses with Winchester rifles, Floyd called for Starr to surrender and shot a warning shot over Starr’s head.

Starr answered by shooting the marshal off of his horse. Wilson fired once from the ground and then his rifle jammed. Starting to draw his revolver, Wilson was wounded twice more by Starr’s shots. Starr then approached the wounded officer put his gun to his chest and ended the deputy’s life.

Starr, after escaping on the dead deputy’s horse, was later arrested and sentenced to hang. He was pardoned in 1902, by President Roosevelt after aiding in the capture of Cherokee Bill. He went on to star in motion pictures before being killed in a bank robbery in Harrison Ark. in 1921, at the age of 47.

— In March of 1895, Deputy McDaniel learned a fugitive named Bob Rogers was living with his dad on Horseshoe Mound near Childers.

Rogers was wanted for an 1893 murder of a train engineer at Kelso.

On March 15, McDaniel’s posse arrived at the Roger’s home and ordered Bob to surrender. Rogers retreated to the second story of the house and opened fire. McDaniels was killed and deputy Phil Williams was wounded as the two men entered the house.

During the gunfight more than 300 rounds of ammunition were fired with Rogers perishing in a hail of gunfire.

— Nowata City Marshal John Wilson was killed on February 8, 1898. Two cattle drivers, James Dyer and Jack Cotton, stopped in Nowata, left their horses at McCartney’s Livery and proceeded to get drunk at a local saloon.

Returning to the stable, Dyer got into an argument with a local farmer over the ownership of a bridle; the marshal was sent for.

As Wilson entered the stable, Dyer opened fire on him, hitting him in the chest. Wilson returned fire hitting Dyer four times. Both men died within 10 minutes of the shooting.

An 1898 newspaper account commented on the shooting by saying that eight men had been shot and killed in Nowata in the past 6 years including three city marshals in the past three months.

— Hugh Owen was killed on October 12, 1938 when he and two other officers were investigating a tip that two armed robbery suspects had recently used a farm house 10 miles east of Nowata as a hideout. The two teen boys were holed up with several underage girls; apparently they were using the abandoned house as an opium den.

Owen, unsure if the house was occupied, left the other two officers at the car, crawled under a fence and walked up to the front door. He ordered anyone inside to come out of the house; when no one answered, he pushed open the door of the house and was met by a shotgun blast to the chest. It was never established if one of the suspects or one of the girls fired the shot.

The sheriff was able to make it back to the police car where he reportedly told his fellow officers, “Boys, I’ve been hit.”

Owen died on the way to the hospital. Both of the perpetrators were arrested and sentenced to life in prison at McAlester. Owen’s wife had succeeded him as sheriff, becoming Oklahoma’s first woman sheriff, and she led the capture of her husband’s murderers.

— James Gibson was a deputy working in the Nowata County jail on September 29, 1916.

Shortly after noon, three inmates attacked Sheriff James Mayse as he was serving lunch to the prisoners.

Gibson ran to assist the sheriff but was shot in the head by Mark Foreman who had gained control of the sheriff’s gun.

Taking the dead deputy’s gun, Foreman and Sonny Powell escaped from the jail.

Instead of making their escape, the two men began to walk through downtown, robbing anyone they encountered.

The two men were arrested three hours later and returned to their blood soaked jail cell. A crowd of more than 200 men gathered in front of the jail intent on hanging the two young men.

The jail was swarmed around 8:30 that night by the mob; they hung Foreman from the lamp post in front of the courthouse and hung Powell from a tree in front of the Methodist church.

In addition, Sheriff Mayse died four and a half months later on May 1, 1917 due to injuries sustained in the jail break. The May 3, 1917 Nowata Star stated, “Mr. Mayse’s health had been bad since the day when Mark Foreman and other prisoners killed James Gibson in their successful attempt to break jail. At that time the prisoners over powered the sheriff and he was badly bruised in the fight which he made to prevent their escape. He never again recovered his health, which grew steadily worse until the end.”

Some of the information for the story was gained from the book Oklahoma Heroes, A tribute to fallen law enforcement officers by Ron Owens, personal interviews were conducted with eyewitnesses and family members, other info came from the Nowata Star newspaper archives.

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James Cagle’s life was saved by a can of beans in World War II

A good man passed away recently. A peaceful man who served his country fighting through hellish conditions more than a half century earlier. Shortly before he passed away, James Cagle shared his story with me.

James Cagle’s life was saved by a can of food, just outside of Davao City on a jungle-shrouded island, called Mindanao on the south end of the Philippines.

The date was May, 1945, and Cagle was a young Browning Automatic Rifle (B.A.R.) gunner trapped by a Japanese sniper.

As the machine gunner and center of the American line, Cagle was the focus of a concentrated Japanese effort to kill him.

“Three bullets went into my pack,” Cagle explained. “We were pinned down by snipers. Every time I’d open up with that B.A.R., they’d all shoot at me, and was they ever. I knew they was coming from my right flank, you could tell from where the bullets were hitting.

“Someone said, ‘Cagle, you reckon he’s in the tree?’ I said, ‘No man. If he was in the tree he’d done got me; he’s on the ground.’

“Sometimes they put ‘em up in the tree and tie ‘em up there. Then you shoot a whole lot on them. They knew they had no chance to get down from there.

“He had me pinned down good. He shot and cut my cleaning rod in two, the cleaning rod for my B.A.R. He shot me in the back of the pack, I was laying down flat. Three times, he hit my supper and dinner. I was sweating cold, man. Tell me if I didn’t have a guardian angel looking over my shoulder, I didn’t see any atheists up there. I was scared. Any man say he didn’t get scared, he’s lying to you. They passed the word back that they had got that sniper, but I didn’t believe ‘em. You get as flat as you can, turn your feet so they are flat, you don’t want to get hit in the heel, and if it’s sticking up they will shoot it.”

War is never far away for those who fought in it, no matter how far in the past, and that’s true for Cagle as well. “Just the other night I was having a nightmare, one of those Japs had got down in my fox hole and was trying to stab me, I was fighting him off, tried to get my hands around his neck,” Cagle says, as his hands mimic his words, forming a choke hold. “My wife woke me up because I was trying to fight her. The memories never get too far from you. But I’d do it all again, anything worth having is worth fighting for. ”

“Believe me, I seen ‘em take our boys. Tie ‘em to the tree. Pull their eyeballs out, their toenails, their fingers. While they were still alive,” Cagle says as tears fill his eyes. “That was my friends. You capture our boys back, you could count their ribs, they were so mistreated.”

Things seemed to run in threes for this 86-year-old World War II Army veteran, who was living in a quiet apartment with his wife of 60 years, Mildred,  in Greenville Texas when I visited with him. He passed away in October 2010.

Cagle served three years in the Pacific Theater of combat; he destroyed three Japanese tanks with a bazooka; made three amphibious assaults; was pinned down for three days on a beach at New Guinea; spent three months training in jungle warfare in Australia; was shot in the backpack three times; and after a bout with three illnesses – malaria, jungle rot and screw worms – that put him in the hospital for a month; he returned to duty and spent the final three days of the war on the frontlines.

Along the way Cagle fought at places with names such as Shaggy Ridge, Mindanao, Luzon, Leyte Island, Mindora and Palau City.

Cagle was drafted in 1942 out of the Civilian Conservation Corps – which he joined at age 15 earning $6 a month and worked, among other things, at building fences for farmers near Wolfe City and on the airport in Sherman – into the 6th Army, serving in Company I of the 19th Division, 3rd Battalion.

“I weighed 113 at 19-years-old, I was a bean pole. They sent me to Hawaii for basic training. I didn’t get but six weeks basic training and then I had to go fight,” Cagle said. “There were still bomb holes in Hickham and Wheeler Fields of Hawaii, the windows were still shot out of the barracks when I got there. Basic training was making repairs and washing the barracks with a tooth brush ‘cause you got gig’ed. I was a PFC, didn’t want no promotion, didn’t want to be a platoon sergeant. As a PFC, you’ve got 11 men beside you, and they’re close as brothers.”

After basic training, Cagle was sent to Australia for training in jungle warfare before being sent to New Guinea. “We fought over New Guinea, then went to the Philippines, and then came home. I landed on Leyte Island, and we took Palau City and when we got that secured General Douglas MacArthur came in, after it was secured.

Cagle said he was in New Guinea for three months. “They were defending it, but they didn’t last too long. We took care of them,” he said. “We’d took a hill from them and they were trying to take it back. It was there on Shaggy Ridge, my assistant B.A.R. man got wounded. You see, one of us would sleep while the other wouldn’t. I had a new greenhorn recruit, we told him, ‘anybody out of the foxhole at night is the enemy’. He woke me up, he says, ‘Wake up, some of our men are out there.’ I said, “None of our men are out there.’ They’re out there saying, ‘Don’t shoot Joe it’s us. Don’t shoot Joe it’s us.’ I let loose on ‘em with the B.A.R. He said, “What’d you do that for.’ I said, ‘That’s the enemy.’ We went out there and counted ‘em. We had 35 dead Japs out there. The next morning, he said, ‘You know, I could have got us all killed’.”

Cagle said one of the hardest parts of jungle warfare was reconnaissance missions. “I went on patrols, I went behind enemy lines. I had a .45, that’s all I had, and a can of water. There was a squad of us, about 12. We were looking for information. We were trying to draw their fire. We had to estimate how strong they were and their position. They’d shoot at us but we couldn’t shoot back, unless they were right on you.”

For the invasion of Leyte, Cagle said the soldiers were loaded in a troop transport and then assembled on deck before the attack. “We went over the cargo net down into the landing barge, and then we’d go into the beach. Them sailors, they told us, ‘I’m gonna hit that barbwire so you guys get back there and lay because that front’s gonna come up and tear that barbwire up so you guys can get in without cutting any barbwire.’ He knew what he was talking about and he done it and saved us a lot. We was stuck on the beach for three days, because our Navy was fighting the Japanese Navy and couldn’t give us any air support.

“After we left Leyte going over to Luzon, that’s where the Japanese started suicide diving. They knew right where to hit those heavy cruisers, right between the stacks. But, you put two and two together and we knew we were winning the war. This war’s over because they’re suicide diving our ships.”

In the Philippines, Cagle drew bazooka duty. “We used it against Japanese tanks. When you fired it, you could see the bullet going. We always fired in front of it, about 15 to 20 feet in front of the tank and then you would hit it right in the middle and knock the track off. That’s what you’re trying to do, knock the track off and put it out of action. I got all three I shot at.”

At Mindanao, on the way to Davao City, the Japanese had blown up a bridge trying to delay the Infantry’s progress. “If the Japs were smart, they would have waited till the bridge was packed with tanks and stuff to blow it. We had to wade across that river. Ohh, was we ever under fire. I guarantee you we were running. A guy asked me, ‘How do you carry that B.A.R. with all that ammunition?’ I said, ‘I run with this boy.’ I carried every bit of 75 pounds. That B.A.R. alone weighed 21 pounds without the sling. I had a big cartridge of ammunition, I had six on this side with two clips in each one and a bandolier come across here,” he motions to his chest. “And then you have two hand grenades down in your cartridge belt, and two canteens of water. The river was about this deep,” he motions to just below the knee, and filled with crocodiles. “It wasn’t very far across, but then you came to a big embankment, I guarantee I was scrambling up. You could hear the hand grenades hitting the Japanese. When they would attack they’d yell, ‘Banzai, Banzai, Banzai’ and just keep coming.”

“I got malaria, jungle rot and screw worms, spent 31 days in a hospital. Got out, went back to the front lines, stayed three days and the war was over. Though it was intense those last three days. We had a Cagle get killed on the last day.”

While proud of his service to his country, and the medals he’s earned, Cagle has only one honor hanging on his wall. It’s from the First Baptist Church of Celeste honoring him for 15 years of service as church maintenance man. “I’m proud of that, that’s what I want to be remembered for,” he says holding the plaque. “I’m proud of my country, I’ve been proud of it every day of my life. Like I said, anything worth having is worth fighting for.”

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Caldwell remembers Audie Murphy, D-Day

I’ve taped dozens of interviews with World War II veterans over the years and have always felt these memories need to be available for the public. Periodically I transcribe the tapes and post these on this blog.

On June 6, 1944 the Allies invaded German-occupied France in an audacious all-or-nothing attack known as D-Day. William Caldwell was there, and at numerous other  assaults across Europe, though he says he was no hero.  “I was just one of the guys, I just did my duty. I never got hurt — I had shrapnel bounce off my jacket one time.”

Caldwell reflected on D-Day with me a little over a year ago.

He was 17 and attending high school in Celeste, Texas when he joined the military. “I joined the Navy in July 1942. There were five of us from Celeste that all joined the Navy at the same time: C.B. Sams, Douglas  Lanier, Albert Bishop Chaney and me. We were all fresh out of the cotton patch.”

Audie Murphy

One of Caldwell’s other boyhood friends, Audie Murphy, joined the Army — and became America’s most decorated soldier. “I lived around the block  from Audie, he was just a poor country boy like me,” Caldwell said.  “We went swimming a lot, fought a lot of bumblebees. I have a hole in my foot from where we climbed a pole and he dared me to jump off. I landed on a big stick and it went through my foot.”

Caldwell said that Audie, even as a preteen was a crack shot, though a little ornery, such as when he shot a transient walking along the railroad tracks in the rear with buckshot.

(I’ve recorded many of Caldwell and other Celeste residents’ early day memories of Murphy and will do another story on Murphy later.)

Africa & Sicily

Serving in communications, Caldwell was originally trained to serve on a merchant ship but was sent to Africa; he served as a signalman on the docks before transferring to a Landing Craft Infantry (LCI) — an amphibious landing craft.

“I went aboard the LCI 5 to make the landing at Sicily. Sicily ws my hardest landing, things were flying around. We got hit there pretty good. Shrapnel hit us and cut the halyard down. I ran down the ladder; I was running so fast to get the flag before it floated over the side that I hit my knee on a rung. We tied  (the flag) to the fantail.

“We landed on the beach; we were hit by an artillery shell on the port side, just below the conn. The troops were still in the hold. One of our officers had to remove a soldier’s arm that was shattered. Later, he ordered me to find his stretcher on the beach and place his arm with him. I thought he would be dead: but when I was about to put his arm on the stretcher, he said ‘Thanks buddy. Got a light?’ That shook me up.”


Caldwell continued in the Mediterranean theater participating in the invasions of Salerno, Anzio and several behind-the-lines raids before transferring to England for the Normandy invasion.

Caldwell was placed on the LCI 218 for the invasion. “We started to go in on June 5, but they called us back for bad weather.”

LCI 218 was assigned to carry about 225 soldiers onto Utah Beach.

“There were some smaller craft that went in before us. We went into Utah as the first wave of LCIs. There were lots of obstacles in the water — I was up high, where I knew what was going on.  There was lots of artillery, lots of mines in the water. But we didn’t get hit; we were dodging things. Some (LCIs)  didn’t miss the mines. I looked across the water at this battleship, the Nevada, lobbing shells onto the beach and I thought, that’s where I want to be, on a big ship.”

After the invasion, Caldwell’s ship hauled barges and ferries onto the beach for two days and then hauled prisoners out.  “I still have a bunch of German medals that I traded cigarettes for.”

After the war, Caldwell reenlisted. “Guess what ship they assigned me. The Nevada. It was painted bright orange. They were taking the ship to the atomic site at Bikini.”

Caldwell, who also served in the Army from 1950 to 1953 remembers his service as something he was glad to do for his country.

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Minister recalls sharks, bombs, kamikazes during WWII

I have interviewed numerous veterans over the years and taped those conversations; over the next few months I’ll be posting some excerpts from those tapes. The first one is a story of faith and survival.

JD Linsteadt has survived Kamikaze attack, bombs, ship wreck, car wreck; he swam through a shark frenzy, been run over, blinded, paralyzed and even left for dead in a body bag. Through it all he credits his faith in God with bringing him through alive.

He lives in rural Hunt County in northeast Texas near Commerce.

“I guess God wasn’t through with me. I have to credit having parents that prayed for me every day.”

Linsteadt, an ordained minister of the United Pentecostal Church, enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the age of 17 in early 1944 during the height of World War II. “I didn’t wait to be drafted: I wanted to do my part. In August 1944 I went on board the (USS) Nevada at Long Beach.”

The Nevada, with Linsteadt on board, sailed to Hawaii, the Philippines, the Gilbert Islands and then to the Marshall Islands as part of America’s naval campaign to liberate Japanese captured territory.

“I was a lookout on the bridge and in the crow’s nest. I watched for planes, ships and subs. In the Philippines we sailed cities along the coast of Luzon and Mindanao,” Linsteadt recalled. “After that we went to the Marianas to an island called Mog Mog to be refitted for the invasion of Iwo Jima. We restocked food, supplies and ammo.”

The Nevada arrived at Iwo Jima on February 16, 1945. “For 19 days we bombarded them, preparing for invasion,” Linsteadt said. “They transferred me to a troop ship since I was trained in amphibious assault. I was to go in on the third wave, blue beach.”

Linsteadt was designated as a gate operator for an amphibious assault craft. Unarmed, and without a life vest, he said he was unprepared for what happened next.

“We were going in. We were about a thousand yards from the shore when 8-inch Japanese shells opened up on us.” Linsteadt’s craft was hit.

“The shell came straight down and exploded inside the craft,” he said. “As far as I know, of the 32 men aboard, I was the only survivor.”

“The next thing I remember was I was in the water. There were body parts everywhere and the water was blood red,” Linsteadt says with his eyes closed while moving his arms in front of himself: mimicking pushing something out of his way. “ I had to swim through bodies. And through the sharks: they were having a feeding frenzy from the blood. I swam through bodies, arms, torsos… and the sharks, all the way to the beach. Though the sharks didn’t really bother me, they were busy with the dead.”

Linsteadt didn’t come through unscathed. “Thinking about it, I guess that’s when my ears started ringing the first time.” More than 65 years later, Linsteadt says, “I still hear the bells, whistles and crickets in my ears every day.”

His wife Emma Jean interrupts to add the physical effects are not all he still endures. “He has nightmares. He starts kicking like he’s trying to get away from something: and I’ll have to wake him up, “You’re running again.”

Linsteadt reached shore in the midst of the battle, unarmed and without food or water. “It was real bad on the beach. There were dead bodies everywhere and the corpsmen were really working hard. I found a tank that had been knocked out and dug under it. The beach was knee-deep sand so it was easy to dig in, but it was a bad place to be. You’d hear ‘em scream; they’d cry, holler for the corpsmen, ‘medic!’ ‘Water!’ ‘Mother!’ Through it all, I feel like the Lord really helped me,” he recalled.

Linsteadt still has his invasion map of Iwo Jima that he was issued before going into battle. He spreads it out on his kitchen table — it’s yellowed with age and tattered on the edges but still shows the invasion route. “The government wants it, but I earned it and it’s going to stay with my family,” he says.

He points on the map t where he dug in on the beach — then his finger traces a path to where Japanese gunners were holed up on Mount Suribachi. “I’d lay under that tractor and look up at Mount Suribachi and see the shells. I was under that tank when they raised that famous flag — though it really didn’t mean much to me —they were till fighting. I was under there for three days and nights when finally a landing craft came in, I saw my opportunity. I ran out on the beach and got in it and went back to the Nevada.”

The Nevada sailed to the island of ulithi where the sailors were granted shore leave as the ship was refitted for the invasion of Okinawa.

“We go shore leave. They gave us three warm beers; since I didn’t drink, I got on a stump and auctioned mine off. With the money I went and bought my first wristwatch,” he said.

“We got our orders to go to Okinawa. We begin to shell on March 26: I’m at the bridge.

“We had field glasses, looking at everything. Lots of times they’d drive iron pilings in the water to keep you from the beach. That lasted 89 days — we shelled it around the east coast. Naha was the capitol — and we destroyed it.

“We were hit four times by shore batteries. They (the hits) were all above the water line, but the whole ship shook when one hit. It would rock back and forth.”

Linsteadt was again moved to the amphibious assault force and was assigned to land the 7th Infantry at Hagushi. “We landed the army on the beach; there were no casualties.”

The Army and Marines advanced to the north end of the island with small conflicts. Then the troops hit the “Shuri” line. That was when, Linsteadt said, the battle got hot.

“They began to send Kamikazes (suicide planes) at us: 300 of them came in one wave. I’m on the bridge when ‘general quarters’ sounded: My general quarters station is turret 3,” Linsteadt explained. “What happened was a Japanese plane, carrying a 500-pound bomb was coming at us. I left the bridge (heading for turret 3). As I went down the ladder, the ship went into a hard port turn. The plane missed the bridge and hit the starboard afterdeck. It blew me 10 feet, up against the smoke stack — from that I’m rated deaf in my right ear and blind in my left eye. It took me a few moments to figure out what happened and where I was at. Shrapnel had penetrated my clothes and I bloody spots all over my body. There were 11 killed and 41 wounded. I went on to turret 3. When I got down here, the lieutenant asked a corpsman to look at me and he said I was able to help so they asked me to help with the wounded. I still feel the pain in my body from that everyday.”

After the battle for Okinawa, the Nevada joined the victorious American fleet in sailing on to Tokyo harbor as the Japanese command surrendered. “We left Tokyo and went to the China Sea and Hong Kong. The war wasn’t over just yet. We shelled (Japanese holdouts) at Hong Kong and then sailed for Guam and then the war was over.”

With the end of hostilities, Linsteadt was transferred to an experimental jet aircraft carrier; the USS Bairoko. But his greatest personal battle remained in front of him.

With the end of World War II JD Linsteadt had developed a reputation as a survivor.

When JD —he has an initial name — was 6 years old, while riding his tricycle, a car hit him. Old newspaper clippings reveal that Linsteadt was dragged 50 feet while his tricycle’s handlebar went through his cheek. “It went in my mouth and came out the jaw. I still have the scar,” Linsteadt says, pointing to a jagged line on his right cheek. “But I don’t remember much else of it.”

The end of the war had seen JD as the sole survivor of a 32-man landing craft that was blown up by a Japanese shell off Iwo Jima and a Kamikaze attack that killed 11 of his shipmates near Okinawa; but his greatest challenge lay ahead of him.

Linsteadt was reassigned to an aircraft carrier, the USS Bairoko.

“They put me in charge of the H-2 catapult,” he said, explaining that his crew was responsible for launching aircraft. “We had practice drilling and landing. I was on there for five months. I was 15 days from discharge on May 16, 1945, when a boy ran over me with a 15,000-pound airplane towing tractor.”

Linsteadt explained that his crew had been at flight quarters since 3 a.m. “Now, it’s 3 in the afternoon. We secured from flight quarters, and my crew remained on deck to get the H-2 ready for the next morning. It took us an hour to get everything oiled and fixed up. At 4 o’clock, sunbathing hour sounded.”

Linsteadt said that when the sunbathing hour sounded he stripped down and laid out on the deck and, being tired from a long day, he fell asleep, and slept for about 15 minutes. “This boy, unauthorized, climbed on a towing tractor — not knowing how to operate it,” Linsteadt says without emotion. “He had a key that fitted his locker, stuck it in the ignition and it started. This boy tried to kill it and broke the key off in the ignition. Not knowing how to operate it, he baled off and it proceeded down the flight deck, running over me from my feet to my head.”

Linsteadt said he woke up being dragged. “It drug me 10 feet down the flight deck into a 40 millimeter mount, and when I reached for a cable in the catwalk, everything went blank. I was unconscious for 28 days.”

The Naval medical records fill in the rest of the details — 18 broken bones, a crushed right hip and pelvis, severe internal damage, cracked skull, right leg cut to the bone, and a shaft from the tractor penetrated one side of his hip and exited the other. It took 20 men two hours to lift the towing tractor off him and the official report lists him with no pulse. “They pronounced me dead and put me in a body bag. It’s in my records,” he said. “They told my parents that they put me in a body bag and flew me to Balboa Naval Hospital (in San Diego); said I was laying on a gurney in the body bag when a nurse walked by and the body bag moved. She undone the bag, rushed me to emergency, saying ‘This man’s alive.’ And here I am. I still remember that nurse’s name; her name is Ruby Larue.”

When Linsteadt woke from his coma he thought he was a prisoner of the Japanese because he was blind and paralyzed. “They kept telling me stories, but I thought they had all the lights out. I was sure the Japanese had me and were trying to get information. What would you think? Can’t see, can’t move.”

Linsteadt says he was blind for nine months but regained his eyesight as the swelling went down. “I saw something move and told the nurse. She got the doctor, and he told me my eyes were dilating. My vision gradually returned, but bright light still really bothers me.”

He had enlisted in the Navy without finishing high school. While he was bedfast he finished his GED. “The lady with the Red Cross wrote all my lessons on transparency and shone them on the ceiling. That’s how I finished all my lessons and got my high school diploma,” he recalled. “The VA has been good to me, too.”

After being discharged, Linsteadt enrolled in a Bible college in Tupelo, Mississippi called Pentecostal Bible Institute. “I graduated with a Bachelor of Theology, went on to the University of Illinois and got a Bachelor of Arts in 1953. I got a Master’s of Education from North Texas in 1961 and received an honorary doctorate from Cyrus Bible College in 1999.”

While at PBI, Linsteadt said he attended class while paralyzed from the waist down. “The boys carried me to my room, to my classrooms. They were good to me,” he recalled. “One day they had prayer and a man — Floyd Newsom — had been real burdened for me. He went to the chapel and asked the boys to pray for me. That’s when I laid my crutches down and took my braces off. I haven’t used them since.”

Linsteadt’s faith from those experiences has led him to a life of service; he’s an ordained minister in the United Pentecostal Church. “I’ve established 11 churches, in Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Illinois and Texas. There’s no retirement. I still teach and preach. God’s given me a testimony, and I’ll tell it as long as I can.”

Linsteadt says the pain of his experiences stays with him. “Still, I have severe pain in my hips — every day, almost continuously,” he said, adding he still had four unset broken bones in his hand. “I was pulling weeds in the yard one day, and I felt something grab my pant leg. I pulled my pant leg up and pulled out a bone fragment (that had worked its way up).”

Linsteadt says he harbors no bitterness or regrets. “Through it all, the Lord really did help me.”

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Cherokees deny rights to slave decendants

This week the Cherokee tribal court denied citizenship to the descendants of former tribal slaves. This means 2,800 slave descendants have been denied their rights again by the Cherokee Nation –in effect this nullifies the 1866 treaty at the end of the Civil War granting freed Cherokee slaves equal rights with tribal members.

Shame on the Cherokee nation. This is a terrible injustice that the Cherokees themselves have reversed course on three times since 2006. In 2007 I met with freedmen (the term for freed slaves) descendants in South Coffeyville, Oklahoma, when I was the editor of the Coffeyville Journal; I learned that the status of freed slaves of Native Americans had been ignored and glossed over–after all an oppressed ethnic group can’t oppress another ethnic group, could it?

At the end of the Civil War, the Cherokees, and other Indian territory tribes, were forced to accept their freed slaves as equal members–just as former Confederate states were required to accept freed slaves as citizens.  The Cherokee freedmen were a part of the nation, then segregated, then removed, only to be reinstated in 2006 when the tribal court again granted tribal status.

At the time, B.J. Johnson, a Nowata County deputy, told me that the most part of having citizenship was the recognition of his heritage. He said his mom was especially proud of her membership card. “She’s been working for this for 70 years.” He said that she was sad that her children and grandchildren had missed on scholarship opportunities–but future generations of freedmen descendants would now have new opportunities.

In 1860, census records showed 2,511 slaves  were owned by Cherokees. Conditions were harsh for these slaves; in 1842 a slave rebellion was crushed, and in 1848 the tribe outlawed teaching the slaves to read.

After the Civil War the freedmen were pushed to the fringes of the tribal territory, and many of them settled south of Coffeyville, Kansas, along the Verdigris River and its tributaries. The towns of Sanders, Hayden, Elliot, Gooseneck Bend and Hickory Creek flourished. But an education was impossible: the freedmen were not allowed to attend Cherokee schools. University of Arkansas professor Daniel Littlefield, Jr., reported in his book The Cherokee Freedmen that these people were so poor and illiterate that they did not even have a concept of time.

In 1878, the freedmen petitioned President Rutherford B. Hayes to intervene on behalf of their children. In 1879 a school was founded at Gooseneck. Soon 10 of the 102 Cherokee Nation schools were devoted to freedmen children. Today all that is left of these towns are the names and cemeteries that contain the remains of the pioneers.

Sanders is also a ghost town. The cemetery contains dozens of World War I veterans. But vandals have decimated many graves–a half dozen gravestones lie in a creek down the road. An overgrown school building and a caved-in church sit in the town’s center. Charles Sanders, a descendant of the founders of Sanders, told me about life in the freedman town in the 1920s. Sanders particularly recalled the celebration of Juneteenth (celebrating June 19, the day slaves were freed in Texas and the Indian Territory). People would travel all over to the Big Creek at Sanders. “There were tables of food set up on both sides of the creek, to show different people coming together from north and south,” Sanders told me. “People would give speeches, wagon races were held across the creek–you’d splash into the creek and try to pull your way up the steep bank on the other side. It was a big celebration, but it wasn’t religious; it was a celebration of freedom.”

Cherokee historian Curt Johnson told me that Sanders was the location of a remarkable event in the late nineteenth century. “A family of white pioneers were crossing the prairie near Sanders, and they died of typhoid,” Johnson related. By law, cemeteries were segregated, so the whites were not able to be buried in the town’s cemetery. However, the church’s pastor, Charles Sanders grandfather, felt they should be buried on consecrated ground. He had the bodies buried in the front yard of the church, creating a white cemetery in the black town.

In 1880, the Cherokees attempted to remove 86 freedmen families claiming they were intruders. The federal government refused to assist. The freedmen were nervous for their improvements; they had cleared land, built homes and created a life after the war. Now the Cherokees sought to claim those improvements. Littlefield’s book documents the case of William Hudson, who had lived undisturbed at a farm on Big Creek until 1880. That’s when Bill Martin, clerk of the Cooweescoowee District, had Hudson ejected from his land and confiscated for himself.

Littlefield recorded that in 1883, 500 freedmen were forced to move west, out of the Cherokee nation because of intimidation. They were shot at as, Littlefield wrote, “the Cherokees went in squads and committed deprivations on the Freedmen.”

In 1891, the Coffeyville Journal reported that 200 freedmen were entrenched at Gooseneck Bend, near present day Lenepah, in defiance of the Cherokee Nation. The freed Cherokee slaves were armed by Kansas merchants with Winchester rifles and a brass cannon, filled with nails, to defend their property rights. The Cherokees had issued an order of sale for the freedmen’s property. The freedmen held off an armed party led by the Cherokee sheriff. The matter was settled peacefully when U.S. Indian Agent Leo E. Bennett intervened. He wrote to the freedmen that, “The government will not permit the confiscation of your place by the Cherokees, but you must not become lawbreakers yourself.”

No buildings remain in Gooseneck today, just a cemetery, in a cow pasture. Most of the headstones are broken off and piled in a corner near the fence.

There are no historical markers for the sites mentioned in this article; there are no state, federal or tribally recognized Cherokee freedmen historical sites.

But these people deserve their rights that were denied their ancestors.

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Vacation: Great Sand Dunes

Home from 10 days of vacationing in the mountains of Colorado and Wyoming. Home to over 100 degree Texas heat—on the trip the temps were in the 70s, it even got down below freezing one night.

We left Texas and got to the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado about noon on Saturday. Fortunately we arrived early enough to get a campsite—they had three left when we got there. The Dunes are the highest sand dunes in North America and very impressive. They rise up to 700 feet above the valley floor and are surrounded by 14K feet mountains. We hiked out onto the dunes which was very difficult, the sand shifts under the feet making progress difficult.

Later in the day we drove partially up a mountain and then hiked up to 9,400 feet to Zapata Falls. Hiking at altitude is hard, but this trip was well worth the effort. When you reach the creek- hike up the stream, over the wall and follow the water into the cave. You will be rewarded with a double waterfall. Climbing up the first waterfall into the pool that the second cascade empties into is, well it is practically a religious experience. The spray from the fall baptizes you with a feeling of sheer joy.

That night we cooked out with an Indian spinach and potato paneer cooked in a cast iron skillet over a campfire. Then we  camped with a beautiful view of the dunes as a full moon lit them up all night. The ground was painfully hard though and we vowed to buy a air mattress for the next night.

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