• President’s Message – February 2020

    By Elaine Henson

    Andrew Emile “Punky” Kure, Jr.   – Part 1

    Andrew and Betty Kure

    Punky Kure was born February 13, 1927, at James Walker Memorial Hospital in Wilmington.  His parents were Andrew Emile Kure, Sr. (b. 3-30-1893- d. 3-3-1950) and Elizabeth Hall Singletary Kure (b. 5-1907- d. 11-28-1958).

    When Punky’s grandmother, Ellen Kure, first saw him as a baby she said, “He’s a punky little thing” and the name stuck.

    His family lived in Wilmington at 1504 Nun Street and spent summers at Kure Beach. In those days the only road to Carolina and Kure Beaches was the one completed in 1916 which is now called Dow Road.

    To get to the Carolina Beach Boardwalk area you had to turn off this road onto Harper Avenue or Cape Fear Boulevard. It continued on to Kure and ended at the Kure Pier. Then it went for a couple of blocks along the ocean to his Uncle Hans Kure’s house, known as Kure Cottage, which is still there and has a FPHPS plaque.

    His father worked at the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad as auditor in the freight department.  As a boy his father would take him to see the dredging at Snows Cut during the Intracoastal Waterway project (1929-1932).  He remembers the temporary wooden bridge over the cut being one lane.

    He also remembers his mother telling him about her Grandfather George Washington Hall, who served the Confederacy being captured at Fort Fisher during the Civil War and taken to the Federal prison at Point Lookout, Maryland.  The prison was known for its harsh living conditions. Point Lookout was on the Potomac River which flooded the camp at high tides daily.  The prisoners were often fed rats, miraculously he survived and returned home to Elizabethtown.

    Summers at Kure Beach in the 1930s were mostly spent with family since the 4 or 5 houses there were occupied by Kures and other relatives. The Andrew Kure’s first home at the beach was a two-story cottage on Third Street about where the gazebo is between Kure Memorial Lutheran Church and the parsonage.  Their second home was at 217 L Avenue on the corner of Third and L Avenue and is still there.  Their third home was in the first block of K Avenue near the corner of the main street now named Fort Fisher Boulevard. Punky had a great time playing with his cousins Son, Hall and Robert Waters.  Their mother Mae Singletary Waters was Betty Kure’s sister.

    The Kures cooked on a kerosene stove which was a big improvement over a wood cook stove.  Their ice box was made of oak with a metal lining and held a large block of ice.  “Big Charlie” came daily selling blocks of ice cut to order. Most of their groceries came from stores in Carolina Beach, but “Uncle Frank” and his wife rode the bus from Sea Breeze selling fresh fish, shrimp, crabs and seasonal vegetables.

    The only phone was at the Kure Pier; it cost ten cents to call Wilmington which was considered long distance. Since there were only a few houses in those years, electricity was provided by generators.  There was one for the houses and another for the Kure Pier and parking lot. They usually turned them on at dusk and off at bedtime.  Crawford Lewis, who lived just before the Fort Fisher gates, would come up and get the one for the houses started.  Uncle Lawrence handled the one for the pier.

    Since the family lived in town during the school year, Punky went to Isaac Bear School for grades 1-8.  It was on Market Street across from present day Brodgen Hall.  He usually walked to school or rode his bike and took lunch until he was old enough to bike home for lunch and ride back to school.  If the family happened to be at the beach on a school day, he rode with beach resident, Mrs. L. W. Fickling, to Wilmington.  She taught at Washington Catlett School which served the Delgado/Spofford Mills area. In 9th grade Punky went to New Hanover High School.

    L-R, J.R. Hewett, Robert Waters, Punky Kure, Son Waters, Jr., and Hall Waters at Kure Beach in 1936

     

    Next month: Andrew Emile “Punky” Kure, Jr.  Part 2

     

    Port Chicago Disaster

    Mentioned in the July 2019 program on MOTSU :

    “An ammunition ship explodes in the Port Chicago disaster”

    (from History.com, the web site of the History Channel)

    An ammunition ship exploded while being loaded in Port Chicago, California, killing 332 people in 1944. The United States’ World War II military campaign in the Pacific was in full swing at the time. Poor procedures and lack of training led to the disaster.

    Port Chicago, about 30 miles north of San Francisco, was developed into a munitions facility when the Naval Ammunition Depot at Mare Island, California, could not fully supply the war effort. By the summer of 1944, expansion of the Port Chicago facility allowed for loading two ships at once around the clock.

    The Navy units assigned to the dangerous loading operations were generally segregated African-American units. For the most part, these men had not been trained in handling munitions. Additionally, safety standards were forgotten in the rush to keep up frenetic loading schedules.

    On the evening of July 17, the SS Quinault Victory and SS E. A. Bryan, two merchant ships, were being loaded. The holds were being packed with 4,600 tons of explosives–bombs, depth charges and ammunition. Another 400 tons of explosives were nearby on rail cars.

    Approximately 320 workers were on or near the pier when, at 10:18 p.m., a series of massive explosions over several seconds destroyed everything and everyone in the vicinity. The blasts were felt as far away as Nevada and the resulting damage extended as far as San Francisco. Every building in Port Chicago was damaged and people were literally knocked off their feet. Smoke and fire extended nearly two miles into the air. The pilot of a plane flying at 9,000 feet in the area claimed that metal chunks from the explosion flew past him.

    Nearly two-thirds of the people killed at Port Chicago were African-American enlisted men in the Navy—15 percent of all African-Americans killed during World War II. The surviving men in these units, who helped put out the fires and saw the horrors firsthand, were quickly reassigned to Mare Island.

    Less than a month later, when ordered to load more munitions, but still having received no training, 258 African-American sailors refused to carry out the orders. Two hundred and eight of them were then sentenced to bad conduct discharges and pay forfeiture. The remaining 50 men were put on trial for general court martial. They were sentenced to between 8 and 15 years of hard labor, though two years later all were given clemency. A 1994 review of the trials revealed race played a large factor in the harsh sentences. In December 1999, President Clinton pardoned Freddie Meeks, one of only three of the 50 convicted sailors known to be alive at the time.

    The Port Chicago disaster eventually led to the implementation of far safer procedures for loading ammunition. In addition, greater emphasis was put on proper training in explosives handling and the munitions themselves were altered for greater safety. There is now a national memorial to the victims at the site.