(Seen here as a 1st Lieutenant and as a Lt. Colonel)
Sadly, Marshall Arlon Langley is not listed by the Department of War of those from Caldwell County who died in World War II. He most definitely belongs with those listed from this county.
Marshall was born in Fentress on November 21, 1913, the only son of Willie Evans Langley and Essie (Smith) Langley. He had two younger sisters, Mary Ethel and Billie (Cutcher). In 1917, Willie was tenant farming near Goforth in Hays County, according to his draft registration form. By 1920, he and his family had moved to Caldwell County, where Willie and Essie would live the rest of their lives. Marshall’s parents are buried in the Woodmen of the World Cemetery in Prairie Lea.
Marshall attended Prairie Lea schools, and in his senior year in 1931 was class vice-president. There were twelve graduating seniors. Marshall enrolled at Texas A&M and was a member of the Corps of Cadets. His senior year he was Planning and Training Officer on the Second Battalion, Field Artillery Staff. He also played on the varsity baseball team. He would come home for summer vacations and some holidays, although in 1933, his mother and father travelled to A&M to be with him. A&M was playing the University of Texas at Kyle Field that year. The game ended in a 10-10 tie.
Marshall graduated from A&M and was commissioned on May 23, 1936 as an Army 2nd lieutenant. His branch was Field Artillery. He also got a job in Dallas. He went on inactive military status until November 1937. His employment took him to Beeville, where he worked with an oil company and then with Texas Power and Light. He joined E Battery, 133rd Artillery, an organic unit of the 36th “Texas” National Guard Division. He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant in July of 1939. The Division’s field artillery units were woefully short of equipment in the pre-War economy of the Depression, but in 1937, received new 155 mm howitzers. The 133rd’a motto “Dum Spiramus Tuebimur” (While We Breathe We Shall Defend) reflected more the hopes rather than realities of its abilities during that time.
While working in Beeville, Marshall married a San Marcos girl, Leila Elnora Coovert, in December 1938. He and his new wife made several visits to Caldwell County to visit his parents. They would have one child, Larry Wilson Langley, born on October 19, 1943. Larry died in in 2007. Leila died in 1999.
The 36th Division was activated to national service on November 25, 1940. On that day he was promoted to 1st lieutenant. In February 1942, Marshall was promoted to captain. The division training kept it at Camp Bowie through most of 1942, and his wife joined him there. He was promoted to major on July 6, 1942, and lieutenant colonel on March 5, 1943. Lt. Colonel Langley’s promotions in field artillery went along with numerous changes in the units in which he served. The massive growth of the armed forces created many changes. A portion of the 133rd became the 202nd Field Artillery, and another portion became the 961st Field Artillery. In late 1943, Marshall Langley was placed in command of the 174th Field Artillery Battalion, then training at Camp Bowie, near Brownwood. The outfit boarded trains and left for New York on February 15, 1944. The unit loaded onto an old liner, the HMS Samaria, and sailed from New York on February 27, 1944, arriving at Liverpool, England on March 10. After training all over England, including in the Marcher country near Wales, the 174th shipped to Normandy, landing on July 1, 1944. Almost immediately, it went into action in places like Meautis, Periers, Coutances and La Haye Pesnel. The unit’s men were exposed to air attacks, mines, snipers and enemy artillery fire. It played a large role in the taking of the port of Brest, one of the nastiest urban battles on the Western Front. The 6th Armored Division’s commander had tall praise for the 174th during this action:
By November 1944 the 174th was attached to the 83rd Infantry Division in Luxembourg. All was well in the relatively static lines near Bech until December 16, 1944 when all hell broke loose – the Germans struck without warning into the Ardennes Forest in what became known as the Battle of the Bulge. On December 18, Langley personally led a 30-man unit to help rescue an artillery battery of an infantry regiment that had been surrounded by the Germans. Along with the infantry of the 1st Infantry Division, the 174th’s artillery stopped a German secondary drive toward Verdun. All of December 1944 and January 1945 was spent in the misery of constant winter combat as the Bulge was eventually eliminated. As the Allies approached the Germans’ Siegfried Line on February 25, 1945, Lt. Col. Langley gave a written ‘pep talk’ to his men, commending them for their fortitude and prowess. It read in part:
Next came the crossing of the Rhine River. While some American forces were fortunate to use the damaged Ludendorff railway bridge at Remagen, and later a floating Bailey bridge adjacent to it to make the crossing, others crossing the last major natural obstacle into the heart of Germany were forced to use assault boats. This was the case at St. Goar, where ancient castles dotted the cliffs near the statue of the mythical Lorelei. The terrain favored the defenders, and the 87th and 89th Infantry Divisions were tasked with the attack. The 174th established a firebase to support the crossing, planned for the early morning hours of March 26, 1945. The crossing was no cakewalk, as Germans riddled many of the first boats crossing the river. Early that morning, Lt. Col. Langley, along with T/4 Walter Tipton and Cpl. Russell F. Meese were on a reconnaissance when their jeep was fired on a by German 20 mm gun from the east side of the Rhine River. The 174th’s commander was killed instantly and Meese fatally wounded. Harry Snyder, writing shortly after the end of the war noted:
Lt. Col. Langley commanded the 174th F.A. Bn. through its entire existence as a separate battalion. The comfort and safety of his men were ever uppermost in his mind….The most fitting tribute that can be paid him lives in the simple words spoken by one of the men of the Battalion, “He was a good man.”
Leila had just received a letter from her husband, dated March 19, 1945 telling her all was well.
Lt. Col. Langley was buried in the 3rd Army’s burial grounds near Stromberg, Germany. He was thirty-one years old. He had seen his son for less than four months before shipping out. As his widow and son were living in San Marcos, his death was reported in both the Post Register and the San Marcos Record. It cannot be overstated the sadness that must have been felt by the entire Langley family when their son, brother and husband was killed so close to the end of the war in Europe.
The Lockhart Post Register of April 25, 1946 report ed that the year’s Aggie Muster, held on San Jacinto Day, April 21st, honored Marshall and ten other Aggies of Caldwell County’s ‘gold star’ men, killed in World War II.
Mike Langley came home in 1948, and on October 15th of that year his funeral was held at the Pennington Funeral Home in San Marcos with the Reverend Troy Hickman presiding. Graveside services were conducted by the San Marcos American Legion Post. His pallbearers included Ben Campbell, Edward M. Neal, Gainer Jones, and Jack Ferguson.
Lt. Colonel Marshall Langley’s Headstone- San Marcos Cemetery
George Allen Halsell Jr. (or “G.A.” as he went by) was the only child of George Allen Halsell, Sr. and Lula Mae (Hurst) Halsell, George Sr. was 32 years old and Lula Mae was 31 when G.A. was born in McMahan on December 7, 1923. When he was a small child, the Halsells moved to 502 North Blanco Street, Lockhart. G.A.’s father, a carpenter by trade, was a World War One veteran, although his unit never was sent overseas. Easy going and extremely well liked, G.A. joined other boys like Fleetwood Richards, Forrest “Jack” Wilson, Herb Reed, and G.A.’s best friend George “Bubba” Chapman for Saturday morning tackle football games, played barefoot and without any pads. These same boys later joined the high school football team. G.A. graduated from the Lockhart High School in June of 1941. He then entered Texas A&M, where he turned 18 on the day of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. After three semesters, he left school, enlisting in the Army on February 16, 1943. After basic and advanced training, G.A. (or “Tex” as he was inevitably branded) was assigned to a machine gun detachment in Company L, First Infantry Regiment, Sixth Infantry Division.
The “Sightseeing Sixth” was initially slated for combat duty in Africa but found itself being reassigned to the Pacific. The unit sailed from California to Hawaii arriving on September 9, 1943 where it underwent tropics and jungle training. Leaving Hawaii in late January of 1944, the Sixth Infantry Division arrived at Milne Bay, New Guinea of February 7th. It then became part of General Douglas MacArthur’s Southwest Pacific force. New Guinea is a huge island, and its location northeast of Australia athwart shipping lanes provided the Japanese with a number of bases that required neutralizing as part of the Allied advance north toward the Philippines and ultimately, Japan. The division first saw combat in June of 1944 in and around Toem-Wakde, then fought a nasty ten-day battle at Lone Tree Hill that left over 1000 enemy dead among a labyrinth of coral caves. The division then participated in MacArthur’s landings on Sansapor in New Guinea’s Vogelkop Peninsula. After re-fitting, the Sixth Division was part of the massive Allied effort against the Japanese on the Philippine island of Luzon.
The January 9, 1945 Lingayen Bay landings were largely unopposed. However there were three main Japanese forces on the island of Luzon. One, given the name SHIMBU by its commander, contained over 30,000 crack troops. The Sixth Division was part of a force given the task of securing the Philippines’ largest city Manila’s water supplies, held in reservoirs in mountains east of the city. Resistance stiffened immediately. The First Cavalry Division’s commanding general was killed in the fighting. In the Lingayen Bay Landings 1-45 word of one chronicler:
“To the north the 6th Infantry Division fared only slightly better. Its initial objectives were Mount Pacawagan and Mount Mataba, two strategic high points crucial to capturing the Wawa Dam. Both mountains were defended by extensive Japanese artillery and infantry positions.”
It was in this nasty hide and sneak combat against tunnels, foxholes and a well-hidden enemy that G.A. was killed. He was twenty years old.
The Lockhart Post Register of April 5, 1945 sadly announced G.A.’s death. Later, a letter dated March 26, 1945 was received by the family from one of G.A.’s best friends in the Army. Responding to the Halsell’s inquiry as to what had happened to their son, Desmond (we don’t know his last name) wrote: “I am still in a daze, and probably because of my simplicity have been unable to put into words things that I know and feel my duty to tell you.” The letter told how G.A. died in his arms:
On [February 26, 1945] after several hours of walking we came to the fort of our objective, a mountain range some 1400 feet high. After climbing within a couple hundred feet of the top our machine gun section was called to the front. When contact with the rifle men behind us was lost, George and I being the last two men, tried to contact them by shouting. After several unsuccessful attempts George stood and yelled. Just when contact was made he turned to sit down, and a sniper hit him just below the right shoulder blade, turning toward his lungs. Not being sure, I asked, ‘Are you hit?’ He said ‘In the right’, never saying shoulder. As he was less than ten feet behind me, I was soon at his side. Since it was a sniper lane we had to keep low ourselves. Within a couple of minutes Henry Vredenburg (Oregon) and a Medic whom I only know as Rigstad were also at his side. Rigstad and I dressed the wound and I washed his face and upper body, while Henry tried to help him breathe. During those moments I was closer to the Good Lord than ever before. I prayed for George for I knew he was beyond that point. As he lay there, life slowly ebbing out, I know you will be proud to know that he did not cry or complain but lay there still until the end. He was shot at around 1:18 p.m. and at 1:25 I slowly crawled away from him after folding his arms and covering his body. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do, but I knew I had to continue on with the fellows upahead.
He went on to tell of the closeness of their two year friendship, and plans for the future of “riding into El Paso someday. They had looked forward to seeing Manila (it had just been liberated after horrific urban battles). Desmond assured the Halsell family of G.A.’s Christian beliefs. He and Desmond had attended church services less than twenty-four hours before G.A.’s death, and G.A. had requested Charlotte Elliott’s hymn “Just As I Am” to be sung.
Captain Frank Bair, G.A.’s commander, later wrote to the Halsells that “Company L was leading an attack on Mt. Mataba …. George was acting as first scout of the Company which was making an advance to the top of a hill. Enemy resistance was very severe and George lost his life… as a result of wounds…inflicted by enemy snipers.” Although the intensity of the fighting had so far prevented recovering G.A’s body, Bair promised every effort would be made to do so, once the Japanese were driven from the area.
George (“Bubba”) Chapman was one of G.A.’s best friends. He was in a Navy school when the family received word of G.A.’s death. Bubba’s dad immediately sent a telegram to his son to break the news to him.
G.A.’s body was later recovered and buried in the Philippines. In 1948, his body was disinterred and returned to the United States. On October 23, 1948, businesses in Lockhart closed so G.A.’s many friends could attend funeral services officiated by Reverend Ed. V. Horne held at the T.B. Field Funeral Home. G.A. was reburied in the Jeffrey Cemetery with full military honors. Many of his childhood friends, all veterans of the war and
now members of the American Legion, served as casket bearers, color guards, and firing squad.
G.A.’s parents died within three weeks of each other in 1956.
George Halsell Jr.’s Headstone Application, Jeffrey Cemetery, McMahan
Juan was the oldest of nine children born to Jose and Antonia Rivera Salazar. Born on December 27, 1920, he was raised on a ranch near Reedville. The Salazar family was large. Juan had many siblings. Sadly, many died in early childhood. His sisters and brothers included Mariano, Julian, Hipolito, Guadalupe, Beatrice, Maura, and Tomasa. Juan’s father, born in 1896, was originally from Coahuila, Mexico according to his World War I draft registration card, which also listed his occupation as a farmer.
Juan was drafted and then inducted on September 12, 1942 at Ft. Sam Houston. Induction documents showed Juan to have had some grammar school education, and standing 5’3” inches tall and weighing 143 pounds. After basic and advanced infantry training, Juan ultimately wound up as an infantryman in C Company, 18th Infantry Regiment of the First Infantry Division. The 18th Infantry Regiment was one of the very first combat units to see action against the Germans and Italians. Landing in North Africa in December of 1942, it was the temporary home of the famed war correspondent Ernie Pyle, who wrote of its men and exploits extensively in Africa and Italy. It even became the basis of a great World War II movie, “The Story of GI Joe,” starring Burgess Meredith as Pyle.
When Juan became a member of the regiment, many of its original members had been killed, wounded, or rotated back to the United States. However, it was still one of the very best of the United States infantry units. Its parent division, the Big Red One was described at one time by one writer as ‘more of a tribe than a military unit.’ Its original commander Terry De La Mesa Allen had been relieved of command (he would later command another division) because he allowed his men to behave more like a band of pirates than a ‘by the book’ division. The men of the Division took great pride in that distinction.
By the time Juan joined the Big Red One, it had seen combat in North Africa and Sicily. It then retuned to England in November 1943 and under the capable leadership of Major General Clarence Huebner trained for the anticipated invasion of the European continent. Juan joined his unit at some point prior to June of 1944, and took part in the intense pre-invasion training. The Division struck at Omaha Beach and was bloodied badly, with some of its units suffering over 30% casualties. Because of mines, beach obstacles, and confusion, C Company’s battalion was not able to hit Omaha Beach’s Easy Red Beach until 12:23 p.m. on June 6, 1944. The recently taken beach exit, E-1, proved to be a choke point for the desperate Americans. The men of the 18th Infantry witnessed the bodies of hundreds of men already killed and wounded. In the recently published The Dead and Those about to Die, John C McManus writes:
The biggest impediment now for anyone trying to leave Easy Red was mines. Because of the tenacious German resistance, engineers had been able to clear only a narrow path, perhaps just a bit wider than a man’s shoulders, through the mines along the E-1 draw…Individual solders had marked live mines with wisps of olive drab toilet paper…The path itself was the only feasible exit route off the beach for the newly arrived mass of 18th Infantry Regiment reinforcements….It was the functional equivalent of pouring a barrel of beer through a funnel. What that meant for [the regimental commander] was that his battalions had to stretch out in long, single-file columns as the moved up the draw. Moreover, they remained under a steady stream of mortar and artillery fire. Thus, the journey up E-1 was tense in the extreme, an exercise in patience, discipline and controlled terror.
Juan was awarded the Bronze Star for gallantry on that day, (received by his family posthumously in a ceremony at Camp Swift, Texas in August of 1945).
The Big Red One took part in combat all across France. By September of 1944, the Allies were approaching the German homeland. The Allies began suffering from a shortage of personnel and supplies. Sadly, they were also lacking in insightful leadership. Concerned about large dams and their possible destruction, American commanders chose to launch repeated frontal attacks into one of the most easily defended areas of Europe – the Hurtgen Forest. The logic of attacking well entrenched German defenders in the Hurtgen instead of containing the defenders, and avoiding it all together has never been explained. General Dwight Eisenhower chose to avoid discussing it in any length in his memoires. Along with other divisions, the Big Red One was thrown into battle in one of the biggest wastes of young manpower on the Western Front. Quoting from Charles Whiting’s The Battle of Hurtgen Forest:
[The GIs] called it simply ‘the Death Factory’.’ For that was what the fifty square miles of rugged, hilly woods lying on the Belgian-German border below the city of Aachen was. From September 1944 to February 1945, every two weeks or so, a new American division of infantry was fed into those dark green, somber woods, heavy with lethal menace. Fourteen days later the shocked, exhausted survivors would be pulled out, great gaps in their battered ranks, passing like sleepwalkers to ‘new boys’ moving up for the slaughter. Seeing nothing, hearing nothing, muddy, filthy, unshaven, they had somehow escaped the Death Factory while around them their comrades had died by scores, by hundreds, by thousands. In the six months of the Battle for Hurtgen Forest, eight infantry and two armored divisions, plus several smaller U.S. outfits, went into the Death Factor. In a matter of only fourteen days most of the rifle companies suffered up to 50 percent casualties….By the end, nearly thirty thousand young American soldiers died or were wounded there and many thousands more crack and went down with combat exhaustion, unable to take any more.
In the words of General James Gavin, Commander of the 82nd Airborne Infantry Division, “For us the Hurtgen was one of the most ill-advised battles that our army has every fought.”
It was in this prolonged combat in Hurtgen’s foreboding gloom that Pfc. Juan Salazar lost his life on December 3, 1944. Juan was buried in one of the many temporary American cemeteries, and then brought back to the United States and laid to rest in Reedville’s San Juan Cemetery in 1948.
William Jeffrey Van Horn was born on January 12, 1915 to Louis and Etna Malissa (Jeffrey) Van Horn. A typical youth of the McMahan area, he and his brothers Valon (“Po”), Doise and Leonard were active in school sports. Before closing down in the late 1930s, McMahan’s high school only went through the 10th grade, and was an “eight month school” according to Mr. Curtis Owen. Lockhart High School was an accredited “nine month school” that went through the 11th grade. William and two or three other good football players from McMahan ‘miraculously’ were provided an auto, so they could travel to and attend school (and more importantly, play football) at Lockhart High School. William also played on Lockhart High School’s basketball team. By all accounts, he was a very likeable young man.By 1940, the couple had two children, Patricia Jean and William Jeffrey Jr. and the family was living in Travis County, where Van Horn worked on a dairy farm. The marriage foundered, and the couple divorced. By 1943, he had remarried, this time to Gwendolyn Rogers of Austin. He was employed by Austin Transit Company. In May of 1944, at the age of 29, he enlisted in the Marine Corps. He was shipped to Camp Pendleton, California where he was assigned to the 2nd Training Battalion. After boot camp, he received additional training as a mortar man, and then was shipped overseas with the Tenth Replacement Draft. He was assigned to Company I, Fifth Marine Regiment, First Marine Division (the Division’s men called themselves the “Old Breed”). He arrived in the Pacific war zone after the Peleliu landings. The 5th Marines were badly bloodied in fighting there, and William was one of hundreds of replacements filling the ranks of the depleted unit.
Between October of 1944 and April of 1945, the First Marine Division rebuilt its strength while training on the island of Pavuvu for its next combat mission. Its final battle of the war would prove to be its most horrific.
By March of 1945, Germany was within weeks of surrendering, yet there was no sign that Japan would do the same. As a result, massive efforts were in force to compel Japan’s submission. This meant attacks closer and closer to the home islands. And the closer the fighting came to Tokyo, the more deadly (if that was possible) it became. Japan had made clear to the Allies that it had no intention of surrendering. To prove its point, its military increased its efforts at training civilians, building additional fortifications, and using suicide tactics against naval units.
Okinawa is the main island in the Ryukyu Island chain, and lies only 350 miles from Japan’s southern home island of Kyushu. Inhabited for over 30,000 years, the Ryukyus eventually created an independent empire before 700 A.D. Forced to give tribute to the Shimazu clan of southern Japan in the 1600s, it retained much independence until the Meiji Restoration of 1868. It became a prefecture in 1879 and the Kyushu islanders were granted the vote at the national level in 1912. Although the islanders were considered less than “pure” in many Japanese eyes, the fact remained that the islands, and especially Okinawa, were Japanese to outsiders. Thus, it was paramount in importance to the Japanese that the American be so bloodied there that no attempt would be made to invade the home islands. They prepared accordingly.
American Forces Landings and Attacks North and South
The Allied invasion plan of Okinawa was called Operation Iceberg. The Okinawan landings on the April 1, 1945
were the largest conducted in the Pacific. A third the size of Rhode Island, Okinawa stretches 66 miles, with its maximum width of 20 miles. Within three days, the island had been cut in half. Where were the defenders? The six American divisions – four Army and two Marine – soon found out. The main Allied forces swung south, and immediately ran into the first of layered defenses and determined resistance. By the time the 81 day battle was over, more than 12,000 GIs, marines and sailors were dead and 50,000 wounded. Kamikaze attacks on ships sunk or damaged scores. It was the most savage fighting of the Pacific. Over 100,000 Japanese soldiers and marines died, and Okinawans, many pressed into service, compelled to serve as human shields, or forced into mass suicides by the Japanese died in untold tens of thousands.
The Old Breed’s first month of action was relatively easy. But after securing airfields in the middle portion of the island and subduing defenders on several nearby small islands, the First Division was put into the line to replace Army units and ordered to attack an area known as the Awacha Pocket.
Historian Eric Hammel writes:
The infantry units that the 1st Marine Division replaced had been ground down to regiments little larger than battalions, and battalions little larger than companies. Dead ahead was the bulk of a Japanese infantry division holding a defensive sector the island command had just reorganized to higher levels of lethality. On the division’s first full day on the line, the weather turned cool and rainy, a state that would prevail into July…. This baptismal day on the southern front was emblematic of the fighting that ensued. The Japanese made excellent use of broken ground and other natural cover, and the Marines were either stymied or fell into dead ground from which they could either advance or from which they had to withdraw to maintain a cohesive line against the uncanny knack the defenders showed for mounting enfilade movements. On May 3, the 5th Marines advanced more than 500 yards in its zone, but the 1st Marines was pinned down with heavy casualties, so the 5th had to pull back several hundred yards in places. There simply was no point at which the Marines could gain adequate leverage — the same scenario the replaced Army divisions had faced in their battle.
The war classic With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, (later part of the basis for the HBO miniseries “The Pacific”) was written by E.B. Sledge, also a member of 3rd Battalion and a mortar man. He may have known Van Horn. He was a hardened veteran who had seen just about every horror of war on Peleliu, and as the 5th Marines approached the Japanese defenses, there was no bravado. As the regiment carefully moved into the line to relieve an Army unit that had been badly bloodied:
I was filled with dread….Ahead we could hear the crash and thunder of enemy mortar and artillery shells, the rattle of machine guns, and the popping of rifles… Shortly a column of men approached us on the other side of the road. They were the army infantry from the 106th Regiment, 27th Infantry Division that we were relieving. Their tragic expressions revealed where they had been. They were dead beat, dirty and grisly, hollow-eyed and tight-faced. I hadn’t seen such faces since Peleliu. As they filed past us, one tall, lanky fellow caught my eye and said in a weary voice, “It’s hell up there, Marine.”
Rains of the fast arriving wet season then hit, turning everything into goo. It was in the rain and mire of that I Company was committed to close a gap in the line of attack. It was here that on May 3, 1945 that William Jeffrey Van Horn was killed, probably by mortar and machine gun fire that drove the 5th Marines back and limited the regiment’s badly mauled companies’ two days’ advance to 300 yards.
Flamethrower “Ronson” Tanks and Enemy Position
A Marine Takes Aim Against a Japanese Sniper
The Lockhart Post Register front-page story of May 17, 1945 was very brief. It merely recited that Mr. and Mrs. Louis Van Horn of McMahan had just received word from the Marine Corps that their son had been killed on Okinawa on May 3, 1945. Van Horn was buried with thousands of other Americans on the island that had fought so hard to take.
In 1949, and at the request of the Van Horn family, William was disinterred and his body brought back to Texas for reburial in the Jeffrey Cemetery. At two p.m. on February 18, 1949, services were conducted by Elder Richard Cole and Reverend Ed V. Horne. Military honors were given by Henry T. Rainey Post No. 41 of the American Legion. Casket bearers were A.C. Lankford, L.S. New, Herman Becker, Vernon Woods, Tilmon Jeffrey, and Jack Stubbs. On March 3, 1949, the Van Horn family’s note of thanks was printed in the Post Register.
William Jeffrey Van Horn Sr. was 30 years old when he died.
Sam Scrap Fairchild (and Scrap was his real middle name) was born on October 22, 1922. His father Mitchell Cleve (“M.C.”) was born in Fannin County, Texas in 1886. His mother, Frances Emma “Frankie” Vaughan was born in Nolan County in 1895. Both had been previously married. M.C. had two children, Robert Mitchell Fairchild and Mary Florence “Eileen” Fairchild from his first marriage. Frankie had two children, Willard and Leona McAllister, from her first marriage.
M.C. was a cattle and stockman. Prior to marrying Frankie he lived in San Elizario, El Paso County, trading horses across the border into Mexico. It was a not an occupation for the faint of heart, especially given the lawless conditions engendered by the Mexican Revolution. M.C. and Frankie married in 1920 and the Fairchild family grew quickly. Scrap was born in Big Spring, Howard County, the second of the Fairchild children. Scrap’s older brother was Monroe Stump Fairchild, and younger brothers were Lyda McGowen “Mac” Fairchild, James Mitchell “Jimmie” Fairchild, and Hoot Cleve Fairchild.
The Fairchilds arrived in the Caldwell County area by an interesting route. M.C.’s ranching business took his new family into the Big Bend country. Frankie tired quickly of the arid and treeless expanse. M.C. asked her where she wanted to move, and Frankie, looking at a sack of flour milled in Seguin picturing trees and greenery, insisted that was where she wanted to go. They family traveled by oxcart, settling first in the Darst Field area, where Scrap attended but did not complete Dowdy School.
In 1937, the family moved into Caldwell County to the Hall Cemetery area. Scrap was extremely likeable, popular with the girls, and a good dancer. His best friend was Crawford Woodrow “Doodle” Watts. In 1940 Doodle and Scrap decided they were going to join the Army and “see the world.” Scrap got M.C.’s permission to enlist at seventeen. Doodle would end up in the China-Burma-India Theater, as an aircraft mechanic.
Scrap enlisted in the Army Air Corps as a private on May 20, 1940. According to his enlistment records, he was 5’10” tall and weighing a lean 141 pounds.
After basic training he was assigned to the 21st Pursuit Squadron as a cook. The squadron’s pilots, ground crews and aircraft sailed in blackout conditions from the United States, arriving on Luzon Island, Philippines eighteen days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. There had been little doubt that war was coming – the question was where the Japanese would attack. The 21st’s transfer was part of a belated attempt to strengthen The American Army Air Corps fighter forces. The 24th Pursuit Group’s aircraft were obsolete and obsolescent aircraft, such as the P-35 and the P-40.
Japanese air strikes, and large landing forces doomed the defenders. Hopelessly outnumbered and outclassed, American airpower was decimated almost immediately. General Douglas MacArthur’s American and Filipino defenders declared Manila an open city, and then conducted a fighting retreat into the Bataan Peninsula. The 21st Pursuit Squadron ground echelon moved from Lububo to KM Post 184 and was made into a regimental reserve for the 71st Infantry Division. What pilots remaining were attached to aircraft which were flown to Mindanao. Ground crews were out of luck. For three months the Battling Bastards of Bataan (“We’re the Battling Bastards of Bataan, No Mama, No Papa, No Uncle Sam. No aunts, no uncles, no cousins, no nieces. No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces. And nobody gives a damn!”) held out against overwhelming odds. Finally, decimated by disease and starvation, the forces surrendered on April 9, 1942.
The Japanese were unprepared to handle the sheer number of captives – 12,000 Americans and 66,000 Filipinos. Surrender was anathema to the Japanese culture as well. The two realities helped create one of the War’s worst incidents – The Bataan Death March.
At least 5000 Filipinos and between 500 and 600 Americans died from bayoneting, beatings, shootings, starvation and dehydration on the 55 mile trek in 100 degree tropical heat. Arriving at the rail terminus at San Fernando, survivors were crammed into boxcars and shipped to prisoner of war camps. Most ended up at Camp O’Donnell. Malaria and dysentery were rampant. The principal diet was rice, with an occasional tablespoon of camote, a native sweet potato. Men assigned to the burial detail would often drop dead themselves. Incredibly, during the period from April 15, 1942 to July 10, 1942, 21,684 Filipinos died (an average of 249 a day) and 1488 Americans died (an average of 17 a day). The US Air Force Fact Sheet tells the grim story of the Philippine defenders’ fates:
Although it is difficult to establish exactly what happened to all the USAAF personnel on Bataan, the record of the USAAF’s 24th Pursuit Group illustrates the high price they all paid. Eighty-three of the group’s 165 pilots were captured, 33 were killed, and 49 were evacuated. Of the 83 captured, only 34 made it home after the war — 17 died in captivity and 32 more died on hell ships. Of the group’s 27 non-flying officers, one was evacuated, one was killed, and 25 became POWs (15 died in camps or on ships). The enlisted men suffered equally. Of the 1,144 men at the start of the fighting, 16 were evacuated, 38 were killed, and the remainder became POWs, of whom over 60 percent died in captivity.
Scrap survived the Death March. He died in the hell of Camp O’Donnell on May 20, 1942. He was just nineteen years old.
In 1949, Scrap’s body was returned to Texas from the Philippines, and he is buried at Section S, Site 214 of Ft. Sam Houston National Cemetery.
In January of 1949, Mr. Quintus Biggs requested a military headstone for his son Aubrey for placement at the McNeil Cemetery. Like thousands of other requests, this application was verified and granted.
Aubrey was the son of “QD” Biggs and Alberta Pauline West Biggs. He was born in the McNeil Community on July 7, 1912. He had two older brothers, Loren Dabney “Chango”, and Roy Lee.
Aubrey graduated from Luling High School and attended Texas A&M. He was a member of Company H, Infantry. His senior year he was a Cadet 1st Lieutenant., He received a degree in petroleum engineering in 1935. He married in 1941 and lived at 212 N. Carrizo, Corpus Christi with his wife Rosalie. He entered the service at Fort Huachuca, Arizona on June 4, 1941, leaving behind a position as a petroleum engineer with Allen and Morris Drilling Company. In 1944, the Newsboy reported that Aubrey’s wife was living with her parents in Corpus Christi for the duration of the war. His parents were living in El Campo, and QD Biggs was working in Bay City.
Aubrey assisted in activating the 92nd Infantry Division in 1942 and then participated in training in Louisiana and Arizona. Aubrey’s unit was shipped overseas on July 7, 1944. Shortly before that, he came down with appendicitis, and rather than submitting to surgery, he “lay packed in ice for six days,” according to the Luling Newsboy. “He felt that he would be letting his men down if he did not accompany them overseas.” The newspaper stated that he had been training with a “select group of soldiers as a combat team for a special mission.”
Aubrey’s unit, the 370th Regiment, was part of the 92nd Division. The Division carried an American bison as its emblem, because it was a segregated African American infantry division with a heritage that traced back to the “Buffalo Soldiers.” The segregated division was commanded by white officers and was the only African American infantry division to see combat in Europe in World War II. Sadly, the division was commanded by Maj. General Edward M. Almond, a poor commander who blamed the unit’s occasional poor performance on its black soldiers. The reality was that they were good troops poorly led at times. Later, Almond, one of General MacArthur’s toadies, made similar excuses for his repeated failures in Korea during 1950-1951.
The 370th was attached as a Regimental Combat Team to the First Armored Division and arrived at Naples, Italy in August of 1944. The remainder of the division’s units arrived in Italy in September of 1944. The First Armored was a storied division that had fought across North Africa, Sicily, and at Anzio. As part of the IV Corps, it began a push north out of Rome that initially met little German resistance, as the Germans fell back to their strong defensive positions in what they called the Gothic Line.
The 1st Armored Division and the 370th crossed the Arno River north of Florence as part of a huge push against the Germans still repositioning behind the Gothic Line in the Northern Italian mountains. One of the Germans’ rearguard actions held up the Division eight miles east of Lucca. It appears that Major Biggs often was required to help green officers and men in their first taste of combat. In a poignant letter to Rosalie, Captain Phil Thayer wrote of his friend’s death on October 4, 1944:
Rosalie, after we went up into the lines, Biggs was everywhere. You knew he would be; we all knew he would be – everywhere there was trouble there would be Biggs to help straighten the situation out…. He was totally fearless of his own personal safety, after going straight into situations which were extremely dangerous. He was intent only on doing his job, whatever the case might be. We all got so we would expect him to appear if the going got tough, and surely enough, there he would be….You know, and all his friends knew that he was too good a man not to be in the thick of things when the going was tough….He was on just such a mission as I have described above when he was killed. This time a company was fighting in a town. They were not only fighting, but being heavily shelled at the same time; when up to this town in a Jeep came Biggs, to see the situation and try to help out, as usual. He paid no heed to artillery, or other dangers, merely intent on getting to the scene of the trouble, and try to straighten it. When a tire of the Jeep was blown out by a shell as he entered the town, he merely dismounted and walked up to where the fighting was going on. A shell landed near him, and he was killed instantly.
After expressing his personal grief, Captain Turner described the effect on the men of the regiment:
But Rosalie, the men and officers, who were not his close friends, acquaintances of official nature, platoon leaders, men in the ranks of every company in the regiment – when the news came down that Major Biggs had been killed – everywhere throughout the unit, the officers and men were stunned. He was respected, admired and loved throughout his unit…
The regimental commander, Colonel Sherman, also wrote Rosalie on October 28, 1944. Stating that “[w]riting this letter is the hardest thing I have ever undertaken,” the colonel described his subordinate’s death:
Aubrey was killed in action near Lucca, during some heavy shelling by the enemy. He was at the time up on the line with Captain Reedy’s Company, checking up on the situation for me. His death was instantaneous, and know he did not suffer. Major Blair was near when Aubrey was killed, and personally took him to the rear. Aubrey is buried in an Army cemetery near Vada.
The family returned to Luling for a memorial service at Luling’s First Baptist Church on Sunday, October 8th. Lt. Colonel Miller Ainsworth spoke. “Elaborate preparations” were made and Virgil Reynolds, a “nationally known musician” honored the major’s memory with a selection of music. Equally impressive was also a fly-over from one of the airbases in San Antonio.
On April 2, 1945, in a ceremony at Aloe Field, near Victoria, attended by Rosalie and his parents, Major Biggs was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his actions days prior to his death. A platoon encountered heavy machine gun and mortar fire on its first combat mission. Going forward, he found the unit in total disarray and took over command.
“He completed a rapid but efficient reorganization and by his vigor and enthusiasm rallied the whole platoon and got it ready to move. Major Biggs then personally led the platoon toward the enemy to the north in the face of concentrated fire by enemy machine guns, mortar and small arms. He continued to lead the platoon until it had driven the enemy off the south bank of the [censored]. Major Biggs’ courage, determination and indomitable leadership inspired the platoon to reach its objective and his heroic performance reflects the highest traditions of the Armed Forces of the United States.”
In 1948, President Harry Truman ordered the complete desegregation of the military. African American troops had served in the military in all of America’s wars. It was long overdue. Aubrey’s loyalty to his troops and the leadership he showed no doubt helped pave the way for this milestone.
LEONARD MOONEYHAM – CELEBRATING A LIFE FULL OF EXCITEMENT
BY Todd Blomerth
On February 26, 2015, Leonard Mooneyham turned 90 years old. His mind, memories, and wit are as sharp as ever, although his body is letting him down. “Mooney” is fighting cancer, his fifth go-round with the disease. He doesn’t allow it to interfere with visits from friends and family, or with a nosy judge who comes by asking him a load of questions about a most interesting life. Like with so many of his era, my biggest regret is not getting to know him sooner. Mooney is the father of three sons – Wesley Ray, Bobby, and Mark, who died of pancreatic cancer. He is also the proud step-father of Ed Theriot and Debbie Rawlinson. He married their mother Frances Faye Stanford in 1972.
Leonard was born in 1925 (that’s his story and he’s sticking to it) in Black Oak, Arkansas, the son of a lawman who became Chief of Police in Hope, Arkansas. His parents divorced and his mother, Sylvia Fischer, remarried. His step-father, Chester Warmbrodt, at one time a test pilot for Stinson Aircraft, found work in Oklahoma. The family moved to northern Oklahoma when he was young. He attended a one room school named Chimney Rock School, and then attended high school in Bartlesville, essentially a company town for Phillips Petroleum Company. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 stirred most young men’s patriotic zeal. Mooney was no exception. Quitting school, he and some friends, fudging their ages a bit, enlisted in the Navy. Gifted in mathematics and with excellent hearing, Mooney didn’t get his first choice of assignments – as a cook and baker. Instead, two weeks into basic training, he was assigned to sonar training. Sonar equipment was an absolute necessity to protect ships from submarine attacks, as its soundings allowed for underwater detection. After training, for a time he and five other young sailors were given Thompson submachine guns to stand guard as secret electronic equipment was installed on destroyers outside of San Francisco. Mooney still chuckles at what must have been a scary sight – young men, some barely shaving, lugging around fully loaded automatic weapons they were untrained on.
Mooney was then transferred to the USS Ammen, a Fletcher class destroyer with hull designation DD527. He remained a member of Ammen’s crew for the remainder of World War II.
Laid down in November of 1941, Ammen was commissioned in March of 1943. After a shakedown cruise, Ammen headed to the frigid waters of Alaska to take part in the Aleutian Campaign. Little understood and rarely discussed, the Aleutian Campaign was one of America’s most difficult efforts in World War II. It was a miserable place to fight a war, and Ammen, slated for the Mediterranean, did not have the cold-weather gear for her 350 man crew. Heavy seas took a toll on the 2000 ton displaced ship. “It is sixty-nine feet from the bridge to the waterline,” Mooney says. “There were many days when I saw green water [not just spray] come over the bridge!” A sailor was washed overboard – the seas were too high to attempt to effect a rescue. He was never found. Fog was often so thick sailors literally could not see more than five feet ahead of them. Ammen was part of the invasion of Attu. American soldiers and sailors suffered mightily from the foul weather. Eventually the Japanese garrison was wiped out. After screening convoys to Adak and Kiska, Ammen shepherded small craft to Pearl Harbor. During that journey, seas were so rough that often lookouts would lose sight of other ships in the troughs. Keeping the ships in close proximity required lookouts to chart their locations with grease pencils when the small vessels came up onto the crests of the huge waves. When Ammen finally arrived at Hawaii, its crew, now properly clad in cold-weather gear, nearly burned up in the tropical sun.
Ammen’s next nine months was in the Southwest Pacific. It supported landings at Cape Gloucester and provided antisubmarine and antiaircraft protection for the larger ships. It also provided suppression fire onto Japanese coastal defenses. The same went for landings on Los Negros. It participated in anti-shipping sweeps off the coast of New Guinea, and then gave protection to assaults on Tanamerah Bay and Hollandia. Biak, Bosnik, Noemfoor, Sansapor, Morotai – odd sounding places now, but in 1944 they were all part of the Americans’ advance toward the Japanese home islands. Often attached to Australian naval task forces because of the Americans’ superior radar, Ammen went out ‘in the dark of the moon’ to limit tell-tale phosphorescence in the ships’ wakes. And men took liberty in Sydney – something the American sailors loved.
Ammen escorted ships into Leyte Gulf for Americans’ first landings on the Philippines – part of General Douglas MacArthur’s vow to re-take the islands lost in 1942. The Japanese Navy was badly mauled at Surigao Strait and San Bernardino Strait, so it began resorting to an aerial blitz. Destroyers were the ‘guard dogs’ of convoys and moored ships. With radar and visual observers they were the trip-wires, or picket ships, guarding against attacks on larger ships with their huge crews, aircraft and equipment. On November 1, 1944, Mooney was a gun director for the Ammen’s forward and port-side quad-40 mm anti-aircraft weapon. His station was just below the bridge. In one of the earliest of the kamikaze attacks, a twin-engine Yokosuka P1Y “Frances” bomber took aim at Ammen, coming straight in on her bow. On the bridge, the quartermaster spun the wheel frantically, swinging the picket ship to starboard just enough that the kamikaze missed the bridge (and Mooney) and crashed between the two stacks. Five men were killed and 21 wounded.
Ammen shot down two other aircraft while on picket duty, and on November 16, 1944 sailed back to San Francisco for repairs. Patched up, she then endured the unending onslaught of kamikazes that sunk or damaged hundreds of ships and killed nearly 5000 sailors during the horrific battle to take the island of Okinawa. Destroyers took a heavy toll protecting landing forces and larger ships. Destroyers posted on radar picket patrols were the first line of defense from incoming kamikazes. As such, Japanese bombers and suicide planes took a fearsome toll on the small ships and their crews.
One night a near-miss by a bomb showered the ship with shrapnel. Eight men were wounded. Along with her sister ship Bennion (DD-662) she was attacked and shot down several kamikazes during April and May of 1945. While the Americans tried to occasionally spell picket ships off Okinawa, the emotional and physical wear and tear on ships and men was often overwhelming. Imagine yourself a teenaged sailor on a small ship, sitting in the ocean, watching a determined suicide bomber coming straight at you, intent on killing you and your crewmates. Once the suicide planes get past air cover, your only defenses are anti-aircraft shells which often appear to have no effect.
Although Mooney’s principal job was that of a sonarman, he, like many other crewmen, had a secondary job when at battle stations for air attacks. Every time radar picked up incoming aircraft, his role as a sonarman became secondary to anti-aircraft stations. During the night of May 24/25 a Nakajima Ki. 44 ‘Tojo,’ aiming for Ammen, missed her but crashed into the nearby Stormes (DD-780). On May 27, 1945, Ammen and Boyd (DD-544) fought off eight coordinated air attacks. Finally, as Japan ran out of airplanes and pilots, the threat abated, and Ammen finished the war patrolling in the East China Sea.
On August 6, 1945 the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. On August 9, 1945,
Nagasaki was obliterated. Finally Japan surrendered. Ammen was ordered to support efforts to recover Allied prisoners of war from the hell of POW camps. Mooring at Depima Pier at Nagasaki on August 15, 1945, its log of August 16th noted “smell from bodies noticeable.” Mooney and others were driven all over the blast zone in open trucks while assisting in the of POWs’ evacuation to hospital ships. Ammen’s crew was awestruck by the devastation. In the words of Bill Raab, speaking at an Ammen reunion in 2002, “You couldn’t imagine one bomb causing that kind of destruction. It seemed utterly out of some science fiction book. Everything was just leveled. There were people walking around in a daze, animals dead on the side of the road. You couldn’t imagine that it was a city at one time.” There was substantial ignorance as to the long-term effect of radiation. Japanese survivors would find out about cancers caused by exposure to the blast. Americans, perhaps unknowingly, placed their own men in harm’s way afterward. Photography was prohibited, and authorities confiscated all Mooney’s photographs of the desolation of Nagasaki. Mooney has fought five different cancers over the years. He attributes these to exposure to the radiation at Nagasaki.
Mooney had more than enough time overseas to be sent home immediately after the war. However he took leave one night in Japan, and a subordinate wangled a trip home for a supposed medical emergency. Mooney was declared indispensible and got stuck helping sail Ammen home through the Panama Canal to Charleston, S.C. for de-commissioning. Ammen and her crew were warriors. The ship earned eight battle stars during World War II. It participated in 19 ground invasions, destroyed eight Japanese mines, sank three enemy ships, and shot down twenty-one aircraft.
Mooney didn’t get back home to Oklahoma until April of 1946. He enrolled in the University of Oklahoma but never got his degree. Turns out that his Navy training in electronics put him well ahead in practical terms of most of his professors. He went to work for Phillips Petroleum, and began a lifetime of work in the oil and gas industry that took him all over the world.
But there was an interruption. In June of 1950, North Korea attacked the south, and was narrowly kept from overrunning the entire peninsula. After the surprise landings at Inchon, Allied forces sped north, pushing the North Koreans back toward the Chinese border. General Douglas MacArthur, in one of the worst errors every perpetrated by a military commander, split his command advancing into the mountains of North Korea, where there was no mutual support. Ignoring repeated warnings of Chinese intervention, he ordered X Corps to seize reservoirs in the mountains near the Chinese border. Made up of the Marine 1st Division and Army units, X Corps was surrounded and attacked. Although a ‘victory’ of sorts, the Chinese lost over 40% of their troops to the desperate marines and soldiers. Retreating while holding back hundreds of thousands of Chinese in an incredible display of valor, most of the American forces made it to the the port of Hungnam in North Korea, where they were desperately awaited evacuation.
Re-activated into the active Navy almost immediately after the invasion of South Korea, Mooney was shipped to Japan. Despite having destroyers in the United States kept in readiness, the Navy desperately needed ships in Asia. Several patrol frigates, much smaller than destroyers, were moored in Japan. They had been ‘loaned’ to the Soviet Union in 1945 in anticipation of its entrance into the Pacific War. Grudgingly returned from their loan to the Soviet Union in 1949, these ships were fraught with problems and skilled sonarmen were needed to help get them up and running. Mooney was assigned to USS Hoquiam (PF5). Hoquiam, after four years with Soviet navy, was, to say the least, in bad shape. Mooney and a crew worked furiously to get the 1200 ton ship operational. It was soon part of a 139 ship flotilla that sailed to Hungnam in North Korea in early December, 1950. Historian Roy Appleman has called this “the greatest evacuation movement by sea in US military history.” 105,000 marines and soldiers, 98,000 Korean civilians, 17,500 vehicles, and 350,000 tons of equipment were taken off the Korean coast, just ahead of the advancing Chinese army. LSTs took as many of the terrified Koreans as they could. One incident Mooney witnessed was both poignant and humorous. A Korean farmer was hell-bent to get his donkey and cart onto the LST. The LST’s loadmaster had no intention of letting an animal into precious human cargo space. Thousands of desperate Koreans were being loaded. Frustrated at the impasse, the loadmaster pulled out his .45 and shot the donkey beween the eyes, then dumped the dead animal and cart into the harbor. The Korean farmer was then allowed on to make his escape.
Mooney’s ship had a contingency of Underwater Demolition Teams (UDTs – forerunners of the Navy SEALS) tasked with destroying the port facilities once the evacuation was accomplished. Hoquiam was the last ship out of the harbor after the charges were set. It was given 45 minutes to vacate the harbor before demolition charges blew. And its engines wouldn’t start. UDT members and the crew thought Hoquiam would go up with the harbor installations. Fortunately a sea-going tug pulled the ship out of harm’s way. It was another close shave. Hoquiam was awarded five battle stars for her service during the Korean War.
After Korea he built pipelines in Alaska and Canada. His work with Phillips and Fluor and his own company took him all around the world. Mooney lived in Venezuela near the Dutch islands of Aruba, Curacao, and Bonaire. He helped build a carbon black plant in Guanajuato, Mexico. He built refineries in Spain. He built cryogenic natural gas capture installations in Borneo.
His civilian work put him in harm’s way as well. Fluor sent him to assist in a refinery retrofit in Iran, shortly before the Shah abdicated. He worked near Teheran, and then at refinery in Isfahan. After the Shah left Iran to be treated for cancer, Mooney was able to get his family out. He went back to Iran to finish the job. The Ayatollah Khomeini came to power and shortly afterward, the American Embassy staff was captured and held for 440 days. Near Fluor’s worksite at Isfahad were men from a German company building a cement plant. Somehow obtaining German passports and intermingling with the Germans, the Americans with Fluor headed to the Teheran airport. Photos on the German passports looked vaguely similar to the Americans using them. Pretending to be leaving for a short leave, the Americans, intermingled with and emulated their German counterparts, took only small carryon luggage. Mooney is proud to say that “nothing worked [at the Iranian facility being upgraded] when we left!”
Mooney’s life has been incredibly interesting and full as you can tell. He has combined an analytical mind with a can-do attitude. There isn’t much he hasn’t built or improved on through the years. He has raced BSA motorcycles, built dune buggies to race on the sanddunes of the Coro Peninsula in Venezuela, and was a licensed ham radio operator. While working in Borneo, Faye contacted him about buying a place to live in Caldwell County where two of her sisters lived. They bought much of downtown McMahan. While he continued to work overseas, Caldwell County became ‘home base.’ Finally retiring for the third and final time in 1993, Mooney settled down to enjoy life. Folks in the McMahan area afforded Mooney and his family many years of happiness and friendship. Selling his property in 2003, he and Francis moved to the Texas Gulf Coast. As he says, “The fishing was great!” Mooney lost his life-partner in 2011 and moved back to Lockhart, to be closer to some of his family.
Mooney is understandably extremely proud of his ship’s role in World War II. He is also proud of America’s efforts in World War II and Korea. He relishes his wonderful friends and family. He has had a wonderful life.