This spring I was in southeast Missouri doing some research for a family history on the families of my grandfather, John Daniel Littrell, and his brother James Carroll Littrell. The particular information I was looking for was the military service of their sons.
While visiting the libraries of Mississippi and New Madrid counties I was amazed at the number of enlistees from the two counties during World War II and the Korean War. During WWII, virtually every issue of the area newspapers listed 50, 75, 100 local boys reporting for service. The numbers were staggering when one considers that this was not a densely populated area. While contributing more than its fair share of young men to the war effort, these numbers could not have been achieved without many families sending more than one son off to war. In John Littrell's family alone, five sons and two sons-in-law served between 1941 and 1952.
The last stop on this particular trip was a visit to the cemetery located in Anniston to obtain a photograph of Lindsie Prior "Bordie" Thurman's headstone.
Bordie was an Army Veteran of World War II and the husband of Bertha Ann Littrell, John Littrell's third daughter. While growing up I had spent several summer vacations with my grandparents, John and Kizzie Comer Littrell in East Prairie (and lived for a short time in Marston), but was only vaguely familiar with those areas. I had heard of Anniston and knew that my grandparents had lived there prior to settling in East Prairie but had never actually been there. Upon arriving in Anniston it was obvious that the little town had seen more robust times. I probably had unrealistic expectations based on family stories from my youth. Gone were the theater, school, and cafe that were prominent in those recollections.
Upon finding the cemetery I began looking for Uncle Bordie's headstone. As I searched I became aware of two oddities concerning the little cemetery.
The first oddity was that the population of the graveyard appeared to be close to or greater than the population of the town (288). This by itself is not unique; I have visited hundreds of cemeteries in Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri over the last 10 years and have seen many towns where the dead outnumbered the living. What was different about Anniston though was that neither the town nor the cemetery appeared to be as old as the other towns that had this same situation.
The second oddity however was very unique. As I wandered among the headstone it struck me that a large portion of the headstones had 'veteran plaques.' Eventually this realization was overwhelming so I started counting the headstones that were those of veterans. By the time I found Bordie's headstone it was apparent that anywhere from a fourth to a third of the occupants of the Anniston Cemetery were veterans of WWII and Korea. I have never seen such a large percentage of veterans in any post Civil War cemetery.
If you figure that half of the occupants of the cemetery are females then that means half of the male population in the quaint little cemetery served their country. Even if the population of Anniston during this time was twice as large as it is now, the contribution of this little town was a significant portion of the male population when you consider that the cemetery only represents residents and former servicemen who chose to be buried there. I myself know of at least four former residents and veterans of this period who were not buried here: my father, Junior Dolan "J.D." Littrell and his brothers, Redford, O.J., and Les.'
As Veterans Day approaches and our thoughts are focused on veterans past and present, the people of Southeast Missouri should be proud of the contributions of the many families in the area during this century. While John and Kizzie Littrell had five sons and two sons-in-law serve their country and at least 11 grandchildren do the same, it should be recognized that the service of their descendants and of communities such as Anniston is more representative of what patriotism is than the chest-thumping and rabble-rousing that all to often passes as patriotism.
Let us pray for our troops and pray against the conflicts that put them in harm's way.
Glenn D. Littrell