Tag Archives: Mary Lee McCutchen

75 years ago…

Philip McCutchen, December, 1941, Age 18
Philip McCutchen, 1941, Age 17.

December 7, 1941.

The young man who turned 17 in April of 1941 had joined the Navy while still a Junior in High School. He was now gathered with his shipmates aboard the brand-new aircraft carrier U.S.S. Hornet, to hear some kind of special announcement.

The Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor!

There was a whirlwind of emotions in the young man. Anger, curiosity, fear. What did all of this mean? Europe was already engulfed in war, and every day there were news reports of Japanese hostile actions in the Pacific. Within days, as news of the death and devastation in Pearl Harbor grew in detail and depth, and formal war was declared, he found out.

The Hornet was done with its training now, and had its first mission. One that would make a statement of U.S. resolve against an enemy far, far away.

By the time the Hornet arrived in California in March of 1942, the young man was well-settled in to the routine of sea duty. He had been trained to work on the warplanes the ship carried, and had also proven adept at managing parts and supplies. During the near-constant battle station drills, he manned one of the ships’ five-inch guns as a pointer.

Imagine his surprise, as well as that of the rest of the crew, as they watched 16 B-25 bombers loaded aboard the flight deck on the first of April. No one would say why. Only that secrecy was tantamount. But the Doolittle Raid of Tokyo by those bombers on April 18th was a morale-boosting success. But it was not without its consequences, as the Japanese took out their anger and frustration over the attack on the Chinese, some of whom helped the men of the raiding bombers when they landed, crashed, or bailed-out.

More critical and desperate battles came in the months that followed. The young man had to grow up fast. The battles of Midway and the Solomon islands led to the battle of Santa Cruz on October 26, 1942. There the Hornet was attacked ferociously and was eventually sunk. The young man, like the rest of the crew, abandoned the ship to the sea. The last US fleet carrier lost to enemy action during the war, the Hornet had only been commissioned one year and seven days.

The young man, now just 18 years old and without a ship, spent months on the muddy hell-holes of New Caledonia and Guadalcanal, servicing the warplanes flying and fighting from the airfields on those islands. Eventually, as the war turned and victory became assured, he was shipped back to the states for recuperation and training, to Pensacola, Florida. That’s where he would meet the woman who would be my mother, herself a Navy Wave.

The young man grew up. Made the Navy his career. Married and raised a family. Retired. He passed away in 2008.

Thanks for all you did, Dad.

Passings: Ed McMahon, Gale Storm, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson and Mary Lee McCutchen

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
— Psalm 73:26

June of 2009 was a sad month for celebrity followers, with the passing of Ed McMahon, Gale Storm, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson. Each gained a measure of reknown in their time, and their personal lives became fodder for the public to relish in their triumphs and tragedies.

Yet their passings are overshadowed for me by that of my mother, Mary Lee (Ross) McCutchen, at age 86, on June 27, 2009.

Mary Lee (Ross) McCutchen (B: 1922, D: 2009), about 1947. Hand-tinted black and white photo.
Mary Lee (Ross) McCutchen, about 1947. Hand-tinted photo.

Mary Lee Ross was born in Ringgold, Georgia, in 1922, a child of a mountain farming family. One of the youngest of a large family, Mary Lee learned early the hardships of that life as her father died when she was only about 12. To help support the family farm she went to work in the textile mills — yes, before there were child labor laws. It was the height of the Great Depression, and farmers too, who at least could grow most of their own food, suffered. The stories she told me of those days of struggle would curl your hair and makes the “Great Recession” of 2009-2011 pale in comparison.

When WWII broke out Mary Lee, along with sister Helen, joined the U.S. Navy as a WAVE. Stationed in Pennsacola, Florida, she met the man who would be her husband and my father, until his passing just last year. Mary Lee and Philip McCutchen were married at the famous Peabody Hotel in Memphis, in a group ceremony that seemed to celebrate the closing days of WWII in February, 1945. Mary Lee then became a Navy wife, as my father made a 20-year career of the Navy.

Being a Navy enlisted man’s wife meant making-do with little. And we did. Yet she always had a song or whistle on her lips as she worked to raise me and my two sisters. Today I find myself humming a tune or a verse of song and smile, knowing where that habit came from. I will remember how Mom shared wisdom with me and others. Not scholarly education but common sense principals that are still with me today. She was a quiet believer in God and the salvation of Jesus Christ whose heart was never in doubt. For that, and so much more that I could fill a book, I will forever be grateful.

Always open to listening to whatever was on your mind, she could easily bring out what was going on your head, and help you understand it. She was also always busy with her hands and mind. Her favorite pastimes were reading, working puzzles and making quilts for children, grandchildren, and the children and grandchildren of her sisters and other kin.

Mary Lee (Ross) McCutchen is survived by her three children, Philip, Karran and April as well as four grandchildren, Mary, Scott, Emerald and Keeley.

She will be interred with her late husband at Chattanooga National Cemetery — close to the mountains where she was born and raised and forever called home.