In recognition of the upcoming Memorial Day holiday, state Rep. Sheilla Lampkin continues her tributes to WWII veterans. This week, she writes about the late Garland Rash.
Throughout our history there have been too many days that will be remembered – or never forgotten – for events unfathomable in our minds. One such day was December 7, 1941, when the Japanese forces bombed the American forces stationed at Pearl Harbor and Hickam Field in the Hawaiian Islands. On that day President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke the words that forever labeled December 7, 1941, as such a day – a “day of infamy”.
Since this day was the catalyst that brought the United States of America into WWII, it is appropriate to share a veteran’s story that has a unique relationship with that day in our miniseries to honor our veterans. The late Garland Rash of Monticello was not stationed at Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. He came later. Still his story has a unique twist. First we will summarize his war experiences then return to the Pearl Harbor connection.
Born August 23, 1924, in Drew County Garland Rash finished his formal education here. As he had always had a talent for the building trades, Mr. Rash went to California when WWII broke out. He became busy building wooden racks to be used to raise ships out of the water to be repaired. From California he went to Texas for additional construction work.
While home for Mother’s Day, 1943, he decided to enlist in the service. Mr. Rash enlisted in the Navy on July 9, 1943, and was promptly sent to boot camp at Camp Perry, Virginia. He was assigned to the 116th Naval Battalion as a “Seabee”.
The Seabees were the construction units of the Navy. They were portrayed so heroically in the movie “The Fighting Seabees”, a John Wayne feature film. After more training in Rhode Island and Bay St. Louis, he was given a leave to come home before being shipped to the Pacific Front.
While home, he met Kathleen Lawson and they began dating – but that’s part of the rest of the story.
After returning from leave Mr. Rash was sent overseas to Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands for a time. While at Pearl Harbor Rash’s unit did special construction work. They built engine test blocks for American airplanes. This was a “secret” mission. The planes were flown over from the states then equipped in Hawaii with the new engine blocks. This was done clandestinely to keep enemy intelligence unaware of the newer engines. Hysteria about spies necessitated the stealth.
Mr. Rash also saw action all over the Pacific, including Iwo Jima, the Philippines and Japan. Like so many others, he doesn’t talk much about the horrors of war.
By mid-1945 Petty Officer 2nd Class Rash and his battalion were on their way to Japan. As they neared the islands they knew there were heavy guns fortifying the shores and trained on the American forces. They began floating off the southwestern coast of Kyushu, Japan’s southernmost island, near the city of Sasabo awaiting further orders.
The naval forces were scheduled to hit the beaches any day when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and, two days later, Nagasaki, Japan, and the war ended.
Mr. Rash and his fellow troops credit those bombs with saving their lives. They realized that the mounted artillery guns and apanese forces would have cut the American troops to pieces if they had landed.
Petty Officer Rash had the opportunity to go ashore with the occupying forces after the surrender. He found the ordinary Japanese citizens he came in contact with to be very pleasant and sociable.
Soon after the war’s end, his commanding officer, Robert Stuart, came and said some men were going to be shipped home. The sailors were to draw names to determine who would go first.
There were twins in the outfit and, when one’s name was drawn, he wouldn’t go without the other. The officer then asked Rash if he wanted to go home. When Rash asked “When?” the officer said “Now!”
Petty Officer Rash had to grab his gear and hustle. He still wound up having to throw his gear aboard the homebound ship and climb the nets onto the deck to make it in time.
Mr. Rash came home with tropical malaria which plagued him for years. He got back to the USA in December, 1945, and was sent to New Orleans to be discharged. He was officially discharged on February 13, 1946, and returned to Drew County.
While Mr. Rash was overseas he had keep in close contact with the young girl he had dated a few times. Upon his return their courtship resumed and he and Kathleen were wed March 1, 1946.
Mr. Rash went on to have a very successful career as a master carpenter and he and Kathleen raised a fine family of three children. Later came several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Garland Rash has now gone home, but his memory lives on in those who knew and loved him.
When I visited him, he too had clear memories of his military days. He also had one keepsake from those days that sets his story apart from so many others.
While at Pearl Harbor in 1943, Rash had managed to collect several pieces of wood and plexiglas from the plane and ship debris left after the infamous bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese on December 7, 1941.
During his nonworking hours Mr. Rash had crafted two beautiful wooden boxes from these scrap materials. He cut the pieces in smaller sizes and glued them together in a beautiful inlaid mosaic pattern. The boxes measured about 5” by 7” by 3” and were exquisite. Several different kinds of wood were used.
The lining of the boxes were made from parachute scraps and were a soft yellow color. This lining was also glued.
The boxes had a lid made of clear plexiglas salvaged from the portholes of ships and aircraft windshields. Each top had the inlaid wood glued onto its bottom as a “lip” to make it fit tightly on the box. Each top also had a “knob” for lifting made of the plexiglas. Each box also had tiny plexiglas “feet” riveted to its bottom to rest on.
Each box was a masterpiece in design and craftsmanship and invaluable because each was one-of-a-kind and had such historical significance.
Mr. Rash sent one of the boxes to Kathleen while he was still in Hawaii. She had held onto it all these years. It is still a beauty in excellent shape and a family treasure.
While the Rashes still reminisced and enjoyed one box, the second box has another different and unique story to tell. Many people remember Bing Crosby and his music and film career. Some may remember that Bing had a younger brother – Bob Crosby.
Born in 1913 Bob Crosby was ten years younger than older brother Bing. When he reached adulthood Bob Crosby had a musical career of his own. Although he never reached the level of fame as Bing, he was a fair singer known more for his Dixieland band, the Bobcats. He made many records and starred in numerous movies and TV shows from the 1930s well into the late 1950s. One of his biggest hits was a jazzy number called “Big Noise from Winnetka”.
During WWII Bob Crosby was drafted and accepted a commission in the Marine Corps in 1944. He toured the Pacific Theatre with various bands.
It seems that Crosby and Mr. Rash were in Hawaii at the same time and Bob Crosby became aware of the box. He asked to buy, and was sold, the second box. So, one of these unique, original pieces of folk art became the property of Bob Crosby. (I tried to determine if it still exists as part of Crosby’s estate, but was unsuccessful.)
I was privileged to see and hold the second box in 2005 and believe it survives with a member of the Rash family today. It is a beautiful piece of artistry and a national treasure for its historical significance. It is also a tribute to an excellent American artisan. An object of beauty truly is a joy forever.