THAT LETTER, copied exactly as it was written was sent to Henry McRay who was living on Dogwood Street in Rome, Georgia. It was the announcement of how his son Thelmus W. McRay died in combat. The letter was signed by Col. Clayton J. Mansfield. And it had this attachment:
“Under the provisions of AR 600-45, dated 22 September 1943 and memorandum 34, Headquarters Ninth United States Army, dated 8 September 1944, the Silver Star is awarded posthumously to Staff Sergeant Thelmus W. McRay, 14029377, Infantry, 41st Armored Infantry Regiment, for gallantry in action on 9 August 1944 in France.”
Then on Feb. 25, 1945, a Lt. Col. R.W. Jenna who was in command of the 41st Armored Infantry at that time sent Mr. McRay a letter with a pictorial map. I don’t have the map but the letter read like this:
“The enclosed pictorial map outlines the achievements and history of the Second Armored Division since its departure from the States. In view of the part your son had in making these achievements possible, I am forwarding it to you in hope that you will find it of interest. We hope that you feel as we do, that his contribution to the victory of our arms in this war has been in the finest traditions of the military service. A credit to the nation and to you.
THE 41ST Armored Infantry had a regimental motto of “Straight and Stalwart.” And they served under the 2nd Armored Division “Hell on Wheels.” The 2nd had helped lead the breakout from Normandy and would also be a leader on the trip across France to Germany.
Thelmus McRay didn’t come home. He had written to his brother from England before the invasion that he didn’t know when he would get home. That he was thinking it would be at least two more years and that was a long time. And the way he had to put in his time made it even longer. But he noted that when he did get back they would shoot up the whole damn town, “haha.” He asked his family to tell his father not to worry too much and that he was just fine.
I can’t imagine getting one of those letters. Can you just visualize such a thing? Oh we’ve seen movies where some actress gets one and that tears me up. Don’t believe I could handle the real thing. What happens after every one leaves? There you sit with your letter, with a million thoughts going through your head. How long does it take to get over it, or do you ever?
MEMORIAL DAY is upon us. I’m not going to get into the argument of who first started it, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that somebody did and it has continued over the years.
I guess I’m a little sentimental when it comes to our veterans. Many never got to finish out life. What they did was make it possible for us to have the life we did. And I refuse to forget them.
I like to write columns of past wars and glory. About history and how it changed the country. Little known facts from little known places suit me fine. And I like to personalize those stories and columns.
It’s OK to generalize, and remember the veterans that gave all. But if we just know a little more about some of them it gives it a little more meaning. It brings them to life once again. At least it does to me. Now you know a little bit about Thelmus McRay, but let’s go a little deeper.
He worked at Exposition Mills before going into the Army, and was a member of the painters union. He wrote a lot of letters and from them we can trace his movements from the time he entered service. He writes about how cold it is in South Carolina and how he’d like to see the baby his sister just had.
HE SENDS his brother Dick a letter to an Evelyn and asked him to give it to her personally. That way he can be sure she got it and hopefully he can find out what he wants to know. He tells Dick it’s a very important letter.
He’s in a hurry to get off maneuvers in South Carolina and get back to “good ole Fort Benning.” This letter was sent in November of 1941. He hopes he’ll be home for Christmas. I hope he made it.
He tells another brother they will ride the high spots in Rome when he gets out till their hair comes lose. And for his sister-in-law Opal he says that he’d really like to see her, especially around meal time.
I wrote about Tommy Segars last year, near Veterans’ Day, and asked that everyone turn out at the Nov. 11 service in Myrtle Hill, and I had several people come up and tell me they came because of the column. You see, I was one of the police officers that led Tommy’s funeral. And due to the response we had I made up my mind to personalize another serviceman that lost his life during combat. This time I picked my father’s war. And there were many from Rome and Floyd County that were eligible.
I WAS TELLING this to Russell McClanahan, the archivist at the Rome Museum, and he told me that his wife’s great uncle had been killed in France during World War II. Later at a Rome Braves lunch bunch gathering I was told the same thing by Mary McRay. When I get something coming from two different directions, the old policeman comes out in me and I consider it a clue.
So Thelmus gets buried in France until 1949 when he was disinterred and then brought home. He was buried for the second time in East View cemetery in April of 1949 with American Legion Post #5 and the V.F.W. presenting the honors. Jennings Funeral Home even made a list of those that sent flowers and presented it to the family, which they still have.
There are going to be a lot of Memorial Day tributes this week end in various places. Please pick one and attend. If you have access to children or grandchildren bring them with you. My grandson has been accompanying me since he could barely walk. I intend to be in Shannon this Memorial Day. I’ve never been to one of their services and was asked to attend, and if the good Lord’s willing and the Creeks don’t rise, I’ll be there.
ONE LAST THING, Thelmus McRay was the uncle of a good friend of mine. I never knew he lost an uncle during World War II. I knew he was in the Army himself, and he spent his working years at Georgia Power. After he retired he worked for the Rome Braves. He passed away himself this past winter. But he left a daughter, Stephanie, as the keeper of all Thelmus’ mementos. She has his Silver Star.
Steve, I want to dedicate this column to you, the McRay family and for all families that lost loved ones in combat protecting our country.
This year, on Memorial Day, please remember your loved ones that served, and then let’s do this. This is what Thelmus and the others that sacrificed their lives would want us to do. “Let’s ride the high spots, and shoot up the whole town till our hair comes lose.”
Mike Ragland of Cave Spring is a retired Rome Police Department major. Readers may contact him at email@example.com or visit his website at www.MIKE RAGLAND.com. His most recent book, “Bertha,” is now on sale.