MERRY OAKS, Ky.—Nestled on the western edge of Barren County, Kentucky, is a small community named Merry Oaks, with a population of fewer than 300 people. In the 1900s, the community was mostly agricultural land with a few sawmills and general stores. The Great Depression hit every community hard and Merry Oaks didn’t escape its wrath.
Perhaps seeking a better life and more opportunities, three young men from this area joined the U.S. Navy. One would return home to his family; the other two would perish on the USS Oklahoma on Dec. 7, 1941, and remain missing in action for almost 80 years. One of them was finally brought home on May 29 after his remains were identified through DNA analysis.
Howard Scott Magers, who went by Scott, was born on Nov. 3, 1923, and raised in the Merry Oaks and Railton Communities. He attended a two-room schoolhouse, completing the eighth grade. His family operated a general store, and the children were often at work with their parents.
Then in 1937, his life changed when both his parents died within months of each other. His oldest brother, Fred, and his wife took guardianship of Magers and his siblings. Magers helped on his brother’s farm and worked a milk route before enlisting in the Navy in January 1941 at the age of 17.
The few people still alive who knew Magers remember his kindness to others, his loving heart, his smile, and his good looks.
Lano Gilbert, 86, remembers that when Magers would deliver milk to her house, he would stop and push the children on a rope swing that was close to the road.
“He was always so kind,” she said.
Helen McCandless, 88, recalled how their families used to visit each other, and the children would play outside. She remembers playing on her dad’s two-wheel trailer, which functioned as a see-saw.