Many local men fought for our freedom

Published 11:39 am Saturday, July 4, 2015

Howard Byrd has a most interesting story of service during World War II, and I have pestered him for years to talk about his time spent as a German prisoner of war.

Like many other veterans who have experienced the horrors of war, he chose to let it lie in the past. Recently, he started talking about it to his family and to others.

I have known the Byrd family for most of my life as we went to church with them when I was growing up and we were neighbors in the Sheridan community.

With the help of his grandson, Grayson Ball, he finally told me his war story…which is written above.

Therein lies another story: his personal one.

Howard was born in 1921 in Sanford, Miss. His father, Huey Byrd, had not yet begun preaching and was a sharecropper when Howard was growing up.

They moved around quite a bit and Howard left school in the fifth grade to pick cotton and work in the fields for the rest of his childhood. Many children during that time forfeited their education to help support the family. He gave all he earned to his dad for the family.

After his father, “Preacher Byrd” as he was called by just about everybody, started preaching, he was called to a church in this area and moved his large here from Mississippi.

They eventually bought the farm in the Sheridan community adjacent to the J.D. Sheridans, after he began as pastor at Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church, where he served for many years.

Living next door to the Sheridans had its benefits — chief among them being their pretty daughter, Donia. I didn’t get the full story, but it was a sweet love story, and Howard married the “girl next door” just before she turned 17. She baked her own wedding cake in home economics class and brought it home on the school bus!

He borrowed the money for the marriage license from a neighbor, George Costoff, who was known as “The Old Dutchman” although he was from Bulgaria.

Family members gathered camellias for a corsage and a boutonniere. They had a very simple ceremony on the front porch of the Sheridan home one Sunday afternoon, and Howard went back to work the next day.

They were married when he was called away in service. That marriage lasted for 67 years before Donia passed away. They had one daughter, Diane, who is married to Eld. Doyle Ball, and they have two sons.

For most all their married life, the Byrds lived right next door to her parents and just down the road apiece from his. Donia kept most of the letters she received from him and a lot of other things. He also saved hers and sent them home in a wooden box he made from odds and ends.

When I used to ask Howard to tell me his story, he would tell me to talk to Donia, that she remembered more about it than he did. As we get older we tend to live more in the past, and I suppose those memories are coming back to him.

Not only did Howard serve in World War II, but he had two brothers who also served, George and B.J. Byrd. After his years of service, Howard also got his high school equivalency diploma.

On New Year’s Eve 1944 at Mt. Sinai Church, Pastor Huey Byrd held a prayer service for the boys fighting in the war. The congregation poured out their hearts in prayer and song until after midnight.

Nearly 20 young men from Mt. Sinai served in WWII, and they all made it back alive. Since my husband’s parents were members at that church, I’m sure Rob’s brother, Percy Breland, and his brother-in-law, Buck O’Quinn, were included in that number. Daniel Corkern, a friend who went into service the same day as Howard, was another.

Several years ago, Grayson Ball commissioned me to paint an oil portrait of his grandparents. It was my pleasure to paint the images of these sweet people. Grayson has also pulled out some war pictures and other things that have been put away for so many years and framed them for his grandfather.

I think this has also helped this war vet to remember his experiences. A wall bears these images along with the portrait.

We tend not to want to talk about the bad things in our lives, but the histories of these brave soldiers who have been to war need to be recorded.

Thank you, Howard Byrd, for sharing with us. And thank you for your service. You went beyond the call of duty.

May God abundantly bless you.