At 80 years old, there are some things that Carmoline Gulley can’t always remember. But that period of her life, beginning at the moment she kissed her two older brothers goodbye as they left to join the Army during World War II, she has never been able to forget.
And with tears in her eyes and a trembling voice, she also recalls the moment each of the telegrams arrived, the devastating news that they had both been killed, their deaths just 10 months apart.
Growing up in Macon County, Carmoline and her older brothers Dillard and Willard shared a typical childhood relationship, teasing each other often and looking out for one another at school.
Comparing their personalities to “daylight and dark,” Carmoline remembers Dillard, the oldest brother, as quick-witted and stubborn, recalling that he liked to dress up and was never scarce for dates. Willard, she says, was just the opposite, spending most of his time hunting with the family dog, ‘Bounce.’
Seventeen-months apart in age, Willard and Dillard were drafted into the war in their early 20’s when Carmoline was only 13 years old.
Not knowing how long he would be gone, Dillard married the love of his life, Bessie Cassidy, just a few weeks before he and Willard were sent to Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, for basic training.
Looking back on the day they left, Carmoline remembers the awful feeling she and her parents, Lennie Gulley and Bell Krantz Gulley, had, as the boys turned to leave.
“It was terrible,” she said. “Me, mother and daddy had this feeling that they wouldn’t be coming back. That feeling turned out to be true.”
Separated after their training was complete, Willard and Dillard both wrote home frequently to keep up with hometown news.
“They always wanted to hear about how things were going at home, and they would write and tell us about the people they met overseas,” Carmoline said.
Not even a year after he left for the war, Private First Class Dillard E. Gulley was killed in the line of duty, her family receiving the first of two telegrams from the U.S. War Department.
“I remember mother sitting on the edge of the porch when she read that telegram,” Carmoline said. “She just fell straight forward, head first off of the porch . . . that was the biggest thing I remember about that day. It was hard on all of us, but it was always harder on her.”
Ten months later, the news that Willard had died from severe wounds, followed.
“I was at school when the telegram arrived that day, and I remember a neighbor telling me the news on my way home,” Carmoline remembers. “When Willard found out Dillard had been killed, he had told my mother that if anything happened to him, he didn’t want to be buried in the states, so he was buried in a beautiful cemetery in Italy.”
Memorial services for both of the boys were held for family and friends in Macon County.
Remembering that time her life, growing up without her two big brothers, Carmoline missed the little things that she would never get back again.
“I missed their companionship,” she said. “Like all brothers and sisters we had our ups and downs and fought sometimes, but we always had each other.”
Currently a resident at The Palace Care & Rehab in Red Boiling Springs, there isn’t a day that goes by that Carmoline doesn’t think about the lives her brothers never got to lead and the hole left in her family by their absence.
Yet in light of everything, she has always felt proud of the courage and strength they both demonstrated in fighting for their country; their lives lost but their memory never forgotten.