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.
Elmer McCoy represented Prentiss County in the Mississippi House of Representatives from 1936 until 1952 and was chairman of the Education Committee for nine years. He authored important legislation including the free textbook law, homestead exemption, and state supported public schools. And he played a crucial role in the creation of Northeast Mississippi Community College.
McCoy was born in 1902 in the New Site community of Prentiss County. In this episode, he explains how a love of public speaking and debate, led him to consider a run for the state legislature. When McCoy began teaching in 1923, Mississippi did not have state-funded public schools. He recalls running for the legislature in 1935 on a platform of state-funded schools and free textbooks. As a teacher serving in the State House of Representatives in 1940, McCoy wrote the bill to provide Mississippi children with free textbooks. He remembers the hard work of everyone involved. He also discusses some of the memorable characters he met during his time in office.
Elmer McCoy passed away on November 17, 1995.
PHOTO: Clarion Ledger
In 1933, W.C. Nelms graduated from Mississippi State with a degree in Civil Engineering. In this episode, he discusses working for the Civilian Conservation Corp and their efforts to control the erosion that devastated so many Mississippi farms.
By 1934, it was estimated that 100 million acres of US farmland had lost its topsoil due to erosion. Nelms recalls how the CCC worked with Mississippi farmers to develop soil conservation techniques. One early solution, imported from Japan, would soon gain infamy. In the 30s and 40s, Kudzu vines were planted throughout the South as a way of controlling soil erosion. He explains the logic behind introducing the invasive plant to our ecosystem.
The U.S. Congress passed the Soil Conservation Act in 1935 and the Soil Conservation Service was formed. Nelms describes how the work of the SCS evolved into the development of state soil conservation districts.
To learn more about soil and water conservation in Mississippi, go to http://www.mswcc.ms.gov
PHOTO: Alamy Live News
Throughout WWII, U.S. armed forces remained segregated along racial lines. Even though over 900,000 African-Americans served in the armed forces during the war—proving their worth time and again—they were still viewed with suspicion by many of their white commanding officers and others.
LaMont Martin of Gulfport was drafted into the Army after graduating high school in 1942. In this episode, he shares some of his memories from that time, like how he and his buddy got left behind when the bus carrying them to Fort Benning, Georgia stopped for a meal in Alabama. After basic training, Martin was stationed in Massachusetts before being deployed to the European Theater. He remembers the day that he and a fellow soldier accidently wandered into a “white” USO club while visiting Boston.
Waiting to cross the English Channel into France, black soldiers were restricted from fraternizing with English women. LaMont Martin discusses the prevailing attitudes of that time and remembers how the reported rape of a German woman almost led to a race riot and the court-martial of their entire company.
This episode of Mississippi Moments was researched by Sean Buckelew, and produced by Ross Walton, with narration by Bill Ellison.
Gulfport native Aurabelle Caggins lost her parents at a young age and went to live with her uncle’s family. In this episode, she shares her memories of growing up in a household where everyone was required to earn their keep. For Caggins that meant getting up each morning at 5 AM, to wash clothes in a cast iron pot, before walking to school.
When Caggins began attending school in 1925, students were required to purchase their textbooks. Often having no money for books or supplies, she remembers having to do homework, late at night, using books borrowed from her classmates.
Caggins began working odd jobs in high school to earn money for things like material for Home Economics class. Her grades earned her a $50 scholarship and she arrived at Alcorn State with enough money for her tuition and entrance fees, plus fifty cents. She describes her fear at being called to the matron’s office and the opportunity that meeting provided.
Aurabelle Caggins taught Home Economics in Gulfport for 38 years. She discusses the important life-skills her students received, and laments that Home Economics classes are no longer offered at many schools.
This episode of Mississippi Moments was researched by Sean Buckelew and produced by Ross Walton, with narration by Bill Ellison.
Bay St. Louis native, Henry Capdepon, was 18 years old when the United States entered WWI in April of 1917. In this episode, Capdepon shares his memories of the two years and two months he spent serving in the trenches and on the battlefields of Europe. He describes his decision to enlist with the Marines as a “thirst for adventure.”
When Capdepon joined the Marines, the journey to the front lines of France was long and difficult. He recalls being packed into troop ships and the boxcars that could hold forty men or eight horses. Despite international bans on the use of chemical weapons, poison gases were widely used in WWI. He remembers seeing his first mustard gas victim and the dangers of chemical warfare.
After a two year tour of duty, Capdepon returned to Bay St. Louis, but had difficulty adjusting to civilian life. He discusses seeking medical help for symptoms that might be diagnosed as PTSD, today. He also looks back with pride at his decision to join the American Legion and the Society of Forty Men and Eight Horses: a charitable and patriotic organization whose purpose is “To uphold and defend the United States Constitution of the United States, to promote the well-being of veterans, their widows, widowers, and orphans, and to actively participate in selected charitable endeavors, which include among others, programs that promote child welfare and nurses training.” [Source: http://www.fortyandeight.org ]
PHOTO: By Feddacheenee - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15696349
Billy Ferrell became Sheriff of Adams County in January of 1960. In this episode, he describes the rising tensions brought on by the Civil Rights Movement during the second half of his first term in office. During the 1960s, the Ku Klux Klan tried to intimidate anyone they perceived as supporting civil rights. Ferrell remembers countering threats against his family with some intimidation of his own.
While campaigning for a second term as sheriff, Ferrell was asked to give a political speech to a group of local Klansmen. He explains his reasons for agreeing to meet with the group and discusses how completely they had been infiltrated by the FBI.
On September 25, 1964, Klansmen bombed and damaged the home of Natchez Mayor John Nosser. Ferrell recalls going to check on the mayor afterwards and being questioned by the FBI.
THIS EPISODE CONTAINS MILD PROFANITY.
After graduating from medical school in 1947, Dr. Tom Mayer took a temporary job with the Mississippi State Department of Health while waiting to begin his internship. In this episode, he remembers trying to vaccinate school children in Walthall County. Later, he returned to McComb to set up a medical practice at the urging of a friend.
In the mid-1950s, Mayer was hired by the Illinois Central Railroad to be the company doctor. He discusses the advantages and disadvantages of being a railroad physician. At that time, penicillin had only recently been discovered. He recalls the limited number of available drugs and one old doctor’s story of a fifty-cent price limit.
Working around trains has always been a dangerous job and as a railroad doctor, Mayer has seen it all. He recounts some of his more memorable cases and reflects on the many friendships he collected during his career.
(contains a bit of graphic description of a patient's injuries)
Lusia Harris-Stewart grew up in Minter City, Mississippi, the tenth of eleven children. In this episode, taken from her 1999 oral history interview, she recalls how her love of basketball grew from a way to escape chores, to a way to attend college. Her standout abilities as a player on the Amanda Elzy High School girls’ basketball team caught the attention of Delta State recruiter, Melvin Hemphill, and she was invited to join the women’s team, in 1973.
For Harris-Stewart, adjusting to life at Delta State included overcoming her shyness. She remembers the support of her fellow students as the women’s basketball team rose to prominence, becoming national champions in 1975, ’76, and ’77.
In 1976, Harris-Stewart won a silver medal in the first-ever Olympic women’s basketball tournament. She discusses the historical significance of scoring the first points in Olympic history.
After graduating college in 1977, Harris-Stewart coached basketball at the college level and played professional ball before returning to her high school alma mater as a coach and teacher. She recounts her career and the honor of being inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.
This episode of Mississippi Moments was researched by Sean Buckelew and produced by Ross Walton, with narration by Bill Ellison.
In 1959 Dr. Gilbert Mason was the only black physician on the staff of the new Biloxi Hospital. At that time, the 26 mile man-made Biloxi beach, paid for with Federal funding, was designated for whites only, in violation of the original agreement. In this episode, Mason explains his decision to try and integrate the beach.
After he was arrested, Mason and group of black citizens petitioned the Harrison County Board of Supervisors to make the beach available to all citizens. The board refused and the group made a second attempt in April of 1960. Mason describes being attacked by an angry mob while police watched the violence unfold.
In response, NAACP President Medgar Evers gathered citizen complaints to present to the U.S. Justice Department, who then filed suit against the board. Three years later, seventy protesters returned to the beach carrying black flags in honor of Evers who had been assassinated the week before.
The original group arrested for trespassing on the beach in 1960 was awaiting their verdict in county court the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Mason recalls how they honored the slain President. The case eventually made it all the way to the US Supreme Court and in 1968, Harrison County was forced to desegregate Biloxi Beach, making it available for use by all its citizens.
Amzie Moore of Cleveland, Mississippi, had to fend for himself from the time he was fourteen years old. In this episode, he recalls wondering why there was such economic disparity between the white and black communities. To his young mind, there must have been something special about white people that allowed them to attain a higher standard of living than blacks. It was only after serving in Europe during WWII Moore realized this was not the case. He came home determined to work towards a better life for himself and his community. He got financing to open his own Pan-Am service station, the only one between Memphis and Vicksburg that allowed black customers to use the restrooms. And he became politically active, first with the Black and Tan Republicans and later joining the Democratic Party. He also joined the NAACP.
In September of 1955, while serving as NAACP President for Bolivar County, Moore received a call from the grandfather of a boy named Emmett Till. He explains how Till’s death marked a turning point in Mississippi. Prior to the Voting Rights Act of 1964, Southern states used poll taxes and literacy tests to disenfranchise poor minority voters. Moore discusses how they worked to overcome those obstacles through the formation of the Freedom Democratic Party. Later, as leader of Project Head Start, he fought to bring affordable housing and new job opportunities to poor people in the Mississippi Delta. Moore looks back with pride at all they were able to accomplish.
In 1948, Gladys Noel Bates agreed to be the named plaintiff in a lawsuit brought by the black Mississippi Teachers Association against the state of Mississippi to demand equal pay for black teachers, knowing that she and her husband would most likely lose their jobs.
After news of the suit made headlines, Bates remembers the other teachers avoided being seen with her for fear of reprisals. She describes how being blacklisted by the state prevented the couple from teaching anywhere in the South.
Bates and her husband left Mississippi in 1960 and became teachers in Denver, Colorado. She recalls how their plan to keep a low profile was thwarted by a desire to improve racial relations. Soon, Bates had developed a reputation in the Denver public school system as someone who could work with people of all races. She gives several examples of the strategies she used to unite parents and students in the common goal of a better education for all.
CONTAINS RACIAL EXPLICIT LANGUAGE
In October of 1966, Father Peter Quinn became pastor of Holy Rosary, a small, black, parish in Hattiesburg. Interested in working with the youth of the community, he formed a group that would later become the Catholic Youth Organization. In this episode, he describes how their young people participated in picketing and boycotts during the Civil Rights Movement.
As an activist priest in Hattiesburg in the 1960s, Quinn often received death threats from the Ku Klux Klan. One night, his station wagon was fired on by men in two pickup trucks who tried to force him off the road. Afterwards, he was protected by a group of volunteers called the Deacons of Defense.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. kept a grueling schedule of personal appearances during the Movement. Father Quinn recalls how on King’s last trip to Hattiesburg, just ten days before his assassination, he borrowed Quinn’s bed for a much-needed nap. After King was killed, violence erupted across the nation. Quinn describes leading a protest march through downtown Hattiesburg after pleading with the kids to leave their knives and guns at home.
PHOTO: Huffington Post
Henry Walton of Mendenhall, Mississippi, grew up in Waycross, Georgia, the son of a high school principal. He was seven years old when his father took him to see a performance by Birch the Magician and it inspired him to take up magic as a hobby.
In this episode, Walton discusses that experience and the Gilbert Mysto Magic Sets he later received for Christmas. He began collecting books on magic, learning card and coin tricks to fool his friends and family. Walton also recalls how a high school variety show gave him the chance to debut as a magician before a large audience.
After WWII, Walton traveled the South, installing telephone office equipment for Western Electric. While stationed in Tampa, he met a man well-known by magicians for building quality magic apparatus. He remembers how Warren Hamilton offered to build him an entire magic show and sponsored his membership in the International Brotherhood of Magicians.
After moving to Mississippi and getting married, Walton decided to take up magic, again, as a hobby. When Birch the Magician came to Jackson to perform, Walton took his wife to see his childhood inspiration. It was there he met Jackson magician, Gene Grant, and the two men became friends. He recalls how they formed a Mississippi chapter of the International Brotherhood of Magicians (local chapters are called “rings” after the famous linking rings trick). Soon, “Ring 98” was attracting members from across the state to their monthly meetings where they performed for each other and the public at special events.
PHOTO: Walton performs at Jackson Mall, 1974.
Mississippi author Shelby Foote, best known for his three volume history of the American Civil War, was born in Greenville, Mississippi in November of 1916. In this episode, we revisit his oral history interview, conducted by Dr. Orley B. Caudill on March 4, 1975, at his home in Memphis.
Foote discusses growing up in Greenville, how everyone attended the same school and what they did for fun during the Great Depression. He was just five years old when his father passed away, leaving him and his mother alone. He recalls how his mother always supported his decisions and never said hurtful things.
Anticipating America’s entrance into WWII, Foote left college after two years, returned to Mississippi and joined the National Guard. He remembers writing his first novel while waiting to be deployed, and selling short stories to the Saturday Evening Post. He also talks about his style of writing, which he describes as a slow, deliberate process.
David Baria and his wife decided to move their family to Bay Saint Louis in the spring of 2004. In this episode, taken from his 2008 interview, he recalls their idyllic life on the Gulf Coast, prior to the arrival of Hurricane Katrina the following year.
On August 28, 2005, people began fleeing the Gulf Coast area as Katrina approached. Baria remembers the challenges his family faced as they prepared for its arrival. After riding out the storm at his brother’s home, Baria, his brother and uncle rode down to Bay Saint Louis to survey the damage. It was then he realized their historic home, which had withstood many storms since 1875, had been completely wiped away.
They quickly developed a plan to help survivors by setting up a distribution network of water, fuel, food, clothing, medicines and cleaning supplies and then got to work. Unfortunately, just ten days later, Baria’s son was hospitalized with a mysterious illness. The child was in a coma for over a week before succumbing to what turned out to be rabies.
The family was determined to remain on the Gulf Coast and rebuild their lives. Baria began attending meetings of local citizen groups concerned with such issues as insurance companies that refused to honor homeowner policies and proposed building codes. He explains how a perceived lack of leadership inspired him to run for the State Senate.
David Baria served in the Mississippi Senate from 2008 to 2012 and is currently a member of the Mississippi House of Representatives from the 122nd district.
MSMO Holiday Classic from 2015: MSM 463 Kris Gianakos of Meridian comes from a large Greek family. In this episode, he discusses his favorite way to prepare leg of lamb. Lamb is a staple of Greek cooking. For his family, it was a dish usually served during the holidays. He also describes avgolemono soup, a traditional Greek chicken soup and explains why it always reminds him of home.
PODCAST EXTRA: According to Gianakos, wherever he travels, he runs into other Greeks eager to share their traditional foods. As examples he cites two Greek-owned restaurants in Memphis and Oxford.
Many Mississippi families raised hogs for food and would cure the meat in a small shed called a smoke house. In this episode, Natchez native Charles Wright explains how neighbors would help each other out during hog-killing time.
Among the many pork products, Wright’s family would make with the meat from their hogs, was hogshead cheese. Hogshead Cheese is a cold cut meat product that originated in Europe during the Middle Ages. He remembers how his family would prepare Hogshead Cheese as a Christmas treat. Each Christmas, Wright’s family would gather at his great aunt’s house in Bude. He recalls the wide variety of wild game, fish and home-brewed beverages everyone would bring.
When Wright’s family assembled for the holidays, there was always an abundance of love. He gets emotional thinking back on those days when they could all gather together.
PHOTO: Bude, MS, depot. http://www.thetracksidephotographer.com
Ellen McCarley grew up near Port Gibson, the youngest of twelve cousins living on Drake Hill. In this episode, she recalls her idyllic childhood and the games they played to pass the time.
Before automobile ownership became common, Mississippians would travel to neighboring towns by train. McCarley remembers riding the train to Vicksburg to go Christmas shopping with her mother. Every Christmas Eve, the Drake family, would gather together for the lighting of the tree. She describes how her mother worked to make it a special time for all.
McCarley’s aunt ran a boarding house on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans in the 1930s. She recounts visiting her aunt during Mardi Gras and witnessing a parade and dress ball.
After Japan attacked the US Navy Base at Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, thousands of American teenagers volunteered to go and fight. In this episode, humorist Jerry Clower of Liberty, Mississippi, explains how growing up on a farm prepared him for life in the Navy. Raised in the rural South, Clower’s perceptions of race were limited to Black or White. He recalls an incident in basic training that opened his eyes to a wider world of ethnicity and prejudice. (caution: uses a racist word that he had never heard prior to joining up.)
Clower served as a radio operator on the aircraft carrier, USS Hornet, in the Pacific Theater. He remembers the battles for Iwo Jima and Okinawa and the lessons they learned from each.
While serving aboard the Hornet, Clower survived several attacks by Kamikazes. He describes feeling conflicted about watching the Japanese pilots die, and discusses suffering from symptoms of PTSD for many years after the war.
PHOTO: courtesy of the Clower family.
As family and friends gather this week for Thanksgiving, we revisit the 2010 interview of freelance food and travel writer, Julian Brunt, who views cooking as his form of creative expression. In this episode, he explains why he is so passionate about preparing meals for his circle of friends. As the wife of an army officer, Julian Brunt’s mother hosted dinner parties for the other officer’s families. He remembers how she would prepare traditional Southern dishes for their friends. He also recalls how they expected their children to dress for dinner and join in on mealtime discussions. This is one reason why Brunt considers good conversation to be the main ingredient of any successful dinner party.
When Julian Brunt cooks a meal for his friends, each of the five courses compliments the next. He shares some of his tricks to keep things interesting and why he enjoys reading about classic French cuisine.
Whatever the week holds for you, we wish you safe travels, good company, good food, and pleasant conversation.
PHOTO: Julian Brunt public Facebook post.
Dorothy Wilkins Fraley was born on a farm in the Fairview Community outside of Brooksville in 1918. She was in her 82nd year of life when she sat down to record her oral history in October of 2000 as part of the Noxubee County Oral History Project. This episode is a continuation of one we did in September of this year (MSM 587) about her memories of growing up on the family farm.
As the holiday season is now upon us, we wanted to revisit her interview and recollections of Christmases past. The first recalling family Christmas traditions of her childhood and the last, the family Christmas traditions that she and her husband forged with their own family in Macon. In the middle, come two clips detailing the arc of her marriage and career.
During WWII, women took jobs normally held by the men who were off serving their country. Fraley explains how a part-time job at the sheriff’s office led to marriage and a new home in the county jail. After Sheriff Fraley’s term in office ended, the couple decided to open their own grocery store in Macon. Dorothy Fraley recalls the challenges of those early days and how the business grew along with their family. Fraley and her husband bought a large home in Macon across from the Dreamland Theater. She describes her family’s Christmas traditions and how everyone was made to feel welcome.
Dr. Joe Berryman spent his life and career involved with high school, college and professional bands as a musician, composer, instructor, and conductor, as well as, a product representative and developer for several musical instrument manufacturers. After moving to Mississippi, he served as the band director at Itta Bena High School before coming to USM where he became coordinator of the band staff and taught percussion and orchestration. Berryman also worked with the Mississippi Lions All-State Band for well over a decade as director, writing much of the music, himself. At the time this interview was recorded in July of 1972, the band had won first prize at the Lion’s International Convention five of the last six years.
In this episode, Berryman discusses his early life and career. He was ten years old in 1914, when his family moved from Texarkana to Meridian. He recalls shipping their automobile and furniture by train because there were no highways. When he decided to become a musician, his parents wouldn’t pay for music lessons because they didn’t think he was serious. He remembers earning the money by selling magazines and taking the lessons in secret.
In the age of silent movies, musicians would provide live music to match the action on the screen. Berryman describes playing in the orchestra pits of the movie theaters in Kansas City. In addition to showing motion pictures, movie palaces of the day also booked live entertainment. He shares his memories of working the vaudeville houses in Topeka and providing sound effects for a hot-tempered comedian.
PODCAST BONUS: When he was not playing theaters in the 1920s, Berryman travelled with several tents shows around the Midwest. Known as chautauquas, these shows were intended to bring cultural enlightenment to isolated rural communities.
PHOTO: USM Archive