Thomas Ferrell Cunningham

Date of Birth: February 2, 1923
Date of Death: December 29, 2018

From “Family Ties and Memories” 1977.  Contributed by Ferrell Cunningham.

In the spring of 1941, a Greyhound bus left Columbus, Mississippi with Ferrell Cunningham and Merle Smith aboard.  They were headed for NYA School (National Youth Association School) in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.  Merle sat next to the window and Ferrell was on the outside.  Ferrell could just see over the driver’s shoulder enough to see some of the instruments on the dash panel and saw one instrument reading was 120.  Of course, he didn’t know anything but a speedometer, so he thought the bus was making 120 miles per hour (this probably was an air pressure gauge or RPM).  So he sat very carefully all the way.

Ferrell and Merle stayed only a few days at the NYA School at Hattiesburg before getting homesick.  So after breakfast one morning they started hitchhiking home.  They made it to Meridian by about midnight, where they stood under a highway sign which read “Columbus  96 miles”.  By this time both were a little chilly, very tired and hungry, so they crawled into somebody’s Model A Ford in a plant parking lot nearby.  Merle slept a little but Ferrell was so nervous he couldn’t.  Anyway they stayed there about three hours.  Then they got back on the road for Columbus and home.  About 10 o’clock they were put out near a small grocery store somewhere between Meridian and Macon.  They were so hungry they could have eaten a “horse and snapped at the rider”.  Between the two of them they only had 10 pennies.  Ferrell had 6 cents and Merle had 4 cents, so they pooled their resources and bought a 10 cent loaf of bread.  Ferrell remembers thinking how good it was.  So with the bread and some tap water from the store the two considered themselves moderately refreshed.  They got home before dark that day.

Ferrell returned to NYA School at Tupelo, but only stayed a day or two then hitched a ride to Pontotoc, Mississippi and stayed about two or three weeks with Dot and Charles Vaughn who were living there.

James and Pop were working in the shipyard in Mobile, Alabama.  Ferrell joined them in the summer of 1942.  James had a first shift, Pop had a second shift, and Ferrell had the third (graveyard) shift.  They all stayed in the same rooming house in Mobile.  Ferrell remembers someone stealing his billfold.  James and Ferrell went to a fortune teller to try to find out who took it–they didn’t find out–and Ferrell was out 50 cents for the fortune teller’s advice.  The workers at the shipyard went on strike and  there was some violence, so James and Ferrell left for Columbus Air Base to enlist, which they did on November 2, 1942.  They were sent to Camp Shelby, then back to Columbus Air Base for basic training together.  Ferrell started to a Link Trainer School.  He had only learned how to work on just one part, the turning motor, when he and five others were sent to Monroe, Louisiana as Link Trainer Instructors. In January, 1943,  Ferrell was to set up a new department at Selmar Field.  Ferrell says that they cleaned turning motors a lot!

In the early fall of 1943 he was transferred to Brady, Texas and then in the spring of 1944 to Lubbock, Texas.  One night while Ferrell was in town having supper at a cafe, sirens began blowing, and soon car horns were blowing everywhere.  By the time he had finished, the streets were full of cars and people.  It was V-E Day (Victory in Europe) and people were celebrating wildly.

Ferrell had already been scheduled to go to advanced link training school in Bryan, Texas.  V-J Day (Victory in Japan) came while he was in school at Bryan.  The war was over.  Soon he was back in Lubbock, and Link Trainer Instructors were no longer needed.  So, he was sent to heavy equipment school at Warner-Robbins, Georgia (near Macon).  Before long he was back in Lubbock with nothing to do.  Soldiers were being discharged and only men with overseas time had high points, so it looked as if he would not get out for a long time, so he re-enlisted on a one year plan which was being offered.  This re-enlistment included a 90 day furlough.  After the furlough, Ferrell was sent to Barksdale Field in Shreveport, Louisiana, as Link Instructor.  From there he went to Harshing, Austria (March, 1946) to set up a training section.  While he was stationed in Austria, Ferrell took a fifteen day furlough for a stay in Alpinblick Lodge with guided tours through the Alps including a ride on a cable car, cog-rail train up the mountain, tour of a huge ice cave, and mountain climbing.  The International Steeple Chase in Salzburg, Austria, and sailboating on a very large lake by the lodge were other highlights.

Ferrell returned from Austria on the Liberty Ship which took 10 days to go over and 14 days to come back.  Four of the days on the return trip was spent in a severe storm with waves thirty or forty feet high.  Ferrell says that the waves were so high that the ship would seem to balance on them momentarily then dive over leaving the propeller out of the water.  This would cause it to “race” and vibrate the boat as if it would break up.  Ferrell was discharged at Fort Bragg, North Carolina on November 2, 1946, exactly four years from the date of his enlistment.

Ferrell worked with James until 1951 at Cunningham Brothers Contracting Company building residential and small commercial buildings using mostly concrete blocks.  James had a block plant in Hamilton.  Later they bought a plant in Amory.

In 1951 Ferrell worked with California Eastern Airways, at Columbus Air Base, then was self-employed about a year, before going to Graham Air Base in April, 1953.  Ferrell and his family moved back to Mississippi and stayed until April, 1956.

At that time Ferrell went to work at Fort Rucker, Alabama as Link Trainer Maintenance and within two weeks was promoted to Instructor.  After three years he was moved to the Academic Division.  In August of 1964 the family moved back to Hamilton after which time Ferrell was self-employed as a building contractor.  In the summer of 1965 he joined Morris Ready Mix.  In January of 1967 he went to work at American Potash as store clerk and that spring took on the position of substitute mail carrier for Route 1 in Hamilton.  In the fall of 1967 Ferrell put in Hamilton Dry Cleaners, then in 1968 added a washette.  The dry cleaners and washette were sold to Ellen Cunningham in 1970, then bought back in the summer of 1972.  Finally the dry cleaners was closed in 1976 and the machinery and equipment for both establishments were sold by June of 1977.

Ferrell  married Ellen Sanderson on April 2, 1947 and they were divorced in May of 1970.   On October 14, 1973 he was married a second time to Mary Martin.  Ferrell and Ellen had three children.  Ferrell and Mary had one child.

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