Welcome to Beneath the Dirt, a column about the hidden stories attached to the artifacts housed within the Tipton County Museum.
When you visit any museum, you see many wondrous connections to days-gone-by: artifacts, pictures, document, textiles, etc., all with little placards telling you perhaps what the item is and maybe who owned it or how it was used. But have you ever, really wondered what the backstory may have been on the artifact? How did it get to be an artifact, who really owned it and why? What else did the person do? How is the artifact tied to Tipton County and what is its significance? How did that particular item end up at the museum? What is the real story beneath the dirt?
These are the questions I have often wondered about and the hidden stories I hope to uncover as I catalog and preserve each item the Tipton County Museum has been entrusted with. The stories that help make up the rich history of Tipton County and of America. The stories of our past… and of our future.
A Scrapbook of Memories
Scrapbooks are wonderful keepers of memories and history and we have several amazing ones in the Archives. I recently came across one, once owned by a young man named Julian Clinton Aycock who served at the start of World War II.
Julian was born in Memphis on Feb. 10, 1918 to Clinton E. Aycock and Minnie Meadows. His parents divorced when Julian was about six, and his mother then married Holmes McQuiston of Covington, where the family lived. Julian’s father died on March 15, 1933 at the age of 36, when Julian was just 15 years old.
After graduating from Byars-Hall in 1936, Julian spent the next three winters working as a bellman in a "swanky resort hotel." December 1940 wasn't going to be any different, but something stirred in the young man with the initiation of the Selective Service and Training Act. Like many other young men, Julian made the decision to volunteer to serve his country, and on a cold Dec. 4, 1940, Julian, along with several dozens of other young men, marched down Main Street in Memphis as the first selectees to volunteer in Shelby County.
He enlisted in the Army on Dec. 5, 1940 as a private and was sent to Ft. Oglethorpe, Ga. for training. He was later assigned to a military police (MP) detachment with the 378th Bomb Squadron, 309 Bomb Group stationed at Columbia Army Air Base, earning his Private First Class, Corporal and Sergeant stripes along the way.
Julian was known to his close friends as Buster or Red, but most of Memphis knew him as Private Aycock from the stories he would write for the Commercial Appeal while he was in the service. He wrote about everyday Army life from the perspective of a young soldier and Memphis readers looked forward to reading about his adventures.
Julian's scrapbook was started by a young lady named Sue, who left him a note in the book explaining she would place his articles within the pages while he was away so he would not forget the year he would miss from home – nor her. She decorated the pages with sketches hoping that Julian would take over and fill the remaining pages with his pictures and souvenirs he had collected of his time spent in the Army.
After a year of service, Julian left active duty and entered the enlisted reserves on Dec. 4, 1941 and returned home to Memphis. He was ready to continue on with his life, and Malcolm Adams, city editor for the Commercial Appeal, wrote a glowing recommendation for him – "I have known Julian C. Aycock for about 15 years and before volunteering for service with the Army, Mr. Aycock was of excellent reputation in his community. Mr. Aycock is a young man of good character and reputation. He is clean-cut, sober and of unquestionable loyalty to his country."
Two days later though, Pearl Harbor was bombed and the young soldier once again felt the call to serve his country. He enlisted for his second "hitch" in August 1942 and was sent to an another MP unit, this time in Florida. But Julian no longer wanted to serve as an MP. He wanted to be in the thick of battle as a pilot. On Oct. 27, 1942, he completed Aerial Gunners School at Tyndall Field, Fla., and was awaiting orders which would allow him to earn his second pair of wings as a bomber pilot.
On Dec. 3, 1942, Julian received the telegraph that gave him his orders. The 24-year old was to report to Columbia Air Base, S.C., by 0800 on Dec. 8, 1942 to begin his much-anticipated flight school training.
On Dec. 7, 1942, the one-year anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the catalyst that drove him back into the Army, Julian, along with six other soldiers destined for Columbia Air Base, took off from Tyndall Field, Fla., headed to South Carolina. Sadly, his plane did not reach its destination safely, crashing just six miles southeast of Columbia, killing everyone onboard instantly, including Sergeant Julian Clinton Aycock.
"To do the best of my ability to make this a better country and a lot better world in which to live." – Julian C. Aycock, Dec. 5, 1940
The following day, in a Dec. 8, 1942 Commercial Appeal article announcing his death, Adams wrote a beautiful memorial for his young friend.
"Julian Aycock was a red-haired young Memphian who loved to live but had no fear of death," wrote Adams. "He would write of his desire 'to do the best of my ability to make this a better country and a lot better world in which to live.'"
He wrote that Julian would write his stories the way he talked, "lightly, happily and humorously." His stories were well received and anxiously waited on. The young private captured Army life much differently than a seasoned reporter could and he found excitement and wonderment in everyday tasks.
"First news that Buster had died as he would have liked to die came in a carefully worded telegram from his commanding officer," wrote Adams. "It told of instant death and concluded with the information that a military escort will accompany Buster's body back to Memphis."
Julian left his mother, Mrs. Holmes McQuiston of Atoka, his grandmother Mrs. Jennie Meadows of 545 South Holmes., four aunts, Mrs. Don Wimmer of the South Holmes address; Mrs. Howard Dunlap of 3574 Summer; Mrs. Pat Malone of Cordova and Mrs. Lorin D. Raines of Columbus, Ga.; four half brothers and sisters, Jack, William, Mildred Elizabeth and Sarah Virginia McQuiston of Atoka. Services were held Dec. 10 at National Funeral Home with interment in Elmwood Cemetery.
The air base listed the dead in addition to Sergeant Aycock as: Pilot, Second Lieut. Robert Earl Thomas of Tampa; Co-pilot, Second Lieut. John David Trimmier, Inman, S.C.; Staff Sergts. Lawrence F. Ford, Lewiston, Ill.; Earl Fynan of Riverside, N.J.; William J. Gorman, Manchester, N.H., and Sergt. Alton J. Jones, Blanco, Texas.
Although Julian wasn't long for this life, he made an impact on thousands within his short time, and today, through his collection and scrapbook of memories, his legacy and his story lives on.
Sherri Onorati is a retired chief, former Leader staff writer and state-certified archivist employed by the Tipton County Museum. She enjoys genealogy, raising chickens, riding motorcycles and her grandsons.