As a machine gunner in the U.S. Army during WWII, Robert Leslie survived some of the bloodiest battles of the European Theater. In this episode, he shares some of those memories that still haunt his dreams. He recalls his company’s first battle to take Saint Dié, France in November of 1944 and how his soldiers were saved from a booby-trapped roadblock by a herd of pigs.
Later, as the Allied Forces pushed across the Siegfried Line, a defensive wall along Germany’s western border, Leslie endured bitter cold, deprivation, and the anguish of losing so many of his fellow soldiers to the horrors of modern warfare.
The podcast ends on a high note as he remembers the 761st Tank Battalion, the first armored combat group comprised of African-Americans. Even whites from the segregated South recognized the bravery and skills of these tankers and Leslie credits them with saving his life on more than one occasion.
Art Cissell became a professional drummer in St. Louis during the Big Band Era. In this episode, he remembers the St. Louis music scene of the 1930s & 40s. Cissell began drumming at the age of five when his father gave him a real snare drum to pass the time while quarantined with the measles. He joined his first Big Band in 1936 at the age of 16. Cissell describes working full time during the day and playing the drums, nights and weekends.
Even though the country was racially segregated during the Big Band Era, musicians often crossed color lines to play together. Cissell recalls sitting in with some of the most famous musicians of the day and playing the St. Louis Harlem Club until the sun came up.
After years of playing in Big Bands, Cissell took a job at Keesler Air Force Base as an electronics instructor. He recounts how he and other Gulf Coast musicians formed The Star Dusters in 1968.
Photo: Cab Calloway, FSU World Music Online.
Imogene Borganelli of Greenville graduated from Ole’ Miss with dreams of becoming a medical technician. “My father had been a superintendent and my mother had been a teacher and I said, I did not intend to teach school. I didn’t want to starve to death.” It was the chance to coach girls’ basketball at Shaw High School in 1950 that lead her to become a teacher, anyway. In this episode, she remembers when her team beat the team of her friend – coaching legend Margaret Wade.
The Mississippi Humanities Council was founded in 1972 with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Borganelli details the first Scholar-In-Residence Program. Borganelli served on the Mississippi Humanities Council for six years. She looks back with pride on her time with the Council and reflects on its importance to the state.
Podcast Extra - Dr. Cora Norman was the founding Executive Director of the Humanities Council and served on it for 24 years. Borganelli describes her friend as the epitome of the what is good about the Humanities.
To celebrate Rosh Hashanah, this week’s MSMO features Carolyn Katz discussing her Jewish grandmothers. She begins by sharing her memories of how the small Jewish community in Kosciusko would always gather to celebrate traditional holidays like Rosh Hashanah.
Katz then recalls her great grandmother, Helene Mayer, a Jewish immigrant from Germany, who ran a boarding house in New Orleans to support her children after the untimely death of her husband. Katz remembers her as a matriarch who was loved by many.
During the summers growing up, Katz would often travel by train from Durrant to New Orleans to visit her grandmother. She remembers Grandmother Carrie as fun-loving and untraditional except when it came to her Jewish faith.
Katz’s mother, Edna, quit school at the age of 16 to open her own stenography business in New Orleans. She describes how Edna adjusted to small town life in Kosciusko.
Yoset Altamirano grew up in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. After graduation, she spent five years teaching music at a private school, but felt frustrated that music education was not emphasized more in her native country. In this episode, she recalls trying to instill an appreciation of music in her students and in their parents as well.
Altamirano soon received a scholarship to attend university but because music was not offered as a major, studied marketing instead. She still made time to perform in plays and opera and while working on a production of an opera by Verdi she met her husband who was a classical musician studying at the University of Southern Mississippi. After they married in 1998, she travelled with him to Hattiesburg where she auditioned for the choir and was awarded a scholarship.
According to Altamirano, studying music in the United States was a great opportunity. At the time the interview was conducted in 2002, she related feeling torn between staying here and returning to Honduras.
As a third generation fisherman, Clyde Brown grew up hunting and fishing on the Gulf Coast. Even as he pursued a career with International Paper, he worked to preserve the natural resources of the Gulf and protect the interests of fishermen. In 1982, Brown worked to dredge out an access canal into Bayou Heron after it became filled-in through disuse. He recalls how they raised the funds for a landing to make Bayou Heron accessible for everyone.
Due to his interest in preserving our marine resources, Brown was appointed to the Gulf of Mexico Program for Fisheries. He describes his work with the program and how his desire to establish a reserve in Jackson County led the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve or NERR. Brown credits his wife’s pecan pie for sealing the deal.
Clyde Brown was awarded NOAA’s Environmental Hero Award in recognition of his thirty-year commitment to coastal conservation. He looks back on the occasion with humor and humility.
Sank Powe of Mound Bayou became the head baseball coach of Cleveland High School in 1971, one year after school desegregation. In this episode, he recalls the resistance he encountered both from white parents and the black community. As a coach of high school boys and girls for twenty-five years, Powe developed a coaching style that he describes as a mixture of enthusiasm, motivation and fear.
Looking back on his career, Powe points with pride to the impact he has had on his students and the importance of chemistry between a coach and his players. He also explains his philosophy of walking the walk in all aspects of life.
As Hurricane Katrina churned across the Gulf of Mexico in late summer of 2005, Steve Grimm of Picayune was busy attending to the daily challenges of running Highlands Community Hospital (then Crosby Memorial Hospital). While the storm ravaged the Gulf Coast on the morning of August 29, he and his staff tried to save medical records and equipment as the roof blew off the building.
In the episode, Grimm describes the situation they faced the morning after including, no security, only backup generators for power and shortages of food, fuel and other basic necessities of life. He explains how they began to pick up the pieces and prepare for the next time even as they struggled to return to something close to normalcy.
According to Grimm, lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina will not be wasted. He is proud of how his hospital staff stood up to adversity and confident that they will be better prepared moving forward.
Prior to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, African-Americans across the South were denied the right to vote through the use of poll taxes, literacy tests and other tactics of suppression. In 1964, David Kendall was a 20-year-old Indiana college student. In this episode, he recalls coming to Mississippi to participate in the voter registration drive known as Freedom Summer.
Over the course of that summer, Kendall would be jailed multiple times. He shares his memories of that first arrest and being introduced to the best cheeseburger in Holly Springs. In preparing for Freedom Summer, Civil Rights workers received extensive training in a variety of tactics, but he explains how growing up on a farm proved surprisingly useful in helping to gain the confidence of black farmers in the Delta.
Image: Voter Registration Holly Springs, McCain Library & Archives, USM
Thad “Pie” Vann was head football coach at Southern Miss from 1948 until 1968, racking up an impressive 19 winning seasons and two national championships. But in this episode, we learn that coaching was not his first choice.
Growing up in the small town of Magnolia, Vann wanted to play professional baseball more than anything. It was his high school football coach that encouraged him to go to college before trying out for a minor league team. During his four years at Ole’ Miss, Vann excelled at football and baseball, hoping to play in the big leagues after graduation. He credits Coach Pete Shields for helping him prepare for a different career path.
Vann was still considering major league baseball after graduating college in 1929, but jumped at the chance to coach football at Meridian High School because of a desire to help his younger sister to attend college. It was while he was at Meridian, USM Coach Reed Green asked him to come to Southern Miss as an assistant. Eventually, he became head coach and achieved national recognition over the next twenty years.
Pie Vann was inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 1971 and National Football Foundation Hall of Fame in 1987.
After graduating college in California, Dolphus Weary returned to Mendenhall while job hunting.
In this episode, his wife Rosie Weary recalls their decision to join the Mendenhall Ministries. She describes how the Mendenhall Ministries established a 150 acre farm to teach their young people a good work ethic and explains how the food they grow benefits the entire community.
The programs developed by the Mendenhall Ministries have been designed to address specific needs within the community:
Weary concludes by pointing with pride to their many success stories. To learn more about the Mendenhall Ministries, go to http://www.mendenhallministries.org .
The Illinois Central railroad and eight affiliated Harriman lines had traditionally dealt separately with each craft union (boilermakers, blacksmiths, etc.) giving the companies an unfair advantage during contract negotiations in the minds of the unions. When the unions formed a "System Federation" in June of that year, the companies refused to recognize the group and began preparing for a system-wide strike.
Harry Marsalis was a seventeen year old machinist apprentice working at the Illinois Central railroad maintenance shop in McComb when the strike began on September 30th. In this episode, he describes how the company prepared in advance of the strike by building walled compounds and hiring northern strikebreakers. According to Marsalis, when the strikebreaker train arrived in McComb three days later, 100 strikers responded to the rock-throwing strikebreakers by shooting the train cars to pieces before the train would escape to New Orleans. Reports of 30 dead and 100 wounded strikebreakers were denied by the company
Marsalis describes how the town became an armed camp as martial law was declared by the governor, complete with hundreds of state militiamen, machine gun towers and searchlights around the company offices.
After two long years the strike was considered a failure and many of the strikers including Marsalis were forced to leave town looking for work.
Julius Lopez of Biloxi graduated high school in 1926 without any career plans beyond a goal of attending Tulane. In this episode, he explains his decision to attend Loyola University instead.
When legendary coach Clark Shaughnessy came to Loyola in 1927, Julius Lopez was the third string quarterback. He describes how he went from third to first in just one game and was thereafter “under Shaughnessy’s wing.”
As quarterback for Loyola, Lopez had many fellow Mississippians as teammates. He remembers the spirited games they played against Ole’ Miss in 1927 and ’28 and Loyola’s 1928 season opener against the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.
Joseph Wroten of Greenville was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives in 1951. During his three terms in office, his progressive views on issues like civil rights often put him in opposition to the rest of the legislature, so much so that he was dubbed “The Great Dissenter” by the Memphis Commercial Appeal.
In this episode, Wroten reflects on Washington County’s history of Progressivism. He discusses the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission—created by the legislature in 1956 to promote continued racial segregation—and why he first supported and then opposed the agency’s formation.
Wroten details how his liberal views often made him the target of threats and hate speech and how his support for the admission of James Meredith to Ole’ Miss cost him a fourth term in office.
PODCAST EXTRA: As a minister’s son, Wroten grew up Methodist in segregated Mississippi. He remembers how the United Methodist Church sought to lead by example during the Civil Rights Movement.
In preparation for the Invasion of Sicily, a key first step for the liberation of Europe during WWII, the 82nd Airborne Division traveled by boat to the North African city of Casablanca in the spring of 1943 to prepare and train. In this episode, General Elmo Bell of Wiggins recalls the hot, arid countryside and being greeted by the Red Cross.
On the night of July 9th, 1943, U. S. Army paratroopers parachuted behind enemy lines on the tiny island of Sicily. Separated and alone, Bell recounts the harrowing events that followed as he attempted to find and regroup his scattered unit. His memories of that night and the following day are graphic and disturbing.
After 15 years under fascist rule, the reactions of the Sicilians to Allied forces were mixed. Bell describes the generational divide of the local population and the large number of political prisoners they liberated.
Warning: this episode includes graphic descriptions of combat!
In 1942, Brigadier General Elmo Bell of Wiggins was working as a contractor, building barracks for soldiers at various military bases around the South. At that time, he had a low opinion of the Army and so when he came to Hattiesburg, it was with the intention of joining the Marines.
In this episode, he recalls how an Army recruiter convinced him to become a paratrooper and shares his memories of Paratrooper Jump School. He discusses how the Airborne Infantry attracted a special breed of soldier and why some of the strongest candidates washed out of the program.
PODCAST EXTRA: As WWII progressed, the equipment Paratroopers used evolved to meet the challenges they encountered in actual combat. Bell discusses some of the many hazards they faced.
Eugene Chadwick was forever tied to Mississippi sports at the age of two when his father was hired as the Athletic Director for Mississippi A&M (now MSU) in 1909. In this episode, he remembers the days when the entire Athletic Department consisted of his father and one assistant and there was one small facility for all outdoor sporting events: Hardy Field.
After playing football and baseball for MSU, Chadwick’s first job was coaching Greenwood High School’s football team. He looks back fondly on their undefeated season in 1930 when they were only scored on once the entire year for a season tally of 405 to 6. He also distinguished himself coaching for Laurel in 1945 and is credited for bringing the Split-T formation to Mississippi.
Chadwick served as the Head Coach and Athletic Director at Delta State from 1947 to 1960. He rebuilt the Athletics Program after WWII and led the football team to its first undefeated season in 1954.
Chadwick was inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, as well as, the MSU and Delta State Halls of Fame.
In March of 1942, the first African-American armored combat unit was formed at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana. Viewed by army brass as more of a novelty or public relations tool, the 761st might never have seen combat were it not for General George S. Patton who requested they be placed under his command. In this episode, James Jones of Laurel discusses the history of the 761st tank battalion. Jones was serving at a replacement depot outside of Paris when he assigned to the 761st as a replacement. He recalls being trained to operate a tank just five miles from the front and how the European populace reacted to seeing black soldiers.
On December 16, 1944, Germany launched a major counteroffensive through the Ardennes Forest in an effort to cut off Allied supply lines. Jones recounts the often overlooked but vital role the 761st played in the Battle of the Bulge.
Born the son of a poor Aberdeen tenant farmer in 1901, Guy Bush had little to look forward to beyond life behind a plow. The one thing he could do really well is pitch baseball. In this episode, he recalls pitching for local teams to earn extra money while a student at the Tupelo Military Institute and how that led to a job pitching for a Greenville minor league club in the old Cotton States League.
Bush was soon traded to the Chicago Cubs for $1,000 and a gallon of corn whiskey in 1923 starting a 17 year career in the majors that introduced the country boy to the big city. Now one of the highest paid players in baseball, he was able to pay back all who helped him along the way and give his family a financial stability they had never known before.
In this extended podcast, the “Mississippi Mudcat” discusses highlights from his time in the majors, like being the last man to pitch to Babe Ruth.
After the attack on the Naval Base at Pearl Harbor in 1941, America declared war on Japan. In this episode, Laurel native, Doris Barwick recalls how their community responded. Young men, some not even out of high school, volunteered for service by the thousands and soon found themselves on the front lines in Europe and the Pacific.
As a result of intense fighting during WWII and later the Korean Conflict, many of these soldiers suffered from battle fatigue, known today as PTSD, for years afterwards. To treat the lingering effects of PTSD, they often turned to alcohol.
Doris Barwick remembers her husband’s frequent nightmares and describes how he overcame his addiction. After getting sober himself, Jim Barwick became a drug and alcohol counselor and spent his remaining seventeen years helping others.
Image: 2,000 Yard Stare by Thomas Lea, c 1944 Life Magazine
Ace Cleveland served as the sports information director for USM from 1955 to 1986. In this episode, he discusses some of Southern’s most famous sports figures including basketball coach Lee Patrick Floyd, football and baseball legend Bubba Phillips, NFL Hall of Fame punter Ray Guy, and assistant football coach, Clyde “Heifer” Stuart.
John Childress joined the Navy Seals in 1968. In this episode, he recalls training teams of mercenaries for raids into North Vietnam. As a result of his efforts, the Viet Cong placed a bounty on Childress. He explains how a bomb left on an ammo pile outside his office nearly got him.
Childress also discusses how the Viet Cong charged Vietnamese businesses protection money during the war and in a podcast extra describes a raid his team conducted on a VC prison camp.
Carl Walters was born in Laurel, Mississippi in 1904. In this episode, he recalls life growing up there and covers a variety of topics including the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art (which opened in 1923 as a memorial to Lauren Eastman Rogers), as well as, the town’s leading families and their connection to the timber industry.
Walter’s best friend growing up was a boy named James Street, author of Tap Roots and The Biscuit Eater. He discusses his famous friend’s career as a newspaper man and novelist.
Carl Walters of Laurel landed his first newspaper job in the 1920s working as a printer’s assistant. In this episode, he recalls how his love of sports led him to become a sports writer. Later, Walters began working for the Meridian Star. He discusses how the Meridian paper broke new ground by being the first to segregate the sports news into its own section. Walters became the first sports editor for the Jackson Daily News in 1946.
Walters reflects on his career as a sports editor and columnist with pride and the innovations we take for granted today, such as the Fall Football Preview Guide. Walters was inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 1993. You can learn more by visiting their website. http://msfame.com/hall-of-fame/inductees/carl-walters-sr/
When Don Frutiger moved to Hattiesburg in 1964, he was surprised by the size of the LGBT community. In this episode, Frutiger shares his memories of a time when being gay was still considered a crime. He also discusses how a police raid on the Forrest Hotel ended in tragedy.
By the 1970s, there were several bars in Hattiesburg that catered to the LGBT community, but according to Frutiger, police were still monitoring the community well into the 70s & 80s. He explains how one bar protected their customers.
NOTICE: This episode of the Mississippi Moments podcast contains frank and explicit language. Listener discretion advised.