The namesake of the ship.

  Lt. Col. Aquilla James "Jimmie" "Big Red" DYESS, USMC
   



 

Dedication Honors War Hero

Web posted Oct. 31 at 04:10 AM

By Amy Joyner
Staff Writer


Members of the Marine Corps color guard stand at attention as Retired Major Gen. Perry Smith addresses the audience at the ceremony Friday morning dedicating the Naval and Marine Corps Reserve Center in honor or WWII hero Jimmie Dyess.

MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF


Since Aquilla James Dyess' death during World War II, his military brethren have found ways to honor him and prolong his spirit and name.

A destroyer, a battlefield, a park and Marine Corps buildings, among other things, are named for the Augusta man.

His hometown continued the tradition Friday, when a new road and a military building were christened in honor of the military hero.

Lt. Col. Dyess, who died at age 35 on Feb. 2, 1944, is the only American to receive both the Carnegie Medal for civilian heroism and the Medal of Honor, the military's highest award for bravery.

``Duty and honor were more than just words. They were a way of life for Jimmie Dyess,'' said U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Augusta.

Close to 200 people gathered Friday morning on Jimmie Dyess Parkway to watch as Lt. Col. Dyess' family and local officials snipped a red, white and blue ribbon, opening the 3.6-mile thoroughfare.

The $22.8 million parkway extends Belair Road from Interstate 20 to Fort Gordon's McKenna Gate 1, considerably cutting commute time for fort workers.

Two hours later, a crowd of about 100 gathered in front of the Naval and Marine Corps Reserve Center on Central Avenue, as it was named in honor of Lt. Col. Dyess.


Former congressman Doug Barnard (from left) retired Major Gen. Perry Smith, Connor Dyess Smith, Connor Goodrich and P. McCoy Smith take part in the ribbon cutting ceremony Friday morning marking the official opening of Jimmie Dyess Parkway. 

MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF


A group of men who served on the USS Dyess, a naval destroyer commissioned in 1945, journeyed from Florida, South Carolina and New Jersey for the ceremonies.

None of them ever knew Lt. Col. Dyess, but as young sailors they were familiar with his accomplishments, thanks to a plaque on the destroyer.

``That's about all you know and as life goes on, you find out that this guy was something else,'' said 72-year-old Bruce Kampe of Westfield, N.J., who served on the Dyess from 1945-1946.

The Augusta native, nicknamed ``Big Red,'' was a Marine Corps reservist called to active duty in 1940. On Feb. 1, 1944, he led his men in the 4th Marine Division during battle at Green Beach on Roi-Namur Island -- one of the Marshall Islands.

At the end of the first day of combat, Lt. Col. Dyess broke through enemy lines and braved gunfire to rescue some wounded men. That effort earned him a posthumous Medal of Honor.

Frank Pokrop of Milwaukee was one of the men Lt. Col. Dyess saved.

After a particularly brutal fight, Mr. Pokrop, then an 18-year-old corporal, was ordered to take a patrol of men through the thick jungles of Roi-Namur, he said.

Traveling in a diamond formation, the men marched across Japanese lines and moved until the lead man was cut down by rifle fire, Mr. Pokrop said.

``Except for one, every man in that patrol was either wounded or killed,'' he recalled.

The patrol was pinned down by heavy machine gun fire, most of it coming from the left, Mr. Pokrop said. But just before dark their salvation came.

``I looked to the right and I saw Col. Dyess leading a halftrack and his men,'' Mr. Pokrop said.

Though the Japanese fired at Lt. Col. Dyess and his troops, ``he never wavered a bit,'' Mr. Pokrop said. ``He never moved except to direct fire.''

 The next day, on Feb. 2, 1944, Lt. Col. Dyess was killed instantly when he was shot in the head by a Japanese machine gun bullet.

``Had he not done those things, he may well be with us today, a 90-year-old decorated World War II veteran,'' Dr. Norwood said.

``The future of mankind hung in the balance and Jimmie Dyess and men and women like him saved the world,'' Georgia Transportation Commissioner Wayne Shackelford told those veterans gathered at the parkway. ``I stand in awe of every person who gave me the opportunity to stand here today. God bless you all.''

But the battlefield wasn't the only place Lt. Col. Dyess put others' lives ahead of his own.

On July 13, 1928, when he was just 19 years old, Lt. Col. Dyess saved an Augusta woman from drowning at Sullivan's Island, S.C. He and another rescuer struggled for 30 minutes in the surf before pulling the drowning woman to safety. For that act, he won the Carnegie Medal for heroism.

``He said he just did what any man would have done,'' said Connor Dyess Smith, the lieutenant colonel's only child.

Mrs. Smith, who lives in Augusta along with her mother Connor Goodrich, was just 8 years old when her father died.

She remembers vividly the last time she saw Lt. Col. Dyess, because she was allowed to accompany him back to Camp Pendleton in California. Normally after a three-day leave, Mrs. Smith said goodbye to her father at home and then her mother drove him back to camp.

``I remember saying to Mama, `That's the last time I'm going to see him isn't it?''' she said.

And it was.

Mrs. Smith's husband, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Perry M. Smith, has written a biography of Lt. Col. Dyess -- A Hero Among Heroes: Jimmie Dyess and the 4th Marine Division.

People who read that book and the commemorative plaques that grace buildings, parks and roads named for Lt. Col. Dyess will describe him as a hero. But the woman who called him daddy uses other words.

``Tough, fair and loving,'' Mrs. Smith said, recalling an incident that happened when she was 7 or 8.

The little girl was struggling with her arithmetic homework and in exasperation she told her father she couldn't possibly do it.

``He said, `You can do anything if you have to,''' Mrs. Smith remembered.

Amy Joyner covers military issues for The Augusta Chronicle.

 
 
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