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Originally published: 2013-06-20 12:26:43
Last modified: 2013-06-20 12:26:43

Avery County and World War II: 1944

Michael Hardy / (news@averyjournal.com)

Global events began to make a positive turn for the Allies in 1944. The siege of Leningrad was lifted in January, and in May, German troops withdrew from Southern Italy. On June 5, Allied troops entered Rome, and the next day, “D-Day,” Allied forces landed off the coast of France in Normandy. On Aug. 25, Paris was liberated, and by the end of that month, Allied forces encircled Germany. In December 1944, the Germans launched a counter attack now known as the Battle of Bulge. The battle lasted more than a month, and over 800,000 troops from the United States are involved. In the Pacific theater of the war, American forces continued to capture islands, and in June, China-based B-29s made their first attack on the Japanese homeland. In October, the Battle of Leyte Gulf nearly destroyed what remained of the Japanese Navy. 

Young men continued to pour out of Avery County. The Tri-City News reported on Jan. 22, 1944, that four young men, Harold Shell, Tellis Fields, Bruce Nelson and Harman Harris had joined the army while Dennis Cook, Joe Pritchard Jr., Edward Dellinger, Howard Gragg, Elbert Brown, Frank Johnson, Junior Brockwell, Murphy Hodges and Claude Bare had shipped out with the Navy. The largest number left in June, with 62 men reporting for duty. 

War Bond Drives continued across the land. The Elk Park School received a commendation from the treasury department in February for selling more than $8,000 worth of bonds and stamps. The chairman of the Avery County Bond Drive committee was J.M. Shoemaker, who visited the Beech Mountain School in February, lecturing on the Fourth War Bond Drive. In May, Crossnore School was notified that it had won the Buy-A-Plane campaign. A “decalcomania” panel was sent to the school, a copy of the one installed in an airplane being built by the Fairchild Manufacturing Company. The plate simply said that the students of Crossnore raised funds to help build the plane.

In June, the Fifth War Bond drive kicked off at a dinner in the Grandfather Mountain Tea Room in Linville. The quota for Avery County was set at $55,000. In November, the Sixth War Bond Drive kicked off, with the county quota being $45,000. The campaign kicked off in Newland with a dinner. A week or so later, a “Big Bond Rally” was held at the Elk Park School. An astounding $20,000 was raised, almost half of the quota for the county. At Cranberry High School, a “booth was constructed in the first floor of the building for the sale of war savings stamps and bonds.” Apparently, Avery County school superintendent George M. Bowman had started a “Schools at War” program to get even more young people involved. 

There were many ways in which Avery County supported the war effort. It was reported in March that more than 200 families were growing edible soy beans. It was reported at the end of 1944 that Avery County produced more than $300,000 worth of snap beans and cabbage that year. The produce was shipped out by truck to canneries in Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia “and some of the northern states.” 

At times, simple prayers were offered up for those in the service. In February there was a College Day of prayer at Lees-McRae, specifically for the alumni. The last Tuesday in June brought a special prayer service at the Methodist Church in Newland for those involved in the D-Day operations. Joining the Methodists were the pastors and congregations of both the Baptist and Presbyterian Churches. According to the Tri-City News, all of the businesses in town were closed. 

Possibly the biggest honor, or at least the biggest honor of 1944, came in October 1944, when J. M. Shoemaker, chairman of Avery County’s War Finance Committee, traveled to Charleston, S.C. He was there as a guest of the United States Navy. The Navy was launching two new Inshore Fire Support ships, the U.S.S. LSM 196, and the U.S.S. LSM 197. According to the Tri-County News, “A red-white-and-blue shield on the LSM 196 carried the names of Avery, Alamance, Alleghany, Anson, Ashe and Bladen counties, all of which exceeded their quotes in the Fifth War Loan by a margin of more than ten percent.”

“Principle speaker was Governor Broughton ... North Carolinians who attended the launching were guest of Admiral James in a tour of the war-busy naval establishment, and were honored at a dinner at the Officers Club following the launching exercises.” 

LSM 196 was commissioned Dec. 8, 1944, and was assigned to the Pacific theater of the war. She was involved in the assault and occupation of Okinawa Gunto from March 28 to June 18, 1945, possibly taking a direct hit by a Kamikaze plane in April 1945. LSM 196 was decommissioned on March 26, 1946, and sold to a wrecking company in New York on Sept. 11, 1947. While her final disposition is not recorded, she was probably scrapped. 

It is unclear if any Avery County sailors ever served on the LSM 196. But that ship, which carried rockets used to support ground operations, is the closest we have come to having a fighting vessel bear the proud name of Avery. And local citizens, through their support of the war effort, made the end of the war in sight as 1944 closed.