Courage Under Fire: Growing up in the South Pacific of World War II. Pt 1

History remembers the celebrated. Genealogy remembers them all.

Fred L. Jacobs service photo

Frederick L Jacobs has been a topic of genealogical curiosity for me. Like most my research subjects I never met him. He has been the topic of many stories, most of which are long on vagueness and short on detail. Fred was my husband’s grandfather.

Fred Jacobs spent a fair portion of his life haunting a bar stool at the bar in a small Michigan town by the name of Paris. His wife tended that same bar. Every day he could be found wearing blue jeans, a pocket t-shirt, suspenders, and his highly decorated American Legion hat. Fred was a popular relic in the small town farming community where he spent most of his life.

This blog series is my attempt at trying to trace his life during World War II.

Just a small town boy

I had all the genealogical vital stats on him. Fred Jacobs was born to Joseph Jacobs and his wife Eula Payton. Fred was the third son. He was born in Michigan on December 12, 1922. His family had recently made the move to the region from Cabell County, West Virginia in the months before he was born. His father, Joe, worked in the road construction industry.

Fred Jacobs grave

In the Army now.

Fred was just shy of his 18th birthday when he enlisted in Big Rapids, Michigan on 15 October, 1940. He lied about his date of birth by a year when he signed paperwork to join the Army. He would spend the next 5 years experiencing some of the most brutal jungle warfare of World War II.

During his time in combat Fred Jacobs would be awarded the purple heart three times. With the passing of time, information about the circumstances of those awards is undoubtedly lost to time. The medals remain a token to his sacrifice while the sacrifice has been lost to history.

Purple heart medal

Like so many soldiers who served during World War II, Fred’s service record was destroyed. The disastrous fire in 1973 of the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri resulted in near total destruction of a majority of the Army records held there. A request to the National Archives turned up one of the disappointing form letters and the offer of a scant scrap in the form of a last pay statement. So much valuable information up in a puff of smoke.

It would be easy to admit defeat and stop the search there. Call it a day and a lost cause. For years I did just that as I avoided devoting any precious research hours to the cause. I wasn’t motivated to dig deeper. Time and again conversations would turn to that old box of medals and those three purple hearts. Like a book unread it was time to crack the cover on this tale.

I turned my attention to the box of medals and military memorabilia. Inside was a red arrow patch. I had an enlistment card transcription. A mystery….and this series…was born with the effort to sleuth out details about Fred Jacobs and his service during World War II.

red arrow patch

Dig Deeper

I started by learning more about the unit patch. He kept that red arrow, it had significance. The Red Arrow Division, a nickname for the 32nd Infantry Division, is a military division with a long and storied history. One of the units in the 32nd was 126th regiment. Company E was the National Guard unit called up from Big Rapids, Michigan on October 15, 1940. Big Rapids, Michigan was the station where Fred enlisted on October 15, 1940. Using this information I have tried my best to retrace what were his possible steps over the next 6 years.

In the fall of 1940 the United States was not officially at war. Tensions in the world were growing more strained and it seemed inevitable that the U.S. would be pulled into the world’s conflicts. That was the circumstance which led to President Roosevelt ordering over thirty-five thousand men to active duty on September 15, 1940 with a report date of October 15, 1940. The United States was preparing for war. Fred Jacobs enlisted in the Army.

Training

During the last week of 1940 the 32nd Infantry Division was ordered to Louisiana for training. The division would participate in a training action known as the Louisiana Maneuvers. The units traveled by train to Camp Beauregaurd in Louisiana for the first step in what would be a long journey around the world.

Infantry Soldiers of the 32D Division stand at attention in a company street at Camp Beauregard, LA.

Stay tuned for more about Fred Jacobs in my next post in this series.

What Do 2 Hangings, a Burned Body, and an Axe Murder Have In Common?

Odd Coincidences

Today I read the tale of Alice Lake.  I came upon the tragic story of Alice while researching my own family tragedy in the death of Rebecca Cornell and the subsequent hanging of her son Thomas Cornell II for her murder.  Rebecca and Alice both suffered horrible deaths.  Rebecca was possibly murdered and her body burned past recognition while her family ate dinner in the next room.  Alice was hanged for witchcraft after being plagued by haunting visions of her lost child.  Rebecca and Alice also shared one other detail in common; their daughter in law was Sarah Earle.

Continue reading What Do 2 Hangings, a Burned Body, and an Axe Murder Have In Common?

L.J. Eckler: Civil War Soldier – Custer’s First Last Stand and Andersonville Prison


History is full of countless minor characters who will never be regaled on the pages of history books. These men and women who toil, bleed, and persevere through extraordinary circumstances yet go on to live normal lives are the stories that lurk deep in the depths of family history research. L.J. Eckler was one of my ancestors. He was my 3x great grandfather.

L.J. was living a simple life of a family man and blacksmith when he was called to serve in the American Civil War. He was mustered into the legendary Wolverine Brigade and served under the notorious and daring, Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer, long before he ever fell on the distant battlefield in in his final last stand.

Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer By unattributed – Library of Congress, Public Domain

L.J. Eckler served as a blacksmith for G company of the 6th Michigan Calvary. He was captured during the battle of Trevilian Station at what is commonly known as Custer’s First Last Stand.

During the rest of the war L.J. would experience the depths of hell beyond even the blood and chaos of the battlefield. He would spend time at some of the deadliest Confederate prison camps.

I follow the life of my 3x great grandfather as he returns home from war and follow the rest of his life in documents. He seems to have brought the trauma of his experience home with him. The rest of L.J.’s life is dotted with several divorces, instances of jail time for fraud.

I don’t know if a photo of L.J. exists. If it does, I have never seen it. I found a photo of his gravestone and it seems likely that is all I will ever find. My 3x great grandfather is the type of individual that family history research is full of, simple and often tragic heroes, that history largely forgets.


A Strange Tale in Ripley County, Missouri

Recently I stumbled upon an article about an odd double murder that happened nearly a 100 years ago which left me fascinated and delving deeper for more information.  The murders took place in Ripley County, Missouri during prohibition.

Ripley County was an area with a reputation for lawlessness.  Homemade corn liquor poured from stills long before the law forbidding alcohol in the country.  A lack of roads inhibited the law enforcement authorities from cracking down on unsavory types in a region where many of the locals traveled by the many waterways that snaked through the area.

The region was mostly poor; a majority of the population was illiterate.  Many of the people in the area had immigrated to the area during the lumber boom after 1880, most of them from Tennessee.  Small family farms and timber operations were the main industries of the area.

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Lillie Mae Weatherspoon

In 1920 the Bennett family lived on the South Branch of the Buffalo Creek in Pine Township in Ripley County.  The family is headed by 62 year old widow Celia Louisa “Lucy” Bennett.  Also living with her at the time was her 34 year old son, J.W. Bennett, and 17 year old Gertie Bennett, a granddaughter whose mother was deceased.  Lucy claimed to be a farmer and reported that she owned her land.  Living next door to Lucy in 1920 were her daughter Fanny, with her husband Willie Weatherspoon, and their children.  The family had resided on the same land for over 10 years.   My Great Grandmother, Lillie Mae Weatherspoon, was one of Willie and Fanny’s children.

A gruesome discovery rocked the region in June 1926 when the bodies of Ernest and Frank Van Patton were discovered.  The old men had been dead, exposed to the elements and animals, about a week prior to discovery.  The men were misers and local rumors indicated they had a hidden wealth of money which was never recovered.  Local authorities were unable to solve the strange demise of the Van Patton brothers for a year.

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The Springfield Leader Springfield, MO June 20, 1926 pg 1

A break came in the case when 17 year old Cecil Atchinson walked into the local police station and told Joe Cochran a strange tale which implicated his uncle J.W. Bennett and another man, George Williamson, in the murder of the Van Patton brothers by poison in an attempt to rob the men.  Cecil also confessed that he confessed the tale to his grandmother, Lucy Bennett, and the tale shocked her so bad she died.  He claimed that on her death bed she ordered him to turn his uncle in.  J.W. was also implicated in a murder attempt on George Williamson by placing dynamite in his stove causing an explosion which injured the intended victim.

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Simpson’s Leader-Times Kittanning, Pennsylvania May 16, 1927 pg 12

J.W Bennett was convicted of the double murder of the Van Patton brothers and the attempted murder of George Williamson.  He was sentenced to life in Missouri State Prison in November 1927.  J.W. was the only one to receive a murder conviction and he quickly appealed his case.

In May 1928 the Missouri Supreme Court amended the conviction against J.W. Bennett and ordered that he had to be given a new trial.  The Supreme Court found issue with both the confessions signed by illiterate men and by the lack of physical evidence in the case.  The condition of the bodies when discovered had made a cause of death impossible to determine.  J.W. was released and never retried for the crime as far as I have been able to determine.

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The Sedalia Democrat Sedalia, MO May 25, 1928 pg 8

Joe Cochran the man who cracked the Van Patton case went on to have a very successful career.  He made headlines in several big cases involving recovery of stolen Army equipment, the recovery of a stolen mill, stopping a crazed man armed with a gun, and breaking up a counterfeit coin ring.  He also survived at least one assassin attempt.  In 1933 he was elected Vice President of the newly formed Midwest Peace Officers Association which was created as a multi-state agency to fight the rampant crime in the region.  After the mid 1930’s he appears to have left law enforcement.

By 1952 Joe Cochran owned a tavern operating in Doniphan.  He was gunned down during broad daylight on Main Street by a man named Ace Robinson.  Another man was also injured in the shooting.  Ace Robinson was instantly arrested and claimed he killed Cochran in self defense after years of extortion attempts by Cochran.  Ace Robinson claimed Joe Cochran had recently began to make threats against his life and that he shot him when he thought he was going to shoot him.  Joe Cochran was buried in the Doniphan Oak Ridge Cemetery.

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St Louis Post-Dispatch St Louis, MO June 20, 1952

Ace Robinson was found innocent of murder in 1953.  It was decided that he shot Joe Cochran in self-defense.  Ace died in 1956 of natural causes.  He is buried in the same cemetery as Joe Cochran.

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Macon Chronicle-Herald Macon, MO Apr 29, 1953 pg 1

 

What a strange series of events.  More to come on this one…

Cover Photo:

Sterling, Illinois
Mon, Jun 21, 1926 – Page 1