When the United States entered WWII, A.J. Jones of Hattiesburg decided to become a Navy fighter pilot. In this episode, he shares his memories of that experience, beginning with the training he received and all those who died trying to learn to land on an aircraft carrier.
As a navy fighter pilot, Jones was assigned to a carrier group in the Pacific Theater. He recounts targeting Japanese ships and supplies around the Lingayen Gulf in January of 1945. The following month, Jones’s carrier, the USS Bismarck Sea was part of the task force assigned to take the Japanese island of Iwo Jima. He remembers providing air support for the Marines on the ground and how his carrier was sunk by kamikazes during the battle. After the ship went down, the survivors of the 1,000-man crew waited to be rescued as the battle raged on shore. Later, when they witnessed the American flag raised over nearby Mount Suribachi, cheers arose, even as they mourned the loss of their 318 shipmates.
PHOTO: By U.S. Navy - U.S. Navy photo 80-G-240135 from Navsource.org, Public Domain
For this week’s episode, we revisit Coach Sank Powe’s 1999 interview. MSM 496 focused on his successful 25 year career as the men's baseball coach for Cleveland High School in Cleveland, Mississippi. Today, we examine his childhood, growing up on a Delta plantation as the son of a poor tenant farmer.
Powe enjoyed listening to professional baseball on the radio and recalls learning how to swing a bat by hitting rocks and bottle caps with an old hoe handle. He began playing baseball with local adult teams as a teenager in Mound Bayou, working on the farm after school and dreaming of becoming a professional ballplayer.
Mound Bayou was a favorite destination for Negro League baseball teams in those years. Powe enjoyed watching those legendary players and even toured with the Birmingham Black Barons when they needed an extra man. He explains how the public’s perception of the Negro Leagues’ legacy has evolved over time.
Sank Powe never played major league baseball, but he coached high school ball in Cleveland and scouted for the Cincinnati Reds and the St. Louis Cardinals. He reflects on his career, the advantages being a professional baseball scout afforded him, and all the young people whose lives he touched.
Coach Powe passed away on January 20, 2013.
Growing up in Sumrall, Eberta Spinks was taught by her parents to care for those in their community. In this episode, she remembers helping her mother deliver fresh-cut flowers and home-cooked meals to sick neighbors. Spinks was five years old when she and a playmate became gravely ill in 1919. She recalls how neighbors sat with her around the clock so her parents could get some rest during the ordeal.
During the Great Depression, many Americans relied on food assistance provided by the government. Spinks describes how her family shared the vegetables and meat they raised with their community. These lessons of working for the betterment of others would later influence her to become active in the Civil Rights Movement.
Spinks was living in Hattiesburg in 1964 when the Freedom Riders came to help black citizens register to vote. She credits her faith in God, and an understanding husband, with her decision to offer free housing to civil rights workers while they were in town.
After the Empire of Japan attacked the US Naval Base in Hawaii and declared war on the United States, Americans of Japanese descent were forcibly relocated to internment camps, out of fear they would be loyal to the emperor. But, by the time Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, many Japanese-American men were already serving in the US military. In this episode, Herbert Sasaki recalls coming to Camp Shelby in South Mississippi to join the 442nd, a newly formed infantry unit of Japanese-American volunteers.
Growing up in Los Angeles, Sasaki was used to driving the most modern highways in the nation. His memories of Hattiesburg include, waiting in long lines and getting stuck in the mud, a lot.
The 442nd was a rapid deployment force tasked with creating breaks in the German lines. Sasaki explains how early success by the regiment convinced General Eisenhower to use them as much as possible. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team is considered the most decorated unit in US history. He looks back with pride at the sacrifices made by these loyal Americans during WWII.