The Jackson Purchase region of Kentucky is comprised of the eight westernmost counties - Ballard, Calloway, Carlisle, Fulton, Graves, Hickman, Marshall and McCracken. It is bordered on the west by the Mississippi River, on the north by the Ohio River, on the east by the Tennessee River and the state of Tennessee to the south. By Kentuckians it is generally referred to simply as "the Purchase".

Andrew Jackson and Isaac Shelby purchased the land lying west of the Tennessee River from the Chickasaw tribe and opened the area for settlement around 1820. Within the next few years, my grandfather's ancestors came there from Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee - the Beadles, Clapps, Pryors and Wingos settled in Graves County with the Reeves and Halls in neighboring Ballard County.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Col. Harry Ripley Melton, Jr.

U.S. Military Academy at
West Point - 1936 Yearbook
Harry Ripley Melton, Jr. was the son of Col. Harry Ripley Melton, M.D. a native of Ballard County, Kentucky.  Harry Melton, Sr. was the son of Nannette "Nettie" Hall and French Montcalm Melton. His maternal grandparents were Charles Morgan Hall and Mary Elizabeth Wingo and his paternal grandparents were Henry P. Melton and Mary Ann Sams, all of Ballard County. 

Harry R. Melton, Sr. married Anne Given Rothroth in McCracken County on July 17th, 1909 and their son Harry Ripley Melton, Jr. was born in Ballard County in 1911.

Harry, Jr. was a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, graduating in 1936. He initially entered the cavalry but later took pilots' training at Randolph and Kelly Fields in San Antonio, Texas and transferred to the Army Air Corps. While living in San Antonio, he met and married Lavonia Smith and had a daughter, Anne, born October 2, 1938. The couple later divorced and Harry took custody of his daughter Anne. On June 23, 1941 he married Natalie Jean Wilson of St. Petersburg, FL.

During World War II, Col. Harry R. Melton, Jr. was the Commanding Officer of the 311th Fighter-Bomber Group (311th FBG). During his service, he flew the A-36 Apache and later the P-51A Mustang on dive bombing and escort missions over Burma.  On the 25th of November 1943, Harry took off, piloting a P-51A Mustang on a mission to escort bombers over Rangoon in Burma.

Col. Melton fired on and scored three hits on a Ki-43 Oscar piloted by Lt. Yohei Hinoki then performed a split-s maneuver, exposing his belly to Hinoki who opened fire damaging his aircraft. Afterwards, Hinoki broke off his attack to aid his comrades. When leaving the target area, Harry's aircraft began trailing black smoke and lost air speed. Another P-51A piloted by 2nd Lt. Everett Briggs observed him bailing out at 1,000 ft. above the ground then disappeared roughly 100 miles northwest of Rangoon and twenty miles east of the Bay of Bengal. When he failed to return, Col. Melton was officially declared Missing In Action (MIA).

Missing Air Crew Report
He was immediately captured by the Japanese and became a Prisoner Of War (POW). After he was captured, Lt. Hinoki received a telephone call, telling him that they caught a colonel, and asked if he was interested in meeting him, but Hinoki declined although he remembered the name “Melton” and wrote the story in his postwar memoir.

Harry was detained at Burma #5, Moulmein & Rangoon Jail. Later, he was moved to Singapore to be transported aboard a ship to Japan. He was one of 2,200 British and Australian prisoners loaded aboard the Rakuyo Maru departing Singapore on September 6, 1944 bound for Japan. On September 12, 1944 while in the South China Sea off Hainan Island, the ship was torpedoed by the USS Sealion (SS-315) after which she became unable to make way and began to sink. On September 14, 1944, he was in a lifeboat with other POWs when a Japanese destroyer machine gunned everyone in the life boat, including Harry Melton, Jr..

Japanese author and researcher Henry Sakaida who was in contact with Lt. Hinoki recalled that "Hinoki-san was truly saddened by the way Melton died, and politely asked me to see if I could locate the widow. I thought it was a worthy challenge and I accepted. He composed a letter of sympathy and asked that I deliver it. Hinoki-san died in January 1991 of cancer, but I continued my search for 30 years until I located her daughter, Kip, to whom I delivered his letter."

The citation accompanying the posthumous award of the Distinguished Flying Cross to Colonel Melton read as follows:
For extraordinary achievement in aerial flight between 16 October 1943 and 23 November 1943. During this period, Colonel Melton, Commanding Officer of the 311th Fighter Bomber Group, distinguished himself by participating, as pilot, in numerous combat missions over enemy occupied Burma. These flights, consisting of bombing, offensive reconnaissance, ground strafing and escort far over enemy territory, have resulted in the destruction of such enemy material and installations. On one of a series of important missions over Rangoon, the enemy succeeded in destroying Colonel Melton's plane, but it was only when the plane started to burn that he abandoned it deep in enemy territory. That Colonel Melton ordered his wing pilot to join the main formation, instead of following the parachute down, is indicative of the spirit that distinguished him as a flier and as a leader. His activities have constituted an outstanding example of leadership to the pilots and personnel under his command and reflect great credit upon himself and the entire military service.

Col. Harry R. Melton, Sr. was my grandfather's "double cousin". They were related through both the Wingo and the Hall families and grew up together in Ballard County. Col. Melton and Aunt Annie retired in San Antonio and we took my grandfather to see them whenever he visited here. They were lovely and I have very special memories of them.

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