Serving Denton, NC & Surrounding Communities

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Front Page

By Buddy Sexton
“Where we love is home – home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.”
– Oliver Wendell Holmes

One of the many amazing qualities of the military family is their ability to set up home – wherever that may be. And while Denton is the hometown of John and Jerrie Lomax, the couple has set up housekeeping in many locations during John’s service in the U.S. Army.

The newlyweds had been married just over a year when John, a shipping clerk at Bisher Mill, was drafted into the service. He boarded the bus on January 9, 1943 along with local draftees Elwood Dockham, Myron Wade Sexton, and others bound for Camp Croft, SC, where they were inducted into the U.S. Army. John traveled by train to Camp Robinson, Arkansas, for twelve weeks of basic training and, upon completion, was selected for Non-Commission Officers School. Following his training with NCOS, Lomax was promoted to corporal and assigned to help train new recruits.

In May of 1943, Jerrie joined her husband in Arkansas.
Little Rock, John explained, was near Camp Robinson and many residents there had turned their homes into apartments and rented them to Army wives. Occasionally spare bedrooms with kitchen privileges were rented as well. Jerrie’s first Army “home” was a rented bedroom with kitchen privileges; she found a job in Little Rock at Gus-Blass Dept. Store.

Three months later, in August of 1943, John became a member of the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) and was transferred to Camp Hood, Texas. “This was a new unit being formed at Camp Hood, with a cadre made of non-commissioned officers,” Lomax said. “This unit was for college graduates with ROTC training with a 2nd Lt. rank, but still requiring field training before being assigned to a unit. After a six-month wait, no trainees arrived. This break in communications was unlike anything we had experienced in the military thus far.”

It wasn’t long before Jerrie followed suit and moved to nearby Waco, Texas. “Jerrie, my wife of 64 years, moved on to Waco, which was close to Camp Hood,” John said. “This was an overnight trip by train. The trains were so crowded with moving troops, Army wives following their husbands and visiting families, that it was almost impossible to find a seat…Jerrie ended up having to sit on her suit case in the rest room, leaning against the wall for the overnight trip!”

While living in Waco, Jerrie worked in a nice uptown ladies’ clothing shop and made friends with many other Army wives – some with which she managed to keep in touch over the past 63 years. Oftentimes, after all, the friendships forged during times of tribulation are lasting friendships.
John visited Jerrie on weekends…

“After John and I were in Texas for awhile, we came home on furlough for a visit,” Jerrie said. “One of the pleasant memories of that journey was that, just by happen-stance, we ran into Myron Wade Sexton on the same train! We had a great visit with him. Myron and John, as well as Elwood Dockham, had left on the same bus from Thomasville (to Camp Croft, S.C.). This was the first time they had seen each other since their bus trip. It was also the last time they saw each other until after the war…”

John spent most of his ten-day furlough preparing his 1935 Ford for the return trip to Waco. He was lucky enough to scrounge around and obtain four new tires for the trip. However, the big question remained: “Would they have enough gas stamps?”

It was the couple’s family - Blanton Lomax, the Johnsons (Jerrie’s family), and Johnny Mitchell, owner of Mitchell Oil and a draft board member - who made the trip possible. John and Jerrie could calculate about how many stamps it would take to get there, and they believed they also had a couple extra just in case.

In spite of fuel concerns, the car ran good along the way…until they were about forty miles from John’s base.
That’s when the vehicle began to overheat, and the water pump had to be replaced. It had taken them four days of hard driving to almost get there…they were out of gas stamps…and they had very little money. But this was during WWII, and John was a solider in uniform serving his country.

One of John’s and Jerrie’s better memories of their service time together came when a small town Texas mechanic agreed to repair the car and to hold John’s watch until pay day. This small town Texas mechanic was willing to help two strangers as his way of helping fight the war. Needless to say, they were very appreciative.

Once they had arrived in Waco and settled in, John realized that having a car on base was a real plus. Because there were not many cars on base, he soon learned that fellow soldiers were very willing to provide gas stamps (which had been sent to them from home) to ride into town on Friday afternoons. Some paid for their rides with sugar stamps, coffee stamps and even shoe stamps as well!

They hadn’t been “home” at Camp Hood for very long when John had another opportunity to go back “home” to North Carolina for a brief visit. Word came down that a basic trainee from another part of camp had gone AWOL and was being held at Camp Butner, NC. The prisoner needed to be picked up, and the Company Commander decided to let the NCO whose home was nearest to Camp Butner be given first choice for this assignment. He would also be given a couple extra days to visit his family. John went to the provost Marshal’s office, the security unit of the military, and was issued a side arm with ammo, handcuffs, train tickets, and meal tickets. He was eastward bound…

Arriving in Thomasville at 3 a.m., John had no idea how he would get to Denton until a Lindale Milk delivery truck driver gave him a lift - not only to Denton, but right to his mom and dad’s back door on High Rock Road! His arrival was indeed a surprise for his parents, considering he had just been home two weeks earlier.

Three days later, John arrived at Camp Butner as planned, signed for the prisoner, and - as per written orders - cuffed the prisoner to himself. He was given a (MP) Military Police armband to be worn for the return trip, which allowed John to board the train in Durham first and to have selected seating for security reasons. From there, they headed back to Camp Hood.

John recalled that while he was home, his brother Blanton had shared a letter he had just received from a former employee, Joel Russell, who was in basic training at Camp Hood. John assured his brother that he would locate Joel and visit him upon his return to Camp Hood. Later, when John got to Joel’s barracks, he found the young man alone and homesick on a Sunday afternoon. One can imagine how excited Joel was to see a friendly face from back home, some 1,500 miles away.

“Joel’s facial expression and demeanor changed immediately on eye contact,” John said. That afternoon, the men spent a couple of hours together visiting at the PX. Later, John checked with Joel’s commanding officer for permission for the soldier to go to his and Jerrie’s apartment in Waco for a Sunday dinner. Because he was a basic trainee, Joel was not allowed to leave camp. However, because John was a Non - Commissioned officer, special permission was granted with the requirement that Joel must be back at the required hour.

“When John invited Joel over, we had a great visit,” Jerrie said. “Our meal was just a simple meal, but the fellowship was great. It was a time in all our lives we remember fondly. Just sitting down to a meal with home folks was a cherished memory.”

Jerrie said that her most prominent memory of that meal, unfortunately, was that she “burned the biscuits.”

John noted that after the war was over and he, Jerrie and Joel were all back at home in Denton, Joel would still recall that Sunday dinner fondly. To Joel, it seemed like a back-home kind of meal; Jerrie must have served a plate full of encouragement for dessert.

A real homemaker that Mrs. Lomax was…John recalled that Jerrie searched diligently to locate a place for them to live. She found an apartment in which the owner had divided up her own house to make two apartments, with the landlady living in a third section of the house as well. Their apartment was a simple two-room floor plan with a private rear entrance, private bath and kitchen privileges. One unique feature this kitchen had was a “pay-cook-stove.” To cook a meal, one had to put a quarter in a slot in the stove for so many minutes of use!

“We felt so lucky to have this two room apartment, because the other apartment only had a hot plate and a shared bathroom!” Jerrie said. In fact, many couples had to share a small apartment and a hot plate. “When John and I look back at that little simple apartment, with all of its uniqueness, we are so thankful that we had such a good place to live. We were happy to be together there. So many newly married couples were thousands of miles apart. John was eventually given different orders and was a part of Patton’s 3rd Army that marched into Germany, but we learned to enjoy and treasure each day we had together.”

For whatever reason, the Army was not sending the volume of new recruits to Camp Hood as anticipated. As a result, life in general and the daily duties involved were not as difficult there as at most training stations. However, the easy life in Texas soon came to an end with orders to report to Camp Blanding, Florida, to train new recruits. With John’s transfer, Jerrie returned home to Denton to await the arrival of their daughter, Marcia, who was born April 16, 1944. John was finally given a leave to visit them when Marcia was six weeks old.

Eleven months after going to Camp Blanding, John was transferred to Camp Butner, NC, to join the 89th Division under Major General Finley and to prepare for deployment. He made Sergeant and was assigned to lead a 60 MM mortar squad, consisting of a gunner, assistant gunner and two ammo bearers. In January 1945, the 89th Division left New York on the troop ship Marine Wolf. They sailed under total blackout conditions, landing at La Harve, France, on January 22, 1945. From there they went to Camp Lucky Strike and XXI Corp assigned to General George Patton’s 3rd Army and began 66 days of combat.

“Moving forward at a rapid pace was our goal,” John said. “We were given the ‘name’ of the ‘Rolling W.’ We advanced 350 miles into Germany. The first major test came with the crossing of the Moselle River between Neef and Bullaz on March 14th, 1945, in assault boats under the protection of chemical smoke. Then we moved on to St. Goar, where we crossed the Rhine River on March 24.

Pictured above is an assault boat that was used in battle while crossing one of the rivers. The X at the top is the location of the German position with one of their famous and accurate 88 MM guns. The lower three X’s is the location of the 3rd Army’s mortars firing at the 88MM guns. John was sergeant in charge of one of the 60 MM mortar squads during the advance.

“The Rhine River crossing presented a greater challenge than most of the rivers because the enemy was well dug in behind stonewalls and in caves,” Lomax explained. “The enemy had excellent observation posts in the castles, and they knew what was coming. This was the point where we encountered Panzerfaust, S.S. troops, the 11th Panzer Division and plenty of 88 MM fire. Enemy planes - ME-105’s - appeared for the first time.

“It was almost forty years later that Jerrie and I toured Germany on vacation in 1980,” he continued. “We cruised down the Rhine River from just below Cologne to St. Goar. What a coincidence! Jerrie and I were at the very same town that I remember passing through. However, the last time I was there, we were under enemy fire. Although it had been almost forty years, just crossing that same river brought goose bumps all over me and a flood of emotions and memories too.”

From St. Goar, the 3rd Army advanced in combat through Hersfel, Eisenach and Zwickhau. During the advance, John recalled one particular story about the “Company Goofball.” It seems that every military company had someone who continued to do foolish things, and John’s “Company Goofball” was someone they referred to as their “Special Company Goofball”! This solder was so clumsy and awkward that fellow soldiers took his ammunition away from him if there was danger of engaging the enemy. They were afraid he would shoot one of his fellow soldiers rather than the enemy.

John shared that, as his 353rd infantry division was advancing on one German town, the “Company Goofball” had discovered a bike in a ditch. “He began riding the bike down a hill, similar to Denton’s Red hill, but longer,” John recounted. The “Goofball” rode along with the company as they began marching ahead to take the town, Lomax continued. He soon overtook the marching soldiers and was quickly at the head of the column as it approached town; then, all of a sudden, German snipers started firing at the lone biker. It was at that moment that the “Company Goofball” discovered his bike had NO BRAKES!

“Rather than getting off the bike and seeking cover from enemy fire, he just kept peddling, but this time he kept peddling backwards, trying to find the brakes on his brakeless bike,” John laughed. “The German snipers kept firing, and he just kept picking up speed. The “Company Goofball” zoomed right on into town, and somehow he didn’t get a scratch on him! What’s amazing is that he had several snipers firing at just him. We were all amazed and astonished at his dumb luck! Of course, we all enjoyed picking on him for his ‘bravery’. We accused him of single handedly attacking the town…it’s a humorous story that’s fondly told by all who were there, yet at the time this happened, with bullets flying around from snipers, it was a very serious situation.”

During their advance, John said the winter of 1945 was one of the coldest on record in France and Germany. The ground was covered with snow; soldiers slept where they could; and living conditions were difficult. Being cold, tired and dirty was the norm. Many men soon became casualties as a result of “trench foot fungus” - a condition resulting from having wet feet all the time - as well as frostbite. John and his fellow soldiers worked diligently to avoid foot problems by melting snow in their steel helmets and washing their socks in the heated water. They would dry their socks by draping them inside their underwear and allowing their body heat to serve as a natural dryer as they kept marching forward. Once they were dry, the men would store the socks in their helmets.

“We kept rolling until we got word that a change in Corps boundaries came down,” John said. “On April 6, our drive was altered and we headed toward Berlin. The division surged southeast until VE day, May 8, when we met the Russians in Czechoslovakia at Saxony.

“On May 9, 1945, we received word that the war was over,” he continued. “Then we started the slow march back to Camp Lucky Strike, Camp Twenty Grand and Camp Old Gold, where we were being processed for redeployment back to the States.”

On December 14, the 89th was moved to Southhampton, England, for the return voyage. John had 68 points, certainly more than the required 45 points under the green point system to get out of the service. “On December 26, we boarded the aircraft carrier Wasp,” he said. “On the way home we ran into a tremendous storm which damaged the bow of the flight deck. We were re-routed, taking 10 days to return home…we landed in New York on January 5, 1946.

Accomplishments of the “Rolling W” during WWII
The 89th Division suffered 186 casualties, 615 wounded in action and 95 missing in action. They took 43,212 German prisoners. It was the 89th that liberated Ohrdruf Concentration Camp in April 1945 - the first camp to be freed by the Western Allies. They took 1,700 prisoners in Zwichau and a nearby camp, including 500 Americans. One of them was a Dentonian, Dallas Ward.

“I did not see Ward, only heard about it in mail from home,” John noted. “One of the things that impressed me about General Patton was that on Easter Sunday the 89th was rolling and pushing the Germans back quickly. But he halted us, and Patton ordered us to hold memorial services for those of the 89th Division who had fallen in battle.”

Historical facts
• Hitler’s tattering Third Reich was crushed
• Their assignment was to relieve elements of the 5th and 76th Inf. Division.
• From a Blankinshin Camp, the 89er’s freed 325 Polish women officers who were captured in the 1944 Warsaw uprising.
• Men of the 89th located miles of recently constructed tunnels, underground assembly plants and hidden factories turning out jet planes, hurp-guns and aerial cameras.
• The 89th division was formally deactivated December 1945.
• The 89th has had several reunions: 1982- Colorado Springs, 1990-Kansas City, 1996-Saint Louis, and the largest in 2001 at the Raddison Hotel, Raleigh, NC.

“After we returned to the States, the 89th division men from the east were sent to Fort Bragg, NC, to be processed for separation,” John concluded. “There we learned that our medical records had been lost. This brought another three days of delay to receive all those shots that were already required before boarding the ship back to the US. I had not been on sick call during the entire three years, but this ‘Snafu’ made it tempting…we all ended up taking the shots again. They made us sick for several days, but we got over it and were finally released from active duty.”

The 89th was decorated with the American Theater Campaign Medal; the EAMET Campaign Medal; two Bronze Stars; the Victory Medal; and the Good Conduct Medal.

After more than two years of making their home wherever the Army led them, John and Jerrie have now happily resided in Denton for 60 years. They are the proud parents of daughter, Marcie, and son, Johnny. It was Johnny Haven Lomax III, in fact, who was also drafted into the U.S. Army many years later. He was with the 335th Transportation Co., ChuLai, Vietnam.

And they have also been blessed with one of the greatest joys resulting from parenthood – five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Aside from serving his country well, John has a distinguished service record in his community. He is a past president (1977 – 1978) of the Denton Lions Club and has continued to serve as an active member of the Club for 50 years. He is a vital member of Central United Methodist Church of Denton, where he is a volunteer caretaker of the facility. He is also a Mason in the Denton Lodge.

The bible refers to people eating grapes, whose vines they did not plant, and harvesting fruit from trees they did not plant. We as a nation are harvesting from the labor and the toil of the men and women known as the “Greatest Generation.” During the war, many soldiers served faithfully, some were wounded, and others gave their lives in battle. But the sacrifices on the home front by Moms, Dads, families, girlfriends, wives, children - and small town mechanics from Texas and across this nation - were tremendous as well.

The sacrifice made by this Greatest Generation is a blessing to all of us today. Because, if they had not answered the call, if they had not stood up for the needs of the nation, if this Greatest Generation had not fully and whole heartedly committed themselves to a greater calling than themselves, we would not be living in a Christian civilized society which still exists today.
Extinguishing Christianity and Democracy was one of the goals of Hitler and the Third Reich. Their attempt failed miserably, thanks to men like John Lomax, Elwood Dockham, Mack Cranford, Ozzie Freund, and Robert Johnson – faithful community members and leaders in our Denton Lions Club.


Farm accident claims life of local man
Don Elliott “took care of the community”
Handy Road resident Don Elliott, age 72, died last week from injuries received in an accident on his farm.

According to reports, Mr. Elliott was working on a tractor in his barn on the evening of June 26 when the accident occurred. He was attempting to change one of the tractor’s front tires, Davidson County Sheriff David Grice said, when the tractor apparently slipped off its blocks and fell onto his midsection. A neighbor discovered him that evening and placed a call to authorities around 10 p.m.

Mr. Elliott and his wife Dot shared their time between a restored home south of Denton and a home in Greensboro.

While they were longtime members of Jamestown United Methodist Church, they regularly attended Lineberry UMC on Handy Road and made many friends there. Mr. Elliott was highly regarded in the community.

“I think he’s the finest man I ever met,” said Rev. Sandy Young, pastor of Siloam UMC where the Elliott family held their annual reunion. “I’d gotten really close to them…Don and Dot were just the perfect match.”

Rev. Young noted that he first became aware of the Elliotts’ service to the community when he moved to the area in 1990. He said he noticed right away the repetition of their names on the guest register at Mountain Vista Health Park as well as at the local funeral home. “Don and Dot came to the aid of everybody,” Rev. Young said. One memory in particular stood out in his mind, Young added, and that was regarding his now-deceased daughter Anna, who was stricken with a form of cerebral palsy. “Don would speak to me about Anna like there was nothing different about her,” he said. “It’s as if he could see her for who she really was on the inside.”

Even Young’s son, 14-year-old Charlie, saw the impact left by Elliott. “Charlie jotted down a note to me while I was on the phone that morning after Don died,” Rev. Young said. “And the note simply said, ‘This raises one question, who will take care of this community?’ And you know, Charlie’s right! Don always included everybody…”

In addition to his wife, Mr. Elliott leaves behind a son, Douglas Bruce Elliott of Trinity, daughters Donna Elliott Brown of Charlotte and Amy Elliott Mescanti of Cary, and five grandchildren.