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MY WORD: Grove Hill memorializes World War II casualties

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When I was growing up, one of my best friends was Meme Greenwell – her dad, Richard “Puss” Greenwell, was a teacher, football coach and later principal for Shelbyville High School. Her grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. S.V. Greenwell, lived on Henry Clay Street – where until recent years the storm door still featured the “G” on the front.

I remember “Puss” talking about his brother “Jake” who was killed in World War II.

Thanks to historian Nancy Hill, I have “met” Joseph “Jake” Casper Greenwell because of her research of the downtown Veterans Memorial Park.

Thanks to Hill, Friends of Grove Hill will honor 15 World War II casualties buried or memorialized at the cemetery. The free event will be Saturday, November 15 in the cemetery’s chapel, which is now heated.

The program that Mike Harrod and I will present has two sessions – with a lunch break:

10 a.m. for John Gregory Biagi, William Peyton Brooks, William Dean Collings, Samuel Collins, Roy Johnson Figg, Raymond Earl Floyd, William Lee Goodrich and Joseph Casper Greenwell.

12:30 p.m. for James Blackwell Jackson, Jesse Greenup Maddox Jr., Earl Thomas McDonald, Benjamin Lee McMakin, Jesse Thomas Parido, Lawrence Howard Rogers and William Thomas Temple.

“Jake”, who was born August 15, 1917, entered the service September 9, 1940 and graduated from training in Texas on April 23, 1941. Nancy’s research reported, “So efficient was he in the art of flying that he became an instructor in various air fields throughout the United States.”

“Jake” had married in 1942 and had a daughter before he was sent to the European Theater on February 1, 1945. He flew about 10 missions before he was reported missing March 20.

Nancy wrote, “A Liberator bomber, piloted by Captain Greenwell, was shot down on the return trip after he led a formation in an attack on an oil refinery … The bombers were returning toward England when the Liberator… received a direct hit from Nazi flak batteries a few miles east of … Germany Island Naval base in the North Sea.”

The military records show the “right wing of his bomber was ripped off and a large hole was blown in the other wing. Fellow pilots said they saw the plane explode and the wreckage crash in the North Sea. Before the explosion, other airmen said one parachute was seen leaving the plane.”

“Jake” had received an Air Medal and was awarded a Purple Heart posthumously in January 1946. His name is listed on the Tablets of the Missing at Netherlands American Cemetery. His parents placed a memorial marker at Grove Hill Cemetery where Mr. Greenwell was buried in 1967 and Mrs. Greenwell, who Meme called Gangy, was buried in 1977.

His parents were no doubt distraught over “Jake” but worried because their other sons were also in service: “Puss” was a sergeant and Bartley was a lieutenant. His sisters were at home: Germaine (Mrs. Conn West) became a nurse; Burnett (Mrs. S.L. McGinnis) became a school secretary. (“Puss” was buried at Cave Hill in Louisville in 1984; Bartley at Grove Hill in 2006; and Germaine as well as Burnett at Grove Hill in 1992.)

There are countless other stories about the 106 men whose names are engraved on the downtown memorial. Nancy has material on each but only photos for 80. Friends of Grove Hill saluted the World War I casualties last Memorial Day. We plan to salute one from the Korean War and eight from Vietnam War on Memorial Day 2015.

In preparing the PowerPoint for the November 15 program, I often got a catch in my throat as I read the reports and looked at photos… seeing scenes from their war-time assignments or the soldiers as children or holding their own children. It is then fitting that a child wrote the best words to describe how we should feel about Veterans Day and those who lost their lives and those who served, yet returned.

World War II veteran “Junie” Phillips was recently featured in The Sentinel-News following his trip to Washington D.C., thanks to Shelby Energy Cooperative. His family asked for letters for Phillips’ mail call. A letter by 11-year-old Trey Wills included, “I am very proud to be an American and that wouldn’t be possible without you and your sacrifices… I know some of you are on your last chapter of life, many even your last paragraph, and when I’m in your shoes and I’m up in Heaven with the Almighty Lord, I would be honored to shake your hand.”

Duanne B. Puckett is a former editor of The Sentinel-News.