OXFORD – Relatively few people might have known Percy E. Foxworth from tiny Purvis, yet an Internet search of his name turns up numerous hits, including some that reference his death in a plane crash while on a secret mission during World War II as a FBI special agent.
Hoping to create an identity of their late uncle, Foxworth's nephew John C. “Doc” Holliday of Baytown, Texas, and niece Mary Jane Roberts Chambers of Santa Cruz, Calif., have donated Foxworth's papers, photographs, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia to the University of Mississippi.
“Percy Foxworth, my uncle by marriage, was from Mississippi, and he attained a high position; I admired him so much that I wanted to do something to help establish a proper place for him in history,” Holliday said. “He should be noted for his contribution to society just like Archie Manning and his sons are recognized for what they have done.”
“The Foxworth Collection represents the life's work of a Mississippi hero,” said Jennifer Ford, Ole Miss' interim head of Archives and Special Collections in the J.D. Williams Library. “Special Collections is honored to house this collection and make it available for the public to learn more about this extraordinary individual.”
FBI records posted on the Internet note that Foxworth was the bureau's assistant director in charge of its Special Intelligence Service, a unit created in 1940 when President Roosevelt tasked the bureau with counterintelligence and intelligence collection responsibilities in South and Central America.
Died serving his country
Foxworth's death in 1943, at age 36, occurred during a secret mission requested by Gen. Dwight Eisenhower. The U.S. Army plane carrying Foxworth and 34 others crashed in the jungles of South America. There were no survivors.
Records of Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis show that Foxworth's remains were buried there in 1948. In honor of his service during the war, the U.S. Navy launched a liberty ship named the SS Percy E. Foxworth on Feb. 8, 1944.
As for choosing Ole Miss to receive the collection, Holliday said he was trying to decide where to leave the treasured material when he called the J.D. Williams Library. He said he was so impressed with the warm reception he received from Ford that he soon made the trip to the Oxford campus.
“If I had not found Ole Miss, I don't know what would have happened to them,” he said.
Both Holliday and Chambers were youngsters when their uncle died. Later, Foxworth's widow, who was a sister to Holliday's father and to Chambers' mother, moved to Poplarville and lived out her life with her mother. Holliday, formerly of Poplarville, became familiar with his Uncle Percy through hearing family discuss his life and the circumstances surrounding his death.
Chambers recalls the day that Mrs. Foxworth received word of her husband's plane crash. Her aunt was visiting the Chambers family, who were living in “the old Rhinelander mansion at 14 Washington Square in New York City,” said Chambers, whose father also was an FBI agent.
“I was present in the room when the agents told Ann of the plane crash,” she said. “At the time, they said Roosevelt was supposed to have been on that plane and they changed planes at the last minute.”
Notes from Hoover
Chambers' donation to Ole Miss includes Mrs. Foxworth's diaries and numerous papers that belonged to Percy Foxworth, including his application letters to the FBI, documents about the fatal plane crash and other correspondence.
“Of particular interest to scholars would be Sam's personnel file and the personal notes from (J. Edgar) Hoover that show his meteoric rise in the bureau,” Chambers said.
Little was known about Foxworth's fatal mission until the 50 years were up for the records to be opened, Holliday said.
“The History Channel later aired a program telling how Hitler had come to the conclusion that the Queen of England was a key to undermining the German Nazi leader's plan to power, and J. Edgar Hoover had ordered a secret mission to escort the Queen to a safe undisclosed location. I believe that was the mission my uncle was on at the time of his death.”