Author’s Note: As we pay tribute to the rich farming history in this edition of Sweet Owen, we honor the memory of Claude Franklin “June” Pryor Jr., a fourth-generation Owen County farmer who served his country during World War II. He passed away on Dec. 9, 2019, at 98. His legacy of service to others and his love of farming continue to touch the lives of the members of the local community.
During our 2016 interview, June made a statement that represented both the honorable man that he was and the farmer that he knew he was meant to be: “It was my duty to serve my country, and I was proud to do so, but I knew I was not meant to have a career in the military after the war, like many of the men that surrounded me. I was a farmer.”
BY MARLENE BROWNING-WAINSCOTT
Sweet Owen Contributor
Claude Franklin “June” Pryor Jr. served in the U.S. Army in the European Theater of Operations during World War II in the 326th Glider Infantry from October 1942 to February 1946. He was born in 1921 in his parents’ home in Owen County.
“I was named after my father, so they just called me ‘Junior,’” he said. “After a while, the name ‘June’ just kind of stuck.”
A fourth-generation farmer, June lived his entire life from age 1 in the same house. After graduating from New Liberty School, he followed in his family’s footsteps and began farming while also working several odd jobs.
“Times were tough,” he recalled in a 2016 interview. “People had to find jobs where they could. You just had to find a job here and there. In the winter, I went up to Lexington and worked at the tobacco houses.”
At 21 years old, June was drafted into the U.S. Army following the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor.
“I was staying with my friend, W.O. Ball, over on Ball’s Ridge when we heard it on the radio,” he recalled. “We knew that we would be drafted. There was some uneasiness among people, but anytime there’s a war breaking out, and folks are going to have to serve, there is always some anticipation, but people understood what they had to do.”
June began his service in October 1942.
“After we were drafted and enlisted, we got two weeks’ leave and reported to Fort Thomas,” he said. “Then, we went by train to Camp Blanding, Florida, for basic training. We left there and came up to North Carolina and then to Tennessee for more training. When I first went (into the Army), I went into the Army 30th Division. I was in Infantry Intelligence Reconnaissance. That was a bad mistake for them; they didn’t know how bad I was. The war might have been lost if I had stayed in there. When I transferred, I made the Sergeant mad. While waiting for my transfer papers to come through, he put me on kitchen patrol every day.”
At the time, there was a shortage of pilots, navigators, and bombardiers, so they needed men to fill those positions. As a result, many men in the infantry were moved to the air corps.
“I had enough air time to fly solo, but we couldn’t solo in the program,” June said. “When we got ready to go to classification, there was no longer a shortage, so only those that were originally in the Air Corps stayed, and the rest of us were sent back to what was comparable to what we had been in, which was the infantry. I ended up in the glider infantry.”
During basic training, the troops trained on different types of guns, “Some had Browning automatic rifles, and some used some type of rifle or pistol. I guess we were ready to fight.”
When asked if he was a decent shot, June replied, “That is actually real funny. We were at Camp Blanding, and it was cold and rainy. I didn’t even qualify. The next time out, I shot expert. I always wondered if someone shot for me, but I was actually a pretty fair rifleman.”
“We left out of Camp Shanks, New York. It took us 10 days to go over because we had to dodge the submarines. We went on a large ship called the ‘George Washington’ in February 1945 and landed in Le Havre, France. We were stationed in Sens, France, on the Yonne River.”
The gliders June trained on looked like a plane, except they were not equipped with an engine and were towed by a plane and pulled with a nylon rope. The glider’s buoyancy was greater than the plane, and June and his fellow troops would be up in the air before the plane. Once released from the plane, they would “glide” as close to the landing zone as possible.
The missions were usually one-way and were often used to go near or behind enemy lines because they were silent and difficult for the enemy to identify. The gliders carried the artillery, machine guns, vehicles, equipment, and troops. The gliders were often preferred over paratroopers because the troops could land in specific areas instead of the paratroopers being spread over a large drop zone.
“Our company had not been called up yet, but we knew it would be soon,” he recalled. “One night, the company officer announced that it was time for us to get ready to head out. We prepared our gear, and they issued our ammunition and morphine syrette [given to ease the pain troops may have suffered if wounded]. I will never forget that night as long as I live. The company commander came in, and we all popped to attention. He said, ‘Men, I have some bad news for you.’ You could have heard a pin drop. Our hearts were beating a mile a minute. He said, ‘They have called it off.’ I was glad, but I believe that some were disappointed that they didn’t see any action. We didn’t see any action, but we were ready.
“After Germany surrendered, they gave us leave. They said if we had any relatives, we could go see them. I had a friend with family in England, and I stayed with them for a few days. When we came back across the English Channel, our outfit had moved out. We were set to go to Japan, but while we were waiting to get on the ship, Japan surrendered. Everyone started shooting their guns to celebrate in the middle of the night. I was in my tent. It scared some of us half to death because we thought we were being attacked.”
June arrived back in New York in 1945 on the ship named “Georgetown Victory.” Upon arrival, one of the first things he did was send a telegram to his parents to let them know he made it back safely. It read, “Arrived safely. Expect to see you soon. Don’t attempt to write me or contact me here.” While the telegram was short, to June’s parents, it said enough.
Pryor served seven months overseas during World War II. He was released from service on Feb. 1, 1946. He received several commendations, including the EAME Theater Ribbon with Bronze Star, American Theater Ribbon, Good Conduct Ribbon, and the World War II Victory Medal.
After he returned home, he met his future wife Glenna at “Triangle Garden”—the corner of U.S. 127 South and KY 22, where Owenton’s McDonald’s is today. June and his wife had three children, Patty, Frank, and Jeff. He continued to farm, raising tobacco for nearly 30 years. He bought his first cow at 10 years old and was in the cattle business for over 85 years, specializing in purebred Herefords.
He would also take a public job at First National Bank (now German-American Bank) for a short time before moving to Peoples Bank and Trust Company for nearly a decade. After working at the bank, he served as Owen County Property Valuation Administrator for 21 years until retirement. He continued working on his farm.
June’s service to our country and the Owen County community, as well as his commitment to faith and family, is a wonderful example for people today and future generations.
When asked what words of wisdom he could offer, he said, “I should have more wisdom than I do, but I think this is important: so many people have financial trouble, and they say, ‘Live within your means.’ But if you live below your means, you will always have a little left.”
Wise words from a wise man.