Watch the book launch program for Jim Barber's new novel, "Plowed Fields"

Remembering Jimmy Boyett on this Memorial day


In the opening chapter of my novel, Plowed Fields, you learn the main protagonist was named after his uncle, who was killed at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. But that is merely fiction. On this Memorial Day, I want to share a real-life story befitting the occasion.

I have a few relatives I could write about on Memorial Day, including a great-great grandfather, James Yawn, who married at age 14, fathered my great grandmother a year later and died at age 21 in Virginia during the early days of the Civil War. But the story that captures my attention most vividly—and one I’ve shared before—concerns my third cousin, Private James Melvin Boyett of Milltown, Georgia.

Jimmy Boyett joined the U.S. Army on July 16, 1918, along with more than two dozen other young men from Berrien County. They were members of the Over-seas Replacement Draft, destined to replenish U.S. troop strength in Europe during the waning days of World War I.

After completing basic training at Fort Screven on Tybee Island, Georgia, Jimmy and his fellow soldiers were shipped to New York, where they boarded the HMS Otranto and set sail for Liverpool, England on September 24, 1918.

On the morning of October 6—which coincidentally would become my birth date 43 years later—the Otranto was nearing the entrance to the North Channel, a narrow passage between Ireland and Scotland, when a gale struck off the Scottish coast, bringing heavy seas, high winds and poor visibility.

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Watch the Book Trailer for Plowed Fields