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May not only brings flowers but liberation during WW II


John Payne and his daughter, Jackie, got together on April 17, for this photo
at his home near the Newport Masonic Lodge. Jackie's birth name is Jacquelin
Ruth but where she grew up family and friends called her "Jatee."
Published: 8:04 PM, 05/03/2013 Last updated: 8:04 PM, 05/03/2013

Author: David Popiel
Source: The Newport Plain Talk

Horses ramble across greening pastures in the shadows of the Great Smoky Mountains encircling our hometown but none of these horses will be running in the Kentucky Derby, and, as for us, we will be sipping iced tea on the first Sunday in May.

With gardening time here and folks wondering when to plant green beans or buying vegetable sets at Newport Hardware, perhaps you encountered this problem that our mayor did. He was needing a new hoe but wanted to buy American made. After stopping at two stores and seeing made in China or made in Mexico stamped on the hoes, Vaughn Moore began to wonder if any hoes were still made in America. By chance he was chatting with Gay Webb, who told Vaughn he could find a made-in-America hoe at Walton Springs Hardware. Gay's son, Mitch Webb, had just gotten in a delivery of Bully Tools. I will be checking into this and let you know more.


Judge Bell commends helpers


You may recall I mentioned weeks ago that Judge John Bell had fallen and injured his shoulder. He was fortunate not to tear the rotator cuff but did break the shoulder and is in painful physical therapy. Let me share two things he learned from having one arm in a sling. "I have learned things you can do with one arm: use a shovel, rake gravel, change a flat tire on a truck, load a rototiller on a truck. And things that I cannot do with my left arm broken: stop and get the mail or newspaper (you must get out of the car); get money out of the drive through teller machine (you must get out of the car.)" And most import, Judge Bell said he learned this: "The people of Cocke County are the most helpful to someone who has been injured." He recounted the story of a woman at Walmart who saw the judge pushing a buggy to his car and he was using one arm. She walked over to help John unload the buggy and then put it in the buggy rack. This was just one of many, many times people stepped up to help a person in need. Judge Bell was not surprised by this thoughtfulness as it shows the true positive character of Cocke County citizens.


From battle to prison camp


We have been talking with World War II prisoner of war John Payne, perhaps the last living Cocke County POW, eased into his 90th year about a month ago and he has told me more about his imprisonment in Germany at the end of 1943. May was liberation month in 1944 and so it is an appropriate anniversary after 69 years and I was two months old then. I haven't seen the official records but it seems he was shipped overseas to France to do what he trained for, protect the bomber from enemy aircraft and most likely Messerschmitt bf 109s. He summed up his short Army aircraft career this way: "I never shot the machine gun at the enemy . . . . I was shot down on the 13th mission." His first five missions as the tail gunner handling twin 50 caliber machine guns were on the famous B-17 Flying Fortress. These had 10 crewmembers and flew from France to Germany. Then John transferred to the Ninth Air Force some time before mid-1943 to fly eight missions on the B-26 Martin Marauder. This was a fast six-crew twin-engine bomber: pilot, co-pilot, bombardier, top turret gunner, engineer, and John, the tail gunner-needless to say a deadly location.

The B-26s were base hopping from England across the channel into France and as the allies front moved forward so did the B-26 bases, said John. His last base had the unfortunate name of San Quinton. Dec. 6, 1944. "It was cold as kraut." John and crew had two missions that day for the squadron of 12 to 20 bombers and the morning flight went as planned.

That afternoon on the second mission the bombers were met by heavy anti-aircraft fire and the exploding flack was thick and wicked. John only found out much later after the war what happened to his B-26 because an airman, from Ohio on another B-26 that survived the mission, saw it all. A German shell hit the center of the bomber and blew it in half. The only members of the crew still alive were the engineer and John. They had to parachute but the engineer "froze" in the rear door. "I had to push him out." Then John jumped. The crew in a nearby B-26 reported later seeing the two chutes open. The engineer was hit by gunfire and wounded in the shoulder. John only heard from the B-26 witnesses in this past year because of a diary revealed through the B-26 historical society. As soon as John hit the ground and was OK, a German with a rifle walked up and captured him. The most vivid part of all these traumatic events, said John, was looking up after he jumped out and saw that several silk panels of his parachute were missing. This helped him fall faster but he was not injured. He and other prisoners were loaded into trucks and taken for interrogation. "I got sick for a week." He spent the time in a German base hospital and then was placed on a train traveling north. The ride stopped abruptly in Berlin because the city was being bombed. "We were left locked in the train" until the bombing stopped. The train resumed north to the camp for officers near the Baltic Sea. While all this was going on, his new wife Jackie only got word in February 1945 that he was shot down but alive in prison.

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