Yalobusha Historical Society Minutes – Sept. 17, 2009

Robert Owen “Red” Riddick talks with members and guests at the Yalobusha Historical Society. – Photo by Billy G. Davis

The Yalobusha Historical Society met Sept. 17 in its headquarters, the Presbyterian Church, in Coffeeville. There were 60 members and guests were present, representing eight counties. We were happy to have Helen Bennett Hines, of Grand Bay, AL, and her cousin, Lana Heath of Winona. Helen’s father, the late Tolbert Bennett, was a Coffeeville native, and a classmate of the speaker, “Red” Riddick. They were in the CHS class of 1939, whose picture hangs in the fellowship hall of the Church.  We welcome all visitors, at any of our meetings, and genuinely appreciate their presence.

  The opening prayer was spoken by Carl Vick. President Mike Worsham welcomed everyone, especially the speaker, Red Riddick, his son, Rev. Owen Riddick and other guests. Mike spoke about the upcoming open house at our building on Oct. 3, the day of the celebration of Coffeeville’s 175th birthday. A work day  has been set for 1:00 p. m., Thursday, Oct. 1, to spruce up the building and make final plans. A list of volunteers to be present in the building is being made, and members who were not present are urged to call Opal Wright, 675-2707, to specify what hour, or hours, they can come, or to volunteer to make cookies. The monetary donations toward this function are greatly appreciated, as are the memorial donations the Society has received this year, a list of which will be available later. The Society has a good supply of Chris Morgan’s book, “Yalobusha Bound” and the books will be sold for $65.00, or $69.00, shipped. The address is YHS, Box 258, Coffeeville, MS 38922.  We are looking forward to this memorable day, and invite everyone to drop by to see the beautiful sanctuary,  our library (a work in progress) and to enjoy light refreshments in the back.

    Program Chairman Opal Wright stated that next month’s program will be brought by Julia York Fernandez, who grew up in the Skuna Valley area, east of Coffeeville. Her subject will be “The Vann Family,” her ancestors for whom Vann’s Mills was named. Opal then introduced the day’s speaker, Robert Owen “Red” Riddick of Batesville. Red, of course, is a ‘hometown boy’ who needed no introduction. His program was the conclusion to his March program “My Combat Experience in WW2,” which covered the first two years of his military service.He was inducted into the Army in June of 1942, sent to Fort McClellan, AL, and remained there almost two years. The month of May of 1944 found the U. S. military preparing for the invasion of France (the Normandy Invasion, or “D-Day”) and Red was sent to England as a replacement. He landed on Utah Beach in France June 18, 12 days after the initial landing on June 4. Many, many lives were lost in this effort, and many replacements were needed. Red walked six days to catch up with the unit he was assigned to, the A Company, 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry, 4th Division.

  Red said he was a 3-stripe  Sergeant when he went to France, but when he got there he was ‘nothing.’ The first two days, he was ammunition  bearer for a mortar squad. Then, something happened to the Squad Leader,  a Private, so he took his place.  The 2nd Sgt. then became a casualty, so Red moved up to 2nd Sgt.  As casualties increased, Red moved up to Platoon Sgt. His unit was part of the force that broke through the Siegfried line on Sept. 14, 1944.  the fortifications that Hitler had predicted could not be penetrated.  It was this point in time that Red’s first program ended, so he  spent his time at this meeting recounting the days and months following, on up to his discharge in May of 1946, almost four years after his induction.

  Red recalled that he did not have a roof over his head for several weeks during his time in combat. He finally got to sleep in a real bed in Paris, France, in late August. The first thing they did when they captured ground, or a town, was to start digging foxholes.and that was where they slept. He spoke of the Allies’ continued advance through France, and the many casualties suffered. His Company was almost wiped out, but kept getting replacements, and continued pushing forward, meeting heavy resistance from the Germans. On Sept. 17, his group was surrounded by German SS troops, many of whom were very young men. Red said they poured out of the woods, screaming, hollering and SHOOTING. They had just moved into this small town, where there were only a few houses, but they all had basements, so Red and 31 other men sought refuge in one of them. He said that 16 of the 32 men were wounded. There was a deep ditch near the house, so when night fell, they made plans to escape. They would creep along in the ditch, stop and listen for Germans, and they were always near. Fortunately, they made it back to their unit, and the next day, they moved back in and occupied the town again. This was just one of the many frightening events Red experienced during his wartime service, and he covered many more during his talk.  Red said he always had a horror of being wounded on the field, unable to get up and walk. After every artillery bombardment, he would stand up, just to see if he cold still walk. He told of the many badly wounded men who had to lie on the field, moaning and calling out for help. The medics would not be able to get to them right away, and sometimes, when they did reach them, the Germans had booby-trapped the helpless men, causing more casualties.

  Then, on Dec. 1, 1944, Red became a casualty himself. A mortar shell landed a few yards from him, and the concussion knocked him down, and the man in front and the one in back of him. One of them was killed, the other wounded. Before another shell could come his way, Red stood up, thanking the Lord that he could still walk. A little later, he happened to look down, and saw a hole in his pants leg. He had not felt anything, and there was no blood, but he discovered that a big piece of shrapnel had lodged itself in his left leg, below the knee, and part of it was sticking out the back of his leg. He made his way to a depression about three feet deep, got out his first aid kit and covered the wound with sulphur. He made his way to an aid station, and eventually was moved to a hospital.  He got a shave and a shower, the first in many weeks, and food and hot coffee. He was then moved to a building that had been converted into a make-shift hospital. The shrapnel was removed, and the next day, he and many other wounded men were loaded into a boxcar and moved to a hospital in Paris. The second  day, the leg became infected and swollen, and doctors were afraid they would have to amputate it. Red was once again thankful to the Lord that penicillin had been made available, and his leg was saved. A few days later, another boxcar took him and other men to a ’tent’ hospital near the English Channel. Red had nothing but praise for the medical personnel in the military, but especially the wonderful Army combat nurses who treated the wounded men, such as Red.

  Red said his wound had remained open, but on Dec. 24, his birthday (his 23rd, I believe)  he was taken to surgery for it to be stitched up. The stitches were removed on Dec. 31, and he was dismissed the next day,  Jan. 1, 1945, and was sent back to his unit. For reasons unknown to him, he has no memory whatever of the first 27 days of January. On that day, he walked up to the Company Commander and asked where he was.  He doesn’t know what he did during those 27 days! He was checked back in, and became part of the weapons platoon, just as before.

  Red still had combat time ahead of him. His unit still met resistance from the Germans, and then the troops started back across the region they had gained in the first fighting.  Red said he slept in tents and the same foxholes he had dug when they came through the first time. Victory in Europe (V-E Day) came on May 8, 1945, but the war with Japan continued. Red’s unit was slated to join the fight against them, but when the atomic bombs were dropped in Japan, V-J Day soon came, Aug. 15, and he did not have to fight them.

  Red was discharged on October 1,1945, from a camp in NY. He was so anxious to get home that he hitch-hiked back to Coffeeville, arriving six days later. He had received a Battlefield Commission and left the Army as a 1st Lieutenant.

   All Americans are very proud of our veterans, and we should all let them know how much we appreciate their bravery and sacrifices. Red’s audience gave him a standing ovation, literally, and we should give a figurative standing ovation to all our veterans. Thank you, Red, for the part you played in the War, and for taking the time to write your story, and for sharing it with the Historical Society. As Opal stated when she introduced you, we do love and appreciate you!

 ATTENDING: Nan Cottingham, Joyce Williams, Yola Bailey, Martha Short, Bill Adams, Arnold Dyre, Clovis Williams, Helen Hines, Lana Heath, Frances Stewart, Dessie Caulfield, Julia Fernandez, Tom and Alma Moorman, Helen Jones, Betty B. Pechak, Herb Hayward, Doug Nichols, Sissie Nichols, Penny Nichols,  Red Riddick, Owen Riddick, Mike Worsham,  Dr. Sid Bondurant, Joe Moorman, Opal Wright, Dave Hovey, Jimmie Pinnix, Spencer Mullen, Jean M. Scobey, David Scobey, Liz Garlington, Ray Cox, Kathryn Tierce, James and Polly Simpson, Martha Koonce, Fletcher and Sue Fly, Bobby and Bobbie Hutchins, Hilly Griffin, Nan G. Davis, Dot Criss, Pat Brooks, Thelma Rae Harbour, Robert Williams, Joy Tippitt, Bobbie Williams, Carl and Mae Vick, Billy Gene and Josephine Davis, Alice G. Landreth, Sarah H. Williams, J. L. and Margie Crawford, Mike Ayers, Lois Y. Mitchell, Mable Willingham and Rosemary Sinquefield.

Betty R. Miller 662-226-6975

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