James Monroe Blake was a member of the Gasconade Writers’ Guild, a group of Ozarks writers and poets organized in Rolla, Missouri in early 1941.
Though he was off to the Navy before the group’s first meeting, he was well remembered by its members after he was killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941.
Several poems were composed in his memory, including one written by his mother, Rebecca Schermerhorn Blake. They were read at a guild meeting and one was published in the local newspaper.
Mr. Blake was born Nov. 7, 1921 in Rolla, a town of about 5,000. His father, Harmon Blake, was a farmer and his mother a homemaker.
“He was always found carrying home to his mother gifts of beautiful things, things he knew she would like. He filled the grounds with flowers, bringing a start of this flower, a cutting of that, placing the happiness of his family always before his own. He loved the beautiful in nature,” the Rolla Herald newspaper reported.
Mr. Blake attended Rolla High School, where he studied vocational agriculture. He and 29 other students signed a letter in 1938 thanking the Rolla Farmers Exchange for arranging a trip to a mill, poultry plant, and creamery in Springfield, a city of 61,000 just 110 miles to the southwest.
“The majority of us had never been to Springfield before,” the letter said. “So to get a trip like that does make us grateful indeed.”
The 1940 Census showed how difficult it was for the Blake family during the Great Depression. The son, who had completed 8th grade, worked as a finisher at a shoe factory in 1939. He worked 38 weeks and earned $465. His father worked 52 weeks and earned nothing. The young Blake’s income supported his parents and a younger brother.
He enlisted in the Navy on Oct. 15, 1940, and was a fireman second class when he was killed on the U.S.S. Arizona.
Sources: the Rolla Herald; the Marble Rock (Iowa) Journal; Census; Navy muster roll. Naval History and Heritage Command photo. This profile was researched and written on behalf of the U.S.S. Arizona Mall Memorial at the University of Arizona.