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We've got a job to do: a grandson of The Shire goes to war

By Jim

In early February 1942, just weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Rollin Montgomery Feese, Jr., raised his right hand and solemnly swore to defend his country as a member of the U.S. Army. Although young Feese, 29, was a native of Pulaski County, his forebears included the sturdiest of Adair County's pioneer stock, including the Feese, Montgomery, Flowers, Hindman, and Hardin families.

His parents, Rollin M. Sr., and Ella Mae Flowers Feese, were born and reared in Adair and married there, but moved to Somerset a few years prior to Rollin's birth. His mother died in Somerset in 1923 and her remains interred there.

Upon entry into the armed service, Rollin gave Pulaski County, Ky., as his permanent residence, but during the decade or so prior to that date, he was graduated from the Columbia High School (class of 1933); attended Lindsey Wilson Junior College as well as the University of Kentucky and the Mergenthaler School of Linotype in Chicago; and worked at the Adair County News. During his time in Columbia, he made his home with his maternal-side aunt and uncle-by-marriage, Rosa L. and M.L. Grissom. Another aunt, Mrs. C.R. Hutchison (nee Emma Flowers) lived nearby.

Later, he worked for a number of newspapers in the state, including the Lexington Leader, the Lawrenceburg Plain Dealer, and the Ashland Daily Independent newspapers and held employment as a Linotype operator at the latter immediately before entering service.

After a brief stay at the Army welcome center in Ft. Thomas, Ky., Rollin was garrisoned at Jefferson Barracks, Mo., as a member of the fledgling U.S. Army Air Force,"doing ground work at an aviation field." Shortly thereafter the military sent him to the Casey Jones School of Aeronautics in Newark, N.J., from which he was graduated on August 11, 1942. During his training at Casey Jones, he was allowed a brief furlough home in June.

Following completion of his aeronautical training, Rollin's duty posts included Bowman Field, Louisville, Ky.; Maxton Air Force Base, North Carolina; and Lawson Field, Fort Benning, Ga. He received promotions in rapid succession to Corporal and then Staff Sergeant before shipping out to the South Pacific in December 1942 as a member of the U.S.A.A.F. 46th Squadron, 317th Troop Carrier Group. A brief article in the February 17, 1943 Adair County News noted his aunt Rosa Flowers Grissom had received a letter from Rollin, telling of his safe arrival in New Guinea.

At about this same time, his father, R.M., Sr., received a lengthy letter, dated late January, in which Rollin spoke of New Guinea and the conditions there. He wrote, in part,
"My first night here we were under fire almost all night long -- that isn't fun. For every night there has been at least one raid and most of the time two or three. Up to the present time I have seven trips to my credit into combat zones. They say after one makes 50 trips the Distinguished Flying Cross is presented.

"The mosquitoes are very friendly. In fact, I think they are intelligent -- one group will hold up the net while another will eat you.

"I thought I had seen some hot weather in my life but I certainly have been mistaken, If it wasn't for the frequent rains to cool things off I don't believe a white man could stand it. Then, too, it seems there is a slight ocean breeze that helps to keep you going. . . "

"It's not so bad, though, because I'm still living and that's something. I'm not complaining because we've got a job to do and we're doing it."
(A later newspaper article reported that "he served as mechanic and sometimes as a gunner on a bomber carrying parachute troops.")

In April, his father received a letter from Rollin written in Australia and dated March 31. By the time the letter arrived, however, tragedy had struck.

Early on the morning of April 8, 1943, a Douglas C-49 transport plane (nicknamed the "Calamity Mary Jane") with a crew of five men aboard, including S/Sgt. Feese as Crew Chief, lofted from Garbutt Airfield, Townsville, Queensland, on a non-combat mission, headed north-northeast along the eastern Australian coastline toward Cooktown, Queensland. Beyond Cooktown (possibly a refueling point), the flight plan called for the plane to bear north-northwest, bound for Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.

The plane never arrived at Cooktown. At an unknown point after leaving Townsville, it simply disappeared, and a days-long aerial search along the Coral Sea/Australian coast yielded no sign of wreckage, remains, or survivors. In accordance with protocol, the military first reported the crew members missing in action; after the requisite time period, all were legally declared dead.

S/Sgt Feese's name is memorialized at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, NCR, Philippines. His name also appears on a bronze plaque, dedicated on Armistice Day 1946 in Somerset, which honors the Pulaski County service members who died during the war.

Freedom is never free.

This story was posted on 2019-05-27 07:57:14
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