A series of events will honor Fairmont native and “Forgotten Hero” James Show Maddox.
“This is a really inspirational story of leadership and survival and is an account of a World War II incident involving a young U.S. Navy ensign who grew up on Pittsburgh Avenue in Fairmont,” said local historian M. Raymond Alvarez, who became fascinated by Maddox’s story and has written a 50-page local history publication titled “Forgotten Hero.”
Alvarez first heard about Maddox from Pamela Nussear, who recalled only a few details of the story. This led to a “history detective” endeavor by Alvarez over a period of months to document the true story.
“James Show Maddox died after 77 days adrift in the South Atlantic following a November 2, 1942, U-boat attack on his merchant vessel, the M. S. Zaandam. He survived with four others on a small raft until January 17, 1943, a week before the eventual rescue of the last three men who depended on Maddox’s leadership, creativity and courage. Their rescue after 83 days was one of the longest recorded in Navy history. Unfortunately, he was not always identified as a West Virginian. Little recognition of him in Fairmont existed prior to this project,” Alvarez said.
Through a grant from the West Virginia Humanities Council, events are planned in November and December to share Maddox’s story with the community. Free copies of the “Forgotten Hero” publication will be distributed at each event.
Born in 1912, Maddox graduated from East Fairmont High School in 1931 and attended Fairmont State Teachers College (now FSU) in 1932, 1933 and 1934. He went on to graduate from West Virginia University in 1935 with a bachelor’s degree, then completed a master’s degree in 1937 at the University of Iowa and was a doctoral student at Purdue University in 1938. In 1943, he completed officers training for a U.S. Navy assignment as an ensign in the U.S. Armed Guard.
A James Maddox Memorial Bench will be dedicated at First Baptist Church, 900 Fairmont Ave., at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11. The bench will rest on the front lawn of the church. The dedication service will take place in the church sanctuary with a program about the WWII event and reflections about the Maddox family. Music, photos and memorabilia will help tell the story. Admission is free and open to the public.
The Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center at Fairmont State University will host the Community Lecture Series at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 13, in the second floor gallery. Alvarez will share his tale of the search for the facts about the Maddox story and will include a multimedia presentation about Maddox’s life as well as information about the U.S. Armed Guard and how the lives of his parents and young widow were affected by Maddox’s ordeal. Admission is free and open to the public.
Thanks to support from the West Virginia Humanities Council grant, Fairmont State University Museum Studies students under the direction of Dr. Marian Hollinger will create a gallery display on the life of Maddox and the story of his family in the spring of 2017 at the Folklife Center. The exhibit will include information about the U.S. Navy Armed Guard, a branch of the service during WWII that is mostly forgotten today.
During the Feast of the Seven Fishes Festival in Fairmont, organized by Main Street Fairmont, “The Life of James Show Maddox Display” will be at the annual Open House at the historic Fleming Mansion, 300 First St. The display will be open for viewing from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10. There is a small fee to tour the Fleming Mansion that supports the Woman’s Club of Fairmont. The A Cappella quartet “Angelica” will perform a selection of holiday music from 2 to 3 p.m.
This project is presented with financial assistance from the WV Humanities Council, a state affiliated of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations do not necessarily reflect those of the WV Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.