Daughter who never knew her father finds out how he died in World War II

Published 1:00 pm Saturday, March 9, 2013

He came from the North, found a beautiful Southern Belle, married her, went off to war, and was killed in action off the coast of Italy in World War II. His wife, seven months pregnant, with his child, receives a telegram telling her of his death. She vows to never marry again, and lives to be 83 years old and dies in 2003, still a widow, fulfilling her vow.

Meantime, her daughter grows up, having never known her father, and gives birth to two children, who research their grandfather’s death, and for the first time, the family knows how he died. His grandchildren have two children each, and now the Northern boy who married the Southern Belle has four great-grandchildren, all living in South Mississippi.

Sounds like something you’d read in a novel, or see in the movies, right?

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But it’s true; it actually happened.

It was July 15, 1944.

Living in Picayune, Jean Frisby was seven months pregnant with her and Navy Fireman 1st Class Bigelow G. Frisby Jr.’s child when she heard a knock on the door of her home at 140 Bay Street.

It was a courier, who handed her a telegram.

She almost collapsed, because she knew what it was.

The telegram said that her husband was missing in action.

Shortly thereafter, Jean received another telegram, saying that her husband was presumed dead, following his ship’s — The USS Swerve — sinking in the Mediterranean Sea. The date of his death was given as July 9, 1944. The second telegram, confirming his death, gave no details. He was 33 years old when he died on the ship.

Two months later, after receiving the telegrams, she gave birth to Barbara in September, 1944, and spent most of her life on Carter Street, where she raised her daughter, supported and worked in her local community church, Roseland Park Baptist Church, faithfully, and taught school for 15 years.

All during her life, Barbara had wondered how her father had died. Her mother seldom talked about it, but one time told her the war department gave her no details, and she did not know whom to call to get more information about her husband’s death.

Fast forward 64 years after his death to 2008. The Picayune Item publishes a book honoring the county’s war heroes, living and dead. It’s titled: “Pearl River County’s Greatest Generation, A Pictorial History of Pearl River Countians Who Served in World War II.”

Barbara Frisby Burge gave her daughter, Daphne Ostheiner of Diamondhead, and her son, Darren Burge of Picayune, a copy of the publication because it had a story about her father and her children’s grandfather. The story sparked interest in Darren and Daphne to research further their grandfather’s death, and they began a search on the web.

Darren went to a website created by Dennis Jackson of Arizona, the son of D.L. Jackson, who had served on the USS Swerve at the time it was sunk.

Jackson had created a website (www.uss-swerve.com) dedicated to the ship, a mine sweeper, and its crew. On the website, Darren learned from first-person accounts how his grandfather had died. Jackson also published his father’s memoirs after finding the accounts in his father’s belongings after his father died.

The USS Swerve was doing mine sweeping operations off the coast of Anzio, Italy, when it struck a mine. It sank in 12 minutes. Sixty-six men were on board; three died, one of them Bigelow Frisby.

The Allies had established a beachhead at Anzio in January, 1944.

Frisby was at his station on the fantail with another sailor when the explosion obliterated the fantail. The third man lost was not able to get out and was entombed in the belly of the ship.

Barbara, like her mother, taught school, 31 years at Pearl River Central and five years at Picayune. She is now retired and lives in McNeill Community with husband Raymond E. Burge. She had two children, and they had two children each. Now Navy fireman Bigelow G. Frisby, Jr., has four great-grandchildren: Karly, Madison, Trey and Sean, living in Picayune and Diamondhead.

Says Barbara, “I am glad we found out. It answered a lot of questions I have always had. What is amazing is that a daughter he never saw had two of his grandchildren, and they had four great-grandchildren for him. Life is truly amazing, isn’t it?”

Bigelow Gilbert Frisby, Jr., was born in Appleton, Wisc., on April 17, 1911, to Bigelow and Grace Bishop Frisby. Appleton is 30 miles southwest of Green Bay on Hwy. 41, and today has a population of 72,000. After graduating from Appleton high school, he moved to Picayune to be with his father. They both worked at the Goodyear Yellow Pine Co. in Picayune as electricians.

He married Veda Jean Spikes of Poplarville in 1940. He was in the Navy Reserve and was called to active duty in 1943.

When asked why she never remarried, Jean would always reply, “I was never able to find someone just like him.”

(Information from the website www.uss-swerve.com was used in writing this story.)