James Duke “J.D.” was born on February 26, 1918 and was the middle child in our large family. There are two sisters and three brothers before him and five brothers born after him. Three of them, JD, Albert, and Paul were very close to each other growing up.
Shortly after J.D. finished high school, he left home and moved to Kannapolis to work in Cannon Mill. It was no surprise when Albert and Paul left home to join him working at there too. It did not take them long to find out that working inside a cotton mill was not what they wanted to do the rest of their lives. Soon Albert, with a World War II going on, decided to join the Navy. He asked Paul and J.D. to go with him when he went to sign up to give him support. They all ended up signing up the same day, the three trained at Quantico, VA, and all assigned to serve on the battleship U.S.S New Mexico.
Shortly after their assignment, rules were changed about assigning brothers to the same ship. The Sullivan brothers were five siblings who were all killed in action on 11-13-1942 during or shortly after the sinking of the light cruiser USS Juneau (CL-52), the vessel in which they all served in World War II.
J.D. was a big brother to me when we were growing up on the family farm. I looked up to him as a father figure and thankful that he was a great example to follow. He was a hard worker and could always do more work than anyone else. We share cropped on an old two horse farm where the land was so poor that we could hardly grow enough food to eat. With Moms determination and God's help we made it through the very difficult years. One memory that stands out in my mind is when I was about 13 at hog killing time; there was a job that had to be done. J.D. took me down to the hog pen and gave me a big real sharp knife to carry from the kitchen. When we arrived, he took our rifle and shot the hog in the head and told me to hop into the pen and slit its throat to let out all of the blood. It did not take but seconds for me to look at the hog and hand the knife back to my brother. He did it for me and never told anyone that I had not grown up enough to do the job. He was always there for me. Pictured below - J.D. on the left and
Albert on the right, Paul is taking the picture.
I did not get to see him very much once he left home to work at Cannon Mills and then joining the Navy. Just about the time for him to come home I joined the Navy which made about 8 years we were apart. He was in the navy for the duration of the war. He joined 7-23-1940 with his brothers Albert and Paul. He trained at Quantico, Virginia and served on the battleship US Mexico and air craft carrier USS Swannie. He served on the U.S.S New Mexico which was hit by a Japanese kamikaze suicide plane in the south pacific. Many men were killed; thankfully he was down below decks then. While on the U.S.S. New Mexico he served as Chief Machinist Mate Officer and developed something to distill sea water more efficiently for the ship. He was discharged after the conclusion of the war. He never really shared much about the war though and was glad when he was able to complete his tour of duty and return home.
He came back to Charlotte and worked for the War Assessment Administration for a while. Later, he joined Albert and George in running a restaurant business which was located on Highway 64 in Statesville. When J.D and Albert came out of the Navy they were both chiefs; their experiences changed how the brothers worked together. It did not take long to find out there were too many chiefs trying to run that restaurant. J.D. sold out his share and moved on.
By the time I was discharged from my service with Navy, J.D. had married Colean Stewart (born 8-21-1925) from west Statesville, had a son James Duke Gurley, Jr. “ Jim” (8-19-1946), and lived at the old Propes Farm with Mother. He tried farming for awhile but could not make steady income. His son Jim bought his first bicycle by picking cotton for his father. He was paid the same wages that anyone else that picked for him. J.D. eventually bought the house and 50 acres. They lived there for quite a while. J.D. worked for Southern Fasteners over 20 years before he retired and moved down the hill. Colean enjoyed flying and had her pilot license at one time.
Pictured are Colean and Jim at the old family homeplace, the Propes Farm.
He, like his brothers, loved to fish. His family would go to the coast many a weekend just to fish. I really think that he just liked to be on a fishing pier to talk to everyone. He would walk up and down the pier shouting “here spot – here spot” calling in the fish. He also walked up and down Hunting Creek and the PD and Rocky Rivers catching catfish on the weekends. He loved a good picnic, enjoyed eating and fishing outdoors. Pictured here is J.D. with Colean and Mother.
He and Colean worked full time so I still was not able to spend much time with them. However, I knew he was always there for me if I ever needed anything. When possible we would do a little fishing or just get together and visit. J.D. was a pretty good gardener and always planted too much. He found joy in giving the vegetable away, a good neighbor to everyone around him. One time Hazel and I went to visit him when he was home alone. He boiled a dozen ears of good white corn which I remember was the best corn that I had ever eaten over my lifetime. In the picture below, J.D. and Colean are preparing green beans for canning.
I believe that he never met a stranger and had a little mischief in him. He would hide coins in his gravel driveway and tell any visiting kid that they needed to check out the drive way for buried treasure. He sure had a lot of fun for 30 cents he would hide.
He was a very supportive and patriotic man and father to his son Jim. He and Colean would worry like crazy when their son had to go in service. One of his proudest moments was when his son finally received his degree from Appalachian State University. He definitely was a good family man. He seemed to always wanted to be doing something for someone all of the time.
As I think back over time, I remember when he would come home on leave from the Navy he would always bring me some things like hard chocolate candy and clothes. He gave me my first set of underwear, up until this time I had only outer clothes and in the winter long handles buttons in the front and a flap in the rear. One time when he was on leave, he bought a 1931 Ford and left it with Mark and Mother, and me. Here is a picture of the car in rear of our house showing Mark and Mother, I was behind the camera.
Later on when he was in the hospital with cancer, I would visit him and he always told me not to worry because he had already turned everything over to God and He would do for him what was the best and I am sure that he did. At the same time I was trying to get over about fifteen years of medical problems. We had moved to North Myrtle Beach before he died on 8-4-1987. When you get old you always look back and say why I did not spend a little more time with the ones we love, we just think we are going be around forever, so untrue.