Obituary

Herschell Lowden Coltrin

Herschel 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.

From:  An Eulogy for "Pappy" by Brad Bosworth
Delivered at Memorial Service 2/20/2004 Tillman United Methodist Church, 
Smyrna, Ga.

          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 Herschelís 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 scene.

            By the time he was 10, Herschelís father had died and he and his brother were shouldered with the responsibility of looking after their ďMomieĒ.  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 managed.

           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 Sewellís house for her great home cooked meals.  Herschel would marry Maggieís 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 Herschelís 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 ďGreat 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 minerís 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 Americaís 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 married.

             Herschel shipped off as part of the Armyís 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.  Herschelís part of World War II would be experienced in the Pacific theater.

             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 overboard.

          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 HERO!

            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 Herschelís drive came Becky Ann.  And here we are today.

We all want to be famous.
Herschel Coltrin was a famous man.
Always famous to his beloved wife Bonnie Jean
Most famous to his cherished child Becky
Most recently famous to his grandchildren.
Now famous to all of us here.

 


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