By Gerry Fischer
There is a largely unknown story about two Meade County families the land, patriotism, heroism and heritage, memorialized for all to see, if only we knew where to look and with whom to speak. In a rolling area of Meade, a mile or so west of Buck Grove Baptist Church stands a red barn whose age is unknown, but was considered to be old in the 1920’s. It has been re-sided, painted red trimmed in white, and looks decades younger. When I pulled up to the farm gate leading to the barn and the log cabin to the southwest, even before I climbed out of my truck, I was struck by the adornment between the eve of the barn-roof and the hayloft door where five pentagonal stars were affixed in a horizontal line centered on the barn. Each star was painted red, white and blue, the blue appeared on the left half of the stars and the red on the right. They were further decorated with white stars on the blue field. The patriotic symbolism could not be missed, each star was not only itself a national symbol, but symbolic of our great American flag.
I wondered about the stars and the story behind them. I had come there to meet my friend “Tony” Prather and learn, as he began relating the story of the stars and why they are on the barn, I became enthralled. In my view, it is a remarkable tale. Over the years, the Prather family farm, beginning with Ida and Will, lay a half mile or so east, and across the road from the Bennett family farm. Will died in 1960, and Ida in 1966. Shortly after Ida’s passing, neighbor, Ray Bennett purchased the farm. Karen Bennett and Tony Prather as children, attended Buck Grove Baptist Church, each a member of one of the two families. They attended school together, and soon after, fell in love, married and raised a family. The land where the barn stands remained with the Prather farm, but after Will’s death, the adjoining acreage was parceled to the Bennett’s. The two families already friends later became related by marriage. What about the stars?
The story of the stars begins approximately ten years or more before Tony and Karen were born, with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The 7th U.S. Naval Fleet was attacked without warning, and a week or so later, Germany, which was allied with the Japanese, declared War on the United States. We were unprepared. The sailors in training at Great Lakes Training Station numbered less than 5,500. Volunteers signed up in droves to risk their lives in order to defend their country and families. By May the training quota was almost 70,000 and by September it was over 100,000 men and continued to grow. Eventually it exceeded 192,000. Among the defenders were members of both families, and everyone in that war were heroes. Soon, five members of the Prather and Bennett family were defending their country.
Larry Prather, Will and Ida’s second son, enlisted July 17th, 1941, before we were officially at war, but while the clouds of war were on the horizon, the sound of its drums were not yet a whisper, but war would not be long in coming. Larry, the second son of Will and Ida, deployed to India in December of 1943, a member of the 94th Station Hospital. He helped establish and open a 100-bed hospital, and served in an administrative capacity. While there he met his future wife, a nurse from Valley Falls, Kansas. On May 15th, 1942, Will and Ida’s third son, Dewey left for duty. Dewey’s training was cut short when it was found he could type. He was soon assigned duties as a company clerk. Sometime in mid-July he joined 16 train loads of GI’s that left Camp Claibourne, La., for parts unknown. He saw duty in North Africa where he was assigned to an engineering company. Early in the war, Germany had low oil reserves and attacked North Africa to establish a new supply line. Dewey was stationed in Algiers when General Eisenhower landed an allied force on the coast to counteract the German advances of German General, Irwin Rommel. Rommel was charged with securing the oil fields Germany needed. Eisenhower’s invasion force included American Generals George S. Patton, Omar Bradley and England’s General “Monty” Montgomery. Dewey wrote letters home, and told of seeing our ships gliding through the water, blackened at night, silhouetted against the horizon. His letters were V-mails, and censored.
(See Part 2 Next week, and find out the wonderful thing that happened to Dewey).