One of the truly heartbreaking occurrences of wartime happens when an officer in uniform walks up to a door and the parents, especially the mother, is informed of the death in battle of a loved one.
World War I saw the beginning of the recognition of Gold Star mothers, those women who lost a son in combat. The star would be on a banner and would be hung in the front window of the home, and all would know that inside there was a heartbroken, emotionally torn woman who had no more hope.
For Jackson County there is no more poignant story told than that of the sea battle of Savo Island, a two day engagement that was fought in 1942 in the waters off Guadalcanal. And it is poignant because of the loss of three residents of the county.
Savo Island was the closest land to the encounter of two strong fleets, each made up of cruisers and destroyers. The American fleet came together to land the Marines on the hellhole of Guadalcanal and to protect them from enemy planes and ships.
The Imperial Japanese Navy arrived to blast the Marines into bits and to assist their jungle fighters in regaining the land lost. And in forty eight hours of fighting, mostly at night, the two fleets faced each other, doing a dance of death, charging full ahead, and turning in tight circles, and firing torpedoes and shells. In the end, the American fleet was devastated. There were reasons: the Japanese had better torpedoes; they were superior at night fighting; they had air support.
And, in the end, the Americans lost several ships, among them the USS Astoria and the USS Quincy, both cruisers. Men were maimed and killed, and in the Quincy were three brothers from Jackson County. One survived and two died in the shark infested tropical waters off Savo Island. The two were Edd Pippin, Junior and Willie N. Pippin of Cottondale.
The Astoria also sunk, and with it perished Albert Johns of Sneads. Within days two women from Jackson County became Gold Star Mothers.
We all have seen the movie “Saving Private Ryan” and have watched the drama as the Army tried to prevent the loss of a son when his family had already experienced three deaths from combat. Some of us try to imagine the trauma of such an event.
And yet something similar happened here in our county. The mother of Albert Johns was probably devastated. The Pippins’ mother must have suffered even more. We will never know.
Less than a year later another cruiser was lost. Five brothers, the Sullivans, perished at sea, four immediately; the one who survived the battle finally swam away from the life raft to which he had clung for two days. Some said that he left to seek his brothers.
When you have time in this Christmas season, between parties and shopping and wishes of good cheer, walk by the monument that stands proud on the northwest corner of our courthouse, and look at the names, and imagine the grief of all the mothers, and of especially two who lost sons in one battle, and became Gold Star Mothers.
(Note: After the loss of the Sullivans, the U. S. Navy never allowed brothers to serve again on the same ship. A destroyer, The Sullivans, was named after them. To learn more about Gold Star Mothers check out www.goldstarmoms.com))