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World War II bomber gunner last of the POWs in county


John Payne holds a copy of his original prisoner of war (POW) photo made
when he was placed in a German prison camp: "Sgt. Payne, J.B. 7494."
He is the last living POW of World War II living in Cocke County, he said.
Published: 6:34 PM, 04/26/2013 Last updated: 6:34 PM, 04/26/2013

Author: David Popiel
Source: The Newport Plain Talk

Just a few days remain in the first full month of spring and its warmth embracing our hometown lulls us into believing that cold mornings are gone for the season. But are they?


Last week we chatted with Tal Carey of Newport after Mike Proffitt put me in touch with this interesting retiree who lives near Newport City Park. He and his wife, Sheila (Suggs) Carey, love the area and followed Lydia Shelton of the county clerk's office to our town. As he told me, "I wished we'd have moved 60 years ago." While he is retired, Sheila continues to work with Tammy Francis at her Smoky Mountain Home Health & Hospice. Sheila travels with Dr. James Williams to help care for hospice patients. She always thought about doing mission work and now really is. Tal said a grandfather was an agent for Seaboard Railroad of Suffolk, Virginia. So railroading is in the blood. His lifetime friend and nationally known railroad history writer Mallory "Mal" Ferrell had an early interest in trains and drew Tal into following railroading. They have traveled together photographing trains especially in Colorado. Tal characterized Colorado as the Mecca of narrow gauge railroads. And this is where I got a lesson. Modern rails are four feet eight inches between the rails. The narrow gauge is only three feet and the big difference is money. Narrow gauge construction was much cheaper. I found out a few more things about Mal, who was a Vietnam War fighter pilot. He had attended VPI and then the University of Miami, where I graduated perhaps close to the time he was there. Tal and Sheila have met and made many friends in Newport. Mike is one of them because Tal was at Newport Printing & Office Supplies years ago and asked Willie Green if he knew anyone who had old train photos. Mike has quite an assortment of all kinds of old photos, many he has shared with our readers.


Flying back in time


Several years ago we talked with a World War II prisoner of war to hear his story of flying in bombers, being shot down, and spending months spanning two years of that terrible war in the 1940s. I marked my calendar to be sure to meet again and make a photo of the 90-year-old John Payne, who has been living in Newport near the Masonic Lodge for the past 13 years. He doesn't seem to have aged and it is worth hearing his story again. You've probably forgotten so it will seem new and I believe he added some new information about his long and pleasant life. His primary reason for moving here was to be closer to his daughter, Jackie Garbarino and son-in-law, Dr. A. J. Garbarino, president of Family Practice Center. So let's begin at the beginning in Germantown, Tenn., on April 2, 1923.

His parents raised John, one of five children, in a parsonage in the Memphis suburb but father, Bryan Payne, was not a minister, rather a traveling salesman. To say it was a difficult time is to understate the impact of the Great Depression, which John lived through from through ages 7 to 17. John was the youngest and he had three sisters, and John alone survives to carry on the family memories. He recalls that his mother, Florence, had a hard time getting money to buy bread and food. Dad traveled in many states selling whatever he could carry. Even in the 1930s, John stayed in school until 12th grade, all the Payne children did. He remembers moving to Memphis about age five and finished school there. The memory and date is faded, but Bryant Payne was killed on the road in a car crash in Arkansas mid to late 1930s, as a passenger. After graduation, John went to work at Colonial Bakery on the bun oven feeding it sheets of dough-sometimes shaking them too much so the dough collapsed.


War changes all things


When the War started after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, John was ready to join but kept working and for a while in Millington at a munitions factory. Educated, he knew how to type and worked in the office. "I was too dumb for shorthand." Mrs. Payne worked at a department store and sister, Aline, spent a career with First Tennessee Bank. John was drafted but had already fallen in love with "the prettiest girl in West, Tenn.-Jackie (Mary Jacqueline)." She had been a schoolmate since 6th grade but didn't know John had a big crush on her. John persisted in his pursuit into high school and beat out many other men for her hand. The war got in the way of romance in the 1940s. He was shipped to Denver and became an aircraft armament instructor but wanted to be a bomber gunner. A sympathetic WAC arranged the schooling at Kingman, Arizona. In the interim he took a leave, went home, and married the former Jackie Norfolk.

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