WWII veteran finds home in Brewton
By BY LYDIA GRIMES – Features Writer
December 7, 1941 is one date that lives in the minds of many men today. But as time goes by, there are less and less of them to remind everybody of what happened on that day and on the days that followed for the next four years.
World War II is remembered by all of the men and women who suffered through the fighting and hardships of wartime. With the date of Dec. 7 coming up, this week the profile is about a World War II veteran.
Lee MacMillan Otts of Brewton is one of those men who remembers and his wife, Mary Frances Byrd Otts, who was in the American Red Cross, also saw the results of the war. The Otts met while he was in England recovering from wounds and she was working the doughnut machine for the troops.
Otts was fresh out of college in 1943 when he joined the service. He joined an ROTC unit of the Coastal Artillery at the University of Alabama and in 1942, the Army Reserves. He was inducted into the Army in June 1943 and sent to Officers' Candidate School (OCS) for anti-aircraft personnel at Camp Davis, N.C. He was commissioned in January 1944 as a second lieutenant. At that time there were too many second lieutenants in the anti-aircraft so he was transferred to the infantry and was sent to Ft. Benning, Ga. for eight weeks of training in the infantry. He was then transferred to Camp Blanding, Fla. as part of the Infantry Replacement Training Center and in October he was transferred to Fort Meade, Md. to wait to be shipped overseas. There he met an old friend from the University of Alabama, Second Lieutenant Law Lamar. They were to spend many hours together in the next few months.
In October of 1944 he was sent as a replacement to France by way of England. They landed on Omaha Beach just a few months after the invasion in June of 1944. He was placed in the 26th Infantry Yankee Division, 328th Regiment of Patton's Third Army, first in Company E for two weeks and then into Company G. The division originally was formed in 1917 out of the New England National Guard where it was named the Yankee Division.
Otts starting keeping a diary of the day-to-day events that happened to him and today those experiences, along with the diaries of an unlisted man have been made into a book called "G Company's War, Two Personal Accounts of the Campaigns in Europe, 1944-1945." The book is written from the perspective of two men; enlisted Staff Sergeant Bruce Egger and Otts who wrote of the same experiences through the eyes of an officer. When they are put together it brings the reader different views of the same events.
Otts had compiled his diary notes into his account of his wartime experiences in 1947 and his material was used after he answered a note in the Yankee Division Veterans Association newsletter from Paul Roley, who edited and did commentary for the book.
His company fought with Patton's Army during the Battle of the Bulge and moved into Germany, fighting all the way. In March of 1944, they were trying to take a hill in Germany and he was lying on the ground propped on his elbow when he was wounded the first time. They had not had the time to dig a foxhole and he was trying to stay low at the time.
He was put in a cast up to his chin with his arm enclosed to help the shoulder and his jaw was wired where he could not open his mouth.
He was flown to England to a hospital where he stayed for the next two months. It was there that he met Mary Frances Byrd, an American Red Cross worker who brought doughnuts to the patients. Mary Frances was from Wilmington, N.C. and they dated while he was at the hospital. The hospital was one of five hospitals located in the same area of England and there were many small pubs where the soldiers would relax.
Otts was sent home to recuperate at Northington Hospital in Tuscaloosa. He had been in the army about a year and he had been wounded, won a Bronze Star Medal for Heroism, a Purple Heart Medal with an Oak Leaf Cluster, several badges and battle stars and he was released from the service as a captain in honorary reserve.
He had to leave Mary Frances behind in Europe and when she came back to the states, she went to California. They kept in touch while she was in California and after she went home to North Carolina when her father became ill.
Otts was born in Greensboro, Ala. and attended Greensboro High School. He graduated in 1940 at the top of his class and was the valedictorian that year. He is from a family that had roots in Greensboro for generations. His mother, Elizabeth Avery MacMillan Otts was a clerk in the local post office and his father, Archiebald Bruce McEachin Otts was a rural mail carrier and along with other members of his family were very well known in the Greensboro area. He excelled in school and was able to get a degree in chemistry in only three years at the University of Alabama.
After his return from the war, Otts went to school at the University of Alabama on the G.I. Bill and earned his law degree. He and Mary Frances were married in 1948 and they started looking for a place to set up a law practice. They knew they didn't want to live in a city so they concentrated on small towns. Nothing seemed just right and while she visited with his sister in Birmingham, he went to Mobile to see if he could find the right place for them to go. He was checking the Atmore surroundings when it was suggested that he might just like Brewton.
Most of the lawyers in Brewton at that time were older and he thought that it might mean a good opportunity for him. He came to Brewton and stayed with Jack and Eleanor Hines. He liked the situation that he found in Brewton so he and his wife soon moved to a little apartment with Mrs. George Miller.
He set up practice in an upstairs office over what is now Weaver's and was in business. For the next 20 years, he was in practice by himself. Then he was joined by another Greensboro native, Thad Moore, who moved to Brewton and the two set up practice together.
The two of them continued to practice law together bringing in new lawyers as needed.
Otts was president of the Escambia County and the Alabama State Bar Association at one time. He was Judge of the Inferior Court of Escambia County 1951-1953, Escambia County Solicitor 1953-1975 and Attorney for Escambia County 1958-1993.
He and his wife became the parents of four daughters, two of whom continue to live in Brewton, and they are grandparents of six.
The couple has remained active members of the Presbyterian Church and are active in various clubs. He has served on many boards including the Brewton City School Board from 1961 to 1976.
Lee Otts is retired now. He is always ready to help if someone needs him at the office but most of his time is spent playing golf and helping around the house. He and Mary Frances have done quite a bit of traveling around the world, seeing most states, Canada, Mexico, South America and Europe. They have stayed in touch with a lot of his old comrades in the army and still attend reunions with fellow veterans. The most recent trip was to Gettysburg, Penn. for a reunion there.