Family of Rufus Omar DOUGLAS (94) & Minnie BURRESS
On 9 Nov 1940 Louise married Jodie GOWAN. Born in 1923. At the age of 85, Jodie died in Atwood, Carroll County, Tennessee on 25 Feb 2008. Buried on 28 Feb 2008 in Hopewell Cemetery, Lavinia, Carroll County, Tennessee.
Obituary: ATWOOD: Jodie L. Gowan, 85, died Monday, February 25, at his home. Funeral services are Thursday, February 28, at 2 p.m. at Bodkin Funeral Home in Milan with burial in Hopewell Cemetery in Lavinia. Mr. Gowan was a retired farmer, a member of Hopewell Baptist Church and a WW II U.S. Army veteran. He was captured by the Germans at Krinhelt, Belgium and was a prisoner of war for 4 1/2 months. Survivors include: his wife, Louise Gowan of Atwood; three daughters, Linda Inman of Atwood, Alice Kay Jackson of Martin and Nancy Blankenship of Milan; one son, Joe Ray Gowan of Grand Junction; 10 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. The family requests memorials be made to the Gideons International. The family will receive friends from 5:30 until 8 p.m. Wednesday at the funeral home.
They had the following children:
By Deborah Turner
Hardships wrought by the Great Depression of the 1930's are credited with molding the hardy men who fought in World War II, but even the rigors of that purveyor of austerity and moral fiber failed to prepare them for the severity of life in German Prisoner of War camps.
Personal accounts of Stalag IVB, where Jodie Gowan of Atwood, Tennessee was held for four and a half months after being captured by German forces, detail frozen days and nights spent in barracks with no heat and only one thin blanket for comfort against the joint miseries of cold, hunger and loneliness for home.
Upon arriving at the camp, delousing was accomplished through a procedure in which the men were stripped of their clothing, which was sanitized in a pressurized steam process while they showered en masse. "It was fortunate that one did not know until later how similar the procedure was to the gas chamber executions of the Jews," remarked former POW Stan Lambert in an Internet account of the Stalag.
"We didn't have anything to eat, that was the worst part," Jodie says, his eyes betraying hard memories of days spent in ironic servitude, where living conditions were conducive only to death but men were required, nonetheless, to labor. The Germans' own rations were shortened as Allied gains translated into reduced resources for the struggling empire.
Work assignments varied each day, affording little opportunity for familiarity outside the daily routine of living. Jodie's eyes sparkle as he recalls the day he and nine other prisoners were assigned to unload cabbages: "They was the prettiest cabbages you ever seen in your life! They were that big around," he exclaims, his big farmer's hands forming a circle bigger than a basketball, "If you dropped one on the ground it would absolutely pop."
Those lucky enough to be assigned to the detail thus subsidized their diet with cabbage that day. "We ate that; we ate everything we could find," he says. Normal prison rations included small servings of potatoes culled from those fed to the German armies, and rutabagas, a root crop similar to turnips, but were never enough to ease the men's gnawing hunger or to provide necessary energy to their wasting bodies.
Jodie, himself a farmer before becoming a soldier, was assigned another day to plant potatoes. That evening as he lay hungry in his bunk, he decided an early harvest was in order. He stole out to the field and dug up the potatoes he had earlier planted, slipping them inside the torn lining in the back of his coat. He ate the potatoes at night, escaping detection during daytime inspections by shifting them from side to side.
In a postcard Jodie sent from Stalag IVB, he entreats his family not to worry about him.
"After Germany surrendered they turned me aloose with the rest of them; the Germans left us and we didn't know where to go," Jodie says, recalling that "as far as you could see" along the road, Germans were leaving, having abandoned their posts rather than face their conquerors, among whom were the stalwart Russian forces reported to be approaching the Stalag.
Many of the former prisoners decided leaving was in their best interests as well, and Jodie, along with a small band of four or five other men, began walking in search of an American unit.
After a couple days' journey, the men encountered a middle-aged woman, probably in France, who invited the men into her home where she washed their clothes and fed them breakfast, then dinner and supper.
"We hadn't had a bath for four or five months; we were dirty as pigs!" Jodie says, his thanks still fresh after nearly 60 years. "She didn't know us no more than nobody else but she gave us whatever she had."
The men rested there for the next three or four days, with the woman's efforts aided by other townspeople. At night, Jodie says, he slept on a feather bed that was a foot deep, covering himself with another one nearly as thick.
"I was starting to get warmed up," smiles Jodie, who had never thawed from the freezing cold of the winter's battle.
A infantryman with Company K of the 9th Infantry Regiment, Jodie had arrived on the shores of Normandy's Omaha Beach on the 7th of June, 1944, the day after D-Day, and fought with his unit through three major battles in Normandy, northern France and the Rhineland before being captured during the Battle of the Bulge in the tiny country of Belgium on the 17th of December.
"We were expecting anything to happen," Jodie says of every day spent on foreign soil during the war. "You don't know how scared a fella gets."
Cut off from their unit, with only three men left alive in their squad, Jodie labored with his fellows all day, digging a shelter into the frozen ground. "It was cold - I mean sure enough cold," says Jodie, "I had everything I had on and wore it all the time."
The men were so weak they could hardly walk by the time they retreated into their hideaway as German tanks rumbled into the ranks of troops hidden and scattered along the thin Allied front.
"The tanks were running nearly about all day and all night shooting at anybody they could see," Jodie recounts. "We could've stayed there; if we'd stayed they would never have found us, but the sergeant decided he'd better stick his head out the door and when he did they turned that big gun aloose. They killed the guy beside of me and blowed the sergeant's head right off. I think if he'd stayed still we could've made it, maybe."
Jodie's wartime experiences were a world removed from his early service days when his young wife had joined him in Wisconsin during training.
The two had known each other all their lives, attending school together in Whitthorne before Jodie begged his father to allow him to switch to Lavinia so he could ride the truck to school with the other boys.
Only later did he and Louise Douglas (the daughter of justice of the peace and school board official Omer Douglas) begin dating. They married on November 9, 1940, when they were both 18.
It was a fun time to live in West Tennessee, the couple agrees, when no television meant people came together for entertainment. "Neighbors spoke to each other, visited each other and all such a thing as that," Louise begins. Jodie picks up in the couple's familiar custom of speaking as one, "You could holler one house to the next; we had lots of nice friends, and everybody helped everybody."
The two were lying on the couch one evening listening to the radio when they heard the news that Pearl Harbor had been bombed.
"We both knew he would be called," says Louise, " the young ones had done been sent on; we came next, the ones that didn't have any children."
She recalls the letter Jodie received concerning his induction into the army began, "Greetings from Uncle Sam".
Right Above: Jodie Gowan as a young soldier.
Above: An English photography studio created a composite Jodie calls "pipe dreams" using a snapshot Lousie had sent from home.
Louise and another soldier's wife traveled to Wisconsin by train and the couples rented apartments side by side in Sparta, 20 miles from the base. When Jodie couldn't spend the night at home, Louise would join him on post. The "girls" learned to enjoy military life with the ease of commissary shopping while the townsfolk went out of their way to be nice to the soldiers.
"Everybody was just as nice," says Jodie, "We really enjoyed it."
Louise spent about six months in the northern state, going back alone after her friend became pregnant and returned home to Tennessee.
"Jodie still can't believe I went (back) by myself," grins Louise, recalling the ordeal of changing trains in Chicago.
When the soldiers received orders to "ship out", military officials advised it was time for all the wives to go home. Louise moved in with her parents in Gleason, where the family had moved after being displaced by the Milan Army Ammunition plant that had claimed thousands of acres.
After he was captured in Belgium, Louise received a letter from his commander that said he was missing in action since December 17. Later, she received a postcard from Jodie, dated January 10, 1945 from Stalag IVB, letting her know he was okay.
"When I got that card the mail carrier had already made his rounds about 9:00 that morning. About 3:00 in the afternoon he brought that around," smiles Louise appreciatively.
When the war was over, unaware of how Jodie's story was unfolding, the family was preparing breakfast one morning when he walked in the door.
"I went to him right quick," Louise declares, glad to have her man back home, though the war was far from over for a man who had experienced battle and life as a P.O.W.
"It took me a long time before I'd tell anybody anything," he says.
"Once he got home he would go out and lay on the back porch; that went on for a long time," says Louise.
Jodie and Louise bought 180 acres of land outside Atwood with his G.I. loan where they continued farming. In later years, Louise and the couple's four children operated the dairy farm while Jodie supplemented the family income by working on wells.
In addition to children Linda Inman, Joe Ray Gowan, Kay Jackson, and Nancy Blankenship, the couple has eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
This past Sunday, they celebrated 63 years of marriage. They are members of Hopewell Baptist Church in Lavinia.
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