I remember Feb. 18, 1942
By Bill Shepard
There is a lot of space between the years 1942 and 2020. Feb. 18, 2020, will be history by the time this story reaches the readers.
Seventy-eight years is a long time to remember anything and especially, in the clarity and detail, as I recall the happenings on that Feb. 18, 1942. Yes, I remember. Just mention the name Don Tunstall in any group of old Darlingtonians and there is a good chance there will be some who remember the stories about this brave young man.
I have before me a copy of the News & Press, printed in November 1998, and it tells the story of this young man whose plane was shot down while on a daring mission to bomb Berlin during the Second World War. Picked up by a German submarine, Don spent more than two years in a German prison camp.
What a story of bravery and sacrifice. There will never be a Feb. 18 that I do not see the faces of Don, Charles and Earl, and I remember. Their faces stare at me from the picture, sitting on my desk. The scheme we had planned the night before was carried out to perfection.
The four of us had met at Doc’s place, on the west end of Pearl Street in the Mill-Town of Darlington. Doc’s place was the liveliest place in Darlington on weekends. The young at heart came together there on weekends to listen to the music.
Some would do the jitterbug (dance) and others would listen, while munching on one of Doc’s famous hot dogs that was laced with the best chili to be found anywhere! Others would just sit in a booth and listen to the sad songs being played on the jukebox and wipe tears that fell upon their cheeks!
February 1942 — America was only ankle deep into the war that had begun on Dec. 7, 1941, when Japan had made its sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. It was indeed a surprise attack; who would have thought that a small island nation would dare to make such a move against America?
The war that had begun in Europe in September 1939, when Hitler’s Germany had invaded its neighbor, Poland, and gotten away with it, might have added some strength to the Japanese Emperor’s decision, but in time, he would learned he had made a mistake!
What a costly mistake it was! It had been less than three months since America had been drawn into war with both Japan and Germany. The “sleeping giant” had been awakened, and the effects of the awakening could be seen and felt. On street corners, on billboards along highways and inside store windows, signs and posters could be seen with the words “Uncle Sam Needs You!”
The nation’s youth responded in numbers so great that it was a challenge to find places to house them. Training camps sprung up all over America. The youth came from the fields, mills, farms and businesses. Yes, they came!
Tom Brokaw, in his book, “The Greatest Generation,” describes it best! “The spirit of patriotism flowed like a mighty stream from the mountains to the seashore.” It was one of America’s greatest moments!
My feelings turned within me. My two older brothers were already serving in the military, one in the Navy and another in the Army. I envied them and any other I saw in uniform. The more determined I became to enlist, the more Dad determined that I wouldn’t! Poor Dad, how it must have hurt him to think I desired to go away. I would understand it better when I became a father. Youth can sometimes be cruel!
I did not know that there were others who nurtured the same feelings as I, until that night that Don, Charles, Earl and I met at Doc’s place. It was a typical Sunday night. A crowd of teenagers was present, and it seemed all were having a jolly good time. The jukebox was spinning its records one after another.
“Remember Pearl Harbor and Go on to Victory” was one of the favorites of all. “There’s a Star-Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere” was another favorite. The air seemed to be charged with love for the country.
How the subject of enlisting in the military surfaced, I do not know. Who was first to suggest it, I do not know. I do know that before we left to go home that night, we (Don, Charles, Earl and I) had agreed to meet the next morning and go to Florence and enlist in the Army.
At the Recruiting Office the next morning, we filled out the proper papers and asked that all of us be assigned to the Air Force and be kept together. The officer in charge said that since we were volunteering, our wish would be granted. We soon learned that our wish would not be granted.
We asked how soon we could go away. “Go home, get your parents to sign their consent for you to go and return by 6 p.m. today and you will be on the train tonight,” was his reply.
Our plan had hit a wall. We knew that our parents would not sign the papers. So, we each forged our parents’ signature. We went to the courthouse in Darlington and asked the clerk of court to sign our papers. When told by the notary that the parents’ signing was to have been done in his presence, we told the shameful lie! The lie that never stops haunting me! “Our parents are at work and cannot be off to come and sign, but they agree.” He believed us and placed his seal on our papers, and we were off! Our plan had worked!
Without telling anyone, we boarded the train that evening and went to Camp Jackson in Columbia. We learned soon that we would not stay together. After the first week at Jackson, Earl went to Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Charles went to Camp Stewart in Virginia, I went to Camp Robinson in Arkansas, and Don went to California. Don was the only one whose wish was granted!
This story could go on for pages. Most people in Darlington know its ending. Don’s story has been told, written about, and newspapers have spread it to far and near places. The story is known of his more than two years as a prisoner of war in a German camp, before being freed when the war ended.
I have a picture of the brave young man, along with that of Charles and Earl. The picture was made at a gathering in Darlington. It was the first time that the four of us had been together as a group, since we had parted those many years ago at Camp Jackson, now known as Fort Jackson.
They are gone now; they have a new and different Commander! I am left alone to remember and to write about that February day when we all four went away to answer our country’s call – Feb. 18, 1942!