Growing up in the 1970’s, we lived in Lubbock, Texas for a number of years. My dad’s family was mainly around Brownwood and my mom’s around Dallas/Ft Worth. We drove to both sides of the family. Some of my mom’s side went past Dallas into Terrell and Quinlan. In those days, we hit the whole clan to be sure no one got their feelings hurt.
One of my favorite places was Greenville because of my Aunt Jo. Aunt Jo was the eldest of my mom’s mother’s (my grandma) group of brothers and sisters and by far the best cook. Aunt Jo was married to Oney Nelson or Uncle Oney to me. He was the closest thing to a grandfather on my mom’s side of the clan. Grandpa Ralston was dead and Grandpa Clark was off-limits due to his issues with firewater.
Oney did not talk a whole lot, could not read or write, and dipped enough snuff to knock out an elephant. He loved to hunt and fish and was the first person who taught me how to shoot a gun. I loved my time we spent in Greenville and the time Oney dedicated to making me happy.
Above his chair in the house was an official looking letter with a uniformed soldier on it. I had looked at it dozens of times and never inquired on it. One day out of the blue I wanted to know more, so I asked Oney. “Let me tell you about your Uncle Odus” Oney started. He preceded to tell me how Odus was his younger brother and that they were very close. While Oney was more of a live off the land person, Odus preferred the comforts that Emory, Texas could provide. The two boys lived with their Aunt in Emory and worked the farm as was the custom in those days. Oney was content to stay at the farm while Odus wanted more in life. It became apparent that the brothers had love and respect for one another.
As WWII was heating up, Odus went off and enlisted in the army on 4-2-1941. According to Oney, Odus did not agree with not getting involved and wanted to be a part of the war now. This was an area the brothers did not agree on – Oney felt as many did that the US need not be in a war beyond its borders. After Pearl Harbor, that thought process changed. Oney went to sign up for the service to follow his brother. The army rejected Oney as he was the only living brother, was married, and could not read & write. That was one of the few times Oney revealed a degree of embarrassment on his lack of ability. “Readin’s important” he would tell me.
Apparently Odus wrote to my Uncle Oney and Aunt Jo as often as he could. He sent back some trinkets for them. A hollowed out .32 caliber shell and a bill for 2 deutchemark. An antique .22 caliber pistol he found. I asked Oney if he knew the division or battalion Odus was in, but he could not remember. He did remember the letter Aunt Jo read to him in the spring of 1944. Odus claimed there was something big going to happen that could end the war. That would be the last letter from Odus. Notice of Odus’ death came in November 1944 when his Purple Heart arrived. Odus had died in the charge on Normandy Beach. Oney told me he felt shoud have been there…
I had that conversation with Uncle Oney in the early 70’s. I tucked that memory away for years. Oney died in 1978. My Aunt Jo remarried a few years after until that husband died in the early part of 2000. In June 2004, my Aunt Jo died and left me executor of her will. It was not the first time I have had to do this, but it hopefully will be my last. You find out things when settling an estate about your relatives you really did not want to know. It was during this process that I can across some of Oney’s belongings and in them were some of Odus’s WWII items.
I cannot describe to you how excited, yet at the same time how woefully inadequate I felt when I came across Odus’s Purple Heart. I only knew of his name through my uncle’s stories at a time in my life when they did not hold the same profoundness as they do now. Here is a man I never knew whose sacrifice made it possible for my parents to grow up and meet, fall in love, and end up having children with me being their firstborn.
For several years now, I have tried to get more information on Odus Nelson. I have no exact date of birth, no social security number, and no other living blood relatives to go visit. The Army or VA Services cannot release his service record to me for those same reasons. When my Aunt Jo died, there was a free for all by some other distant relatives that did a sortie on her house. I cannot find the letter Uncle Oney had over his chair, the letters Odus sent from overseas, or any pictures of Odus. If I did not have the medal, it would be almost as if he did not exist.
For someone who volunteered to join in to WWII ahead of the crowd and who died in the greatest wartime invasion for liberty known in history, that is flat-out unacceptable. If nothing else, this tribute that goes out to the blogosphere will immortalize this man. For now, that is the best I can do.
This article is dedicated to Purple Heart Recipient, Patriot, & Hero Odus Nelson. Born 1909 and died June 6, 1944 so that you & I can be free. God bless him and the other unknown Odus Nelson’s of the world