As vice president of the Effingham County Museum, I’m there a lot. I’ve been a speaker for many of the military programs we’ve had in the past few years. I’ve also been the chair for the Effingham County Old Settlers Reunion for several years.
Over the years, I’ve met lots of people because of the military write-ups I do. I’ve interviewed people at the museum or gone to their homes. I’ve given programs for organizations, nursing homes and assisted living facilities and met lots of wonderful people.
Those from the greatest generation have always been dear to my heart because that’s my parents’ era. My parents died at 68 and 69, so when I meet with people from their generation, they remind me of my parents. With my work at the museum, I’ve spent a lot of time with people from that generation and I learned a lot from them. I learned from them that growing up during the Depression and coming of age during World War II made them very strong people. They saw a job that needed to be done and they did it.
It saddens me to know that we lost so many from that generation this year. I’m going to share with you about some of those we lost this year and tell you about the lives they lived. They were important to me, and I want them remembered.
It was Garry Tipsword of Beecher City who first told me about Cecil Prosser. He had heard Cecil talk about World War II and said I needed to interview Cecil. I then talked to his daughter, Nancy Frailey, and made plans to go and see Cecil. My husband and I drove to St. Elmo to meet with him at Aperion Nursing Home. Cecil was sharp as a tack and told his story to us. Here is Cecil Prosser’s story.
Cecil Prosser ... Army Air Corps ... WWII
Cecil Laverle Prosser was born February 20, 1922, the son of Clarence and Inez (Collins) Prosser of Shelby County. He grew up on a 200-acre farm north of Mode. When his dad died in 1934, they moved to a smaller farm that his mother and her three boys could manage. His mom’s goal was to raise her three boys and get them through high school. Cecil attended school at Mode, Holland, and walked four miles to Stewardson High School his freshman year and played basketball there. In Cecil’s sophomore year, a man would pick up students in his pickup truck that had benches in the back end. Later, another man would get an old bus and haul kids to school. Cecil graduated from Stewardson High School in 1940.
After his senior year, Cecil lived with a dairy farmer and his family. The man had 36 head of dairy cattle to milk, and Cecil milked nine of them every morning and every evening. After that, he worked for farmers shucking corn for 2 cents a bushel. He had a 10-acre corn field to shuck and headed there. A storm had come through the night before and flattened all the corn. Another man came out and said they would raise the pay to 3 cents a bushel since Cecil was going to have to practically stand on his head to shuck the corn. Cecil had started on this field when he met E.J. Corley from Cowden. Corley was an International Harvester Implement dealer and offered Cecil a job as a bookkeeper and parts man if he could start on Monday. Cecil didn’t want to abandon the job shucking corn, so he started asking around. He finally got his mother’s youngest brother to take over the field and shuck the corn. Cecil then went to work for Corley. He worked that job for about a year until Uncle Sam called.
Cecil entered service on November 12, 1942. He did his basic training at Camp Robinson near Little Rock, Arkansas. Then the Army sent him to school at St. Louis, Missouri, to learn how to rebore engines on jeeps and trucks (6X6s) When the class graduated, they were all taken in by the Army Air Corps. They headed to the motor pool at McCook, Nebraska. At McCook, he worked in
the parts department. While there, Cecil had an appendicitis attack and was operated on. He was given a nine-day convalescent furlough and he headed home. While home on leave, he married his girlfriend Lois Gallagher at her parents’ home on August 30, 1943.
After he returned to duty, he applied for and was sent to flight training in Mississippi. During hard, strenuous training, his heart went out of rhythm and the Army Air Corps stopped his training. They sent him to a replacement depot at Fresno, California, and would not let him train. Cecil requested to go overseas, but instead they sent him about 10 blocks down and had him go to school to work on parts for B-29 bombers. After that, he was sent to San Antonio, Texas, with the 871st Signal Corps attached to 20th Army Air Corps. Cecil next went to Tinker Field in Oklahoma for further training.
Seattle, Washington was his next stop. There he boarded the USS Mormacport to head to the Pacific Theater. That first night they were fed sauerkraut and hot dogs for supper and later that night the ship was caught in a violent storm for five days. Cecil was lucky and didn’t get seasick. Food was thrown down to them because it was too dangerous to move about. The ship docked in Pearl Harbor for repairs, but the men stayed on board. He was on the ship 29 days until they ended up in the Marianas Islands and then Guam.
Cecil went to work in a warehouse for B-29 bombers. They had about 800 B-29 bombers in the area, and it was a round-the-clock job keeping the bombers up and running. When bombers left on a run, the men knew it would be about 17 hours before they came back. Once the bombers started landing, they had to be cleared off of the air strip as quickly as possible to make room for the next bomber to land. The B-29 bombers came in one after another. T4/Sgt. Cecil Prosser got the parts for the bombers.
When bomber parts came in, they were all put in a square with guards posted all around to prevent the Japanese from getting the parts. There were still many Japanese in the caves in Guam. Some nights Cecil was on guard duty, but he was lucky and had no problems. However, a man from another company who was guarding the bomber parts was found dead. A Japanese soldier from the caves had come out and put a wire around the American soldier’s neck and killed him.
Prosser shipped home and received an Honorable Discharge on January 6, 1946. He returned home to his wife and little girl. Cecil and his family lived in Mode and then Stewardson. He was a Raleigh dealer until he went to work at Randall Motor Sales in Beecher City in 1948. In 1963, he went to work for Jack Graham’s Graham Motor Company in Effingham. In 1975, he started Prosser’s Used Cars, and it was located near Fedders. Cecil also built a new home in Altamont in 1975. He would later work as a guard at Fedders for five years until he had a bad heart attack and retired.
Cecil and Lois Prosser were married for 72 years until the death of Lois in April of 2016. They were always proud of the family they raised.
Cecil Prosser died October 3, 2020 and is buried at Union Cemetery in Altamont, Illinois. He was very proud to have served his country.
What I learned about Cecil from interviewing him is that living through tough times made him a hard worker and that he gave his best in whatever he did. He was also a man who deeply loved his family.
I did not get the chance to meet Emmit but his daughter sent me his military information. I receive a lot of information from the children of veterans who love their fathers deeply and want to honor their service. I knew who Emmit was because he graduated with my parents from Effingham High School in 1942. I remember Dad speaking highly of Emmit, and Dad was a good judge of character. Here is Emmit’s story.
Emmit D. Poynter ... Army ... WWII
Emmit D. Poynter was born February 7, 1924, the son of James M. and Alma (Woody) Poynter. He attended school in Union Township at “Punkin Center” and then graduated from Effingham High School with the Class of 1942.
Emmit entered service in the U.S. Army in September 1944. He did his basic training at Camp Wolters in Texas. While he was home on furlough, he married Lelia Richars in March of 1945. Emmit was then sent to Fort Meade, Maryland, and shipped over to the European Theater. He was in various countries in Europe including Great Britain, Scotland, France, Czechoslovakia and Germany. Emmit served in a tank destroyer battalion.
His trip home was on a ship from Europe to New York, then a “troop train” up through Canada to Chicago. His brother worked for the railroad so he hopped on a baggage car to Effingham and hitchhiked from Effingham to the Eberle-Mason road with “someone who carried the mail.” Someone else gave him a ride the rest of the way home. He did make it home safely after that roundabout trip.
He returned to help on the family farm and eventually took over the running of it. He also worked at Norge/Fedders for many years. After retiring from there, he worked for Martin’s IGA delivering flowers and groceries.
Emmit and Lee raised three daughters on the family farm where Emmit, in his later years, took to “overseeing” the cattle and farming operation now handled by his daughter, son-in-law and grandson.
Emmit Dale Poynter died October 4, 2020 and is buried at Watson Cemetery in Watson, Illinois. He was proud to have served his country.
Once again, I learned from Emmit’s story that he wasn’t afraid of hard work, taking care of his family was a big priority, and he loved his wife and family with all of his heart.
I had known the Kirby family since I was a kid because we went to the same church. I also loved to roller skate and John’s Roller Rink was the place to go. His daughter, Karen, asked me to interview her Dad. On a cloudy day, I headed over there to meet with John and learn about his service. When I left hours later, lightning was flashing and it was pouring down rain. I had lots of notes to go over from the stories he told about his service. Here is John’s story,
John W. Kirby ... Navy ... WWII
John W. Kirby was born May 7, 1924, the son of Evelyn (King) and Fred Kirby of Flora, Illinois. His mother remarried later and they moved to Effingham. He attended Effingham High School but left school early to serve in WWII.
He entered service in the Navy in October of 1942 and did his basic training at Great Lakes. He finished as an Honor Man because he was in the top 10 of his class. That allowed him to go to school to be a Pharmacist Mate (now known as a Corpsman). Three hundred in the Corpsman class went to the Fleet Marines, 40 went to the Naval Air Station in Chicago, and 10 (John included) went to Naval Office Recruiting.
John was sent to St. Louis for Naval Office Recruiting and received a stipend of $250 per month that had to include food and rent. The Recruiting Station was in the Board of Trade building at the corner of 12th and Olive. More WAVES were recruited than sailors.
PhM3/c Kirby’s next assignment was to LCI(L) 427 (Landing Craft Infantry-Large) in September of 1944. They left Chesapeake Bay and headed down to Key West. On Christmas day of 1944, the ship left Key West. On December 31, 1944 the ship was changed to LC(FF) Landing Craft (Flotilla Flagship). There were only three flotillas, and 36 ships in a flotilla. They didn’t pick up their flotilla until they reached Hawaii. They then headed for the active war zone in the Philippines.
When they left the Philippines, they headed to Okinawa. A typhoon was coming, and they headed out to sea to ride out the typhoon. The ship was tossed around for six days and ran out of food and water. They were finally refueled at sea by a British ship and given 50 frozen sheep as food to hold them over until they could get back to Okinawa. They finally made it back to Okinawa and headed to Iwo Jima.
The flotilla was back in Okinawa when the bombs were dropped on Japan. They headed to Japan after the initial invasion to take in tanks, troops and supplies. After the beaches were secured, they headed in and delivered supplies, troops, and took out the wounded. John’s ship, the 427, went into Yokohama Bay and stayed there until January of 1947. He recalled meeting Japanese families who were starving. John and his buddies made a point of going ashore with supplies to help the families and children. The war was now over, and they saw starving children and families who they could help. He still remembers the look on the face of a child seeing an orange for the first time.
PhM1/c John W. Kirby came home on the USS Ticonderoga. The ship sailed into Bremerton, Washington, and he received an Honorable Discharge in January of 1947. He had served from October of 1942 until January of 1947.
John came back to Effingham and his high school sweetheart, Patty Porter. John and Patty married in 1951 and raised their three daughters in Effingham. John worked hard and became a successful businessman.
John W. Kirby died on October 18, 2020 and is buried at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Effingham. John always remembered his Navy days and was proud to have served his country.
What I learned from John is that hard work never hurt anybody and to set a goal and work until you get it. He loved his family very much and it was very hard on him when his beloved Patty died before him.
I first met Charlie when I was in high school and working at the downtown G.C. Murphy store. My Dad and Charlie both worked for the Post Office. Both of them were moonlighting to get extra money for their families. Dad was moonlighting at W.S. Broom Furniture and Charlie was moonlighting at Murphy’s. I became better acquainted with Charlie and his wife, Gert, through the Old Settlers Reunion. They loved to dance and even joked that I should install a portable dance floor for them so they could dance better to the music at the Old Settlers Reunion. When it was announced that the 2020 Old Settlers Reunion would be held as a virtual event, Charlie was the first one to call to register Gert and himself. Here is Charlie’s story.
Charles Harris ... Army ... WWII
Charles Harris was born December 31, 1926 the son of Ronald and Nora Harris of Bishop Township in Effingham County, Illinois. He attended the local schools. At the age of 18, he was working at the Illinois Glove Factory. Charlie entered service in the Army in April of 1945. He did his basic training at Camp Livingston, Louisiana.
The following letter was received by Mrs. Minnie Harris from her grandson, Pvt. Charles Harris, who is in the Armed Service.
Camp Livingston, La.
May 6, 1945
Well, I finally got around to answering your letter. I have been pretty busy. We have been going on some hikes. Thursday, we took a four-mile hike and after we got there, we had to lay down on our side and dig a hole in which to cover ourselves while a machine gun shot blanks over our heads. Then later we had to dig a fox hole and get down in it with our packs and rifles and let a tank run over us. It was some fun!
Well, Grandma, I guess I had better close as it is about time for lights out. Hoping to hear from you soon.
Pvt. Charles Harris, 36944924
Co. C. 136th I.T.B.
Camp Livingston, La.
Charlie shipped overseas to the European Theater. After the war ended, he was stationed in Germany and Austria as part of the Occupation Forces. One time they were given permission to take their prisoners to church at a large cathedral in Vienna (probably St. Stephen’s Cathedral). Charlie said he felt funny sitting with his long gun across his lap and a side-arm on his hip but he did say that all of the prisoners were well behaved.
Charlie did make it home safely. He married Gert Osthoff November 26, 1945 at the St. Anthony rectory. They raised their family in Effingham, Illinois. Charlie worked for many years for the United States Postal Service as a rural carrier. Charlie and Gert loved to dance and spend time with family and friends.
Charles W. Harris died on December 6, 2020 and is buried at St. Anthony Cemetery. He was proud to have served his country.
I learned from Charlie that if you need to moonlight to take care of your family, you do it and you don’t complain. I witnessed Charlie and Gert’s love for dancing, but more importantly I saw their deep love for each other and their family. They celebrated 75 years of marriage before Charlie’s death.
As you can see, I learned many valuable lessons from these four men. They were not afraid of hard work. They gave their best on whatever job they did. They loved their families deeply. They were proud to have served their country. I am truly grateful to have had the opportunity to tell their stories. They are my heroes. They served with honor and will be remembered with love.
I am still collecting pictures of Effingham County and doing military write-ups. You may contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call or text me at 217-821-2427. It is with all of your help that the Effingham County Museum can tell the stories of Effingham County one person, one picture and one place at a time.