Saltillo serviceman remembered for service during WWII

In 2014, Spearman was one of the speakers at the Memorial Day ceremony. His wartime photo was behind him.

Eugene “Gene” Spearman was a mainstay at the Saltillo voting precinct. For many years, he made sure all ballots were properly entered into the machine. Most voters knew him and, if they didn’t, they came to know him, election after election, complete with his trademark bolo tie. His dedicated service at the Saltillo Civic Center elections was an echo of his dedicated service in the Army Air Force during World War II, when he served as radio operator on bombing missions over northern Europe. His flying was done in the storied B-17 “Flying Fortress” in the equally storied Eighth Air Force. Spearman was one of the lucky ones; he made it back home. And in one piece, unscathed. In a video prepared by the North Mississippi Historical & Genealogical Society, filmed and edited by Terry Swindol, Spearman appears as one of several World War II veterans who told of their days fighting the Germans, Italians and Japanese. In one scene, Spearman holds a small model of a B-17 as he points out the different positions of crew members and their various duties. “Every morning, if we were going to fly a mission, the sergeant would come wake us up,” he said in the film. “We would be at the briefing at 4 a.m., then go eat breakfast at Ptomaine Tavern, the mess hall.” He continued, saying they were trucked out to the planes, which had been loaded with bombs and gasoline. In a section of the film entitled “Things They Can’t Forget,” Spearman recounts always seeing a pastor near the runway, holding a bible as they taxied out for takeoff: “This was a comfort for me,” he said. His wife, Ruth, said her husband spoke often of his days flying out of airfields in England: “He wrote a book and it has a lot of stuff about all that,” she said. He flew 34 missions, February-May 1945, before rotating back to the United States. Spearman, in his post-war years, penned a 160-page book of his writings, photos and war record; the volume is called “A Collection of Short Stories.” Many of his stories are of growing up on a farm in the Coffeeville area while others are of his later life, including his adventures after earning a degree in electrical engineering and his lengthy career with Tennessee Valley Authority. “After units five and six (at Pickwick Dam) were placed in service, I moved up to Colbert Steam Plant and continued my work with construction,” he wrote in a story called simply, “Pickwick.” “Later I transferred to Power System Operation and worked until 1985 with some 35 years total service completed. It was a wonderful experience.”

In later years, Spearman became known for his community service outside working the elections. From his obituary: “Along the way, he served his community in a variety of ways, including serving as president of his professional organization - the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, president of the Men's Club of Saltillo, Sunday School Director of Euclatubba Baptist Church, and president of the 8th Air Force Historical Society. He is a charter member of Faith Baptist Church of Saltillo. “Being absolutely in love with his family, his God, and his country, he also spent untold hours helping people who needed him, especially those who could not do chores around their home or needed transportation for errands. Many community members have been blessed by his smiling face as he delivered food, cooked by his wife, Ruth, for those experiencing difficulty. During his later years, he spent many hours honoring his fellow veterans who so bravely fought in World War II, as well as teaching young students about the experiences of veterans in that conflict.” Spearman died at his Saltillo home on June 19, 2017. Also from his obituary: “He is survived by his wife of 46 years, Ruth Johnson Spearman; sons, Barry Spearman (Sandra) of Monterey, Tennessee, and David Spearman (Jeannette) of Tupelo; three grandchildren, Amber Cook (Brandon), Christina Spearman, and Blake Spearman, all of Tupelo; and eight great grandchildren, Rachel Spencer, Harrison and Anderson Cook, Isabella Light, Alexander Spearman, Evan and Mattie Spearman, and Lilly Dillard, all of Tupelo. “He was preceded in death by his parents, Creston and Claudine Spearman, and his eldest brother, Creston Hyde Spearman, all of Coffeeville.” Spearman and his wartime service are fondly remembered by all who knew him.

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