Listening to World War II heroes

Published 7:00 pm Sunday, June 30, 2013

    Chuck Ivy shared a story with me this week about his uncle, Luther Rone, a member of what Tom Brokaw termed The Greatest Generation. With Chuck’s permission, I wish to relay it here.

     Luther R. Rone was born June 14, 1922, in Possumneck, Miss. His schoolteacher parents raised him about 20 miles away in the village of Ethel. His father, Tobe, later became a long time and successful mayor of Kosciusko.  After graduating from Ethel High School, Luther completed studies at Holmes Junior College and Mississippi State with a degree in agriculture.

     It was the 1940s, and America was deeply involved in World War II. As nearly all did in his generation and time, Luther volunteered for armed service. He joined the Army Air Corps and became a pilot of the P47 fighter/bomber, flying dozens of missions many over Germany.

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     On an early mission one day, he dived to drop his single five hundred pound bomb and then began his climb. The bomb hit an undetected chemical storage facility, and his fellow pilots said his plane was catapulted straight up, almost crashing before he regained control.

     About a year and a half before the war’s end, Luther was shot down over Germany and immediately taken prisoner by Nazi troops. Luther spent the remainder of the war suffering brutal treatment and starvation.

     A few days before the end of the war, he was liberated by Russian troops when they overran the camp.

     Luther was awarded several medals including the Purple Heart. They were never displayed or shown to anyone but his family. Luther Rone always thought it ridiculous that veterans thought they should be given special recognition or treatment.

     Luther, and others like him of that generation don’t seem to talk much about their service. It was just something they did.

     My father, R.C. Reynolds, now 93, also served in WWII. His service was in the Asian-Pacific Theater. R.C. served as a motor machinist on a minesweeper, sailing out of San Francisco into the South Pacific. There he earned the nickname Whitie for his fair complexion.

     He used to say they were the iron men on the wooden ships. Minesweepers in that day were made of wood because the underwater mines were magnetic to be drawn to steel hulls.

     My dad didn’t seem to want to talk much about the fighting. The stories I recall him telling me as a child were more about the shenanigans they pulled. My picture of his experience seems more like episodes of McHale’s Navy.

     But it wasn’t all fun in the tropical South Pacific sun. Unlike Luther, Whitie was often times on the receiving end of those bombing raids from Japanese pilots.

     He suffered bouts with dengue fever. And like any soldier, I expect the longing for home and family no doubt crept into his days. One of his most memorable missions was sailing into Tokyo Bay following Japan’s surrender, to eradicate the mines placed there to protect the city.

     Sadly, Chuck’s story of Luther’s heroics was told at Luther’s recent funeral. I’m thankful for each and every day I still have my WWII hero to talk to. But those days are running short. Statistics indicate we lose 600 WWII veterans every day.

     Today we have just over one million remaining to tell the stories of this remarkable time of triumph and tragedy. A time when country boys from Possemneck, Miss., and McCrory, Ark., would leave their families and farms and literally go save the world from the evil that manifested at that time.

     Unfortunately, that evil still exists. Thank a veteran and service man or women every day.  And when you run across one of these rare WWII heroes, take some time to hear their stories. They truly are of The Greatest Generation.

Rick Reynolds is president/publisher of The Daily Leader. Contact him at