Pine MountainSettlement School
Blog: Dancing in the Cabbage Patch
DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH – XIII PMSS AND WAR
While growing up many families have carried forward the idea that Eastern Kentuckians have contributed disproportionately to enlistments, casualties, and valor in war time. One author has noted that this idea has some roots in reality. Alice Cornett, writing in 1991 for the Baltimore Sun noted that the disproportionate number for Appalachians killed while fighting in the wars following WWI, has not gone un-noticed. Recently this disproportionate number of soldiers from Appalachia has been associated with the “Sgt. York Syndrome.” This term coined by Dr. Steven Giles, a psychologist working for the Tennessee Veterans Administration Medical Center at Mountain Home, is in Dr. Giles’ view both laudatory and troubling. He notes that it is said of Appalachian soldiers that ”Appalachians make good soldiers, and the Army knows it.” This goals congruence factor, for good or ill, has often found Appalachian soldiers at the front-line of battle.
Why has Sgt. York today become a “syndrome’? Sgt. Alvin Cullum York (December 13, 1887 – September 2, 1964), was a native of Pall Mall, in eastern Tennessee. By most accounts he has been described as a hero and the quintessential soldier. A rifleman, whose bravery in battle and subsequent award of a Medal of Honor, captured the imagination of a nation was immortalized when his life was made into a movie in 1941. Sergeant York directed by Howard Hawks with Gary Cooper as York, was as timely, as it was motivating. The enrollment for WWII was growing and Sgt. York set a standard of conduct that almost made serving in the Army a religious duty. York’s exploits translated to the silver screen furthered his legend and that of the Appalachian soldier. On the cusp of WWII, York, in the mind of the nation, became the quintessential soldier and the “Sgt. York Syndrome” evolved. York’s bravery and his philanthropy now known to all Appalachian young men and to their families following the Great War became a topic of pride in the mountains and remains so today. After the release of the film, perceptions grew regarding the fearless nature of the Appalachian soldier. In fact, all the wars since the Great War which the United States has engaged have evoked the name of Sgt. York, particularly in the Appalachian mountains and particularly when recruits came to visit.
Yet, even before York, the Nation had seen large numbers of young men and women from Appalachia step eagerly forward to serve. In one Appalachian county in Kentucky, Breathitt, there were no draftees during the whole of WWI because quotas had been met and exceeded by general enlistment by county residents.
However, a grim fact gathered by Alice Cornett should be noted
As a percent of its population, the Appalachian region has sustained higher losses in our wars of the past 50 years than has any other section of the country. West Virginia, the only state designated as wholly in Appalachia, had the highest casualty ratio in both World War II and the Vietnam conflict.
Because many of the counties in Appalachian states have seen their young men recruited, volunteered, and served, the propensity to fight in wars has also been associated with the need for employment and the often biting poverty of the same Appalachian counties that sent large numbers to war. The numbers of Appalachian soldiers is also now matched by a disproportianate number of racial minority recruits. Thus, Appalachians, Blacks, Hispanics and other groups touched by economic and social challenge often find military recruitment a way into careers and out of poverty and again, the military knows these young men and women will “soldier on.”.
PMSS AND WWI
At Pine Mountain, there are many stories regarding the School’s engagement with WWI. As students left to fight in the Great War, the staff also left their positions to fight alongside their students. The School was often challenged to fill critical staff positions as well as maintain a balanced student body. For example, when Leon Deschamps, a Belgian farmer working at Pine Mountain left for WWI early in 1918 he kept in touch with the School and with the children. His presence in the battle abroad was followed with fascination by the whole School. Too, the students regularly held cocoa and rice dinners to save money for the “Belgians in the war” effort.
War, for most of the students was a distant and somewhat romantic engagement until the soldiers began to return home with shell shock, lungs destroyed by mustard gas, or, in a casket. Yet for many staff at the School war was already very real experience, and pne not to be romanticized.
Perhaps one of the most remarkable impacts of war on Pine Mountain staff is found in the personal narratives of staff who came to the School after having served in remote corners of the world during wartime. One of the most harrowing first-hand accounts of war can be found in those whose lives touched the front-lines of conflict. The Armenian conflict witnessed by Dr. Ida and Rev. Robert Stapleton was particularly horrific and is well recorded in a recent book published by their granddaughter, Gretchen Rasch, The Storm of Life: A Missionary Marriage from Armenia to Appalachia, published by the Gomidas INstitute in (2016 tells of their horrific struggle with the mass genocide of Armenians in and around Ezerum Turkey.
The Stapletons who served as co-directors of Line Fork Settlement (Letcher County, Kentucky), a satellite settlement associated with Pine Mountain Settlement School, in the late 1920s and early 1930s were particularly well equipped to meet almost any human conflict with experience and compassion. The trials of moonshine and guns was part of their everyday life on Line Fork in the early decades of the twentieth century and a life they often met with humour and compassion. But, their early work with the Ottoman-Armenian conflict brings the petulance of personal and familial battles quickly into perspective.
The letters and stories surrounding Edith Cold, another staff member at the School, are equally chilling and capture the severe circumstances that war brings to community across the world. The New York Times articles regarding Edith Cold’s ordeals , also during the Armenian genocide in a more western region of Turkey, echoes the brave and harrowing tales recounted by the Stapletons of life in Turkey in the first decades of the twentieth century. It is difficult to imagine the heroism she showed in that time of stress.
PMSS AND WWII
During World War II the actions of war came closer to the School as communication improved and the radio brought reports of the war closer to home. Great numbers of Staff and students left to join the ranks of soldiers or became support staff to the war effort. During these years communication flowed more rapidly and frequently and the war became a real and present conflict that had little room for romanticizing. The American mind was war-focused in this second world conflict and daily informed through radio.
Of all the wars, World War II, possibly had the greatest impact on life at Pine Mountain and in the valley. Many fathers and sons left their farms in the valley to fight in the war. Many young men stopped their classes at PMSS to go fight the war in Europe and women signed on to nurses corps or to the Red Cross or to canteens in Europe to do their share in the war effort. Classes were suspended when key instructors left. Basic supplies could not be obtained for many families and money was tight. Many families could not afford even the smallest tuition. The impact of WWII on the farm was dramatic as rationing began to impact food supplies and families in the community looked to the School for more assistance in farming needs and health issues. Subsistence and rationing became uneasy partners in many families. Rationing, particularly, was a critical issue with all residential schools and particularly the food issues and family loss only compounded the national and personal crises in the Appalachians.
There are many stories related to Staff who had some relation in either the European or the Pacific theater of war. See especially the important documentation of war efforts by soldiers in Perry County, KY, maintained by Waukesha Lowe Sammons, daughter of one of the county’s soldiers who did not return from WWII. Waukesha, a Berea College graduate, has created a comprehensive website that traces the Military Legacy of the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines, who served from the American Revolutionary War to Operation Iraqi Freedom. http://www.perrycountykentuckymilitarylegacy.com/
War in the Asian theater has also directly affected the lives of many of Pine Mountain’s staff and students. For example, the expulsion of staff member Burton Rogers from Yali, the Yale in China School where he was teaching when the Japanese invaded in 1937, is another story of severe challenge, hardship, and courage. Burton Rogers came as School principal and later served as the Director of the Pine Mountain Settlement School. His wartime experience was profound and left him a conscientious objector during WWII and member of the Quaker faith and outspoken critic of war for the remainder of his life.The brave and courageous contributions of two Pine Mountain Dr’s, Emma and Francis Tucker and their nurse protegee, Grace Feng Liu to the war effort and their struggles to escape China when it was overrun by the Japanese, is an inspiring tale of courage and contribution that they shared with the Pine Mountain community and with the students.
In 1941, the School’s Director, Glyn Morris left to join the war effort as a military Chaplin and with him went a large number of young men to either enlist or later, to take advantage of the V-12 programs that offered training and educational assistance to capable young men. The letters to staff from soldiers in WWII are important records of the history of the war, as well as the adjustments that the School made during those difficult years. See for example the Bill Blair WWII Letters and the record of Joe Glen Bramlett.
Another remarkable story is that of Frank W. “Unk” Cheney who survived imprisonment by the Japanese during WWII at the Chapel prison camp and whose experiences in China and the Far East brought the war effort closer to those students who knew Frank.
Paul Hayes, a student, and later PMSS Director, went to Berea College as part of the V-12 program and later to Duke as a recipient of the same military assistance. Paul saw duty in the Pacific. His brother John Hayes, fist signed on as part of the Army Corps of Engineers and later in the regular Army, also going to the Pacific theater to fight. Silvan Hayes, the oldest brother was already in the Army in the European war and was killed in 1943 in France. Enoch Hall, a PMSS student from Perry county joined the Army and served in Hawaii where he was stationed when his barracks were strafed by the Japanese in the opening of the Pacific war. Joe Glen Bramlett, a student who served in the Army left a large visual record of his years at the School and those in the Army. Student William David Martin left PMSS in March of 1941 to join the Navy and following his completion of duty wrote a letter to the School saying that he had earlier been overcome by “Navy fever” and would like to complete his degree at the School.
WOMEN IN THE WARS
There were no women allowed in the ranks of the military before WWI. In 1901 women were able to join the Army Nurse Corps and by 1908, women were allowed into the Navy Nurse Corps. When the US entered into WWI, the ranks swelled in number to around 250 women with approximately 15 drawn from the Appalachian region. Three of the women were from eastern Kentucky and all were graduates of Berea College’s nursing program. **
During WWII there were numerous women from eastern Kentucky and from Pine Mountain who joined the war effort. Two notable nurses who trained at Pine Mountain were Mable Mullins, from Partridge and Stella Taylor who both earned commendations for their war work.
Women, too, left to provide services or direct support in WWII. Mable Mullins became a Major in the Army, Stella Taylor contributed nursing services as a military nurse.
Many young men in WWII were not drafted but were exempted in order to maintain farms and critical operations on the home-front, or, often they were exempted because they already had multiple siblings fighting in the war. William Hayes was one such student and later staff member. His correspondence with his brothers and with various students who fought in the war is extensive and the sacrifice of his older brother, Silvan Hayes to the war effort in France left permanent scars on his family. William’s correspondence with Bill Blair is extensive and provides a picture of a student’s course through military training and deployment during wartime. The list of enrollees in the war efforts of the 1940’s is a long one. Yet, exemption for most young men from Appalachia was not something that they welcomed during WWII just as it was not during WWI and many of the succeeding wars.
PMSS AND THE KOREAN WAR
The Korean war did not have the same impact on PMSS as did the larger WWII conflict, but it still left its mark on families in the Pine Mountain valley. As noted by Alice Cornett’s statistical accounting of participation in that war in her 1991 Boston Sun article,
Nine percent of U.S. military forces in the Korean War were from areas of Appalachia, but 18 percent of the Medals of Honor awarded in that war went to the Appalachian soldiers. In Vietnam, they made up 8 percent of our troops and received 13 percent of the Medals of Honor.
PMSS AND THE VIETNAM WAR
At the opening of the Vietnam conflict, Pine Mountain was no longer a full-time school but many of the children who had attended the Community School saw action in Vietnam. The most dramatic impact on Pine Mountain of this conflict was the same at that found throughout the country. Families were wrenched apart by conflicting sympathies for the war effort and communities were pitted against other communities. Coal was often in the news as the resources went to support the energy needs of the war effort and families saw a large out-migration to Northern factories, as in WWII, where work in the military-industrial complex could be found.
In April of 1964. Lyndon Johnson had traveled to Inez, Kentucky and stood on the porch of the Tom Fletcher family and declared the War on Poverty. As noted by many, the universities in the Appalachian region were more engaged in naming buildings and honoring the dead than they were engaged in protest. It was Johnson’s “War on Poverty” that created the largest shock wave to Appalachia, not the fighting in Vietnam. The fall-out from Johnson’s social service program for the Appalachian region would have an impact far greater than any war in the past. Many say that families in the region today are still climbing out of poverty that was prolonged by this federal assistance effort. The casualities from parts of the War on Povery were not just sons and daughters, it was entire generations.
Jack Weller was describing Yesterday’s People (1965) to the myriad of Appalachian Volunteers who came into the region believing that they could make a difference, while others like Myles Horton at the HIghlander Center in Tennessee and cut from the same cloth as PMSS Director Glyn Morris, advised the volunteers to remember to “…find out what they [people of Appalachia] want you to do and work quietly, and remember: you’re different. They’re not different.” Don West, poet, activist and native of Appalachia was more direct
The Southern mountains have been missionarized, researched, studied, surveyed, romanticized, dramatized, hillbillyized, Dogpatched and povertyized …
War comes in many forms and is met with an equal variety of responses. Whether it was the Civil War, the War of 1812, the Spanish American War, WWI, WWII, the Korean War, the War on Poverty, or the wars in the Middle East, the people of Appalachia have been there as defenders, patriots, educators, nurses, and often leaders, and the Pine Mountain valley has never been far away.
See more at: http://kentuckyguard.dodlive.mil/2013/03/19/a-patriotic-clan-from-eastern-kentucky-in-the-war-to-end-all-wars-part-one/#sthash.1NIycerE.dpuf