Junior was my Papaw’s younger brother. Both Papaw and Junior served in WWII. Papaw came home, and Junior didn’t. Today, my blog is dedicated to my great-uncle Junior.
Nobody in the family knows the details of Junior’s service in WWII. I’ve pieced together some information, but I’m not a military history buff. Forgive my amateurish efforts to explain what happened to Junior.
Junior enlisted in the US Army on March 24, 1944. He was eighteen years old. Junior eventually became a member of the 311th Infantry Regiment, 78th Infantry Division. The name of Junior’s company has been lost.
By December of 1944, Junior was in Germany. The 78th Division became embroiled in battle west of Schmidt, fighting the German 272nd Volksgrenadier Division for the village of Kesternich.
They soon learned they were assaulting the forward units in the general area and retreated to secure positions to the west. The 78th Infantry Division was rejoined by their nomadic 311th Regiment. Together, they held their positions during the Battle of the Bulge.
On January 30, 1945, the 78th redoubled their efforts to secure the village of Kesternich. After a two day assault, the village was secured. Two hundred twenty-four men’s lives were lost. Junior was one of those men who gave his life for his country. He had just turned nineteen years old.
A soldier who was with Junior at the time of his death contacted my great-grandparents after the war. He and Junior were fighting from within a house and talking to one another. Junior stopped talking, his friend looked over, and saw Junior had been shot.
My Papaw remembered Junior as a young man who got into a lot of fights. Papaw said he spent a good deal of effort keeping Junior out of fights. When Junior and his company came to New York to ship out, Papaw, who was stationed nearby, went to see him off. Papaw said he knew, as he waved goodbye, he’d never see Junior again.
When Junior died, the US Army sent out a telegram to his family, who lived several miles outside Groveton, Texas. The telegram operator couldn’t call the Thorntons, because they didn’t have phone. As word spread, so did the number of people who wanted to console the first family in Trinity County to lose a son to the war.
My great-aunt Grace remembers seeing that long line of cars coming up the white sand road to their house. Aunt Grace knew those people had come to tell them Junior was dead. She hid under some flour sacks on the porch.
Chita Cemetery stands on a hill way, way, way out in country in Trinity County. It’s where where my family–Skeinses, Parkers, and Thorntons–have been interred since the 1800s. It is where I will someday be interred. When I go out there to put flowers on Papaw’s and Gran’s graves, I always stop at Junior’s tombstone.
You won’t find Junior Thornton’s name in a history book. That I know of, he didn’t distinguish himself in any way. He did, however, make the ultimate sacrifice for this country. For that reason, I always take a moment to pay my respects.
Have a good Memorial Day Weekend.
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