By BRUCE COLLIER
The name Kylea Laird should be a familiar one in Walton County – there is a Kylea
Laird Drive in Freeport. Laird also served three terms as a Walton County Commissioner in the
1960s and ’70s. His son Kenneth Laird has a small collection of letters, documents and photos
that reveal another chapter in his father’s life.
Kyle Laird left civilian life as a farmer to join the U.S. Army, and was inducted at Camp
Blanding, Fla. on Oct. 17, 1941. He was assigned the duty of “Truck Driver Light 345.” Four
years later, almost to the day, Pvt. 1st Class Laird, Battery B, 91st Field Artillery, was honorably
discharged, with a certificate in “testimonial of Honest and Faithful Service to this country.”
Laird’s military service took him to what was designated as “EAMETO,” – European,
African, and Middle Eastern Theatre of Operations. He served in Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia.
It was in Tunisia that he fought in the Battle of Kasserine Pass, where American and British
troops were defeated by a German Afrika Korps force commanded by the legendary Field
Marshal Rommel. Laird was wounded, one of only two survivors of his company, and then taken
prisoner by the Germans.
Laird was transported with other prisoners to Stalag 3-B, a large P.O.W. camp near
Fuerstenberg, in the Brandenburg region of Prussia. The camp reportedly held up to 4,000
prisoners, most of whom survived to be liberated. While interned at the camp, Laird was once
again wounded, by a guard’s rifle butt.
He also received letters from home, five of which Kenneth Laird shared with the Herald
-Breeze. Flimsy, yellowed and fragile, they are marked in three languages – English, German
and French – as “Prisoner of War Post.” Four are from Kylea’s mother Donie Laird, and one from
Adelene Mauldin, addressed to “Dearest Kylea.” The typed letters are stamped as having been
read by a U.S. Censor. A mix of humor, sentiment and loving concern, they recount hometown
events such as the state of the crops, canning, raising livestock, making cane syrup, family
news, and a touch of gossip.
One letter, sent by Donie in June of 1944, has a tiny flower petal glued to it, with a note
– “A flower from Home.”
Mauldin ends her letter with “Darling, please be careful, and take care of yourself. I will
have to stop now but I will write you again later. But until then I will be thinking about you.”
In 1945 the Third Reich fell and the war in Europe ended. Kylea Laird eventually
returned home and began the next chapter of his life as a civilian and veteran. He was
decorated with the Purple Heart, and also received $500 from the U.S. government.