Sabina’s Eldon Lee distinguished veteran

By Mike Anderson - For the News Journal

Here’s a story about the other American Legion Post in Wilmington …

Alfred Lee was born in Clinton County and Bessie Mae Mason Lee was born Highland County. They met and married in 1921, had a daughter Leona Mae in 1923, and a son Eldon William in 1924. Around 1930, they moved to Sabina, where Alfred (nicknamed “Oat”) found work as a janitor for the school there.

The children attended school, and Eldon was good basketball player. The Washington Court House Record-Herald called him a “star”, playing for the Sabina Cagers during the 1941-42 and the 1942-43 seasons. Nicknamed “Skinny”, he was well-liked at school, and received a basketball letter. He graduated in 1943, and joined the Army a few months later.

Eldon was a private stationed in Fort Knox, Kentucky, visiting with his family on furlough over Christmas, 1943.

By October 1944, he completed a course in chemical warfare at a school at Camp Hood, Texas. He soon joined the Western Front, in some of the last battles of World War II — the Battle of the Bulge from December 1944 until the end of January 1945, and the attack into Central Germany starting in March. Eldon was now a corporal, serving with a tank unit.

On April 21, his parents received word from the War Department that Eldon had been killed in action on April 16 in Germany. He had been promoted to sergeant shortly before his death, and was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart.

Teachers and pupils of Sabina High School met for a memorial service with many tributes, music and a prayer. Superintendent L.V. Runyon paid personal tribute to the young soldier as a student and as a citizen. Speaking as a sponsor of the class and coach of the basketball team of which Sgt. Lee was a valued member, Coach Willard Henry told of his fine spirit of sportsmanship and good character.

Sgt. Lee was buried in the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Limburg, Netherlands. He was listed that year among “Clinton County’s Heroes Who Made Supreme Sacrifice”, and also as the first “colored” man of the county to be reported a casualty of war.

Germany surrendered in May 1945, and a group of the returning black men formed a new American Legion Post in December 1946. Their first meeting was at the Midland School building, which was Wilmington’s segregated elementary school.

The installing officer was the County Commander, Lloyd C. Colvin. Arthur Turner, WWI veteran, was named commander. Officers were First Vice-Commander Theodore Lewis, Second Adjutant Carl Peyton, Finance Officer Charles Lewis, Service Officer and Child Welfare Thomas Roberson, Publicity Latney Stewart, and Sergeant-At-Arms Charles Nance.

A membership drive was started under the direction of Bobby Scott, Leonard Gibbons, and Charles Tribune. Meetings were scheduled to be held the second and fourth Friday of each month at 8 p.m. The name of the new post was the Eldon Lee American Legion Post No. 649.

Later that December, John Leroy Scott offered a new home to the Post at a meeting of the home of Commander Turner. Scott’s offer was accepted, and he was building the Legion home at the corner of Doan and Grant streets. An open house of the new Post was held in June 1947 with a fried chicken dinner.

At the first meeting in their new home, E. J. Smith, district representative of the American Legion of Ohio, met with the Post and presented a number of ideas for increasing membership and commented on the work planned by officers and members for the summer.

The Post began sponsoring Wilmington Boy Scout Troop #45 in February 1950. Scoutmaster Forest E. Wilson Jr. and Assistant Scout Master Arthur L. Medley Jr. worked with the Post Troop Committee Norman L. Hamilton, Charles R. Tribute, William G. Crawford and Leroy Scott.

In July 1950 Clinton County Commander of the American Legion C. H. Vallandingham announced new officers of the five posts in the county — Wilmington, Eldon Lee, Marion Post of Blanchester, Gold Star Post of Martinsville and New Vienna Post. Officers were all installed in the Gold Star Post rooms.

On March 12, 1951, the Eldon Lee American Legion Post No. 649 charter was canceled. According to local American Legion members, the Post was inactive.

Finding this story carries a mix of feelings for me. Guilt and shame, even thought the Post disbanded before I was born. Grief and pride in our fallen hero, and the courage of the black soldier then, when he wasn’t a soldier anymore.

Mike Anderson, a retired non-profit director for a program for people with disabilities, enjoys researching Wilmington history. Born and raised in the city, he graduated from WC in 1975 with a BA in literature and language. Currently living in Highland County, he is a member of the Clinton County Historical and Genealogical Societies.

By Mike Anderson

For the News Journal