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World War II veteran, local carpenter passes away

Crenshaw County said goodbye to an American hero and one of its own on Saturday.

James Wilburn Compton, 94, of the Springhill Community died Thursday, Aug. 13, and was laid to rest on the 75th anniversary of V-J Day, which brought the end of World War II.

Compton served his county valiantly during World War II as a member of the 79th Infantry Division in the European Theater after being drafted in 1944.

Compton turned 18 while on a boat headed for Normandy, France. He arrived on Normandy Beach on June 14, 1944, as American forces were deep in battle pushing through France and the Rhineland.

During the Battle of the Bulge, Nazi soldiers captured Compton, where he was a prisoner of war.

Haley Mitchell Godwin, who grew up listening to Compton’s stories and developed a friendship with him during adulthood, said that by the time the camp was liberated that Compton “was literally skin and bones.”

“During the rescue, the POW camp  had been partially blown up and only one guard was left,”  she said. “Mr. Wilburn was in such foul shape at this time, and trying to run away from the POW camp was basically impossible. Mr. Wilburn was going in and out of consciousness at this point and at one time told the guard to just shoot him  because he could not take anymore. It was about that time that the Americans came to his rescue.”

Godwin said that Compton spent three months in a POW critical care unit before he was able to go home.

“He was the last of 40 in the unit to leave,” she said. “The nurse told him that if he could walk, he could go home. She took him by wheelchair halfway and told him if he wanted to go home, he would have to walk the rest of the way to the plane.”

Compton eventually returned to Brantley and became a carpenter.

During his time as a carpenter, he built many homes in Brantley and Luverne, many of those now serving a new generation of Crenshaw Countians.

In his free time, he loved being outdoors either farming or gardening.

Compton was preceded in death by two wives, Dorothy Sybil Taylor Compton and Callie Lou Parrish Compton; daughter, Sybil Lou Bryan; parents, George and Carrie Lou Carnes Compton; and two siblings, Edna Vae Smith and George Gilmer Compton. He is survived by his three children, James Larry Compton, Eddie Carl (Diane) Compton, and Dorothy Helen (Marvin) Taylor; nine grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren; and his sister, Bradie Lou Hudson.