Some Gave All: A Memorial Day Rememberance

An inconspicuous monument outside Bluffton Town Hall honors fallen servicemen of World War II and Korea with an engraved plaque under the American flag. The site was once the Bluffton High School, and the memorial originally dedicated to the gymnasium. It lists the names of school alumni who died serving their country, and the date it bears is Nov. 11, 1953—the Segregation Era. Elderly residents of Bluffton could recall some names that were missing; young African-American servicemen who did not attend the all-white school, but nevertheless gave their lives alongside their compatriots. Over a half-century later, with the school gone and the Town Hall taking its place, the absence of those men began to seem an injustice to their memory and their descendants.

Across the street from this monument lives local architect and native Blufftonian Ansley Manuel. For a long time, she had been in the habit of placing flowers on the plaque each Memorial Day, wondering about the names engraved there. However, it wasn’t until Ansley’s curiosity led her to do a quick internet search that she not only discovered the missing names, but embarked on a quest that continues to this day.

“Researching each of the fallen young men has been a fascinating journey,” said Manuel, who spent two years combing census and military records, digging through local newspaper archives, tracing family trees, exploring cemeteries, consulting Bluffton residents who remembered the men, and tracking down living relatives now scattered across the country. “It became a mission to piece together every serviceman’s story and see that they all get recognized,” she said. “Bluffton needs an all-inclusive monument, somewhere people can go on Memorial Day to honor them.”

Manuel formed a task group that included Laura Bush and Jacob Martin, who helped her reach out to the black community, as well as Donna Huffman, president of the Bluffton Historical Preservation Society. In addition to researching the seven men listed on the original plaque at Town Hall, the group discovered three African-Americans—one from WWII and two from Korea. They also decided to include WWI, and found three Blufftonians whose lives it claimed; and Vietnam, from which they found two.

Jacob Martin, who Manuel consulted for his wealth of living memory, can name many servicemen he grew up with back when Bluffton was just one square mile with a few prominent families. He says the absence of certain individuals on the existing monument was always considered “no big deal,” but he’s glad the new one will feature a complete list.

“There was almost an avalanche of kids who went off to serve,” said Martin, whose three eldest brothers fought in World War II. “And there have been many black Blufftonians who have served. We know the names of every one of them and they have descendants. Now that the whole issue is being resurrected and the new monument is going up, we feel good about everyone being included.”

The proposed monument will be 3 feet wide by 5 feet tall, of steeled granite with black engraved letters, and will face May River Road near the Calhoun Street intersection. This prime location, prominently visible to everyone who passes through town, was offered by State Representative Bill Herbkersman. Further assistance has come from Shellie West of the Greater Bluffton Chamber of Commerce, who is committed to making the new monument a reality.

“War can sometimes seem like it’s removed from us, and that makes it easier,” said Manuel. “It’s somebody else’s loved one who was lost. But when it’s your own community, that personalizes war. Bluffton lost seven men in World War II alone, and this was such a small town back then—what a sacrifice. Everybody would have felt it. So, to have a monument, even if all that’s listed are the names and wars, it speaks volumes without saying much.”

World War I

Nathaniel Godson (Gadsden, Gadsen or Gadson), Private First Class US Army

  • Born: 1892
  • Died: 1918 of disease. Buried Bluffton Cemetery.
  • Personal detail: Grew up in the historic Cordray House on the corner of Calhoun Street and Highway 46. His granddaughter Ruth Brown still lives there today.
  • Historical detail: The spelling discrepancies in names from this era came about because many people were illiterate, so record keepers had to guess the spellings of their names. Nathaniel was listed as Godson on his draft card, while his grave bears Gadsden, and local descendants presently use Gadson.

Joseph Green

  • Born: 1896
  • Died: Of disease, date unknown. Burial unknown.
  • Personal detail: Occupation on his draft card was listed as “boating,” which typically meant working as an oysterman. Green was employed by George Lowden, who had an oyster factory here.

Hardee Clemmons (Clemons), Private Pioneer Infantry US ArmyHardee Clemmons (Clemons)

  • Born: 1888
  • Died: 1918 of disease. Buried Bluffton Cemetery.
  • Personal detail: Grew up with his brothers in an orphanage in Savannah.
  • Local family: His descendants are the Cahills of Bluffton, who operate Cahill’s Market and Chicken Kitchen and continue to farm land originally purchased by Hardee’s elder sister with the money she received as his beneficiary

Ira Beach, Private First Class US Army

  • Born: 1918Tombstone of Private First Class, Ira Beach
  • Died: 1945. Killed in Action, Germany.
  • On map below:
  • First burial overseas, remains later returned to St. Luke’s Methodist, Pritchardville, SC.
  • Personal detail: When he left for the European front his young wife was pregnant—Ira never returned to meet his son Ira Beach Jr., now living in Varnville, SC.

James Beach, First Class Seaman US Navy

Tombstone of First Class, Seaman, James Beach

  • Born: 1924
  • Died: 1944. Missing in Action after the sinking of USS Robin Goodfellow in the South Atlantic.
  • On map below:  
  • Memorial at St. Luke’s Methodist,
  • Pritchardville, SC.
  • Local family: Ray Beach (nephew), Bluffton, SC.

Westley Cohen, Private First Class US Army

  • Born: 1923
  • Died: 1944. Non-battle death (cause unknown). Body returned on a ship and buried at Beaufort National Cemetery.
  • Local family: Louise Miller Cohen (cousin), Hilton Head, SC.

John W. McCreary, Chief Quartermaster, US Navy

  • Born: 1918
  • Died: 1944. Missing in Action after the sinking of USS Herring Submarine in Northwest Pacific Ocean.
  • Memorialized on Tablets of the Missing, Honolulu, Hawaii.
  • Historical detail: The wreck of the USS Herring was not discovered until last year by a Russian expedition, which confirmed it sank under Japanese fire after its eighth and most successful mission. The Herring destroyed several Japanese vessels before losing contact and going down with 83 sailors aboard.
  • Personal detail: Not long after he was declared missing, his wife gave birth to twin girls.
  • Local family: Emmett McCracken (nephew), Bluffton, SC. “Growing up here in Bluffton, it’s not surprising he was attracted to the water and the Navy,” said McCracken of his uncle, recalling that his mother thought very highly of her baby brother. “I didn’t know him that well, but if he was anything like his two sisters he was a very gentle, loving person.”

Earl Simmons, Sergeant US Marine Corp

  • Born: 1913
  • Died: 1943 of Typhus fever in the South Pacific.
  • Buried Manila American Cemetery, Philippines.
  • Personal detail: Enlisted after being acquitted for the murder of his stepmother. Returned home and enlisted again after the death of his father in a mysterious fire.

Donald Smith, US Navy Air Corps

  • Born: 1920
  • Died: 1944. Lost at Sea. Memorialized on Tablets of the Missing at East Coast Memorial, NYC, and at St. Luke’s Methodist in Pritchardville, SC.

Charles Ulmer, III, Private US Army

  • Born: 1925
  • Died: 1945. Killed in Action, Battle of Rheinberg, Germany.
  • Buried in the Netherlands and memorialized at Bluffton Cemetery.
  • Local family: Alan Ulmer, Jr. (nephew), Bluffton, SC.

Korea

Ferris Brown, Private First Class US Army

  • Born: 1932
  • Died: 1952. Killed in Action during the Battle of Triangle Hill, North Korea.
  • Buried Bluffton Cemetery.
  • Local family: Barbara Brown Newton (niece), Bluffton, SC.

Frederick Graves, Corporal US Army

  • Born: 1927
  • Died: 1951. Killed in Action at Bloody Ridge, Korea.
  • Buried Bluffton Cemetery.
  • Historic detail: Posthumously awarded the Purple Heart medal, which was sent to his family with a letter of condolence stating that “he went in honor and in the company of patriots.” The letter also expressed “the country’s gratitude and admiration for his valor and devotion.”
  • Personal detail: His parents lived in the Graves House on Calhoun Street and operated a local oyster factory employing hundreds of Blufftonians, including young Fred before he went off to war.

Benjamin Wilson, Jr., Corporal US Army

Tombstone of Benjamin Wislon, Jr., Corporal US Army.

  • Born: 1927
  • Died: 1951. Killed in Action at Bloody Ridge, Korea.
  • Buried Bluffton Cemetery.
  • Personal detail: Died in the same battle as his comrade Frederick Graves, meaning Bluffton lost two of its native sons in just 24 hours.

Vietnam

Alonza W. Phoenix, Private First Class US Army

  • Born: 1946
  • Died: 1968. Non-battle death, Vietnam.
  • Buried Beaufort National Cemetery.
  • Local family: Ethel Phoenix Brown, Bluffton, SC

Nathaniel D. Mack, Private First Class US Army

  • Born: 1945
  • Died: 1970. Succumbed to injuries from mine explosion in Vietnam.
  • Buried in Illinois, USA.
  • Personal detail: Because he died after returning home, Nathanial was never recognized at the Washington Memorial. The planned Bluffton Memorial has brought great closure and comfort to his widow, who hopes to come from Illinois to see it dedicated.

To become a reality, the monument needs funding. Anyone interested in donating can visit gofundme.com/bluffton-war-memorial-monument-fund/ or go to Palmetto State Bank in Bluffton and inquire about the account that has been set up. Although the task group did a thorough search, if there is any individual not listed who lived in Bluffton and died while serving in one of the mentioned four wars, please contact Ansley Manuel at (843) 726-3480.