William J. Amann

      The Greatest Generation--truly William Julius Amann was part of that aptly named group. He grew up during times of the Great Depression, went to college, and went to war, without complaint. His is a story much like so many other men during this era. He started his life in a time of prosperity, only to see his father lose his job because of the Great Depression. But the families of that time found other ways to make a living. Max Amann moved his family to the country to work on a dairy farm. There, in Poteet, Texas, William went to school, played football, graduated salutatorian in his class, participated in plays, was vice-president of his class, and generally enjoyed his life.
      It was the year that he graduated that his life took one of two fateful turns. William was the risk taker of the family. He had decided he wanted to go to college. In order to make his dream come true, William needed to find a place to live while he went to classes. His high school principal told him of an opportunity to be the caretaker for the National Guard Armory. He would take care of the building in exchange for a free room. But in order to do so, he would have to join the National Guard. William quickly accepted the opportunity, and he started at Texas A&I, in Kingsville, Texas, the following fall where he majored in engineering. It was in Kingsville that he met Mardell Roper, a woman so beautiful that men's heads would turn as she walked by. The Ropers remember him as someone who was always laughing. When Delia Roper talked about him, she would describe his twinkling eyes and the way he could make the people around him so happy. One might say he was trying to live a lifetime in just a few years.
      It turned out that William and Mardell would not have much time together. Europe was at war and in November of 1940, his National Guard unit was called up to active duty. They would be ready in case the United States went to war. They were bivouaced at Flato Park in Kingsville until it would be time for them to be shipped out. As it turns out, many of the National Guardsmen were students at Texas A & I, so many of them were picked to go to Officer Candidate School, and William was one of those. He and Mardell decided marry that November so that when he had to leave Kingsville, she would go with him. He went to OCS at Ft. Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma. After graduating he was assigned to the 969th Field Artillery Battalion, Battery A. During World War II, black soldiers were segregated into their own troops and white officers were in charge. They were generally not used as combat troops but only for non-skilled labor. But the 969th Field Artillery Battalion would become a very well-known, decorated unit. The 969th did not have to go to Europe until 1944, so the newly weds were able to spend three years together. During that time, Mardell had a daughter born in 1941 and a son born in 1944. William was in Europe when his son was born but he did get to see a picture of him before he was killed in battle. Mardell remembered that he wrote telling her how proud he was to have two fine children.
       The next fateful turn was after his battalion was sent to Europe. According to sources on the internet, the area in Belgium was a fairly quiet at this time and was used for troops to rest up and for replacement soldiers to gather before rejoining new units. Therefore, it was here that the German command planned to break through the Allied lines to cut off Allied supplies and replacements. The 969th Battalion was getting ready to move out when the fighting started December 16, 1944.
      Bastogne was totally surrounded by Germans. From December 16th through December 26th, the 969th was instrumental in keeping them from breaking through the lines. According to remembrances of James Nash, Christmas Eve found William in a house sharing a fruitcake with three other officers. Twice during the night, however, the Luftwaffe conducted very damaging and lethal bombing sorties on Bastogne and the surrounding area. On this night, the four officers were taking turns checking on the guns. After James and one of the other officers left the building, bombers came in and one of the bombs landed on the house where they had been staying. James tells us that the building was demolished and there was no sign of the bodies of William and the other officer, Ray Chapple. Mardell would receive a telegram that as of December 24, 1944, he was considered missing in action. According to the Army, the date of his death was January 1, 1945.
       The 969th was recommended for the Distinguished Unit Citation for the action it took around Bastogne. It reads, in part: "On December 21, the vicinity of Villaroux, Belgium, in spite of the fact that a field artillery batallion to its rear had been overrun and dispersed by enemy tanks, the 969th F.A. Bn. maintained its position, resulting in delaying the enemy until armored forces arrived to control the situation. The battalion was subjected to heavy enemy mortar and small arms fire resulting in many casualties. In this action the Battalion was credited with destroying 2 enemy tanks, 5 armored vehicles, breaking up 3 attacks by enemy infantry, the capture of 40 prisoners and the destruction of an enemy machine gun nest."
      It goes on to say, in part: "During the period 24 through 25 of December, the Battalion was subjected to heavy enemy bombing which resulted in the death of two officers and four enlisted men." Those two officers were William Amann and Ray Chapple. In "The Golden Cannon A History of the 969th Field Artillery Battalion", Chapter Eight, Eugene Wayman Jones adds: "Entry in the Unit Journal: W.J. Amann, Captain, Field Artillery, KIA. So also, reads the Morning Report. It fails to mention that he was a soldier's soldier, or that his favorite song was 'Mother put the cow away, I cannot milk tonight...', or that he had never seen his baby son."

If you would like to read more about the this World War II battle, you can read Black Solider of the Ardennes or Manpower, Replacements and the Segregated Army. There is another large website about the Battle of the Bulge if you wish further information.

Ella Mardell Roper

      Ella Mardell Roper--she was a true dichotomy. She seemed to have the confidence and the self-assurance of the beautiful woman who is much admired, but she also suffered from problems of self-esteem due to her lack of education. Her awareness of the admiration that surrounded her allowed her to expand her boundaries but there was also a certain disquiet in that she might not quite "fit in".
      Mardell was named after her grandmother, Ella Mardell Shanks Myers. But unlike her mother and grandmother, she did not have an independent spirit. She preferred to be married and was very happy to have her husband take care of her. It was not that she was not capable--indeed, she was quite intelligent--but having her husband take care of the family affairs made her feel cherished. Her father did not feel that education for women was particularly fruitful since she would marry anyway, so when she chose to marry young, she felt no need to finish high school--which lack she felt throughout her life.
      Mardell's first marriage did not turn out well, and after the birth of a baby that died at birth, she divorced. It was after this that she met William Amann, a student at Texas A&I. They fell in love and when the National Guard was called up in November 1940, Mardell and William decided to marry. They were together for three years, in which time she had two children. He was eventually sent to Europe where he was killed in action January 1, 1945.
      Mardell next married Kenneth Cribley, with whom she would grow into so much of her potential. Kenneth loved her and took care of her and was proud of her triumphs. Mardell was a very creative person. For instance, she was an excellent writer. She was an author of short stories and poetry which were published in national magazines. One of those stories was honored by being selected as one of "the best of 1958". She probably could have published more if she had been knowledgeable enough to hire an agent. But she depended on herself to get her stories out to the magazines to be published.
       Mardell and Kenneth had a child in 1947 and they lived in Corpus Christi, Texas, until 1955 when they moved to Oklahoma. Here, Mardell found another outlet for her creativity. She turned from writing stories to entering "contests" which was quite a popular marketing tool in the 1950's. These contests consisted of writing jingles, small blurbs of "25 words or less", etc. She won several of these contests, sometimes the smaller prizes, but also there were the triumph of winning the big prize.
      Writing was not her only creative outlet--she had a beautiful voice and she had a wonderful sense of color. As she got older, she also began to do stitchery and her fine needlework skills were highly prized. When her youngest son went to college, she would pick up his books and learn along with him. She was an avid reader and very well read on a broad variety of subjects. However, even with all of her accomplishments, she felt a lack of education.
      Kenneth died young, of a heart attack, and this time Mardell decided not to remarry. She enjoyed her children and those grandchildren who lived close by until she died in 1998 of pulmonary disease.

The following is a quote by Maureen Hawkins. It embodies Mardell's feelings about motherhood.

"Before you were conceived, I wanted you
Before you were born, I loved you
Before you were here an hour, I would die for you
This is the miracle of life"

Connie Jo Roper

      Connie Jo Roper Payne was born October 15, 1930 and was the youngest child of Farland George and Delia Elizabeth Myers Roper. She was born and raised in Kingsville, Texas and graduated from H.M. King High School in 1948. On March 18, 1949, she married Bobby Ray Payne also of Kingsville, Texas. Bobby was the eldest son of Courtney Ray and Mildred Elvira Gilger Payne. On January 11, 1950, Connie and Bob's first child was born and named Deborah Dee. Their second child would also be a daughter born on September 29, 1952 and named Julie Diane. Six years later a much anticipated birth of a son would take place on February 16, 1958 and he would be named Robert Courtney. Since Bobby worked in the oilfield, he and Connie moved around a lot and lived in the states of Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. Connie devoted herself to her husband and children providing a loving home wherever Bob's job would take them.
       In her late 40's she developed a love of the Holy Scriptures and began memorizing the Holy Bible. Now that her children were grown, she devoted herself to the church. She supported many christian organizations and took an active part in missions. She made missionary trips to Jamaica and Scotland. She was a group leader in Bible Study Fellowship in Corpus Christi, Texas. She was a partner with Dr. Charles Stanley's In Touch Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia. She was also a member of Concerned Women for America. She was a Sunday School teacher and taught children as well as adult women. Connie also sang in the choirs of the churches she was a member.
       Connie was a very generous person and had a heartfelt sympathy for those less fortunate. If she was aware of a need, she always did what she could to fulfill that need if it was just opening up her home to a visiting preacher and providing a room and meals.
       The greatest thrill of Connie's life was her grandchildren. They called her MeeMaw and she did her best to spoil them all. She went out of her way to provide big, meaningful holidays in her home where all the children and grandchildren could come together for a time of fun and memory making.
       In 1990, Connie began a two year fight against cancer and pulmonary fibrosis. On January 1, 1992 she had to deal with the death of her oldest sister, Beatrice Lolita Roper Kingston. Needless did she know that On August 21st of that same year she would lose her battle and would join her sister in death. She fought her battle to the very end and demonstrated a courage that inspired everyone who came in contact with her. She did not leave a wealth of riches but far greater than riches, she left a legacy of love to be passed on from generation to generation. She left behind her husband of 43 years, her two daughters and son, as well as seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Although she is gone, she is never forgotten and our tears of sorrow have been wiped away with God's grace and assurance that we will be reunited with her one day. She waits for us and what joy there will be when we see her again along with all the others who have gone before us.

--Submitted by her Daughter, Debbie Payne