James Neal: Going strong at 91
by Emanuel County Live | September 1, 2011 4:49 pm
James Albert Neal was born in his family home on First Avenue in
Summit on August 24, 1920. In addition to the house in town, Neal
also lived on their farm, located near Nathan’s Creek. From the
stories, Neal was a precocious youngster, jumping onto passing
trains to get to school at Emanuel County Institute or scaring his
mother by jumping into their well.
When he wasn’t catching a train, Neal walked a mile and a half
to his school bus stop and, at 15, he began driving a school bus
himself, as licenses were not required at that time.
In 1942 at the age of 22, he entered the military at Ft.
McPherson in Atlanta, then transferred to Miami, Fla., before
training in Laredo, Tex., Salt Lake City, Utah, Boise, Idaho, and
Murock Desert in California.
During World War II, Neal flew 26 missions and was shot down on
his last mission while 10 miles from Vienna. His B-24 took German
anti-aircraft fire through the left wing. The plane was able to
make it to Albania before it went down, and Neal “bailed out” at
7,000 feet. When he landed, he fractured his right leg and was
immediately captured by Germans. He was a prisoner of war for 11
months, held in 4-5 POW camps.
When Neal returned to Twin City after being released from active
duty on October 6, 1945, he worked as an auto mechanic, a school
bus driver, and worked for the fire department, retiring as chief
after 27 1/2 years.
Neal and his wife, Mary Virginia Williamson, who he married
prior to going into the service, have three children, Joyce (who
was born while Neal was overseas), Margaret and Jimmy. He has 6
grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren, and his grandson, Wil
Carr, is currently in the Navy, stationed in Great Lakes, Mich.
Neal’s daughter, Joyce Harrison, says that her father was never
hesitant about answering his children’s questions about his
experiences in the war, and that he was always making sure his
children had what they needed.
“He was always the one that went shopping with us for coats or
shoes and took us to Savannah and things like that,” Harrison says.
“Mother was kind of a homebody, but he always took us out.”
Neal is one of two Emanuel County World War II prisoners of war
still living, and recently celebrated his 91st birthday with his
friends at O.A. Hall’s store in Twin City. Loran Williamson sang
him a special rendition of “Happy Birthday,” and many friends and
family members were in attendance. After the festivities, Neal was
back to business as usual, out on his lawn mower cutting the grass
at his home right down the street from where he grew up on First