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Memories of war and celebrations
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War bride finds her soldier just in time

Mildred, Wilma and Wynell Tankersley were teenage war brides from Murrayville. The three sisters married their husbands soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor in the winter and spring of 1942. Mildred, who was called Mickey, at 16 married G.A. “Tunney” Lawson who joined the Navy and served in the Pacific.

By 1944, while the husbands were at war, the sisters had moved to Detroit, Mich., to work in the war industry defense plants. They moved along with their parents, Will and Inez Tankersley and Mickey’s infant daughter, Patt.

Tunney was a gunner’s mate on the USS Gage, a troop transport ship that came under constant Japanese kamikaze attack for three days during the invasion of Okinawa.

Finally, after many agonizing days and nights the sisters received word from their husbands that they survived the battle by the grace of God.

In a coded letter Tunney informed Mickey the fleet would be returning to port in Seattle, Wash., before heading back out for the next phase of the war, the invasion of mainland Japan. It was forecasted that hundreds of thousands of Americans would die.

Mickey was determined she and her daughter would see Tunney perhaps one more time before he returned to be in harm’s way.

Mickey, now 18, and baby Patt returned to Gainesville from where Tunney’s father and mother drove across the country to Seattle just for the chance to see Tunney while he was in port.

On the 11-day trip they heard the news that the United States had exploded atom bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but they had no idea the impact this mysterious weapon would have on the war effort.

On arrival at Seattle, they found the port city teeming with activity. Ships filled the harbor for miles; people were everywhere.

They drove around the city and found, just a few blocks from the harbor, a USO .

Mickey surveyed the crowded room and finally noticed two sailors who passed by her and found a place to sit on the other side of the room. They had a guitar and the two boys began to play a country tune that was familiar to Mickey.

Out of the room full of servicemen she felt drawn to the two sailors but stood there a while trying to assemble enough courage to speak to them. Finally she approached them and asked if they knew where the USS Gage was docked and they replied “yes” the Gage was their ship.

She asked if they knew G.A. Lawson from Georgia who was on the Gage.

The two teenage sailors were stunned and introduced themselves as Garland Mayes and Harold Junkins and replied ‘yes’ that Tunney Lawson was their best friend and asked if she was Mickey and if the child was Patt.

Mickey was shocked because she knew through Tunney’s letters that these Alabama boys were indeed two of his best friends and comrades at arms. Mickey asked where she could find him and they replied that Tunney was on duty on the ship but they would take her to him.

They left the USO and led the Lawsons to the docks where maybe thousands of vessels were tied up. Mayes and Junkins went aboard the Gage while the family waited on the pier.

In a few minutes they heard Tunney shout, ‘Mickey!’ She looked up and there stood her loving husband high above her waving from the deck of the tall ship. Junkins assumed Tunney’s duty and the Lawson family was at last reunited.

Tunney was allowed to spend the night with his family and return to duty on ship the next day, Aug. 14, 1945.

During that afternoon at their hotel, the Lawson’s hear a commotion in the hall outside of their room.

The hotel maids were running through the hallways shouting that the war was over, that Japan had announced they would surrender! Victory over Japan was a reality.

Tim Lawson, Gainesville

Even remote areas hear the news

I was a camper at a camp in the North Carolina Smoky Mountains.  After a meal in the dining hall, we were instructed to go to the arts and crafts building where they had a radio (one of those large radios that was about the size of the earlier TVs).

Most of us were totally unaware of what was going on in the world since we were so isolated.

When a strong male voice came through the radio we were totally taken aback until he announced the end of the war with Japan.  I remember thinking that my sister’s husband would be coming home and she and her children would be moving from our house.

I don’t  think any of us at camp truly understood the enormity of what had just happened.  We weren’t even aware the atomic bombs had been dropped.

Even these days, children tend to find their own interpretations of life changing events like the end of a war.

Carolyn Williams, Forsyth County

Gainesville celebrates loudly

Felicia Burns, who lives in Lanier Village Estates in North Hall, was hoping to go horseback riding with a neighbor on Green Street in Gainesville on Aug. 14, 1945.

The neighbor, Mildred, had ridden her horse into Burns’ backyard, and Burns was waiting for someone to bring her horse to the house. At the time, Burns was in an upstairs room.

Mildred called up to Burns, “Have you heard that Japan has surrendered? We said, ‘No.’ Mother was there in the room with me. I went flying down to the steps and Mildred and I were so excited. My horse arrived and I got up on the horse, and Mildred and I started down the driveway.

“Just as we got to the end of the driveway, I guess the news had spread and every fire truck in the area, every ambulance, probably every police car — anything that had wheels and would make noise — was coming down Green Street.”

She recalls her horse reacting to the scene. It “tore up Green Street, galloping all the way ... and I was trying frantically to get the horse to stop.”

Burns finally succeeded. The two men who had brought the horse to her house saw the whole episode and followed after her in a car. One of the men said as they caught up with her, “‘Dismount and I’ll take the horse back.’ I was very happy to get off the horse.”

Sirens sound across Lake Rabun

Curtis Georgia, who lives at Lanier Village Estates in North Hall, was 13 years old when he and his family heard about the Japanese surrender in World War II.

“We were on vacation at Lake Rabun and, of course, everybody was very happy,” he said. “(There was) a lot of noise and horn blowing.”

But what he remembers most is the “sirens people had on their boats at night and they were blowing the horns ... past midnight,” Georgia said. “I was happy (the war) was over, but at the same time, all that noise ... was disturbing my sleep.”
‘The town just went wild’

Clayburn Bird was on a ship dropping off troops in Seattle, Wash., when Japan surrendered.

“The town just went wild. It took days to clean up the papers,” he said. “It was quite a celebration, and the streets were littered. People were throwing stuff out the windows.”

Bird was a Navy seaman first class on a landing barge that helped the 6th Marine Division to land on Okinawa on Easter day in 1945. The 506-foot ship carried troops from places in Oregon and Washington to Japan. His craziest memory is of the typhoon that hit Okinawa after the war ended in October 1945.

“We tried to dodge typhoons as much as possible, but we had to ride it out,” he said. “The guy in the crow’s nest at the top of the ship couldn’t get down for over two days. He just hung on. It looked like a mountain coming in.”
Bird, a Gainesville native, returned home in March 1946 to take automobile mechanic job training. He started Bird Chain Saw Co. on Thompson Bridge Road in 1950.

Celebrating victory in New Orleans

Bettie Durden knew the oysters Rockefeller would be delicious. She knew the restaurant’s service would be superb.

She knew she’d have a wonderful time in New Orleans.

But when she sat down for dinner at Antoine’s Restaurant, she didn’t know that the day would live forever in her memories.

Pausing during a trip from Florida, Durden and her husband sat down at the restaurant for dinner. Her waiter, Abraham, broke the news — World War II was over and his son, who was fighting in the Pacific, was safe. Overjoyed, Abraham paid for the couple’s dinner.

“That was so spectacular to be there,” Durden said. “We weren’t at home reading the newspaper or anything like that.

We were on that trip. New Orleans just broke into celebrations all over the place, as only the Cajuns can do it.”

Lula woman’s husband served with Gen. MacArthur

John E. Swingle served in the Pacific with Gen. Douglas MacArthur, and he even had the opportunity to snap a photo of the famous man.

Swingle was injured in May 1945, just before the war ended, and he stayed in Japan for a little less than a year after the peace treaty was signed.

His wife Winifred, a Lula resident, said her husband rarely spoke about his experiences in the war, but she does remember his mother saying how thrilled she was that her son would be coming home.

Swingle received the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts, but he never liked to brag.

“I think the real soldiers never talked about the war,” Winifred Swingle said.

John Swingle, known as Jack, was from Pennsylvania and was trained as a medic. He passed away in 2002.

War’s end means factory’s end

Margaret Peeples heard that the war was over when she was working as a time keeper at Bell Aircraft in Marietta.

“I was excited because all of the boys I knew were overseas,” she said.

Peeples was 19 when she worked at the factory, and her future husband, W.S. Peeples, was serving as a photographer in the Philippines. She said the night she found out the war had ended was full of celebration.

“We first went to First Baptist Church, and they had a little prayer meeting, and then we went on up to town, and everybody was celebrating,” Peeples said. “It was extremely exciting.”

But the end of the war meant the end of the factory. Peeples stuck around until everything was cleared out, inventoried and accounted for.

“It sounded so hollow when you talked and walked across there,” she said. “It just felt so empty.”

Local man found Japanese flag, saw war correspondent killed

Called to duty after Pearl Harbor, Sgt. Emmett J. Stephens fought on three different landings in the Pacific, including Ie Shima, a small island near Okinawa.

It was on that island that famous war corespondent Ernie Pyle was shot. Stephens was just yards away, said his stepson, James Stephens.

“Actually, he said he saw Pyle’s body when they brought him back through the lines on a stretcher,” James Stephens said.

Though some reports say Pyle was killed by a machine gun, James Stephens said his stepfather always claimed it was a Japanese sniper with a single bullet.

Emmett Stephens remembered Pyle as one of his favorite war journalists.

“He was very high in his praise about Ernie Pyle,” James Stephens said. “He said Ernie Pyle spent all of his time covering regular foot soldiers, where as most of the others wanted to cover the ranking officers.”

Also in Ie Shima, Emmett Stephens obtained a flag taken from a Japanese soldier.

“He said that the Japanese at night were trying to land some additional soldiers, and basically (Stephens’s unit) caught them while they were unloading,” James Stephens said. “And my impression that I got from talking to him was that they killed every one of (the Japanese soldiers).”

James Stephens said his stepfather usually only talked about the war when other veterans were present. But when he did reminisce, he thought of tough conditions.

“He always said it was a dirty, filthy war,” James Stephens said.

Woman’s brother a prisoner of war

N.L. Rushing didn’t talk about the war much, at least not to his sister Margaret Luther of Lula.

“I’d say ‘let me see your medals’ and he’d say ‘let me see if I can find him’,” she said with a laugh.

Rushing joined the Army before the bombing of Pearl Harbor and was stationed in the Philippines when Dec. 7, 1941, hit.

He was one of the prisoners of war during the Bataan Death March in 1942 and waited out the war in prison.

“He got mad at a Japanese guard who seemed to pick on him and hit him,” she said. “They put him in solitary confinement.

That cell was 5 feet square and he was 6’2’’ so he couldn’t stand up or lay down.”

The family heard he was still alive when someone in California picked up a broadcast from the prison through a shortwave radio.

“When he came home, Mother and Daddy were elated,” she said. “I was about 10, so I was happy but didn’t realize how very important it was.”

Luther wrote a page about Rushing for the Lula historical society book.

“I remember years later Daddy asked him if it bothered him to work with Japanese people on a daily basis,” she said. “He said that was then and this is now. That’s the way he looked at it. The people he worked with couldn’t help the war, and they put it all behind them.”

Compiled by Mimi Ensley, Jeff Gill and Carolyn Crist