When his four boys were born on Aug. 27, 1944, Charles Lee joked with a newspaper reporter he would need a bigger farm to be able to feed his family, which had just exploded in size.
The article provides at least one insight about the Murrayville man — that he had a sense of humor in the wake of his wife having quadruplets rather than the twins he had expected.
“We would have probably grown up as farmers, if he lived,” said Bob Lee, as he and brother Eddy Lee stood at their father’s Lumpkin County grave last week.
Memorial Day takes on a special meaning for the brothers, as the only memories they have about their father are from the stories passed down by family, along with pictures, newspaper clippings and other records kept in a scrapbook.
Charles left for World War II soon after the four boys’ premature birth at Hall County Memorial Hospital.
He was killed Jan. 10, 1945 by bullets from a German machine gun nest in Belgium.
At the time, the family was still reeling with another tragedy — the death of two of the boys, Luther and Robert Joseph, soon after their birth.
“Yes, we think about what could have been,” Bob said. “I didn’t have a dad, but I sure had a grandpa and uncles I thought the world about.
“Grandpa was as good a daddy as you could get,” Eddy said.
With Memorial Day approaching, the brothers took a trip to Wahoo Baptist Church Cemetery just over the Hall County line into Lumpkin.
Charles, who was 25 when he died, is buried there along with his two sons and wife Mae Belle. The boys’ mother died in 2009.
Simple markers designate their final resting places, but Charles’ headstone designates his military service. He was an Army private first class, and his headstone reads, “Gone but not forgotten.”
The 71-year-old brothers — who still live in the Hall area and have an older sister, Betty Mae — also have kept a book from their father’s funeral. “Cherished Memories” contains a picture of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane and pages describing who attended and presided over the funeral service Dec. 14, 1947.
Charles’ body “stayed overseas in one of the cemeteries in Belgium until after the war,” Bob said. “They sent his body back in ’47 and had the funeral here.”
A typewritten July 1946 letter from Fort McClellan is included in the brothers’ scrapbook.
The letter to said he had been given “a decent burial” at an Army cemetery after his death.
“As for your question as to when they would ship his body back, I can’t say for sure,” the letter states.
The letter gives more detail about Charles’ death.
“I was with your son when he met his death, only a few yards away, and his death was instant,” says the letter’s writer. “He was killed in a pine field while on an attack mission.”
The letter closes with the writer expressing hope that the letter “will set your heart somewhat at ease.”
The scrapbook is otherwise filled with pictures and news accounts about the quadruplets.
The Lees’ sons arrived three months before their due date and while Charles was stationed at Camp Blanding, Fla.
“Army officials had granted the father a furlough when the news was flashed that one of the four babies had died,” a photo caption states.
Two of the sons died before his arrival, the articles say.
Photographs also depict the remarkable events surrounding the family — one showing Mae Belle lying in a hospital bed surrounded by staff and the quadruplets wrapped in blankets in a bed next to her.
Another picture shows soldiers at Camp Blanding congratulating Charles, shaking his hands while he lay crouched in a foxhole.
Other details emerge in the scrapbook about Charles, described in articles as 6-foot-3 and brown-eyed.
“He was peacefully sleeping … when the Atlanta Constitution called to inform him of the four-way blessing which had befallen him,” according to one article.
“I just want to hurry up and get this war over,” the new father is quoted as saying.
“When it is all over with, guess I’ll have to get a bigger farm. Four boys can eat a lot,” he said.
Eddy and Bob’s first meeting with their dad is recorded in one yellowed article, taped together and tucked under plastic on one of the pages.
“Beaming from ear to ear, he entered the room and went over to the bed where the mother and daughter, 3-year-old Betty Mae, were resting and gave them both a big kiss,” the article says.
“They immediately went about naming the two (surviving) baby boys.”
The scrapbook has pictures of the boys growing up — but none of the boys with their father in the few days he had with them before returning to service.
An article written later and recounting the whirlwind events of those days says the surviving boys are 2 ½ years old and “growing fast.”
“Both have blond curly hair, blue eyes, and look as normal and healthy as any other child their age,” the article says.
The scrapbook also contains pictures showing Charles’ flag-draped casket, the soldier’s dog tags and an Army certificate honoring Charles’ memory.
“He shall be remembered as long as time shall endure,” the certificate says.
Flipping through the pages can be an emotional experience for the brothers.
“I can hardly look at it without tearing up, after I start reading it a while,” Bob said.
However, “it also makes me realize how blessed I really have been all my life, and how the Lord has looked after me,” he said.