One Family In America's Wars

It is difficult for one family to look back for many generations and find data that reveals the character and motives of its participation in war. I found no heroes in the Justiss family. I did find data about one relative’s work as an officer in the closing years of the American Revolution. I acknowledge that I’m no researcher. I came up with a limited amount of evidence on this subject. Another limitation is that in some of America’s wars I found no participants of the Justiss family.

THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION

John Medearis of North Carolina entered this war as a 2nd Lieutenant on April 16, 1776. That was a few months before the Declaration of Independence was signed. He must have shown himself as having special aptitudes in leadership as he was promoted to the rank of Captain on December 23, 1777. That date was two hundred years before I retired from Agape. His assignment was to the Quartermaster Department under General Nathaniel Greene of North Carolina. Captain Medearis assumed responsibility of supervising the making of tents for the troops and securing any necessary supplies for the army--without cash if possible.

This assignment revealed how desperate the troops were for food and clothing even when there were no available funds with which to purchase supplies.

My relatives have the original letter that Colonel Nicholas Long, Deputy Quartermaster General in George Washington’s Army, dated September 23, 1781. This letter was badly damaged as it changed hands from generation to generation. A copy of it may be found in the Tennessee Historical Society’s files in Nashville. It was an order directing Captain Medearis to go to certain locations in North Carolina to gather supplies. Among the items listed included a hogshead (63 gallons) of molasses somewhere between Hillsboro and Wake County Courthouses. It also directed that certain hides be assigned to be tanned for use in the army.

This order was given about one month before General Cornwallis surrendered to General George Washington at Yorktown, Virginia, October 19, 1781. It’s possible that Medearis was working on his assignment when the war ended.

He served in a special way. He knew the territory and many of the potential locations for the supplies the Army needed.

His pay never came until 28 years after the war ended. He was granted 3290 acres of land in what is now Marshall County, Tennessee. He moved his family there in 1809.

Captain Medearis’ granddaughter was David Yancey’s wife and John W. Justiss married David Yancey’s daughter.

Captain Medearis’ greatest contribution was his skill in getting supplies for the Army. He was no hero; however, he must have served well.

THE CIVIL WAR

My grandfather, John W. Justiss, enlisted in the Confederate Army cavalry at Grayson County, Texas on October 14, 1861. Evidently he had ridden his own horse to Grayson County from the family farm in Titus County, Texas, a distance of about 140 miles. Records show that he donated his horse valued at $135 and supplies worth $30 (probably his saddle). He was 32 years old. After some basic training he was assigned to work on wagons.

On January 31, 1864 he was captured by Union forces near Saint Joseph, Louisiana – a small place on the Mississippi, south of Vicksburg. My Dad said that his Dad was trying to get to Vicksburg, a city surrounded by U.S. Grant’s forces. There was no record of any combat at the time of his capture. Official records dated February 2, 1864 show him as a prisoner being sent north. He entered Fort Douglas prison in Chicago on February 24, 1864. He was discharged from Ft. Douglas on June 14, 1865.

John’s youngest brother Jesse volunteered and served in the Army in Texas. Since there were no major battles in Texas, we have no record of his service. In the late twenties, Uncle Jesse came from his home in Paris, Texas to visit us in Morris County. We interviewed him but kept no records of his war experiences. We did take his picture. It showed a medal on his coat. It was probably a good conduct award. He was approaching age 90. I remember that he had some unkind words about those Yankees!

My Parents Consistently Loved

In many ways our parents were unusual. And we respected them just as they respected us. They made love their way of life. Consider these:

WORLD WAR I

In World War I Papa registered for the draft as being a conscientious objector. He was called to meet with the draft board in Daingerfield concerning his status. It was the very day the war ended. He returned home that November 11th afternoon driving the old Haynes car and blowing its horn until he parked out front. We wondered what all the honking was about. He shouted, “The war is over!”

That night neighbors who had heard the news and who had guns, fired their weapons into the air. It sounded as if the war had come to us.

I can remember conditions about rationing of sugar and flour. We ate cornbread for breakfast and did without sugar.

I saw my first airplane at school one day in 1918 when one flew over our school. Our teacher permitted us to go to the windows and see it.

FAMILY IN WORLD WAR II

Of the eleven adult children and the spouses (to be), eight were subject to the draft. Each made his own choice of service without any pressure from our parents.

Private Onza and Lorena

Onza, the oldest of our family, was a skilled auto mechanic in Lubbock, Texas. He volunteered for service in the Army Air Corps Training Center in Lubbock. His commanding officer knew of his ability as a mechanic at the local Buick Company. Even though he was not subject to be drafted, he was granted permission to remain at his own home and work on Army planes.

Onza was probably the most patriotic member of our family. He proudly displayed the flag in his front yard. He liked his country; especially the plains of Lubbock, Texas. He was a loyal native in spite of those awful sandstorms. His assignment was an unusual one in that he remained in his own home and served by using his talents as a mechanic at the Army Air Force Lubbock base.

After the war ended, he became a supervisor of mechanics for the Texas Highway Department.

Morris and Wilma

Morris was in partnership with Uncle Hayes in the Dodge–Plymouth dealership in Mt. Pleasant, Texas. When the company could no longer get new cars, it continued to service old cars. One in particular was an old Dodge school bus which they converted into a special bus service for employees in the area who needed transportation to and from the Red River Munitions Factory near Texarkana.

Morris’ assignment was a difficult one. He was to keep that converted bus in running condition for three eight-hour shifts seven days each week. He said there were 300,000 miles on that bus when the munitions factory closed.

Like Onza, Morris used his talents to promote the war effort. Wilma was a teacher, mother of three and friend of hundreds who gave her high marks for all she did.

Adron and Mae
Anglo and Thelma

Adron and Anglo served together as conscientious objectors. Most of their service time was spent in public service without pay. They were supervised by three religious groups approved by the government. These were Church of the Brethren, the Mennonites and Quakers. The Churches of Christ sponsored none; however, these three approved groups agreed to supervise those of other religions. Most of the other religions were Baptist and Church of Christ. Adron served in soil conservation projects in Fort Collins, Colorado; Magnolia, Arkansas; and Tallahassee, Florida. Most of his work in Florida was in a special public health project in which the groups operated without supervision.

Anglo was assigned to the Magnolia Camp where he was to grow produce for the men on forty acres of land with the help of one mule power. He made friends with local farmers and took pride in growing whatever was needed.

In addition he volunteered to participate in the testing of certain clothing for the armed services. This assignment required that he wear special clothing and walk on a treadmill under hot humid conditions until he collapsed. (This may have contributed to his heart problems, which eventually lead to his death.) He had made the track and basketball teams of Pepperdine College prior to his draft.

Both Anglo and Adron agreed that the Public Health Service in Florida was their most worthwhile work. It was a work that only they were available to do. It was also their hardest physical work. It was through this work that each met his future wife.

One weekend in the Florida Camp, a member of the group wanted to use Adron’s old car to go and preach for a rural church. The would-be preacher argued that Adron didn’t need to go to Valdosta to see Mae, a girl he had met. Anglo said, “I don’t agree with you because Adron may need to find a wife more than he needs to hear you preach.” They went to Valdosta, and after the war ended Mae became Georgia’s gift to Texas and the Justiss family.

When Adron was asked why he had signed as an objector to war, he replied, “Well, my Dad and Mother taught me all my life not to fight and to get along with people; And I believe in doing to others as I would have them to do to me. I couldn’t see myself taking part in killing people.”

Anglo developed heart problems at a time when heart surgery was relatively new. He was advised to go to Houston for surgery. He died during the operation.

At his funeral a relative called to my attention that his casket must have been very cheap. It was true. Anglo had asked that should he not survive surgery, little should be spent on his funeral.

Anglo was a thinker. He was a dreamer. He always had a positive outlook on things. As Twilah, his oldest daughter, put it, “I want to remember how he lived.” She refused to go to Anglo’s funeral.

Bessie and Master Sergeant Eugene Cason

Bessie became Dad’s “errand boy” after the boys were no longer available. The tractors and farm machines needed special parts when something broke. She drove the truck to find parts. Her husband-to-be, Eugene was drafted into the Army Corps of Engineers. For his skillful handling of a small group of men in a basic training assignment, he was promoted from private to Master Sergeant. This was something unusual and special. His unit trained to move supplies that Russia desperately needed from U.S. to Russia. The entire unit sailed from the West Coast on a captured Italian luxury liner to a port in India. There it required two smaller ships to reach their home base on the Persian Gulf in Iran. From that port, supplies were sent by bus, rail, or whatever was available.

When the war ended, while waiting for transportation home, the company sent their commanding officer and Eugene on a visit to Jerusalem. The officer representing commissioned officers, and Eugene representing the noncommissioned ones.

The entire unit returned to the East Coast of U.S. thereby completing the round-the-world trip. This unit used Eugene’s skills as an engineer and his ability to help men work properly, which was a great contribution to the success of the total war effort.

Commander C.Y. and Joeldeen

After graduating from Pepperdine College, C.Y. had basic training in the Naval Air Corps. As a pilot he had many assignments in the Atlantic Area. One he remembers well was that of escorting convoys as the ships approached the Mediterranean Sea area from the West. His base was in Morocco. At the end of the war he had hoped to have career as a commercial pilot; however, there were too many wanting that kind of career. He reenlisted and served 20 years before he retired.

C.Y.’s son Ronnie graduated from the Naval Academy in 1970 and also served in the Navy until he retired. Ronnie served on the staff of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Oslo, Norway, and later with the same service in Tunis, Africa. Ronnie’s son, Mark, C.Y.’s grandson, is now in his third year at the Naval Academy. Yes, the Justiss clan has been well represented by this family.

Private Lloyd and Mary Bess

Lloyd married Mary Bess, a classmate in Pepperdine College. They lived on the Justiss farm, grew potatoes and sent them via truck to Los Angeles. Near the end of the war, he was drafted into the Army as a conscientious objector to combat duty. He was trained in the Medical Corps and assigned as a first aid person to an Army unit stationed in Germany. Mary Bess agreed with Lloyd’s religious convictions on the issue of serving the country in non-combat ways.

Edna and Clyde Kennedy

Edna married Clyde Kennedy who became a company clerk for an Army Air Force training camp in West Texas. His commanding officer had been a wheat farmer in West Texas; when he learned of Clyde’s abilities to get things done, he granted him a furlough so that he could plant the farm in wheat. Edna dropped out of Pepperdine to live with Clyde near the Army base. Because of an injury in one eye, Clyde was permitted to serve in the Army Air Corps on a limited duty. He was never assigned to do guard duty. He said, “I didn’t like the idea of carrying a gun. It wasn’t my cup of tea.” Most of his service was done at the Army Air Base training center near Wichita Falls, Texas. (I think Clyde’s meaningful relationship with Edna started when they were in the seventh grade when I saw them walking hand-in-hand in the hallway of the Daingerfield School building.)

Nelda and Jimmie D. Teague

Nelda was in Harding College when her husband-to-be was in training at the Naval Air Force Base in Memphis. Upon completion of his training, Jimmie D. was assigned to the new aircraft carrier, S.S. Franklin in San Diego. Nelda transferred to Pepperdine. She had hopes of being near Jimmie; however the Franklin and specially trained crew left on a secret mission to attack Japan’s mainland.

As the Franklin began bombing Japan’s airports, Petty Officer Jimmie was suited, in his plane and ready to be launched, when a single Japanese plane dropped two bombs on the Franklin. Everything below the decks and all the planes, including his, were destroyed. He was able to jump from his plane near a catwalk and into the water below. He was rescued after several hours and the Franklin was so damaged that it and the survivors were returned to California. It was able to return under its own power, but at a reduced speed. He was one of the few survivors of the fighter personnel.

About sixty years later he said, “Sometimes I can’t remember what I had for breakfast, but of the experiences that day on the Franklin, I can remember all the details.”

Jimmie did well at whatever he attempted. This tragic event he will never forget.

Howard and Zona

Before World War II, I was age twenty-eight and subject to the draft. I was High School principal and when I registered as an objector to combat duty, people reacted. The coach said, “Howard, I believe as you, but I don’t have the courage to sign up as an objector.” A local physician, whose adopted son was in my U.S. history class, was reported to have contacted the school board and asked that an investigation be made as to what I taught.

I was the first in my family to be drafted for “one year of training in the Armed Service of my own choosing.” When I left to report for duty, the high school students and staff presented me with something that proved to be exactly what one needed – a battery operated radio.

That radio provided news and music on the special train that transported many of us to Rockford, Illinois for basic training for medical service. That radio was appreciated by almost all in my barracks. On special occasions our sergeant asked to use it in his private room. (Of course I didn’t refuse!)

Basic training was a snap. The marching and physical exercises were what one needed. Lectures were given by physicians who were drafted just as we were. Eventually groups were selected for specialized work in what was labeled as the 12th General Hospital. My specialty was X-Ray and Physical Therapy. We were told that the 12th General Hospital staff would be sent somewhere overseas whenever it was completely staffed and the location was selected. During the waiting period Zona and I were married. Then my orders were changed; I was assigned to an Army Hospital in Louisville.

Carl Chapman

Even though my special training was in X-Ray and physical therapy, at Nichols I was assigned to the Personnel Department and specifically to Records for all Army Personnel stationed at Nichols Hospital.

There I was given one of the most difficult assignments of my entire Army service. I was ordered to pull the records of about fifty staff members who would be sent overseas and assigned to Army infantry units. Carl Chapman was on that list. We had become close friends at church. His personnel record showed that his two special services were first aid and litter bearer.

Later, he wrote from some South Pacific island where fighting was fierce. In one letter he wrote “I’ll be happy when I get back to the States where we can worship together.” My last letter to Carl came back marked “Killed In Action.” I wrote Carl’s mother who replied about the details of her son’s death and burial. Documents revealed that an officer in Carl’s company had been wounded by a Japanese sniper and could not retreat to safety. Carl’s litter bearer group was sent to rescue the officer, and all of them were killed.

Overseas Duty

After Germany was defeated, Army personnel who had no service overseas were afforded an opportunity. My assignment directed me to Boston for training in what was labeled “Educational Reconditioning.” It focused upon work with Army service men returning to the U.S. on ships.

My assignment was to the Victory ship S.S. Costa Rica stationed in New York Harbor. Eight Army personnel were added to the ship’s crew and given special jobs in one compartment. We made trips to La Havre, France; Southampton, England; Naples, Italy (to deliver mail); and for loading at Marseilles, France. Each crossing the Atlantic required about eight days. (That was fast considering that the Mayflower crossed the Atlantic from England in 66 days.)

My Last Trip

One of my duties on board the S.S. Costa Rica in 1945 was to chart the progress of the ship each day. On a huge map of the Atlantic in the mess hall I marked the ship’s position with a big red pin at 3PM. The Captain included the average speed in knots and the distance covered in the information he passed to me.

Every day I was surprised at the large number of soldiers who gathered on the hour to watch me move the red pin forward and place a black pin to mark the previous day’s reading. Why would an ordinary group of men be interested enough to remember even the hour I performed this task?

The mystery was solved one day when I heard soldiers gloat to one another.

“You owe me.”

“Yeah, you win.”

They were betting on the number of miles that would be covered in each twenty-four hour period!

At last we approached the Statue of Liberty. Unexpectedly the ship stopped. That brought at least a thousand men on deck to hear a small Harbor Patrol boat captain yell through his megaphone.

“Captain of the Costa Rica! What kind of crew do you have? Get someone out and retrieve that garbage you threw overboard! You cannot proceed until it is cleaned up!”

The soldiers seemed to enjoy hearing the Captain being reprimanded even if it did delay our landing.

Then there was another setback. I had to announce that we were debarking at West Point – miles up the Hudson River rather than at New York. There was immediate grumbling.

One soldier said, “I was counting on seeing the sights of New York tonight.”

Another said, “My wife is waiting at the 42nd Street Dock.”

“Who wants to go to West Point at this stage of our careers?” fumed another.

When the Costa Rica unloaded at West Point on the Hudson, and returned to New York, I was informed that I had enough “points” to be discharged. With four years of service, I took the offer and was discharged in Ford Dix, New Jersey, December 1945.

VIETNAM

Joel, our oldest son, did basic training at Ft. Sam Houston. His basic lasted only four weeks because he was assigned to the Medical Corps as an objector to combat duty. He says he still remembers the “constant intimidation dished our by the trainers.” The six weeks in Medical training was more like being a student again rather than being driven as a slave.

His first assignment was in Washington State as a typist and file clerk. His second assignment was to Camp San, a small army base in Thailand next to one of the Air Force Bases from which B-52 bombers continually bombed Vietnam. His job was maintaining the roster of all U.S. Army personnel in Thailand. He liked the work and developed an interest in data processing that later turned into a career.

The disturbing part of the location was to hear a growing roar in the sky and to see B-52s landing. To him those “planes even looked demonic.”

When the war began to wind down he was among the first discharged.

SOME OBSERVATIONS

  1. In all wars where members of the Justiss family participated, there have been no heroes; however, each has made a contribution.

  2. Each of the family members contributed in his own choice of services without being pressured by anyone. As far as I can tell not one who served in different branches of the Armed Forces or in conscientious objector service has regretted the choice he made.

  3. In some way all have been members of Protestant groups and adhered in some way to the principles and ethics of Christianity. Seven of the eleven in my family had been students at Abilene, Harding, or Pepperdine colleges.

  4. Objectors to war have been in the minority; however, the objectors have “also served.” The choice of type or branch of service in no way affected the unity of our family relationships. Our parents provided moral support to each of us in spite of the fact that they were criticized for having children who were conscientious objectors.

  5. In my own family, only one was an objector, which branded us as being “three generations of objectors:” Joe Justiss in World War I, Howard Justiss in World War II, and Joel Justiss in the Vietnam war.

Why I Objected

It has been more than sixty years since I was drafted and served in the Army Medical Corps. My views for serving in non-combat service have consistently been the same. My reasons were based upon the scripture, which are true and will never change. Christ taught that one should not take human life or to even hate one’s enemy. In keeping these two facts and declaring them publicly required more effort than to just “go with the majority.”

If I were given weapons of destruction and taught how to use them in the armed forces in wartime, I would disappoint my country by acting as Christ taught: ...Love your enemies... pray for those who curse you... (Matt 5). (Ps 5:6 “God abhors the bloodthirsty.”) ...All who take the sword will die by the sword.” (Matt 26:52) The Law of Moses: Leviticus 19:18 “...One shall not take vengeance. ... You shall not kill.” (Exodus 20:13).

We usually agree with these scriptures but at the same time many look for exceptions: Consider “...Be subject to rulers...to over them.” (Titus 3:1) “...Be subject to governing authorities.” (Romans 13:1). God’s law takes priority over our rulers. This is certain. A ruler who tells you to kill, you do not obey because you violate God’s command (Acts 4:19). There is no conflict between the two groups of instructions given here unless local rulers or authorities ask one to do an act contrary to God’s basic teachings. God’s rules do not contradict; however, this is no problem for a Christian in this nation, the United States of America. Why? Because our rulers allow Christians to choose a non-combat service. It is possible to pray for the enemy, to refrain from hating, or killing them. It’s perfectly legal to choose a non-combatant service, or to serve as a conscientious objector to war. We seldom hear this being taught by our church leaders. Why is this not taught?

Some do not teach it because they are unaware it exists. Others claim it’s unpopular—and it is unpopular. During World War II, I signed as an objector because I wanted to serve legally and do it without violating God's law. I think I served well without having to kill or to hate the enemy. (Incidentally, Christians cannot “hate or kill.” At the same time it is difficult for one to serve in the armed forces and kill without hating the enemy.)

Bible Examples

“The Lord abhors the bloodthirsty” – Ps 5:6. Christ taught against the use of a sword even in self-defense – Matt 26:52-53. He prayed for His enemies – Luke 23:33. Stephen, a deacon in the church, prayed for those who threw the stones as he was being killed – Acts 7:60. Paul taught vengeance was “not for Christians” – Romans 12:19-21.

I think we need to realize how blessed we are to live in a nation without having to kill or defend our “freedom to worship.” Regardless of which nation one chooses to fight for, it is God who chooses the outcome. God rules “Over the kingdoms of men, and gives it to whomever he chooses” (Daniel 4:32).


At age 93, I still think I made the right decision to register as an objector. I am aware of my blessings, especially when I hear people say: “You took me into your home when I needed a place to live,” “You helped me at a time of crisis in my life” “Howard, be careful when you drive – I need you.” Yes, I’m still an objector and teach others not to hate or kill. I’m pleased that objection was granted by one of the best nations on earth even with its many faults and shortcomings. Christians should teach and live by Christ’s teachings regardless of the nation in which one lives. Yes, if our government did not provide for Christians to object; then, Christians must disobey the government. God has priority over governments. And people may call you names but God’s word we respect and keep, even in wars that protect our freedom to worship.

About Howard Justiss