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A 7-year-old and others remember World War II

Posted: September 9, 2011 11:48 a.m.
Updated: September 12, 2011 5:00 a.m.

  At their meeting on Nov. 5, the Midway School Reunion’s theme will be “World War II Remembrances and Remembrances of Our Principal, J. Hoke Murphree.” We invited his two surviving children to attend but they have declined due to poor health and the long distance they would have to travel. However, Alice Murphree Kelsey did send us a couple of her remembrances while at Midway from January 1942 to January 1946.

  Alice remembers  

“As a child living on Highway 1 during the war, I remember many military maneuvers (convoys) on Highway 1 with tanks, trucks, jeeps and soldiers. I remember on a very cold day in winter that a soldier was brought to our home from such maneuvers (convoys) on Highway 1. His feet were frozen and my parents were asked to assist by placing his feet in a container of cold water to thaw them. As I recall the soldier recovered and returned to his maneuvers.

I also remember as a 7-year-old watching as planes flew over writing a big V for victory in the sky when the war ended.

Our next-door neighbor was Mrs. McGuirt (I’m not sure if this is the correct spelling of her name.) She was affectionately called Miss Icie” (Isophene) and as I recall worked in the school cafeteria. Her son (Milton) served in the military and on the day that the war was declared over, I remember her excitedly knocking on our door. I remember her happiness and relief upon knowing that her son would be coming home.

I very much appreciate the soldiers of World War II.”

  A classmate’s story about Alice Murphree Kelsey

  Elinor McNeely McLaughlin remembers a time during their first grade when she and Alice were playing at recess near some steps leading underground just beside the school building. Since Alice lived on the school grounds and her father was principal, Elinor reasoned Alice likely knew what lay at the bottom of those mysterious steps. She inquired and Alice responded that that was the furnace room and would Elinor like to go down and see it. Of course she did. What 6-year-old wouldn’t?

These two first-graders stealthily crept down the steps and opened the door to a darkened room where they aroused a dozing Lem Hayes, the school custodian and furnace tender, from his slumbers in the warm furnace room. At that very moment school principal Murphree appeared on the scene. In a gruff voice he demanded, “What are you two doing down here in the furnace room? Alice, you know you are not supposed to come down here.”

Elinor was mortified and terror-stricken at having been caught doing something wrong and at being corrected by the school principal. It required very little to produce that effect on a first-grader. It likely didn’t bother Alice a lot since that was her father and he created less fear and terror in her. Elinor states she never went into the furnace room again and never had to be corrected again by principal Murphree.

  Author’s comments

  Your columnist remembers the event of the soldier’s “frozen” feet but did not know the details about the Murphree family’s personal involvement in it. He also remembers his parents discussing it and especially the comments of his mother. With the welfare of her two sons then in military service in mind, she protested: “They should take better care of those boys.”

There were maneuvers in the Cassatt community and in the county as well as in surrounding counties during the war. Some of the convoys on Highway 1 could have been involved in these maneuvers. However, convoys of soldiers and their equipment journeyed almost daily along the highway going from one army base to another like Fort Bragg to Fort Jackson and vice versa.

When the “soldier’s frozen feet” event occurred, I did not anticipate being in Italy from December 1946 to December 1947 and riding on a truck similar to the one the soldier rode when his feet “froze.”

These trucks had a canvas-covered frame on the rear of the truck where soldiers sat when being transported. It was anything but airtight. The wind usually whistled through at about the same speed the truck traveled and the wind caused it to feel colder than the thermometer.

Jeeps were even more open, usually without any side doors and only a canvas top. The wind did, indeed, blow through them at the same speed they were traveling. On a couple of occasions while riding in one of these vehicles when the thermometer hovered in the 30s and lower, I did remember the soldier with the “frozen” feet at Midway School. While standing in snow on guard duty, his story also crossed my mind.

A second major artery located across a field and in sight of the school ran through the Cassatt community – the Seaboard Railroad. All of us attending Midway could see flatbed train cars loaded with all kinds of military equipment like jeeps, trucks, tanks, etc., on their way to a military base or to some port for shipment overseas.

Many of us also lived along or near the tracks and observed these trains loaded with military equipment. The military equipment on these two arteries through our community daily reminded us of the war times. We felt the military presence more than at any other moment when our father, brother, uncle, friend, sister or aunt first appeared in our own home in uniform.

Rationing of such items as shoes, coffee, sugar, ammunition for hunting, gasoline, etc., was a constant reminder of the war. Newspapers and radios were always filled with war news about battles and military operations.

They often also contained a more personal item, the listing of soldiers wounded or killed in action. Only four Midway students were killed in action during the war. However, a number were wounded.

Some students left school to join the service and the male portion of the student boy was reduced, especially in 1943 to 1945. The size of the graduating class reflected that fact. In my graduating class in 1946 there were only two females and one male. Small high schools all over the county were similarly affected.

The military and their activities were interwoven into all aspects of our lives for over five years.

(The Kershaw County Historical Society provided this column, written by historian Harvey S. Teal, to the Chronicle-Independent, Camden, S.C.)

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