I wasn't able to get this story posted last week, but better late than never, right? This story will continue in a future post...
In 1865, the United States was reeling from the effects of the Civil War. One man in particular, an Irishman, married to a Cherokee bride, and who hailed from Douglasville, Georgia, was returning home having done his part to protect the South from the northern aggressors. By the time he returned home, Mitchell, which is the only name known, discovered that his son, Charlie Marshall Mitchell had flown the coop, in an effort to maintain peace in the house, due to an unknown grudge with his father.
Charlie, who was mixed-blood Cherokee, was caught by the powers that be and placed on a reservation in Oklahoma, where he was told to stay. He escaped the reservation and stayed on the run the rest of his life. In 1944, the U.S. Government contacted him and asked for his identity number. As far as he was concerned, they could go fly a kite. He never bothered to reply to the Government, and remained a fugitive for the remainder of his days.
Charlie met his bride near Aspermont, Texas, and they were married in 1908. A few years later, Elmo P. Mitchell, Pat, was born somewhere between McCaulley, Texas and Sylvester on January 18, 1926.
While Pat can claim to have lived in McCaulley, Texas, he actually grew up in the Lamesa and O’Donnell area. As a side note, Dan Blocker, (better known as Hoss Cartwright of the Ponderosa Ranch), was another native from O’Donnell, Texas.
Pat’s life was anything but ordinary, unless you are from a small farming town in West Texas. Back in the early 1930’s, there was little to do except to play dominoes and make music. Having grown up in a home that loved and lived for music, Pat was exposed to guitars and fiddles long before he was born. The first instrument he started played was the mandolin, but decided that it didn’t suit him. So, when the house was empty, he would take the guitar and climb up on the bed and play it until the folks came home. When he was seven years old, he played a song for his brother, who was so impressed, that within a few days Pat played his first gig at a dance in McCaulley. Thus launched a lifetime of smiles and music.
His fingers were so adept at playing music that he and his buddies formed a group called the Blue Bonnet Cowboys, and they played professionally for a brief year. As one might guess by the band’s name, they played Texas Swing, the kind you might hear coming from Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. In fact, Pat once played with some of the Bob Wills crew, and with Hugh Farr, who was with The Sons of the Pioneers. Despite his becoming a professional musician, he found the lifestyle distasteful, and bowed out of the professional gigs entirely. But he never left music.
Of course, one couldn’t depend entirely on music to make a living in the 1930’s, so he worked various jobs to help make ends meet. He worked for the National Youth Association in Lamesa, Texas, where he tried his hand at furniture making. Then he worked at an egg plant, where they made powdered eggs. Finally, he found a job working at a bakery, and it was a good match for him.
Fast forward to December 7, 1941, the day, according to President Roosevelt, that lived in infamy, when the US was catapulted into World War II via Pearl Harbor. Pat was hanging out with a group of friends in Patricia, Texas listening to the radio when the news of Japan attacking Hawaii was announced. Like most of the young men in America, he determined that he was going to join the war effort. When he turned 17, he went to Lubbock, Texas, where he stood in line for enlistment into the armed services. He happened to be in the right place at the right time to become a Marine. So, on October 13, 1943, Pat found himself in El Paso, Texas at the historic Paso del Norte Hotel for his physical and swearing in ceremony. The Marines assigned him to the South Pacific Theater; therefore he went to San Diego and Twenty-nine Palms, where he was introduced to the delicate task of Marine boot camp. Pat smiled fondly and commented, “That’s where I found out what I was. That corporal who met me as I got off the bus immediately identified me as a &$^%. Up to that point, I was unaware of this!”
Contrary to what one might believe, his time in the various Marine schools was not entirely pleasant. One day, he got cross-wise with a sergeant and got KP duty for 30 days. Once he got off that duty, something else happened and he did an additional 30 days. By this time, he had figured out that KP wasn’t as bad as some made it out to be, and volunteered for 30 more days. Before long, they made him the Scullery Chief!
When the Marines looked at Pat’s background, they saw that he had worked as a furniture builder and concluded that he should be in construction, despite his attempts to become a cook. After his training in Miramar, California, he shipped out for Hawaii, and eventually to the Marshall Islands, where he was a maintenance man, trying to keep the base in good order. That wouldn’t last long, because the push to Okinawa and the Japanese mainland was well underway.
On April 1, 1945, the battle for Okinawa began when the Tenth Army landed on Higashi beach on L-Day. Yomitan Airstrip was secured while Japanese planes were still trying to land. Pat’s combat engineers were the first echelon to set up camp in an attempt to preserve and maintain the airstrip for American use. In the days that followed, some of the most desperate fighting occurred as Japan was frantic to regain its hold on the island. From April the 6th through the 18th, 400 Kamikaze planes made an all-out effort against Okinawa Island, Ryukyu Islands, and the various local shipping and beach heads. In that time, two destroyers, two ammunition ships, a mine sweeper, and an LST are sunk due to Japanese attacks, while other vessels are damaged.
The HQ AAF (Twentieth Air Force) reported that in missions numbered 70 to 75: 118 B-29s bombed airfields at Tachiarai, Kokubu, Izumi, Nittagahara, and 2 at Kanoya, Japan; 5 others attacked targets of opportunity. Up through May 11, XXI Bomber Command devoted 75 per cent of its combat effort to support of the Okinawa campaign. During this period, the American B-29s flew more than 2,100 sorties against 17 airfields on Kyushu and Shikoku Islands which were dispatching air attacks (including Kamikaze raids) against USN and USMC forces. On a short side note, Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper columnist Ernie Pyle was killed on Ie Shima by a sniper during this campaign.
Sugar Loaf Hill
And where was Pat when all of this was happening? He was still on the airfield trying to repair the damage done by Japanese bombers and artillery. One day, three Betty Bomber, a Japanese aircraft, crashed into their airfield in a kamikaze run. They spent several hours trying to round up the crews of the planes, who attempted to carry out more of their sabotage mission. The Japanese also had a series of tunnels they had built into Sugar Loaf Hill, which overlooked the runway, where they could bring artillery on line to bombard the airstrip. (Part of a complex of three hills, Sugar Loaf formed the western anchor of General Mitsuru Ushijima's Shuri Line, which stretched from coast to coast across the island. Sugar Loaf was critical to the defense of that line, preventing U.S. forces from turning the Japanese flank).
Most of the Japanese efforts to bombard the airfield were nothing more than a nuisance, but it was a constant one. Daily, the Japanese attempted to destroy the airfield in an effort to turn the tide of the battle. In May, the Marines and the 10th Army took Sugar Loaf Hill, which guarded the entrance to the Japanese 32nd Army and the road to Naha. However, the Marines paid a dear price for it, losing thousands of men to death, wounds, and combat fatigue. It wasn’t until May 18 that Sugar Loaf was finally seized. Two days later, the Japanese mounted a battalion-sized counterattack in an effort to regain their lost position, but the Marines held the line. All of this activity was occurring in Pat’s immediate area. When the wounded started rolling in from the front, he and his crew spent their free time visiting the various evacuation hospitals in the area and playing music for the wounded. During the day they maintained the airfield. During the night they would play, and then return to the airfield to their quarters. Several times they traded their guitars and fiddles for M-1 riffles and Colt .45s, for the war was still raging.
When I asked Pat what the most memorable moment in Okinawa was, and he smiled wryly and said, “We were in Buckner’s Bay on a Kaiser Coffin (a transport boat built by Kaiser) when we heard that the Japanese had signed an unconditional surrender. Within the hour, they turned around and we started home.” Literally, they returned state-side on the day the armistice was signed. He and several thousand Marines had long since earned enough points to return home, and they had been in a holding pattern waiting for their orders. So, when the Japanese surrendered, they sailed back across the Pacific to California. Before long, Corporal Mitchell found himself as a civilian.
He returned to Lamesa, Texas and went back to work at the bakery for several years. During this time, he became acquainted with a young lady named Nettie Mae Taylor, who worked as a soda jerk at the local drug store. Feeling compelled to buy the occasional soda, they became better friends due to his frequent visits. On January 19th, 1947, he took her as his bride and they began a happy life together. He got a job offer working in the newly developing oil fields, which took him to Carlsbad, New Mexico. While between jobs, he accepted employment in the potash mines in Carlsbad, where he worked until he retired in 1989.
Of course, this is only a snapshot of Pat’s life. There are still a few more important things you need to know about him. Pat grew up attending a Baptist Church, and he came to know the Lord when he was seven years old in the McCaulley First Baptist Church. While he freely admits there were days he didn’t take religion very seriously, he had a life-long commitment to the Lord, and lived his life accordingly. I suspect this was part of the reason he found being a professional musician to be counter-productive. In 1995, he was inducted into the New Mexico Hall of Fame for fiddling. If you visit Pat’s Place, his work shop/music barn behind his house, you will see that his walls are adorned with more than 50 first and second place awards from the various competitions he undertook.
Pat also had a brother, T.C. Mitchell who served in the Army and was an occupation force member in Japan for some of the months immediately following the war.
Recently in 2007, Pat lost the love of his life, the ever smiling Nettie, whom we dearly miss.
If you are in the mood for some really good fiddle music, you can find Pat and his group making music like nobody’s business in his shop, Pat’s Place on Tuesday evenings. And if you happen to see a man whose gentle smile and graceful fingers making musical notes melt like butter, then you know you’ve found a man worth talking about: Corporal Pat Mitchell, USMC.