Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at

Sunday, May 28, 2017


Recently erected cenotaph marker to Ensign 
Shelton Sutton at Arlington National Cemetery. 

"The Unsolved Mystery of a Hero at Sea"

Shelton Sutton was a hero. To his two hometowns of Brewton and Vidalia, he was a hero. To his parents, aunts, uncles and cousins, he was also a hero. To many Georgia Tech fans of his day, Shelton was a hero. The United States Navy considered him a hero. But the answer remains, why was he a hero?

Shelton Beverly Sutton, Jr. was born in Brewton, Georgia on August 21, 1919. His father worked as a mechanic. The Suttons left Laurens County when Shelton, Jr. or "Slim" was a young boy. They wound up in Vidalia, Georgia, where Slim became a star football player for Vidalia High School in the mid 1930s.

Slim's extraordinary athletic ability enabled him to earn a spot on the roster of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in 1939. Slim was a substitute offensive lineman on Georgia Tech's best team of the 1930s. The Jackets (8-2) won a share of the SEC Championship with a perfect conference record, losing only to Notre Dame, the nation's second best team that season, and to a very powerful Duke team by one point. The "Ramblin Wrecks" put an exclamation point on the season when a victory of Big Six Champion Missouri in the Orange Bowl. Sutton made his way into the starting lineup in 1940 as the team's center. Tech suffered through a 3-7 season, with the year's only highlights coming in a six-point loss to Notre Dame and a post season win over California by the score of 13-0. Playing at guard beside Slim was Wexler "Wex" Jordan of Dublin.

By 1941, Sutton came into his own as a suitable center. Losing to five top twenty teams, the Jackets suffered through a 3-6 season. Slim's last game was a heartbreaking 21-0 loss to intrastate rival Georgia. What made it even worse was that he was ejected from the game for an offense he really didn't deserve. Sutton tackled Georgia back Lamar Davis, grabbing him around the mouth and cutting off his breathing. Lamar bit Sutton's finger to break the deadlock. Sutton, sensing the amputation of a part of his hand, violently shoved Davis's head back. A nearby official noticed only the shove and promptly sent Sutton back to the bench. Sutton walked toward Davis and shook his finger at him chastising him for not telling the referee that he had Slim's finger in his mouth. Tech Coach Bobby Dodd ran out toward Sutton to reprimand the Tech center for being thrown out the game. Dodd's rage evolved into laughter when Slim told the soon to be iconic coach what really happened out on the field.

Georgia Tech was supposed to play another game, another post season game against California. But something happened the next weekend that would change Slim Sutton's life and the entire course of the world's history. Just eight days after he played his last football game, the Japanese air force bombed Pearl Harbor. Sutton and Jordan along with many of their teammates enlisted in the Navy. Before he left for military service, Slim graduated from Tech with cum laude honors. Many of the Tech players participated in Naval ROTC at Tech. In fact, Center Sutton became Ensign Sutton of the United States Naval Reserve on April 21, 1941. Owing to the loss of many of their team's top players, Tech's request to cancel the late December game with California was granted.

In the weeks after the war began, Sutton reported to duty with the Naval Reserve. On February 12, 1942, he was ordered to report to the Commandant of the Third Naval District for active duty. Just two days later, the U.S.S. Juneau, a light cruiser, was commissioned by the U.S. Navy. Sutton reported for duty aboard the U.S.S. Juneau on March 2, 1942. The Juneau served off the Martinique and the Guadeloupe Islands in blockade maneuvers and remained in the Atlantic Ocean until August 22nd. The Juneau was assigned to Task Force 17 and then Task Force 61. The ship's first major action came in the victorious Battle of Santa Cruz Island on October 26th.

On November 8th, the Juneau joined Task Force 67 to escort reinforcements to Guadalcanal Island. Japanese fighters began to attack the ship, which repulsed six planes with little damage. Early in the morning of Friday the 13th, a Japanese force engaged the Juneau's group. The Juneau suffered moderate damage from a torpedo, but managed to limp away from the enemy ships under her own power. Around eleven o'clock in the morning, a Japanese submarine fired three torpedoes at the wounded ship. The Juneau's helmsman managed to avoid the first two, but a third torpedo struck the ship in the exact same spot it had been damaged earlier in the morning. There was a tremendous explosion. The ship broke into. In twenty seconds, she was under water. The Juneau's sister ships, the U.S.S. Helena and the U.S.S. San Francisco, both damaged, steamed ahead fearing a similar fate. There was no time to look for survivors.

Of the nearly seven hundred man crew, only about one hundred sailors survived the explosion. For eight horrific days, the survivors treaded water and fought off thirst, hunger and sharks as best they could. Only ten survived. Also onboard the Juneau was Albert, Francis, George, Joseph, and Madison, the five sons of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Sullivan of Waterloo, Iowa. George, still nursing his wounds from the early morning action, managed to make it to a life raft. The other four brothers were killed instantly in the explosion. George died after five days in the water. The brothers were immortalized in the Hollywood movie, The Fighting Sullivans. Their deaths led to a directive by President Franklin Roosevelt that if any family lost two sons, then the remaining sons were to be removed from the military and sent home to their families. This directive is portrayed in the movie Saving Private Ryan. Private Ryan, actually Sergeant Niland, lost two of his brothers and was thought to have lost another. The stories of the Sullivans and the Nilands were the inspiration for Saving Private Ryan.

The Navy withheld details of the sinking of the Juneau. (above) It was nearly four weeks later when the news arrived at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Sutton that their son was missing in action. Slim's body was never found. Ensign Sutton was one of the first Toombs Countians to lose their lives in the war. The abandonment of one hundred survivors was withheld from the public for a long time, making it one of the war's and the U.S. Navy's most secret scandals. It wasn't until 1994 when Dan Kurzman published Left to Die, the first true and complete account of the tragedy of the U.S.S. Juneau.

On August 6, 1944 in Tampa, Florida, Lillie Mae Sutton broke the traditional bottle of champagne across the bow of the U.S.S. Sutton,  (above) which was named in her son's honor. The Sutton served in the Atlantic until 1948, when she was taken out of service. The ship was lent to the Republic of South Korea in 1956 and was used by the Korean Navy as The Kang Won until 1974. Ensign Beverly Sutton was one of ten members of the crew who were selected by the U.S. Navy to have a ship named in their honor. He joined Captain L.K. Swenson, Commander William M. Hobby of Sylvania, Ga., Lt. Cmdr. T.O. Oberrender, Lt. H.C. Gearing, III and of course, the "Sullivan Brothers," in being afforded such a distinct honor. Lt. Cmdr. J.G. Neff was lauded by the U.S. Naval Hospital in Dublin with a street named in his honor.

           At the cruise ship dock at Juneau, Alaska stands a monument with the name of S.B. Sutton and the names of his fellow crewmen of the U.S.S. Juneau. His name also can be found on a monument at Fort William McKinley in Manila, the Philippines. But of a more local importance, among the hundreds of graves at the Brewton Cemetery, is a cenotaph marker commemorating the life of a man who lived as a hero and died as hero.

Could Slim have survived the catastrophic explosion? No one alive seems to know. My guess is that he did and that this Laurens Countian helped the survivors to escape the inferno toward what they believed was safety. Otherwise, why would the Navy have selected Ensign Shelton Sutton as the only junior officer aboard the Juneau with the naming of a ship in his honor? Perhaps one day the mystery will finally be solved.

Postcript: Exactly 364 days later on Veteran's Day, 1943 Slim Sutton's teammate Wex Jordan was killed in a training accident off the coast of San Diego, California. 


Friday, May 26, 2017


The Bright Star Falls in the Night.

The bright life of Luther Burns Word, Jr. began on this day 98 years ago.  The only son of Luther B. and Zennie Wood. Luther was a rising star in his high school years at Dublin High School. He was a trumpet player in the school’s first marching band and a member of “Lads and Lassies Band ” and the Ed Powel Orchestra in Dublin.  He sang in his church, the First Methodist, and was often called upon to play taps at memorial services.

As a young man, Luther lived with his father, a lineman for Western Union Telegraph Company, and his mother, who kept the family households at 502 Lawrence Street and 314 West Madison Street.

Luther joined with twelve of his fellow young future pilots to form the only chapter of Junior Birdmen between Atlanta and Savannah.  In the mid 1930s, thousands of teenagers across the country fell in love with the idea of flying airplanes.  Luther was one of those young men.  At the age of 16, Luther acquired his pilot’s license.  He joined the senior pilots, Izzie Lease, Clafton Barron,  and Bud Barron in pushing for a local airport in Dublin.  The movement paid off in the years before World War II.  The first true airport was located in the forks of the Country Club Road and North Jefferson Street, just north of Dublin.

Luther’s flying skills were tested early in his career. With only eight hours of solo time, Word took off from the Dublin Airport.  When he reached an altitude of 150 to 200 feet, his engine died.
Word immediately scanned the skyline and spotted a nearby field.  The young pilot skillfully guided the plane downward for a near perfect landing.  Only his landing gear was damaged.

Luther Word, Jr. joined the Army Air Corps and was initially assigned in 1940 to the 17th Bomb Squadron based out of Barkesdale Air Field in Bossier, Louisiana.  Word was transferred to the Pacific Theater as a member of the 90th Bomber Squadron of the 3rd Bomber Group of the 5th Air Force.

On January 31, 1942, Word and the members of his crew were flying one of their first missions off the coast of Australia.  With Captain Jack Bleasdale of San Antonio, Texas in command, Word’s B-24 Liberator was attacked by three Japanese fighters 23,000 feet in the air.   Rear gunner Brown jumped into action when two crew members were severely wounded.  Brown removed his own oxygen mask and went to the wounded men and provided them with first aid and his own oxygen supply.      Brown was awarded the Silver Star for meritorious performance of his duty. Crewman Francis Garvey was also awarded a Silver Star by General George H. Brett for his heroic actions in a separate event in March.  

In late April 1942 during a recon mission near Buna , the crew faced a similar situation and managed to survive relatively unscathed from an attack by five enemy fighters, two of which were shot down. Corp. Henry R. Sheppard, of Gibson, Georgia, Corp.  Andrew J. Swain and Tech Sgt.
Luther Word kept the fighters at bay during the 35-minute attack, knocking two of them out of the sky. Word, Sheppard and Swain were also awarded the Silver Star by Gen. Brett in recognition of
their extraordinary heroism and bravery during the air battle in shooting down two Japanese planes.

As the day of May 25, 1942, Luther celebrated his 23rd birthday by flying yet another mission. This time the flight plan called for taking off from Mile Drome near Port Moresby to bomb the Lae Airfield and surrounding the airfield.  Bombs were dropped on Lae Airfield and installations at Lae. After the bomb run, the American flyers were intercepted and attacked from Japanese Zeros based
out of Tainan Kokutai near Lae.

Lt. Bennett G. Wilson, kept flying Word’s aircraft with the aid of Co-Pilot Lt. Luther P. Smith, Jr..  Word, serving as the bombardier, scrambled to aid the gunners after his bombs were dropped. Engineer Cpl. Leaburn D. Myers kept the plane in the air as long as possible while  Sgt. Lloyd Bailey, of the Royal Air Force, repeated may-day messages.  Turret Gunner, Sheppard, did all he could to fend of the attackers in the sky.

An RAAF Status Card records that Word’s B-25C plane was “last seen losing altitude in the vicinity of Lae Airdrome, and it is believed that both engines had been put out of action by Japanese gun fire. Believed to have crashed in the vicinity of the airdrome."

A diary recorded, “Lt. Wilson and Lt. Hesselbarth’s ships were shot down immediately. Capt Lowery’s and Lt. Rullison’s ships quickly followed. About 20 miles outside of Lae, Lt. Shearer was forced to crash land in the water. The three remaining ships were attacked continuously until they reached Salamaua where the flight lost them in the clouds.”

In a cruel bit of irony, the news of the awarding of five Silver Stars to the crew was published in Dublin Courier Herald in early June, several weeks after Word and his crew were lost at sea and listed as missing.   Several reports of the finding of Luther and the crew were found to be false.

In Dublin, Bob Hightower, Jim Laney, Trammell Keen, Cordie Adams, Earl Hilburn and the entire Elks and Lions Club radioed a telegram to Brisbane Australia.  The $11.86 message read, "Heartiest congratulations. Great work.  We are proud of you.  Give ‘em hell.  Citation received here by press and radio. Mother and dad are fine.

The search for the plane or any survivors continued for a long time.  Back at home, Mr. and Mrs. Word held out all hopes that their son was still alive, even if he was captured by the Japan. On the 2nd anniversary of his death, Luther’s parents donated $10.00 to the Red Cross in remembrance of their lost son.

After his death, the Army Air Corps awarded Luther Word and Oak Leaf Cluster in lieu of a second Air Medal for his actions during his last mission, for which Word was awarded his second
purple heart.

Luther Word and the other American members of his crew were officially declared dead by the military on December 4, 1945.  His name and the names of others are listed on the Walls of the Missing in the American Cemetery in Manilla, Philippines.

Luther’s parents placed a cenotaph marker to the memory of their beloved son next to their own graves in Dublin Memorial Gardens. (Photo by Loree and Billy Beacham.)

And when that sad day was done and the nights were all too long and dark,  Luther’s parents realized that their son was truly gone. They took great solace that was all was well and their little boywas safe in his savior’s arms and God was near.

On this Memorial Day weekend and on every day of every year, take a few moments to reflect upon the memory of our heroes like Luther Word and the sacrifices they made to keep us free. 


To everyone out there in the cities, the countrysides, and in Georgia, in America, and around the world, from the bottom of my heart I want to say thank you for taking time out of your busy, hectic, and sometimes troubled lives to read one of my stories or look at one of my collection of old photographs as well as my own photographs.  Sometime this past Thursday morning, somehow I managed to accumulate ONE MILLION views of my main blog, Pieces our Past, over the last 101 months.  I can not express how lucky I am to have been blessed with the ability and the desire to share the pictures and stories of people and places I love and those who I never knew, but have grown to admire.  I take great pride in being given the ability to share their stories of the triumph of the human spirit.  Even more satisfying is that the total of all blog views which stands at about $1,532,000.

Sunday, May 21, 2017


This marker, located at the northwest corner
of U.S. Hwy 80 and Ga. Hwy 112
in Allentown, Georgia was erected
by the John Ball Chapter of the
National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution
on October 12, 1934.

It marks the spot of the intersection of the
Carolina, West Florida and Savannah Lower
Creek Indian Trails at a traditional Indian
site and burial grounds and an early
white settlement and haven for refugee 
families in 1812 Indian alarms.