Here’s one for all of my Watts cousins out there.
Cecil was the first born child of Marcus Houston Watts and Minnie Rosettie Bohannon (or Bohannan). He was born on Thursday, 1 May 1919 in the Watts community of Red River Township, Searcy County, Arkansas.
On Tuesday, 20 January 1920, census enumerator Fredrick Houghton visited the farm of Mark Watts in Red River Township. Mr. Houghton recorded Mark, Minnie – his wife of two years – and their eight month old son Cecil. The farm was owned by the Watts family.
1920 Census, Red River Township, Searcy County, Arkansas.
Tuesday, 29 October 1929, the United States stock market crashed, beginning the Great Depression, a decade-long period of high unemployment, reduced spending, and uncertainty about the future of the economy.
Census enumerator William Cotton came to a farm in Shady Grove Township of Searcy County on 23 April 1930. There he found Mark Watts and family, renting the farm with its value recorded as $10. Mark and Minnie had four sons: Cecil C., 10; Donald L., 8; Sam D., 3 and 5/12; and Carriel C., 3/12. Their only daughter was Hazel M., 6. Cecil had attended school and could read and write, but not the other children. The census indicated that Mark was a veteran of the World War.
1930 Census, Shady Grove Township, Searcy County, Arkansas.
By 1935 the Watts family had moved back to Red River Township.
In 1933, as part of the New Deal programs designed to stimulate the ailing U.S. economy, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which provided jobs related to the conservation and development of natural resources in rural lands owned by the government. Army Reserve officers were placed in charge of the CCC camps.
Probably around 1937, when he would have been eighteen years old, Cecil joined the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC paid Cecil $30 a month, of which $25 was sent to his parents, as required.
On Friday, 1 September 1939, halfway around the world, the German military invaded Poland. Two days later, France and Great Britain declared war on Germany. These acts would come to have dire consequences for young Cecil Watts of rural Searcy County.
1940 Census, Red River Township, Searcy County, Arkansas.
The 1940 census was enumerated in Red River Township on Tuesday, 14 May 1940 by Ella Parks. The Watts farm was valued at $500. Cecil, age 21, had a seventh grade education and was single. He was a laborer with the Civilian Conservation Corps, had worked every week in 1939, and earned a total of $270 in wages.
President Roosevelt, in response to the war in Europe, signed into law the Selective Service and Training Act on Monday, 16 September 1940, enacting the first peacetime conscription in U.S. history. All men between the ages of 21 and 35 years were required to register with local draft boards starting on Wednesday, 16 October 1940.
Front of Cecil’s draft card, October 1940.
Cecil, 21, registered with the draft board in Marshall on the appointed date. His draft card included his full name, Cecil Clarence Watts, his birth date, and gave his home address as Watts, Searcy County, Arkansas. The “person who will always know your address” was “Mr. Mark H. Watts,” his father. Cecil’s employer and place of employment were both entered as “none,” which suggests that Cecil had left the Civilian Conservation Corps by this time. The back of the card noted a physical description of Cecil: white; five feet, seven inches in height; 130 pounds; brown eyes; brown hair; light complexion. The card was signed by registrar Lindsey M. Parks (of some relation to census enumerator Ella Parks, no doubt).
On Sunday, 7 December 1941, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan at Pearl Harbor Naval Base, Hawaii. The following day, the United States declared war on Japan. The Axis states, of which Japan was a member, responded by declaring war on the United States.
In early 1942, with a military draft now in effect and the nation at war, any federal program not directly associated with the war effort was not a priority. A committee of the United States Congress recommended to discontinue the Civilian Conservation Corps by 1 July 1942.
Cecil circa 1942, shortly after enlisting in the Army. It’s difficult to tell, but it seems as if he’s not yet wearing any insignia of rank on his sleeve.
The military had to be on Cecil’s mind. His father, Mark Watts, was a veteran of the Great War – now being called World War I. The CCC camps where Cecil had been working and living operated in a military fashion by officers from the Army Reserve. There was a surge of national patriotism following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. And with the impending end of the CCC, Cecil would need a job. On Thursday, 19 March 1942, Cecil joined the United States Army, whether by voluntary enlistment or draft is not clear.
Technician Fifth Grade rank insignia, which Cecil would’ve been wearing on his sleeve by 1944.
By December 1944, Cecil was a Technician Fifth Grade serving with the 85th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, 5th Armored Division in Germany. According to the 85th Cavalry’s after action report, on Sunday, 10 December 1944, most of the Squadron “moved to assembly area vicinity KLEINHAU, Germany and prepared to execute mission under control of 4th Cavalry Group.” The general mission assigned to the Squadron was to seize and hold ground from the German military.
“During the period 11 – 22 December 1944, the enemy held the sector opposing our attack with estimated two (2) battalions of 941 Infantry Regiment and two (2) battalions of 6th Parachute Regiment supported by estimated five (5) battalions artillery and unknown number of 80mm and 120mm mortars. At least one platoon of Mark V tanks was also used by the enemy in his defense. Enemy was well trained and extremely accurate in his artillery and mortar fire and seemed to have an abundance of ammunition. Morale of troops was only fair but they were aggressive and not disposed to surrender readily.”
The 85th suffered severe losses from enemy artillery and mortar fire. Technician Fifth Grade Cecil Clarence Watts was killed in action on Monday, 18 December 1944. His body was returned to his family in Watts, Arkansas and he was interred at Rambo Cemetery.
On 24 December 1944, the 85th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron was relieved of their mission and moved to a new assembly area in Hoof, Belgium.
On 13 May 1948, Mark Watts applied for a government-issued headstone for Cecil’s grave. (It’s unknown how Cecil’s grave was marked between 1944 and 1948.) The OQMG form 623, Application for Headstone or Marker, recorded Cecil’s dates of birth, enlistment, and death, his unit, and his military serial number, 37107380. The application was verified on 19 May 1948. The headstone shipped from Columbus, Mississippi on 31 July 1948, to be delivered to the freight station at Marshall, where the North Arkansas Funeral Home of Pyatt, Marion County, Arkansas, would transport it to Rambo Cemetery to be placed at Cecil’s grave.
Application for Headstone or Marker, 1948.
Cecil Watts headstone at Rambo Cemetery, Searcy County, Arkansas, April 2010.
Cecil’s name is included on the Searcy County Veterans Memorial located at the county courthouse in Marshall, Arkansas.
Cecil was at least twice connected to the Grahams of Searcy County. First, he was the grand nephew of John Henry Graham and Mary Matilda Bohannon through the Bohannon side of his family. Second, he was the nephew of Jesse Cornelius Graham and Callie Watts through the Watts side of his family.
A complete list of sources appears on Page 2.