Wednesday, March 5, 2014 12:00 AM
Sixty-nine years ago, Congressman Arthur Winstead, Neshoba County's representative to Washington, D.C., wired Miss Zula Walton, aunt of Jean Kennedy and bookkeeper for the B.H. Stubbs Store, the following message: "Miss Zula Walton, Philadelphia, Mississippi, February 6, 1945, 10:57 a.m., Delighted to see Jean Kennedy's name listed among nurses released from Santo Tomas prison camp. Please notify her mother. Arthur Winstead." Weeks later, on March 2, 1945, Mrs. Roy J. Kennedy of the Coldwater community received a telegram that read: "Dear Mother: I am leaving San Francisco at 7:00 a.m. Thursday. Am wild to see you. Jean." After 33 months of captivity, Neshoba County's heroine was coming home. At midnight on Friday, March 3, 1945, at the Jackson, Mississippi, Airport, the slim, vivacious, blue-eyed, curly haired Army Lieutenant stepped out of the door of a Delta Airlines luxury liner, crossed the airport apron, and walked through the gate into the tender, awaiting arms of her widowed mother, a parent that had prayed hourly for almost three years, asking for the return of her "Angel of Bataan." "Jean, Jean, Jean," cried Mittie Kennedy, as she wrapped her outstretched arms around her daughter. After placing her head on the shoulder of the one that nurtured her for years, the 26-year-old nurse spoke softly, "My God, this is heaven." Within seconds, the arms of Zula Walton, sisters, June and Rose, and those of little brother, Tommie Joe, encircled the embracing pair. Tears flowed from every eye in the greeting party, tears that turned to applause as the elated family slowly made their way into the awaiting automobile of Philadelphia Mayor, Marshall Prince.
Just hours after her arrival, the citizens of Philadelphia and Neshoba County all turned out "for a welcome befitting the occasion." An array of dignitaries were among the rejoicing crowd, including Governor Thomas L. Bailey's wife and Arthur Winstead. The Reverend J.V. Cobb gave the invocation, followed by Dr. W.H. Banks' presentation of welcome from the Coldwater community. Mayor Prince provided a key to the city, with Mrs. A.B. McCraw awarding Lt. Jean Kennedy with individual keys. Mrs. Bailey spoke for the State of Mississippi, and words of praise from the nation came from Congressman Winstead. Representatives from the Army and State Guard also greeted the young nurse that suffered so long in the defense of her country. The Key Army Airfield Band from Meridian, Mississippi, provided the music for the event, and the American Legion Post and the local State Guard Company comprised the Guard of Honor. During the celebration, Kennedy told the well-wishers of her heroic rescue by tank commander Robert E. Lee, also of Neshoba County, and that, "Robert gave me chewing gum and candy bars, the first I had in many months." She added, "Robert was proud of that tank."
On March 7, 1945, the Philadelphia Exchange Club met for its weekly meeting at the Benwalt Hotel. Guest of honor was Army Nurse Lieutenant Imogene Kennedy. Other military visitors present for the occasion were Colonel Harold G. Peterson, commanding officer of Key Field Airfield, and other Key Field personnel, Captain J.M. Laughlin, a WAC private named Mahana, and a Sergeant Fieler; Purple Heart winner Private First Class Jack Stubbs, guest of his brother, Exchangite Howard Stubbs; and another Purple Heart holder, Private First Class James Hoyt Bush. Nothing that the recently liberated nurse had never heard the war time song, White Cliffs of Dover, Song Leader Grady Hays led the group in singing that air, accompanied on the violin by Mary Nell Thornton and by Lorene Thornton on the piano. After the meeting ended, the participants moved to the north side of the Neshoba County Courthouse for another ceremony, one to honor Sergeant Charles Edward Smith, of the Army Air Corps. Lieutenant Jean Kennedy pinned the Air Medal on the dress of the decorated airman's wife, because of Sergeant Smith's current incarceration in a stalag in Germany. The War Department later awarded Lieutenant Kennedy, Sergeant Smith and Lieutenant Robert Lee, all Bronze Stars for gallantry.
Civil War Veterans
Whitmire, Thomas Jefferson - Private; enlisted September 5, 1863, at Enterprise, Mississippi, in Company D of the 11th Mississippi Infantry Regiment; age twenty-nine; mechanic; nick-named "Jeff;" wounded at Bethesda Church, June 3, 1864; hospitalized with a gunshot wound in the head and left hand at the General Hospital at Danville, Virginia, June 4, 1864; transferred, June 21, 1864; admitted to Howard's Grove Hospital at Richmond, Virginia, August 4, 1864; died at Howard's Grove Hospital, August 10, 1864; buried in division G, row F, grave #50 in Oakwood Cemetery at Richmond.
World War II Veterans
Kennedy, James Truman - Apprentice Seaman to Seaman First Class; enlisted on June 30, 1943, at Jackson, Mississippi, in the United States Navy; age twenty-one; farmer; served and trained in the American Theatre of Operations at the Naval Training Centers at Camp Bradford, Norfolk, Virginia, Little Creek, Virginia, and Fort Pierce, Florida; stationed as a member of the LST (landing ship tank) instruction crew at Camp Bradford; served also in the European Theatre of Operations and the Asiatic-Pacific Theatre of Operations aboard the U.S.S. LST #1146; stationed also in Northern Africa, May 1944 to June 1944; awarded the American Campaign Medal, European-African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal (with one bronze battle star), and the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal; discharged at New Orleans, Louisiana, December 15, 1946, demobilization; Seaman James T. Kennedy was a younger brother to Lieutenant Imogene Kennedy.
Philadelphia-Neshoba County Historical Museum
Steven H. Stubbs, Curator
303 Water Avenue South Philadelphia, Mississippi 39350 (601) 656-1284
10 a.m. - 3 p.m.;
Monday thru Friday