At the Museum of Veterans and Military History in Vilonia, this week, was a time for learning more about the late Jim Rector of Dover. He was a paratrooper with the 11th Airborne Division.
The museum has been gifted with some of Mr. Rector’s military items from World War II, including his helmet, a pair of jump coveralls, a bayonet, a canteen and a mess kit. There were lots of papers, photographs and newspaper clippings among the mix. Reading yellowed documents, one thing was very clear—Mr. Rector served his country with pride. As far as the details, one must use a bit of imagination to fill in the blanks.
Mr. Rector was 19 years old in 1943 serving overseas. A yellowed certificate says that Mr. Rector was awarded a bronze arrowhead as a member of the 457th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion for the assault landing at Nasugbu, Luzon, Philippine Islands on Jan. 31, 1945. One must wonder if he talked about his part in this historical day to his loved ones.
His paperwork says nothing about it but with research, museum docents learned that on Jan. 31, 1945, the four-kilometer strip of Nasugbu Beach became the site of a historic landing that helped turn the tide of war in favor of American forces in the Philippines. This amphibious landing of troops and tons of military equipment and supplies was ordered by Gen. Douglas MacArthur to establish a line of advance on Manila from the southwest. Lt. Gen. Robert Eichelberger, commanding General of the U.S. Eight Army, personally led the landing of 8,000 men of the 11th Airborne Division commanded by Major Gen. Joseph Swing. The landing began at 5 a.m. that day with the boom of a naval gun awakening Nasugbueños from their sleep. The cannonade continued as almost a hundred ships, big and small, dotted the waters of the bay. By afternoon, Nasugbu was completely liberated and there was along procession of people who returned to their homes. The 11th Airborne Division, aided by guerilla units raced on the national road to Tagaytay Ridge almost unopposed, for the remnants of the Japanese forces in the area hastily retreated to the eastern part of Batangas. Together with the Sixth Army and Eighth Army forces, that had earlier landed in Lingayen and in Zambales, respectively, and with the invaluable help of the Filipino guerillas, the 11th Airborne Division launched a double-pincer drive that liberated Manila and its suburbs in February 1945.
At one time, according to a newspaper clipping Mr. Rector, then PFC. Rector, was seriously injured in Manila Feb. 25. At that time he was 21 years old. He was also hospitalized, according to a second newspaper clipping, in the Netherlands, East Indies. At that same time, his brother was with the Third Army in Germany. The clipping said his brother was awarded two overseas stripes for combat duty.
One the most telling pieces of work, for docents, is a sign handmade by Mr. Rector in his retirement. It was made to honor his best friend. The sign reads "In memory Rene "Gums" Gagne, Killed in Action—Luzon, P.I. 1945—Rest in Peace."
Located at 53 N. Mt. Olive in Vilonia, the museum is open from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays and 1 p.m. until 4 p.m., the first Sunday of the month. Also, special tours are available by appointment. No charge to tour. For information, call 501-796-8181.