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JIM: Russell County's Forgotten Warriors of World War Two

"Not every soldier died a hero, but every soldier died a hero's death."


The names of at least nine Russell County men who perished while on active duty during the World War Two era do not appear on the Honor Plaque on Monument Square in Jamestown.

America's active military involvement in World War Two began on December 8, 1941 with a declaration of war against Japan, and it ended in mid-August 1945 with that nation's unconditional surrender. However, the deaths of military personnel -- regardless of cause -- which occurred between May 27, 1941 and the end of 1945 are considered to be war-related. The former date is when President Roosevelt proclaimed the nation faced an unlimited national emergency, and the latter date was extended for those who served in Occupied Japan or (US) Occupied Germany.

The nine forgotten Russell service men are:

  • Pvt. Wilbur Coffey (U.S. Army): The son of Estill Coffey & Ava Holder Coffey of Russell County; he was killed in a truck accident in Iceland on May 7, 1942. Pvt. Coffey's remains were (re)interred in the Square Oak cemetery in late 1947; his grave marker notes he served in Co. F., 10th Infantry. He was born in Russell Co. in 1919 and enlisted from there in 1940. Pvt. Coffey almost certainly was the first Russell County service man to die after the declaration of hostilities.
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  • 2Lt James O. Combest (Army Air Forces): The son of Thomas M. & Susan A. Holder Combest, he was killed in action in Europe on June 28, 1943. 2Lt. Combest was a navigator in the Army Air Forces. He was born in Russell County in 1916.

  • Cxn. Herbert Ethard Dick (U.S. Navy): The son of Elmer Dick & Pearlie Davenport Dick; he was lost at sea on March 1, 1942, when the ship on which he was serving, the U.S.S. Pecos, sank during the battle of Java Sea. Cxn. Dick was born in Pulaski County in 1919, but three articles from the Russell County News -- Dec., 1942, Jan., 1943, and Aug., 1944 -- state that Cxn. Dick was a resident of Russell County when he enlisted in the Navy.

  • S1c Veston W. Franklin (U.S. Navy): The son of Wallace and Bertha Walters Franklin, drowned August 19th, 1945 at Okinawa while on duty with the 7th Naval Construction Battalion. He was born in Russell County in 1926. His remains were (re)interred in Arlington National Cemetery in 1949.

  • 2 Lt. Carthel O. Gaskin (U.S. Army Air Force): The son of Owen Gaskin & Nettie Withers Gaskin (and the grandson of Mr. & Mrs. James Gaskin of Parks Ridge); he was killed in action on June 22, 1944 and his remains were interred in the Ardennes American Cemetery at Neupre, Belgium. He was born in Russell County in 1921 and enlisted from Mercer Co., Ky.

  • Pvt. Leonard F. Roberts (U.S. Marine Corps): The son of Arnie L. and Willna (Willie) McGahan Roberts, he perished June 20, 1941 in a swimming accident at Sullivan Island, South Carolina, while in training at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. His remains were interred in the West Somerset Baptist Church Cemetery. Pvt. Roberts was born in Russell County in 1921.

  • Pvt. Richard O. Shepherd (U.S. Army): The son of James G. Shepherd & Flossie M. Bean(e) Shepherd (and the grandson of Mr. & Mrs. R.C. Bean(e) of the Mt. Olive community). He was killed in action on January 4, 1945 (almost certainly in Europe) and his remains later were (re)interred in the Mt. Calvary Cemetery, Russell Co. His grave marker notes that he served in the 17th Airborne Division. (On the marker, his grade is noted as Cpl.) Pvt. Shepherd was born in Russell County in 1922 and enlisted from Marion Co., Ind.

  • S/Sgt. Randol A. Weir (U.S. Army): The son of Claude Weir & Mary Webb Weir. He was beaten to death on October 6, 1944 by assailant or assailants unknown while serving at Pyote Field, Texas. According to the October 8, 1944 edition of the Big Spring (Texas) Daily Herald, S/Sgt. Weir was "a veteran of the 19th Bomb Group and saw service in the South Pacific." His remains were interred at Mt. Calvary cemetery, Russell Co. He was born in Russell Co. in 1919 and enlisted from Hamilton Co., Ohio.

  • S2c Burlon "Red" Wilson (U.S. Naval Reserve): The son of Oscar Wilson & Ellen Turner Wilson of Fonthill. He died in a plane crash near Olathe, Kansas (just west of Kansas City, Kan.) on February 25 or 26 (both dates are given in newspaper accounts), 1944. S2c Wilson was born in Russell County in 1916 and enlisted in the Navy from St. Louis, Missouri (where he had resided for a number of years) about two months prior to his death.
Compiled by "JIM"

This story was posted on 2014-05-26 05:34:49
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