History of Henry Fort Inman
May 22, 1918 - Sep 10, 2006
Karen Inman Silver
Following is a history of Henry Fort Inman compiled by his daughter Karen Inman Silver. Sources are written notes of conversations with Henry; taped interview with Ida Fort Estep, an aunt on his mother's side; newspaper articles and remembrances of Beverly Bolinder Bedford, Guida Boggs and Thelma Holt Inman.
My father, Henry Fort Inman, was born May 22, 1918 at home. This was in the woods near Tuscumbia, Colbert County, Alabama, USA. His birth was not recorded in government records. A certified copy of his school records show his parents stated that as his birth date. He was the second child of William Wheeler Inman and Alva Mae Fort Inman. His older brother, Pride Steve, also listed as Lester Pride, was born August 25, 1915 in the country also. His birth certificate lists Pride Station, precinct 13, Colbert County, Alabama. Pride officially changed his name to Stephen Paul in June, 1962.
His father, William Wheeler, was born near Barton, Alabama on August 22, 1889 . His parents were William Wiley Inman and Sarah Martha Branscome Inman. These Inman and Branscome families came to America from England in the 1600s. Some Branscome's dropped the "e" from their name when they came from England. Dad said these ancestors intermarried with Indians after they arrived here. The picture of James Washington Branscome, Sarah's father, indicates Indian lineage. Dad said that Sarah's mother, Julia Franklin Keeton Branscome, was half Cherokee. William Wiley was big and tall. Sarah Martha was tiny. They had a sixty acre homestead on Coburn Mountain. The Coburns were in-laws. It was good land near the community of Mountain Star, which was about seven miles north of Russellville, Alabama. Russellville is the county seat of Franklin County. In Dad's childhood, the community consisted of a small country store and a schoolhouse. William Wiley sold produce that he raised on the farm. Dad said one year he planted it all in watermelons. He was paid $37,000 for it when the government took it to build Wilson Dam. It was considered a good price. He and Sarah lost all the money when the stock market crashed in 1929. Wilson Dam was the first of what would become the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) system of dams and water projects.
His mother, Alva Mae, was born on January 25, 1890 a mile or two from Mountain Star, Franklin County, Alabama. Her parents were Henry Clay Fort and Dollie Ann Kirkland Fort, They had a 110 acre farm in the woods. Henry Clay was tall and husky. He weighed about 160 pounds. Besides farming, he was a traveling preacher. Dollie Ann was little and short. She had black hair and was beautiful. Dad said his Fort family had its roots in Ireland, Scotland and England. He said they originally settled in North Carolina. The family members dropped the "e" from their name when they came from England. Research indicates that the Kirklands intermarried with Choctaw Indians after they arrived from England.
William and Alva were married July 4, 1914 in Alabama. They bought some land down by the school house in Mountain Star. It was about one mile from her parent's farm. It was less acreage than her parents had, but enough for their needs. Alva later donated two acres of the ground for a Baptist church house. It was named Alva Chapel, in her honor. William's parents didn't approve of the marriage. They thought they were better than the Fort's, as William was from the mountain and Alva was from the valley.
The earliest remembrances my father shared were about going to his Grandpa and Grandma Fort's house. They lived about one mile away. Ida said they came over every day. They had a kitten they brought with them. She said every time Dad came he would ask for something to eat. Alva was ashamed of him for doing it. Ida remembered one time Alva told him "Now I don't want you askin' for somethin' to eat. Now you just sit down and behave yourself." He said to Grandma Fort "Grandma, I know what I would be doin' if I was home." She said "What?" He said "Eatin' bread and butter." So she gave him something to eat. Ida said that was a fun way of asking for something, without getting in trouble. Dad remembered that Grandma Fort had a cast iron spider (a pot with legs) and about three cooking utensils. She put the spider in the fireplace with the coals all around it. She made such delicious meals. He said those meals were like the ones made now using an electric stove and many utensils.
In 1921 William Wheeler moved to Ohio because of lack of jobs in Alabama. Later that year he sent for Alva and the boys. Ida went with them on the train to help her with the boys. Dad said his dad got a job at Goodrich, the rubber shop. Ida said he worked at Firestone. She said it was his first job. Before that he had farmed. Dad said William walked five miles to Akron each way. The family didn't get a car until 1928. It was a Chevrolet. William worked at the rubber shop until the Depression came. He was laid off. He then found a job at Babcock and Wilcox company. His 1961 employee badge shows he worked in the boiler division at the Barberton Works. He retired from there. The Akron school record from 1935 says he worked at Ohio Insulator.
Dad said a change came over his father after they moved to Ohio. Where before he had been loving, he started hitting Dad and his brother, when they ran to greet him. Dad thought maybe his father was influenced by his brother-in-law, who was abusive. My mother, Beverly, related that Dad told her his dad drank to the point of getting drunk. He was normally very frugal. When he was drunk he bought lavish items for Alva and the boys. When he sobered up, he got so angry that he had spent the money, that he broke the items.
William was a bootlegger during Prohibition. He would get train loads of grapes to make the liquor. If the boys tried to eat some of the grapes, they would be punished. One of his customers was Clark Gable. In spite of these early experiences, Dad brought his father to live with him and his wife, Pearl, after William had a stroke. After his condition deteriorated and Dad had to place him in a nursing home, he visited him nearly every day. William still figured out ways to make money while in the nursing home. He would charge other residents 25 cents to wheel those in wheelchairs around. He also would take cigarettes in exchange.
William gave Alva $10 a week for household money. She had a washing machine. She did washing for others to earn money to buy a sewing machine. As Ida said, she was good at sewing. She made all of the clothes for Dad and Steve. I have a picture of Dad standing in front of the new family car in 1928, dressed in his first suit, made by Alva. He didn't have any store bought clothes until he was eighteen.
Dad recounted that when he was four years old the family lived in Ohio. He wore thick glasses. Two little boys invited him to play with them. He accepted. Instead of playing, they beat him up. He went home crying to his father. He pointed out the boys to him and asked for help. His father sized up the situation and told Dad that the boys were about his same size, so he would have to think up a solution to the problem himself. Dad cried some more. He finally thought up a solution. He invited one of the boys to his yard to play and beat him up. Then he invited the other boy over and beat him up. The boys never bothered him again.
When Dad was six years old his family had an encounter with the Ku Klux Klan. Dad and Steve played with Hungarian children who lived on one side of them and Catholic children who lived on the other side. Dad was supposed to start school, but couldn't because he had broken his kneecap. He was in a cast. It was night. He was in the house and the window was open. He could hear sounds of hammering and men talking. His father got his double barrel 12 gauge shotgun and went outside. He saw that the Klan had erected a wood cross in the front yard. William cocked one barrel and told them if they lit a match they would be dead. The men just laughed at him. He cocked the other barrel. They said that he wouldn't really kill them. He told them to light the match and find out. They left and never bothered the family again. Dad said that was one action for which he really admired his father.
Around 1926 his family and the Fort relatives went on a ship outing to Lake Erie. One memory Dad shared was playing a violin on Christmas Day of 1928. Another was when he was twelve and played marbles against Alfred E. Huey, who he said was the world champion marble shooter. He participated in boxing matches during his time at the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) . He said he won a championship.
Dad said he got picked on a lot at school because of his glasses. He often got in trouble for fighting. He said he only remembered one teacher in grade school who figured out it was the other children setting him up. He remembers she showed kindness to him.
Dad started running away from home when he was about eight or nine. He said when he was about ten he stowed away on a boat going from New Orleans to Cuba. He was found and taken back home.
When he was fifteen he went to St. Petersburg, Florida. He got a job as an oil wiper on ships. He also did commercial fishing. He had a lot of experience with reform school, a detention home and jail in his youth. The Akron School District record shows that on September 8, 1930 he was out of school because he was at Lancaster. It relates he ran away on November 1, 1932. He received a work certificate on December 5, 1934. It records that he withdrew on October 31, 1935, because he went to St. Louis.
When Dad was in high school he got a job pumping gas. He worked from 5:00 P.M. To 9:00 P.M., five days a week. He earned $1.25. At that time gas cost 25 cents a gallon. Dad said his first date was with June Owens. He took her out for a burger and ice cream cone, which each cost 5 cents. He said movies cost 10 cents.
Dad never graduated from high school. He lacked two credits in English. When he was sixteen in 1934 he went into the CCC. The legal age to join was eighteen. He told me he diligently practiced saying "eighteen, born in 1916." When he got to the recruiter he said "Sixteen, born in 1918, I mean eighteen, born in 1916." He said the recruiter just winked at him and let him join, anyway. He said he was sent to a camp in West Virginia. While there, he cut trees and cleared logs. The Akron School District record says he went to CCC in Kentucky on April 9, 1934. His brother, Steve, also joined the CCC. He was sent to a camp near Tooele, Utah.
When Dad was young he met a young girl named Martha Roberson, or Robertson, while he was staying at his Aunt Emma's house in Isbell, a small community several miles south of Russellville. They were married and had a beautiful baby girl. They named her Shelby Jean. Unfortunately, she was a blue baby. She died as an infant. He and Martha weren't married for very long.
Dad's military records show that he enlisted in the Army Signal Corps on June 24, 1940. He enlisted at Fort Missoula, Montana. His mailing address was listed as Emigrant, Montana. He was listed as being single. He was in the 54th Signal Battalion, Company A. He was separated out at Ft. Ord, California on August 28, 1941. He was a Private First Class and Specialist 4th Class. He reenlisted at Ft. Ord on August 29, 1941. He was assigned to the 17th Signal Platoon. He was sent to the Philippines on October 27, 1941. He told me he was a tail gunner in P38s until they all got shot down. He was taken prisoner of war when Bataan fell on April 9, 1942. He spent the rest of World War II as a prisoner of war of the Japanese. He was a survivor of the entire Bataan Death March. An article in the August 8, 1952 Tooele Transcript Bulletin said it was about a hundred mile march during spring and summer of 1942 from Little Baguio to Camp O'Donnell to Cabanatuan prison camp and then to Manila Port terminal. A book written in 2006 about other survivors said it was an 87 mile march from Mariveles to Camp O'Donnell in spring of 1942. Dad told me the prisoners only got a bowl of maggoty rice every day. When he first had the rice he would pick out the maggots. That left about a tablespoon of good rice. After awhile he was so hungry he ate the rice, maggots and all. He was hungry during his entire captivity. He suffered from beriberi and malaria, among other diseases. He said he had brain malaria in May, 1942 and was unconscious for twenty-one days. Even after the war he became ill from parasites that had lain dormant for years. He said he had good teeth and no cavities until his POW experience. Prisoners had to learn some Japanese to survive. He taught me to count from one to ten in Japanese. I only remember ichi, ku, ju, ny (knee) san.
On July 4, 1942 he went from Camp O'Donnell to a farm. He stayed there until October, 1942. In a newspaper article dated August 15, 1952 it said he then went to Cabanatuan Prison camp, then to Manila Port Terminal. In an account he gave to a granddaughter, Brigette Hoggan, he said he went to Manila first, then Cabanatuan, in 1943. In either case, while at the Port Terminal he worked as a stevedore, loading and unloading ships. He said it was hard, but better than some other places he was at. He said at Cabanatuan he and six other POWs were hooked up to a plow like horses.
The POWs were put into work groups. If any escaped, all the rest would be shot. In August, 1943 one man from his group escaped. Dad, as the non-commissioned officer of the group, had to lead the rest in to be shot. The escaped prisoner was found. He was shot. The rest were spared. Dad recounted other atrocities. He said the Japanese soldiers would frequently make the POWs stand in line. They would then be randomly shot. Dad said that often, those on either side of him were shot. He said the Japanese soldiers would kill POWs so they could strip off their tattoos. They made these into lampshades. In 1944 he was taken to Clark Field, where he built runways.
Dad and other POWs were put on a prison ship on August 28, 1944 and taken to Omori Prison Camp in the northern part of Honshu in Japan. The conditions aboard these prison ships were so terrible that they were dubbed hell ships. The POWs were then taken by train to Tokyo and put to work at the Kawasaki steel mill. They were slave laborers. Dad was too weak to lift the steel and iron ore, so he was sent to a flour mill at Shigoma. He said it was a good place to lay on the sacks of flour. But the prisoners' jobs were to load kilos of grain to dump on the grain elevator. He was beaten and moved to the Mitsui Prison Camp. There he worked at an airplane plant. He made landing gear for "Betty bombers". On November 6, 1944 a plane flew over and dropped a bomb. It was an American plane. More came. They started dropping fire bombs. The whole town was destroyed. The prisoners were moved to the burnt out area and a new camp was built. On July 28, 1945 planes began dropping high explosives. The camp was destroyed. Dad's thumb was almost tom off. He and three others were sent to the hospital. Shortly thereafter, the atomic bombs were dropped. The Japanese surrendered on August 28, 1945. Dad said if it had not been for the dropping of the atomic bombs, he would have remained a POW. A big typhoon came that day. The ship couldn't come into the harbor to liberate the POWs until August 29th. Dad weighed sixty-eight pounds at the time of liberation. The battleship Missouri and hospital ship Benevolence came. Landing barges picked up the prisoners. Dad watched the signing of the peace treaty, held on the Missouri, from the Benevolence. The ship then went to Yokohama. The First Cavalry took the liberated prisoners to Atsugi Airfield. They flew out about 10:00 P.M. They landed at Naha, Okinawa between 4:00 and 5:00 A.M. the next day. The war was still going on there. The next day they were flown to Manila, Philippines. They were put on a truck and driven ninety miles south to a small town. They stayed there awhile. They were put on a troop transport and started for the United States. It took about a month to get back. They were supposed to land at San Francisco, California on October 10th. Dad's brother, Steve, was waiting for him there. Instead the ship landed at Seattle, Washington on October 12th. Steve was flown to Seattle. Dad stayed in a hospital in Seattle for a couple of weeks. He was then taken on an Army hospital train to Bushnell Army Hospital in Brigham City, Utah. He stayed there until April, 1946. During that time he was allowed to go on outside visits. In October, 1945 he visited Steve and his wife, Thelma and children, Michael and Ralph, in Salt Lake City. While there he was baptized and confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on November 10th. This took place in the McKay Ward of the Wells Stake.
On April 12, 1946 he was discharged from the Army Signal Corps at Fort Douglas, Utah. He was a Sergeant at time of discharge. He moved to the Chesterfield area of Salt Lake County, 1580 West Whitlock Avenue (2507 South), just east of Redwood Road (1700 West). He related an experience he had with people to whom he later rented the house. They were not good tenants. He tried to get them out using legal remedies. They just wouldn't leave. He started going to the house every evening when they were eating supper, climbing on the roof and doing roof repairs, complete with hammer pounding. They soon left.
Dad started working as a guard at Tooele Ordnance Depot in September, 1946. He received a medical retirement from there in August, 1952. He told me that his pension from the Depot wasn't much. He said "You don't get much of a retirement when you make 75 cents an hour." My sister, Kristine, said our mother, Beverly, told her how he came to get that job. He was looking for work. He went to the Depot. He was at the guard gate. A Japanese guard was on duty. The person in charge told him there were no jobs. He said, "So, if I shoot him, there will be an opening?" He was hired. I can only imagine Dad's reaction, being back about a year after being held a prisoner by the Japanese, seeing a Japanese person having a job, and him not being able to get one.
My dad met my mother, Beverly Bonnae Bolinder, in Tooele. She was still in high school. They were married at her parents' home in Tooele on October 12,1946. They lived in government housing in Edgemont. During that time they had two daughters. I, Karen Kay, was born June 16, 1948. My sister, Kristine Ann, was born January 21, 1950. We were both born at the International Smelter Hospital. Dad was glad he had daughters. He didn't want to have any sons sent to war. Later he built us a house of cinder block and stucco at 569 West 500 South, just off Coleman Street in Tooele. Dad told me that it cost him about $8,500 to build, including paying subcontractors. When it was finished, he was offered $13,000. The house is still a private residence, but the street designation has been changed to 700 South. The yard never was landscaped the whole time we lived there. Dad raised chickens. I remember many trips to Salt Lake City and Murray to buy baby chicks and chicken feed. Dad and Mom were divorced in 1953. My mother moved herself, Kristine and me to Sacramento, California. She remarried on July 3, 1954. Dad lived in Florida for a time. While there, he had a pet alligator. Dad next married a woman named Hilma Azell Fergason. She went by Azell. They lived variously in Cupertino and Salinas, California. He divorced again and eventually came back to Tooele. He married a widow, Pearl Chung Dew, on September 14, 1962. She had three daughters, Frances, Kathy and Linda and a son, Frank, living. Her son, Jimmy, died of cancer. They had a home built in West Valley City. They had a good life together. Pearl died May 24 , 2000, of cancer. At one time in Tooele Dad worked for a man named Benny Garcia.
Dad spent the first few years after the war trying to prove he was a veteran. He said he was put in jail at various times on charges of being a draft dodger, not paying income taxes and being a Communist. None of these were true. One notable time was December, 1949. He was released from the State Prison at what is now Sugarhouse Park in Salt Lake City, Utah at about 9:00 P.M. He was left to make his way home to Tooele, over thirty-five miles away, in what he called "the biggest blizzard in the history of Utah."
Dad told me that he and others who endured the horrors of being POWs felt like General Douglas McArthur abandoned them. He told them he would return, but, for all intents and purposes, he never did. He also told me that, as he was being liberated (I think he was still in Japan) the Red Cross came to sell the newly released prisoners coffee and donuts for 10 cents each. He told them he didn't have any money, would they take a medal. They wouldn't. He never since felt kindly to that organization.
Dad often told me the government could never pay him enough or do enough for him to make up for what happened to him in World War II. One of the tragedies was his constant nightmares about the war. Now it is called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He and my mom had separate beds, because of fear he would accidentally do harm while asleep. Mom told me that once he went to my crib at night and tried to pull me out through the bars because he was having a nightmare about the war and trying to escape the Japanese. Kristine said Mom told her that she would awaken many nights to see him kneeling in front of the bedroom window, scratching at the glass, trying to get out, dreaming that he was in the POW camp. Pearl told me that he finally stopped having nightmares when he was about 79.
Dad did not participate in organized religion, although he believed in God. He believed people should just live and let live. He was very interested in astrology. He had books about it. He really enjoyed fishing. When I was a child he went on some fishing trips and came back with trout. They were yummy. Dad also enjoyed working with his hands. He had a workshop down in the basement of his home in West Valley City. He helped his sons-in-law with many building projects, well into his seventies. He built a mahogany wall to wall bookcase and a revolving coat rack for my home in West Valley City. He built a toy chest for my children and helped put together their swing set and fixed broken furniture.
Dad enjoyed traveling. He visited every state in the United States, except Alaska. He wanted to go fishing there. When Kristine and I were young our family went to Ohio to visit relatives. We went through Missouri. We also took a trip to Yellowstone National Park. I remember bears coming right up to our car. We visited the ranch in Montana where he worked before he joined the Signal Corps. He and Pearl took Kristine on a trip to Canada and another to again visit relatives in Ohio, Alabama and Tennessee.
Dad enjoyed playing card games, including pinochle, cribbage and Mils Bournes. He and Pearl often played with their very good friends, Pete and Maxine Wilson. They lived in Orem, Utah. Dad was an excellent chess player. He also read a lot. He subscribed to the local newspaper The Salt Lake Tribune. He also subscribed to many magazines. His favorite was National Geographic.
Dad was not a liquor drinker. He did enjoy coffee and cigarettes. He was a chain smoker for decades. I remember, as a child, seeing his hands stained yellow from the nicotine. When cigarettes went over $1 a pack, he decided that was more than he was willing to pay. So he quit cold turkey. He chewed regular toothpicks for a long time to adjust, but eventually stopped doing that, as well. I really was impressed with that. When coffee increased in price, he considered giving that up, but did not.
Before Pearl died in May of 2000, Dad was starting to get forgetful. Later he had a stroke and fell down his basement stairs. He lived at home, with stepson, Frank Dew, for awhile. Dad then went to live with a stepdaughter, Kathy, and her husband, Joe Ortega, in Tooele. November of 2003 he went to live at Cottage Glen, a care facility in Tooele. In November, 2004 he went to live at the Utah State Veteran's Nursing home in Salt Lake City. He died there Sunday, September 10, 2006. His body was cremated, as per his instructions. His ashes were interred next to those of his wife, Pearl, at the Valley View Memorial Park on Friday, September 15, 2006.
Dad told me that his uncle, Henry Fort, was an engineer on a mine dinkey.
Dad related an incident from the Great Depression. There was a company in Akron called the Palmer Match Company. Mr. Palmer, the owner, told his workers that he could keep them all employed, but at reduced hours. They refused. So he told them "I made my money" and locked the gates and left. Those workers became instantly unemployed. The company never reopened.
I hope this history will be of value to grandchildren, great-grandchildren and generations to come. I hope it will help them to understand a bit about Dad's character and circumstances. I am sure others who had the opportunity to know Dad have had their own experiences with him. I encourage them to write them down.
Karen Inman Silver
April 4, 2007