He’s Not Your Average Joe by Dave Correll
In 1941, an early morning bus traveling south on Route 45 arrived in Arcola. The passengers had departed Chicago at a late hour and the passengers were hungry. Because the passengers were black, they had been refused service in place after place on their journey south until they met Joe Ernst, the manager at a small restaurant in Arcola. When they asked if he would serve them, Joe quickly responded “yes” as long as they paid. A passenger introduced herself as Ella Fitzgerald, though the name meant nothing to Joe at the time, she promised Joe that she would run the register while Joe cooked and would ensure that everyone paid. Joe twice ran out of food and had to make several trips to local stores to feed the hungry crew. True to her word, Ella collected payment from every customer. Out of gratitude to Joe, and much to his embarrassment, Ella announced that she would sing a special song and so she serenaded Joe before the group left the restaurant. Word soon spread throughout town what Joe had done and the next day when Joe returned to open the restaurant, the owner had changed the locks and Joe learned that he had been fired because he served a bus of “colored” people.
Joe would later enlist in the US Navy in March of 1942 to serve his country in World War II, just a few short months after War had been declared in December. While in the Navy and long after he had learned who Ella Fitzgerald was, he would often look to see if Ella was performing in the area in which his ship had been ported, always curious to see if she would remember him. In 1944, Joe volunteered for what should have been a suicide mission in which he, and 17 other sailors, scuttled their ship, the Audacious, off the shores of Omaha Beach at Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944. The Audacious and other ships were deliberately sunk in order to act as breakwater for the Allied troops at the invasion of France. By a miracle, Joe’s ship listed in shallow water allowing him and his 17 shipmates to survive for 4 days, stranded on the deck of their ship, while the carnage of war carried on around them. Though suffering tremendous losses, the Allies gained a foothold at Normandy and within 11 months Germany had surrendered and Europe was liberated.
Following the war, Joe returned to Arcola, resuming his quiet civilian life, raised his family and operated a service garage and automotive dealership on Route 45, and never fully revealed his war experiences. A very humble man, Joe had quietly served the Arcola Community for many years. After encouragement by his long-time friend and physician, Dr. Robert Arrol, Joe finally did share his painful war memories with his family and others. For his heroism on D-Day, Joe was decorated by the Consul General of France on July 21, 2009 in Chicago with the National Order of the Legion of Honor, the highest decoration bestowed by France to a non-citizen.
Dave Correll was charged with the creation of the Not Your Average Joe Mural. Based in Fairibuilt, MN, Dave has operated Brushwork Signs since 1988. Dave has participated with the Walldogs since 2001 and was a project leader in Danville, IL on the Lincoln-Fithian House project. Dave has been commissioned to paint a number of murals across the Midwest including Omaha, NE, Belle Plain, IL, Indianola, IL and has done work for the University of Illinois Athletic Department.