Mr. and Mrs. William H. Harrell of Terry, Miss., had nine children. The four oldest sons were Redus born in 1917, Jack born in 1919, Charles born in 1923, and James born in 1925. In the late 1930s, in the middle of the Great Depression and as the possibility of the United States entering World War II approached, they were concerned for their two oldest sons. They didn’t know their four oldest sons would all serve their country.
When the oldest son, Redus, graduated high school in 1935, he enlisted in the Civil Conservation Corps and National Guard. In 1940, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps, which would later be known as the U. S. Air Force. He was assigned to the “Grim Reapers,” the 3rd Attack Group of the 90th Bombardment Squadron.
Following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 the group was sent to Australia. Redus flew many missions and his 48th and 49th missions were part of the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, preventing the Japanese from bringing supplies and personnel to New Guinea. He wrote home that he anticipated a furlough after his 50th mission.
Redus’ 50th mission was engaging the Japanese over Lae Airdrome, New Guinea. Sadly, he never returned from that mission and was declared Missing in Action in May of 1943. His wife, Mattie, and young son were living in Jackson, Miss. Later that year, she was presented with an Air Medal on his behalf, for gallantry in aerial combat. Six-and-a-half years later, it was declared that Redus was Killed in Action on March 15, 1943.
Like his brother, Jack Harrell enlisted after high school; joining the Army Air Corps in 1941. For a time, Redus and Jack were both stationed at Savannah Army Air Base. By November 1941, Jack had been sent to Clark Field in Bataan.
The day after Pearl Harbor, Japan began their attack on the Philippines and by the end of the month captured Manila. On April 9, 1942, facing disease and starvation, the U. S. and Filipino troops surrendered.
Jack was among the 70,000 troops who marched from the southern tip of the Bataan Peninsula to San Fernando, a 65-mile march which became known as the Bataan Death March. He survived that and two-and-a-half years in a brutal Japanese prisoner of war camp.
On Oct. 11, 1944 the prisoners were loaded on the Japanese ship Arisan Maru, overcrowded and in deplorable conditions. The Arisan Maru did not fly the appropriate flag to indicate prisoners of war were on board, which led to American forces torpedoing the ship on October 24, 1944. The families of the 1,777 Allied prisoners who perished that day would not find out their fate for several years, including the family of Jack Harrell.
Charles Harrell graduated high school in 1942 and worked for the United States Department of Agriculture. In 1943, he enlisted in the U. S. Navy and was sent to boot camp in Bainbridge, Maryland. Before he was transferred to Naval Air Technical Training in Jacksonville, Fla., he went home to marry his long-time sweetheart, Wilma.
During his training in Florida, Charles broke his foot and was sent home to recover. His next assignment was Detroit, where he served for the remainder of the war. His naval air squadron was charged with protecting the U.S. northern border. Although they thankfully never saw action, they put their lives on the line to protect their country. In August of 1945, Charles was discharged from the Navy and went home to his wife and young child in Jackson, Mississippi.
James L Harrell graduated high school in 1944. Only three weeks later, he was drafted into the Army and sent to Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg, Miss. He was assigned to clerk’s school, having completed typing and bookkeeping classes in high school.
With the landing of Allied Forces at Normandy on June 6, 1944, D Day, there were great losses to combat personnel and an urgent need for replacements. James Harrell and others at the camp spent the next five weeks of basic training receiving combat training. They were sent to Liverpool, England and from there to Southampton and Le Havre, France.
From Le Havre, Army trucks took the soldiers to Metz, where James was assigned to Company A, 10th Infantry Regiment, part of the Third Army commanded by General George S. Patton. In December of 1944, James participated in the intense battle against German troops in the Ardennes Forest of Belgium. He was assigned as first scout, in front of the more experienced men, but miraculously survived.
James also survived marching 70 miles in 48 hours through bitter cold and snow with General Patton and engaging German troops in what would become known as The Battle of the Bulge. In one battle, James Harrell’s fighting group began with 140 men and finished with only 46. James Harrell was among the forty-six.
When one of the Harrell sons was a prisoner of war and the other was missing in action, nineteen-year-old James Harrell was given the opportunity to be reassigned to a non-combat unit. He told his commanding officer no and returned to Company A. On Dec.11, 1944 James would receive the Bronze star medal for “meritorious achievement in active ground combat against the enemy.”
Dunwoody resident Philip Harrell began researching the service records of his father James Harrell and three uncles in 2014. He petitioned the Department of Defense to find out if his Uncle Jack was due a Prisoner of War Medal. After much persistence, he found out his uncle was not only due that medal, but a Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and four other medals and citations. The medals and citations were delivered to Philip on June 6, 2016, the anniversary of D Day.
As Veterans Day approaches, we thank all veterans for their service. I also thank Philip Harrell for sharing the story of four brave soldiers: his father and three uncles.