Memorial Day of course is when we commemorate the lives of service members who have made the ultimate sacrifice of dying while they served. However, since the U.S. hasn’t been in a major conflict for some years now we don’t hear a lot these days of deaths in battle.
During World War II when men and women entered the military naturally their families relied on their letters for news, and often they would share any information they received with not just family but with their community through the Athens Review. Also, these letters might include news about other Henderson County service personnel, information they also shared.
Often these letters were often the only link that families at home had with their loved one at the front and when there was no news, either direct or indirectly, it could only cause tension and worry. And sadly this lack of information does not always end in a happy reunion.
One of those families were Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Tubbleville of Malakoff who had three sons, Oscar Jr., H.M. and Elton who were in the military, the oldest two in the South Pacific. Then in February, 1943, the family heard from the War Department (as the Department of Defense was called then) that Oscar and H.M. had been captured by the Japanese. The parents had last heard from their sons in November, 1941. Perhaps the family reasoned that though their sons would certainly suffer in the hands of the enemy, there was always the hope that they could return after the war was over. However, their hopes were dashed when in June, 1945 military officials came to Malakoff to inform the Tubbleville family that Oscar and H.M. were among the victims who had gone down some months before with a Japanese ship transporting the POWs from the Philippines to Japan.
The Tubbleville family learned that the ship had been sunk by an American submarine that attacked out of ignorance of the cargo for the ship bore “no marking that would distinguish it as a prison ship.”
However, there was some consolation to the family when because of his brothers’ death, younger son Ellsworth was discharged from the navy and apparently survived the war. Reportedly the older Tubblefield sons were buried in the Philippines.
However, while one Henderson County family did have to deal with the death of their son, in their case they did have a local grave to commemorate their loved one.
This was Cpl. Millard Sanders who faced action in Europe, and the family learned details of the sad events when Sanders’ buddy wrote to the corporal’s then fiancée. According to the Athens Review article of June 28, 1945, “a story of battlefield heroism and of the death of a man who repaid his nation in full…is told by a buddy of Cpl. Millard (Hoss) Sanders of Athens in a letter to the girl the latter had planned to marry.” On April 1, Easter Sunday, Sanders had died in a “blaze of glory.”
“I don’t suppose you know who I am,” wrote Herman Shugard, Sanders’ buddy to the young lady. He explained that he had been Sanders’ tank driver and related that ‘just before it happened we both made an agreement to write each other’s folks in case anything happened.”
It began as his unit crossed the Rhine River and trundled off into Germany, driving day and night. Then at one time when they finally took a position the Germans attacked but the men in one tank couldn’t respond because apparently they feared hitting their own troops.
Sanders and others then went out to confront the enemy. Shugard told the story, “He [Sanders] walked in standing up straight, shooting, so that I could get in close enough to use my tommy gun and a couple of grenades. He saved many men’s lives that way.”
“They got him,” Shugard wrote, “but I promise you they paid it dearly…but he will always live in our hearts.” Sanders was popular among his buddies and as Shugard put it, “There can be no greater tribute from his own guys than to say, ‘He has guts.” And that described Sanders.
Sanders, a graduate of Athens High School, had already seen action on North Africa, Sicily and Italy then on D Day.
Perhaps Shugard in his letter summed up the ultimate sacrifice paid by Sanders and all his comrades when he described his thoughts at the time. He remembered “a few words out of the Bible – ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends,’” (John 15:13)