A Battle at Palermo, an Induction in Georgia and a Troop Train in Alabama - July 1943
by Glenn N. Holliman
By the summer of 1943 three of the four sons of Ulyss and Pearl Caine Holliman of Irondale, Alabama – Melton, Bishop and Ralph - were in military service, along with their daughter Virginia’s husband, Walter Cornelius. Son Euhal, soon the father of four children, was deferred due to his large family responsibilities.
Left, in 1927, 2300 3rd Avenue, N. in Irondale, Alabama, Pearl Caine Holliman holds Ralph, her youngest child, flanked by Bishop and Virginia. Virignia's husband, Walter Cornelius, would serve in the Pacific during World War II, Bishop in the Navy in the Mediterranean and Ralph in France.
Bishop, b. 1919, my father, was on the USS Butler in Sicily July 1943. After shelling the Herman Goring Panzer Division at Gela, Sicily and saving the 1st Infantry Division from annihilation, the Butler and other ships left Sicily and refueled and restocked in Algiers. Shortly thereafter, Dad’s ship and other destroyers were directed to Palermo, the capital of Sicily. The city had fallen to U.S. troops, and the Navy was to lend fire support along the coast.
A Sunday in July, 2 a.m. the German Air Force paid a visit, dropped flares over the harbor and then their high explosive bombs. Bishop, a radioman, age 23, was at his battle station, the radio shack exposed on the aft of the 1,000-ton destroyer. There he experienced the intensity of the air raid. He wrote later:
“The ship immediately got under way and headed out of the harbor. And the bombs started falling all around us. We could not shoot back because we couldn’t see them. We fellows in the shack didn’t know what was going on outside. We could hear the bombs falling and feel the ship shake. At times like that it is hard to sit there at a typewriter. Everyone remained calm though. However, I did not have to exert any pressure on my fingers. I just held them over my typewriter keys, and my hands shook so furiously that they pushed the keys down. We sat there for 30 or 40 minutes wondering if they would get us….the raid lasted almost two hours. Finally, our fighters arrived and shot down 4 or 5 planes.”
Two days later, the Luftwaffe returned, dropped more bombs and sank an adjacent ship to the Butler. The ship escaped damaged, and later the destroyer picked up a downed German flyer who had been drifting for four days in the Mediterranean. Finally, Bishop’s destroyer was released from duty, sailed to Oran, picked up a convoy and sailed home, arriving in late August 1943 in New York City.
While sailing home, Bishop typed up a 12-page letter about the events in Sicily, and as it was against regulations at that time to publish stories about the invasion, he went ashore in New York and posted the article to his niece Mary Daly in Irondale, Alabama. A copy of this manuscript survives in the family to this day.
Left, one of the faded pages of Bishop's manuscript.
The military forces of the United States continued to expand in 1943, and older men with dependents were drafted to fly the airplanes and drive the tanks and ships coming off American assembly lines in greater and greater numbers.
The oldest son of Ulyss and Pearl Caine Holliman, Melton, b. 1908, married and now with a child, Patti, was drafted August 4th into the U.S. Army at Mobile, Alabama and shipped by train to Atlanta, Ft. McPherson, Georgia, the reception station. He wrote his first letter home on August 5th that the group of men he was with looked older than he (!) and all were married with children.
Melton, a pharmaceutical salesman in civilian life, was assigned to a medical training company 1,200 miles from Birmingham, as he wrote in ‘a God forsaken place’, Camp Barkley, Texas. The letters home to his wife Ida, and newly adopted daughter, captured the home sickness and difficult adjustment to the regimen required of Army life. My Uncle Melton’s sacrifices were only beginning that summer of 1943.
Right, Melton in uniform in Texas, 1943
Ralph, who had been inducted in April of 1943 into the Army was shipped by train from basic training in Florida to Colorado in July 1943. His train passed through Irondale and stopped in Birmingham. For two hours Ralph nor any other soldier could leave the train to even make a telephone call. Later his Mother, desperately worried about her three sons in the military, wrote these anguished words.
“They moved him (Ralph) to Denver, Colorado. He came through Irondale and his train stayed in town for over two hours and we didn’t know it. He could not call. I could hardly stand it.”
Left in 1952, Ralph with his two children, Pam and Kathy.
The story of the sealed train has resonated in the extended Holliman family for generations, reflecting the worries of loved ones in those anxious years.
Next, more on the War that changed the lives of a close-knit Alabama family.