Herschell Lowden Coltrin
was born in Sadorus, Champaign Co., IL November 25, 1919
and died February 16, 2004 in Marietta, GA.
He was married to Bonnie Jean Sewell of Harrisburg, IL.
*Contributed by Brad Bosworth.
An Eulogy for "Pappy" by Brad Bosworth
Herschel Coltrin was born to modest means the son of a small town barber in rural Southern Illinois. Winter was approaching in 1919. Prohibition was on set course.
Cave In Rock a town whose single cemetery now holds the remains of
Herschel’s father, was named so because a huge cave on the banks of the
Ohio River. The cave was a
hold out for turn of the century pirates who would prey on passing vessels
darting from the cave to grab their plunder.
The Ohio River was a major influencer of the culture of the surrounding
villages. From prohibition
sprang a bootlegging trade not unlike one many north Georgians have direct
links to. The world in which
the boy Herschel was raised was a world right out of a Bonny & Clyde
By the time he was 10, Herschel’s father had died and he and his brother
were shouldered with the responsibility of looking after their “Momie”.
Herschel had a paper route and a savings account at the bank in
Harrisburg where they now lived in a boarding house, which their Momie
Sprouting from the influence of the Cave In Rock Pirates and the
burgeoning bootleg trade were gangsters one of who was named Charlie
Birger. The Charlie Birger
Gang was one that robbed and killed, but over time had become more revered
than feared. As a matter of
fact Herschel would later tell of how Charlie Birger would make regular
stops at Maggie Sewell’s house for her great home cooked meals. Herschel would marry Maggie’s granddaughter Bonnie Jean. His
first granddaughter is named after Maggie Sewell.
On April 19, 1929 they hanged Charlie Birger on the square in Harrisburg,
Illinois. Herschel spoke of
how they closed all the shops and let the kids out of school so everyone
could go watch.
I wished Herschel’s eyesight had been better because I could have showed
him pictures from the Internet of this part of Illinois history.
On the heals of that enormous experience for a young boy came the
great stock market crash and an even more sobering lesson.
There was no FDIC in those days.
As a matter of fact it sprang from the “Great Depression.
All of the money Herschel had so diligently saved from his paper
route vanished and he was crushed. This
experience would serve him well later as he became a successful banker
raising a family and realizing the American dream.
The next big event Herschel would talk about often was the great flood of
1937. The influence of The
Ohio River would never be greater than this event.
He spoke of having to move every person and thing from the first
floor of the boarding house to the second floor because of the water;
having to live that way for weeks. This
story was staggering to consider since Harrisburg is twenty some odd miles
from the banks of the Ohio. The
coal mining industry, which was such a part of the economy and culture of
Southern Illinois, would never be the same.
It had a devastating effect on this region, which was still reeling
from the depression.
Through his High School years he was a track star for his high school
team, at one point holding the state record in the long jump.
Some time here about he noticed a pretty young girl named Bonnie
Jean Sewell a coal miner’s daughter whose father had been killed in a
mining disaster. She was
living with her grandmother Maggie. They
fell in love. Across the
Ocean a mad man named Hitler was waging a war that would soon reach to
touch small towns across America.
At the very advent of America’s entry into World War II Herschel Coltrin
did what so many boys and young men did for our great country.
Herding down to the enlistment centers, taking their physicals,
signing papers, being pricked by needles.
He and Bonnie Jean did what so many boys and girls, so many young
women and men did. They got
Herschel shipped off as part of the Army’s infantry to Rockford, Ill
then to Texas then to Indiantown, Pa then in rail cars with curtains
pulled so the soldiers could not see where they were headed or where they
were (for security reasons) across country to San Francisco.
Herschel’s part of World War II would be experienced in the
He tells of New Zealand where the time before battle was pleasant and of
teaching the Aucklanders what a malted milk shake was and how to make a
Sundae. And of the beautiful black pearls that were so plentiful on the
beaches. Later unknowingly
most of the young men not wanting to carry the weight would toss these
And then Guadalcanal, which was arguably the most brutal and nastiest and
most poorly planned battle of US History.
And Herschel Survived. He was fast; a track star. So he carried a
fifty-pound mortar base plate strapped to his back running toward the
enemy, ahead of many to get it in place.
Once the strap broke and the plate fell breaking his leg. He left
the battle went to heal and came back to the battle.
This time he ran again carrying telephone and power lines to be strung to
trees. In one of those trees
the enemy shot him in the side. He
left to heal and he came back. He
survived. HERSCHEL WAS A
He came through World War II. With him, his fellow soldiers and with those left behind
America came through World War II. For
that we owe so much.
He and Bonny Jean moved to Chicago to grab hold of the dream. And then their union, their love and Herschel’s drive came Becky Ann. And here we are today.
want to be famous.
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