Veterans Day 2022: Crenshaw County veterans look back on service

By Haley Mitchell Godwin

Veterans Day, first celebrated Nov.11, 1919, as Armistice Day, marked the first anniversary of the end of World War I. 

The holiday recognizes soldiers that have served honorably in wartime or in times of peace, both living and dead. 

Many native Crenshaw Countians have served their country selflessly, including WWII veterans J.B.Cox and the late James Wilburn Compton. Both drafted at 18 and sent overseas to put their young lives at risk in the name of freedom. Cox and Compton made it home and their stories are nothing short of amazing and inspirational. 

Compton, Sept. 15, 1925 – Aug. 13, 2020, served with the 79th Division of the U.S. Army in the European Theater of Operations. During a setback near the Moder River, Compton was captured and remained a prisoner of war for the duration of his time overseas.  

James Wilburn Compton (Sept. 15, 1925 – Aug. 13, 2020) shorty after being liberated from a German POW camp.

Some of the war stories Compton shared with his family were more horrific than any movie scene and in an August 8th, 2017 interview, Compton discussed the moment those experiences and his feelings of anguish cumulated.

 “We were herded to the POW camp and a woman ran up to me yelling in German, slapped me and spit on me.” Compton said. “I couldn’t tell her I was hurting for everybody. I had to do things I didn’t want to. I just wanted the war to end and started thinking I’d never get home, but the Lord said to me ‘You did what you had to. Think about all the times I’ve saved you. Do you think I’ll leave your side?’ I didn’t worry a whole lot after that.”

 Logan Taylor of Brantley, is honored to be part of Compton’s legacy.

 “I’m extremely proud to be the great-grandson of the bravest man I’ve ever known,” Taylor said. “He put his life on the line so I can live free and I’ll be forever grateful. I can’t imagine his suffering as a POW, but he did it for all Americans. I’m honored to be a descendant of a true American hero.”  

J.B. Cox, 97, trained briefly at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and in Greensboro, North Carolina, before flying out of Newport News, Virginia, on March 3, 1944, to serve in the European Theater of Operations as an ammunition specialist in an air force ordinance unit. 

J.B. Cox, 97 of Brantley, was an ammunition specialist during WWII. He was stationed in Italy with a segregated U.S. Air Force unit. Cox served his country valiantly overseas from March 1944 until Feb. 1946. Cox is a valuable and loved part of his community, known as a friend to all, good joke teller, expert fisherman, and helper to all humanity.

Cox and his unit were to land in the Strait of Gibraltar , but the Germans’ sinking of a ship there rerouted the flight to Naples, Italy, closer to the front line.

As the plane descended, smoke from another sinking ship just destroyed by the Germans came into view. As Cox stepped off the plane he could hear gunfire all-around.

From Naples, Cox went to Francavilla, Italy where he was tasked with loading, delivering, and unloading ammunition and bombs.

Cox often passed olive groves where children could be seen playing. Landmines  put in the groves killed many Italian children. Although Cox said many things he witnessed are too hard to talk about and will never be known, this was one of the most upsetting occurrences he endured. 

There was too much going on to have time to be scared, but Cox was afraid he would not make it out alive.

“I was proud to defend the country, and to do my job to the very best of my ability,” Cox said. ‘There was no time to worry, but sometimes I didn’t think I’d ever see home again. We heard gunfire all the time, but it didn’t stop me from working for my country.”

According to Cox, many things have changed and the nation has come a long way.  However, he said a few things will always remain the same.

“Things have changed, but the Bible ain’t changed,” Cox said. “The Lord is constant. He may not come right when you call him, but he’ll be on time. We’ll always have wars, but I hope younger generations leave the bad in the past, and only carry on the good.”

LaKordra Downie, Cox’s great-granddaughter, said he is the most selfless man she’s ever known and that his life is a wonderful example for all that come in contact with him. 

“He’d give the shirt off his back to anyone,” Downie said. “He lived through the war and segregation and is always joyful and cares for everyone. His war stories never get old. He’s been the biggest blessing in many lives, including mine..”

Tj Peakler, a 2018 graduate of Luverne who now serves as a sergeant with the Marines, said one reason he joined was to protect what many before him accomplished.

“It’s heartbreaking to think about two sides fighting for peace with different points of view on who the enemy is,” Peakler said. “I’ve spoken with a few WWII Veterans, and they all just wanted peace. We are often fixated on technology and what is going on in the country and forget who gave us the chance to be free and make the choices we do today.”

As programs and ceremonies celebrating our nation are held across the county, and we honor former and current service members, may we reflect on what these soldiers have done to lay the foundation for what makes America the best nation in the world, all while putting their lives on the line to defend the freedoms we so often take for granted.