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Henderson County in World War II

Frederick B. Jones Frederick B. Jones

Walter Eugene Brothers Jr. enlisted in the Navy in June 1939. Born in Charleston, S.C., he lived in Hendersonville most of his life. He was a local paper carrier and an outstanding football player at Hendersonville High School.

Sometime after enlisting he was assigned to the destroyer USS Truxtun and by December 1941 had attained the rank of Radioman Third Class.
In late 1941 the Truxtun docked at her homeport in Boston. Young Brothers used the occasion to request shore leave and visit his mother in Hendersonville and his father, who was working in Charleston at the time. He returned to duty aboard the Truxtun on Thursday, Dec. 4, just three days before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The Truxtun sailed from Boston Harbor on Christmas Day to resume escort duty in the North Atlantic.
At 0410 Navy time (4:10 am) on Feb. 18, 1942, while escorting the USS Pollux to the port of Argentia, Newfoundland, the Truxtun ran aground in Placentia Bay during a terrible winter storm. About the same time, the Pollux, a cargo ship, suffered the same fate and both ships broke apart and began to sink almost immediately. The USS Wilkes, another destroyer, also ran aground but was able to back off and remained afloat.
The Truxtun was equipped with wooden lifeboats, and when the crew tried to abandon ship the boats came to pieces, leaving the crew no choice but to try to swim ashore. The combination of a sub-freezing temperature, gale-force winds, gigantic waves, blinding snow, and a thick, toxic, oily scum from the stricken ships created conditions in the water that made it almost impossible for a human being to survive. One hundred and ten of the 122-man crew on the Truxtun failed to make it to shore. Ninety-three of those aboard the Pollux died, but the Wilkes escaped without any fatalities.
On Feb. 23, at her home at 120 Caswell Street in Hendersonville, Mrs. W. E. Brothers received a telegram signed by Rear Admiral Randall Jacobs.
"The Navy Department exceedingly regrets to advise that your son, Walter Eugene Brothers, Jr., radioman third class U.S.N., lost his life on February 18, 1942, in the performance of his duty and in the service of his country. Further details will be communicated to you by his commanding officer. Should body be recovered you will be notified immediately. Sincere sympathy is extended to you in this deep sorrow."
Walter Eugene Brothers, Jr. was twenty-four years old and was the fourth young man from Henderson County to give his life in the service of his country during World War II.

 


Frederick B. Jones, a retired engineer and writer of local history, writes a column for the Lightning on Henderson County's experience in World War II. Jones, who has traced his family's roots to the early 1800s in the Flat Rock and Crab Creek communities, is also the author of "Darkness Comes in the Morning." Jones's World War II columns are based on his manuscript "Half a World Away."