A farewell salute to one of area’s last WW2 veterans, R.E. Nettles

Published 11:00 am Wednesday, January 24, 2024

One of Lincoln County’s last three remaining World War II veterans has died.

James “R.E.” Nettles, age 98, died Friday, Jan. 19, 2024. The Bogue Chitto veteran was honored Monday with a Patriot Guard Riders escort to the graveside following the funeral service.

Nettles was born March 7, 1925, to Richard Duncan Nettles and Vertis Johnston Nettles. He served in the U.S. Army two years and three months during the latter part of the Second World War. He was a Communications Sergeant with Company A, 126th Infantry, 32nd Division.

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After his return home, he went back to a life a farming. Later on, he worked for several companies before going to work for Chevron, where he retired after 24 years.

Upon retirement, Nettles loved working outside in the garden, mowing the grass, or working with his small herd of cattle. For as long as his health permitted, he was an active member of American Legion Post 12 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2618 in Brookhaven.

Nettles was one of three Lincoln County WWII veterans to travel in 2011 on an honor flight to visit the World War II Memorial in Washington DC. Honor flights were chartered one-day trips provided free of cost to the participating veterans.

After the trip, Nettles said it made him feel good to be appreciated for his services and sacrifices made.

“Made you want to tear up a little bit, ya know,” he said of the treatment he received during his experience. “We were well taken care of. It was really something to be appreciative of, and it makes you feel good to know you’re thought of like that.”

Nettles had just turned 18 in 1943 when he found out he had been drafted into the United States military. World War II — then simply referred to as the war against the Central Powers — had begun in September 1939, and would last almost exactly six years, until September 1945. The U.S. had joined the conflict after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

“I was just a kid,” Nettles said. “I didn’t know what was going on.”

Now a soldier, the 18-year-old was deployed to New Guinea, Atan and Ulasan as a part of the Army’s infantry.

“We didn’t have any rest,” he said. “We were on the move when we weren’t in battle.”

Five men from Mississippi went through training together, Nettles said, and then were sent overseas to join the same company. The bonds he developed with those men were the strongest.

“I didn’t get scared; you were just there trying to protect each other,” he said.

His company took its greatest hit in Ulasan, where about half the soldiers were lost.

“I’m just proud I made it back home without getting boned up,” Nettles said.

The war officially ended Sept. 2, 1945, and Nettles was discharged from service in January 1946.

In 2022, Nettles became one of the first people to be awarded the Mississippi Veterans Honor Medal. Presented by then-Senator Sally Doty, the award was presented to two other Lincoln County veterans at the same time as Nettles — USAF Staff Sgt. Cecil Rhodes and Doty’s father, Army Sgt. Charles Burchfield (posthumously).

A proclamation from Gov. Tate Reeves read, in part: “I, Tate Reeves, Governor of the State of Mississippi, do hereby proclaim Staff Sergeant Cecil Rhodes of Brookhaven and Sergeant R.E. Nettles of Bogue Chitto as the inaugural recipients of the Mississippi Veterans Honor Medal and encourage all Mississippians to join me in thanking these and all veterans for their service.”

In November 2023, Nettles was one of only three WWII veterans left in the Lincoln County area. The others were Army Cpl. L. C. Jackson of Brookhaven, age 100, and Army PFC Alton Ricks of Wesson, age 97. The three men were honored at the Lincoln County Veterans Day Celebration sponsored by Sen. Jason Barrett, Rep. Vince Mangold and Rep. Becky Currie.

The legislators expressed their appreciation that night, and upon news of Nettles’ death, briefly stated they were glad to have had the opportunity to honor him one last time.

Fewer than one percent of the 16.1 million Americans who served during WWII are still living — less than 119,000 in 2023. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, only 680 or fewer WWII veterans lived in Mississippi during the latter portion of 2023. That number was 911 just nine months earlier. The VA expects Mississippi to lose 80 percent of those over the next five years.

Not far shy of his 99th birthday at his death, Nettles will be remembered as one of Lincoln County’s brave souls who fought for his country during the Second Great War, a part of America’s Greatest Generation.