Manila World War II veteran is proud to have served

Tuesday, May 24, 2016
John Haskin Mitchell, a World War II Veteran and his wife of 65+ years, Annabell Lutes Mitchell, hold a picture of John and his two brothers, Eugene and Dallas. All three of the siblings served during World War II. Eugene was killed in combat. (Town Crier photo/Revis Blaylock)

John Haskin Mitchell of Manila, a World War II veteran, said he is proud to have been able to serve his country when he was called. Mitchell served in the Marine Corps. He was drafted Jan. 17, 1945, near the end of World War II.

"I had plans to go into the Navy but when I got to the recruiting office, we were told they needed volunteers for the Marines," Mitchell said. "I became a Marine."

Mitchell was born Aug. 29, 1926, in the Promised Land Community near Blytheville. He was one of seven children (two girls and five boys) born to Roy Landers Mitchell and Rebecca Thompson Mitchell.

Mitchell and two of his brothers served during World War II. Like so many other families during the war, the Mitchell family suffered a great loss when his oldest brother, Eugene, was killed in combat serving in General Patton's Army.

"It was the saddest thing for our family to get the news about Eugene," Mr. Mitchell said. "We actually received a telegram delivered by a taxi driver. So many were dying and being injured in the war there was not enough military personnel available to deliver all the messages."

His body was brought home for burial in the family plots in Blytheville.

Mitchell's older brother, Dallas Mitchell (now deceased), also served in World War II. He served in the South Pacific. He was attached to a hospital unit in Guam.

Mr. Mitchell said one of the highlights of serving in the military was spending time with his brother Dallas in Guam. They were both there at the same time in 1945.

"Guam was a small place about 28 miles across but amazingly there were Japanese hiding out," Mr. Mitchell said. "There was one soldier that hid for 20 years and did not know the war was over."

Mr. Mitchell said when he was called to serve he was very willing to go. He had the idea he would pay back the Germans for his brother's death.

Mr. Mitchell was in a few dangerous places during his service, but did not make it to combat. After finishing training, he boarded a ship to join the fighting forces. On the five day, four night trip to Hawaii (their first stop), it was announced the war had ended.

"We did not know what to expect but everyone was happy the war was over," Mitchell said. "I know the bomb was a terrible thing and innocent people were killed, but I do think it saved many more lives that would have been lost if the war had continued."

Mr. Mitchell, along with the other troops, left Hawaii for 11 more days of travel en-route to Guam.

Later they were needed in China and again boarded a ship for five more days.

"I never thought about having to go to China," Mr. Mitchell said. "While I was there, I often wondered what I was doing in China. China was the closest I came to being in combat. We were guarding the bridges for the trains. There were a lot of people praying for me and all of the military. When we left China we went around the Aleutian Islands. It was quite an experience."

Two days into the trip he said they caught part of a typhoon and everyone on the ship became seasick.

"The water was so rough we had to try to eat holding our trays to keep them from sliding off the tables," he said. "Most of us couldn't eat anyway. When it was over, the water became as calm and smooth as a floor. We saw whales and hundreds of porpoises jumping in and out of the water. The porpoises passed our ship and left us like we were sitting still. They were fun to watch."

He said the war was hard on everyone. People at home had to have ration stamps to purchase gas and other items. Tires were almost impossible to get. So many young men had to leave their homes and families and many, including Eugene Mitchell, did not return.

"I don't know why we have to have war," he said. "We should be able to solve our problems without war but it doesn't seem to happen. The Bible says there will be wars and rumors of wars."

Mr. Mitchell was released from the service on Oct. 1, 1946.

"They let the men who were drafted out of service before the ones who had volunteered," he said. "We were all anxious to get home. Some had served longer than I did. My brother Dallas got out a year before I did."

Mr. Mitchell returned to his home in Mississippi County as everyone tried to resume a normal life following the war.

He always enjoyed playing baseball and he would travel to Manila and other towns with his team to play baseball.

"They had a good field in Manila and some good teams," he said. "We would come the old highway to the ball park. All of the towns and communities had baseball teams."

Mr. Mitchell played center field for the Blytheville Route 2 team.

"In those days the professional baseball players did not make much money," he said. "In their off season they would join leagues and travel and play in the small towns. Baseball and fast pitch softball were popular after the war. It kept us busy and active."

Mr. Mitchell married Annabell Lutes on Dec. 2, 1950. They have two children, Susan Keller of Manila and Greg Mitchell of Jonesboro. They have one grandchild and a great-grandson. They are expecting a great-granddaughter in the near future.

Mr. Mitchell retired from working at the Federal Building in Blytheville. Mrs. Mitchell worked several years at the Social Security office and later at the Blytheville School District.

They moved to Manila two years ago.

"We like it here," he said. "The people are very friendly."

They enjoy attending the senior center and the First Baptist Church.

Mr. Mitchell will be 90 in August. His mother lived to be 107 years old. Both of his sisters, Mildred, 98, of Georgia, and Elizabeth, 91, of Blytheville, are still living. His youngest brother, Kenneth, lives near DeWitt, Ark. Another brother, Thomas Julian Mitchell, is deceased.

Mr. Mitchell said he feels very blessed to have had the opportunity to serve in the military. He is proud to be an American and never takes his freedom for granted.

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