Felmer (Pete) Lynn lived a life familiar to many in the textile community of Kings Mountain, North Carolina. The 34 year-old father of two worked at Park Yarn Mill and lived in the mill village with his family. His wife, Ruth, worked across the railroad tracks at the Margrace Mill. Pete’s whistling always let Ruth know that he was heading home from work. Their life changed when Pete received a draft notice in March 1944 to report for military duty. After his training at Camp Fannin (Texas), he returned home on leave in July 1944 before being shipped to Europe. Alleghany County resident Petie Bass tells the story of her parents with a mixture of nostalgia and sadness.
After landing in Normandy on June 6, 1944, Allied troops had streaked crossed France and were hoping to make a final push in to Germany. From September 19 through December 16, 1944 120,000 Allied troops fought in the thick woods of the Hurtgen Forest. Historian Rick Atkinson refers to the Battle of Hurtgen Forest as “The Worst Place of Any.” In those three months, the US forces suffered 33,000 casualties. Unknown to the family, Pete was engaged with the 28th Division in some of the fiercest combat of World War II. During the night of November 4, 1944, Ruth dreamed of hearing Pete’s whistling. Through she knew he was away in Europe, she rushed to the door to see if he was coming home. She viewed it as a premonition that something bad had happened to Pete. Days later the family received notice that their husband and father was reported missing in action on November 2. His body was recovered from a shallow grave in March, 1945. Pete Lynn was buried in the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Belgium before being returned to Kings Mountain on November 13, 1947.
Ruth Lynn was pregnant when her husband was killed. When the baby, a daughter, was born, she named her after Pete. And sticking with his nickname, she called her daughter Petie.
Ruth never remarried. She left the mill and took a job in the cafeteria at the local school. As her daughters progressed through school, Ruth insisted that they continue their education after high school graduation. All three attended college with assistance of their father’s GI benefits. Petie recalls her mother taking her to Winston Salem to meet with a GI benefits counselor. She said he read her high school transcript and noted her high grades in chemistry. He then took her hands and said, “I see the hands of a doctor.” Petie laughs that she didn’t share that exact vision but she did go on to the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill to become a pharmacist.
Petie worked as a pharmacist at New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, NC for 27 years where she specialized in oncology medications. She retired in May of 2000. The next day she and her husband, Norm, moved to Alleghany County.
Throughout their marriage, Petie and Norm have enjoyed outdoor activities. They used to hunt and they still enjoy fishing together. Both are avid readers and are members of the Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Petie has also become an expert on the European theater of World War II.
As she got older, Petie’s mother decided it was time to downsize from her house to a smaller, more manageable apartment. As they were going through things in the house, her mother held up a bag and said, “I guess it’s time to get rid of these.” It was a bag of letter’s Petie’s dad had sent home during his military services and the returned letters her mom had written him. Petie knew she had to have those letters. Coupled with her mother’s dairy, those letters fueled her desire to know more about her dad.
In those letters Pete told of being referred to as “the old man” by his fellow recruits during boot camp. From Europe he wrote of milking cows in Belgium and mixing the milk with chocolate bars to make hot chocolate. An avid hunter and skilled marksman, he frequently asked about his rabbit dogs back home leading his wife to write back in jest that “you think more of your dogs than you do of me.” And he always asked about his daughters.
Some time later, after hearing of a reunion of the 28th Division, Petie reached out to that group and shared her desire to know more about her dad’s service. Major Miller, who was working at the Pentagon, saw her request for information. He was working on a book on the 28th Division and sent Petie copies of the Army’s after action reviews of her dad’s company during the Battle of Hurtgen Forest. As she pored over those documents, she grew certain that her mother’s dream on November 4th coincided with the day her father was killed. But most important, Petie shared that as she tracked the company’s day to day movements and her dad’s last steps, it was then that she felt the most connected to the father she never met.