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Foreword: On this Veterans Day, 2014 we chronicle the short life of a soldier that embodies the American Spirit of service and sacrifice. When our country called this young man from the small community of Choice, Texas in southern Shelby County answered and with only 23 days of Army service gave his life that another could live. He exemplified the true mark of valor; “the absence of indecision even in the face of death”.
The Champion Newspaper dated February 27th, 1941 announced six names of African-American Shelby County men who would report for military service on March 6th. Eighteen year old L. C. Netherly of Choice, Texas was one of those who enlisted on that date from Houston, Texas and was then sent Camp Wolters in Mineral Wells, Texas for basic training. Camp Wolters was the largest infantry replacement training center in the United States during World War II. On the evening of June 26th, 1941 after completing a night march the soldiers of his company were swimming and washing at the Baker Hollow Maneuver and Camping Site just northwest of Mineral Wells. Private George C. Butler who apparently could not swim fell in the pond and began struggling. Private Netherly immediately went to his aid and pulled his comrade to safety. Somehow after the rescue Netherly slipped back in the water and after about ten minutes his body was discovered. The death certificate listed cause of death as accidental drowning.
The July 24th, 1941 edition of the Camp Wolters Longhorn newspaper announced that the officers of the 66th Battalion had recommended the posthumous award of the Soldiers Medal for Private Netherly’s heroic role in the rescue. This medal was approved by Congress on July 2, 1926 with the following criteria: “The Soldier's Medal is awarded to any person of the Armed Forces of the United States or of a friendly foreign nation who, while serving in any capacity with the Army of the United States distinguished himself or herself by heroism not involving actual conflict with an enemy”. It is the highest honor a soldier can receive for an act of valor in a non-combat situation.
Nine months later on April 7th, 1942 the War Department announced that the Soldier’s Medal had been awarded posthumously to Private L. C. Netherly of Choice Texas for heroism. The article from the Vernon Texas Daily Record went on to say the medal would be sent to his parents. It is not known if an awards ceremony took place and surviving relatives do not recall the medal, only that he drowned.
L. C. Netherly was born on April 6th, 1923 to Ruben Netherly (1895-1975) and Jessie Mae Roberson-Netherly (1902-1986) in Choice, Texas. He had four brothers; Loice J. Netherly (1920-1999, served in WW II), Elroy Netherly (1933-2003), Maurice Netherly, and Howard R. Netherly (1942-1962) and five sisters; Ardeell Netherly-Matlock, Birdie Netherly-Moore, Dorothy Netherly-Booty and Lou Evar Netherly.
(Sources: Ancestry.com, 2014; Champion Newspaper, 2/27/1941 & 6-4-1942; Vernon Daily Record, 7-4-1942; Camp Wolter Longhorn, 7-24-1941; National Archives.gov; National Registry; “Pass The Baton of Future Generations” by Beulah V. Netherly)