Empty Stocking Narrative

by Bobby Jo Dehart & Peggy Sutphin

I remember when Dad was in the service, mother had this old radio that had big tubes in the back. Of course, when one of those tubes went out, you had to buy another one when it blew. I remember my mom when the Normandy invasion occured. I remember her listening to that radio and crying. And I also remember when Franklin Delano Roosevelt died. That was just like someone in your family died. I cried, I was little, but I cried.

Letters & Cartoons From Dad
People didn’t know what was going to happen then because we were in WWII. And I remember we didn’t have electricity. We had the kerosene lamps, and I remember my mom, she had a shotgun, and if she heard anything, she would load that shotgun up. I can also remember her, we would be in bed, but I can remember the scratching of the pen. It was like a pen that you would dip into ink, and I can remember her writing to my dad. I remember the sounds of that pen scratching as I was lying in bed going to sleep. I remember that. She wrote him every night. I remember her, sometimes she wouldn’t hear from him for two or three weeks, and I remember those sounds of that pen scratching as I was lying in bed going to sleep. I remember that. When she could, she might get three or four letters at one time.

When they came, sometimes it was like three weeks, sometimes she’d get three or four. And of course, she’d read them and reread them, and if it was Christmas or sometime, Daddy would draw a cartoon and send it to us. One to me and one to Bobby. I still have a couple that he sent. One of them was an airplane. He drew a picture of an airplane, yeah. And then they reused it. I guess to save size. It was like they took a photo of it and reused it to one-fourth its size, like 8, 8 and a 1/2 by 10. It’s not 8 and a 1/2. What size is a sheet of paper? Eight and a half by eleven? Anyway, it would be reduced down to about a 3 by 5 or something. I think they did that to save space of the ships because they had so much mail or airplanes either to save the mail.

Stars in the Window
And I always have the star that Mother kept hanging in the window. It was like a star that meant your loved one was in the service, and it hung in the window the whole time while my dad was gone. It had a red border, and it was white and blue.

There was one family in West Virginia, I think they were in West Virginia, five sons got killed. So now they separate people and don’t leave people in the same companies, but you could go back home. Like our Granddaddy, he would have had two stars because that would have been Daddy and my Uncle Ray, but some families, they might have a band of three stars. That doesn’t mean they had three sons, but people just did that in memory of their loved ones that was gone.

End of the War
We’ll have to tell you about when the war was over too, and this is the truth. The news was on the radio, and everybody was banging pots and pans just making all kinds of noise. People were so rejoiced, and you could literally hear people in Rocky Gap from our house down Wolf Creek.That was because the war was over. Everybody was so happy. Mother ran in and got that old shot gun I was telling you about, and she fired it up in the air, and our Grandmother, we could hear her up there. She was up there. Everybody was shouting. It was just, I don’t know, it was just such a joyful time. But of course, in the larger cities, the bells, they were ringing the church bells and everything. You could even hear the noise in Rocky Gap at our place. People were so happy, horns blowing.
At the time, we didn’t have our radio on. We heard my Grandmother and Dorothy up there. They were beating on a tub, and mother ran in and turned the radio on, and we heard the war was over because the Germans had surrendered. We were dancing all around, jumping up and down, screaming and laughing cause we knew our dad was going to come home. The guys that had like, five kids, or larger families, they got to come home first from overseas. And so they would publish in the paper the size of the families, ect. when the people would come home. So we knew our Dad should be be home soon.

Dad Comes Home
Mother had this ham, she had saved it all winter from the killing at Thanksgiving in the fall, cause my Dad loved ham. And she had saved this ham, and he didn’t come, so this one night she said, well I’m just going to go ahead and cut this ham. We’re going to have this ham for supper. He should be here so it will still be here for him, and wouldn’t you know, our dad came home. We were sitting at the table having dinner. Bobby Jo and I heard a noise, so we ran to the front of the house. We didn’t have a porch on the front then. We looked out and saw it was Daddy. We didn’t even have a porch on the front then. We looked out and saw it was Daddy. We didn’t even say anything to Mother. We just ran all the way back through the house, out the front door, and around and ran down and jumped in his arms. And Mom was right behind us. She was right behind us, but she had to go look to see what was going on and so forth, so she probably passed us up. It was such a happy feeling. And our grandmother, was that the time she was baking biscuits? Did Dad come by there or was that when he came home on leave one time? That was when he came home on leave one time, and she got dough all over him. She was making biscuits and she ran out and hugged him and had flour and dough all over him. Those were happy times. Sad, hard times, but happy times too.

Gifts from War
He brought home a duffel bag. We sat in the floor and unpacked it. He had brought K rations, and a lot of different things. It was so much fun for us to go through his things. His uniform. We put his hats on and everything. But I remember the K hash and the corn beef hash, and it was pretty good. And I tell you the truth. He had one of those K ration cans, and Mom cut the lid off of it. It was about 2 inches high, about 2 and a half and about around as a, maybe a litttle bigger than a can of soup now. She used that thing for a biscuit cutter for years. We still have it somewhere. But she used that to cut her biscuits for the rest of her life, I guess. That was a wild story. But bringing himself back is the only thing I remember being excited about.

For Christmas one year in Nuremburg, he sent, it was like a, you opened it up, and it was like a manicure set, and I still have that. A lot of things are missing, but I still have that from Nuremburg, Germany. And then he sent us, also from Nuremburg, a little photo album, and it was leather on the outside. It was about an inch thick, bout a 2 by 2 or a 2 by 3, and it was a little photo album. I think I still have that somewhere. And when he was in Texas, he made us a little ring and sent each one of us a ring out of an airplane, out of a glider part. I still have my little ring. He sent us a things a lot. Not a lot of big things. He sent a clock home. Bobby Jo has it now. The clock that gongs. The German clock. He sent Mom, one time he sent her French perfume. I think I have the little bottle of French perfume he sent. He sent the champagne glasses.

He also brought home a German parachute. We played with it and played with it and finally tore it all to pieces. It was silk and the cordage, we used the cordage for years. The cords were so strong. It was like a gray cord, but it was so very strong. But the chute itself was silk. We made some things or something out of it, but I don’t remember what we did with it. I just remember playing with it. We just did everything with it. We made kites out of it. Tents too. I wish we still had it. He had it because, well, I guess he just picked it up. He sent mother like a blouse that is hand crocheted. A French woman did it I think, crocheted it. I’ve got it somewhere. I don’t remember what it looked like. It’s really pretty, I remember. I think he said that it was made out of parachute cord, but I’ve got it.

Stories of War
He was stationed in England for a while. He was there when they did the invasion. They invaded from England. He wasn’t in the first wave though cause a lot of those people were killed in the first run. They crossed the Channel, the English Channel into Normandy. He was in Germany. He was in France. Was he in Belgium? I know he was in Munich. He was all of Germany. Different places in France and Gernany.

But our uncle Vick Gilley(later superintendant of schools in Bland County) , he was in Africa. They brought him from the African Campaign into Germany. Dad was in Germany, France, and England. I think he was in Belgium too, cause it’s right there. But Vick, they had Vick slated to go to Japan, and then finally, that war was over, so he didn’t have to go. But Dad, he was still in Germany. He was gone about three years, wasn’t he? He left before I started school. I think I was in the third grade when he came back because Bobby Jo was in the fifth grade. So I would have been in the third. So he was gone at least three years. He took basic training in Texas. He got a leave then. He only got to come home once. Mother went to Texas to see him. When he was in North Carolina, he got to come home several times, but after he was in Texas, he was too far, you know. And he didn’t get to come home as much. And mother went to Texas to see him as I said. He didn’t get to come home very much anyway because they just trained him and shipped him overseas. He left out of New York. The last time he was home before he went overseas, he wouldn’t tell us that he wouldn’t be back anymore.

Train Story
That’s a story I can tell you that’s interesting. Dorothy Gilley and Victor Gilley, Mom’s sister, I remember they came home. Vick was in service then. Dorothy worked in one of the arms factories in Ohio. They manufactured war materials, but I remember going to the train station in Bluefield. It was a passenger station, and I remember the train there and it had the lights on it. Dorothy and Victor were boarding to go to Ohio, and it was full of soldiers. And I guess it was guys that were probably going up north. Shipping up to New York to ship on out or whatever, but I just remember that train being full of men in uniform. I was a kid then, probably, maybe in the first grade, but I remember that very well. I remember it was so sad because that’s when Vick was gone, and we knew he wouldn’t be back, and Dorothy was going to Ohio to work.

So, I remember boarding that train there in Bluefield, WV. That’s something that’s lost forever too, that passenger service they had there. They had a beautiful, beautiful stone passenger station. Why, I don’t know.

Drives for the War
I have a story. All the school kids, we would save different things. And I remember one year we picked milkweed pods. You know how silk they are, and that was a drive. And they had all the kids in school doing that, and they used it to make parachutes out of it. And then they would have drives, metal drives, if you had any old metal or anything you would take it. And they would remelt it and use it to make, I supposed airplanes, guns, whatever. And things were rationed then. You couldn’t get sugar, shoes. I remember my shoes. And I remember one time my shoes, the soles came completely off and had holes in them, and we couldn’t get anymore shoes until they gave us another coupon. I mean things were really rationed. People don’t realize today how they were. You could not buy chewing gum. You couldn’t buy candy. Coffee, gas, everything was rationed.

Dorothy’s Cigarettes
There is a picture of Dorothy with cigarettes. Daddy could get them at the PX. The soldiers could get all they wanted, you know. So he brought her all the cigarettes, and one time, when Vick was overseas, he sent her some cigarettes. He hadn’t smoked all of his that were allotted to him, so he had put them in a box and bought her some French perfume. Well, the perfume leaked onto the cigarettes, and she would try to smoke them. And they were so awful that she couldn’t smoke them. It ruined her cigarettes.

Mother didn’t smoke, but Dorothy did. Used to, they could get tobacco in a little pouch, drawstring. It was a cloth pouch, and she used to smoke a pipe sometimes or roll her own cigarettes. You could get cigarette paper. And she was lucky when she could even get the pouch tobacco. It was probably the floor sweepings.

But that picture, Daddy sent her the cigarettes. He brought them home to her when he came hime. There were six or eight cartons. They were Lucky Strikes. That’s all they used to make, Lucky Strikes and Camels. Then came Pall Malls and Winstons and Salems and everything else. But it was just like, they just didn’t make that many kinds of cigarettes. Chesterfield. Phillip Morris, you remember that little ole boy. Phillip Morris. That was the four. Chesterfield, Phillip Morris, Lucky Strike, and Camels. Just because of the expression on her face in the picture, you can tell she was truly happy.

Hard Times for Mom
It was hard that he was gone and we were so young. I didn’t realize how hard my mom had it because we lived there in our house in the long cabin. We had a potbellied stove, and then she had a cook stove, and of course, she always would get up before we did and get the fire going so it would be warm for us in the winter. She had a hard time, but she really took good care of us. We didn’t know how hard it was until later. She never complained that I ever remember. Never complained. In that picture with the stocking, you can tell she’s just so sad. She was a strong woman though. Strong and just pure and sweet and loving. Well, you know, she had to miss our Dad so much cause she loved him so very,very much and I know she missed him horribly. I just remember her crying during the invasion, but she always tried to be upbeat all the time.

The Empty Stocking
About the stocking picture. The Christmas of 1944 was the first Christmas he was gone. The two of them, Mom and Dad, were a happily married couple with us two kids. They were just a regular family from Bland County. They lived in the log cabin that Dad built from trees cut down from Wolf Creek Mountain. There wasn’t anything out of the ordinary about us until Dad was called away to Europe to fight the Nazis in World War II. Dad served this country bravely, but as any GI, he really desired to be at home in his cabin with his family. We desired his return home too. Our sadness was brought out when that Christmas of ‘44 came around. It was hard for us to celebrate while he was fighting the evil Nazis.

On Christmas morning, Mom had just awakened and was still in her night gown when Dorothy came to visit. Mom had Dorothy take a picture of her holding a picture of our Dad and an empty stocking. She wanted the picture to represent how much she missed him. She sent a copy to him and wrote on the back, “This is really a honey. When Dot and them came down early in the a.m. to see the kids things, I hadn’t dressed and had on my robe. I had her make this picture of me. It’s supposed to represent how much I missed you on x-mas a.m. The picture, the empty sock and expression, I did miss you, more than you can know.”

At the beginning of the next year, 1945, the terrible war was finally coming to an end. That Christmas would be a much happier tale. With the Nazis defeated and Europe rebuilding, Dad was finally able to come home. The next Christmas was truly a joyous one. We had so much to be thankful for that Christmas. Dad had safely returned home to us and the happiness that had once filled our home had finally returned.

Picture with us in the Window
While Dad was gone too, she had a Bible story book, and every night she would read us a Bible story, and then we’d sing a hymn before we went to bed. We would always want to sing “Onward Christian Soldiers”, cause Dad was a soldier. She was very devout.

Mother and Daddy were out walking around, and they told us we had to do the dishes before we could come out. And we wanted to be out there with them, and that’s why we were up in the window making faces and everything, you know, while they were outside. That explains that picture. They were outside taking it. It was the second or third day he was home. I can’t remember. It was right after he came home cause I remember we wanted to be outside with them, and we couldn’t go out until we had the dishes done.

The Log House
The house I grew up in was very rustic. It was a log house that you have a picture of, and there was no front porch. Our Dad went to service and like I said, when he came home, we had to run all the way back through the house and out the back door. And there was four rooms. We had a living room, two bedrooms, and a kitchen. And we did not have indoor plumbing at that time, and we did not have electricity until after WWII. There was electricity in Rocky Gap, but not down Wolf Creek. And we had to haul our water from our grandparents. It was like camping out almost, that’s why I know our Mom had such a hard time.

In our house, you could see the logs on the inside and the chinking in between. There was no wall board or anything. And then later, it was steadied up after Dad came home and set it up and sheet rock was applied and everything. But it was open while dad was gone. And it was heated by just a pot bellied stove.