Pike County's Newsome Boys Fought Hard And Survived WWII

By Larry D. Newsome - 2001

The Newsome boys: Forrest, Daniel, and Alvin ("Buster"), were all born in Pike County, Kentucky, near a community called Dorton. Dorton is along US 23 south of Pikeville, and sets between Jenkins, in Letcher County, and Virgie, in Pike County. They were the sons of the same father, George Washington "Little Wash" Newsome; a farmer, miner, and logger.

"Little Wash," whose nickname was indicative of his height, but not his stature among men, was well-respected and known for his toughness. This story is not necessarily about "Little Wash" nor the boys' mothers, but a glimpse of both must be revealed in order for the reader to understand the character they passed on to the three brave, young men of this story.

"Little Wash" was known for his fearlessness. The local sheriff of Pike County, General Branham, father of Lawrence Branham, during the 1920s and '30s, would often come for "Little Wash," who would mount his horse and assist in tracking down and arresting ruffians hiding in the hills of Eastern Kentucky; or assist in serving a warrant on a particularly violent varmint.

"Little Wash" was also known for his brute strength. It is testified that he could lift two 100-pound bags of corn at the same time, one in each hand; throw one up on the wagon, while holding the other in his other hand, then heaving it up.

On one occasion, his leg was crushed by a loaded logging wagon, and he had to wear a full-length leg cast for several months, yet he would not allow this to stop him from his work as a logger. It is said that after the cast dried, he mounted his crutches and stuck his casted leg straight out from his body. With his powerful arms, he hopped on one leg (on crutches) up the side of the mountain. This had to be done to get to the working grove of trees that was a good distance up the hill. Once at the steep jobsite, he proceeded to balance himself and held his own on one end of a two-man crosscut saw, to put in his day's labor and help feed his 12 children.

"Little Wash's" first wife, Annie Osborne, bore him two boys, Forrest and Lonnie Jr. (Junior was his middle name. Unfortunately, very little is written here about Junior, because the writer knows very little about him. I know he lived the greater part of his life near Spokane, Washington, in a town called Kennewick, and died of a heart attack several years ago). Annie Osborne Newsome died very young and is buried at Dorton.

"Little Wash" later married Amanda ("Mandy") Burke of the Virgie area in Pike County. Of this second union, ten children were born: Daniel, Alvin ("Bus-ter"), Jim Henry, George, Mable, Mary Ann, Mrytle, Sally, Helen, and Virtricie.

This story is about three of the oldest boys of this rugged Newsome family; boys who inherited their father's tenacity to work hard, fight hard, and somehow survive. Quite to the dismay of "Mandy," their mother, all three were called to serve their country during WWII. Fighting back her tears, mixed with maternal pride, she said goodbye to all three boys, who left at different times, heading for unknown parts of the world, not knowing when (or if) she would ever see them again.

Forrest Newsome

Forrest Newsome, who was born July 12, 1917, and died January 7, 1987, was the first to answer the call of his country. He was living at Dorton in 1941, and at the age of 23, traveled to Huntington, West Virginia, approximately 120 miles from Pike County, to join the U. S. Army. Forrest had acquired his father's toughness and affection for a snort of whiskey, now and then. Thus, when he entered the Army, he had to leave behind the Saturday night brawls and mischief he seemed to enjoy.

Once, he and an unnamed friend were accused of blowing up a county trestle with stolen dynamite. Although no one was injured, and the little trestle received minimal damage, the sheriff didn't take it lightly. I don't know the outcome of that felony, but suffice it to say, the Army was a better choice than staying in Pike County.

Forrest found himself at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. He was quickly shipped overseas to fight in the Asiatic Pacific Campaign. A Japanese rifleman shot him just over his heart, with the bullet exiting out his shoulder blade. Little is known about the specifics of this incident, but Forrest returned to the states healthy and received several medals, including the American Defense Ribbon. His honorable discharge states that he was "involved in numerous campaigns, expeditions, and skirmishes in the Asiatic Pacific."

Upon Forrest's return home, he married his former employer's (Mr. C. R. Fleming) baby girl, Joyce Fleming. Joyce's mother was the late Bell Johnson Fleming. Forrest and Joyce had one daughter, Barbara Newsome Burrs, who married Chester Burrs, and presently resides in Rochester, New York.

Forrest passed away in 1987, but his faithful lifetime companion, Joyce, is still single and dividing her time between Rochester, New York, and Florida. Forrest created a happy, funfilled life for Joyce and Barb.

I can remember when I was a small child and visited their home, near the old theater in Dorton, beside the Texaco service station that Forrest ran. He was always cutting up and telling a joke. I remember his tattoos all over his arms and hands. On four fingers the letters L-O-V-E were spelled out. On one arm a shapely girl was tattooed. He always enjoyed a big time.

I miss Forrest's big laugh, his wink, and his family. Dan and "Buster," my uncle and father, respectively, do, too.

Daniel Newsome

Daniel Newsome, the next oldest of the three Newsome brothers, went into the Army in 1942. Like Forrest, he found himself in Texas, but at Camp Maxie. Dan was living with "Little Wash" and "Mandy" at Stone Coal Holler in Pike County, when he joined the Army. Prior to the Army, Dan had served during the 1930s in the Civilian Conservation Corps. There have been two articles in The Kentucky Explorer about the CCC, one with the photo of the camp at Paintsville, and one with a camp in Utah.

Dan soon joined the 102nd Infantry Division and left the United States by boat, landing in Liverpool, England, the home port of the famous "Fab Four." This was 20 years before Liverpool was made famous as the home of The Beatles.

From Liverpool, Dan traveled to Orange, France, and from France to Wymaer, Germany, closer and closer to the battle; and from there, on to Firtzlair, Germany.

Finally arriving in Edin, he was wounded in a tough hand-to-hand battle against the Germans. Although he fought up close, his wound did not come from a one-on-one confrontation, but from a mortar shell that exploded and ripped shrapnel through his belly. He thought it was the end.

Dan awoke and found he was lying among hundreds of dead Germans and Americans. He was left for dead, but managed to crawl, with his guts spilling out, over hundreds of dead bodies, to what he described as a big irrigation ditch. Incredibly, he lay there for three days before he was found by U. S. soldiers, barely alive.
Dan was rushed to an England hospital to recover. "Mandy," his mother back home, had received a terrible telegraph saying he was MIA (missing in action).

While there in the hospital, he was awarded the highest honor of bravery a soldier can receive on the battlefield, The Purple Heart. Dan cannot remember the name of the colonel who pinned it on him, but he remembers that soon he left the hospital headed back to Germany. He transferred to the Technical Air Command, 40th Communication Squadron. He was stationed in Badkissinger, Germany.

It wasn't long before he was shipped back to Newport News, Virginia. From there he rode a train to Fort Knox, Kentucky. Smelling home, he received his discharge with high honors and headed east to Coal Run, Kentucky, in Pike County.

Dan married, in the 1950s, Bonnie, who already had one son, Michael, and bore Dan a son, Danny Ray. He worked for a while at Whitehead and Kale, in River Rouge, Michigan. That's where the work was in the '50s with post-war euphoria and a good economy. Every American wanted an automobile, and Michigan had the jobs.

He became a welder for a construction company in Paintsville, upon returning to Kentucky. He later laid carpet for Hoover's Furniture, and at one time, worked as a male nurse at Pikeville Methodist Hospital. I would like to tell you that Dan's fate was a blessing, after escaping death at the hands of the Germans, but unfortunately, his biggest battles were still ahead. In the mid-1960s, Dan was on his way to work one rainy morning, while Danny Ray and Bonnie were at the hospital tending to little Dan's recently broken arm. Near the Pike-Floyd County line, his convertible skidded, slid up the hillside, and overturned, throwing Dan through the windshield. He lay in the U. K. Medical Center in Lexington, barely hanging onto life, as he did on that bloody battlefield years before. This time, when he awoke, he could not see. The car wreck had taken both his eyes.

My father, "Buster," had offered to donate one of his eyes, but the optic nerves were damaged too badly to allow a successful transplant. At that time, this type of eye surgery was new and very rare.

It was the first time I can remember seeing my father cry. It was a sad time for all the Newsome family.

But Dan once again recovered and went to Ohio to train with a beautiful German Shepherd seeing-eye dog. It seems ironic that it would be a "German" dog that guided him without his sight, but life is full of irony.

Bonnie, his wife, and son, Danny Ray, have stayed by his side to this day, being his eyes when needed. They reside, presently, at Harold, Floyd County, Kentucky, less than five miles from his younger brother, "Buster."

Daniel Newsome was selected as grand marshal for the Red, White, and Blue Day Parade at Martin, Kentucky, in 1996. In addition to his Purple Heart, he received the American Theater Ribbon, European African Middle Eastern Ribbon (with two Bronze Stars), Good Conduct, the Expert and Combat Infantryman Badge, and the WWII Victory Medal.

This Newsome boy from Dorton, Kentucky, who helped keep his country free, suffered his wounds from the battlefield and car accident with the dignity of an American hero, which is exactly what he is.
Alvin "Buster" Newsome.

If Forrest and Dan were not enough for "Little Wash" and "Mandy" to worry over, the next-youngest son, Alvin ("Buster"), also joined the Army. Now all three were serving during the biggest war the world had ever known. "Buster" is the last of the Newsome boys in this story, and is also my father.

"Buster's" route was somewhat different. He left Pikeville for Fort Thomas, Kentucky, and from there went to Fort Lewis, Washington. He did not go to Texas, like the other two.

"Buster" was a hotshot marksman and was awarded several bullseyes by the captain. He said that he was less than 100 pounds, but was able to balance the M1 rifle against his shoulder (without bruises), while 190-pound men were going to the hospital with bruises and sore shoulders, not knowing how to brace the butt of the gun against their shoulders. His squirrel and rabbit hunting days back in Kentucky had paid off.
"Buster" was stationed and trained at Ben, Oregon. He became a member of the 720th Engineering Unit as a rifle marksman. During his practice shooting, Dad said if you were to miss the target completely, as some of the greenhorns did, the target spotters waived a woman's bloomers called "Maggie's Drawers."

Dad didn't have to fight the Germans or the Japanese. His two older brothers had already given their blood to help win the war, before he ever had a chance to go. But he was trained and ready and would have been an expert rifle hitman, if the war had not ended.

"Buster" also worked in Michigan, then came back to Kentucky to marry Ima Jean Gilliam, my mother. Mom was only 15, Dad was 22, but in 1946 in Eastern Kentucky, 15 was marrying age. My mother was a full-grown beauty at the age of 14, from old photos I have seen.

"Buster" worked various jobs and joined the Union BMPIU/AFL-CIO, known as the Brick Masons Union of the AFL/CIO. He learned to lay brick and came back to Pikeville to help build many homes in Eastern Kentucky and other towns in Ohio and Michigan. He worked hard and prospered.

Dad and Mom built their first home themselves, on Coal Run Hill, across from Dick and Anna Lou Gilliam, Dad's in-laws. Mom held the lantern late at night, while Dad laid the brick to finish the chimney.

In 1962 Dad and Mom built a fine brick home near Coal Run Village, right in the future path of the new U. S. 23 four-lane highway that was to come through, only six years after they moved into their new home. They liked their home so much, they picked it up and moved it one-half mile down the road and up on the hillside. Many homes were moved this way, during 1969, 1970, and '71, while the construction of the U. S. 23 dislocated many families from their cherished bottomlands, where the road had to go.

Dad had, by this time, accumulated several rental homes and moved one of these, along with his home, to the new location. A third one he had to dismantle and rebuild on a lot beside his first home, on Coal Run Hill, due to it being of cinder block structure, which he still owned and leased out.

Dad and Mom accumulated wealth in real estate by building office buildings, leasing land, and renting property. In 1982 he opened his first of three Arby's Roast Beef restaurant franchises in Paintsville. This venture bankrupted all of us, due to poor management and lack of knowledge of the restaurant business. Dad and I have recovered somewhat, but he lost nearly a million dollars, while the rest of the investors, including myself, owned very little to lose.

Dad is content to know that he was once a millionaire, but now lives quietly and comfortably in the same home he moved to its present location back in 1969.

They raised two sons: Alvin Douglas, of Penny Road, off Canny Creek, near Robinson Creek, Kentucky; and (me) Larry D. Newsome, of Frankfort, Kentucky.

Dad spends his days working around the house and faithfully visiting my mother, who has Alzheimer's disease and is presently being cared for in the Pikeville Mountain Manor Nursing Home.

He thinks of days long ago, when Mom was so beautiful, and they were so young, hardworking, and in love. He, like me, misses her sweet voice and reassuring hugs. Mom was always kind and worried about those she loved. She, along with Dad's sister, Helen, faithfully cared for "Little Wash" and "Mandy" until their deaths in the 1980s.

Ima Jean is no longer the mother or wife that Dad and I, along with so many others, knew and loved. Dad, more than any of us, feels the pain of Mom's illness, the lonely house, the longing for things to be as they once were, her calling his name, or asking about Alvin or me. But God has a place for those who are chosen, according to His purpose, and Mom and Dad were both saved and baptized into the church and into God's heavenly kingdom. Only when they arrive "home" will they understand this perplexing valley of darkness they have had to walk over the last few years.

The Newsome boys from Dorton, Kentucky, Forrest, Daniel, and "Buster," all from the same family, served their country during World War II, a fate most families did not have to endure. By God's grace, they all lived through the war and came home to Kentucky to raise their own families.

Life has many challenges, but the ones which seem insurmountable are the ones that end up building our character and resolve, to allow us to overcome, by the grace of God.

God teaches us, through these trials, that you just have to overcome whatever life slings at you with character, dignity, and His grace; like "Mandy," when three of her boys were thousands of miles from home, and she wondered if they would ever return; or "Little Wash," when he hopped up the hill to work with a broken leg, or when he rode in the cold weather to hunt outlaws for extra money.

These hardworking parents built a work ethic and character in these Newsome boys. They took it with them when they traveled far and wide; like Forrest, when he traded mischief for honor and became a man willing to sacrifice his life for his country on the battlefield; or Daniel, when he crawled over the dead bodies in the dark, only to awake 20 years later to total darkness; or "Buster," when he offered his own eye for his brother's and felt helpless to do anymore, and now cares for a wife stricken with Alzheimer's disease, visiting her early each morning and feeding her each day.

Working hard, fighting hard, and somehow surviving, no matter the odds; the Newsome boys from Dorton, Kentucky, did exactly that when they all three were called to serve in World War II in defense of their country.

Larry D. Newsome, 2030 Silverlake Blvd., Frankfort, KY 40601, shares these photographs and story (as told by his father, Alvin "Buster" Newsome) with our readers. Larry is employed with the state Housing Finance Agency, Kentucky Housing Corporation, in Frankfort.