Attend as many family reunions as I have over the years and you’re bound to hear a replay of the same stories.
And sometimes you may hear something new about the past from a voice that has departed this earth.
Almost every Christmas season since I can remember, descendants of my paternal grandparents, Charles and Mattie Hudson Dunagin of Hattiesburg, have had a family gathering of those who could attend.
They had six children who lived to be adults, one girl and five boys, and the stories about the deeds and occasional misdeeds of the five boys are legend, often repeated and probably embellished upon. For 11 straight years there was a Dunagin on the Hattiesburg High football team.
Charlie and Mattie’s children are all gone now, but their surviving children — now the old folks — and their grandchildren and great-grandchildren carry on the tradition.
Some of us got together last Saturday at the home of my cousin, Dianne Speed, who has hosted the event at her home in Collins for the past several years.
The usual December Christmas party in 2020 was called off due to COVID restrictions, and this was a make-up, scheduled after it was hoped the old folks would be vaccinated.
Parenthetically, let me note how smoothly the vaccination process went in Oxford where my wife and I received both of our shots. The National Guard and Mississippi Department of Health were operating with military precision and courtesy.
Speaking of the military, that’s what my new Dunagin story is about.
My cousin Dianne’s son, Lee Speed, played for us a tape recording interview he had done with his grandfather and my uncle, James K. Dunagin, in 1984.
One of Lee’s high school teachers had instructed the class to interview a war veteran, and Lee didn’t have to look far to find one.
James, next to the youngest of four Dunagin brothers, including my father, who served overseas in World War II was an easy interview.
He was a master storyteller, probably the best of a family of storytellers, and Lee didn’t have to ask many questions to get him going.
James recalled where each of his brothers served and the names and numbers of their units.
I, of course, knew the basics, including the fact that both my father and Uncle James had been in the military before the war broke out. Dad was in the Navy before he was married and I was born and James was in the Army Air Corps stationed in Hawaii.
After the war broke out, James joined the Coast Guard, and Dad joined the Seabees. The youngest brother, Arthur, became a Navy pilot, flying missions over the Pacific. Charles Ado, who had been a football player at Ole Miss and then a highway patrolman, was a lieutenant in the Marines.
Here’s what I didn’t know.
James said in the interview with Lee that when his pre-war hitch in the Army Air Corps was up, his superiors tried to persuade him to re-enlist. But he hadn’t been home in a long time and wanted to try civilian life. Soon thereafter, he fell in love and married Lee’s grandmother.
When the war broke out he enlisted in the Coast Guard, and, among other duties, served on a mine sweeper in the West Indies looking for and finding German mines.
Had he stayed in the Air Corps and gone to the school they wanted to send him to, he would have returned to his unit in Hawaii which was sent to the Philippines. Members of that unit were either killed in fighting the Japanese or captured and sent on the Bataan Death March.
James also said in the interview that his brother Ado, a Marine platoon leader, was for some reason given the option of not going on the mission that led to the invasion of Saipan, but he chose to stay with his men.
Ado was mortally wounded in battle, died on a hospital ship and is buried at sea, the one of four brothers who didn’t come home.
I like family get togethers and hearing familiar stories retold, especially if there’s a new twist.
Here’s hoping we’ll be back on schedule this Christmas.
Charlie Dunagin is editor and publisher emeritus of the McComb Enterprise-Journal. He lives in Oxford.