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The Higginbotham Brothers of East Texas
Part V

A collection of anecdotal stories and a few letters
of the Higginbotham family during WWII.

Photographs & letters courtesy of Maurice Higginbotham
Ulick the cow, WWII homefront
Ulick the Cow
Photo Courtesy Maurice Higginbotham
Higginbotham brothers
The Higginbotham brothers
Photo Courtesy Maurice Higginbotham
  • Thunderbolts Over Houston
  • Milton and Marvin
  • Maurice remembers Marvin
  • Ulick the Cow
  • Maurice and Edna
  • Murphy's Wounds
  • The Mascot (Merrion's Fighter Squadron)
  • Letters (Merrion visits Murphy in hospital)

  • Thunderbolts Over Houston

    While Merrion Higginbotham was finishing his P47 training in Victoria, he did what quite a few Texas pilots did when they got a chance. He buzzed the family house with his plane. Since he had advance notice of a flight, he was able to write a letter to the family and tell them what to expect - sort of. He "got permission" to slip away from his group of P47s and by following landmarks, he was able to fly over the house. Maurice had been waiting all morning on the front steps. Merrion buzzed them twice. Once to make sure they had enough time to come outside and on the second pass he flew - not over the Higginbotham house, but the one next door - so they would be able to see him clearly. Mauice said it was just for a few seconds, and he wouldn't have recognized his face had he not been expecting him.

    Milton Higginbotham in uniform
    Photo Courtesy Maurice Higginbotham

    Milton and Marvin

    Milton's Story
    "Milton joined the Navy December 14, 1942 at the age of 17. He trained as a radioman in San Diego, and was assigned to Carrier aircraft Service Unit #8. He remained in the states for most of his service time.

    He was sent on the shakedown cruise of the new escort aircraft carrier Bismark Sea. The 10,200 ton carrier was later sunk about 30 miles off the coast of Iwo Jima by a Japanese aerial attack on February 21, 1945. This ship received two mortal hits. The Japanese pilots strafed and killed 100 of the men, as they struggled helplessly in cold mountainous seas. There were more than 300 casualties, including the men shot in the water. Survivors told of the merciless strafing by the Japanese pilots of swimmers near the sinking carrier.

    After the war, he went to the same Morse school that his brother Maurice later attended and became a telegrapher with the railroad. Milton was also a gifted cartoonist and draftsman. He died in Houston at the age of 40."

    Marvin in uniform
    Photo Courtesy Maurice Higginbotham

    Story of Marvin

    The oldest brother Marvin also was not sent overseas. He was kept in the States because he was considered "old" at the time (about 25 years old). He spent most of his time as a rifle instructor and working in the ordinance depot, repairing firearms.

    Marvin joined the Army the first time on May 7, 1937 during the Great Depression. He was also assigned to the Second Infantry Division, 12th Field Artillery at Fort Sam Houston. The Artillery pieces then were still horse-drawn, but were motorized in time for World War II.

    After he was discharged from the Army, he re-enlisted in the Army Air Corps and served at times as a rifle instructor and a tail gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress. On one of his training missions over an Air Force gunnery range near the Texas Coast, he described the following incident:

    "We were flying splash missions with our .50 caliber machine guns. A splash mission is where we would shoot a short burst of machinegun fire into the water, and wait a few seconds and try to hit the first splash. That took some practice to do, as the big bomber was traveling a few hundred mph. That meant you had to allow for the speed, and altitude and aim behind the first splash to hit it.

    Of course, being a tail gunner I could only see behind the plane, and just as I let go with a burst of machinegun fire, I saw the bullets rake across the deck of a schooner, whose owner had entered the restricted gunnery zone. A few seconds later, I could see the prop-wash behind the boat as it's captain decided he'd better get the Hell out of there, and fast."

    Maurice remembers Marvin

    "Marvin was one of the most generous people I have ever known. In 1945, when I was eleven years old, he bought me a used 12 gauge shotgun and a whole case of shells for it, a .22 rifle, and an old 1888 model 45-70 Winchester army rifle. That was remarkably generous of him, as he was only making about $30.00 a month."

    "My friends and I used to go hunting together in the nearby woods, and shoot snakes in Halls Bayou north of Little York Road. We really enjoyed the outdoors. Believe it or not, we found a saltwater crab in that bayou. I never figured how he got that far up into a fresh water bayou. Maybe someone threw him in alive. I really regret that I traded that old Winchester. It was obsolete even then and impossible to find ammunition for, but now they are found only in museums."

    "Marvin was the best pistol, rifle and shotgun marksman that I have ever seen. Once, while he was home on leave, I saw him shoot the tail feathers off of a rooster with a .22 caliber revolver at about 25 feet. The rooster was presenting a side view near our old outhouse out back. Although, he clipped the feathers short, he never touched the rooster, and the bird never realized what happened to his feathers; he just kept pecking away at the chicken scratch. We lived in the country so there was no danger of hitting anyone or damaging property."

    Ulick the cow, WWII homefront
    Ulick the Cow
    Photo Courtesy Maurice Higginbotham

    Ulick the Cow

    Maurice explains that the cow was named for the time when he (Maurice) was held up to the fence when he was just learning to speak. His arm was held over the wire and the cow would lick his hand. "You lick" was what Maurice was saying to the cow and that became her name.

    Before entering the army, one of Murphy's chores had been to milk Ulick, the family cow.

    In the photo above Murphy took time out on leave (in dress uniform) to keep in practice while Mother Higginbotham (Ida) supervises.

    Maurice said that while milking Ulick, Murphy would squirt him with a stream of milk and then apologize. He'd tell him to come over and then he'd squirt him again. After swearing he'd never, ever do it again, he'd coax Maurice over and squirt him a third time. Maurice said that after the third time he got wise.

    Maurice and Edna Higginbotham
    Maurice and Edna Higginbotham
    Photo Courtesy Maurice Higginbotham

    Maurice and Edna Higginbotham

    Easter c. 1948 Maurice and Edna (too grown up for such foolishness) reluctantly pose with "children". Incidentally - the house buzzed by Merrion was the house that Edna Pierce would later move into - making her the "girl next door" that Maurice would later marry.

    uniformed soldiers on leave
    Murphy and Milton on leave

    Two of the Higginbotham brothers imitate Mussilini and Hitler (with a black hair comb held to resemble Hitler's moustache)
    Photo Courtesy Maurice Higginbotham

    Murphy's Wounds

    Murphy was wounded when a German 88 mm. artillery shell exploded close to his position. The same shell killed three men, and wounded several more. Shrapnel hit Murphy in three places. One went completely through his right leg at the hip and exited on the inside of his leg, barely missing his "vital parts". Another piece of shrapnel hit him in his upper right shoulder (the one he mentions in one of his letters) The third piece of shrapnel entered the left side of his back.

    angel mascot on the plane
    The Mascot
    Photo Courtesy Maurice Higginbotham

    The Mascot

    An angel was the mascot of the squadron, and a Major Thorne had an angel painted on the nose of his plane, urinating.

    Fighter planes were equipped with a urinal in front of the pilot's seat that drained out the bottom of the plane. As you can imagine, this was a necessity on long missions. Anyway, the Major claimed that he had "pissed all over Germany".

    In this photo Merrion stood right under the stream, so it would look as though it was hitting his hat.

    Letters - next page

    I. Introduction
    II. Merrion Higginbotham, Thunderbolt and Mustang Pilot
    III. Murphy Higginbotham, Ranger at Normandy
    IV. A German Soldier's Last Letter
    V. The Home Front: anecdotal stories, sample letters and photos

    July 2001
    Copyright Maurice Higginbotham

    More World War II
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