A Tale of Two Families
Samuel Kelly and Alexander Bookter
This page will be a work in progress. It is meant for the enjoyment of family members who are interested in their genealogical roots and would like to know more about those who proceeded them. As far as possible the information presented here will be fully documented and historically accurate. When this is not possible, speculation will be based on that historical time period. The reason I have chosen to publish this on my web site rather than in a book form will become obvious as new information is discovered and errors are corrected by me or by other family members.
The plan is to take a time period, discuss the historical events of the day, and see what our ancestors were (or might have been) doing during that time.
More detailed genealogical information on 2173 relatives is entered on my Family Tree Maker computer program. Any family member interested in copying or correcting any of this information should contact me.
In 1756 Charles Town was a the center of the economic, cultural, and political life in the Royal Colony of South Carolina. It had been founded in 1670 by a group of English emigrants led by William Sayle, and new settlement was named after King Charles II. As our South Carolina cousins like to say: "It's where the Ashley and the Cooper Rivers come together to form the Atlantic Ocean."
King Charles had granted Carolina to eight Lord Proprietors in 1663. Later they distinguished between North and South Carolina and, in 1712, separate governors were appointed. In 1729 the Proprietors sold their share to King George and North and South Carolina became Royal Colonies. William Tyron in New Bern was selected as the governor of North Carolina and, in 1756, Governor Glen of South Carolina had his offices in Charles Town. Three years later part of South Carolina became Georgia. By this time 30,000 settlers were cultivating rice on the costal plain and tidal swamps in South Carolina.
1756 was the year that James Kelley, on the sixth of January, appeared before the provincial council to petition for 200 acres in Craven County, South Carolina. A warrant was issued the same day. The land was surveyed by John Evans and the warrant describes the land as "on Lynches Creek and the waters of the Pee Dee River near the fork of Lynches Creek and bordered on all other sides by vacant land." The warrant said that James Kelley at that time claimed a grant of land for himself, his wife, one son, and one slave. At that time settlers were allowed 50 acres for the head of the household and 50 acres for each family members and each slave. The same day he petitioned for 200 acres on the Santee River claiming two additional children and two slaves. In the petition he stated that he had a son whom he was desirous of settling on a plantation. On some records Kelly is spelled Kelley. I don't think this is significant. We might have to accept the fact that some of our ancestors (like some of us in the present generation) just couldn't spell. More than likely some of them couldn't write.
A century later the Pee Dee was almost immortalized when the son of a prominent Scotch-Irish family in Pittsburgh wrote a song about the old folks at home, "Way down upon the Pee Dee River". He later changed the river's name to the Suwannee because it sounded more commercially acceptable. It's interesting to note that Stephen Foster never saw either the Pee Dee or the Suwannee rivers.
How did James Kelly happen to settle in South Carolina and where did he come from? We may never know. Very few records from the Carolinas in this period survived if indeed they were ever recorded. Another confusing fact is that we know that at least one other James Kelly was issued a warrant for land in South Carolina during this time period. Do we have the right James Kelly? I think so. We know that James Kelly's "beloved" daughter Arabella married Josiah Cantey who was the son of William Cantey, known to be a neighbor on Lynches Creek. Besides Arabella, James had two sons, James Jr. and Samuel. We will learn more about Samuel later. James Jr. was the son in law of John Evans who had land adjacent to the Kelly tract on the Santee River.
We also know that tens of thousands Scotch-Irish and German emigrants came to Philadelphia during the early seventeen hundreds drawn by William Penn's promise of religious, cultural, and political freedom. Philadelphia at that time was the largest city in the English Colonies and indeed the second largest city in England. Those who were looking for a quieter environment moved on. Most of them took the great Philadelphia wagon road that ran by way of Lancaster, York, and Staunton, then down the Shenandoah Valley to the back country of the Carolinas.
It is probable that both of these families, the Kellys and the Bookters, took this route into South Carolina. A Johannes Buchter arrived in Philadelphia on Saturday, the second of September, 1749 aboard the ship Albany, Robert Brown, Master. The passengers originated from Erbach and Wirtemberg in the northwest corner of Germany. He was married to Cathrina Mullere on January 25 1752.
A Jacob Buchter emerged in the Newberry District of South Carolina in the mid-seventeen hundreds. Buchter is the German spelling of Bookter. Johannes may have been a relative, but I don't believe he was the father of Jacob. More than likely Jacob's father was Rudolph who petitioned for a land grant in 1744 and died shortly afterwards. His son Jacob repetitioned in 1748. We know very little about Jacob but his two sons, Alexander and Jacob Jr., (They took the English spelling of Bookter) left wide tracks on the course of history. We'll learn much more about these two later.
This must have been an exciting time for these adventurous settlers to live in the Carolinas. They had attained freedom to worship as they choose and to pursue their cultural and economic goals, but their political freedom was still in question. The Lord Proprietors who had governed the Carolinas were more interested in their own welfare than that of the colonist, and many colonist thought they would be better off dealing with the King. When the Carolinas became Royal Colonies things improved, but not much. The colonies were under the direct control of the English Parliament. In 1765 the stamp tax was passed which required all newspapers, legal documents, licenses, and ships papers to bear stamps. Although this tax was repealed the next year, it was replaced by the Townsend Acts that levied tax on tea, lead, printer's colors, and paper brought from England. A Vice Admiralty court was established to aid the custom service in collecting these taxes. All of the Townsend acts were repealed in 1770 except the tea tax. Colonist in Boston demonstrated, and on the 5th of March five colonist were killed. This enraged even the moderate Bostonians who called it "The Boston Massacre". In 1773 they staged the Boston tea party. Discontent escalated, and in 1775 the first Continental Congress was held. In April of 1775 the British sent troops to Lexington and Concord to seize stores of powder the Colonials had gathered, but the British were driven back to Boston by the Colonial Minutemen. The Second Continental Congress was held and in 1776 the Declaration of Independence was signed.
How these events affected our two families is a mater of conjecture. Both were well established in South Carolina by this time. The Bookters having settled in the Newberry District, which was a relatively populated area, might have been more affected than James Kelly, Sr. who had settled on 200 acres on the Pee Dee "surrounded by vacant land on all sides." Before 1778 most of the war was fought in the North, and Washington had scored very few victories. In March of 1776 the Provincial Congress of South Carolina established the first independent state government in the American colonies. Three months later the Americans won the first decisive victory of the revolution by taking Fort Sullivan in Charles Town (The fort was later named Fort Moultrie) and foiled a British attempt to capture Charles Town. However, in December of 1778 the British occupied Savannah and most of Georgia, and Sir James Wright was again established as Royal Governor. Many lukewarm Patriots took the oath of allegiance to King George and many loyalist (Tories) fought for the King. In 1780 Charles Town was taken by the British, and Cornwallis was left with 8,000 men to hold South Carolina and Georgia. After the British finally evacuated Charles Town in 1783 the city was incorporated and renamed Charleston.
By 1780 Alexander Bookter and Samuel Kelly were about twenty years old and their fathers were approaching sixty. Did they take up arms in the conflict? If they did, which side were they on? It is unlikely that either could have remained neutral. Only some Quakers were able to do that under the shield of religious beliefs. Colonist who signed an oath of allegiance to the British King and were later captured while fighting for the Patriots were promptly hung by the British, and Loyalist captured by the Patriots were also hung. There was very little middle ground. Fighting during the war touched every part of South Carolina. Like in the Civil War that came later, Americans were fighting Americans. Francis Marion, a Quaker from the Georgetown area of South Carolina who was later called "The Swamp Fox," was able to set aside his religious beliefs and carry on an effective hit and run war against the British. He was practically a neighbor to James Kelly and recruited his militia from the adjacent Williamsburg area. We would like to think that Samuel Kelly might have been one of his recruits, but so far we have found no proof. He might have been one of the Loyalist that Marion was harassing. Marion, later as a Brigadier General, joined General Nathaniel Green and harassed Cornwallis during his retreat to Virginia. With the help of the French, Cornwallis was defeated in October of 1781 and the Treaty of Paris officially ended the war in 1883.
The Gulf Coast had been discovered by Spanish explorers early in the sixteenth century, but in 1682 La Salle sailed down the Mississippi and claimed all the Mississippi Valley for France and named it for King Louis XIV of France. In 1699 d'Iberville started a settlement near where Ocean Springs is today and moved it to the present site of Biloxi in 1719. in 1702 his brother, Bienville, built a fort at Twenty-Seven- Mile Bluff on the Mobile River. Nine years later the settlement was moved down the river to establish the city of Mobile. Baton Rouge was a French Military Post as early as 1700 but wasn't incorporated as a city until much later. New Orleans was not founded until 1718. The first permanent settlement in the state of Louisiana and the first in the Louisiana Purchase was the town of Natchitoches which was founded on the Red River by a French Canadian explorer by the name of St. Denis in 1714. In 1832 the Red River changed it's course and left the little sleepy college town that we have today. We'll learn more about Natchitoches later.
France controlled Louisiana until the end of the French and Indian War (called the Seven Years War in Europe) when the Treaty of Paris in 1763 traded Florida to England in exchange for the return of Havana. The British governed Florida as British East and West Florida for nearly twenty years. The rest of Louisiana west of the Mississippi was given to Spain. In 1779, Spain entered the American Revolutionary war against Great Briton and the Spanish Governor of Louisiana, Don Bernardo de Galvez, took Baton Rouge in 1779 and West Florida including Mobile in 1780. He took Pensacola in 1781. The Treaty of Paris in 1783 that ended the American Revolution returned Florida to Spain in exchange for some Islands in the West Indies, and Spain continued to control this area as Spanish West Florida. Spain also controlled the rest of Louisiana.
On March 23, 1785 Alexander Bookter bought a Negro slave named Kent from Joseph Brown in the Ninety-Six District of South Carolina for 32 pounds sterling. This transaction was entered in the Newberry County deed abstracts and is the first record we have of Alexander Bookter's financial dealings. During the next nine years he prospered and bought at least eleven slaves in South Carolina. His wife, Mary Dawkins, inherited another thirteen slaves from her Father (George Dawkins) and Brother (Joseph Dawkins). Although we have no record of Alexander's activities during the Revolution, we can safely bet that he was on the winning side. The Loyalist didn't fair so well after the war. Many of them left the colonies and went back to England. In 1792 a judgment was rendered against Alexander in the Newberry District of South Carolina. We'll hear more of this later. This Judgment might have been a factor in his decision to move to Spanish West Florida which was, at that time, not subject to U. S. courts. Of course this is purely conjecture. There were many other reasons that German and Irish emigrants might have decided to leave South Carolina at the turn of the century and migrate to Louisiana.
Sometime between 1794 and 1799 Alexander Bookter and his family migrated from the Newberry district of South Carolina to Spanish West Florida. Many families obtained a passport to travel through Indian country, but no one has found a record of such a passport for Alexander. During the Revolution most of the Indians sided with the British, and after the war some Indians remained hostile. Most of the Catawbas left South Carolina or died out due to disease. The Cherokees moved to North Carolina or farther west, but there were some Cherokee and other tribes like the Choctaw and Chickasaw who remained among the Creek Nation of Indians in the land between Carolina and Louisiana. So it was not without an element of danger that Alexander Bookter, his family, slaves, and probably other relatives and friends faced a seven hundred mile trip through Indian country to establish an new home in a foreign country. By 1799 Alexander Bookter was established in Spanish West Florida, and in 1804 he acquired headrights from the Spanish Government to 842 acres where the town of Springfield, LA (first called Bookter's Landing) is now located. Alexander had a good eye for real estate. Even today the town of Springfield sits in one of the most picturesque settings in the state.
Samuel Kelly also decided to move his family from South Carolina to Louisiana about this time. By 1803 he was settled north of Baton Rouge on Sandy Creek in Feliciana Parish. In his claim to the Land Commissioner he states: "Sir, take notice that I claim as much land as the Government will grant by right of settlement in the month of January 1803, Land lying on the east side of Sandy Creek which said land I have held in occupance to the present time." Samuel and Susannah had a son named Samuel James who was born in South Carolina in 1798 and a daughter named Jane Belano who was born in "Louisiana" in 1803, so their migration to Louisiana must have been during this time, between 1798 and 1803. In the secret treaty of Ildafonso negotiated in 1800 Napoleon was able to coerce Spain into returning Louisiana to France. But France didn't officially take possession of Louisiana until the first of December 1803 and the United States took possession of Louisiana twenty days later. However, all of Florida including Spanish West Florida remained under the control of Spain. Spanish West Florida extended all the way to the Mississippi including Baton Rouge. In January of 1803 when Samuel Kelly settled on the land east of Sandy Creek, he had (like Alexander Bookter) settled in Spanish West Florida.
When Alexander Bookter arrived in Spanish West Florida he must have made a favorable impression on Governor Don Carlos de Grand-Pre in Baton Rouge because the Governor selected him to be Alcalde of the Saint Helena district which included most of present day Saint Helena, Livingston, Washington, Tangipahoa, and Saint Tammany Parishes. An Alcalde (Al-cal'-de) was the Mayor or senior judicial official of a Spanish town, so Alexander represented the Spanish Government in his area.
Shortly after being selected as Alcalde, probably the third of April in 1800, Alexander invited some of his neighbors to his plantation to dine and collect some timber from his land. He called it a log Rolling. In addition to his invited guest, Gabriel Burris and six of his friends came as uninvited guest. We have a record in the Spanish West Florida papers of Alexander's version as well as a disposition from two of his invited guest. I'll attempt to paraphrase what happened that evening.
Alexander knew Gabriel Burris who had been brought up amongst the Choctaw Indians and was known to be a "master among blackguards". Certainly he was not within Alexander's circle of friends. Burris was not invited to the log rolling but came anyway. He soon became intoxicated and attacked one of the invited guest, a Mr. Sharp, but was restrained. Later he attacked another guest, Mr. Long, and had him down biting him on the finger and trying to gouge his eyes out. Alexander heard this disturbance and, as the Alcalde, ordered those around to separate the two. When his order was ignored he ran to the house and asked his nephew to help him rescue Long. They were able to do this with some considerable difficulty and brought Long back to the house. According to two other guest, Kazy Hutchinson and Anna Spillars, Long was bloody and his finger had been bitten off. They heard Burris outside cursing and calling for Mink to come outside so he could whip him and Bookter and all of Bookter's protectors. Although Alexander and Mary Bookter told Mink to stay inside he ventured too close to the door. Burris dragged him out into the yard by his hair and began beating him. Alexander tried to get other guest to help, but half of them were against Mink and the others were afraid to get involved. Alexander tried to jump into the fight but was beaten, dragged down and trampled on. He called on his slaves to help, and by the time he was able to get Mink into the house, Mink's eyes were swollen shut, some of his hair was torn out, and he had bite marks on his arm. Burris was then running after the slaves cursing and saying that he would kill them and their damn masters now that they were "free of Spanish law." (There was evidently an unconfirmed rumor that France had taken control of West Florida. As mentioned previously, Napoleon did coerce Spain into returning Louisiana to France in 1800, but he didn't take possession until the first of December 1803. Twenty days Louisiana became part of the United States, but Spain continued to hold West Florida.) The next morning Burris came by to tell Mink he was sorry and to ask Mink to forgive him. However, the Alcalde had other ideas. Burris was arrested and spent the next two years jailed at Fort San Carlos in Baton Rouge.
Alexander Bookter was undoubtedly one of the most important men in Spanish West Florida and he seemed to have a knack at keeping his name in the news. Since the Spanish were so meticulous at keeping records, we are fortunate be able to reconstruct many of his activities from documents in the Spanish West Florida papers held in the Louisiana archives.
In August of 1803 a petition was signed by friends of Burris asking for his release after two years and three months of confinement. Another petition in October of 1804 was signed by fifty one citizens of Saint Helena District and charged that Alexander Bookter was disloyal to the Spanish government and cruel and unjust to the community at large. Alexander responded in a letter to the Governor that stated in part, "God knows I have been a true friend of the government and have acted with honor and truth." The petition asked that Bookter be expelled from Spanish West Florida. During the investigation into this affair in February of 1805 disposition from four signers of this petition was taken. John Glasscock, William Bell, Daniel Raner, and William Bickham all stated that the signatures on the petition was not their own. Only William Bickham actually knew how to write. William Bell stated that, "Alexander Bookter had told the government that all the residents of St. Helena wanted to rise in rebellion." I don't know the conclusion of this investigation but we do know that Alexander Bookter was not expelled because in October of 1807 he was selling town lots in Bookter's Landing.
In a letter to Governor Grand-Pre dated the thirteenth of March, 1805 he refers to himself as "a resident and previously Alcalde of St. Helena" so his term as Alcalde must have been terminated after the investigation. In this letter he asked the Governor to free a slave named Nelly. This request seems to be out of character for Alexander because he was one of the major slaveholders in Spanish West Florida. Perhaps this shows a softer side of Alexander that was not always evident. Nelly had been sold by Joseph Bradford to Samuel Long and then stolen from Long by Bradford. According to several dispositions recorded in the Spanish West Florida papers Bradford had been apprehended and along with Nelly was being taken to New Orleans in January of 1803 on a schooner that belonged to Bookter when they were allowed to escape. We don't know much more about this case, but when Long tried to recover Nelly, Alexander appealed to the Governor on her behalf. He stated that Long had left the dominion and was living with the Indians.
In 1810 the residents did rise in rebellion against the Spanish government and establish the Republic of West Florida. On the thirtieth of April in 1812 West Florida between the Pearl River and the Mississippi was added to the new state of Louisiana. Also in 1810 we get another glimpse into Alexander's character when J. Byers charges him with assault and battery. Witnesses characterized Alexander as a malicious, violent man with a quick temper.
"We fired our guns and the British kept a coming. There wuzn't quite as many as there wuz a while ago." The Battle of New Orleans was fought on the eighth of January in 1815. Unfortunately, this was fifteen days after the Treaty of Ghent had ended the War of 1812. The British lost two thousand men while the Americans under Andrew Jackson lost less than a hundred. But all of present day Louisiana was finally and safely in the hands of the United States of America. Again we don't know if any members of these two families fought in this battle. If not they were very close to the action.
In 1915 Mary Dawkins Bookter, the first wife of Alexander Bookter died. Her will was probated on 5 December 1823. The couple had nine children, six girls and three boys. The oldest boy, Daniel, died in 1819 and three of the girls, Harriet, Mary (who died in 1815) and Rebecca are not mentioned in the probate. David Gillespie married Rebecca on the third of July of 1819, and he married Francis Bookter on the second of March 1821, so Rebecca must have died before 1821. Francis and David Gillespie were given 640A west of the Tickfaw and north of the courthouse and one slave. Elizabeth married James Harriss. They had two sons, and Elizabeth died in 1820. James Harriss was named as curator for their two sons, Micajah and William, and received 640A East of the Tickfaw and north of the courthouse and seven slaves. Alexander was named curator for Alexander Jr. (age 17) and George Dawkins. (age 9) They were given a total of 4,480 acres of land; 640A west of the Amite River in Feliciana Parish, four 840A tracts of land on the Big Marsh and Lake Morapaugh, 640A on Blood River, and 640A west of Natalbany River.
Mary's estate included a total land area of 5,780 Acres. All the land certificates had been granted to Alexander but were placed in his wife's name. Perhaps this had something to do with the 1792 judgment against him in South Carolina. Although he had emigrated to a foreign country, he was now again subject to the laws of the United States. Alexander married Margaret Harmonway (AKA Peggy) in 1819, and they had two girls, St. Helena and Rebecca, before he died in 1824.
"Where death's deadliest bolts fell, they reached no nobler breast than young gallant Bookter". These words are carved on a memorial to Col. Edwin F bookter who was killed in action during the civil war while leading his brigade, the 12th South Carolina Volunteers in the battle for Jone's farm on the 30th of September,1864. This memorial is found in the grave yard of a Baptist church a short distance from Columbus, South Carolina. He was only 27 years old. A short distance away is a memorial to his younger brother, Lt. Nathan Bookter, who was killed in action three months earlier. Nathan's memorial reads: "Frank, brave, chivalrous and rejoicing in Christ, he cheerfully gave his life for his country".
Next to these memorials is the grave stone of their father, Christian Bookter, who died in 1857. "Honest politicion, kind husband, affectionate father and humane master".Christian was a grandson of Jacob Bookter, Sr., the brother of Alexander Bookter, who remained in South Carolina when Alexander migrated to Louisiana. I have no information on whether any of Alexander's descendants or the descendants of Samuel Kelly served in the civil war. Perhaps further research will uncover historical facts that I have missed.
on 5 JUNE 1917, less than two months after the U.S. congress declared war against Germany, Lt. Ken Whiting (Naval aviator #15) landed at Pauillac, France with the First Aeronautic Detachment. This detachment included 7 officers and 122 enlisted men. They were the first U. S. military men to enter the war zone in World War I. After further training many of the enlisted men in this detachment were designated naval aviators and began to fly French flying boats on patrols against German U boats in the English channel. Before the Americans began patrolling the English Channel German U boats were sinking an average of one ship a day. During the ten months that the American naval aviators patrolled these waters only three ships were lost while crossing the channel.
On 13 August, 1917 John Wilks Kelly enlisted in the Army as a Pvt. in Liberal, Kansas. John Wilks was the oldest son of John Henry Kelly who was the great grand son of Samuel Kelly. (He was also my father.) Five months later, on 5 Jan 1918, he Left Ft. Hamilton, NY for Weekawkin, NJ. Then he was sent to Portland, Maine where he boarded a steamer in the White Star Line and sailed to Halifax. On 12 January he left Halifax in convoy with seven other ships and two cruisers for England. On 23 January he arrived in Liverpool, England. Four days later he left Liverpool to cross the English Channel at night. Because the threat of German submarines was very real the soldiers were forced to stay in life boats (standing room only) all the way to La Harve, France. On the 12th of February, 1917 he traveled to St. Argnan, France by train and on the 21st he Baked the first bread in France. He was assigned to Bakery Company 337 commanded by Captain Long and later by Captain Murry.
(Note) Most of this information was from a short diary, pictures, and other memorabilia that was discovered much later in baker's flour barrel that managed to survive a house fire and years of neglect in a shed on my brother's property. Other valuable information came from a long letter written to me by Lloyd Bancroft when he was in his nineties. Lloyd was one of my Dad's WWI buddies.
In the spring 1919 He was assigned as a Baker for the 26th Base Hospital. Along with Lloyd Bancroft and Raymond Van Landingham, he cooked for two Red Cross officers and five Red Cross nurses. This assignment didn't last long because in April 1919 his unit was sent home. This is where the story gets interesting. The war was over and he wasn't ready to leave France. He, Lloyd and Van decided not to return with their Bakery unit and the three of them signed up with the RRC (record research and claims) unit. They proceeded to conveniently got "lost" between there and the classification camp, set up in the old bakery office and spent their time between there and Blois--no duty, just liberty. This lasted five months until they met a Sargent in the mess hall who lamented that he had been looking for a private John Wilks Kelly for months. I guess the three of them were ready to come home because my Dad volunteered " I am John Wilks Kelly".
In August of 1919 they returned to US on USS Liviathon attached to General Pershing's Composite Regiment. There is an unconfirmed story that my brother Raymond says is true. "John Wilks was Pershing's baker, Lloyd Bancroft was his cook and Van Landingham was his driver. They used the General's car to make a trip to Paris and hit a cart loaded with chickens. All three ended up in the stockade but John and Lloyd were released because the General needed his cook and baker, but since his car was wrecked Raymond Van Landingham stayed in the cooler." After returning to the states they marched in the victory parades in New York and Washington.
On 26 Sept. 1919 He was honorably discharged from the Army and returned to 1730 Florida Street in Baton Rouge, LA. (Some of this information also came from letters from French girls who continued to write him until after they found out he was married. Some of these letters managed to survive in the same flour barrel)
On 21 July 1918 he received the first letter in French from Lucie in Pouills. She continued writing from Pouills and Paris until at least 13 March 1919. In August of 1919 (when he left France) he began getting letters from Suzanne (his French teacher) and Janette in St. Argnon and Billy in Blois. The last letter from Billy was 20 October 1920. His last letter from Suzanne dated 9 August 1920 was sent to the Barker Bakery in Meridian MS. He was married 20 June 1920.
This is where the tale of two families merge. John Wilks Kelly was the great, great grandson of Samuel Kelly and Rosalie Bookter was the great, great granddaughter of Alexander Bookter.
Among the letters that had been carefully stored in the flour barrel was a letter written in plane, concise English and addressed to John Wilks Kelly.This letter was written by a red head who lived near Saint Francisville, Louisiana. It clearly stated that since she knew that he couldn't love more than one girl at a time she did not expect to see him again. If this "dear John" letter was meant to terminate their relationship it had the opposite effect. John Wilks Kelly and Rosalie Bookter were married shortly after that.
By the end of 1926 they had three young Kellys, all boys. They named the oldest boy after two World War I buddies. Raymond Lloyd Kelly was soon followed by a second son, John Wilks Kelly, Jr. He would go by his initials, JW. The third son was born in November of 1926 and was named after one of his Dad's brothers (Glenn) and one of his Mother's brothers (Fred). So I was named Glenn Frederick Kelly and would be called Fred. Fred Bookter was a Baptist preacher and Rosalie was also a very religious person. I liked to say that the only mean thing that she did in her entire life was to name me after a Baptist preacher.
This is where the Tale of Two Families gets personal.
I was a 15 year old boy growing up in rural Louisiana when I heard the news of the Pearl Harbor attack over my home made crystal radio set. I still had two years in high school before I would be seventeen and able to join the fight. Another event a little over a month later possibly had a greater impact on our family group than the declaration of war. My mother, Rosalie, died. The Doctors at the time could not determine the exact cause of death. They thought it might be a form of leukemia or it might have been related to the bromides that she had been given for some obscure reason. Much later a medical school classmate who had risen through the academic ranks to become head of the pathology department at the LSU Med school reviewed the records and thought it was a syndrome where the thyroid and adrenal glands had failed. By that time both conditions were treatable.
John Wilks Sr., who was known by Wilks, had been a successful baker and owned a series of bakeries in Baton Rouge early in their marriage. Shortly after the stock market crash he lost most of his holdings and finally found employment selling and installing bakery equipment for a company out of Chicago. This meant that he traveled all over the US and was an absentee father most of the time. This left Rosalie with the task of raising three boys. Now she was suddenly gone. The fact that all three of her sons had made adjustments and survived speaks for the fact that she had done an excellent job of parenting.
Before the war was over all three of her sons were in uniform in the service of their country. Raymond spent most of the war years as a baker on a fast oiler in the Pacific. They would fill their tanks with av gas and diesel fuel, then load the deck with munitions at the supply base in Ulithi before setting off alone and unescorted across the submarine infested Pacific to rendezvous with the carrier task force wherever they may be. You can imagine what one well placed torpedo would have done to them.
When Raymond was in his seventies I was able to get a two hour video interview with him. He related many stories of his war years. Some of them could be repeated. One of his stores revealed a side of my big brother that I had not seen before. While they were anchored in the Ulithi atoll a lone Jap plane from Palau would make an almost daily run over the atoll and drop a few bombs to harass the Americans. One day when they were loaded and ready to depart on a supply mission the Jap plane passed up his ship and dropped a bomb on a Jeep Carrier that was anchored nearby. The carrier deck was engulfed in flames trapping many of the crew on the ship. While he watched in understandable horror a Catalina sea plane made a run toward the carrier. When it got near the pilot made a quick 180 and gunned his engines. This blew the flames away from that side of the ship so many of the crewmen could jump in the water for rescue. While relating this story my big brother's eyes filled and his voice failed him for many seconds. He was obviously emotionally affected by this event many years after the event happened.
In 1943 JW finished high school in my graduation class along with his young wife, Joyce . Hi was accepted for pilot training in the Army Air Corps and sent to the University of Tennessee for preliminary training. He was well into his training when the Army decided they needed air crewmen more than they needed potential pilots. I think he had the mentality to be an excellent pilot but instead he spent the rest of the war as gunner on B-17s flying missions over Germany from bases in North Africa and Italy. I was never able to get him to sit still for an extended video interview but off camera he enjoyed telling some interesting stories about engaging enemy fighters including some of the first jet aircraft that the Germans used. He tells of one mission when he was filling in as gunner on an unfamiliar crew when they encountered intense anti aircraft fire. He watched as the plane on his left went down in a ball of flames. Then the one on his right was hit. He then saw puffs of white smoke walking steadily towards his position. He got o n the intercom and yelled "Dump the nose and get the hell out of here." The pilot did just that and that b-17 was one of the few that made it back to the base. After they were safely on the ground the pilot noticed an airman looking at him critically. "What are you looking at son?" JW replied: "I just want to make domn sure that I never fly with you again." That remark earned JW a night in the stockade and a trip to the Squadron Commander's office to determine his punishment. After hearing the story the battle hardened Colonel smiled and said: " You know, son, I wouldn't fly with that son of a 'BLEEP' either. Get out of here."'
Airman Kelly returned to duty and the raids continued until the German industry could no longer support Hitler's war machine. An added (perhaps unintended) result was decimation of the German Air Force. By the time the allies invaded and fought their way to Berlin they were no longer a factor. This was at a terrible price. More men were lost en the bombing raids over Germany than the Marines lost in the entire war.
Shortly after my 17th birthday I was accepted for flight training in the Navy and began that training at Millsaps College in Jackson, MS. After Mother's dearth I had boarded with a friend's family to continue my high school education. It was much more than a boarding arrangement. The Rowland family accepted me as a member of their family and and gave me the love and support that I needed during a troubled time in my life. I was still in flight training when the war ended and was still about six months away from getting my coveted wings of gold. I had over a hundred hours of flight training in the open cockpit Stearman and the SNJ and felt confident in the air. I could see little advantage in being a naval aviator in peace time. The popular belief at the time was that we had just won the war to end all wars. (How wrong were we?) Anyway it was time to move on.
By the summer of 1947 I was accepted to join the freshman class at the LSU Medical School in New Orleans. Dad was excited about the new course I had taken. After the war the company that he had worked for was given a contract to install bakery equipment at a series of Bases in the Pacific. He was asked to supervise this work. Since JW had returned from active duty Dad thought this might be a good opportunity for him to began a new career and offered the job to him. Although the pay was good and he would have the civilian rank and perks of a full colonel JW had just returned from the war and was reluctant to leave Joyce again. Dad took the job himself and began traveling from base to base by military aircraft. We kept in contact by regular letters. In his last letter he said that he liked to fly on Navy transports because he thought the pilots were better trained. This might have been an honest opinion but he knew that I was proud of my Navy heritage. He took one more flight in an Army C-47 and it crashed into a mountain near Tokyo killing all aboard. I've often wondered what would happened if JW had taken the job. Would he have told the pilot: "Add power and get the hell out of these clouds"?
To be continued:
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