Enjoy our “Reflections” post — one of many vignettes and stories featuring memories of days gone by. This installment is from Ramsey “Mickey” Locke Jr. of Collierville, Tennessee, as seen in “The Oxford So & So.”
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I was born Dec. 14, 1925 in Victoria, Mississippi, the first of five children of Ramsey and Made Locke. At the age of two, I was taken to live my Grandmother Locke and remained with her until I was drafted into the Army. The reason I was taken there was due to illness, plus my mother had another child to raise.
Growing up on a farm meant plenty of hard work. I attended Red Banks/Victoria High School and at age 18, I was required to register for the draft. Our country was at war and all men ages 18 to 25 were required to do so. In early 1944, I received my greetings from Uncle Sam. However, since I was a senior in high school I received a temporary delay. I traveled by train from Holly Springs to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, and reported in.
After much pleading with those in charge, I was given permission to return home and graduate with my class. Prior to returning home, I was given the job of assisting recruits that could not read or write. So my job was to read the letters they received and help them write back to their parents. I was truly amazed at the young men reporting in that had little or no education. I graduated May 20, 1944, and shortly thereafter received notice to return to Camp Shelby.
I told my family goodbye and my late sister Dorothy walked the one-and-a-half mile to Victoria with me. I hitched a ride 14 miles to Holly Springs and boarded a train back to Camp Shelby. After a physical exam, shots and a lot of paperwork, I was sworn in on July 9, 1944.
After a short delay, I was transferred to Fort Bragg, North Carolina for 21 weeks of basic and field artillery training. After completion of training, I was sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey for overseas processing.
We left Brooklyn Naval Yard on Jan. 6, 1945, and arrived at Le Harve, France on the 17th. We offloaded shortly after we docked. Later that evening during assembly, we heard loud explosions and knew for sure we were being bombed but later were told it was the Germans dropping flares trying to locate the fuel dumps. That night we were marching someplace in deep snow, and me being only five-foot, one-inch tall and 130 pounds, carrying a full field pack and wearing an overcoat many sizes too large, and marching in the rear as all short people do, I tripped and fell. Of course, my unit continued to march. I could not catch up or even see them due to blackout conditions. I tried to backtrack but lost the foot prints in the dark. Yes, I was scared; I even cried a little. I kept going and finally saw a very dim light which turned out to be a group of infantry going to the front lines.
They said, “Now you are part of our unit and could be shot tomorrow.” Now, I am really scared. They allowed me to spend the night and the next day my unit sent someone looking for me, so I finally rejoined my group.
I served a total of six months in combat and never received a scratch. I was truly blessed. My job was to string telephone wire along the road (no wireless back then) walking behind a weapons carrier with a huge reel of wire in the back. We hung wire in trees, bushes, threw it in ditches or any place we could. I felt like I walked the width of Germany.
We eventually made it into Austria, and I was there when the war ended. The night the war was over we celebrated and a group of us went into the streets firing our weapons. However the Commander did not think that was appropriate and he busted us one rank, but most of us got it back the following month.
There was always plenty to do. One of my jobs was to take G.I.s by bus to Berchtesgaden, Germany to see Hitler’s hideout. Other duties were transporting supplies, equipment and foodstuff from Italy. Once I was told to take a truck through the Brenna Pass and pick up a load of rolled roofing. I told the sergeant I was not qualified to drive the big trucks. He said, “Get in that 18 wheeler, drive it around the huge warehouse several times and you will be fine.” So now I am a big truck driver.
On the occasion, I was shown a huge warehouse packed with supplies that apparently I was not supposed to know about. When the word got out, I was called in by an officer and asked if I had ever been to Switzerland. I said no and he said, “You are leaving tomorrow,” and two weeks later I returned and no more was ever said about it. I will always feel I knew too much and those were black market supplies.
At one time I had the privilege to visit Pisa, Italy and saw the city from the top of the leaning tower. My brother recalls seeing the picture we took on the tower but as of now, I have no idea where it is. After spending 17 months overseas, I was sent back to Le Harve, France for processing and a ship ride back to the states. There were several centers and many were named after American cigarettes and American cities. Camp Chesterfield, Old Gold, Phillip Morris, Baltimore, Home Run, etc. I processed through Camp Lucky Strike.
The reason for these names were to confuse the enemy and let the Americans have a little taste of home, and that was a little taste. While there I heard a very familiar voice, turned out to be a boy from back in Holly Springs, Mississippi! I used to pack concrete with him (that is, walking around the square). We managed to stay together for the return trip home.
As I was boarding the ship I dropped one of my bags, thankfully it only had non essentials and my over-sized overcoat. I arrive in the States on June 24, 1946 and traveled by train from New York to Camp Shelby. When processing for discharge I was told to turn in my overcoat. I quickly dreamed up a combat story and was off the hook (dad blame overcoat, gonna get me in trouble again).
I received my discharge on June 30, 1946. My mustering out pay was $300 but I only received $100 with the remainder to be mailed later. My travel pay from Hattiesburg, Mississippi was $14.35 and my friend and I paid a taxi $12.50 each for a ride to Holly Springs and I gave him an additional $5 for a ride to Victoria.
It was late at night when I arrived home and went to my grandmother’s house. Something I have always regretted that was not stopping to see my mother first and the following day she let me know it!
In 1947, I married Betty Ann Rogers from Byhalia, Mississippi, and we were together for 64 years until her passing in 2011. I am a life member of the VFW and was the Commander of the Collierville Post for approximately 40 years and the Tennessee State Commander 1988-89.
In 1950, I joined the Air Force Reserve in Memphis and was called to active duty for 18 months during the Korean War and received my discharge in 1953.
In 1969, I opened my own business (Collierville Motors) and sold it in 2008. In the spring of 2017 my oldest son Terry (a combat wounded Vietnam veteran) and I both attended the Tennessee State VFW convention at Murfreesboro, Tennessee. I was the only World War II Vet in attendance and received numerous standing ovations. What an honor!
Of the more than 300,000 Tennesseans that were called to the Military in 1939-1945 only approximately 9,500 are still with us.
I am still very active, blessed with good health, a loving family and still buy and sell automobiles.
From brother Roy Locke: This story was written mostly from memory with very little printed material available. Thank you brother for this story. I love you Mickey. Incidentally we entered the military the same day – you July 9, 1944 and me July 9, 1950.
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