Sugar Hill’s WWII Heroes
Memorial Day ceremonies are solemn remembrances of those that gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country. As Americans, we also pause to celebrate those that served in the armed services and are still among the living. Our community has a strong legacy of military service. This courage is a testament to the spirit of community and public service that is still prevalent in Sugar Hill. On this Memorial Day, let’s take a moment to memorialize the sacrifices of men like Ralph Williams, Raymond Higgins, Claud Youngblood, and Oliver Moon – men that died while serving during WWII.
Ralph Williams served in the Army Air Forces (AAF) as a 1st Sergeant and was killed in action flying over Hanover, Germany on May 19, 1944. The AAF played a key role in WWII and reached its wartime inventory peak of nearly 80,000 aircraft in mid-1944. The B-17, nicknamed the Flying Fortress, was a four-engine heavy bomber that inflicted severe damage on enemy targets and forces. Ralph joined the military in 1942 in Charleston, South Carolina. Military enlistment undoubtedly opened up a new world for Ralph, and he traveled during training. He completed a radio operator course in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and would ultimately receive his aerial gunner wings in Huntington, Texas. Ralph would become part of the 492nd Bombing Group. He served as a tail gunner on a B-17, which was shot down over enemy territory in Germany. Everybody aboard the airplane died that day. The epitaph on his marker in Historic Sugar Hill Cemetery reads “What we shared in life together, will be ours unchanged.”
Raymond Higgins served during WWII in the 182nd Infantry Regiment and was killed on November 16, 1944 on Leyte Island in the Philippines. The Battle of Leyte Gulf was a four-day battle and is considered the largest naval military engagement of WWII. Over 200,000 personnel were involved. The Philippines were critical for winning the Pacific. According to historians, this battle is the first in which Japanese aircraft carried out organized kamikaze attacks. Upon landing at Leyte Island, Raymond would have noticed beaches that made amphibious assaults possible. He would have been in awe at the use of force, with nearly 700 ships assisting in the effort. Six divisions in total made the landing, and his 96th Division was the only one that had not seen previous combat. Local history doesn’t disclose where on the island Raymond lost his life, but it was well after the main battle that actually took place in late October. His marker in Historic Sugar Hill Cemetery simply reads “Killed in action Leyte Island”.
Claud Youngblood served as a Corpsman in the 82nd Airborne Division during WWII and was killed during the Invasion of Normandy on June 16, 1944. With only three years of high school education and employment in leather manufacturing, military service would have also opened up a new world for Claude. He enlisted in 1942 out of Fort McPherson. After training, he was needed for the effort to take Europe. Parachute and glider landings were the first wave into France. There were heavy casualties for paratroopers. The light from fires set by Germans in the village of Sainte-Mere-Eglise made paratroopers easy targets. Some men were burned by the fires and many were shot while caught in trees or on utility poles in the Normandy village. The first American officer killed on D-Day was actually Claud’s platoon leader, Robert Mathis. Claud made it through D-Day and nearly of week of fighting. His marker in Historic Sugar Hill Cemetery has two etchings of a parachute – one with wings.
Oliver Moon served as a Private with the 4th Infantry Division during WWII and was killed on June 14, 1944, during the Invasion of Normandy. He had first enlisted in early 1937, but the division wasn’t (re)activated until 1940 at Fort Benning. Oliver’s division was the first surface-borne unit to land on the beaches at Normandy on D-Day. He landed at Utah Beach with his comrades and began to make the hard push towards the interior of France. Oliver’s division actually relieved Claud Youngblood’s division at Sainte-Mere-Eglise, and like Claud he would survive the fierce fighting of D-Day. He died during the Battle of Cherbourg, which took place from June 6 until June 30. Following his death, the 4th would clear the Cotentin Penisula and ultimately be involved in the liberation of Paris. Oliver’s marker in Historic Sugar Hill Cemetery wouldn’t be ordered until 1948, nearly two years after his death.
It is the tradition of some to say the name of a deceased service member when placing an American flag at that service member’s grave on Memorial Day. This simple but deliberate act is to ensure that the individual’s name is never forgotten.
~ Brandon Hembree