Jim Swager of Brookhaven joined the US Army shortly after his 18th birthday, three months before D-day. In this episode, he shares his memories of the journey from Mississippi to the battlefields of France as part of the 103rd Infantry, Cactus Division. Although he weighed a mere 130 lbs. his captain made him a machine gunner and assigned him a BAR. The Browning Automatic Rifle was a 30-caliber light machine gun used extensively by Allied forces during WWII. Swager recalls the challenge of lugging the twenty-pound weapon across Europe.
During the war, Swager always enjoyed meeting other Mississippians and remembers how he and his buddy from Iuka survived a German artillery barrage together. In the chaos of war, soldiers are sometimes mistaken for the enemy by friendly forces and pay the ultimate price. Swager gets emotional when he discusses how another friend was killed doing night reconnaissance.
The Nazi government sent millions of Jews and other so-called undesirables to concentration camps for forced labor and eventual extermination. Swager describes the barbaric conditions of one such camp they helped liberate near the end of the war.
WARNING: This episode contains graphic descriptions of violence and atrocities.
Mississippi Moments is written and produced by Ross Walton, with narration by Bill Ellison.
During WWII, American long range bombers decimated German industrial sites in order to shorten the war. In this episode, Phil McGuire of Macon recalls his decision to become a ball turret gunner on a B-17 flying fortress.
The B-17 heavy bomber, bristling with machine guns, is one of the most iconic planes of the war. They could survive heavy damage and still make it home again. Even so, being part of a B-17 crew was a high risk job with the most dangerous position being ball turret gunner. The tiny motorized Plexiglas and aluminum pods, tucked underneath the fuselage, held twin 50 caliber Browning machine guns. Unlike the rest of the crew, the ball turret gunner had no room to wear a flak jacket or parachute and had to lie on his back in a fetal position with his feet held in foot rests level with his head. McGuire discusses how he would tie his parachute in the plane’s waist close to his station in hopes of reaching it in time.
German forces relied on FLAK guns to protect them from Allied aircraft in WWII. McGuire describes his first bombing mission and the harmless-looking puffs of smoke the guns put before them. In the early days of the war, American bombers had to fly daylight missions deep into enemy territory without fighter escorts. McGuire recounts how one of his crewmembers mistook hostel gunfire as a friendly signal.
Podcast Bonus: Bomber crews were required to complete 25 combat missions before returning home. It was estimated the average crewman had only a one in four chance of actually completing his tour of duty. McGuire discusses fulfilling his obligation and spending the rest of the war as an aerial combat instructor.
Macon, Mississippi, county seat of Noxubee County, has a long and storied past. It served as the state capital during the second half of the Civil War and was the place where the Treaty of Dancing River was signed. When longtime resident, Joseph Maury, Jr. and his wife, Selma, sat down to share their memories in September of 1999, it was obvious they both had a great love for the town and the life they had shared together.
Joe Maury’s father became the Night Marshall in Macon during the 1910s when the city had a thriving saloon district. He describes how his father dealt with the rowdy, “over-the-river” crowd when they had too much to drink.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, a scarcity of jobs forced people to find creative ways to earn a living. Maury remembers how the citizens of Macon got through those tough economic times and why the 8th of the month was so important to the town’s merchants.
While attending high school in Macon, Maury worked part time at a local grocery store. He recalls how a discarded cigarette and a basket full of fireworks caused a panic one Christmas Eve. In the late 1930s, he and two other young men were hired to help install river gauges in the Noxubee river. He explains how their enthusiastic use of dynamite to blow a cofferdam resulted in a hail of debris at the nearby Chevrolet dealership.
PHOTO: recent shot by Morgan Adams of the building where W.P. Chancellor's store was located.