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James Weldon Mellody

James Weldon Mellody rarely talked about the war however his daughter-in-law Jo Nell had the bright idea to write down everything he said and she could gradually put a detailed story together. Here is the story she wrote:

Staff Sgt. James Weldon Mellody was born April 4, 1921, on a farm 7 miles south of Royse City, Texas. He was the oldest son of Harry & Mary Mellody.

Weldon turned 21 in April 1942, while attending college at Texas Tech. He left Lubbock for Dallas and enlisted in the Army-Air Corps on October 6, 1942. After training state-side, he arrived at Glasgow, Scotland on April 4, 1944, Weldon's 23rd birthday. Stationed at Rivenhall Airfield, Essex County near Colchester, England, Weldon was an engineer and served as the waist gunner and backup navigator on a B-26 Medium Bomber. The B-26 was named appropriately, Spare Parts. "They would fix and patch planes with anything they could find to get them back in the air," laughed Weldon. "Planes were lined up so thick, I was amazed everyone was able to get off the ground without running into each other." -Weldon

Weldon was a big guy, over 6'1" and 192 lbs. The guys began calling him "Big Tex
 

 

Sgt James Weldon Mellody
Sgt James Weldon Mellody - S/N: 18178493

The mission of the 397th was to prepare for the Normandy Invasion by attacking V-weapon sites, bridges, coastal defenses, marshaling yards and airfields. Once, in the telling of stories, Weldon softly said, "I always felt bad...we were bombing their country, destroying their home.

The 397th Group was known as the "Bridge Busters," and their crews were in the air bombing strategic bridges twice on D-Day. Weldon flew 26 and 1/2 missions. On June 24, 1944, during a successful bombing mission over Paris, his plane was crippled from enemy flack. The crew was forced to parachute into German-occupied France. Weldon disliked parachute training, and he certainly wasn't looking forward to the jump. Before he would take that fateful leap, he would demand his pencil back. Here's the story of the infamous pencil... A mantra of his, "always be prepared," Weldon dressed for the flight that would be his last and made sure a mechanical pencil was in his pocket. During the mission, Weldon loaned his pencil to the navigator who had forgotten his. As the pilot prepared the crew to jump, the navigator came from the nose of the plane. Weldon asked him, "Where's my damn pencil?" At Weldon's adamant insistence, the crew member went back to get the pencil. Weldon tucked the pencil away in his shirt pocket and prepared to jump. This was the start of a life-long habit of always having a pen or pencil in his shirt pocket. It was his good luck charm, his comfort amid turmoil. Decades later, when asked why he insisted the navigator go back and retrieve the pencil, Weldon simply replied, "You know, I've thought about that a lot since that day, and I still can't explain it."

Weldon's first stop from the air was a tree near a railway station in Elisabethville, France. Tangled and surrounded by German soldiers, he always said his first thought was, "Well, Mellody, this is it." As he recounted the story many years later with a group of his grandson's college-aged friends, he told them of a Frenchman who offered him a cigarette. The German soldiers nodded an OK, so Weldon accepted.

Click here for more details about this photo and how Sgt Mellody was greeted by the population of Elisabethville
 

  Sgt James Weldon Mellody in Elisabethville
Sergeant Mellody in Elisabethville shortly after being arrested by the Germans. Robert Mourand salutes James Mellody.

Weldon was driven through Paris in a taxi to the French Bastille. "I saw Paris from the back of a taxi," quipped Weldon, "the Eiffel Tower and other sites." | Meanwhile on the Home Front... J.W. Bratton, Weldon's cousin who was based at Rivenhall, tried to write Weldon's parents, Mary & Harry to tell them about their son being shot down. The letter came back with the entire contents cut out. The censor said it might be better to rewrite the letter and not write anything about being shot down or where. J.W. revised: "I'm doing OK, but I can't say about Weldon." The Mellody's later received a telegraph that confirmed their son was a Prisoner of War. This was the news they would live with for the next year.

Prisoner of War Weldon was moved to Frankfurt for interrogation. A friend from his home-town had been shot down two weeks earlier, so Weldon asked the German interrogator if Marshall Ray Pullen had been through. The interrogator left the room and a few minutes later a big, blonde German woman came back with a file. Weldon found that Pullen had indeed been through, his whole crew was intact and well. The German then said, "I've helped you, now you need to help me." He laid out blue prints of the plane the American's were flying, Weldon replied "It looks like you already know more than I do." Weldon was in Frankfurt for two or three days, then was sent to Stalag IV, somewhere near Belgrade and the Baltic Sea. POW Tag # 2722

In Weldon's words, "The prison camp was quite tolerable." The guards were German soldiers, not Gestapo. At the camp, each soldier had an assignment. Weldon claimed he was the resident barber of the prison camp. One German soldier was from Wisconsin, USA; he and his family had traveled to Germany to visit family and were not allowed to leave. The man was drafted and made to serve in the German army. Weldon had the impression that some of the German soldiers were forced into military duty. This made them somewhat sympathetic to the POWs. Weldon even told that some of the German soldiers would trade items, such as wire (POWs used these in order to make radios) in exchange for cigarettes and other things. The prisoners were able to rig up radios and had war news 20 to 30 minutes after it happened. Life was tolerable until February 6 of 1945 - the coldest winter in the history of Europe.

As the Russians closed in from the east, the Germans broke camp and began marching the POW's west, then south trying to get to Munich, while American troops were coming up from the southwest. Rations were slim for all, Germans soldiers included. A jar of water and a slice of bread were the sole staples each day. During the march, Weldon’s birthday rolled around and he still had his watch. He decided the watch "wasn’t doing him any good" so he traded it for 2 loafs of black bread and a 2-pound can of jam. They splurged and ate the first loaf with jam on his birthday. The next loaf they made last longer by eating the bread between kolarobe turnip. They would thinly slice the turnip, then put the bread in the middle and have a turnip sandwich. At one point, the POW’s were marshaled into a barn at Magdenburg. There were lots of different POW’s from lots of different places... (Another story that began, but didn’t have an ending.) Nonetheless, this barn interested Weldon as it reminded him of home, “I don’t know why, I’d never taken anything that wasn’t mine, but I picked up 4 or 5 chisels and a couple of pieces of leather harnesses and such.” The items were still in the barn at the family farm when the contents were auctioned in the spring of 1987. Exactly how the POW’s were liberated is unclear, Weldon evaded some questions, but 86 days and 488 miles later, the POW’s were liberated close to Halle, Germany on April 26, 1945. Weldon said they had been seeing American troops for 2 or 3 days and several POW’s would try to sneak away, but would come back and say, “Don’t go out there.” He was a prisoner of war for 305 days.

Liberation After the POW’s were picked up by the American troops, they were flown to a base in Le Havre, France. Weldon weighed 127 pounds in full dress, with army boots and big wool overcoat. In Le Havre the ex-POW’s were fed five times a day. They received three big meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Then were sent back between meals for some type of thick eggnog drink to “fatten ‘um up.” On June 11, 1945, Weldon was deemed strong enough to travel so he boarded a US Navy ship at Le Havre that would take him back to the USA. Weldon always said, "If you worked on the ship crew you got three meals a days, if you didn’t work you got two." Weldon decided he had missed enough meals to know he would gladly work for three squares a day. When they arrived at Camp Patrick Henry in Newport News, Virginia Weldon weighed 160. “Life was getting better.” He left Virginia on a train headed for Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas. When Weldon arrived at the base in San Antonio, he heard someone holler “Heeey, Mellody!” He turned to see Joe Bailey Canup, a family friend, who had enlisted and was working at San Antonio. “It sure was good to see someone from home.”

Not sure what his path would be, Weldon didn’t call to tell he was headed home, but Joe Bailey had called his wife Fay. Weldon was back in Texas, and in the world of small Texas towns, word traveled fast. Weldon boarded a bus in San Antonio and headed north. From Dallas he hitch-hiked to Royse City arriving on Main Street sometime close to the 4th of July 1945. Aunt Ola and Uncle Tipton owned a barbershop in town, they closed up shop and drove him home. Weldon remembers, "Dad was riding the tractor and Mama was hoeing in the cotton field. She threw down the hoe where she stood and never went back into the field again. Weldon’s first meal home was fried chicken, cream potatoes, black-eyed peas, sliced tomatoes and strawberry shortcake. “It sure was good.” That Saturday everyone went to town and Wendell Wesberry was at Bennie and Fonie’s Café. Weldon went in to say hello, then left. Before he could get far, Wendell called him back into the Café saying, “I just got in trouble for not introducing you to the waitress.” That waitress was Wanda Jean Spearman. She was 16 years old and Weldon was 24, Weldon decided to stay and order a burger. “It was love at first bite,” he always said. The local newspaper repeatedly contacted Weldon, trying to get a story from him about the war. Weldon told the reporter, “The war is over; I came home to forget.” Weldon was home for 90 days then was sent back to Santa Monica, California to finish his service. Military discipline was pretty much non-existent and food was plentiful. The officers knew the men had been through so much so they just asked that they salute when saluted to. The soldiers were being organized into regiments to be sent back to Europe on peacekeeping missions. As the military began to count points Weldon had 85, enough to keep him in the states. Back up to his original 192 pounds on October 13, 1945, Weldon was Honorably Discharged and returned home to stay.

Weldon and Wanda were married on June 14, 1946. The pair set off to Texas Tech in Lubbock for Weldon to finish the education he had started before October of 1942. They had 5 children: Kay, Deborah, Jim, Cathy & Nancy Nine grandchildren: Deana, James, Lisa, Cam, Nikki, Mellody, Candon, Casey and Mitch and to date 12 great-grandchildren and 2 great-great grandchildren.

 

 

Gampy-isms

By Casey Mellody

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Nothing is ever wholly lost. That which is excellent remains forever a part of the universe.” James Weldon Mellody lived a lifetime of excellence. A beloved husband, father, and grandfather, a respected soldier and survivor, a man with strong, unwavering (some might even say obstinate) beliefs, a hard worker and a wise man, he will remain in our hearts forever. For some of us, Gampy will remain in our minds, too. He will be that voice in our conscience speaking his mind and sharing his wisdom. Gampy rarely felt a lack for words during his lifetime, and he leaves with us dozens of sayings, some wise, some funny, but all memorable. Sayings that we shall deem “Gampy-isms,” and mostly they started with him saying, “Well, it’s like I always tell ya...” Gampy had much to say about many things, but the number one thing he taught all of us—it was because he lived his own life by the same standard—was, “If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” He taught us about character. He said, “If you act as good as you look, then you’ll do just fine.” “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” “If you get in trouble at school, you’ll be in twice the trouble at home.” He said, “Your word is your bond.” “I just call a spade a spade,” and “If you say it, do it.” Gampy taught most of us how to drive. He said, “Stay on the right side of the road and right side up.” “Wanda Jean, you can only go as fast as the car in front of you.” And, “if you’re in that big of a hurry, we should’ve left fifteen minutes earlier.” About money, he said we should save it. He’d say, “It’s not what you make, it’s what you save,” “Pay yourself first,” and “If you’re going do something for the rest of your life, it might as well be something you love.” Gampy loved all of his grandkids very much. He said, “He’d toe the line if he could just find it.” He said, “You’re the runt of the bunch but the pick of the litter.” He said we’d be “the bestest with the mostest.” He told us to “be good, but only if we wanted to.” I guess that’s the blessing of being a grandfather. Hellos and goodbyes were always interesting. One would walk in the door and hear, “Well I’ll be damned.” When you asked, “How’re you doin?” you would always get a variety of answers, one being, “Well I’m still vertical.” You could ask, “Whatcha been up to?” and he’d say, “Oh, about 6’1” but shorter recently.” Or how about, “Hey, Gampy whatcha doin’” “I’m reading the obituaries, and it’s a good day ‘cause I’m not in ‘em.” Well, Gamp you finally made the papers, and it was still a good day. Like everything else, Gampy made goodbyes funny. If you said, “I’ll see ya later” he would thank you for the warning. But his most famous goodbye line was “I’m glad you got to see me.” And the truth is: Gampy, we’re glad we got to see you, too.

Source: http://www.mixbook.com/photo-books/interests/an-american-soldier-5272743

 

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