Namon Clark, one of my grandfather's first cousins, helped liberate a concentration camp during World War II

I was well into adulthood when I heard a superhero story that would trump all the others. It was about Namon Clark, one of my grandfather’s first cousins, helping to liberate a concentration camp during World War II. My cousin Nineveh didn’t go into much detail when she relayed the story to me, but I was awed nonetheless. Here’s a roll call of my family’s military experience.

World War I

Oliver, Marlin, George and Mackie Nance. These are four of my great-grandfather’s brothers. They ranged in age from 21 to 28 when they completed their draft registration cards. Oliver and George claimed exemption. Marlin and Mackie did not. My cousin Renetta and I interviewed Uncle Marlin’s 95-year-old widow earlier this year. Like me, she was curious about the war experience. She said her late husband didn’t talk about the war much. When she asked him about, she said, his response was “Just leave it alone.”.,  . .  George Nance, according to his draft registration card, was working on a railroad in Millville, Fla. Oliver, who was called Bud, was married with two children.

Marlin Nance’s World War I draft registration card. He was 21 at the time and was working on his father’s farm in Enterprise, Ala.

Dorsey Pinkard. Dorsey Pinkard is one of my maternal great-grandfathers. When he registered for the draft, he was a sharecropper in Chattahoochee County, Ga., where he had grown up. He and his older brother, Bennie, registered for the draft on the same day. Their draft records do not indicate if they claimed exemption and I am unsure if they actually served in the war.

Crawford Bryant Jr. Crawford Bryant Jr. was the oldest brother of one of my maternal great-grandmothers, Rachel Bryant. He was 33 when he registered for the draft in September 1918.

Elijah, Ernest, Henry and Babe Tindell. Elijah Henry and Babe Tindell were the sons of Seaborn Tindell Jr., who was my great-great grandfather’s younger brother. Ernest was the son of Amos Tindell, another younger brother. (Simply put, these four were my great-grandmother’s first cousins). Elijah, as mentioned in a previous post, was the first principal of Coffee County Training School. He registered for the draft at age 37. 23-year-old Ernest was working as a chauffeur in Montgomery, Ala., when he registered for the draft. Henry, 25, and Babe, 21, were working on their father’s farm in Enterprise.

World War II

Namon, Noah and Abraham B. Clark: this trio of brothers were the sons of Henrietta Nance Clark, an older sister to my great-grandfather, J.E. Nance. Abraham B. Clark (1924-2010) was the long-time pastor at First Baptist Church in Union Springs, Ala., brought the Head Start program to the city and was a member of the Bullock County School Board. Noah, as remembered by his niece Vernetta Clark DeRamus, was outgoing. He attended Florida Agricultural and Mechanical College and was a member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity. He was later active in the Boy Scouts. The four of them were first cousins to my grandfather, Y.C. Nance.

Y.C., Syvalouis, Henry Frank and Maryland Nance: Y.C., Syvalouis and Henry Frank were the oldest sons of J.E. and Mamie Nance. Shortly before the war, my grandfather, Y.C., chose two names to stand for the “Y” and the “C”– Yarborough Carmichael. . . Syvalouis, lovingly known as “Uncle Vic,” (b. 1922) told me how frightened he was to handle a 30-caliber machine gun during battle. But, he told me, “I never shot at anyone and I was never shot at.” Uncle Vic told me he was mostly in the South Pacific during the war. . . .  We call Henry Frank Nance “Uncle Babe.” His funeral is one of my earliest childhood memories. Maryland was a first cousin to the brothers. His dad, Mackie Nance, was a World War I vet and younger brother of J.E.

Korean War

James A. Nance: Uncle James (b. 1930) is my grandfather’s youngest brother. He and I began writing letters to each other when I was nine years old. Since then, he’s been one of my favorite people to talk to. His candor and unintentional humor make his stories unforgettable. I never asked him much about his military service, but he did tell me he was a Navy cook.

My uncle, Bill Hawkins, served during the Vietnam War. Again, I never asked him about his military service, but every now and then he’ll make mention of certain memories, like neverending rain. My relatives continue their service today; I have several cousins in the Army and one in the Navy.