Suwannee County appears to have a hit-and-miss record when it comes to honoring those who have served in past wars. We’ve looked at the lack of known memorials for the Second and Third Seminole Wars, the Spanish-American War and World War I. Of those early wars, only the Civil War is known to have produced memorials, even though the most notable and talked-about display (a large obelisk at the intersection of Ohio Avenue and Howard Street) was a temporary wood-and-plaster design erected solely for a state convention and then torn down afterwards.
On Sept. 1, 1939, after years of aggression, Germany invaded Poland; World War II officially had begun. The United States remained officially neutral for more than two years, although it supported the Allies in a variety of ways. On Nov. 25, 1940, the local National Guard unit (at the time designated as Company E, 124th Infantry) mobilized for one year of training at Camp Blanding. On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, plunging the United States into the midst of the war. Company E was shipped to Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia, to serve as a model training unit. In March 1944, the unit was briefly inactivated and its soldiers dispersed to other units. A month later, the unit reactivated in Australia with almost all new members. The men of Suwannee County served in both the European and Pacific Theaters of the war. Florida National Guard historian Robert Hawk noted, “Few, perhaps none, of Company E’s men from 1940 were serving with the Regiment in 1944. They were serving and dying elsewhere. In the course of the Second World War, no unit of the Florida National Guard had more men killed, wounded in action, or dead from other causes than Company E, 124th Infantry. Thirteen men from the original company were killed in action or died of wounds and one man died of non-battle related injuries.” High praise for the men of Suwannee County.
Even while the Second World War was raging, community leaders wished to commemorate those who were serving and dying in the services of the United States across the world. Led by W. L. Tedder and Horry H. Hair, Jr., a committee was formed in 1943 to collect the names of all known servicemen. By December 1943, a list had been compiled spreading several pages in the Suwannee Democrat. The greeting and space was provided by numerous local businesses and individuals, including: Dutton A. Bonnell; Huffman & Gilmore; Kelly Weaver; G. Warren Sanchez; W. L. Tedder; J. Marvin Phillips, Jr.; Royal Crown Cola; J. L. McMullen; Live Oak Laundry; Horry H. Hair, Jr.; Live Oak Coca-Cola Co.; Farmers Hardware; West Auto Associate Store; Aubrey Fowler; Futch Produce Company; Home Hardware & Furniture Company; W. R. Slaughter; and Farmers Milling Company.
Space was designated on the Courthouse Square for a large wall commemorating those who had served, or were serving. The committee completed construction of the Memorial Service Board, as it was sometimes called, by mid-December 1943. The County Commission minutes noted, with the unfortunate but usual segregationist attitudes of the day:
“The Board took cognizance of the newly erected Servicemen’s Board on the Court House square and commended the committee in charge for a fine job. The Board voted to request the Board Building Committee to place names of white servicemen only on this board, and recommended establishment of a board for colored servicemen in some appropriate location in Live Oak.”
I am unaware of a memorial being erected for African-American service members of World War II anywhere in Live Oak due to this request from the Board; as usual for the time, the interests of African-Americans (especially in the South) were secondary in nature as a result of Jim Crow Laws and segregation.
More on the WWII veterans’ Memorial Board next week.
Eric Musgrove can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 386-362-0564.