Belmont Hero of the Greatest Generation – James ‘Red’ Joye

James “Red” Joye at home in April 2015.

I sat down with Red Joye on April 11, 2015, and had a conversation about his life growing up in Belmont and serving with the 34th Infantry Division in the Italian Campaign, one of the bloodiest battles of World War II. For his service, he earned the Combat Infantryman Badge, Bronze Star Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, Purple Heart, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with an additional Campaign Star, the World War II Victory Medal, and the Good Conduct Medal. These medals don’t tell you the real story of Red Joye’s life, but they give you a glimpse of the hero and the man that Mr. Joye became over time.

Mr. Joye was born in York County, South Carolina on July 18, 1924, to a hardscrabble and sharecropping life. In November of 1924, the Joye family moved to Belmont after his father found work with Duke Power to help build an electric plant. They lived in a house on the site of the current Nichols convenience store across from the present First Presbyterian Church until that house burned down, “You heated with wood, you cooked with wood, and the house was wood. We didn’t have much coal because we couldn’t afford it.” From there they moved to “East’en” which is how East Belmont is known to those who grew up in the mill houses that dotted the landscape across from the Majestic Textile Mill. The house the family moved into was located near Ferguson’s General Store and next door to the brick building that housed a drug store and eventually the Belmont Funeral Home. Their house was located directly behind Oswalt’s Café.

Red attended East Belmont School until at the age of 14 or 15; he quit school and went to work in the Majestic Mill to support his parents. He had to go to work at the Majestic to ensure that they weren’t “kicked out of their mill house” because they did not have anyone working in the mill at that time. His two younger brothers were still in school, and his mom and dad were unable to work, so it fell to Red to work and feed the family. He initially made 10 cents an hour, and for 56 hours brought home $5.60 cents a week which covered the rent and food. Times got a little better after the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed in 1938 and guaranteed a minimum wage of 25 cents an hour and only 40 hours a week. Instead of $5.60 a week, he was bringing home $10.00 a week. The $10.00 that Red received did help keep the family of 11 in groceries and rent.

One of his brothers worked on the WPA project that built Davis Park, and his pay was government scrip, which could only be used at Stowe Mercantile to buy groceries. For families living in the mill villages, times were hard during the Great Depression, but the one common thread among these families was their willingness to work for what they got. Work gave them pride and self-worth, and “no self-respecting individual would take the dole, they’d rather be working.” Working was a common theme for Red, and it meant a lot to him to do a good job and keep his record clean. For years he held perfect attendance on the job because as he told me, “I couldn’t afford to take a vacation, I needed the money.”

On December 7, 1941, while he was shaving, someone hollered at him that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. He didn’t know where Pearl Harbor was, but “I dang near cut my throat shaving when I heard it because I knew life had just changed.” Red initially thought of enlisting in the military because he felt a man needed to fight for his country, but after talking to his mother, they decided that since he was the family’s sole provider; he would wait until the draft board called. On December 11, 1942, he registered for the draft and awaited his country’s call. He still worked in the Majestic Mill and kept up the family. By this time he was making 32 cents an hour and only working 40 hours a week to help keep his parents and siblings in a house and food.
Mill village family hospitality is a known commodity because everyone in the little communities would help each other and look after those in need. Also, the families had a more sharing and giving nature because of the hard working lives they led. One story Red told me about this Southern mill village hospitality goes like this,

I would go by a family’s house that I knew really well and shout in the window, “What are y’all having for supper?” If they said something like pinto beans, which I could get at home, I’d say, “See you tomorrow.” But, if it was something like ham or some other food that I knew we didn’t have or couldn’t afford, “I’ll be right in.” I climbed in the window and had supper with this family, and once the meal was over, after thanking them, I’d climb back out the window. I let them know that I would see them again soon.

There is a common theme that runs through Belmont whether it is “East’en,” North Belmont, or Belmont proper, people were willing to help their fellow man, woman, or child.

In April 1943, Red was drafted into the United States Army, and on May 4, 1943, he was inducted at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina.

“They got a trainload of us and sent us to Camp Shelby, Mississippi on May 18, 1943. That was when the 69th Division was formed. Ten weeks after I was down there, I was supposed to be trained to be a scout. They gave me an old one-shotter. Every time I fired it, I had to reload it. I was supposed to be in front of everyone else. I had five bullets, the red bullet was for machine gun nests, and the blue bullet was for snipers. My job was supposed to spot, but after ten weeks, I didn’t learn anything other than run 5 miles, walk five more, and double-time five more. Well, after ten weeks, they picked several others and me and sent us to North Africa. The first thing they did was give me a Browning Automatic Rifle. The gun was heavy, but that was the least of it, the ten clips of ammunition were heavier than the automatic rifle. I only weighed about 125 pounds, and I couldn’t carry the BAR, all the ammunition, and the two days rations and other supplies you carry on your back. So, they assigned me an ammo carrier.”

Red was assigned to the 34th Infantry Division of Iowa, which was the first division to leave the states for Europe in January 1942. The “Red Bull” division distinguished itself in combat in North Africa, and then Italy. Red’s first invasion was Naples, and his first brush with possible death was when he was assigned to go up to the top of a nearby hill and attempt to shoot down a Luftwaffe airplane that was strafing the troops.

The Lieutenant told me to take your BAR and get up on the top of the hill and shoot the airplanes down. “Who the hell’s going to hold me down up there?” He said I’m giving you a direct order, “I don’t want to foul up an order, but I’m a dead duck up there, his bullet is bigger than mine and stronger. I thought my job was to be back here and when we moved up, I was to protect us on maneuvers.” Well, I lucked out and didn’t have to attempt to shoot that airplane down.

After attacking up to and attempting to take the Gustav Line in Southern Italy, Red was a part of the initial landings at Anzio in January of 1944. He stated that the landings were unopposed until they had moved about 10 miles inland up the Mussolini Canal. The troops dug foxholes into the sides of the Mussolini Canal in an L-Shape. They dug down about six feet and then started digging back in the side with dirt above them to attempt to protect themselves from shell bursts and shrapnel.

The noise of the German artillery was nerve racking, especially the shell we called the screaming “mimis.” The noise of those shells sounded like someone was hurting a woman badly, and they always unnerved us especially the new green replacements.

On Easter Sunday 1944, Red was injured by a shell burst and shrapnel that left the inside of his left thigh embedded with shrapnel and covered in powder burns. His quick thinking buddy put a tourniquet on the leg and every so often loosened the tourniquet to allow blood to flow to wounded area. Then the soldier would tighten the tourniquet to staunch the blood flow. The two men had to wait until after dark to leave the foxhole, and with his buddy holding his bad leg up like a wheelbarrow, they crawled 4 miles to the road. It was just breaking dawn with a light fog when his buddy told Red that he was going to flag down the next vehicle and force it to transport him back to the aid station.

My buddy saw two little lights coming out of the fog, and stood in the middle of the road and started waving his arms to flag down the vehicle. It was a jeep, and my buddy told the driver, “I’ve got a passenger for you.” The driver responded, “I’m full, I’ve got five guys in this vehicle already.” My buddy said, “If Red doesn’t get to the aid station he’s going to bleed to death.” The driver said, “You can’t move him.” And the response was, “like hell you say.” He promptly picked me up and put me on the hood of the jeep. Showed me where the handles were to hang on and sent us on our way. When we got back to the aid station, I was passed through the window. They had this contraption hanging from the ceiling, and they strapped my leg to it and pulled it up in the air. The doctor came by and at first wanted to amputate my leg. I basically told the doctor no. The doctor then cleaned up my wound and left it and me hanging from the ceiling. They left me that way for about a week, and when they lowered my leg, I couldn’t feel much of anything with it. The doctor told me that my “bed” was over there, and to walk or crawl to get in it. Two orderlies tried to help, but the doctor wouldn’t let them. The orderlies got me standing, and when I took my first step, I ended up on the floor. The doctor wouldn’t allow the orderlies to get me to my bed. He again said, “Walk or crawl, I don’t care how you get to your bed as long as you do it on your own.” He was a damn horse doctor in my opinion.

When they got me to the aid station, somehow or another, I’d lost my dog tags. The War Department sent a telegram to my mother that I was missing in action, but then my unit figured out that I’d made it to the aid station. Then the War Department sent my mother another telegram telling her that I was wounded in action, but was expected to recover. Finally, I was loaded on a transport and taken to a hospital ship for transportation to Naples. Once I was in the hospital in Naples, they were scheduling me for surgery when the nurse came by and told me, “You smell like a goat.”

At this point, I told her that if you’d endured what I had with snow over your head, and sleeping in the mud for four months, you’d smell worse than a billy goat, you would smell like a stinking nanny goat. Well, one day, some folks came by and took me to a building that looked like a courthouse and started talking about me. A Colonel comes up and asks me if I understood what was going on, I told him no. He then told me that if these folks had their way, I wouldn’t be going home, but I’d be going to Leavenworth. He asked me a few more questions and checked my record that was spotless. He told the men who’d brought me to this hearing to take me back where they found me. Before I left, he asked the nurse if she said I smelled like a goat. The nurse hemmed and hawed, and the Colonel got frustrated with her and said, “Answer my question!” She said, “well he smelled really bad like a goat.” The Colonel then dressed her down by explaining what I’d been doing for months fighting for them and that her job was to take care of the wounded men no matter how bad they smelled. He then told me that if anyone said anything about what happened there to get in touch with him and let him know because he’d, “clean the whole damn place out!”

Red finally got well enough to travel back to the states, and when he got back to the US, he told the guys with him, “I’ve not had a furlough since I’ve been in the Army, so I believe I’ll go home.” Red did not tell me if he had worked it out with his superiors for a pass or a furlough, but it seems he did. At this point, Red told me that he was never paid or given a furlough during his entire time in the Army. He started trying to get all of his back pay when he was at Fort Bragg, but they didn’t have a paymaster who could figure out the SNAFU. He was transferred to Miami and ran into the same problem. Finally, in Atlanta, they told him we could just kick you out, but he told them that he was drafted and was not going to sign his discharge until he was paid and his disability was determined. Red and the paymaster went back and forth until another higher ranking officer came by and said send him to the hospital and have them determine his level of disability. After the visit to the hospital, Red waited several days to find out his fate on the disability. Finally, it was determined that he would be fully disabled for the rest of his life, and would be entitled to those benefits. With that settled, the only thing left for Red was to get his back pay. It was figured that the pay should be $50 per month, but Red said Ernie Pyle got the enlisted men a $5 per month raise. The paymaster, by this point exasperated, asked Red if he’d settle for a $1,000 check? Red said, “Where do I sign?” As he told the author, he’d never seen that much money at one time. With that, he received his Honorable Discharge and went back to being a civilian.

He came back to Belmont and went back to work for the Majestic Mill where he completed 20 years of service. After Majestic, he got a job in the post office as the janitor and then as a civil servant, adding 24 more years to his working record. He said the war had left a lasting impression on his life, but that it didn’t control his life. He has led a full and productive life and was happy that he had served his country in its time of trial.

Bronze Star Citation of James “Red” Joye.

During his service in the Army, Red received several decorations including the Combat Infantryman Badge and the Bronze Star Medal. The Combat Infantryman Badge was awarded to all US Army infantrymen with the rank of Colonel or lower who personally fought in active ground combat while assigned as members of either an infantry, Ranger or Special Forces unit, of brigade size or smaller, anytime after 6 December 1941. This medal specifically recognizes the inherent sacrifices of all infantrymen, and that, in comparison to all other military occupational specialties, infantrymen face the greatest risk of being wounded or killed in action. This award along with the Bronze Star Medal required a commanding officer’s recommendation and a citation in the pertinent orders. His Bronze Star Medal citation reads as follows:

“For meritorious achievement in ground combat against an armed enemy during World War II in the European-African-Middle Eastern Theatre of Operations.”

At 93, Red Joye is a living memorial to those brave men and women who served their nation as well as their community unselfishly in World War II. His mind is still sharp, and he’s a natural storyteller who is still after 70 years able to give a good description of what front line combat was like during the Italian Campaign. Front line combat soldiers endured what most would call hell on earth, but they mostly served with bravery and valour. In my book, Red is one of the true heroes of Belmont of which there are many whose stories are worth telling, and it is with pride that I give a hearty thank you to Red for his service during America’s time of need. He epitomizes what Tom Brokaw characterized in the men and women of this, “The Greatest Generation.”

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