Heart of a Southern Woman

A snapshot of life one blog post at a time.

Memorial Day–Remembering Two Who Died Serving Their Country in the Armed Services or Collaterally

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All over the world, people pause to remember those who fought and died trying to protect their countrymen.  Different countries use unique ways to celebrate and honor their lives.  In my opinion, war is a terrible thing. If it can be avoided, I would hope leaders all over the world would choose peace and collaboration over pain and suffering.

In the USA, Memorial Day is celebrated on the last Monday in May. It is a federally declared holiday. Flying our flags, family picnics, parades of soldiers and sailors, decorating cemeteries, and remembering the many who gave of their lives to serve their country are some of  the ways it is celebrated.

Like countries everywhere, we have lost millions of lives in our many wars. Today I want to tell you the story about  two of my family members who suffered dramatic deaths/wounds that represent the tragedies experienced by almost every family in the world.
 

World War II saw millions of people all over the world die due both to armed battles, and/or as civilians caught in those fights. In 1943, one of my aunts, my mother’s sister Nancy, had the opportunity to marry her sweetheart Bob while he was home from the war on leave. He was an Air Force Pilot, and she was so proud of him! I wasn’t even born yet, but my mother told us this story many times.

Kerse sisters at Nancy's wedding

Five sisters participate in their sister Nancy’s wedding to Bob Guthrie in 1943.  l to r, Katherine Kerse Buck with husband Roger next to her.The next two adults are Guthries, she is Cilla Guthrie, sister of the Groom. The child is the flower girl, Claudia Burnett Williamson, daughter of Julia Louise Kerse Burnett standing with her. In the middle you see the bride Nancy Langhorne Kerse and her husband Bob Guthrie. Next is Margaret Steptoe Kerse Youngblood, with an unknown man next to her. The last sister shown is Janey Bell Kerse Sommers, and behind her on the end is Cecil Hogue Youngblood, Margaret’s husband, my father.

When their boyfriends and husbands were at war, several of my mother’s six sisters lived together in an apartment.  My mother Margaret and her sisters Nancy and Julia lived together. After having been married for a very short while, Nancy was missing her husband terribly. One Saturday  afternoon, she napped in her room. Suddenly she ran out into the living room crying and talking rapidly. “No, no, no!  Bob is dead! Bob is dead, I can’t stand it, I can’t say goodbye!”  Her sisters thought she was still sleeping and having a nightmare. However, Nancy soon explained that she awakened to see an image of Bob sitting on the bottom of her bed. She said that he spoke with her kindly, saying he was sorry, but he had to leave her, had to say goodbye. “He told me he loved me, and wanted me to have a good life.”  “No!”, she moaned in inconsolable grief, so sure of the reality of her dream.  The event shook all of the family, but most believed it was just a dream.  However, within 24 hours, two military personnel came to the door and notified Nancy officially that Bob had been killed! The extreme joy of a wedding, dreams of the future,  and it all died that day with her beloved Bob Guthrie. Apparently, Bob had truly appeared to my aunt, how else would she have know that news before it was delivered?  Every Memorial Day as I was growing up, we heard this story which became a family classic. Other relatives died in the wars, but this one stood out. A group of Bob’s classmates at the Military Academy wrote and sent this to my Aunt Nancy:

“Courtesy of His Classmates

United States Military Academy

Robert Wood Dailey Guthrie

14 May 1920 – 14 August 1944

Died near Brest, France, aged 24 years

Interment: Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia

As June 1944 approached, many divisions including the 78th were raided for privates and lieutenants — among them First Lieutenant Guthrie. Even the goodbyes were hasty and Bob sailed for Northern Ireland as one of the many fillers destined for Normandy. His assignment was in Company “D,” 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, 8th Infantry Division.

On the fourth of July 1944, the 1st Battalion entered into the severe combat of Normandy and over a month of testing for Bob. The baptism of fire began on the 8th and 9th of July against a determined enemy. This was the most costly combat for the battalion; 124 enlisted men and five officers. But more was yet to come. The best ground over which to break out of Normandy lay in front of the 1st battalion. But the enemy knew it as well. On 25 July, the battalion spearheaded the St. Lo breakout through which moved two armored divisions and the 79th Division. For that action the unit received battle honors in Army orders. In the breakout the battalion went 50 miles by foot to join in the capture of Rennes. In early August, the unit cleaned up enemy resistance and took in more than 300 replacements.

Then the 8th Division and the 6th Armored were sent west to surround the fortified port city of Brest. Here a German hero from Crete commanded three divisions plus many other units and was under direct orders from Hitler to hold out for four months. It was the lot of the 1st Battalion to be the first divisional unit to hit these fortifications. From 8 August, the battalion began to learn how to deal with piercing the forts as they closed the noose around the garrison. But the airfield had to be taken in order to close the last route of escape. On 11 August, while leading his men in that attack, Bob Guthrie was mortally wounded by enemy machine gun fire. He died in a field hospital on the 14th — an infantry combat leader of great courage hit at the head of his troops.”

American Flags Are Placed On Gravestones In Arlington To Honor War Dead

ARLINGTON, VA – MAY 27: A member of the U.S. Army Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), salutes after placing a flag on a grave stone at Arlington National Cemetary May 27, 2004 in Arlington, Virginia. An event called “Flags In” takes place before every Memorial Day weekend in honor of those veterans who have lost their lives. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

When we think of the men and women who gave their lives protecting their countries, most of us think  of the actual fighters, and rightly so. However, “50 to 85 million people worldwide were killed during WWII.”  (Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II)  “Over 9 million combatants and 7 million civilians died as a result of WWI.” (Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_I)  How is it that we choose this suffering for our world!   

Civilian deaths are sometimes called “collateral” damage. Their families might feel collateral  is not the right term. My maternal grandmother was one to be counted as collateral damage from WWI, but I’m sure she was not included in the numbers. On Memorial Day I have come to think of her wounding and death.  

It’s hard to believe, but this wonderful woman, a nurse by profession and by all reports a superb one, met tragedy at the hands of a patient. She was caring for a comatose private duty patient, a veteran of WWI. She had bathed him and went to empty the water, as my mother told the story. When she returned to the room, he yelled out for her to get away and called her by the derogatory name of some of our military adversaries in  WWI. He was delirious, but afraid. Unfortunately, there was a rifle hanging on the wall that was still loaded, no one had realized or dreamed it was still loaded!  In his delirious state he shot my grandmother in the head! Within a couple of hours, he was dead of his own illness, just that last semiconscious rousing  turned her whole world upside down and that of her children and husband also! She was shot on January 28, 1930, but not killed. The bullet apparently split in half, half traveling down her neck, and half lodging in her brain, inoperable. She lived, but was unable to talk and walk well for the rest of her life–and she had six children!  Shot by a mortally wounded soldier, she was a victim of the war herself.

Kate Steptoe Houchins Kearse, w out border

Even though I’d heard this story all my life, as I worked on my genealogy,I found several newspaper articles in archives regarding her being shot. Her death certificate, and the patient’s certificate  were available to me in a records search. Since this was my mother’s mother, I heard the story from family repeatedly.

 These are two deaths that I will remember specifically on this Memorial day. There have been many more in our own family, and in yours, I know. This Memorial Day I will remember and honor the dead, but I will pray for leaders who seek peace.

 

This blog post was initially published by this author in the Worldwide Genealogy~A Genealogical Collaboration.

 

Author: Helen Holshouser

Old enough to enjoy life, I am a Red Hatter, grandmother, gardener, and amateur genealogist. I am a retired clinical psychologist, master's level, who is disabled with heart disease, but having fun with family and friends. Married over 40 years, I have two grown daughters and three grandchildren. I have learned that grandchildren provide a joy one never knew existed---writing feeds my soul, gardening is therapy, and genealogy research makes me feel like a detective!

8 thoughts on “Memorial Day–Remembering Two Who Died Serving Their Country in the Armed Services or Collaterally

  1. You have a great gift in that you are able to tell your family stories so well. I recall when you did the 52 ancestors in 52 weeks in such great style. I hope you have gotten them printed up in some type of book for your family. I could think of no better gift. I hope the summer finds you well and busy. But not too busy for a few more post.

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  2. Hi Charles, thank you so very much! I’ve been thinking about the book idea, but that’s about all so far. Have you done that? I do need to be sure I have these backed up somewhere, as do you my friend! This is high praise coming from you and I appreciate it greatly! Helen

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  3. Thank you so much for sharing your reflections and memories!

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  4. I appreciate your reading and commenting on my story. Please come back. Helen

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  5. As always, Helen, stories well – remembered, told and preserved! Thank you.

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  6. Thank you Dr. Carol Winters, your feedback means the a great deal to me.

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  7. Powerful story thank you for writing. Reading it again on the back of a Harley Davidson

    Connie Birse Senior Consultant http://www.pamperedchef.biz/ConnieBirse 253-350-1662

    >

    Liked by 1 person

  8. On the back of a Harley! Now that is a first dear cousin! Love you Connie Birse!

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