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Cana/Pino: Remembering Cana boys who fought in WW II

By Betty Etchison West

Cana/Pino Correspondent

It was recently noted that it had been 75 years since the end of World War II.  Most of the brave men and women who fought in that war are no longer with us.  In fact, there are not many people around who even remember that war.

I happen to be one of those who still call the earth home.  I was 9 years old when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. I vividly remember when that news crackled out of the little radio which sat on our dining room table. We were all stunned. Our ships had been attacked and hundreds of men were killed. The United States declared war on Japan immediately and soon on Germany and its allies. The United States of America was at war.

With those declarations of war, it seemed that the young men of Cana disappeared in one fell swoop.  They went to war—the Pope boys, Roadman and John Henry; the Taylor boys, Clyde, Willie, and Roy; the Ferebee boys, Joseph, Warren, and Wayne; Weymouth Howard; Bill Angell; Pete Jones; John Boyce Cain and the husbands of Cain daughters, Grady Pulliam and Frank Blackmore; Joseph Leagans; and Walter Etchison, who was told to do what he had been doing which was flying on the Pan American flying boats.  (If I failed to name a Cana solder, please let me know and I will correct the mistake.)   

They were all gone and soon the Cana people began to hear that their sons had been sent overseas. People met at the Cana Store, which also housed the Cana Post Office, to seek news. They waited for “Miss” Ina Cain, the postmistress, to put the mail into the boxes to see if there was any news—if there was; it was shared with everyone around.  Also the newspaper came in the mail.  It was another source of news, but it was probably a day late.

Electricity had come to Cana in 1939, so most everyone had a little radio.  My family gathered around our little radio each night as did all the other families in the community.  Gabriel Heather would come on the radio and say, “Ladies and gentlemen, THERE’S GOOD NEWS TONIGHT.”  We would all breathe a sigh of relief.  On other nights, Mr. Heather would say, “Ladies and gentleman, “THERE’S BAD NEWS TONIGHT ON THE WESTERN FRONT.”  Those words caused shivers to run up and down our spines because we knew that Cana boys and millions of other boys were in harm’s way.  The next day we would be back at the Post Office to see if there was any news from the Cana boys. Cana was a sleepy little village in North Carolina, but we became part of the world during World War II.

As I said earlier my uncle Walter, my Father’s youngest brother, was put in the Navy and told to continue his job with Pan American.  I asked him what his rank in the United States Navy was and he said that he didn’t know.  He was told to go to a certain office to find out his rank and he just never bothered to go because Pan Am continued to pay him.  He said that they hauled military personnel, governmental officials, and probably spies across the ocean and never asked questions.  At that time radar, etc. was no more than a glint in someone’s eye.  They flew the Pan American flying boats which landed on the water, at night because they used the stars as their guide across the ocean, which didn’t have any directional signs. During those years, if they saw a ship at sea they would radio it to get it to give them its coordinates.  Sometimes the ship would not answer them because they were afraid that the German submarines would pick up the sign and determine their location.

During the war, airplanes that landed on land became super important because the German seem to have a lot of air power.  All of a sudden, the country needed personnel to operate the airplanes.   The people who came from the corn fields, the factories, and the city offices had no training so the government needed people to train them and to train them fast.  Each major airline was asked to send personnel to train the pilots, the mechanics, others needed to fly the airplanes.  Walter Etchison was the person from Pan American who was sent to Kansas to train mechanics.  When he got there he discovered that there was not even any literature to help with the training.  He wrote the manual on hydraulics, which was evidently good guide because it was used for many years.  It took the effort of everyone in the United States of America to defeat the enemies in World War II and people all over this great country pitched in to do their part.

In 1942, my Father’s sister, Annie Laurie Etchison, joined the United States Military Special Forces as a librarian.  She was stationed at Langley Field, Virginia.  While she was stationed there, she came to Cana, got me, and took me to her home at Langley Field. She had gotten tickets for a Pullman so we spent the night sleeping on the train.  We left Mocksville, one day and were in Virginia the next.  That was some experience for a little girl who had hardly ever left the village limits of Cana.  Langley Field was a different world with airplanes flying, soldiers marching, etc.  In fact, my Aunt Laurie said that one day she heard a noise outside her window.  She looked out and saw the boys that he had danced with the night before marching off the war.  It was a sobering experience, which was often experienced by people during those war years.  While I was at Langley Field, Aunt Laurie took me out to Virginia Beach.  There on the horizon was a convey of ships–many, many ships in a line stretching from north to south, all painted gray and all headed to Europe.  I was just a little girl, but I knew that those ships were carrying hundreds of soldiers to war. We were the only humans on the beach, and we may not have been supposed to have been there.  There were airplanes circling overhead looking for enemy submarines which were known to play along the Atlantic coast.  That was a sobering experience which I will never forget.

When it was time for me to go home, Aunt Laurie put me on the train by myself and told the conductor to put me off in Raleigh, where my cousin, Mossa Eaton, would meet me.  There was no one on that train but soldiers, sailors, marines, and Betty.  All of those men were very kind to me.  When we got to Raleigh the conductor did just what he was told to do so all was well.

In 1945, a Davie County airman, Thomas Ferebee the bombardier on an airplane named the Enola Gay, pushed a button that dropped that dropped an atomic bomb on a city in Japan. The Japanese realized that they could not win the war that they had started and they surrendered. Germany and its Allies surrendered a short time later.  World War II WAS OVER! Everyone in Cana rejoiced and soon the Cana boys started coming home.  They all lived to return except Joseph Leagans, son of Mr. and Mrs. Granville Leagans and brother of Cecil Leagans, who was killed in the D-day invasion.  Joseph was buried in France and later his body was brought to Eaton’s Church Cemetery and reburied.

I am now 88 years old, and I am the only person still living in the area who lived in Cana during World War II.  Even though I was a child during the war years, I vividly remember those years and how everyone pitched in to help with the war effort.  We bought war bond, collected scrap metal, living with rationing of many items such as sugar, etc. and  looked forward to the day when the Cana boys would come home, which they did one by one with the exception of Lt. Joseph Leagans.