Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Independence Day Claims Judge Robert Hugh Kirksey


Aliceville, Alabama native Robert Hugh Kirksey passed away on Saturday, July 4, after a fall at his home on July 1. He was 87. Appropriately, this Alabama patriot shares his date of passing with John Adams and Thomas Jefferson who also left this world on July 4.
The photo at left, which appears in Kirksey's memoir, With Me: Growing Up in the Faith, shows him with his grandson, Richard Kirksey Heard, on the day the Aliceville "Avenue of Flags" was dedicated in about 1987.
I did not know Judge Kirksey well, but his memoir, along with a series of historical articles for the Pickens County newspaper, was a huge source of information and inspiration as I worked to recreate Aliceville during WWII in my book, Guests Behind the Barbed Wire. He brought the town that hosted Camp Aliceville to life on the page, and his daughter Mary Bess (Paluzzi) became one of my favorite friends as she read my manuscript chapter by chapter and pointed me in so many good directions. My prayers are with her and her family as they remember a wonderful husband, father, and grandfather.
Those of you who have read Guests Behind the Barbed Wire will remember the wartime stories of Robert Hugh Kirksey who was home on leave when the first German prisoners came into Aliceville on the Frisco in early June 1943. Kirksey served as a First Lieutenant in the 333rd Regiment of the 84th Infantry Division. He was awarded several medals, including the Purple Heart, for an injury suffered in Germany.
One of the images from his memoir that stands out in my mind is a story on page 158 that describes his troop train pulling into the railway station in Birmingham, England as he was headed for the front in Europe. "As we sat in our train in that station, another train, headed North, back toward Scotland, stopped on the track just opposite us," he wrote. "We pressed our faces against the windows and looked across at that train. Its passengers had their faces similarly pressed to their windows. 'Look!' some soldier said in a loud voice. "They're German prisoners!'
"That startling coincidence probably stunned me more than anyone else on our train, for immediately the thought flashed in my mind, 'What if they are going to the German Prisoner of War Camp in Aliceville, Alabama. Here we are, reluctantly headed for their homeland; and there they are reluctantly headed, perhaps, for ours.'...The pathos of war was etched in my mind and I can see those German faces clearly in my mind, even today."
That simple story said it so well.
When I pulled my copy of With Me from the shelf this afternoon to find that story, I came across the inscription Judge Kirksey wrote on the title page on March 1, 2005. "To Ruth Cook--Thank you. May God continue with you, as he has with me!"
May God Bless and Keep Robert Hugh Kirksey.

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