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  • Writer's pictureHistoric Columbus

Military Stories from World War II: Cason Callaway, Jr., Gordon Flournoy, and Rudy Quillian

In July, Historic Columbus will be celebrating our community's military history through the stories of our veterans. For the Thursday History Spotlights, we will focus on stories from World War II. Stories of our veterans from other wars are also being highlighted during the week on our social media. You can check them out here:

There are so many stories and the ones that will be featured merely scratch the surface. Thank you for celebrating our veterans with us this month!

Two wonderful books will be our main sources to honor our heroes:

Columbus Connections: A Collection of Wartime Stories by Lynn Willoughby and Saluting our Heroes: Part I - World War II by the students of the Shaw High School Service Learning Project, 2004.


Cason Callaway, Jr. Tests Lethal Gas Columbus Connections: A Collection of Wartime Stories by Lynn Willoughby (2007) When Lieutenant Colonel George S. Patton came to Columbus to organize the Army’s Second Armored Division, outgoing Fort Benning Commanding General Asa Singleton passed off a young visitor to Patton. On this, the sixteenth birthday of Cason Callaway, Jr., he had the honor of riding around the base with none other than “Old Blood and Guts” himself – soon to go down in history as the most colorful of all World War II generals. And true to his reputation, Patton gifted Callaway with an experience he would never forget. As they rode down Cusseta Road in Patton’s convertible Packard, a tank approached them. Patton blocked the tank’s path and stood up in his seat, holding out his hand for the driver to stop. But the tank driver kept rumbling toward the car and since Cason sat on the side nearest the tank, he was understandably nervous. At the very last moment, the tank driver applied his brakes. Chunks of asphalt ripped out of the road as it came to a halt only six inches from Patton’s car. Patton proceeded to bless out the young tank driver, calling in to question his canine ancestry and threatening to demote him. When Cason went to school at the Citadel in 1941, he told this story often. After his sophomore year, he decided to enlist in the Army, and like many boys his age, he never returned to finish his degree after service. Callaway found himself assigned to the First Chemical Casual Company, a unit of 100 bright science-oriented boys sent to “a nasty slice of hell known as Camp Sibert, Alabama” near Gadsden where they were handed a spade, a shovel, and given a short pep talk on the glory of duty in the chemical weapons service before sending them to a “barracks” where walls were as thin as a sheet of tar paper. The mosquitos were horrific; the heat was stifling; and every day they ate the same thing: beans. After a few weeks of this, the commander gathered the men together and offered them a deal: If they volunteered for chemical experiments, they could have a ten-day furlough and leave Camp Sibert for good. The particulars were hazy, and they never had a bonafide option to decline. No one really understood they were “volunteering” to be the lab rats for chemical warfare experiments.

Before Callaway knew what he was in for, he found himself at Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland where he and the other volunteers were handed gas masks and clothing soaked in agents designed to neutralize the test chemicals. The men marched for thirty minutes in backpacks until they broke a sweat, then line up single-file at the door to a gas chamber. In groups of five to seven, they were hurried in with no explanation of what was to come. The door slammed shut behind them, and the next sound they heard was the whisper of mustard gas seeping out of the floor. A few panicked and banged on the door to get out. Most of them got nauseated. The warmer the conditions, the more potent the gas, and wherever they perspired most, they suffered swelling and blistering. The testing continued every few days for two months. They tested chlorine, a lung irritant; chloropicrin, a vomiting gas; phosgene, a lethal choking agent; and mustard gas, a chemical that caused skin blisters and could be lethal if inhaled. The government believed these tests were crucial in protecting American lives. Germans had released chlorine and mustard gas against the Allies in World War I. Japan and Italy had used poisons in the 1930s. After unsuccessful experiments using animals, the American government determined only humans would do in developing protective gear and ointments that would shield American troops from chemical attack. Trials lasted two months, then the men were released to serve elsewhere, but they were forbidden to tell their families what had caused the scarlet burns on their skin. Many went to their graves without divulging what they had gone through in Maryland. Cason Callaway and other men of the First Chemical Company sacrificed their health to provide their government with invaluable information on the effects of chemical warfare agents, and they did it without even taking credit for it. Such is the nature of a true patriot.

Nancy and Cason Callaway


60 years later, Gordon Flournoy Still Enjoys Army Friends Columbus Connections: A Collection of Wartime Stories by Lynn Willoughby (2007) Their time together had been so brief – less than a year – and yet, the bond they made was as thick as blood. Such is the nature of war. Sixty years after their bombing missions over Europe during World War II, Gordon Flournoy still checks in by phone with the surviving members of his flight crew. Amazingly, half of the ten-member team is still alive. The men hailed from all over the nation – Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana, Missouri. Gordon was the only southerner, and the “old man” of his crew at the wise, old age of twenty-five. A Columbus native, Gordon had graduated from Auburn before enlisting, then reported to duty in January 1943. He sailed through the Aviation Cade Program and excelled at multi-engine flight training at Maxwell Field in Montgomery before embarking for Italy in the autumn of 1944 to pilot a B-24, the four-engine heavy bomber that was manufactured in greater numbers than any other allied combat plane.

Gordon Flournoy at age 25

From their base near Leece in the heel of the boot that is Italy, Flournoy and his crew flew missions to southern Germany and Austria. Even when they were not flying, they stuck together, rarely leaving post. The region around the base was so devastated by war that it was heart-breaking to see the locals scrounging for food in the Americans’ garbage cans. As a member of the Ninety-eighth Bomb Group of the Fifteenth Air Corps, Gordon flew north over enemy territory twenty-nine times, risking death with each mission. He would have flown his requisite thirty-five missions had he not contracted hepatitis in Italy and been ordered to a field hospital. The worst anti-aircraft fire he exnced as a pilot was in flying a bombing mission to destroy a bridge at Brenner Pass. A shell passed through the leftwing, only a few feet from where he sat. On another mission, he discovered that someone had failed to take the cover off the air speed tube, and Gordon had to fly an entire mission in formation in a heavily loaded plane without knowing his air speed.

Bombs sail toward Germany

En route to a target one day, he experienced an engine malfunction. Protocol required that he dump his bombs in the ocean and exhaust the fuel before attempting an emergency landing, but Gordon thought he’d save the taxpayers some money. He came in for the landing with enough fuel and bombs to have turned his plane into a crematorium if he had crashed. A colonel witnessed his arrival and lectured him soundly for “trying to be a hero,” and young Flournoy learned not to take unnecessary risks. In spite of the tense circumstances of war, Gordon and his men enjoyed the camaraderie of living and flying together as a team. His military experience gave him a sense of responsibility, an appreciation for discipline, and a respect for others’ abilities. The esteem he feels toward his fellow servicemen is the reason he continues to stay in touch with them sixty years after their bombing missions in Europe.

A B-24 bomber of the 15th Air Force drops its load on the rail yards of Krems,

near Vienna, Austria in April 1945


D-Day Anniversaries Help Sally Quillian Gates Read Father’s Farewell Letter Columbus Connections: A Collection of Wartime Stories by Lynn Willoughby (2007) A series of events in 1984 led me back to the letter I had avoided reading for forty years. That spring a retired general moved next door and obtained a copy of my father’s eulogy from the West Point files of The Assembly magazine. The article began, “In a little country church yard in Hall County, among the hills of northeast Georgia, stands a block of granite with the simple inscription, ‘Lt. Col. Amzi Rudolph Quillian, Gentleman and Soldier. Born September 12, 1911 – Died August 4, 1944.’ Rudolph’s broken body with those of thousands of his comrades, lies in the Normandy American Cemetery in France but his spirit is here…” My father graduated from North Georgia Military College and received an appointment to the West Point class of 1937. He was commissioned to the 66th Infantry (Light Tanks) at Fort Benning. This became the 66th Armored Regiment of the 2nd Armored Division, under then Brig. Gen. George S. Patton, training at Benning and in Louisiana and the Carolinas until deployment to North Africa in late 1942. I was born on February 14, 1943.

West Point Cadet Quillian

My receiving his eulogy coincided with the intense media coverage of President Reagan’s visit to the beaches of Normandy to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the Battle of Normandy which began with the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944. On maps in Time and Newsweek, I found St. Lo where he was wounded on July 28. My mother always said I should read his letter when I was old enough to understand, but you don’t have to be able to read to learn to avoid painful emotional subjects, especially ones that make adults cry. In 1984 when my husband, my mother, and I finally read it together, a funny thing happened: it wasn’t sad.

Newlyweds Eva and Rudy Quillian follow armored tradition with tank ride through post

Africa, 29 April 1943 My dear Sally, The reason for this letter is that because of the business I’m engaged in it is possible that I may never get to see you… If you had been a boy, I would be full of fatherly advice and I would encourage you to grow up to be a good soldier like I hope your father will prove to be…I hope you will grow up to like the two women who are the finest in the world, your mother and mine. We are living in a time now when soldiers must be willing to die for their country or else, we won’t have a country. Of course, I am willing to die if necessary… Don’t think we are martyrs either, because this is an interesting and fascinating game, and we are rather keen about it. I have under my command some of the best and bravest soldiers in the world. All my love – except your mother’s share, Pop P.S. This is the first time I’ve thought of what I want you to call me. I like Pop after your grandfather Pop Ansley.

Quillian poses after mishap during tank training maneuver

Well, well, I thought, having a daughter must have been as strange for him as not having a father had been for me. I had never known how to refer to him. Calling a stranger “Daddy” was uncomfortable and “Rudy” seemed too adult, so I always arranged my sentences so I could refer to him as my father. I guess I had felt kind of sorry for him, but suddenly the letter let me know that he was a thoroughly professional soldier doing a job he had chosen because he understood what was at stake, even though he knew the risks. In 1994 my cousin brought my father’s ninety-one-year-old sister to visit us in June. Later she wrote, “As far back as I can remember, Mama was not able to speak at any length about Uncle Rudolph without crying…but I believe all of the publicity over the 50th Anniversary of D-Day has helped her.” When I read this, I suddenly realized for the first time that the letter from my father didn’t just belong to me. He was a brother and an uncle, and Miss Sallie was “our” grandmother. His life, career, and death were a history we shared, even though it had taken fifty years before we could talk about it.


Next week: We are going "Back to School!" In August, we will celebrate the buildings and the people who have educated our community. If you aren't already a member, we hope you will join us! I also want to encourage you to follow Historic Columbus on Facebook and Instagram for more posts on our community's history. Thank you all for your continued support of Historic Columbus! Elizabeth B. Walden Executive Director

You can access ALL of Historic Columbus' History and Preservation Spotlights here: AND Tuesdays With Justin here: Historic Columbus (GA) - YouTube

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Carol Lawrence
Carol Lawrence
Feb 06

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