James Bennett Branch is buried in the Tomb Area, located in the heart of the old-growth forest at John de la Howe.
James Bennett Branch: November 13, 1921 to May 10, 1945.
Not even 24 years old. Branch was at a point in life when he should have been in college, dating and looking ahead to the rest of his life.
But Branch was born in a different time – a time that put the young man in the service to his nation. At age 23, he was in the South Pacific. His visit to the islands wasn’t for a tour of the lush beauty of the tropics.
Branch was there for war. World War II to be exact.
Branch was born while his father the Rev. J.B. Branch was serving as superintendent of the historic John de la Howe School. By the time he enlisted in the Army in 1944, the younger Branch was a long way from McCormick County.
He was among the tens of thousands of U.S. troops converging on Okinawa on what would be the last major battle of World War II and one of its deadliest.
The war on the European front was coming to an end. Allied and Soviet forces were close to forcing Germany’s unconditional surrender. The war was shifting to the Pacific.
On Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945, however, the Navy’s Fifth Fleet was off the coast of Okinawa to launch a heavy bombardment to weaken the Japanese and protect the troops as they moved forward on the beachhead. It was the largest amphibious landing in the Pacific theater of World War II. Unlike the landing at D-Day, the landing at Okinawa was met with little resistance. Japan’s strategy for its 130,000 troops was careful watch and wait within the dense foliage of the island.
As the Americans moved across the small island, they had to wonder when they would meet with Japanese resistance. And, indeed, fighting ensued in places throughout the island. Both Japanese and American troops suffered tremendous casualties.
Finally, the Americans approached the Maeda Escarpment, located at the top of a 400-foot vertical cliff. The American attack on the site, which became known as Hacksaw Ridge, began on April 26. The climb up the embankment was treacherous, and troops battled holes, rough terrain and Japanese troops to reach the top and move ahead on the island. Casualties and deaths were great for the American and Japanese.
The Americans finally took Hacksaw Ridge on May 6, but the fighting to take control of Okinawa continued into June.
Branch, a private in the U.S. Army, was in killed in action on May 10, 1945. He was among 12,000 Americans to lose their lives during the Battle of Okinawa. More than 38,000 American troops suffered injuries during the 82 days of the conflict.
At the time of his enlistment in August 1944, Branch was working at Mission Dairy in Maricopa, Arizona, an area well-known for its dairy farms. One can’t help but imagine that Branch may have learned about the dairy business during the early years of his life at De La Howe.
Today, Branch is buried in the De La Howe Tomb Area alongside his father, his mother Nora Pryse Branch who died in 1983 and his sister Olive Harlee Branch who died in 1995.
On the Thursday before the nation’s observance of Veterans Day on November 12, the tomb area was covered with a blanket of fall leaves. A gray sky stretched across the forest where the Branch family is buried, which is adjacent to Dr. de la Howe’s tomb. Branch died fighting for world peace and returned to a resting place of precious tranquility that eluded him in the last moments of his life.
As the historic John de la Howe School moves ahead with the Veterans Project to identify our alumni who served the nation in the military and develop a place of honor for them on the campus, we only have to look at the service of the Branch family to realize the great sacrifices that men and women from our school have made in service to the United States. Reverend Branch led the development of the new campus. His son gave his life for our nation. Mrs. Branch lived much of her adult life without her husband or son.
For more information about the Veterans Project, contact Karen Petit at 864-391-0424 or email email@example.com.
Above is the World War II Memorial for soldiers killed in the Battle of Okinawa. James B. Branch is listed on the seventh line from bottom.
A search of Ancestry.com revealed a copy of James B. Branch’s enlistment in the U.S. Army.