R. Douglas Therrell, North Carolina Family History

By Douglas Therrell of North Carolina

In this post, Dougs shares the history of his family, WW II military combat and the amazing survival of numerous cousins and uncles.

Although Robert Douglas Therrell of Charlotte, North Carolina is an only child, he was still a member of a huge family. The father of R Douglas Therrell was next to youngest of 11 children born to George Robert and Nancy Therrell. On the Therrell side of the family Doug is next to youngest of 43 grandchildren. Try having 42 first cousins plus their spouses and families. Of the 42 first cousins 19 of them served in active combat in World War II. All of them returned home alive and without losing a limb, what a statistical phenomenon. One of them was a German POW and remained in WalterReedArmyHospital for many months before he was able to return to North Carolina. Douglas Therrell first saw him after his return at a Sunday dinner at the big farmhouse on the family farm of Cousin Pete’s parents, Pete was walking across the lawn with two brass handled walking canes and in full dress uniform replete with medals.

All of the war combatant cousins were in the Army except for one. William Therrell, nicknamed Bubba by his northern shipmates, his first posting was the Brooklyn Naval Base. Well I suppose every southern family has to have a Bubba. However, this Bubba who still resides in Charlotte, North Carolina is and was a well mannered gentleman and always a pleasure to be around. Throughout the European war, he served on a naval destroyer accompanying convoys from Brooklyn to Gibraltar and back. When pressed, he will openly share many harrowing stories about challenging the U-boats in order to protect civilian convoys. Bubba’s specialty was setting the depth charges. The North Atlantic was known to be extremely rough and many times the semen would be forced to tie themselves in the rack to prevent being pitched out while they tried to sleep. Often they would go for days at a time eating only Navy beans and coffee, because they were the only food items that could be cooked in the rough seas. This was done by tying the tall pots to the stove and only filling them about one third each. Later in the war the U-boats change their strategy and laid-back in a funnel shape for the last 150 miles west of Gibraltar, knowing the convoys would have to narrow their route as they neared the Straits of Gibraltar. After the Allies European victory, his destroyer was ordered to the Pacific to support island invasions. There are 18 more cousin combat stories of WWII including Master Sgt. O.B. Perhaps there will be more stories in a future writing.

Being an only child was not that much of an issue for Douglas Therrell until more recent years when so many have died, cousins and their spouses and aunts and uncles. Being the only vocal soloist in the family Douglas has been called on to sing for so many funerals he has actually lost count. Now that Doug Therrell is in his 70s, he was asked recently at the conclusion of a graveside ceremony if he planned to continue performing. Another relative quickly interjected, “Yep, we keep dying and Doug will keep singing.” Knowing the family you would know this was not spoken with irreverence. The Therrells have always approached funerals much like a family gathering or reunion and spend time enjoying each other’s company and sharing a few good stories about the one just lost.

Doug Therrell’s Uncles

Robert Douglas Therrell’s North Carolina roots were also on his Mother’s side of the family. She was one of eight children born to Walter C and Leona Greene. On that side of the family two of his cousins served and returned from the Korean War as did his youngest uncle. On Doug’s Mother’s side of the family, two of his uncles also served in combat in World War II. Uncle Zeb was at Pearl Harbor when it was first attacked. He recounted many harrowing events from the attack and the following months. Zeb remained stationed at Pearl throughout the entire war. Another uncle of R Douglas Therrell was a part of the Allied invasion of North Africa and subsequent battles against Rommel and others. Upon his return he relayed  numerous stories including their first encounters and dealings with a prosperous Arab trader and his nomadic caravan. After the North Africa campaign he was a part of the invasion of Italy including southern cities of Palermo and slugging it out through the mountainous terrain north under the command of Gen. Bradley. After the war he brought home a number of souvenirs, some of which still remain in family possession. One such article was an ashtray he made from hot lava and another was several cartons of military issue cigarettes. They were covered in nondescript thick wax paper containing small boxes of cigarettes that held approximately 6 to 10 cigarettes per box. Ted, another uncle of Doug Therrell served as an Air Corps bomber pilot. Ted had received his civilian pilot license at an early age. At age 15 he volunteered to move from Charlotte to Wilmington, North Carolina, where he flew many missions as a U-boats spotter while carrying a single bomb attached to his small craft. In his 16th year he joined the Army Air Corps and received brief but intense multiengine flight training. At age 17 he was flying copilot combat bombing missions in Europe. He survived one crash where his pilot was killed and his shoulder dislocated. As soon as the flight surgeon cleared him he was again flying combat bombing missions and from this time forward always as a pilot. Three uncles and 19 cousins in active combat, a total of 22 and unbelievably all returned home safely. What a miracle.

Back home the youngest Therrell uncle, Uncle Howard Wayne Therrell was a little too old for the draft and with a suspected minor health problem [although he lived healthy and well until change 94], he was not accepted when he volunteered. Feeling a patriotic urgency, Howard and wife Alice moved from Charlotte to Baltimore to build planes for Curtiss-Wright and the war effort. Aunt Alice could have been the picture girl for the “rivet aunties” shown on posters and newsreels throughout the country as the women joined military manufacturing to support the war effort. After the war, I remember seeing at their home numerous mounted models of the airplanes they had helped build.

In the next offering on the World War II era, will be other dramatic, curious and humorous events and episodes involving the family in combat and back home.

For more from Doug Therrell, please visit: http://www.professionalontheweb.com/u/account

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