A Family’s Legacy from World War II Until Today.
Angela McDowell lived through her family torn apart by World War II and her heart broken by the death of her son, but she never wavered in her faith in God. She left an everlasting legacy of love and faith for her family that continues today.
Unless you are part of a legacy, it is not a familiar concept. This is a story about a family legacy that began in 1940 and is still going on today. Before the beginning of World War II, John McDowell and Angela Smith were married in a small ceremony in Kilgore, Texas. John came from a family that worked the oil fields of East Texas, and Angela’s family owned a diner in Kilgore. Angela’s father was also a Baptist preacher. Wednesday night their diner transformed into a meeting place for Bible study and on Sunday, the feed store in town was used for Church services.
In 1940, talk of the United States entering World War II was a hot topic even in East Texas. The United States had managed to stay neutral for the first two years of the war but were still supplying Britain, the Soviet Union, and China with war materials through the Lend-Lease Act. Oil from East Texas was a significant resource for the United States, and its availability from the oil fields in Kilgore played a big part of the United States advantage in World War II.
Oil was a significant boost to the Texas economy in the early 1940’s and getting refined aviation fuel to Europe was critical. John McDowell took a job on a merchant ship transporting fuel oil from the Gulf of Mexico to Europe. Regretfully, John was one of the first casualties of World War II when the tanker he was working on was struck by a torpedo in the Gulf of Mexico in the Spring of 1942.
Angela was devastated by John’s death. She had given birth to the McDowell’s only son in January of 1942. As heartbroken as Angela was, she was saved financially by a life insurance policy that John had taken out with a $5,000 death benefit shortly after they were married. However, Angela knew that the life insurance money would not last forever and she needed to find a way to support herself and her son. Plus, with the United States entering World War II, Angela was in the same situation as many women of that time. With many of the men gone to fight in the war, women felt compelled to help their country in any way they could. Angela felt a special obligation to help in the war effort since John was killed in a skirmish that lead up to the US officially entering the war.
By the fall of 1942, Angela had arranged to leave her son with her parents in Kilgore while she worked during the week in Fort Worth, Texas in an airplane manufacturing plant. At the time, the drive from Kilgore to Fort Worth was about three hours, and Angela got together with three other women from her Church to work in Fort Worth during the week and drive back to Kilgore on Friday night. Soon after Church on Sunday, the four women packed up and headed back to Fort Worth.
For almost two years, Angela and her friends worked at the airplane factory in Fort Worth. Shortly after her son’s third birthday, she decided to move back to Kilgore fulltime to be with her son and parents. Her father’s health was failing, and she took over their diner to support her family.
In the two years that Angela worked in Fort Worth, she did not miss one of her father’s Sunday sermons. God was still a significant part of her life, and she felt a tremendous responsibility to be a part of her son’s life and raise him as a Christian.
Being a single parent in the 1940’s was tough. But Angela’s heart would not be alone forever. She prayed for someone to enter her life, and he did at the end of the war in 1945. Jake, her son, was five years old now. He had never known his real father, but Angela met one of the members of her Church that had recently returned from three years in the Navy. His name was Rick Adams.
After returning to Kilgore, Rick became a regular at Angela’s Church and at the diner. Rick was a good role model for Jake too. He spent time at the diner and got to know Jake. By the time Jake was in the second grade, Angela and Rick got married. Jake was the ring bearer.
By the time Jake was in the third grade, his grandfather, Angela’s father had become very ill and passed away. It was a difficult emotional time. The Church had lost its pastor. Angela had lost her father, and now the diner was completely her responsibility.
Rick had a good intellect for business, and over the coming years he and Angela began and sold several businesses. The money the life insurance policy that Jake’s father left was never touched. Angela was the beneficiary of the $5,000 benefit, but she left it with the life insurance company to continue to earn interest. When Angela and Rick would need collateral for a new business purchase, they always used the life insurance money but never took a penny from the account. Angela wanted to leave that to Jake as a legacy from his father, John.
Fast forward to 1998 when Jake was 56 years old, and his mother was 76 years old. Jake was married and had one grown daughter then 30 years old. Jake had a heart attack at home and died. Angela, who had suffered through the death of her first husband and now was heartbroken by the death of her only son. Angela mustered the strength to continue.
In settling Jake’s personal affairs, there was a question of the life insurance money from Jake’s father’s death in 1942. Angela had kept it in the same account earning interest over the past 54 years. Angela finally decided to give the money to Jake’s only daughter. By now the $5,000 had grown to a little over $41,000. Angela’s granddaughter’s name was Katherine, and Angela told her the story of the life insurance. Katherine had two sons, and she decided to take $10,000 and purchase a single premium life insurance policy on her life for the benefit of her sons. Katherine then gave the remainder to her sons to go toward their college education.
The money that passed from one generation to the next was more than just money. Along with that inheritance went the story of love, faith, and hope for the future. That is the heart of a legacy; love faith and hope. Almost 3,000 years ago, King Solomon a prophet of God wrote, “Good people leave an inheritance to their grandchildren, but the sinner’s wealth passes to the godly” (Proverbs 13:22, NLT). The spirit of King Solomon’s words carries forward through the legacy of John McDowell who gave his life in World War II and passed on the inheritance of his fortunes and his faith to his wife, Angela. And she passed on that legacy to her granddaughter for future generations that continue still today.
The circumstances of this story are real. The names and some of the details have been changed to protect the privacy of the characters. May their testimony serve as an inspiration to help you better serve God by building a stronger family.
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