Tales from the cemetery honors early settlers
The annual Tales From the Cemetery was held Thursday, April 23, starting at the Herman Davis Monument and moving on to the Manila Cemetery. Each year Manila residents who have played a role in the area history are selected and their life stories are shared with Manila students.
This year the sixth grade students learned about World War I hero Herman Davis; Naomi Margaret Baker, who came to Manila in the late 1800s; and Sergeant Joseph Elmer Threlkeld, Jr., a young Manila man who gave his life during World War II.
The annual event is open to the public and several family members of Joseph Threlked were on hand to add to the history from their personal memories and family stories.
The afternoon started at the Herman Davis Monument, the smallest state park in Arkansas.
Sherry Bunch, portraying Mary Ann Davis, mother of Herman Davis, and Donna Jackson, local historian, gave a wonderful live history lesson on Herman Davis and how the monument in his honor came to be in Manila.
Herman Davis, a guide and hunter, was from Big Lake. During the war he was a runner and sharp shooter. The 5'3" soldier returned to Manila and Big Lake after the war. He did not talk about his medals but when General John J. Pershing's list of the 100 greatest heroes of World War I came out Davis' name was number four on the list.
He became ill from the poisonous gas used during the war. Herman, who was born Jan. 3, 1888, died at the age of 35.
According to Davis' biography, at 5'3" he was deemed too small for the military but as the war kept going on, he was drafted March 4, 1918. He trained for three months and then was sent to France.
Herman returned to his home on May 29, 1919. It has been told he kept his medals in his fishing tackle box.
Members of the Blytheville American Legion and others raised money for the monument which cost about $5,000 and came from Italy. School children had a penny drive to help. On Memorial Day 1925, Davis' body was moved from the cemetery and buried behind the monument. Also, a fountain was placed in memory of Herman Davis at the Old State House in 1954.
Iris Poteet portrayed a woman, Naomi Margaret Baker, who came to Manila for a better life and ended up alone with four children. The story was told at the gravesite of her husband, L.H. Baker, who was killed on May 21, 1892.
The Bakers came to the area from Missouri, traveling on the Little River that ran into Big Lake. She said her husband was shot by someone he thought was a friend and his wagon and mule stolen.
Poteet explained in those days there was no help from the government and the only thing the mother of four could do was cook and do laundry. She opened a boarding house. There were a lot of men working in the timber and they needed someone to do their cooking and washing. She said the children helped and they worked together to survive.
There were pictures of the family to share with the students.
Sergeant Joseph Elmer Threlkeld, Jr., was born in 1922 to Elmer and Flora Nolley Threlkeld, early Manila settlers. He was listed as missing in action. The last mission Sgt. Threlkeld Went on was during what the Air Corps called "Big Week" between Feb. 19-26, 1944.
Ms. Jackson told the story of Sgt. Threlkeld who served as a gunner on a B-17 plane. While returning from a bombing mission, his plane was fired upon by enemy aircraft over the English Channel. The plane and crew were never seen again.
After the family received word that his plane went down, his sister, Annabelle, wrote to everyone she could think of to try to find out what happened. She learned that her brother was not with his regular crew that day. He filled in for an ailing friend from another aircraft crew.
"He really did give his life for a friend," Jackson said.
Sgt. Threlkeld was awarded the Purple Heart and the U.S. Air Medal for his sacrifice for his country.
His memorial took place at Manila United Methodist Church on Veteran's Day, Nov. 11, 1945. The family placed his memorial stone in his honor. His name is also recorded on the Tablets of the Missing in the Cambridge American Cemetery in England and the Mississippi County War Memorial in Blytheville.
Several of Sgt. Threlkeld's relatives were on hand and expressed their appreciation for the program. Attending were Melva Threlkeld Pritchett, 90, and Ruby Threlkeld Wilcox, 91, both of Piggott, along with Joe Reed Threlkeld of Malden, Mo.
Both Melva and Ruby went to school in Manila. Melva graduated in 1943 and Ruby in 1945.
It was a reunion day for Melva and a former classmate, Delphia Crouse Waddell, of Manila, was also present. She, too, was a 1943 Manila High School graduate. The two classmates had not seen each other since high school.
Members of the depot committee and Manila Business Women served refreshments to the students and guests.
Janet Metheny, Manila social studies teacher, thanked everyone who participated in the event and commented that Tales From The Cemetery continues to be a successful learning experience for the students.