U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-Ark.) recognized the 100th birthday of WWII veteran James (Jay) Churchwell as part of an ongoing effort dubbed “Salute to Veterans.”
Churchwell was born on Aug. 31, 1917 in Carlisle. He was one of nine children and only one of two boys. He was raised on his family’s cotton farm and helped tend to the crop before he enlisted in the Army in March 1941.
“We knew war was coming. They had just mobilized the Arkansas National Guard unit,” Churchwell said. “They were just filling the Guard up with Arkansas men so that’s where I ended up. That’s where I spent my career, four years and seven months.”
He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 142nd Field Artillery Regiment as a gunner. This was disbanded in 1943 and the 1st Battalion was redesignated as the 936th Field Artillery Battalion.
After extensive stateside training, Churchwell shipped out of New York for the European Theater.
He remembers the confined space that he and 7,000 troops shared on a boat that would comfortably fit 2,000 men and how they suffered through the lack of ventilation for the 13-day journey. That’s why he was excited about getting to sleep on the ship’s deck.
“You weren’t allowed to have a light or anything. You weren’t allowed to smoke a cigarette. Even the boats weren’t allowed to have any lights outside. We got out on deck and got our blankets all spread out. Everybody’s laying down and boy it’s so nice to be in the fresh air,” he recalled. But the relief was short lived.
“One guy just had to have a cigarette and he lit up a cigarette and they made us all go right back down the hole. We threatened to throw him off the boat,” Churchwell laughed.
He landed in North Africa and his unit convoyed by land to Italy where he fought for the remainder of WWII.
“One winter we were bogged down and the big trucks couldn’t pull the guns anywhere,” Churchill said, recalling how he spent months in one position in Northern Italy.
He remembers how thankful the Italian people were for the American soldiers.
“They’d run out and stop and talk with you,” he said. “They’d do anything in the world for you.”
Churchwell wasn’t able to return home until the end of September, several months after the end of combat in Europe. He says he wasn’t the same when he returned home.
“It was a year before I started feeling like I belonged in this society. I just didn’t feel like a human being,” he said.
Churchwell returned to Carlisle and married Norma who he was married to for 63 years. The couple had three children. While they lived in many locations, they returned to Arkansas where he lives today.
His family celebrated his 100th birthday earlier this month in northwest Arkansas where Churchwell currently lives.
“We will always be grateful to Jay Churchwell for his service and sacrifice. I am proud to recognize him on his 100th birthday for his selfless dedication. His memories of his service are an important part of our history,” Boozman said.
The entire interview with Churchwell will be submitted to the Veterans History Project, an initiative of the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center to collect and retain the oral histories of our nation’s veterans.