A Memorial Day story: Visit to Murfreesboro, 1944

Gloria Shacklett-Christie, Murfreesboro Post

Richard Claude Shacklett and his wife Ginny. Photo courtesy of Gloria Shacklett-Christy

Richard Claude Shacklett and his wife Ginny. Photo courtesy of Gloria Shacklett-Christy

Rutherford County provided more than 4,000 men for active service in World War II. One of those men who served was my father, Richard Claude Shacklett.

The circumstances surrounding war times had brought two very different people together from opposite ends of the country. On Feb. 20, 1944, Dad and my mother, Virginia Ruth Allen, married in Twin Falls, Idaho, my mother’s hometown.

After the wedding, they came to Murfreesboro to meet my dad’s family. According to my mother, Ginny, getting married allowed a sense of normalcy to occur in the midst of those turbulent times.

Although most families of that era had their lives disrupted by the war, everyone was united in an effort to defeat fascism. Going home was merely a state of mind for most soldiers. However, my parents were fortunate enough to actually return to Murfreesboro before my Dad was assigned to Hobbs, N.M., where he would serve as a military photographer amid the highly sensitive initiatives surrounding the development of the atomic bomb.

The following is a compilation gathered from the recollections of relatives and from my mother’s first impressions of Murfreesboro when she first arrived here in February, 1944.

Weary from their 2,500 mile train trip across the country which concluded with a one-hour bus ride from Nashville to Murfreesboro, Claude or “Shack,” as my Mother called him, and Ginny arrived in town. They were greeted enthusiastically by my dad’s brother, Bob. Ginny, then 19 years old, had been somewhat stunned by her new brother-in-law’s unabashed Southern style greeting—a big kiss right on the mouth. All of this excitement and hullabaloo had gotten the attention of the station manager, Mr. Jones, who was, until that moment, busily working behind the counter. Amazed and excited to see my dad, he exclaimed, “Well, if it isn’t Claude Shacklett. And just who have we here? This must be the new Mrs. Shacklett that everyone is talking about. She’s quite a beauty for you, son. Honey, aren’t you from Twin Falls, Iowa,” referring to an erroneous rumor about my mother’s hometown.

Puzzled by all this attention and acknowledgement, my mother politely clarified and corrected Mr. Jones, “No, sir, I’m not from Iowa. I’m from Twin Falls, Idaho.”

“Well, it’s just great to meet you wherever you’re from. Everybody in town has heard about you. They said you were a pretty little thing, and they were right. It’s just hard to believe Claude found such a lovely girl that’ll have him,” he laughed sarcastically.

With that, Claude chuckled and jumped in knowing Mr. Jones’ talk was being friendly in his own way. “Wait just a minute here, Mr. Jones, I thought we were buddies!”

Trying to draw the interest from his shy, young bride, who was obviously uncomfortable by all this attention, Claude inquired, “Mr. Jones, are you still interested in photography? You were before I left for the War.”

“Oh, yes, but with this rationing of film and all, I haven’t been able to do much. I’ll get back into it after the War, Claude,” Mr. Jones explained as he glanced over to brother Bob, who was gathering the suitcases and heading toward the door.

“Nice meeting, you, Miss Ginny. You’re gonna love our little town,” Mr. Jones assured my mother as she and my father followed behind brother Bob on their way to the car.

Appearing rather amazed and self-conscious with all the responsiveness, Ginny replied courteously as the gang left the bus terminal, “Nice to meet you, too, Mr. Jones.” She began hoping that future introductions would not be as flamboyant.
Noticing that the heater in the car didn’t work and the huge hole in the floorboard, Claude remarked as the vehicle approached the Square, “I can’t believe that you still have this ole car, Bob! Isn’t this the same car brother Bill had in school back in ’38.” It’s still as cold of a ride as ever!”

“Yes, it’s been everybody’s vehicle since the war. Dad’s been using it for his job at the Post Office. It’s been Murfreesboro’s special delivery mail car, and he’s still using it to deliver the morning “Tennessean.” It’s been really hard with the gas and tire rationing. The tires are running on the rim these days. We just keep patching up this worn out thing.”

The trio continued to converse about the times as they drove around the Square where Ginny noticed something different. The cars were parked at a slanted angle against the curb. This was different from the way cars were parked in her hometown of Twin Falls, Idaho. Another unusual sight was a wagon load of feed near one of the cars. As they circled the Square to her amazement, Ginny noticed hundreds of soldiers mingling around a rather run-down county courthouse. “Shack, what’s going on over there?”

Bob began to explain, “Oh, those soldiers are a part of the “training maneuvers.” We have about 600,000 troops here in Middle Tennessee from all over the United States training to go overseas. It seems that the terrain is like that in Germany. The soldiers are learning how to fight here, so it will be familiar to them when they get over there.”

He continued, “The other day a really strange thing happened to me as I was coming home from work at the “Buck and Tap”. All of a sudden, I found myself caught up in one their mock street battles right here on the Square. They were dodging around the cars and buildings in a ferocious fight just as if they were in combat. It sure was a scary sight to see, and I can’t wait to get in the middle of it. I’ll be old enough soon, so I can join the fight.”

Glancing over at his new sister-in-law, Ginny, Bob noticed that she was beginning to shiver in the cold car. He began to laugh as a diversion, “It’s Saturday, so they won’t be doing anything exciting today. They only line up to get a haircut.”
Shack began to cuddle closer to his trembling bride as the chilly ride continued around the Public Square. As they drove southward, they passed what appeared to be an undertaker’s house. Sprawling for the next couple of blocks south of the Square was the, “Bottom.”

The “Bottom” was so named because the land slumped into a lower elevation than the surrounding area. Apparently, this area was muddy from frequent flooding.

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