A small creek branch off a pond that once belonged to the late Doak Finch is all that remains of the swimming hole that was stomping grounds for Lloyd Black, his little brother Carlie and their schoolmates. Nowadays, Lloyd Black is the owner of Randy's Grocery Store on Randolph Street and stays busy running the business he named for his son.
Once or twice a month, the grocer rekindles bittersweet memories of the Round Hole years - bittersweet because of what happened off the coast of Normandy 40 years ago and what took place four years later on the hill where he does his reminiscing.
On the hill overlooking what used to be Black's boyhood swimming hole and hunting grounds is Holly Hill Cemetery and buried there are his little brother Carlie and Father Jimmy Black. Carlie was killed when the ship he served on hit three underwater mines during the D-Day invasion in June of 1944 and his father died six years later of what Black is convinced was a broken heart over the loss of his young son.
Black said earlier this month it still hurts to think about his brother's ultimate sacrifice but he tries to take a philosophical view of it.
"Really, I think when a man's put here, maybe his time's destined," Black said. "I tell you, it was a sad time. Any way. Nobody realizes what it does to you until it hits home. It can be your next door neighbor but, buddy, when it gets in your household, that's what war's all about."
Of only minor consolation to the family is that Carlie died a hero, a fitting reminder of Thomasville's share in the war against the Third Reich.
Carlie wasn't a storm-the-enemy-machine-gun emplacement or shoot-down-20-airplanes type of hero, but a hero nevertheless. Ask Ed Black, not a relative but a U.S. Navy buddy whose life Carlie saved by leading his wounded and dazed friend to the edge of their sinking ship, jumping off with him and pulling him to the safety of a life raft - all while Carlie was slowly dying of internal injuries.
"I think he was a hero to the degree that, after all, he helped me get off the ship and probably should've gotten some recognition somewhere along the way," said Ed Black, a retired Post Office employee, long-distance trucker and radio announcer. "I feel like his life was given in just as important a situation as somebody who stormed a hill and was shot protecting the troops or something."
In fact, the Matthews resident feels so strongly Carlie deserved recognition for his bravery that he stopped by Thomasville to tell the story during a whirlwind of activity in preparation for his trip to Europe to attend ceremonies commemorating the 40th anniversary of the invasion.
With the help of Lloyd Black and his mother Bertha Alford Black, Ed Black tried to bring to light the story of one serviceman who played a small but memorable part on historic D-day.
Carlie was the youngest of three children in the close-knit Black family living in the cotton-mill community on the south side of the city. Velna Leonard of Old Greensboro Road was the sister and middle child in the family.
Carlie's growing-up years were remarkable except for the carefree, fun-filled character they took on and a religious fervor he apparently developed rather early in life.
He came by that quite naturally since Bertha Black was a founding member of the Bethel United Methodist church and its first pianist while Jimmy Black was one of the first superintendents. Mrs. Black, at 85, is Bethel's only surviving charter member.
Carlie was president of the church's young peoples class and played basketball, football and baseball at Thomasville High School. His report cards were filled with As and Bs, Lloyd remembers, and unlike his older borther, he was never seen fighting with other school boys.
Although they spent much of their free time together, the two brothers were of very different natures.
The two boys were among the first from the neighborhood to graduate from high school and they were determined to try for a livelihood outside of the furniture plant and cotton mill where their father and mother had worked. In 1943, Carlie was 17 and the lanky six-footer was ready to enlist in the Navy to do his part in World War Two like thousands of other young men. Off he went to boot camp and Lloyd joined the Air Force soon after.
Ironically, Lloyd's assignment as radio operator on B-29 bombers caused his parents much more concern than did Carlie's duty at sea.
At boot camp, Carlie's name gained him a new friend.
'We were in chow line and I heard somebody say, 'Carlie Black!' and I thought, 'There's a Black here,' Ed Black said. "I said, 'You Carlie Black?"' and he said, "Yeah", and I said, "I'm Ed Black". I asked, 'Where you from?" and he said Thomasville and I said, "I'm from Pinehurst,"
Every morning we'd be in chow line and I'd say, "Hey, Cuz!" and he'd say "Hey, Cuz!" and I'll be doggone if we weren't put in the same Destroyer Escort school and consequently began to become more friendly."
Their orders assigned both young sailors to the USS Rich Destroyer Escort ship with Ed in communications and Carlie given general duties. When battle stations were called, both men were to assist the gunners.
They became best friends and spent off-duty hours in their bunks talking about home and religion. Liberty gave the two a chance to double-date, take in a movie, tour a new port, read magazines at the local library or play a little baseball.
Back in Thomasville, the family was getting letters about twice a week and Carlie seemed to be happy in the Navy.
"It surprised me really," Lloyd said. "I think mostly he liked those foreign women. Especially the Irish. He was blonde-headed and blue-eyed and they really went for him."
Unlike many of the other men on the ship, Carlie never developed a taste for smoking, alcohol or gambling, Ed said. He often read his Bible and went to church whenever he could.
In December of 1943, Ed invited him to spend Christmas at his aunt and uncle's house in Annandale, VA., and after being assured he was not intruding on the family celebration, Carlie went along. An in-law, Jack Ange, picked Ed and his Navy buddy up at the train station and drove them to the Virginia home where they spent a simple but joyous holiday.
It was to be Carlie's last Christmas.
"I had a very pretty first cousin and Carlie was an exceptionally good looking boy, I thought, and they got a thing going, you know, writing back and forth," Ed said. Then, consequently, when he was killed, I informed them he'd been killed in action and she was.. well, the whole family was upset because he was killed less than six months from the time he'd been to their house for dinner."
"This was a factor, that he'd certainly enjoyed his last Christmas because he was surely treated as a member of the family."
On June 3,1944, The USS Rich left its port on the coast of Ireland and the crew was told it would be participating in the invasion of Normandy, the first combat Carlie and Ed were to see. We were told we were a good crew and we'd done everything we were expected to and then the skipper said "God bless you on this particular mission", Ed said. "We took on extra ammunition and we couldn't even walk through the passageway of the ship."
The mission was postponed by unsuitable weather but by midnight on June 5, the Rich had sailed within sight of the French coast and the crew could see oil and gasoline refineries set on fire by the bombs of American war planes.
Ed saw airplanes roar overhead pulling gliders behind them and dropping paratroopers along the coastline. At 6:40 AM the next day, the battle began in earnest and a nearby ship sank quickly after being hit by fire from the shore.
The Rich had escorted a troop transport ship to the invasion site and was to join in the battle until time to escort the USS Nevada back across the English Channel. The ship had to give up on picking up the dead from the water because there simply were too many, Ed said - "like tadpoles."
A smoke screen was to be laid and the Rich was chosen to do it. A torpedo narrowly missed the Destroyer Escort ship on the night of June 6 and sank a nearby destroyer.
German airplanes flew overhead dropping strings of lights, tin foil to interfere with radar and what later was believed to be underwater mines. The USS Glennon ran afoul of the mines and the back end of the ship was blown off.
Moving to rescue the survivors, the Rich unknowingly crossed into the mined waters.
"Balloom! We hit a mine and I looked back and here was 30 feet of our ship gone," Ed said.".. Carlie and I were on the deck and our arms were skinned and our legs were skinned, which were great battle injuries then... Carlie and I saw what happened so we ran up the center of the ship just past the torpedoes and I looked back and I knew we were in trouble."
"I said, "Carlie, we'd better get the hell outta here." He said, "You..." and that's all he said was, "You..." Balloom! We hit the second one and it hit right up under us and it cut that ship in two."
Ed was thrown into a steel structure where the signal flags were kept but he doesn't know how Carlie sustained his injuries. Hurt and in shock, Ed was led to the edge of the ship by Carlie and told to jump.
"I didn't want to jump because it was a pretty good distance to that water and, I don't want to tell this, but I'm not an expert swimmer and I knew I was going to have difficulty because my leg was broken and I was shot through the leg. I thought, 'Man, I'll drown,' and he was just as gentle and he said, "Come on, Ed, we've got to make it to the life raft", not even realizing Carlie was injured. Of the six men in that raft, only two survived and only 19 of the ship's 229-member crew survived the battle.
Only the radar equipment sitting on top of the Rich was salvaged from the wreckage that finally sank after hitting the third mine. It was the first ship of its kind to be sunk in combat.
Thirty-one days later, Ed regained consciousness in an Army hospital in Wales. They could tell him nothing about his ship or its crew but he made friends with another patient there, Joel Henderson of Denton.
Several months of surgery and recovery were required to repair Ed's damaged eye, blown off lip, broken jaw, broken leg and other injuries. He was transferred to Chelsea, Mass., for much of the medical work and the day after getting there, wrote Mrs. Black.
"I'm in Boston, where's Carlie?" Ed asked in the letter. "I was hoping he might be in New York or some place where we could get in contact. I got a letter back on Tuesday saying Carlie was dead and buried in England. He'd died June 10 of internal injuries. Of course, that was a very, very sad letter to get and it tore me up."
While on survivor's leave, Ed visited the Blacks in Thomasville and then was requested by the family to serve as military escort when the body was returned to this country in 1948. Although a civilian again by that time, Ed donned his Navy uniform once more and attended the funeral, "the largest funeral I'd ever seen in my life up to that time."
A friendship grew between Ed Black and Carlie's family that continues to this day.
He got the chance to visit once again with Joel Henderson, who lived for several years in a house that was within view of Carlie's grave.
Ed also got a surprise visit from B. D. Hicks. Hicks, now a Thomasville police lieutenant, was originally assigned to the USS Rich but was transferred before it left on its fateful voyage because the crew was too large.
For members of Carlie's family, it was a blow from which they never fully recovered.
"I never got over it because he's my baby and he wasn't but 19 years old," Mrs. Black said. "It's still fresh in my memory. I know I'm not the only one like that."
Her husband visited Carlie's grave to pray several times a week until his death in 1950, she said, probably an indirect casualty of the battle that took his son.
"When the war was over, I came home but my brother didn't come back and the rest did and that's sad as all get out," Lloyd Black said.
It's hard to guess what Carlie's life would have been like if he had returned home. No one remembers ever hearing him talk of his career goals but his mother believes he would have gone into business with his brother.
Perhaps he would have followed his athletic bent or studied to be a minister, Ed Black suggested.
"In conjunction with the 40th anniversary of D-Day, I'm going to be able to go back - Carlie isn't. He's in the ground. If he were living, I'm sure that he and I would be on that same plane just laughing and talking and going back to where we were in such combat. I feel like a part of him will be going with me. I'll think about him out there. He'll be on my mind."
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Last update: Sunday, May 16, 2010