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Death At Sea
By Dennis Hill, News Argus, date published unknown


 
James H. Joyner


    For Doug Joyner, descriptions of the invasion of Normandy stir memories -- not of landing craft and shells bursting, but of a young man with a smiling face and a happy-go-lucky manner. His brother, James, was 19 when his ship went down during the attack. Almost 50 years later, the recollection is still sharp.

    "He was carefree, a lot of fun to be around," Joyner says, remembering his younger brother who died a year to the day after enlisting. "Like so many other young people in that day he was eager to give his life for his country."

    Joyner, who retired to Wayne County after a career in the Navy, will travel to Myrtle Beach today at the invitation of his brother's shipmates who have gathered to honor their fallen comrades. Along the South Carolina sands, they will unite for handshakes and hugs, toasts and tears.

    The Joyner boys were from Louisburg. Doug Joyner became a Navy flight instructor. James was a seaman, assigned to a Destroyer Escort ship criss-crossing the North Atlantic.

    Doug Joyner said he didn't know his brother had been a part of the invasion until he received the telegram from the War Department eight days later. James had died of wounds suffered on the third day of the invasion. His ship, going to the assistance of another, was cut nearly in half by a mine. Of the more than 200 men aboard the USS Rich, 27 were killed and 62 were listed as missing.

    Ed Black is a free-lance writer living in Mt. Gilead. He was a seaman on the Rich and a friend of James Joyner.

    "What a group we were prior to the sinking," Black said in a letter to Joyner. "singing, joking, pulling pranks, going on liberty, drinking a few suds, exchanging mail from girlfriends. We shared our homesickness, money, cookies from home, pictures of mom, dad, brothers and sisters."

    The Rich was commanded by E. A. Michel, a stern man who gathered his crew before the assault and told them they had been doing a good job.

    "God bless each of you as we go into battle," he said.

    On June 6, the USS Rich dodged German bombs and mines. Black recalled watching as a troop ship carrying 27 men, exploded nearby after being hit by a falling bomb shell, pieces of men and equipment flying in all directions. Another destroyer anchored alongside was hit by a torpedo and sunk.

    June 7 was no better, with tired men receiving only a little coffee to sustain them.

    "We were more scared on the second day than the first," Black said.

    On June 8, the Rich was ordered to the assistance of the USS Glennon, which had struck a mine. But as it approached, the Rich hit a mine, then another and another. None of the 12 men working the 1.1 gun with Black were killed. Wounded, Black and some other survivors made it to a life raft.

    James Joyner was not so lucky. At his battle station at the depth charge rack, he was wounded by the explosion. Carried to a rescue craft, he died a few hours later.

    In a letter to Joyner's parents, Michel expressed his sympathy. "I can assure you that everything possible was done for him and he was mercifully not permitted to suffer. James died bravely as he had lived and by his death, in the line of duty, made the supreme sacrifice for his country after many months of faithful service."

    Later, his family had his body brought home to a final resting place in Louisburg.

    "It's the willingness to sacrifice that gives us the freedom we enjoy," his brother said. "If you don't have people who are willing to sacrifice, are willing to die, then you don't have anything."

(J. H. Joyner was awarded the Purple Heart posthumously.)

Read another article about James Joyner.

        

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