Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day Tribute To Johnny Stewart Phillips

  My father-in-law Johnny Stewart Phillips was one of the proudest and hardest working men that I think I ever knew. I am not sure that he was all that fond of me because I am very opinionated and my opinions and his opinions didn't match very often. I am naturally a very curious person and when Debbie and I were dating I asked him one night about his military service and war record. Since it is Memorial Day weekend I wanted to tell you what he told me that night and honor his service in World War II. He was an Army Cook and I am not certain how much combat he actually saw. He was drafted in 1944 and was nearly thirty with a wife and two children. My father was five years younger but was drafted the same year and he also had two children.
  One of the misconceptions to come out of World War II is that after Pearl Harbor more men volunteered than were drafted. There was an initial surge of patriotism and many men volunteered for the military. However most men were drafted that served in World War II. Before November 1943 the bodies of American soldiers were not allowed to be photographed so American morale would not be affected. When Franklin Roosevelt saw the bodies of dead American Marines, killed at Tarawa in the Pacific, he ordered this policy changed. Before Tarawa only the bodies of the enemy could be shown. He wanted Americans to realize the sacrifice of the American military. After Tarawa it was harder to recruit new troops so the draft was crucial to keeping the military supplied with new people. Older married men with families were called to serve.

  Mr. Phillips told me that he was standing in a bombed out building on the Saar River in January 1945. He was standing with several other cooks and I believe they were preparing a meal when the Germans opened up a barrage of German 88 artillery from the other side of the Saar. A shell landed nearby killing everyone but him. He told me that a piece of shrapnel the size of a dime hit him in the head critically wounding him. Johnny remembered nothing until he woke up in a hospital in England. A section of his brain had been removed and a steel plate was inserted. I know it was there because I used to run my metal detector over it.

  After convalescing in England he was sent to Memphis Tennessee where he spent many months regaining his health. He took anti-seizure medicine the rest of his life. Like many actual combat veterans he never talked about the war unless you could drag it out of him. Although we disagreed on many things I always had tremendous respect for him. I was told that he was eligible for 100% disability but he always refused it. He chose instead to work twelve hours a day, six days a week, as a butcher at Kemp's Bi-Rite in North Nashville. Johnny did that kind of work for many years. He had his faults but he was a good father and husband. Johnny died in 1996 at the age of eighty.

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