Two of those who are especially on my mind and close to my heart today are M. L. Thigpen and Minnie Carr. He gave his life and she survived being a prisoner of war during World War II.
I never knew M. L. Thigpen. Although we were first cousins, I have no memory of him. I was a preschooler when he, a boy soldier, went away to war.
He was listed as Missing in Action after his plane was shot down. His remains were never found.
Minnie Carr and my mother were classmates and the best of friends when they were both in nursing school in Milledgeville around 1930.
After their graduation, my mom and Minnie went their separate ways but stayed in touch with one another. My mom and dad married and soon had three children.
Minnie must have been courageous and adventuresome. She joined the WAVES — the U. S. Navy division for women during World War II. After she was assigned to wartime Europe, my mom frequently exchanged letters with her.
Minnie was stationed in a hospital in France when the war ended in Europe. I have the note she wrote to my parents describing the jubilation there.
She said the French people had gone wild and the Americans were celebrating just as hard. She wrote that there was no place on earth she had rather have been on that day.
But then she added that while the war was over for them, it was not over for the Americans. She did not know where she and the other American troops would go next.
In closing her letter, she said that when, or if, she got home, she would come to Sparta to visit.
Minnie did return and did come to visit us. I was in elementary school. I had seen many men in military uniforms, but never before had I seen a woman.
I was mesmerized. She was wearing a white blouse and skirt with a navy cape. Both the blouse and the cape were decorated with brass buttons and medals. I could not keep my eyes off her.
Unbeknownst to me, after leaving France and going to the South Pacific, Minnie had been captured and held a prisoner-of-war by the Japanese. During those years, no one would have talked about what Minnie had endured as a POW around a child.
Somehow the people of our community knew about Minnie and her visiting our family. She was invited to go to our school. I was so proud walking into the school with her. Naturally, she was wearing her dress uniform.
I was so fascinated with her I wanted to be wherever she was.
But that did not happen. My mother repeatedly sent my sister, brother and me outside. She and Minnie must have talked privately for hours each day she was there.
As years passed, my mom would tell me she had heard from Minnie. She had married. Eventually, my mom learned that Minnie had died and was buried beside her husband at Arlington National Cemetery.
Once when we were in Washington my mom said she wished we could visit Minnie’s grave at Arlington. However, while my mom knew Minnie had married, she could not remember her married name. Thus, we could not find her grave in the directory.
Even after my mother’s death, I was determined to find that grave. I began writing letters to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. It seemed everyone wanted to help, but there was a huge stumbling block.
A fire at a military installation in St. Louis had burned the records that would have had her information.
At the time Georgia’s Max Cleland was in the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. Eventually, someone got the information for him. He notified me that Captain Minnie Carr King was buried very near the Tomb of the Unknowns.
Because of M. L. Thigpen, Minnie Carr King and millions of others, ours is the greatest country the world has ever known. Let us all be appreciative of those who protect and defend the United States of America.
And let us never forget to pray that God will bless America.
Marguerite Cline is the former mayor of Waleska.