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In the Heart of the Blackland Divide

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

An Unknown Local Hero from World War II?

John Pickens, USN, and his letter to Marion Duncan. (Click on photo to enlarge.)

Last October when I prepared a military display for the Roscoe Historical Museum honoring Roscoe’s veterans, I included a book entitled The Men and Women in World War II from Nolan County, which contains photos and information of over 850 local men and women who served in that conflict.  It never occurred to me at the time that of all the people included in that book, none of them were black.

Recently, however, I was looking through some materials left to the Roscoe Historical Museum by longtime local farmer Marion Duncan, who died in 2004.  Among them was an envelope with an enclosed letter and photograph from John Pickens, a black man who had obviously worked for Mr. Duncan and had probably lived on his place west of town.  Like many other young men and women in those days, both black and white, he had also apparently joined the military service when war broke out.  

The letter, written by Pickens from the U. S. Naval Hospital in Bremerton, Washington, in January 1943, is a fascinating relic of the war and at the very least deserves some recognition, so I present it to you here in its entirety exactly as it was written.  As you notice the misspellings, keep in mind that black people who grew up in west Texas in those days had little to no formal schooling, and it was unusual to find one who had been beyond the third grade.

     U S naval Hospital – Ward – E,                1-13-43

     Mr Merrion Duncan
     Dear frind Just a few lines to let you
     here from me  I am filling puty good now
     I ben in hospital 3 mounths all redy
     I had 3 Ribs Broke and my right leg Broke
     I stayed in the water 10 days on a life Raft
     Nothing to Eat no water to Drink it was 7
     of us got Save some got lost My ship was
     sunk at the Battle of Soloms iland  2 torpeds
     hit my ship By a sub rine one morning a Bout
     3 30 oclock  But when I get up I am gowing
     Back to the Sea some great Day I will Come to
     Bee a hero I hope cost I know I am cripple
     But never mind my cripple leg let me
     show my uncle Sam what I coud help
     Bring them axis Down a pag cost gord [ed.: peg because God?]
     give me right to Bee a free amer icon
     how is your father and sister and the
     Boys tell then helo for me
     So the Best of Luck to you all
     So I will close
     U S Naval Hospital – Ward – E
     Bremerton Wash
     John Pickens J D Jr USNR

The Battle of the Solomon Islands took place August 24-25, 1942, and was a major naval battle between the American and Japanese fleets.  Pickens may have been on the destroyer Blue, which was sunk by a Japanese torpedo.  

If any of you have any information about John Pickens or any other local black men or women who served in the military in World War II, I’d be interested in knowing it.  Their roles in the war should also be remembered and their service honored.



Several members of the Roscoe FFA came away with honors at the Nolan County Livestock Show held in the Nolan County Coliseum last weekend.  

Stina Tomlin had the Grand Champion goat as well as the Champion BOPB (Black Other Pure Breeds) swine; Devon Freeman and Hannah Weems both received Nolan County Livestock Association scholarships, Devon’s for $700 and Hannah’s for $500; and Alura Renteria, Devon Freeman, and Luis Villa all won showmanship honors, while Christian Diaz received an honorary showmanship award.

Other Roscoe winners included in swines John Ruben Herrerra with the 2nd place Duroc middleweight, Cameron Fisher with the 2nd place WOPB (White Other Pure Breeds), Alura Renteria with the 3rd place Cross Light Weight, and Cameron Fisher with the 3rd place Cross Heavy Weight.  

In goats, Kamren Fisher got a 2nd place in Class 3, and Chasity Diaz got a 3rd place in Class 4.  

Several Roscoe students are preparing to show their animals at the upcoming Southwest Exposition and Fat Stock Show in Fort Worth.


Plowgirl Lynnsi Moses calmly made three consecutive free throws with only a couple of seconds left to break a 41-41 tie as the Plowgirls won another close one in Plowboy Gymnasium Friday night.  Even then the game was still in doubt as a Stamford player threw up a long three-point shot at the buzzer that bounced off the rim.  

Moses led the Plowgirls with 21 points, while Faith Boren had 12.  The Plowgirls are 12-12 on the year now and 2-3 in district play.  They played Munday in Munday last night.



Stamford remained undefeated in district play by defeating the Plowboys 55-20 in Roscoe Friday night.  The game was never in doubt as the Bulldogs jumped out to a 27-2 lead in the first quarter and then cruised the rest of the game.  The halftime score was 42-8.  

Hermosillo had 6 points for the Plowboys and Matthew Cuellar and Cutter Davila both had 5.
Then last night, the Plowboys lost another one, this time to Munday in Munday 66-17.  Once again, the game was never in doubt as the Moguls jumped out to a 31-3 first quarter lead and were up at the half 54-9.  Jesus Leanos had 7 for the Plowboys, and Keeston Ford and Cutter Davila both had 4.

Munday is now 4-1 in district play and the Plowboys are 1-4. They face Haskell here on Friday.



The first sandstorm of the year came on Sunday, and it was a big one with sustained winds of 20-30 miles per hour and gusts well above that for a large part of the afternoon.  During its height, several of the composition shingles on the roof of my house blew off and landed in the back yard, and I had to get up on the roof and nail several others down to keep them from doing the same thing.

The dusty skies are gone now.  A front moved through yesterday, and it started raining after midnight last night. So far, the area has received a half to three-quarters of an inch, and a steady drizzle is still falling.  The forecast for today and tonight is for more of the same with sunny skies and cooler temperatures returning tomorrow.   



Roscoe Expressions, formerly the Roscoe Emporium, in the Shelansky Building on the corner of Cypress and Broadway, announces new hours for the store.  It is now open from 3pm-6pm on Tuesday, 1:30pm-6pm Wednesday through Friday, and 10am-3pm on Saturday.

They receive new merchandise weekly and have now added furniture.


Circus Cico will be putting on two shows this weekend in the Community Center, one at 4:30pm, the other at 7:00pm with gates opening one hour prior.  The flyer lists "Acrobats, jugglers, dare devils, funny clowns, beautiful girls and many more surprises."  The listed price is $7 for children while nothing is listed for adults.  



Nettie Annlee Tollison, 93, of Lafayette, Louisiana, passed away on January 14 in Lafayette.  Graveside services were held on Saturday, January 21, at Roscoe Cemetery.

Born December 15, 1918, in Arlington, she worked in health care for over forty years.  She is survived by four children, Betty Joyce Ellison of Sweetwater, Patsy Yvonne Ribble of Irving, Dennis Sherman Colwell of Sherwood, Arkansas, and Dianne Guidry of Lafayette, Louisiana; 13 grandchildren; 20 great-grandchildren; and seven great-great-greatchildren.

She was preceded in death by her son, Bobby Joe Colwell; daughter, Glenda Ruth Davis; and granddaughter, Betsy Ribble.

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