Journal Express, Knoxville, IA

December 5, 2012

Definitive Appanoose County history lives on in new book by McMurry

By Michael Schaffer - Managing editor
Daily Iowegian

CENTERVILLE — After 10.5 years in the making and spending between $30,000-$40,000, "Centerville: A Mid-American Saga," by Enfys McMurry, is now available to the public.

"Centerville: A Mid-American Saga," is a 752 page paperback released last week that documents history as lived by Centerville residents from the 1840s up to the end of World War II and the celebration of war veterans returning home.

The book's forward says "The history of Centerville, Iowa, has gifted us with a unique insight into the mid-American experience. Immigrants from more than 40 different counties created a community that was both melting pot and crucible — just like the nation at large. In this definitive history, Enfys McMurry captures both the particular feelings of Centerville's citizens and how they reflected and participated in the larger American story."

McMurry held a book signing at The Continental in Centerville Saturday afternoon where she talked in length about specific events in the book, what it feels like now that it's published and how she was moved by the sheer humanity people in Appanoose County have shown.

"I've learned that there are so many damn decent good people (in Appanoose County)," McMurry said. "They're just the salt of the Earth."

McMurry talked in length about Prohibition, civil rights, the Civil War and World War II.

"The 1920 Prohibition I think it was the most stupid law ever to come into place because it forced good, decent people to break the law," McMurry said, adding many European immigrants typically drank wine for dinner.

The emotion of reliving what one Appanoose County man experienced landing on Omaha Beach during World War II brought McMurry to tears.

She told the story of Ray Simmons, of Appanoose County. Simmons was one of the very first soldiers to land on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944.

"He said, 'I was on the first wave of the first day on Omaha Beach," as told by Simmons to McMurry who related the story to those gathered for the book signing. '"Everybody was almost completely obliterated. I can't tell you to this day how I got across that beach but I did.'"

Simmons' job was to tend to the wounded on the beach by administrating sulfa and plasma.

One man was so badly wounded Simmons decided to move on to the next man. When Simmons came back to that first man, he found him alive and gave him medical treatment that saved his life.

In 1964 while in St. Louis a complete stranger approached Simmons and thanked him, McMurry said.

'"I know who you are," the man said to Simmons. "I'll never forget your face. You saved my life on Omaha Beach even through I was a German. I have moved to the United States. I am now an American citizen.'"

McMurry said she felt a bit of depression after she finished the book.

"I cried a bit because it was all over," McMurry said. "But now that it has come out and people are reacting, the exhilaration is so high that I can't imagine why anybody goes on drugs."

Almost 1/4 of the book are source notes, most of which information was taken from the various newspapers that operated in Centerville.

McMurry dedicated the book to Jesse M. Beck and Patsy Bunnell. Beck was the Iowegian editor from 1903 to 1945 and Bunnell helped with computer work.

McMurry is British and was born in Llwynypia, Wales. She taught for 23 years at Indian Hills Community College in Centerville.

The book is published by The History Press, www.historypress.net.