The Richmond Register

August 31, 2013

‘A life to match the sacrifice’

Student, teacher, historian, journalists piece together story of Madison County WWII soldier

By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer

RICHMOND — Among the 9,387 nearly identical grave markers, three white crosses are etched with the names of Madison County soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice on the beaches of Normandy, France, during World War II.

A semicircular garden encompasses the Wall of the Missing, inscribed with the names of 1,557 other soldiers, many of whom lost their lives in the D-Day landings and subsequent military operations in Europe.

The Normandy American Cemetery stretches across 172.5 acres on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach where on June 6, 1944, Sgt. Allen Perry Moberly, 24, stepped off a Higgins boat with the 116th Regiment of the 29th Infantry Division.

“…Allen’s mission was much the same as other divisions: capture the beach exits crucial to the Allied advance,” Brad Shoopman, 17, wrote on his website (theapmmemorial.weebly.com) honoring the fallen Madison County soldier.

Selecting a soldier from his home county was important, said Shoopman, who lives in Waco.

From details on Shoopman’s website, visitors learn Moberly was part of the third wave of soldiers to set foot on the beach, which already was littered with casualties. His job was to help keep enemy snipers and mortars at bay while the 121st Engineers demolished a concrete wall. The wall was blocking the Vierville Draw, the only paved beach exit that could provide Allied forces maximum access to the interior of France.

While a junior enrolled in Madison County Schools’ Middle College at Eastern Kentucky University, Shoopman earned the unique opportunity to honor a WWII soldier who was raised in Richmond and appears to have followed his true love to Ashland. 

Shoopman teamed up with teacher Stephanie Smith to join 14 other student-teacher teams hand-picked to be a part of the “Normandy: Sacrifice For Freedom” program sponsored by the Albert H. Small Summer Institute. The institute is affiliated with the National History Day academic competition.

This was the first time a Kentucky team was selected since the program began in 2011. And this year, two teams from Kentucky were chosen, Smith said.

“His vision is to make sure we are not forgetting about that sacrifice those soldiers made,” Smith said of Small.

In June, the student-teacher teams spent a week in Washington before departing for France, where they touched the sands of the historical D-Day battleground and eulogized their chosen soldier at the Normandy American Cemetery.

As a requirement of the program, each student must create a website to memorialize their WWII soldier. The completed project is due this month, but Shoopman and Smith both agreed they could continue working on the website for years.

“A memorial to Allen for his ultimate sacrifice,” Shoopman’s homepage reads. “Now you have a memorial everywhere, Allen.”

In late August, Smith contacted the Richmond Register so she and Shoopman could share the story of their year-long investigation into the life of Sgt. Moberly.

The team had uncovered a patchwork of clues, but were missing some crucial pieces. Their hope was that newspaper coverage coupled with social media shares could bring about new connections and a better understanding of the research collected so far.

Some big questions remained.

What was Moberly’s childhood experience? Does he have any local descendents or relatives? And perhaps the most intriguing puzzle piece: what did Moberly look like?

Little did they know, their contact with Moberly’s hometown newspaper was the beginning of a chain reaction that would eventually grant them a few more important answers, even before the story went to print.

But, several moments of serendipity were necessary, both within the past week and the more distant past, to make that happen. And church bulletins, they learned, can be a valuable and surprisingly detailed resource. 

To top it all, the inquisitive duo finally had the opportunity to see the face of a soldier to whom they’ve devoted hours of time.

Allen P. Moberly, the soldier

They spoke excitedly about their adventures in Washington D.C., where it was “hard to believe we were holding these historical documents in our own hands,” Shoopman said of his experience sifting through previously classified documents at the National Archives.

Shoopman also recalled holding the official after-action report documenting Moberly’s death.

While conducting research at the National Archives, Smith and Shoopman met someone who noted a link between Moberly and the “Bedford Boys,” the 23 young soldiers who lost their lives during the Normandy campaign and who were all from Bedford, Va.

Bedford’s population was about 3,200 in 1944, according to the National D-Day Memorial website. “Proportionally, this community suffered the nation’s severest D-Day losses,” it states.

Bedford soldiers were assigned to various companies of the 116th Infantry. Moberly belonged to L Company and likely trained and fought alongside the Bedford Boys, the team discovered.

Prior to the June trip, both Shoopman and Smith were required to read six books, including Alex Kershaw’s “The Bedford Boys: One American Town’s Ultimate D-Day Sacrifice.”

The pair was delighted to stumble upon Moberly’s connection to the Bedford heroes.

For their role in destroying the 100-foot-long concrete wall on Vierville Draw, the Army cited both the 121st Engineers and the 116th Infantry Division for outstanding performance by awarding both units the highly prestigious Presidential Unit Citation, Shoopman wrote on his memorial website.

The week in Washington was a whirlwind of lectures presented by leading WWII historians, a scholarly study of war memorials and the opportunity to dine with the program’s sponsor Albert Small.

Something Small said stood out to Smith.

“He said, ‘We have no idea the impact these men made – we could be German now,’” Smith recalled.

Both teacher and student spoke in reverently soft tones when the conversation steered to the once bloodied beaches of Normandy.

“He was wounded somewhere between disembarking and crossing the 200 yards of beach,” Shoopman read in his eulogy at Moberly’s grave (a link to a video is available on his website).

The two explored the general area where they thought Sgt. Moberly had been fatally wounded. They drove in on the Vierville Draw, the very road Moberly helped secure for the Allied advance.

Standing on the beaches of Normandy “made it very real,” Shoopman said. “My soldier could have been shot standing where I stood.”

Allen, who died the next day from his wounds, was one of the company’s 34 casualties; 125 L Company soldiers survived the D-Day landing on Omaha Beach, he said.

Smith remembers looking over the “amazingly beautiful beaches” in contrast to the descriptions she’d read about D-Day and “how the water was red with the blood from the wounded.”

“The dichotomy of what we know it looked like on June 6, 1944, and what it looks like now, was difficult to reconcile,” she recalled. 

A series of serendipity

Although the team began their research in September 2012, it wasn’t until they went to Washington in June 2013 that they got the first big break. The team had very little detail to include in their soldier’s eulogy at that point.

Having perused the online family history resource for months, Smith finally came across a “Dozier” message board on Ancestry.com and made a query. A person with the username “trishegbert_2” answered less than two hours later. She said her grandfather Samuel Dozier was a first cousin to Sgt. Moberly.

The relative said Ethel Moberly, Allen’s mother, died when he was around age 3, and he was sent to live with his maternal grandparents, Albert and Lula Dozier of Richmond. Allen was enumerated in both the 1920 and the 1930 U.S. Census, she wrote.

The relative speculated Allen’s father, John Moberly, could not maintain employment during the Great Depression and was unable to support his child (we find out later his middle name is Bill). According to the census, both of Allen’s parents were born in Kentucky.

From census data and enrollment records, Smith and Shoopman concluded Allen was born in Lexington in 1919 and his grandparents (the Doziers) owned a dairy farm.

After graduating from high school in 1938, Allen attended one year of college, married Lola Katherine Tipton and began a career in banking. The coupled resided in Ashland when Allen was called for active duty with the 29th Infantry Division in 1942 at age 24.

Census data indicates Lola remarried another soldier after her husband’s death and then joined the military herself, Smith said.

In her response, trishegbert_2 said an obituary exists that was published July 25, 1944, on the front page of a newspaper in Boyd County (Ashland), but she had never seen it. Although Allen was injured on June 6 and died shortly thereafter, she said it usually took some time before families were notified with news of their loved ones in Europe.

Following Wednes-day’s interview, the Register called on its sister newspaper, The Independent, the daily newspaper of record in Ashland since 1896.

Editor Mark Maynard skimmed the paper’s collection of microfilm and soon located the obituary on the front page of the July 25, 1944, edition, just as Moberly’s relative had revealed.

The obituary included new bits of information that hastened the investigation.

“Sergeant Moberly was a former employee of the Ashland Oil & Refining Company at Leach, Ky., and a devoted member of the Unity Baptist Church,” the obituary read.

The eulogy would seem to contradict Smith and Shoopman’s conclusion that Moberly was a banker in the four years following his 1938 high school graduation until August 1942, when he was called for active duty. Or the position at Ashland Oil was simply a second career.

Moberly’s membership at Unity Baptist Church was the key to obtaining the next clue.

Maynard also is a member of the 175-year-old church and knew immediately who to call for help.

Judy Little, who Maynard described as the “extremely organized” church historian, said she has a passion for history and for her church.

Her collection includes more than 1,000 photos, one of which dates back to 1890. Other pieces in her collection are dated years before that, she said.

Little, 73, said she can hear her mother’s words play over again in her head: “’How do you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been,’ she would always say.”

From the time Maynard discovered the obituary, no more than a half hour had passed when Little announced she had unearthed church bulletins (see photos) featuring Moberly and his wife. The bride was Lola Tipton, the daughter of Unity Baptist’s pastor.

Lola, along with her sister Lois and brothers Shirley and Charlie Lee, were born to Rev. L.H. (Letcher Harold) Tipton and Hallie Walker (Parks) Tipton.

Rev. Tipton came to Unity Baptist in 1936 and remained until 1950 when health problems nudged him into retirement, Little said. During his years as Unity’s pastor, Tipton faithfully published a weekly church bulletin. And he was methodical when it came to record-keeping.

As a teenager, Little attended a Sunday school class taught by Shirley Tipton and his wife Virginia.

Years after the couple’s marriage ended, Little kept in touch with Virginia, who had since moved to Indiana. One day, as Virginia was passing through the area, she gave Little a copy of every bulletin printed in Rev. Tipton’s 14 years at the church, except for one missing year.

In four bulletins dated between June 15, 1941 and July 30, 1944, Rev. Tipton reported both the news of his daughter’s marriage to Sgt. Moberly and the news of his death.

Both reaffirming and contradicting bits of information can be found in the reverend’s reporting.

In the June 15 wedding announcement, Tipton wrote that his soon-to-be son-in-law was “of Radford, Virginia,” but Smith and Shoopman’s research did not indicate Moberly ever lived in Radford, only that he may have trained in Bedford (Radford, Va., does exist).

Little said it is possible Rev. Tipton made a few mistakes in his reporting.

The June 15 announcement also placed the wedding in the Unity Baptist Church sanctuary at noon, with the bride’s father officiating. The public was invited to witness the wedding.

A Dec. 12, 1943, bulletin confirms Shoopman and Smith’s hypothesis that Lola also enlisted in the military, but not as the wife of a new husband as originally suspected.

Sgt. Moberly’s enlistment date of August 1942 aligned with the team’s prior research, however. The reverend also mentioned his daughter was a junior clerk in the Warner Robins Air Service Command of Warner Robins, Georgia.

A short notice printed in the July 23, 1944, church bulletin announcing that Lola had received a telegram on July 17 stating Moberly had been “seriously wounded” in France on June 6.

Just eight days later, a second telegram was delivered confirming her husband died June 7.

A eulogy written by Rev. Tipton was printed in the July 30 bulletin and reveals even more details about the young soldier’s short life.

Contrary to Smith and Shoopman’s theory that Sgt. Moberly was born 1919 in Lexington and then moved to Richmond at age 3, Rev. Tipton wrote that Moberly was born Oct. 24, 1918, in Madison County and that his mother died when “he was just a baby.”

He went on to say Moberly received his military training at Camp Wheeler (an Army base near Macon, Ga.) and Fort Benning (outside Columbus, Ga.). Moberly had been stationed in England since April 1943, he wrote.

Besides Lola, Moberly was survived by his father, John Bill Moberly; his grandfather, Albert Dozier; and one aunt, Mrs. Jim May Reeves, all of Madison County.

Looking back at the Ancestry.com message board, a post by username “jparks99” said James M. (Jim May) Reeves (1895-1967) and Mabel D. Reeves (1902-1984) are buried in the Richmond Cemetery, but jparks99 found no evidence of the couple having children.

The tale of the Tiptons

Little is uncertain of any remaining Tipton descendents still in the Ashland area. What she did know was that the reverend’s wife, Hallie, along with all four of the Tipton children, died in their 40s and 50s from Huntington’s disease, a neuro-degenerative genetic disorder.

The disease causes certain nerve cells in the brain to waste away and eventually lead to uncontrolled movements, taking away a person’s ability to walk, talk and swallow, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

People are born with the defective gene, but symptoms usually don’t appear until middle age. If one parent has HD, a child has a 50 percent chance of developing the disorder.

While still a couple, Shirley and his wife Virginia adopted two children, Timothy and Kimberly, knowing that any biological offspring could one day suffer from the disease.

Little said during those years, people from within the church were well aware of the Tiptons’ health problems. Once Hallie started showing signs of the disease, however, outsiders started rumors that she was an alcoholic. When her condition worsened, she was hospitalized and died while receiving medical care.

Lois had married a doctor named Bourbon Canfield, who would give her medication to help her rest after she began showing signs of HD.

One night, while sleeping in an upstairs bedroom, the house caught fire. The Canfield’s teenage daughter Deborah ran outside and called for help. She re-entered the home to save her mother, but it proved to be a fatal mistake. Dr. Canfield broke out a window hoping to rescue his wife and daughter, but it was too late. Both died from smoke inhalation (see September 6, 1968, mother-daughter obituary at www.richmondregister.com).

Among the 23 overstuffed binders that make up Little’s church chronicles, an Oct. 29, 1961, church bulletin from the East Hickman Baptist Church in Lexington shows Rev. Tipton and his new wife Bessie Harper Tipton, along with his sons and daughters and their spouses and children.

The family portrait includes David Allen Canfield, Lois and Bourbon’s son who had escaped the fire. Little said using Allen’s name was perhaps Lois’ way of memorializing her brother-in-law’s sacrifice.

Bessie’s daughter from a previous marriage, who also was named Lois, now lives in Lexington and sent the 1961 bulletin to Little just a few years ago.

‘A life to match the sacrifice’

Shoopman knew he loved history and he knew he wanted to go to France, so the program’s demanding application process didn’t deter him.

In fact, Smith said Shoopman’s application went above and beyond the requirements, and “I’m pretty sure that’s why we were accepted.”

Shoopman’s application essay was superimposed over the original order from the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force for “Operation Overlord,” codename for the Battle of Normandy.

The high school student used language from the original orders and integrated it into his application essay. It took weeks to piece together, he said.

Shoopman plans to attend EKU to earn a bachelor’s degree and go to Marshall University for a master’s in forensic science.

For Smith, the Normandy project was a chance to honor one of her own students from when she taught in Montgomery County. Pfc. Dustin Gross died in Afghanistan, May 2012, after being hit by an improvised explosive device. He was 19.

“That was part of the impetus for me. Here was a way for me to honor my student’s sacrifice by honoring another soldier in this way,” she said.

On the plane home from Normandy, Smith and Shoopman discussed the importance of bringing what they learned back to the community. They want to find a way to recognize Sgt. Allen P. Moberly and other Madison County veterans through more than just a website and for longer than just a year.

The pair didn’t know last week that their wish to see Sgt. Moberly’s face, let alone several members of his family, would be granted so soon. However, the missing details of the soldier’s early life are yet to be uncovered.

The Doziers were dairy farmers in Richmond. Sgt. Moberly’s aunt, Mrs. Jim May (Mabel) Reeves, is buried in the Richmond Cemetery. Shoopman and Smith are counting on the community’s response to their story to progress further into their investigation and to determine an appropriate way to commemorate Moberly’s life.

The “extremely organized” church historian in Ashland has promised to keep digging, she said.

“I think it is important for this community to recognize the sacrifice of this particular soldier – he was just a kid; he was 24,” said Smith. “There is so much for this community to be proud of.”

“We still need a life to match the sacrifice,” Shoopman said.

Crystal Wylie can be reached at cwylie@richmondregister.com or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.

Visit the Allen P. Moberly Internet Memorial at theapmmemorial.weebly.com

To browse memorial websites of past participants, visit 66328486.nhd.weebly.com