This week in Nashville history: News of the military and the ministry

This week, millions of Americans will remember Pearl Harbor, the calamitous Japanese attack that brought our country into the Second World War — even though only a few thousand survivors of the raid on the U.S. Pacific Fleet remain to carry forward the living memory of it.

As Honolulu’s Star-Advertiser reported last week, actuarial realities are working against the remaining veterans of the 1941 surprise attack. For example, one Medal of Honor winner from the fateful Sunday died this year at 100. After 69 years, those who lived through the battle are considering disbanding the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association.

If you have seen and heard the elegiac press coverage that went along with the last reunion of Civil War soldiers in 1938, you’ll see something familiar in the unavoidable pathos surrounding the Pearl Harbor vets’ situation.

Last year, the Nashville Scene‘s news blog ran a post that focused on Nashville’s experience of the war’s first days, as chronicled in the Banner. On December 8, as the nation declared war against Japan, the afternoon paper ran a full page of photos and information on Nashville people known to be in the area of the hostilities.

One photo was of was Miss Cornelia Fort, a local socialite who had become a flight instructor in Hawaii:

In her last letter, Miss Fort recounted that “the streets of Honolulu were teeming with Army and Navy men and were lined with defense workers.” She did not indicate, however, that any disturbance was pending in that area and commented only on the “peaceful and beautiful country and the enjoyable American gatherings that were frequent at the Pearl Harbor Officers’ Club.”

Only later would her family learn that Fort had been in the air near Pearl Harbor as the Japanese attack began. She had to grab the controls from her student and swerve to avoid an oncoming enemy bomber. She then landed the aircraft under fire.

Fort went on to join the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, flying military aircraft to bases around the country. On March 21, 1943, when the airplane she was ferrying went down after a mid-air collision over Texas, Cornelia Fort became the country’s first female military pilot to be killed in the line of duty.

Before the week ended, the paper would carry the first news of a local service member killed in combat:

BEN EDWARD HOLT, 21, Negro mess attendant, was listed today as the first Nashville man to give his life for his country in the war against Japan. Holt’s sister, Inez Stewart, received a letter from Honolulu last Saturday in which the boy said he had ordered two tons of coal for his mother and father for Christmas. Yesterday Elder R. E. Holt, Sr., minister of the Negro Church of Christ in Springfield, received a telegram from Rear Admiral C. W. Munitz [sic – Nimitz] saying that Ben was “lost in action in the performance of his duty and in the services of his country.” The boy’s mother and father, four brothers, Mack, R. E., Jr., Homer Cleoplus, and Hawthorne, and two sisters, Mary and Juanita Holt, all live at 508 Fourteenth Avenue, North. His grandmother, Missouri Oliver, also survives. Holt graduated from Pearl High School of Nashville and then attended A&I State College here for one year.

The newspaper would go on to report that Seaman First Class James Dewey Wauford and Radioman Robert H. Bennett, both from Nashville and both 20 years of age, had also died at Pearl Harbor.

Curiously, the names of Holt, Wauford and Bennett are missing from an official list of Navy dead from Nashville that was compiled after the war. They are also not included in the National Park Service’s lists of those who perished aboard the USS Arizona and elsewhere at Pearl Harbor.


Our encounter with the 80-year-old reminiscences of Nashville Banner Managing Editor Markmaduke Morton ends this week with a final installment that may have more going for it than first appearances indicate. The old fella chose to conclude his memories of life in the 1880s with a somewhat rambling recollection of Nashville’s clergymen from that decade. But he does drop some interesting names from the city’s ecclesiastical history, such as:

  • David Lipscomb, E.G. Sewell and Phillip Fall — three 19th-century ministers who did much to popularize the revivalist theological approach of Rev. Alexander Campbell in the Nashville area. Campbell’s ideas provided the foundation for the Church of Christ movement, which remains influential in Nashville today, not least through the university that bears Lipscomb’s name.
  • Brothers R. Lin Cave and Robert C. Cave, who were both early leaders of what became Vine Street Christian Church. Robert Cave went on to become a highly controversial figure after preaching that the Bible was not divinely inspired and that Jesus was not raised from the dead.
  • Catholic priests John A. Floersh and Samuel Stritch. Floersh went on from Nashville to become Archbishop of Louisville for thirty years and founder of Bellarmine College (now University). Stritch was elevated to the College of Cardinals in 1946. In 1958, shortly before his death, he became the first American cardinal to be placed in charge of a congregation in the Roman Curia.


Also this week, a little sports item: Vandy turns down Orange Bowl invite.

About Tom

I'm an old news man, any way you look at me. Not as old in years as some local journos I much admire, but committed to bringing old news from Nashville's deeper past back to life.
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