‘A hero I never knew’

Roberdel man keeps  uncle’s memory alive

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

ROBERDEL — Meet James Archie Easterling.

Easterling was 24 years old when he married Ruth Jane Cresman, of Tryon. The newlyweds made their home in Kannapolis. Easterling was 25 when on June 1, 1942, he volunteered for service in the U.S. Navy — following a long line of family members to serve.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Tommy Easterling puts a memorial to his uncle, James Archie Easterling, who is "a hero I never knew" after being killed in battle in 1944. Tommy Easterling was born in 1951.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Tommy Easterling puts a memorial to his uncle, James Archie Easterling, who is “a hero I never knew” after being killed in battle in 1944. Tommy Easterling was born in 1951.

Easterling was 27 when he was killed. After 10 months at sea, Easterling, a ship’s cook first class, was killed on Jan. 22, 1944 while serving board a Navy vessel involved in the Anzio beach head landing in Italy.

According to a fellow shipmate at the time, Easterling turned to him and say, “this will be my third invasion. If I die this morning, I will be dying for my country.”

Easterling had left for foreign service on April 4, 1943, and had been at sea for 10 months. He had participate din the invasions of Sicily and Salerno before Anzio Beach.

Easterling’s service is kept alive by his nephew, Tommy Easterling, who for the past two Memorial Day observances has displayed in the front yard of his Roberdel home a white wreath and a photo display on a  stand Easterling built to honor and remember “a hero I never knew.”

James Archie Easterling is buried in Eastside Cemetery in Rockingham, but has a grave marker noting his sacrifice on Anzio Beach Head in Italy.

James Archie Easterling is buried in Eastside Cemetery in Rockingham, but has a grave marker noting his sacrifice on Anzio Beach Head in Italy.

Tommy Easterling said family members later learned that James Archie was part of a three-man crew on a gun turret the morning of Jan. 22, 1944. According to a study released by the Center for Military History, the Anzio Beachhead landing — dubbed Operation Shingle, situated about 30 miles south of Rome — took three months and three days. Easterling lost his life on the first day:

The Germans threw attack after attack against the beachhead in an effort to drive the landing force into the sea. Fifth Army troops, put fully on the defensive for the first time, rose to the test. Hemmed in by numerically superior enemy forces, they held their beachhead, fought off every enemy attack, and then built up a powerful striking force which spearheaded Fifth Army’s triumphant entry into Rome in June.

The battle was 71 years ago. It took the majority of that time for the gunner on the three-man turret team to find a cousin of Tommy Easterling’s who lived in Charlotte. Easterling said the many had been looking for James Archie’s family ever since the battle in an effort to explain what happened.

A Richmond County Journal article on Jan. 31, 1944 informed readers of James Archie Easterling's death.

A Richmond County Journal article on Jan. 31, 1944 informed readers of James Archie Easterling’s death.

The gunner explained that Easterling appeared to have suffered from a concussion, evidenced by a head wound, and that was determined as his cause of death.

Easterling stood in his garage and looked at the wreathe and framed image of his uncle. He put it on display in his front yard, in front of the former Roberdel School flag pole that the purchased several years ago, beginning last May.

“I wish that I had done it years ago,” Easterling said. “As long as I’m able,” he’ll continue to display Easterling’s story.

Easterling never met his uncle. James Archie was killed in battle in 1944; Tommy Easterling was born in 1951. Easterling’s father, Thomas L. Easterling, was a Navy man. In fact, his dad “always felt guilty” because it was he who’d talked James Archie into enlisting.

Ruth Easterling, living in Kannapolis, received the telegram notifying her of her husband’s death on Jan. 27, 1944. Readers of the Richmond County Journal learned about it four days later:

 The county is saddened by the telegram from the navy department telling of the death of James Archie Easterling killed in action. No details of where, how or when was given in the telegram. The family was requested not to divulge the name of his ship …”

The article noted Easterling attended Rockingham High School and was “well known throughout Rockingham and the county.” The son of Mr. and Mrs. J.W. Easterling, of Roberdel, the article notes that “fishing was probably his chief hobby” and that “his laster letter was written December 29 and received only a few days ago.”

Ruth Easterling never remarried, Tommy Easterling said. She later retired as a schoolteacher in Florence, S.C. She died in

Tommy Easterling said he and his wife, Gloria, have no children. But he does hope that other family members will be interested in carrying on James Archie Easterling’s legacy of an American hero.

 

Filed in: Featured News, Latest Headlines, Military and Veterans, News, Rockingham

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