“When I was 16 years old, I quit school to join the Army, but my mother wouldn’t sign the papers for me to go. And by the time I became 18 in 1953, I didn’t want to go.” Those were the words of 84-year-old Hobert Adkins, a former Pine Creek of Omar resident, now living just a short distance away at Barnabus in Logan County.
He may never have made it to the military, but as the son of Olive and Oscar Adkins, who remarkably raised 15 children, Hobert is proud of the nine brothers who served either in the U.S. Army or Air Force for a combined total of nearly 104 years, which included time served during World War II, the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War.
His military-inclined siblings include Harvey, Jason, Billy, and Franklin, as well as Clifton, Leon, Lowell, Vernon and Linden. All nine men were honorably discharged from their respective branches of the military and fortunately returned to their coal camp community unscathed. Of the 11 sons in the Adkins family, only Hobart and Robert, whose mother also frowned upon his military desires, did not serve in the military. The Adkins clan also included four sisters, Madeline, Ruth, Lyndell and Iris.
On an unusually pleasant and sunshiny November day at Pine Creek — just a few days prior to last week’s celebration of Veterans Day — the man who for 20 years was the meat butcher at what was Shaheen’s Market at Omar pointed to one of two small coal camp houses that still stand near the Pine Creek Freewill Baptist Church. “That’s where I was raised,” said Adkins. “Those are the only two original houses left on Pine Creek.”
Like nearly every hollow in Logan County and the rest of southern West Virginia’s coal fields, the remnants of what once was a thriving community are somewhat concealed in time with its original inhabitants — those who became accustomed to the daily sounds of coal-filled railroad cars that sometimes even shook the contents of kitchen cabinets — either passing in time, living somewhere else, or finding their coal camp memories to be something only they can best cherish.
Such is the case for Hobart Adkins as he reflects upon the Pine Creek hollow that leads to the scene of what was one of Logan County’s most costly disasters, Island Creek Coal Company’s No. 22 mine catastrophe. It was in that now vanished Holden community that once had its own movie theater, doctor’s offices, company store, and much more that Hobart often in his youth visited, walking the railroad tracks to avoid the mud on the dirty hollow road.
“We would walk the four miles to get to the movie theater there,” Adkins explained, acknowledging the railroad track and where the coal tipple used to operate.
Even closer though was the Omar Theatre and a very busy community of thousands. “At one time,” said Adkins, “West Virginia Coal and Coke had 10,000 people on its payroll.”
At Pine Creek, where the mine there opened in 1937, 375 people once graced both sides of the narrow roadway in small tar-papered homes. Today, according to Adkins, who is the person that got that very road paved, there are only about 50 residents.
One frame structure which still stands as a reminder of decades gone by is the Pine Creek Freewill Baptist Church. It is there — a stone’s throw from where smoke once billowed from the chimney of his childhood home — that Hobart Adkins chose to honor more than 210 former Pine Creek residents who served in the military from 1941 until 1972. It is also at this location each Labor Day weekend that an annual Pine Creek Community Reunion is held.
After two years of searching, Adkins was able to come up with all of the names of the military men and women, both black and white, who had grown up in a small stretch of Pine Creek that he refers to as “The Greatest Mile.”
The names of these military veterans, including eight men who sadly returned to Pine Creek in flag-covered caskets, can be seen on a large memorial sign Adkins obtained from another military person in Huntington who Adkins said “gave me a good deal on it.”
It was at a Pine Creek reunion just a few years ago that another well-known veteran addressed the memorial dedication of the sign that displays the words “The Greatest Mile That Gave So Much For Our Freedom.” The late Rev. Glenn White, himself a veteran who served as a tail gunner on a B-24 that was shot down over Austria in World War II, dedicated the memorial. White, who spent three months in the Alps evading German soldiers, also served for many years as pastor of the Central Baptist Church in Logan, and indeed who baptized this writer when I was about 13 years old.
Thanks to the efforts of Adkins and others, the bridge currently being replaced across the Guyandotte River in Logan now bears the name of Rev. Glenn White. However, that’s not the only bridge Adkins has managed to get named for military veterans.
In addition to proudly getting the Pine Creek roadway designated as the “Adkins Brothers Memorial Road,” the former Logan County State Roads Supervisor of 16 years also worked to name other Pine Creek and Omar area bridges for local veterans. Those bridge names include U.S. Army Sgt. Elzie Mundy Jr.; Army Cpl. Randell Maynard; Army LTC Robert “Bob” Marslender; Pvt. Ervin L. Arnold; Warrant Officer Dale Shaheen; Army Cpl. Joe “Toby” Slade; Gordon M. Sorrell, and Army Cpl. Oral Gen Castle.
“I really appreciate the efforts of former House of Delegates member Rupie Phillips in getting these bridges named,” said Adkins. “He is really who made it all happen.”
As a member of the Legislature in 2012, Phillips introduced a resolution that was adopted by the Legislature requesting the Division of Highways to name the Pine Creek Road in honor of the nine Adkins brothers who served their nation well.
One man Adkins has honored and who is described as having been his “best friend” is Ervin Arnold, who was killed in the Korean Conflict.
“When they brought him home to his parents at their farm house, there were two soldiers who escorted the casket and who were told to not allow anyone to open the casket,” Adkins lamented. “His father convinced the soldiers to let him see his son one last time. After seeing his son in the casket, he said he wished he had never looked.”
In 2011, Congressman Nick Rahall announced the recognition of the Adkins brothers to the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. In so doing, Rahall described the men as a true “band of brothers” that came from a family that represents an “ideal that transcends all West Virginians.”
In researching for this story, I have failed to determine if the nine military brothers in one family is a national record. However, what I can tell you, the readers, is that Logan Countians have always provided key roles in this nation’s military history. From producing the coal that fueled the nation’s steel mills in two great world wars, to providing both men and women as military servants, we today suffer from those leaders who seem to have forgotten what made this country great.
Hobart Adkins is making sure that at least some of these outstanding individuals are not forgotten.
In fact, he currently is working on determining whether two former Omar residents — the late Bill Abraham and his son, Billy Dale — might be the only father and son combination in the nation to both have received the “Distinguished Flying Cross” award. Adkins said before long, they, too, will be honored with bridges at Omar.
When you cross the newest bridge leading into the proud town of Logan from W.Va. 10, you will see the name of William “Bill” Abraham on a sign recognizing his valor in flying 85 missions during World War II, which may be a national record.
I think it only appropriate that the Doughboy statue that greets one coming onto Midelburg Island is utilized every Veterans Day to honor the many military men and women who came from the various hollows and towns of Logan County to serve militarily, many dying in the process.
Like Pine Creek, every hollow holds a story, and Logan has many hollows.
It is my hope that each day the students coming from our various hollows to attend classes on Midelburg Island realize the greatness for which the statue means to all of Logan County.
I know one thing. It appears Hobart Adkins certainly does.