It was lunch time when I arrived at the assisted living facility where my brother John (Junior) is living. Entering the dining room I immediately noticed him with two other gentlemen waiting patiently for their food to arrive. After greetings and getting acquainted our conversation drifted to ‘yesteryear.’ In the process of introductions I asked each of the men to share something about themselves in order for me to know them better. Immediately I knew I was in the presence of the “greatest generation”.. Junior was drafted into the army shortly after his 18th birthday and was sent to England and from there into Patton’s tank brigade that liberated France and then move into Germany. The second gentlemen had been at Pearl Harbor during the attack by the Japanese. The third man and his platoon took the Philippines back from the Japanese. What an honor to be sitting with these three great men.
After my visit I began the journey back to Sewanee, Tennessee with a sense of nostalgia that continued to play in my mind. I remember vividly the day Junior went to Monroe, Georgia to get on a bus that would take him on the first leg of his journey to England. Like several of his friends—Herman Allen, Billy Head, ‘Hoss’ Stargel, Leon Allgood, J.D. Shumate, Mope Coker, John Coker they proudly responded to the need of our country . This was a group of young boys right out of high school drafted into the armed services and had left the small town of Jersey, Georgia.
At this time in history, Jersey was a thriving town with an economy based upon agriculture. Cotton was king and the cotton gin provided a major source of financial support for the local families. The oil mill had recently burned leaving a void in income and employment. The small city consisted of three general mercantile stores, a hardware store, bank, post office, black smith and numerous small businesses representing a hub of activity. The high school had made a name for itself with a state championship girls basketball team. During this period houses throughout the community had small red flags with a gold star emblazoned on them hanging in the windows. These flags signified the family had a son enlisted in the military. Some homes had two flags.
As a small boy I accompanied my dad to Charlie Guest’s store each Friday night where the men would gather around a radio and listen to Walter Winchell bring the news about “our boys” and the ‘WAR.” In retrospect I recall the news was always good and uplifting. The “yanks” were kicking ‘butt.’ After the news the men would settle back and listen to the Friday night boxing match.
The Blasingame General Store housed the post office and twice daily a crowd would gather to see if a letter from their son or loved one would arrive. This event produced both sadness and joy. Some families would go for weeks without any notification and, invariably, thoughts would turn to the worse. Our family became the envy of others as Junior was faithful to write each week. It was not unusual to have another family member brag and talk about what a great young boy he was to write home weekly. It was long after the war that Junior revealed his sergeant made him write his “Mama” every week.
One of the most intriguing stories of Junior’s arrival in Germany was he and several of his fellow soldiers were assigned the duty to guard the ‘Fuhrer’s (Hilter) Yacht. Accordingly, the staff that operated the yacht were being held as prisoners on the yacht. In short order the Yacht was traveling on the Rhine River captained by the Americans. I can imagine when this news arrived at home the original ‘high five’ was introduced in Jersey.
Equally as impressive as the daily meetings at the post office were the local church services. During this time in our history most churches had Wednesday night “prayer meetings.” As a young boy hearing the names of the boys (men) who were in harms way fighting for our freedom prayed for individually was extremely heartwarming. These young men were the topic of conversation in church, schools and businesses throughout the community. Their assignments were international from the Aleutian Islands, the South Pacific, France, Germany, England and numerous other places. These were the same boys who less than a year earlier sat in the classrooms of Jersey High School, played basketball at Brookshire Gymnasium and/or made their favorite project in the Industrial Arts facility at the school. They fished the banks of Alcovy River and hunted for quail anywhere a neighbor would let them.
All is quiet in Jersey now. The businesses of that time have closed and the school has been abolished.
If you listen closely you might hear the cheering the day World War II ended and all of the boys returned to a rousing ovation.
This day I sat in the presence of greatness. Three men in the ‘winter’ of their lives who answered a call and eliminated our country from a totalitarianism form of government and eliminated all of us from having to speak German. To the boys of Jersey and thousands of other young men I am eternally thankful.