Byrd Workman Sr.
Courtesy Connie Baisden Marsh

West Virginia Veterans Memorial


Byrd Workman Sr.

"We owe our World War II veterans--and all our veterans--a debt we can never repay."

Doc Hastings

Byrd Workman Sr. was born on July 4, 1921, in the community known as Verdunville, in Logan County, West Virginia. He was the son of James and Samantha Bryant Workman. Byrd was the fourth child of eight born to the couple. His siblings were Nathan Workman, born in 1913; Foster Workman, born in 1915; Con Workman, born 1918; Missel Workman, born in 1924; Roxie Alice Workman, born in 1927; Hood Workman, born in 1931; and Nettie Workman, born in 1934.

James Workman raised his children on a coal miner's pay. James worked for Island Creek Coal Company, Mine No. 15. His children attended local schools. His son Byrd Workman attended Curry Grade School, Logan Junior High School, and Logan High School. Byrd decided he wanted to serve his country and enlisted in the U.S. Army at Fort Thomas, Newport, Kentucky, on August 7, 1940, at the age of 19. His army serial number was 15054132.

While Byrd was in the military, his sister's friend, Ruth Johnson, began to write letters to the young soldier. Byrd and Ruth had known each other all their lives, but being three years younger, Ruth was not socially acquainted with him. A relationship developed quickly through the letters they wrote, and at the highest point of their long-distance romance, the 21-year-old soldier married his 18-year-old bride while he was on leave from the Army on July 16, 1942. Silas Marcum married the couple at Verdunville on a hot summer day. Ruth Christine Johnson was the daughter of Lloyd and Beatrice Sprague Johnson. A photograph shows them embraced in each other's arms, their faces beaming with joy, their young expressions revealing love for each other and hope for the future.

Byrd Workman took his bride with him back to California, where he was stationed, and it was the highlight of the young woman's life. She had never been out of the state of West Virginia. The couple spent a few blissful months together. Then the dreaded day came when the soldiers received the news that they were being shipped overseas.

Ruth Workman returned to southern West Virginia to her grandparents' home. She grinned as she placed her hand over her stomach where the baby was developing, pleased that she and her husband would be starting a family. Sweet letters came frequently from her handsome young soldier declaring his everlasting love. The letters have endured time and exist today. They tell of a young man's love for his Appalachian wife. They tell of hopes and dreams of a coal camp boy, hopes and dreams that would never come to pass.

As soon as the baby arrived on October 18, 1943, Ruth hurriedly put pen to paper to tell her soldier of the news of the arrival of the baby boy she named Byrd Workman Jr. The young tank battalion leader would never read the letter; instead, his men read it, and wept.
Courtesy Connie Baisden Marsh
Connie Baisden Marsh

Courtesy Connie Baisden Marsh

Byrd Workman Sr. had been killed on October 13, 1943, a few days before the baby's birth. On top of his tank the sergeant rode, leading his men into battle. He was shot and killed in Italy, his life cut short from an enemy's bullet.

A taxi driver delivered the grim telegram. A taxi drove up in front of the Johnson home in Baisden Bottom in Verdunville on a cool November day to inform the young wife and mother that she would never see her soldier again.

It took over five years for the body to be returned to the United States. On March 10, 1949, a United States flag draped over the casket that was delivered to the small coal-mining community of Verdunville. The casket sat in front of the small mountain church adorned by a picture of the smiling young man in uniform with his cap perched on his blond head. His blue eyes looked upward.

The soldier's aged mother's lips were drawn from grief. His brothers and sisters gathered closely supporting one another. Sorrowful gospel tunes from a quartet filled the bare-floored church as the young mother held her five-year-old son tightly in her arms and would not let anyone hold him, because he was all that remained of her beloved husband.

Along with her and her son were her new husband, Julius Baisden, and her 10-month-old baby girl named Linda. Julius Baisden was also a veteran of World War II. After the war, he returned to Logan County where he met the young widow and married her on September 6, 1947.

Byrd Workman's remains were buried in the Dempsey Cemetery on top of a steep and windy mountainside in a small family cemetery resting on land that was not good for anything else but burying the dead. The cemetery is located on Dingess Mountain.

Even though Ruth Johnson Workman Baisden remarried and had five more children, her beloved soldier and first husband would remain in her heart forever. There was never a love like her first love. Ruth returned periodically to the grave to lay flowers and think about the brief time they had spent together. She even took her children there to see the grave and talk about her first husband. She told of how she always thought the news of his death was a mistake, and one day he would return to her. Ruth waited for his return until the day she died in 1981.

Byrd and Ruth's love can be seen in photographs and letters, a day and time that can never be experienced again. Their love that bound them together was snatched away by a bullet of the enemy. The good that came from the relationship was a son, two grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. As long as the Byrd Workman Sr. line continues, he will live through them.

Article prepared by Connie Baisden Marsh, daughter of Ruth Johnson Workman Baisden
August 2021


Byrd Workman Sr.

West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.

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