World War II and Kentucky Moonshine
The 149th Infantry Regiment was part of the 38th (Cyclone) Division. It was composed of National Guard units scattered throughout the state of Kentucky. Company I of the 149th
Infantry Regiment was composed of men from the National Guard unit in Crittenden County. They were from the small towns in the county and were from all walks of life. You could never find a more close-knit group of men. The term "All for one and one for all" certainly applied to them.
On January 17th, 1941, President Roosevelt ordered the Regiment's induction into Federal Service. Company I including, my husband, James C. (Jay) Wilson marched from the National Guard Armory to the railroad depot in Marion Kentucky. Relatives, friends and many of the town's people gathered at the depot to bid them farewell. Captain Roy Johnson made a speech. He said, "I don't know how long we will be gone, maybe six months or it could be a year." The troops boarded the train, it was bound for Camp Shelby, Mississippi. On January 28th, 1941, the Regiment arrived at Camp Shelby. The men from Company I, for the most part, remained together until the war ended.
The 149th was on maneuvers in Louisiana from August 5th to October1st, 1941. They were sent back to Camp Shelby after maneuvers. In September of 1942 they were sent to Louisiana on maneuvers again. From there it was moved to Camp Carrabelle, Florida for amphibious training. In January of 1943 the 38th Division was transferred from Camp Carrabelle to Camp Livingston, Louisiana. It was there that Jay and I were married on June 1st, 1943, in Alexandria, Louisiana.
The men were sent to Hawaii, then to New Guinea, where they boarded a troop ship. While enroute to a navy base in Leyte, the ship was attacked by Japanese, Kamikaze bombers. The ship didn't sink, but many men were killed or injured, including several from Company I. In February of 1945, troops under the command of General Douglas MacArthur were sent to Bataan. Harold Johnson said, "As we were foot soldiers, we marched from Subic Bay to Bataan and it was a mighty long march."
When the men were in the thick of battle in the mountains of Bataan, conditions were deplorable. They were suffering from malaria, dysentery, fungus infections and insect bites and were being fired upon from every direction. Rations and supplies had to be dropped from planes as they were completely hemmed in from all directions and cut off from any help for 33 days. Many times they had doubts as to whether they would live through it.
One of the men in Company I was Delmer, from the small community of Golden Pond, Kentucky. It was in an area between the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers. "Between the Rivers" as it was called, was a farming area, but the main industry was making illegal whiskey or moonshine. The community got its name from the rich amber color of the whiskey they produced. Delmer, with his parents and brother owned a large farm on which they raised corn. They raised corn to use in making their moonshine, as did most of the other farmers in the area.
During one particularly harrowing time, while Delmer and Jay were in a foxhole, Delmer said, "Wilson, if we ever get out of this hell hole and get home alive, I want you to come to Golden Pond. I'll give you a gallon of the finest whiskey you can ever hope to find." He told him it was double run (distilled twice to take out all of the impurities.) It was 112 proof and 20 years old at that time.
Delmer told Jay that there was lots of moonshine made Between the Rivers, but theirs was high quality stuff, known to be the best. He said there was a big field nearby, used as an airstrip for a Cesna plane, from California, to land. The plane carried their moonshine back to a private club in Los Angeles. It was the most expensive whiskey on their menu and was sold under the label of "Golden Pond". Delmer gave Jay directions to get to his farm and told him what to do when he got there.
Japanese forces had surrendered and the surviving Americans and Fillipinos of the Bataan Death March had been freed. The 38th Division's cleanup mission was accomplished. Surviving troops of Company I returned home. 77 men left Marion that day in January 1941, only 13 returned in September 1945.
In May of 1950, five years after the war ended, we moved to Calvert City, Kentucky. When Jay realized that it was only 30 miles to Golden Pond, he decided to try to find Delmer, he took our friend Jim Kunnecke with him. Delmer had given him perfect directions. He turned off the main highway at a particular church and drove for two miles on a narrow, curved country road. When he came to a Y in the road, he took the right fork and drove down an even narrower, camel back road through the woods. They saw a hunter with his shotgun over his shoulder walking in the woods. Jay drove another half mile and came to a creek where the road ended.
Delmer had told Jay to blow the horn and wait for him when they got to the creek. They saw the hunter again but, he wasn't hunting, he was Delmer's brother and he was guarding. He had taken a shortcut through the woods and was at the creek before Jay got there. When Delmer got to a point where he could recognize Jay, he motioned to his brother that he was welcome and told him to drive across the shallow creek. They were so happy to see each other. He just kept shaking Jay's hand and told him to drive on up the lane to the house.
Delmer's mother had pulled the curtains aside and was peeping through the window. His father was sitting on the front porch in a slat back rocking chair with a Bible on his lap and his shotgun was propped against the wall within arms reach. Jay noticed a container tied beneath his rocking chair. He said, "Delmer, can I ask you, what is that under your daddy's chair?" He told him it was "Rockin' Chair whiskey." It was an oak keg that held about two gallons. He said it was his daddy's private stock. As he rocked, the whiskey sloshed around in the keg. It was much better than that aged in buried oak barrels. They sat on the edge of the porch, spinning war yarns, for almost an hour. His father never said a word; he just sat and rocked.
Delmer took Jay and Jim to a couple of chairs, by a table, under a shade tree. He told them to have a seat, that he was going to take a "little trip." He said, "You all can work on this while I'm gone" as he handed them a pint fruit jar filled with moonshine. He then said, "You can chase it with that," pointing to a wooden bucket on the table filled with water. There was a gourd dipper, hanging from a nail in the tree, to drink from. They were a bit leery of drinking more than a small swig of the whiskey because it was so powerful. When Delmer returned from the "trip" he had a gallon jug of moonshine. He had siphoned it from a barrel buried somewhere on the farm. When they were ready to leave he handed Jay the jug of moonshine to take with him. Delmer shook Jay's hand again and again and said, "Wilson will you please come back to see me?"
When Barkley Dam was built on the Cumberland River, Delmer's farm was to be impounded, of course, against his wishes. It would be flooded to form Barkley Lake. They contested it but, as usual the government won and they were forced to sell their land. Between the Rivers, as we knew it, no longer exists. That part of the area, which wasn't flooded, is now known as "Land Between the Lakes." It is a recreation area and wildlife refuge.
Jay didn't know where Delmer relocated. Every year a reunion of Company I, 149th Infantry is held at the National Guard Armory in Marion. Delmer's name is always mentioned and he is remembered with great respect.
© Millie Wilson 1996, may not be
reprinted without written permission