A Hero We Never Met
Recently a classmate and longtime friend returned to Orange for his father’s funeral. While he was home he took time to drive through his old neighborhood in West Orange.
Later, he and I exchanged e-mails about that visit and an upcoming high school class reunion. He wrote about his visit to the old campus and mentioned the Carl Godwin Auditorium, “whoever he was.”
I knew Carl Godwin was a soldier from West Orange that was killed in World War II. What I did not know was if he was the first killed, or if the auditorium was dedicated in his memory because his father, Percy Godwin, was a long time school board member.
To put it simply, my wheels started turning. Since I became a member of the Record Newspapers staff, I have had a lot of contact with veterans and members of the military. I also spent nearly a year researching my grandfather’s service in World War I. I decided to find out a little about Carl Godwin.
In May of 2008 while photographing the grave sites of soldiers from the Civil to Iraq Wars in Evergreen Cemetery for a veteran’s story, I found Godwin’s grave and took a photo of it.
At that time, I noticed he had been a member of the 141st Regiment of the 36th Infantry Division. That stuck in my memory because it was the same unit my grandfather, Charlie Mosier, had been a member of in WWI. The majority of men from Orange that had been in the National Guard unit nationalized in 1917 had been assigned either to the 141st or 142nd regiments when the 36 Division formed in late 1917.
The 36th Division had a distinguished record in WWI and in WWII. The 36th was the first American Army unit to set foot in Europe when the invasion of Italy took place in 1943.
After the hard fought bloody battles at Anzio, Salerno, and San Pietro, the 36th was assigned to establish a bridgehead on the Rapido River. The bridgeheads were needed by the American 5th Army to advance up the Italian front.
The 36th met heavy opposition from experienced German divisions, some of the best German troops in the area.
After fierce fighting the 36th was defeated after taking nearly 3,000 casualties. Replacements would be needed.
Carl Godwin, Orange High School Class of 1943, 18 years old, would be one of those replacements.
Godwin was probably drafted in 1943 and inducted in the army shortly after graduation. My research did not go into that period, but from his time in service, it would indicate that he would have been drafted, as were thousands of others from that year.
I do not know where he was sent for basic training or when he was assigned to the 36th Division. From past research and history, I do know that the replacement system in 1944 was in a way, brutal.
By the time Godwin was assigned to the 141st and took his place in the unit on Feb. 11, 1944, some members of the 141st had been in combat for over two years. They had lost close friends and some men were not interested in making new friends. At this time, the other men did not even want to know their names. “You won’t live long enough,” they were told.
Often, these combat veterans were right. Basic training by late 1943 was a hurried affair, replacements were sorely needed. Combat operations in the European and Pacific theaters of war were increasing, losses were heavy and replacements had to be made with all speed available. Training was brief. With no experience in combat, replacements often lasted only hours or days.
PFC Carl Godwin was killed on June 17, 1944, he was 19 years old. His time in combat was five months. He was the first soldier from West Orange to die in WWII.
Godwin was probably buried in a temporary military cemetery near the place of his death. After the war ended families of soldiers who had been killed in action were given the option to have the bodies of their family members returned to them.
Godwin’s parents, Percy and Ruth, had their son brought home and buried in Evergreen Cemetery, only a few miles from their home on Western Avenue in West Orange.
Percy Godwin, Carl’s father was well known in West Orange. He was the “produce man” at the West Orange Grocery, later known as the ABC Store, and still in the same location today as “Danny’s.”
Across the street from the store is the campus that was the original location of the West Orange school system. The dominate building on the east end of the old campus is the Carl Godwin Auditorium.
An article in the local Orange newspaper from Oct. 16, 1950 is about the dedication of the auditorium. The keynote speaker was a member of the state school board, introduced by Lutcher Stark. In attendance were three members of the local clergy, the manager of the DuPont plant, and Carl Godwin’s parents.
The auditorium was state of the art for the time. It was well designed with good acoustics, stage lighting and comfortable seating.
From the time I attended West Orange schools in 1957 until my graduation in 1963 I attended many events in the auditorium. My senior class group picture was taken on the front steps on the west side of the building and I walked across its stage to receive my high school diploma. Seated on the stage that night was Percy Godwin.
Mr. Godwin would be one of the longest serving members of the West Orange ISD.
“For more than 50 years, 1950-2003, West Orange-Cove CISD’s Carl Godwin Auditorium was the heartbeat of many different WO-C schools; celebrating the accolades of Chiefs, Braves, Stallions and Mustangs,” said Lorraine Shannon, director of public information for WOCCISD.
The auditorium is no longer in use, as repairs are needed. In a 2003 bond election there were funds appropriated that would have included repairs to the auditorium. However, due to changes in the economy, increases in construction costs, and the more urgent need for additional schools and expansion at the high school, auditorium repairs are not slated for the near future.
Carl Godwin was also honored by V.J. Zeto by having a street, Godwin Circle, named in his honor in Zeto’s Charlemont Addition in Orange.
Who was Carl Godwin? The answer is simple. Carl Godwin was an American hero.