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Madison County’s connection to Pearl Harbor attack, 78 years ago Saturday

Posted 12/3/19

Saturday will mark the 78th anniversary of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, which was followed by our country’s entry into World War II. I have heard from some folks that they have things to share regarding family and Pearl Harbor, and hopefully they will before next year.

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Tora! Tora! Tora!

Madison County’s connection to Pearl Harbor attack, 78 years ago Saturday

Posted

Saturday will mark the 78th anniversary of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, which was followed by our country’s entry into World War II. I have heard from some folks that they have things to share regarding family and Pearl Harbor, and hopefully they will before next year.

John Middleton Brownlee was born in Alabama in 1837, and shortly afterwards his family moved to Siloam, Mississippi, where he married Celia Elizabeth Sloan in 1858. On March 1, 1862. he enlisted in the Confederate Army, attached to Company K, 35th Mississippi Infantry Regiment. In April of 1865, he was taken prisoner by Federal Forces and sent to a prison camp in Vicksburg, Mississippi, where he was released on May 6, 1865. He returned to his family in Siloam.

According to Volume 1 of A History of Madison County, in the early part of 1870, the Brownlee couple began their move to Texas. They and their five small children (two had previously died) first settled near Bonham but later moved to Paris, Texas. By the mid-1870s, they decided to relocate farther south. After visiting both Bryan and Madisonville, they decided to make Madisonville their permanent residence.

The Brownlee couple bought a farm of over 100 acres, which fronted partially on the south side of what is now Highway 21, where Tractor Supply now does business. They continued their farming operations and raising their family, which had been increased with the births of seven more children. John M. Brownlee, Sr, died on March 20, 1927, following complications from a horse and buggy accident. Wife Celia died June 8 the same year, after an extended illness.

Of their 12 children, some remained in Madisonville and some moved away. John D. Brownlee (1879-1943) was an architect here. William R. Brownlee (1867-1929) married Willie Kavanaugh, and I have read they raised a large family here, but that is all I have found. J.M. Brownlee, Jr. (1865-1948) married Pearl Wycough, with who he had five children, including Milton M. Brownlee (1904-1961), whom many of us remember as a lawyer here and husband of Katie Brownlee.

One of the original couple’s sons, Ivy Rush Brownlee (1886-1957), was born here. He married Frances “Fannie” Keene and they made Corpus Christi their home. Their only son, William John Brownlee, (1922-1941), graduated from Corpus Christi High School in the spring of 1939 and, with his parents’ consent, enlisted in the Army Air Corps on October 4, 1939.

Private William John Brownlee, called Billy Jack, was stationed at Hickam Field, Honolulu, Hawaii, on that fateful day, December 7, 1941. Hickam Air Force Base was one of Japan’s primary targets. When the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked, its planes bombed and strafed the base to eliminate air opposition and prevent American aircraft from following them back to their aircraft carriers. Hickam suffered extensive damage, aircraft losses and loss of life, with 189 people killed and 303 wounded.

19-year-old Private Brownlee’s parents had not seen him since his enlistment over two years earlier when they received a telegram from the War Office on December 10, 1945. Later they were quoted as having said they’d had a premonition since the attack. The Corpus Christi Caller-Times newspaper printed a portion of the telegram which read, “The Secretary of War desires me to express his deep regret that your son was killed in the line of defense of his country at Hickam Field, Territory of Hawaii, on December 7…” and was signed “Adjutant General Adams, Washington, D.C.” The photo that appeared with that article was one taken of Billy Jack when he was a route carrier for the Caller-Times for over two years in high school.

Private Brownlee was the first Pearl Harbor casualty reported for Corpus Christi. Soon afterwards Jaycees there launched efforts to rename a street in his honor, and in August of 1942, the City Council approved renaming 13th Street to Brownlee Boulevard. It still bears that name and is a bit southwest of downtown Corpus Christi.

We at the Museum and in the Madison County Historical Commission are mourning the recent death of our curator, Jane Day Reynolds. She had served us in that capacity since summer of 2015. Jane loved our local history and was always delighted when folks came in to discuss it. Her knowledge, smile, and laughter will be greatly missed.

Madison County Museum, at 201 N. Madison St., is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Should you want to mail something, the mailing address is P.O. Box 61, Madisonville, TX 77864. We would like to visit with you about the need for volunteers. Go in or call 936.348.5230.

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