Memorial service honors combat veterans

May 26, 2002

RALEIGH - Smith County voters re-elected Bob Purvis as tax assessor in 1943, but he never knew about his victory at home. Before his parents' letter about his election success could reach him, Purvis was killed on Aug. 11, 1943, in fighting in Sicily when a shell hit his tank.

Purvis's name and those of his five brothers are freshly engraved in a gray granite monument on the courthouse lawn in Raleigh. Six of the Purvis brothers from Polkville were among more than 1,200 Smith Countians who fought in World War II. Bob Purvis is among the 69 Smith Countians who died in World War II.

On Sunday, a crowd of several thousand people gathered outside the Smith County Courthouse in Raleigh to pay tribute to more than 1,840 veterans of four wars and dedicate a monument to them. The names of combat veterans of World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam are engraved in two sections of gray granite wall. A 10-ton granite centerpiece reads, "Dedicated to the honor and memory of those brave and courageous Smith Countians who served in combat during World War I, World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War."

District Attorney Eddie Bowen of Raleigh said, "We must give thanks for those families who sacrificed their loved ones and lived with the pain for so many years that followed."

Circuit Judge Robert G. Evans of Raleigh said those who put their lives in harm's way bought the freedom this country enjoys today. Those who paid the price came from towns and communities such as Burns, Mize, Raleigh, Pineville, Polkville, White Oak, "and a hundred other hills and hollows without names."

"We have to earn the sacrifices of our veterans. We have to earn it every day," Evans said. "We can only try to live lives worthy of it and we do this by being good people, good citizens and good to one another."

After the speeches were done, a wreath placed, a 21-gun salute offered, Taps played and the black plastic was pulled from the monument, Mattie Sue Baugh, 79, of Polkville made her way through the crowd to look for the names of her six brothers. She traced her finger down the list of their names and some other county residents having the same surname. Her brother, Bob Purvis, the former county tax assessor, has the notation "KIA" beside his name - killed in action.

Bob Purvis had been discharged from the Army when he reached his 28th birthday. He had previously served as Smith County tax assessor before he entered the Army. He came home to Smith County and entered the race again. But he was called back to active duty, his sister said. He was killed without knowing he won the election.

Baugh, the last surviving sibling in a family that included the six brothers and four sisters, recalled when the telegram was sent out from Morton to her parents' rural home with the terrible but all too common news of death.

"We were all devastated when Bob was killed. He was the oldest boy. It was a terrible thing but we tried to tell our mother, 'Think of the others.' She said, 'I am. That's what's wrong with me, thinking of them.' They were all in danger," Baugh said.

Four of the five other brothers were in combat at the time. Her parents notified them by letters sent to battlefields in Europe and the Pacific.

"Mama just went to bed. She couldn't take it," Baugh recalled.

Brothers Jim and Gilbert Purvis, the next two oldest, were wounded while fighting in the Pacific and in North Africa. Both were in the Army.

Schley Purvis, who was in the Air Force, was stationed in Newfoundland. Charlie Purvis, who served in the Army, transported fuel and supplies to the front lines from North Africa into southern France. And the youngest, Howard Purvis, joined the Navy after his older brother was killed. He served aboard a submarine in the South Pacific. The younger three were not injured.

"It was a joyous time when they came home. When the war was over it took each one a while to get out and to get home. But they came," Baugh said.

She later married Wilburn Baugh, who had served in an Army tank division. His name is also on the monument, along with that of her brother-in-law, A.G. James, who served with the Air Force in southeast Asia.

Waldo Shows, 84, of Jackson recalled hiding for weeks in the French countryside in farmers' attics, barns and sheds after he was shot down on a bombing run over France on April 13, 1944. Shows, a radio operator and waist gunner on his 49th mission, parachuted to safety. The other surviving members of the flight crew were captured, and German soldiers searched the countryside for him. He remembers peeping out of a French farmer's upstairs window to see soldiers in the yard below. But that group, he later learned, was looking for butter and eggs.

Shows, who grew up in Taylorsville, was one of three brothers who served in combat in World War II. In the weeks after the June 6, 1944, Normandy Invasion, he made his way back to England and his old outfit. There he learned that his older brother, Bob Shows, who served in an Army artillery unit, had been killed on another beachhead, at Anzio, Italy, on March 19, 1944.

"He was fun-loving and full of life and got into a lot of fights and always whipped somebody," Waldo Shows said with a chuckle, recalling his older brother.

A third brother, Jesse Shows, was a military policeman stationed in Hawaii and the Philippine Islands.

Siblings serving at the same time wasn't uncommon in later wars as well.

Rev. John P. Adcock of White Oak was one of five brothers who served in Vietnam. Three of the brothers were there at the same time. Adcock said he took comfort from being able to see one of his brothers, who was in the same company.

Adcock, who spoke to the crowd, said some people claim Vietnam wasn't a real war.

"Yes, it was. We were there in the name of freedom. They were using real bullets and there was real blood flowing over there," Adcock said.

"When I came back to America, it had a greater value than it did when I went over. I'm proud to be a Vietman Veteran," Adcock said.

Raleigh attorney Gary King told the crowd, " The war of my generation was Vietnam. The boy I used to swim in the creek with, Tony Hosey, was killed. Mark Eaton, the leader of my Cub Scout troop, was killed."

The idea to build the monument was that of Raleigh attorney Eugene Tullos, whose passion is Smith County history. Tullos, who two years ago placed photographs inside the courthouse of all those who died in the four wars, privately paid for the monument dedicated Sunday. He asked that the cost not be made public.

Sen. Billy H. Thames of Mize and Rep. Bo Eaton of Taylorsville on Sunday presented Tullos with a Concurrent Resolution adopted by the Legislature recognizing his efforts in erecting the monument for combat veterans, placing veterans' pictures inside the courthouse and working with the Department of Archives and History to mark sites of historical interest in Smith County.

Former Gov. William Winter, president of the Board of Trustees of the Department of Archives and History, also presented Tullos with a resolution from that board. Winter said, "If every county in Mississippi had someone like Eugene Tullos, we would have a much better appreciation of the great state we live in and generations to follow would better understand our heritage."

Tullos said, "I want to thank all of you - this sea of people here today. It's a great tribute to the veterans of Smith County."

Chancery Judge Larry Buffington challenged those in attendance to make sure their children and grandchildren understand and appreciate their history and heritage, both locally and nationally. The National D-Day Museum is in New Orleans, and the National Museum of Naval Aviation is in Pensacola.

"Show these young people what they have, and who they have to be thankful for," Buffington said.

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