Remembering Vernon Everett Lane on Memorial Day

It all started with Decoration Day. On May 5, 1868 Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, the head of the Grand Army of the Republic, declared May 30th as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the Civil War dead with flowers.¹  At the first remembrance, at Arlington National Cemetery, small flags were placed upon the graves of the fallen. Over the years the day has morphed into Memorial Day, a national holiday, and has expanded to include all who died in American wars.

Today is Memorial Day and a good time to reflect on the holiday. As time goes by more and more of our World War II veterans have passed away. All of my mother’s brothers who served have been gone for several years, as have the relatives of my husband who served in the war. These families were lucky; all of their loved ones returned. Perhaps with mental scars, but at least they returned with bodies intact.

Lane, Vernon, Navy

Vernon Everett Lane

My Uncle Vernon was not so lucky. He lost his life in the Pacific Ocean. I wrote about Vernon in a previous blog. I knew Vernon had two sons, Bill and Dick. Several years ago Bill surprised me when he came to my mother’s funeral. I had never met him and I was extremely touched by his attendance. He gave me his phone number and I promised to call him. Family responsibilities and a demanding job got in the way and I never contacted him. Prior to Christmas 2015, when I was addressing Christmas cards, I came upon Bill’s phone number and decided to call him. This phone number had been sitting in my address book for fourteen years. Against all odds, Bill still had the same phone number. We met again and this time he brought his genealogist brother Dick with him. It was a great reunion talking about his father and our Lane family. At a subsequent meeting, Dick brought along the medical records from my Uncle Vernon which told the rest of the story.

Uncle Vernon was red-haired, brown-eyed, and twenty-five when he was inducted into the Navy as an apprentice seaman on April 7, 1944. He was five feet, six inches tall and weighed one hundred and forty-one pounds. He was employed as a primer assembly machine adjuster by a company in St. Louis that manufactured small arms. Within a week of induction, Vernon was sent to the U.S. National Training Station in Farragut, Idaho to receive training.

During World War II, the U.S. government didn’t mess around. By mid-July Vernon was transferred to the U.S. Naval Receiving station in Adak, Alaska and on July 22, 1944 he joined the USS Kimberly. On March 1, 1945 he was promoted from Navy Seaman to Seaman 2nd class.

Vernon was good at writing letters to his loved ones at home. Several of his letters to my grandmother, Ruberta, were found in her purse after her death (see Maw’s Purse). After reading these letters I wondered if Vernon had a feeling that he wouldn’t survive the war because he always reassured my grandmother that he would be alright. Or perhaps, because my grandmother had lost her husband William Everett Lane in 1939, her anxiety came through in her letters to Vernon and he was trying to help ease her fears.

During the last week of March 1945, the U.S.S. Kimberly was taking part of “Operation Iceberg.” The purpose was to take Kerama Retto, an island about twenty miles from Okinawa. The U.S. Navy wanted to establish a naval seaplane base and sheltered anchorage prior to the invasion of Okinawa. On March 26th, the U.S.S. Kimberly was proceeding to her picket station off Kerama Retto.²

Operation_Iceberg_-_Kerama_Retto_-_1945The navy had surprised the Japanese but they were able to send out two Japanese D3A airplanes used as carrier-based bombers and dive-bombers, in other words Kamikaze. The Kimberly’s lookouts saw the planes and opened fire turning the planes away. The planes veered off but then headed toward the USS Kimberly again.³ You can imagine the noise and the sound as the guns blasted away at the approaching planes. Eventually one of the planes went out of control and fell vertically on the ship. From accounts of the intensity of the explosion, it was indicated that there was a bomb onboard the plane.

Call it bad luck, or just doing his job, Vernon was in the area of the explosion. From the medical records we know that he received burns to his face, neck, arms, chest, and legs suffering 2nd and 3rd degree burns over 75% of his body. Within four hours he was transferred to the USS Rixey, a casualty evacuation transport ship. His care was crude compared to the care burn victims receive today, but the best he could receive at the time. He must have been in terrible pain and hopefully the morphine he was given helped to alleviate that pain. For four days he was in shock, was restless and irrational, and had an increasing temperature. Despite the effort of the naval doctors, Vernon lost his battle at 8:38 am on March 30th. He was buried at sea at latitude 26° 14’ North, Longitude 127° 11’ East at 4:30 that afternoon. A headstone at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis County commemorates his death. Records indicate fifty-seven men were seriously wounded, four died from that attack, and Vernon was one of them.

Lane, Vernon E, Western Union Telegraph

A sad day when this telegram arrived.

A letter from the ship Chaplain, Lindley E. Cook, was sent to Vernon’s wife Evelyn the day he died. The chaplain reported he didn’t suffer too much because he was unconscious most of the time. He kept repeating her name. Who knows how long it took for Evelyn to receive the word. My grandma learned of Vernon’s death via a telegram advising her Vernon had died and was buried at sea with full military honors. Evelyn later received a letter from the Secretary of Navy authorizing the Purple Heart to be posthumously awarded to Vernon.

On 3 May, 1945, an article in The Sikeston (Mo.) Herald listed Vernon as one of the fourteen men from the southeast Missouri area that were killed in combat. I can’t imagine the heart-break again that Evelyn and my grandmother must have gone through if they saw the name of their loved one in the newspaper. Somehow that would make it all too final.

According to Wikipedia over 291,000 U.S. soldiers were killed in combat during World War II. Bill and Dick’s dad, and my Uncle, was one of those 291,000 people. So while you enjoy your time-off, please remember those who gave their lives to free the world of tyranny so many years ago. ⁴


¹ Memorial Day History. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, http://www.va.gov/opa/speceven/memday/history.asp : accessed 24 May 2017.

² Picture – By Beans, Bullets and Black Oil by Admiral Worrall Reed Carter, USN – HyperWar, Public Domain, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18291758

³ Excerpted from USS Kimberly, (DD-521), Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia , https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Kimberly_(DD-521)

⁴ Excerpted from World War II casualties, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=World_War_II_casualties&oldid=721786950 : accessed 24 May 2017.

Maw’s Purse

The pursuit of my family history has been a wonderful journey. Not only have I found new cousins, but have reconnected with cousins I haven’t seen for many years. My cousin Carla is one of those cousins. She is the daughter of my father’s sister Helen. Carla was closer to my age than other cousins so it was natural for us to play together. Not too long ago I visited Carla. We had not seen each other for many years. I had anticipated that Carla might have pictures that I didn’t have and I had pictures to share with her. Unbeknownst to me, she had a treasure in her possession, maw’s purse.

maws-purse

Maw’s Purse

As I mentioned in an earlier post about Ruberta, my paternal grandmother, she was not a warm and fuzzy person. In fact she came across as a cold. I really didn’t know her and, in the half-dozen times we visited her, I was never to know why she was unable to show the slightest bit of warmth to me or my brother. It is only through talking to my cousins, and finding records about her, that I have come to understand her better.

Maw knew heartache. She lost her father, Aub Hood, about the age of fourteen. Not too long after that she married John Wayson, a man who was forty-one years of age. By today’s standards it’s hard to understand how her mother could allow her marry someone twenty-seven years her senior. The family was poor so perhaps marrying her off provided one less mouth to feed. The marriage didn’t last as Ruberta was back with the family in 1910.

On March 12, 1913, Maw was married to my grandfather William Everett Lane. Between 1914 and 1924 six children were born to the couple. Life was difficult. The great depression was going strong, beginning in 1924 and ending in 1939. Jobs were difficult to come by. Grandpa Lane was a carpenter and through the years the children picked cotton to supplement the family income.

The life of the family changed on June 4, 1939 when Will was instantly killed when his car was struck by a Greyhound bus. There was a settlement with the bus company that provided some relief to Maw, but I’m sure she would have given anything to have Will back with the family.

Tragedy struck again when my uncle Vernon was killed aboard a ship that was hit by a Kamikaze plane in the Pacific Ocean close to the end of the war. Maw had lost her husband and her son in the span of six years.

When Carla brought out Maw’s purse, I was amazed at the discoveries waiting for me. The purse was stuffed, and I do mean stuffed, with what appeared to be every receipt that Maw received during her lifetime. There was a receipt for a car that Grandpa Lane purchased in 1922; an Overland automobile that was already fifteen years old at the time he purchased it.

There were receipts for lumber, windows, doors, nails, and other items for use in the building of houses. There were insurance receipts, a delayed marriage certificate, grandpa’s social security card, mortgage papers; receipts that obviously meant something to Maw.

And the most poignant treasures in the purse were four letters from Vernon written to Maw while he was at sea in the Pacific Ocean. Written two weeks before he died close to the end of the war, he was responding to the fact that Maw had visited his wife Evelyn and two sons recently. In his letter he said, “Did you think the boys had growed [sic] very much? I would give anything in the world to see them but I guess it will be some time yet before I get to see them.”

He told Maw there was nothing to worry about. Was he trying to reassure himself that he would be fine as he wrote those letters to comfort her? We will never know. The saddest of all was the telegram advising Maw of his death at sea; the words so black and final upon that piece of paper.

The letters have been reunited with Vernon’s sons. My cousin Dick, who was a baby when Vernon died, told me after reading the letters he felt, for the first time, he was hearing his father’s words.

Perhaps Maw had so much loss in her life that she kept herself at arm’s length from people to insulate herself from extreme loss again. Did the receipts from her life somehow give her a feeling of closeness to the events that represented her life and the loved ones she had lost? Whatever the reasons, the contents in Maw’s purse assured me that she was a feeling woman, just not one to wear her heart upon her sleeve.

Bertha Lane…A Woman of Many Names

Ruberta, Rueberta, Bertha, Birdie, Robert A, Ruby … all names found in census records for my paternal grandmother Bertha Hood Lane. But I knew her as Maw.

Maw was born on October 14, 1894 in Mississippi to Aub Hood and Amanda (Mandy) Belle Pennington Hood. I suspect she was born in Itawamba County, Mississippi where Aub and Mandy were married. She was their fourth child. By today’s standards, Maw was very young when she married John Wayson on August 29, 1909. She was only fourteen years old. This marriage apparently did not last long because she was shown living again with the family in Lake County, Tennessee in the 1910 census. However Aub was no longer with the family and Mandy was widowed.

Lane Kids

Back Left, My father Talmadge, Belle, Vernon, Front Left, Pauline, Margaret, Helen

On March 12, 1913, Maw married my grandfather William Everett Lane. She was listed as Birdie in the 1920 census. Children came quickly. My father Talmadge Hollis Lane was born in 1914, Rosa Bell was born in 1917, Vernon Everett was born in 1919, Pauline was born in 1921, Helen was born in 1923, and Margaret was born in 1924. They moved to Caruthersville, Missouri sometime in 1920 where she would live for the rest of her life.

Living on a farm, particularly as tenant farmers, couldn’t have been easy in the 1920s and 1930s. Maw birthed each child at home with the help of a midwife. As the family had no electricity until the early 1930s, Maw would have cooked over a wood stove and would have washed the clothing of eight people by hand. The water for cooking and bathing probably came from a pump in the yard. Most likely she was also responsible for the henhouse and the family garden. Cotton was king in the Bootheel so the children probably were sent out to pick cotton as soon as they were able. And it is likely that Maw picked cotton some time during her life as well.

At the age of forty-four Maw’s life was to change forever. On Sunday, June 4, 1939, her husband of twenty-six years was suddenly killed in an accident with a Greyhound bus. The bus driver was found to be at fault in the accident. No doubt there was a settlement that allowed Maw to own her home and live a modest life. Six years later however tragedy was to strike her life again when her son Vernon died, the result of a kamikaze plane hitting his ship in the Pacific.

My memories of Maw are few. I can only remember visiting her perhaps a half-dozen times. She was not a warm and fuzzy grandmother. She was a large woman for her height. Maw used snuff and Sen-Sen, a breath freshener. Most likely the Sen-Sen was to cover the smell of the snuff. Her cooking was wonderful and my father bragged on her biscuits. One of my memories is walking down the dirt road that ran in front of her house to buy a chicken for our dinner from a neighbor. Much to my horror she wrung its neck when we got home. I know too well what a chicken with its head cut off looks like.

Another memory was seeing a wooden leg in someone’s bedroom. Who belonged to the wooden leg was a mystery to me for a long time. It wasn’t until recently one of my cousins said that Maw’s sister Den lived with her for awhile and Den had lost one of her legs. I believe the mystery has been solved. I don’t remember Aunt Den but I certainly remember that leg.

My cousin Donna was always in the picture. She lived with Maw while her mother Margaret and her father were away earning a living. Donna was more like a daughter to Maw than a grand-daughter. Eventually my Aunt Margaret divorced her first husband and married Walter Kulpeksa. Walter was a beautician. They set up shop in the front of my grandmother’s house. Walter gave me a perm when I was five. I looked like a poodle had settled on my head but that was the style apparently.

Amand Pennington Lane (r), Bertha Lane, Talmadge Lane

Left, Maw, Little Granny, Talmadge

 

Sometime before her death, my great-grandmother Mandy (Little Granny) went to live with Maw. Little Granny was a tiny woman and very child-like. She loved ice cream. Little Granny passed away at home at the age of ninety-eight in 1961. I was fourteen when we went to her funeral. That was the last time I saw Maw.

When my oldest son was born I received an un-expected gift from Maw. It was a yellow and white crocheted baby blanket. The gift of that blanket touched me deeply. Not but a few months later we received word that Maw had died February 3, 1969 at the age of seventy-four. She was laid to rest a few days later in Maple Cemetery in Caruthersville, Missouri.

William Everett Lane

William Everett Lane was born in Crockett County, Tennessee in 1895 to Edgar Lane and Minnie Mae Perry Lane. I have never found a document that shows his middle name but I know my brother Bill is named after him. Hopefully someday I’ll find a document that proves his middle name is Everett.

Edgar Lane died about 1898 leaving a widow and orphan. Since women did not have a means of support when their husbands died they were often left at the mercy of family for help. There probably was no question that Minnie’s family would take her in. The 1900 US census shows her living with her brother John Perry, mother Irena, younger sister Mary, also a widow, and Loyd, Mary’s son. The family lived in Gayoso Township in Pemiscot County, Missouri.

Until Grandpa Lane ventured out on his own he lived with his mother and extended family. In 1901 Minnie Mae married Sam Cosey. By 1910 Sam and Minnie added two children to their family, Gladys and Raymond. And Uncle John and Grandma Irena still lived with the family. Down the street lived their Uncle Robert Whitaker and his wife Laura Perry Whitaker. This blending of families was normal for my family and families throughout the United States.

Grandpa was a handsome boy. I recently discovered my cousin Carolyn has a picture of him hanging in a room in her home in Caruthersville. Grandpa is surrounded by a room full of dolls. I wonder what he would say. The picture, more than a hundred years old, is slightly tattered but in a beautiful frame. As an adult he was tall, of medium build, had brown eyes, and dark brown hair. During World War I men had to register for the draft. Fortunate for us genealogists these forms tell us a lot about our ancestors including their physical attributes.

Will Lane

Will Lane

On March 12, 1913, Grandpa married Ruberta Hood in Lake County, Tennessee. Lake County is east of Pemiscot County, Missouri with the Mississippi River dividing the two counties and states. The couple moved to Little Prairie township in Pemiscot County around 1919. Their first three children, Talmadge, Rosa Bell, and Vernon were born in Lake County. Pauline, Helen, and Margaret were born in Pemiscot County.

Will Lane, Date Unknown

Will Lane, Date Unknown

I don’t know much about Grandpa, only what I have gleaned from census records and what my half-sisters and cousins have told me. In fact when I inherited pictures from my parents there was a picture of a man with no name written on the back. I had never seen the picture before and it turned out to be Grandpa Lane.

School was a luxury for poor families. Grandpa didn’t attend school but he could read and write. He worked in a box factory as a laborer when he was twenty-four. By the time he was thirty-four he was a farmer on rented property. I understand he was a good father. He was also a carpenter; he helped to build the grandstand at the Caruthersville fairground. His Uncle John Perry was also carpenter. Perhaps this occupation was inherent to this family.

Grandpa Lane’s life abruptly came to an end on Sunday, June 4, 1939, around noon, when the car he was driving collided with a Greyhound bus just north of Caruthersville at the intersection of Highway 84 and Ferry Road. Much of what I know about the accident came from articles that appeared in The Republican and Democrat Argus, both newspapers in Caruthersville at the time.

Picture of Collision that took Will Lane's Life

Picture of Collision that took Will Lane’s Life

According to witnesses at the scene of the wreck, Grandpa drove onto the highway in the path of the bus apparently unaware of the approaching bus until too late. Joe Wagner, a witness and owner of the filling station who witnessed the accident, said that he was told Grandpa had driven from town to test out a leaky tire and circled around his filling station onto Ferry Road to come back into the highway. It was then the accident happened. I find it interesting the bus driver was charged with reckless driving when it appears to me, in hindsight, that the accident was caused by my grandfather. Funeral services were held the next day at H. S. Funeral Home. He is buried in Maple Cemetery in Caruthersville.

My dad Talmadge was twenty-four when his father died. His siblings ranged in age from fourteen to twenty-two. Despite the fact that these children were older at the time of their father’s death, I’m sure they were left with a great hole in their heart. I know my dad was.

Talmadge Hollis Lane…Tom to Me

Tom on left with

Back L to R Tom, Bell and Vernon Front L to R Pauline, Margaret and Helen

Growing up in a sharecropping family in southern Missouri can’t be easy. But that’s the early life of my father, Talmadge Hollis Lane. He was born on November 21, 1914 in Ridgely, Lake County, Tennessee to William Everett Lane and Ruberta Hood Lane. He was interviewed in 1991 by his grandson Brian, and much of what we know about his early childhood was taken from this interview and stories that he told me when I was growing up. Some of the information doesn’t jive with records I’ve found. Whether this is a function of a failing memory, or fudging stories, I’ll never know. He was a complicated man.

His extended family called him Talmadge. I knew him as Tom. He was the oldest of six children, with brother Vernon and sisters Bell, Pauleen, Helen, and Margaret coming after him. About 1919 dad’s parents moved from Tennessee to the Bootheel, located in the southeastern corner of Missouri. The family moved a half-dozen times from farm to farm sharecropping. Dad was seven when the family moved to Caruthersville in Pemiscot County. There the family rented land and farmed for themselves. They grew cotton, corn, and hay and raised chickens, turkeys, ducks, pigs, cows, and goats. They used mules to pull farm machinery.

The Lane’s were poor. The children were born at home with the help of a midwife. They lived in a four room house that had a kitchen and three bedrooms. Each child had their own bed, which was a luxury. There was no running water; water for cooking and bathing was gotten from a pump in the yard. At first the home was heated by wood, but when wood became scarce, the family switched to a coal burning stove. The house didn’t have electricity until dad was eighteen. The out-buildings included a barn, henhouse, and outhouse.

Like the Lane’s, most people in the area were poor. If holidays were celebrated, they were celebrated sparsely. For Christmas the children would get an apple, orange, and six walnuts. The items were usually placed at the ends of their beds or on a chair. One year my dad received a football. And the school hosted a Christmas Pageant for the families of the pupils. Mr. Clark, a wealthy cotton farmer, would have an Easter egg hunt for the kids of the community.

At a time when many children did not go to school, the Lane’s had the fore-thought to send their children to school, at least until they got older and decided on their own not to attend. The school was one room and about two miles from their home. Each child was furnished with school books, paper, and pencils. When dad was twelve he received a scholarship to attend high school; it cost money to attend the higher grades. The scholarship was in track because he was a good runner. The high school was four miles from his home, and he didn’t like running, so he dropped out of school. Despite this he was an intelligent man who always read and stayed abreast of the news.

Everyone in the family worked in the fields picking cotton, or doing whatever needed to be done. The boys helped with planting in April and helped with the harvest in August. The family had a wooden planter that was pulled by mules. The planter had a hopper that held seeds. As the mules pulled the planter, it dug two rows, and seeds dropped evenly into the furrows.

Cotton Pickers

Cotton Pickers – Picture from the US Library of Congress

For most of his teen years dad picked cotton. Cotton pickers used a bag that held about one hundred pounds of cotton. After their bag was full, they carried it to a wagon that held up to two thousand pounds of cotton. Dad picked about six hundred pounds of cotton a day. The family took their cotton to the gin where they sold it for fifteen cents a pound. If they wanted to take a chance on the price rising, they had the cotton baled. They took the bales home and stored them in the barn until later. The family ran a tab at the local store and paid it off when the cotton was harvested and sold. While the life was hard, the family was able to survive through the fruits of their labor. I remember, during the few times when we visited my grandmother, asking about the loud noise that could be heard all day. It was the sound coming from the cotton gin, an everyday sound to the people who lived close by, but alien to me who lived a few hours north.

Vernon Everett Lane, the Uncle I Never Met

Lane, Vernon

Vernon Lane

Vernon Lane gave the ultimate sacrifice in World War II. I had several uncles who served in World War II, but he was the only one who never came home. He was killed before I was born and I never had the chance to meet him. So it is on this Memorial Day that I write in memory of him and all those who gave their lives in the service of our country.

Vernon Everett Lane was born to William Everett Lane and Ruberta Hood Lane on January 26, 1919 in Lake County, Tennessee. He was one of six children and the couple’s second son. The 1940 census showed he was married to Evelyn Mae Medlin and had one son, Billy who was seven months old. A second son Richard was born in 1942.

In March of 1945, Vernon was aboard the destroyer U. S. S. Kimberly (DD 521). The destroyer left San Pedro Bay in the Philippines on March 21st for radar picket duty. Destroyers were positioned around Okinawa Island working as radar stations that monitored air activity. Out of 101 destroyers assigned to picket duty, 32 were damaged by kamikaze attacks and 10 were sunk. On the fateful day of March 26, two kamikaze pilots attacked the ship. One plane was hit by fire from the destroyer and, falling from the sky, crashed into the aft gun mounts of the ship. Vernon Everett Lane was one of four men injured or killed that day. Vernon was severely burned and died on 1 April 1945. Shortly after the ship was sent to be mended, but a hole was left in the family ever after.

Billy Lane at Age 3

Billy Lane at Age 3

Vernon’s name appears on a memorial in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. Closer to home is his headstone in Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis County. He is remembered with memorials of stone and flags put upon his grave every Memorial Day. But I remember the uncle I never met with sadness; the uncle who never saw his wife or his little sons Billy and Dicky again.

You can read more about the U. S. S. Kimberly

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Kimberly_(DD-521)