May Brothers
World War II Album
Service Photos of Bill May and E.B. May, Jr.
Everyone in Floyd County knows Bill May and E.B. May, Jr.,  the two brothers who donated the Samuel May House to the City of Prestonsburg. Only their close friends know that both are veterans of World War II and both saw action on the battlefield. Bill served in the European Theater with the 125th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion, U.S. Army. E.B. May, Jr. served  in the Pacific Theater with the 1st Battalion, 13th Artillery,  Fifth Marine Division. Here is a photo of Corporal E.B. May, Jr.:
For a larger image, click here.
Since battlefield memories are inevitably associated with tragedy, it was only with the greatest reluctance that the May brothers have decided to share their photos with me and let me tell their story. Neither man considers himself a hero, and neither claims to have done any more than to
serve his country and do his duty.
On March 9th, 1944, this item appeared in the Floyd County Times:
Cpl. Wm. May, son of Mr. and Mrs. E.B. May, Sr. of Prestonsburg, who has been stationed at Camp Haan, Calif., has been transferred to Shreveport, La. for advanced training. His brother, Pfc. E.B. May, Jr., is now at Camp Pendelton, Oceanside, Calif., taking a course in telephone, telegraph, and radio.
Corporal Bill May's outfit, the 125th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion, was organized on May 24th, 1943 at Camp Haan, Riverside, California under the command of Major Ralph S. Johnson.
Here is a wide-angle shot of the Headquarters Battery, 125th AAA Battalion. It was taken in June, 1944, at Camp Myles Standish, Massachusetts, shortly before the command boarded a troop ship and headed for England:
For a larger image, click here.
The battalion's training began on July 26th, 1943 and continued until January 15th, 1944. Major Myron T. Fleming assumed command of the unit on October 4th, and on October 18th he was succeeded by Lieut. Colonel Lester M. Kilgarif. From February 20th to April 22nd, 1944, the battalion was stationed at Camp Livingston, Louisiana. From there they were transferred by train to Camp Miles Standish, Massachusetts, their staging area for the Atlantic crossing.
Here is a smaller section of the Headquarters Battery's photograph,  showing Corporal Bill May:
Corporal May is the second man from the left, next to top row. For a larger image, click here.
On June 30th the battalion packed their gear and traveled to Boston Harbor, where they boarded the troop ship Mount Vernon and sailed for England. During their tour of duty in England and Northern Europe, the 125th AAA  Battalion managed to shoot down seven hundred and fifty German V-1 and V-2 rockets, better known as Buzz Bombs. Here is a close-up of Corporal Bill May:
When the battalion reached England, they established a camp on Blackshaw Moor near the town of Leek in Staffordshire. After they set up their equipment, they became part of England's anti-aircraft defense system, which at that point in the war was working hard to defend the island against German Buzz Bombs. The official history of the  battalion reads as follows:
For a larger image, click here.
The people of London and Southern England will never forget the Summer of 1944, for they were beginning to hear the dreaded throbbing of the flying bombs and the killing crash that they made as they tore through rows of dwellings. The Germans were launching their new weapon from the coast of France across the English Channel. Nor will the English ever forget the great anti-aircraft battle which took place all along the coast facing the launching sites of the enemy.
Let's take, for example, an average engagement. Over the advance warning line comes the initial coordinates signifying that a robot is on its way. This is the call to action. Plotting room men go into action; the radar crew is ready; the men are set on the tracking head; and the men manning the guns stand-by. Like the nose of a hunting dog, the radar dish sniffs the air for the scent of its quarry. Then the parabola stops. "They must have something," says a gunner. Sure enough, over the phone comes the familiar call: "Radar on target."
From then on that buzz-bomb's time is limited. You hear the whine of the gun's motors; the crews are ready; ammo is set; now, just let it come within range.
The boys on the tracker-head have the bomb dead center on the cross hairs. It's a sight that always brings a thrill. A dark streamlined bomb with blunt wings and a lurid blast of orange flame jetting out behind it.
Men are watching dials; hands are steady on controls; the target comes within range; now's the time.
Guns fire. Wham! The explosion smacks you squarely. The crews on the guns are working with a rhythm. The ammo is passed; the fuze is cut; the shell goes into the breech; and the gun is fired. The projectile's on its way. You watch for bursts. There's a terrific burst of yellow flame in the sky. It lights up the area, and in several seconds the concussion reaches you and jars you. It makes the earth shake and it whips the tents. That's real shooting! It's another score for the 125th!
Here's a shot of Bill May and several of his comrades horsing around at their camp on Omaha Beach. For a larger image, click here.
On September 20th, 1944, Bill's unit dismantled  their gun positions in the Romney Marshes and traveled to Southampton, where they boarded Liberty ships and crossed the English Channel to France. They landed on Omaha Beach, Normandy, on September 23rd, 1944,  several months after the initial assault. The official history of the battalion reads as follows:
After a rather hectic crossing on Liberty ships and L.S.T.'s, we were darn glad to hit dry land and bed down on some solid ground. Here we were in Normandy amid the scenes of the great battles of the invasion. We saw towns smashed to ruins. Evidence of the mighty push that started the Allies on their way to Berlin lay on every roadside: shattered tanks and vehicles, signs warning about the mine fields, and the constant stream of Army equipment rolling toward the front. Soon our own motor pools would be working for the Red Ball Express, hauling the vital supplies and personnel from the docks of Cherbourg where, on the hills overlooking the great port, we set up the batteries for anti-aircraft defense.
Every soldier in the E.T.O. will remember Christmas of 1944. For it came just a week after the Germans began their counter offensive which was to develop into the Battle of the Bulge. On the morning of December 19th, a hurried march-order was given and we pulled out of position for  destinations unknown. By evening we were down at Liege and it was apparent that we were headed for the hot spots. The Germans were pouring buzz-bombs into Liege and it was at this time that A Battery suffered its tragedy when a diver crashed into its convoy, killing twelve men.
Nightfall found us east of Liege, near the Fort of Embourg, a remnant defense of World War I. Some of the men were picked to stay here and guard equipment, while the gun crews and machine gunners and everyone who could be spared went on ahead to the mission that we had been given. Our assignment was to protect certain highways against the advance of German tanks. There we built our positions, five or six miles from the enemy, without any supporting troops. Helping to make the situation as completely miserable as possible, we had to endure drenching rain and bitter cold.
Fortunately, the German tanks never materialized, and several days later a large force of U.S. Infantry moved into the area and relieved the unit of its mission.
For a larger image, click here.
But that's enough about Corporal Bill May's role in the war. What about  Corporal E.B. May, Jr.? Here's a photo of Corporal E.B. May, Jr. in his Marine blues:
From mid 1944 to late 1945, Corporal E.B. May, Jr. served with the Fifth Division, U.S. Marines in the Pacific Theater. From February 19th to March 16th, 1945, he took part in the  Marine amphibious assault on the heavily-defended Japanese island of Iwo Jima,  beginning one of the bloodiest battles of the entire Pacific Campaign. The purpose of the Iwo Jima operation was to secure a landing strip for B-29 Bombers returning from bombing raids on Japan.
E.B.'s division, the Fifth Marines, incurred 8,719 casualties during the twenty-six days that it took to secure the island, a casualty rate of forty-two percent.
One hundred and four officers and 2,378 enlisted men of the Fifth Marine Division were killed  during the fighting, and 250 officers and 5,968 enlisted men were wounded.
During the engagement Corporal May served with the Forward Observer Post of the 27th Infantry Regiment, maintaining telephone lines between the artillery spotter and the 13th Marine's artillery batteries. In the following photo, a battery of 105mm howitzers of the 13th Marine Artillery fires over the heads of assault troops moving up Mount Suribachi:
For a larger image, click here.
For a larger image, click here.
The attack on Iwo Jima began at 6:40 am on Feburary 19th, 1945.  Six battleships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet opened the attack with a pre-assault bombardment that hurled tons of high explosives into the pear-shaped little island. At 8:05 am, the bombardment ceased and the air attack began. Seventy- two carrier-based fighters and dive bombers pounded the island's beaches with bombs and rockets and then strafed the landing areas. Then a formation of high-altitude B-24 Liberators peppered the island with heavy bombs.
After the air strikes, the naval bombardment resumed, and then, at exactly 9 am, seven battalions of the 4th and 5th Marines landed on the southeastern shore of Iwo Jima. Japanese resistance was light at first, but soon the entire landing area was being subjected to repeated mortar and artillery fire from nearby Mount Suribachi.
The men of the 13th Marine Artillery landed on Iwo Jima about four hours after the initial attack. The official history of the Fifth Marine Divison reads as follows:
Artillery forward observers and reconnaissance parties had landed with the infantry battalion commanders, only to find that the tentative gun positions selected from maps aboard ship still were held by the enemy. Howitzers, therefore, remained afloat until early afternoon. When they did get ashore, the pre-loaded DUCKWs [amphibious troop carriers] carrying them could not buck the steep terraces and loose sand, and LVTs [ditto] had to pull the loaded trucks over the crest. Inland, they unloaded in the midst of heavy mortar and machine-gun fire while many furiously-working artillerymen used their helmets and whatever else they could lay their hands on to dig gun pits.
Twenty minutes after the 3rd Battaltion, 13th Marines had landed, front-line troops heard a sharp crack and a high-pitched whine as the first round of American artillery fire passed overhead and exploded on Suribachi. Glamour Gal--a 105 howitzer commanded by Sergeant Joseph L. Pipes--was in action.
For a larger image, click here.
For a larger image, click here.
The enemy's strongest positions on Iwo were its pillboxes on Mount Suribachi. These had to be neutralized one by one, by men using grenades or flame-throwers. For Japanese soldiers surrender was not an option, and they fought like maniacs. The assault on Mount Suribachi was made by troops of the second and third battalions of the 28th Marines, with the first battalion held in reserve. The attack was supported by low-level bombing and strafing by Marine and Navy fighter planes. Here is a photo of an 81mm mortar crew bombarding Suribachi as other troops drive towards its base:
After twenty-six days of fighting,  all enemy resistance on Iwo Jima  was extinguished and the island was secured as an airbase for B-29 Bombers returning from raids on Japan. Before they left the island, the Fifth Marine Division buried their dead in this cemetery near Mount Suribachi and gave them a military funeral that included a parade and a 21-gun salute:
For a larger image, click here.
Fifth Division Chaplain Roland B. Gittelsohn delivered the eulogy:
Here lie officers and enlisted men, Negroes and whites, rich men and poor men, together. Theirs is the highest and purest democracy. Any man who fails to understand this betrays those who lie here dead. Whoever lifts his  hand in hate against a brother makes this ceremony and the bloody sacrifice it commemorates an empty, hollow mockery.
Following the ceremony, the men boarded troop ships and returned to their  base at Hawaii, where they began preparing for an assault on Kyushu, the southernmost of the four large islands which form the country of Japan.  However, as things turned out, the terrible blow inflicted on the Japanese by the dropping of Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki forced them to surrender and made the invasion of Japan unnecessary.
After Japan surrendered on August 14th, 1945, E.B.'s division landed on the southern part of Japan and spent several months as part of the U.S. Occupational Force. He was then discharged from the service.
Sometime in the Fall of 1945, the May brothers returned to Prestonsburg, where they have remained ever since. Bill subsequently found work as a sign painter, and for many years he was employed by the late Russell May of Prestonsburg. E. B. May, Jr. took a job as manager of the shoe department of the Francis Department Store in downtown Prestonsburg.
During the 1950s and 1960s, E.B. May, Jr. devoted many hours to volunteer work in the community. In the early 1960s, for example, as Scoutmaster  of Prestonsburg Troop 27, he participated in the region-wide effort to mark and preserve the legendary Jenny Wiley Trail. The goal of the project was to create a hiking trail for Boy and Girl Scouts, so that the memory of Jenny's courage could be passed on to future generations. Here is a photograph of  Scoutmaster May with Prestonsburg Troop 27:
Left to right, front row: Tom Ed Music, Johnny Jackson, Denzil  Cooley, Bobby Napier. Second Row: Joe Goodman, Ray Collins, Ronny Goodman,  Bobby Crager. Standing: Z.S. "Uncle Dick" Dickerson, E.B. May, Jr., George  Ford, Alex Howard, Chester Shepherd, Johnny Collins, Barney Walker, Jonah Hall, Challie Fraley, Charles Napier, Dale Miller, Ondlowe Hunt, Jimmy Howard, Hansel Cooley. For a larger image, click here.
In June, 1963, the following article appeared in the Floyd County Times:
The Jenny Wiley Escape Trail had its first hikers Sunday when nearly half a hundred Boy Scouts of Troop No. 27, Prestonsburg, broke the way for what is hoped will be a flood of hikers in the years to come.
They unloaded from cars and trucks at Little Mud Lick Creek Falls, near Staffordsville, and planned to begin the trek at the cave where Mrs. Wiley escaped her Indian captors. If the pioneer woman could flee through the uncharted wilderness during the night, with flooded streams blocking her way, then surely the Boy Scouts could hike it in bright spring weather.
They didn't, but it wasn't exactly lack of Scout stamina that let them down, although several had blisters and one a sprained ankle. What defeated them was the romance and history of Little Mud Lick Creek Falls.
They had intended to explore the canyon in an hour and then be on their way. Down over the canyon sides they slid and swung by bushes until they were standing in awe of the first falls, the dark caves and the sheer palisades of rocks that reached up through leafing hemlocks to rim the sky. They were an hour at the first plunge of the stream as it hurtled through the pass that it had carved through Mud Lick Mountain.
Scoutmaster E.B. May, Jr. and Andrew Goble, with aid from several accompanying leaders, finally whipped the troop into a  patrol and led them deep into the valley recesses.
When they came to Jenny Wiley Cave, they stood in awe of the majestic rockhouse and the history that it held. However, the mood didn't last. They laid aside their canteens and lunches and began to climb the ledges or dig for Indian artifacts in the dusty interior. One boy found a piece of flint the size of an arrowhead. After that, the dust boiled.
Tired of fruitless digging, many Scouts stood at the edge of the cliff and looked down a hundred feet to the creek bottom. Others peered at the overhanging hemlocks. All asked questions. Where was Jenny tied? How did she manage to get down the canyonside to the creek?
Patiently the leaders repeated the story of the pioneer woman who was captured in Virginia in 1789, and, after months of wandering, was brought to Little Mud Lick Creek by the Indians. Scoutmaster May pointed to an avenue of descent from the cave and to Little Mud Lick Creek, in which she waded to hide her trail.
It was nearly noon when the Scouts left Jenny Wiley Cave and treked down Little Mud Lick to where it enters Big Mud Lick Creek. Most of them crossed the stream on a plank that broke with Scoutmaster May and dropped him in the creek. They came out of Ky. 172, hiked to the mouth of Jenny's Creek, and had their pictures made at the newly-erected historical marker commemorating a Civil War battle. Still full of energy, they frolicked on the lawn of the old Dan Davis home. Several of them built a pyramid of their bodies and yelled with delight when the topmost Scout fell, crumpling everybody into a mass of tangled bodies.
The sun was descending, there was a long way to go, and  Scoutmaster May hurried them along. Crossing Big Paint Creek on a bridge, they began the ascent of the stream that bears the name of the area's greatest pioneer heroine. When they emerged onto U.S. 23, the day was nearly spent. The boys were loaded into cars and trucks and transported to the mouth of Little Paint Creek, where Mrs. Wiley reached the Big Sandy River and found herself only a short distance from Harmon's Station, where she found refuge.
Soon they will try again, and successfully, for the trail is now known. Rigid rules of departure, marching, and road safety will be observed. Medals will be issued to those who successfully complete a hike on the Jenny Wiley Escape Trail.
Scoutmasters May, Goble, Ezra Robinson, N.M. White and the officers of the Floyd County and Johnson County Historical Societies, who are sponsoring the development of the trail, envision it as the most popular Boy Scout hike in Kentucky.
It could very well become that, for the route has some of the most impressive scenery in the Big Sandy Valley. Furthermore, as  Scoutmaster May has demonstrated, the trail is associated with one of the most thrilling stories in the history of the American frontier.
Go to Jack May's War Back to Archive Main Page
Go to Oldest House in the Valley
Go to Friends of May House Website
Go to Ivy Mountain Monument
Battle of Middle Creek
Photographs on this page come to us courtesy of Bill May and E. B. May, Jr. of Prestonsburg. The quotations dealing with Bill May's role in the war come from 125th AAA Gun Battalion Mobile, A Straight-Shooting Outfit, Edited by 1st Lt. Joseph H. Gigadet (unpublished, borrowed from Bill May). The quotations and photographs dealing with E.B. May, Jr.'s role in the war were taken from Howard M. Conner's book, The Spearhead: The World War II History of the 5th Marine Division (Washington, D.C., Infantry Journal Press, 1950).
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