Bogue Chitto man not forgotten

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Bogue Chitto’s John L. Brown died in defense of his countryalmost 65 years ago, and no one outside of his surviving family hasrecognized his sacrifice.

But now, the man they called “J.L.” is finally being countedamong Lincoln County’s fallen warriors. Earlier this week, his namewas engraved onto the Lincoln County Veterans Memorial, a15-year-old monument listing all the county natives who have foughtand died in American conflicts since World War I. Brown, aMontgomery community son who died in captivity sometime during thelast months of World War II, is now the 98th hallowed carving onthe stone marker.

“I wish I could have done it years ago, when more of the familywas around to see it,” said Donald R. Allred, Brown’s nephew andhimself a veteran of three tours in Vietnam. “Seeing him added tothe memorial is very pleasing. There’s quite a bit of militaryhistory in the Brown family.”

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It was Allred who did the leg work necessary to have Brown’sname approved for addition to the memorial, bringing letters andgovernment records of his uncle’s service to Lincoln CountyVeterans Affairs Officer Steve Melancon for verification. Theentire process began with a small discussion years ago, during afamily reunion at the old home site in Montgomery.

“Someone was talking about J.L., asking about what it would taketo get his name on the monument in Brookhaven,” Allred remembered.”Before that, I had never thought of looking for his name.”

After making contact with Melancon, Allred turned to his aunt,90-year-old Vescie McKenney of McComb, who had her late brother’sinformation stored in the old family Bible. She produced thedocuments that led to the addition of Brown’s name to the memorial,such as a photograph of his empty grave at the Lorraine AmericanCemetery in St. Avold, France; a 1949 letter from the U.S. Army’sQuartermaster General notifying the family of Brown’s placement inthe cemetery; and letters the captured soldier wrote from behindbarbed wire while still alive in German hands.

Brown was born in the Montgomery community in 1914 to parentsEdward L. (died, 1943) and Delia Prestridge Brown (died, 1963). Heattended the two-roomed Montgomery School, but had to quit early towork on the family farm. After the Agricultural Adjustment Act of1933 all but eliminated the Brown family’s cotton farm, Brown wentto work as a hand on a nearby dairy farm.

“I remember when J.L. joined the military,” McKenney said. “Heand the man he was working for came over to the house. He andmother went off the front porch and back in the kitchen to talk awhile. Then they called daddy back there and he told them what hewas going to do.”

Brown’s parents had to sign for the 17-year-old soldier-to-be toenlist. He joined the U.S. Army and was stationed in Panama, wherehe wrote home often and made his family proud. After three years,Brown was discharged and returned to Mississippi, where he elopedto marry Vergie Reeves. McKenney said Brown hid his marriagelicense in the toe of a boot in his Army footlocker.

Life was returning to normal for Brown, but World War II beganin 1939. He was recalled to active duty after the U.S. entered thewar on December 8, 1941, and was bound for Europe.

During his second enlistment, Brown served in the 422nd InfantryRegiment, 106th Infantry Division. The 422nd and its sisterregiment, the 423rd, were spread thinly on the “Ghost Front,” anabnormally quiet sector in the Ardennes forest in Belgium.

Brown had been on the line in the Ardennes for only a few weekswhen the last great German offensive of the war overran and cut-offthe two regiments in what came to be known as the Battle of theBulge, a failed attack to the Atlantic Ocean that cost Americaapproximately 80,000 casualties before the salient in the lines waspushed back.

The battle is considered to be one of the greatest Alliedblunders of the war, but Brown and his comrades tried to avert it.The sister regiments passed plenty of intelligence up the chain ofcommand in the days before the battle, alerting superior officersthat they could hear the rattle of tank treads through the woods atnight and had captured German defectors who warned of theattack.

The intelligence was ignored. The 422nd and 423rd were crushedand surrounded. More than 7,000 men from the two regiments – Brownamong them – surrendered on Dec. 19. It was the largest masssurrender by American soldiers during the war.

According to an online history of the 106th Infantry Division, Brown and his fellow soldiers were takento Stalag IX-B, a prisoner of war camp near Bad Orb, Germany. SinceBrown was a non-commissioned officer, he was likely transferred toStalag IX-A, near Ziegenhain, on Jan. 23, 1945.

The American Red Cross sent word of Brown’s capture to hisfamily shortly after the battle ended.

“Mr. Sam Moak came to mother’s one night and told her (Brown)had been taken prisoner,” McKenney said. “Even though mother wouldhope and pray he would come home, that’s when he died to her. Heloved his mother. The last thing he said to his wife before hestepped on the train was, ‘You take care of my mother.'”

McKenney said Brown’s letters from the Stalag were heavilycensored, but the family could tell he was looking out for hisfellow soldiers. He was not a smoker, though he requested cartonsof cigarettes and chewing gum to share with the POWS.

Brown almost certainly died in Stalag IX-A, though his body wasnever recovered. McKenney said the Red Cross reported Brown was inthe camp the night before it’s liberation, but was missing whenAllied troops crashed the gates the following day.

Brown’s body may still be missing, but the memory of his serviceto America is now eternal. Last month, Melancon authorized theaddition of Brown’s name to the monument and the Lincoln CountyBoard of Supervisors immediately approved the $500 engravingexpense.

Brown’s name, which is the first to be engraved on themonument’s western side, will be officially presented in a MemorialDay ceremony Monday at 9 a.m.

“I think it’s a great honor – I feel very, very proud,” McKenneysaid. “He gave his life for our country. I think my mother anddaddy would be very proud.”

Melancon said the paper work and fact-checking required to getBrown’s name on the memorial is just part of his job of lookingafter the interests of veterans.

“It’s nice to recognize the service,” he said. “It’s importantthat younger people see we as a society will continue to recognizethose who have died. It doesn’t matter how long ago, we willcontinue to respect their service.”

Melancon said he doesn’t know how Brown’s name was left off thememorial when it was erected in 1994, pointing out that other nameshave been added over the years. He encouraged the families of anyLincoln County veterans killed in the service of their country whoare not listed on the memorial to contact his office.

“There are others out there,” Melancon said. “Bound to be.”