From the desk of: Douglas Therrell, Charlotte, North Carolina, sharing additional human interest, and family stories from World War II., Episode II.
Uncle Zeb: As promised in an earlier writing here are a few more family stories on World War II. You may recall Douglas had 19 older cousins and 3 uncles serving in combat during WWII. As earlier mentioned his uncle Zeb was already stationed at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked. Zeb had a two day pass and was in a hotel recovering from a party when the attack commenced. At first he thought it was a loud party that had spilled onto the lawn. Quickly he realized it was far more serious, quickly getting on his pants and shoes he ran out with nothing but his 45 caliber side arm began shooting at strafing planes. While running to his post he came upon an unmanned antiaircraft gun for which he had only minimal familiarity. Removing the dead gunner, he commenced firing until the ammunition was exhausted. By that point the attack seemed to be over and he directed his attention to aiding wounded colleagues. As mentioned in the previous article, Zeb remained posted at Pearl Harbor for the remainder of the war. This eventuality in his posting and his survival of the attack was either retribution for a previous bureaucratic snafu or because of his uncommon skill and networking at locating much needed supplies for repair and maintenance of ships at Pearl. As was his nature he had communicated frequently via radio, etc. during the earlier peacetime. For example, he was aware of the long standing joke about a destroyer engine accidentally shipped to a Midwestern base. This particular base was remote from any body of water. The engine was still in the original crate and grease and remained sitting in a storage facility. In less than a day, he had made contact and had the destroyer engine in transit to Pearl Harbor to repair a damaged naval destroyer. With that and a few other similar but less remarkable feats he was quickly made the ranking supply sergeant for Pearl Harbor. With the Naval fleet largely destroyed, quick repair and restoration was considered essential for US survival against the Japanese.
Prior to Zeb’s induction and posting at Pearl Harbor he had been a civilian living and working in Charlotte, North Carolina. The war was looming and may have already commenced in Europe yet Doug’s uncle Zeb had not been drafted. With an eye to planning his immediate future, uncle Zeb went down to the local draft board to inquire how long it would be before he was called for the draft. To everyone’s surprise, he learned that through a bureaucratic error he was listed in the “dead files”, i.e. no longer alive. Without his visit to the draft board he would have never been drafted. What a novelty of bureaucracy. After appearing alive, he would be called up soon. So rather than wait, Zeb immediately signed up. After basic training he was posted at Pearl Harbor as previously referenced.
Doug Therrell and Paul Williams
Paul Williams: Paul was a longtime friend of Douglas Therrell and his father Herman Douglas Therrell. Among other things, Paul was a traveling factory wholesale paint salesman who lived near the hardware store of Mr.Therrell. Paul was also a rather accomplished trombonist and in the early and mid-50s he was playing in the Charlotte Shrine Band.
As Doug Therrell was a budding musician, vocalist and trumpet player, Paul and Doug shared many musical stories and related events. One such story related to Paul’s World War II posting in a field band believed to be a safe distance behind the Allied lines. Then, with no advance warning to his unit, the infamous “Battle of the Bulge” began. There would be no more trombone or band instruments for a while. Paul reported that in the middle of the night they were handing out small arms to the band, cooks and walking wounded. Paul was given a Thompson submachine gun. He reported that this was the only small arm on which he had received no previous training. The night was cold and pitch black with almost zero visibility even for a foot or two. Paul feared they would be overrun, his ammunition clip would be emptied and without being able to see he would be unable to remove the empty clip and replace it with a full one. He reported that all night, he was removing the clip and reinserting it. For a time he believed he was the only one in that predicament and experiencing that fear. When he finally stopped long enough and his wits returned a bit, he reported that up and down the line at an interval about 20 feet he could hear the same clicks coming from about every 15th man down the line who had been issued the same weapon. Needless to say he survived the “bulge” and never picked up a Thompson submachine again.
If you liked this story, you might enjoy this one, too.
- R. Douglas Therrell, North Carolina Family History
- Douglas Therrell of North Carolina and Ellen Zwillich on FSU Board