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Clarence Robert Stewart

Photo on wooden plaque,
prized possession of Jacquelyn Faye Stewart Washington, daughter

West Virginia Veterans Memorial

Remember...

Clarence Robert Stewart
1921-1945

"We know that enduring peace cannot be bought at the cost of other people’s freedom."

President Franklin D. Roosevelt

U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Clarence Robert Stewart was a native of Piedmont, Mineral County, West Virginia, where he was born on May 12, 1921. The son of Harry John Stewart and Margaret Marshall Stewart, he hailed from a large family of eight siblings. Like many of his family members, he went by his middle name. “Robert” Stewart’s sisters were Alma (married name: Mrs. Paul Walker) and Aolia. He had five brothers: Frank, Charles, William, Harry, and James. (Source: “S. Sgt. C. R. Stewart Dies on Tinian,” Piedmont Herald, 15 November 1945.)

basketball team

Howard High School basketball team; Robert is holding the ball. Courtesy Jacquelyn Faye Stewart Washington

Because of the prominence of Robert’s family in Piedmont, much is known of his early family life. His father, Harry John, worked at the Luke paper mill, as was the case with many of the Stewarts, and indeed the town of Piedmont. The family attended Waldon A.M.E. Church, where young Robert sang in the junior choir and was active in Sunday school. He attended the public schools of Piedmont and graduated from Howard High School with the Class of 1940. Robert was a star basketball player and a member of the football team. Piedmont schools were still segregated—this was two decades before Brown v. Board of Education—but the Negro schools provided their students with the best of education, and Howard was well known both locally and nationally.
football team

One of the early football teams from the old Howard High School in Piedmont, West Virginia; Robert Stewart, presumably our Robert, is in the back row, left. Photo appeared in a Howard High School yearbook, c. 1939

Carter G. Woodson, in his monograph Early Negro Education in West Virginia (Institute, WV: The West Virginia Collegiate Institute, 1921), states:

The next school of importance in this part of the State was that of Piedmont, since then designated as the Howard School. Educational efforts in behalf of Negroes began in this section about six years after the Civil War. Prior to that time the few Negroes coming into Piedmont were too migratory to necessitate any outlay for their education. Some efforts were made to effect their improvement through private instruction in the fundamentals, and a little progress therein was noted. Years later there came such substantial friends of education as the Barneses, the Masons, the Thomases, the Biases, and the Redmons. There was no organized effort to the end of establishing a real public school, however, until the year 1877, when one John Brown, being influential with Mr. Hyde, then President of the Board of Education, induced him to provide a school room and hire a teacher for the instruction of the children of Negroes. These persons, since known as Mrs. Emma Stewart (Mason), Miss Mary Thomas, Mr. John Brown, Jr., Miss Alice Brown, and Mr. Harry Bias, presented themselves as the first students of this school, with one Mr. Ross, a white man, as first instructor. The next teacher of this school was a white man, and he was followed by a member of his race.

high school

Howard High School as it might have looked when Clarence Robert Stewart attended. From a poster entitled “Piedmont, The Foot of the Hills.” Courtesy Western Maryland Historical Library

The early history of this school published in 1919 states that the attendance was regular, and that after three years of conducting a private school the Board of Education formally established this as a public school, in the year 1880, with Mrs. Steiglar, a white woman, as instructor. The school was still held in the private building, which has since been occupied by the Williams, Redmon, and Taylor families of the town. After this school had been conducted thus for about ten years there came a change which marked an epoch of progress in education in Piedmont. This was the time when the white teachers were exchanged for those of Negro blood, who, having more time and interest in their race, and treating the pupils with more sympathy, achieved a much greater success than their predecessors. This school has since been much developed under the direction of Mr. H. W. Hopewell and Miss M. Brooks. (The complete document can be found online at West Virginia Archives and History, http://www.wvculture.org/history/africanamericans/woodsoncarter02.html.)

Before entering the service, Robert worked as a messenger in Washington, D.C. He enlisted in the U.S. Army at Fort Myer—in Arlington, Virginia, adjacent to the National Cemetery—on February 5, 1943. According to U.S. Army World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946, he had completed four years of high school and was a “messenger, errand boy, or office boy” in civilian life. At the time of his enlistment, he was still single; however, before he went overseas he was married to Bessie Reva Washington, and they became parents of a daughter, Jacquelyn Faye (“Jackie”). Robert received his basic training at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri. He then received further training at Fort George Meade, Maryland; Savannah Proving Grounds, Illinois; and Orlando Air Base, Florida. He went overseas in January 1944. He served with the 1903rd Ordnance Ammunition Company in India before being transferred to the Pacific Theater.
high school

Prom photo of Robert and Bessie. Courtesy Jacquelyn Faye Stewart Washington

S/Sgt. Clarence Robert Stewart died of wounds on October 13, 1945, in a Tinian Island Hospital in the Marianas. Charles E. Stewart reports that Robert’s death occurred as the result of the explosion of a 500-pound incendiary bomb on a barge on October 9, 1945, when men were taking corrosive ammunition out to sea for disposal. According to the Piedmont Herald, he wrote his last letter to his wife on October 5, stating he hoped to be home that month in time to celebrate their third wedding anniversary. Although she never had a chance to really get to know her father, other family members provided Jackie with “memories” of him. In correspondence of September 22, 2016, Jackie shared the following thoughts:

The only information I have on my father is what has been told to me by my mother and other family members. They tell me that my father was one of the kindest people you would ever want to meet. Everyone that talked to me about him never had anything bad to say about him. It was all good. My mother, her sister, and her parents always talked to me about “Daddy Robert,” as I always called him. They said that he was home on leave one time and would carry me around in his arms and swing me in a swing that hung in a hallway at my grandparents’ home. When he went back to camp he had to have his arm reset because it had been broken.

Jacquelyn Faye Stewart Washington

Jacquelyn Faye Stewart Washington (“Jackie”), c. 2013

When my father died my mother was working at the Celanese plant in Cumberland, Maryland, helping to make parachutes. My maternal grandfather met my mother at the bus to tell her about my father being killed. My mother told me that she was numb and it didn’t really hit her that my father was dead. She said she was sitting in a movie with friends a couple of months later and she broke down and started to cry. My mother continued to work and my grandmother and grandfather took care of me. About five years later my mother fell in love again and married Clifton E. Brooks, who is one of the original Tuskegee Airmen. He is still living. I have three sisters and four brothers from this marriage. Me being the oldest, I’ve always been more of a second mother to them.

Even though I was very young, I can remember going to my father’s funeral and the soldier giving me his flag from his casket. Some people said I should trade it in for a newer flag, but I will always keep the original.

When my mother remarried, I continued to live with my grandparents until I graduated from Piedmont High School, because my mother had moved to Keyser. My mother later worked at the Mineral County Votech as a cook and also taught cooking and cake decorating. She loved to cook, sew, and bake. I went to Potomac State College for a year and a half and then on to Catherman’s Business School in Cumberland, Maryland. I worked as a data entry clerk for IBMI until they moved. I then became Data Entry Division Manager for SAID, Inc., for 42 years until it closed. I now do in-home day care.

Thanks to my grandfather, who was a Methodist minister and wanted me to take piano lessons, I now play piano at my church. People have told me that I look a lot like my father and have his ways. This I consider an honor. Although I don’t remember my father, I feel that in a way I do from the stories that family have told me about him. I am forever grateful for the memories of him that have been shared with me.

T. J. Coleman, who has written often about the Stewart family, speaks of Robert, Bessie, and Jackie in an article that details the immense sacrifices of Robert, excerpted here:

His daughter Jackie would have the privilege of seeing her father only once, but at six months old, her young eyes would not recognize him….

How excited he must have been coming home to see his newborn child for the first time. To see the woman he loved and missed so dearly. To see his Bessie….She was his high school sweetheart. At Howard High, they would attend the prom together. Their love would be one that lasted beyond the educational years and carried them into their young adult lives….

Jackie would be told, many years later, that she sometimes acts just like her father…. As a young man he loved to draw. He would use his artistic talents to draw sketches in pencil. One that his daughter Jackie remembers seeing is “The Woman with the Long Hair.” No doubt it was a sketch of the woman he loved and married, Bessie Stewart….

From his rank, it was obvious that Robert advanced quickly. I can understand this by hearing the type of man he was, by hearing stories from his daughter Jackie. When she’s told by her family, that she’s just like her father Robert, what they’re saying to her is that she’s nice, giving, very concerned with others, and a loving person. Jackie takes these comments and referrals to her father as complete compliments….

[In his last letter,] with thoughts of love to her, he would tell her [Bessie] how excited he was to be coming home and celebrating their third anniversary. It was an anniversary he would never see. Young Robert was killed in an explosion on one of his last days in the military. The war had ended and his company was out at sea throwing ammunition overboard. One of the bombs hit the side of the ship and exploded. Robert was burned badly and was immediately sent to the hospital. At his side in the hospital was his friend Mr. Perry, who was also from the Piedmont area. Robert would not survive his injuries and would die in the presence of his friend Mr. Perry on October 13, 1945.

Robert had three brothers who were also serving in the armed forces during World War II: Cpl. William Stewart was in India, Pfc. Harry N. Stewart was in France, and Pfc. James Stewart was in Germany at the time of his death. Robert was the nephew of James Aubrey Stewart, who was killed in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge. Aubrey Stewart’s poignant story, suppressed for many years, came to light in 2011 in the documentary The Wereth Eleven. Thus the Stewart family paid the ultimate sacrifice not once, but twice.

Although he was originally buried near where he fell, Robert’s remains were eventually brought back to the states, where he was interred in the U. S. National Cemetery at Grafton, West Virginia.
headstone

Headstone for S/Sgt. Clarence Robert Stewart, Grafton National Cemetery. Courtesy Cynthia Mullens

Family information and photos provided by Charles E. Stewart (now deceased) and Jacquelyn Faye Stewart Washington, brother and daughter, respectively, of Clarence Robert Stewart. Also contributing to this article were Piedmont natives Clifton (“Kip”) Price, who shared contact information, and T. J. Coleman, chronicler of much of the Stewart family story.
Article prepared by Patricia Richards McClure
October 2016

Honor...

Clarence Robert Stewart

West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.


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