Monday, November 11, 2013

Veterans Day 2013: Tharner James Pipkins [WWII]

My grandfather, Tharner James Pipkins, was a World War II veteran. Friends and family called him Buddy and James, but I knew him as Paw-Paw. He was born on April 6, 1924, to Marcellus and Roberta (Perkins) Pipkins in Bethany, Louisiana. After the death of his mother, Roberta, in 1930, his father Marcellus remarried later that year to Lois Allen. Grandpa attended grammar school at the Cornelius Springs Colored School in East, Texas where he completed seven years of school.

At the age of nineteen, he enlisted in the Navy where he served from June 12, 1943, to February 17, 1946. After leaving the Navy, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force where he served from April 4, 1946, to December 9, 1946, receiving an honorable discharge.  The rumor is my grandfather joined the Navy because he did not get along with his stepmother Lois. A document I received from the National Archives on his service in the Navy revealed that my grandfather was married at the time he enlisted. I asked my grandfather's sister, Aunt Mary Lee, about it, and she told me, "My brother James's first wife was Grady Mae. I don't know her maiden name, but they used to argue and fight a lot. They didn't have any children together. I believe they got married in Shreveport." Sure enough, Caddo Parish marriage records show that Tharner J. Pipkins married Grattie Mae Lewis on January 30, 1946 (Vol: 114, pg. 395). The couple would eventually divorce.

Tharner as Associate Pastor of GTVMBC in the 1950s

Paw-Paw eventually moved to Houston, Texas in the early 1950s and united with Greater True Vine Missionary Baptist Church where he served as one of two associate pastors under Rev. B.J. Collins.
While a member of the church, my grandpa James met my grandmother Shirley Jean Johnson who was the church pianist. They were married on November 21, 1954, by associate Pastor S. Hubbard. My grandparents raised four children, one who was from my grandmother's previous relationship. They eventually separated when my mother was a baby, and my grandpa stepped down as an associate pastor and left Greater True Vine. He would later unite with Macedonia Baptist Church and Israel Missionary Baptist Church under the leadership of Rev. A.A. McCardell, Jr.

My grandpa went on to meet "Living wife", and they raised four children together, two of which were from her previous relationship. Growing up, my grandfather rarely spoke about his experience in the war, at least not with his grandchildren. The little I overheard let me know that the war had really affected him.
In my 2010 interview with my grandfather's sister Mary Lee, she mentioned the following: "Mama [Lois] took care of James after he came home from the war; he was shaken up by what he had seen. He would have nightmares about it."

Grandpa worked at a corner store down the street from his house, and when my cousins,  my siblings, and I would visit, he would tell us to get whatever type of candy and drinks we wanted in the store. He died on April 1, 2001, after a lengthy stay at the Michael E. DeBakey VA hospital. He is buried at the Houston National Cemetery. I will always remember his jokes and laughter.

Paw-Paw in his latter years

Source Citations:
  1. U.S., Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011. Original data: Beneficiary Identification Records Locator Subsystem (BIRLS) Death File. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

1 comment:

  1. WOW! The fact that your grandfather was a serviceman in the Navy and Air Force is impressive. Hopefully in time someone in your family will find a military photo of him to share with you. Thank you so much for allowing us to honor your WW II Veteran on this special day!