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Tellico Lake, TN -
"I never intended to be a hero, if a hero I was, but I found myself in a place that I saw no way to live through. Once you accept that this is the day it ends, you are not particularly brave, since you now have no more to lose."
- Willis Jackson
I was encouraged several years ago by Pat McGann, a Past National Commander of the Legion of Valor, to set on paper a personal history. He believed we who experienced the Great American Depression, World War II, Korea, and the turmoil of Vietnam, had an obligation to record personal memories for any family members who may in the future have interest. In my case it appears I will have fewer family members as future descendent numbers than my friend Pat will have. I proceed on the basis that even one interested will make it worth my time. My story will not attempt to cover everything I can think of. Some things that may be humorous will appear, but I will relate no event that I believe will embarrass anyone. The period that will be talked about for this family will embrace about 150 years of my personally-acquired information--that is, direct from parents or grandparents to me. Other material has been related through several generations and may vary more than fact.
I was born in Rutherford County Tennessee, on September 21, 1922. The name I was given was Willis Bell Jackson. All school records through high school identified me as Willis B. Jackson. After I went into the army, I found I needed a birth certificate to enter Aviation Cadets. I had none, so my father had to get me a delayed birth certificate. I insisted on dropping Bell under the impression I would need only one name. Far from truth. Since that time I have had to enter (NMI) for "no middle initial." I have forever been sorry that my father let me prevail in the matter.
My father was Jesse Franklin Jackson and my mother was Lassie Pearl Smotherman Jackson. Both my paternal and maternal sides came from early white settler stock in what is now the United States. The stock was basically Anglo Saxon with some Irish and Scots likely in the gene pool. My paternal grandmother was part Cherokee--probably about a quarter. I was told that in a direct line preceding my generation, my father served in World War I in France with the 27th Infantry Division. My grandfather, John Landrum Jackson, served in the Confederate States of America army. He joined at age sixteen in 1862 and was wounded by a minnie ball (musket) at the battle of Franklin in November 1864. He was in the command of General Nathan Bedford Forrest. The ball struck his left forearm, but he did not lose the arm as was usual in that war. It did disable him to the extent of ending his military service.
My great grandfather was of an appropriate age for the Mexican War, but was a man with a young family and did not answer the call. I am told great great grandfather was at New Orleans with Andy Jackson and his father was at Kings Mountain (NC) during the Revolutionary War. Unfortunately, anything before 1845, the date of my grandfather's birth, is hearsay and I have no written proof of it. It is worth noting that none were military men. All were civilian soldiers who were unlucky in timing of their appearance on this earth or they exhibited a strong streak of patriotism.
I was born to a mother who had not yet reached her nineteenth birthday. My father was a tenant farmer at the time of my birth. Before World War I he had migrated west to Oklahoma following his older brother Pate, and then on to Fresno, California. He must not have liked the western move since he returned to Tennessee before entering the military in 1917. My maternal grandfather Smotherman followed some of the same pattern. He had migrated to Texas following two older brothers, but had not found Texas to his liking and had returned to Tennessee.
The Burton Place
I was born on what was known as the old Burton place. We moved by my fourth birthday to a farm near Rockvale. During 1927 my first cousin Zelma came to live with us to complete her Senior year in high school. Rockvale had a new four-year high school opening that year. I was only five years old in September, but my mother decided to start me to school in mid-term in order that I could walk the one mile to school with my older cousin. I started after Christmas in the class of Miss Katherine Harris. I remained in her class through the next year and then was promoted to the third grade with Miss Ruth Smotherman as my teacher. I remember to this day being introduced to letter writing and learning the date went up top. I must have dated all my letters 1929 until about 1933. I also had the "don't cheat" rule impressed on me. I remember a spelling test and I could not remember how to spell "under." I pulled my spelling book onto my seat and oh so carefully opened to the lesson. Miss Ruth moved very quietly to my desk and closed the book. Never said a word. That was the last time I ever tried to cheat on a test. I did let others look at my papers in high school, but somehow if I was not beneficiary, it did not seem so wrong.
The Holden Place
We moved in 1930 to the Holden place under a tenant farmer agreement. My father became desperately ill with pneumonia and almost died. I remember my mother told me that it was so difficult because he had weakened lungs from flu in France in 1918. At any rate, Dr. Rob Garrett told him he could not work for a full year. I am not sure how they managed the finances, but somehow my parents managed a down payment on the old Williams place. We moved in and some way, although the depression was in full swing, we raised chickens, pigs, goats, and a few cows to keep food on the table--aided, of course, by a bountiful garden. My brother James had been born in January 1925. My mother had us helping by the time we could walk, but it must have been a terrific job for a year or so.
When we moved I enrolled at Oak Grove school. It was a two-room, two-teacher school that included the first through the eighth grade. My brother and I walked to school each day. It was about a two-mile walk each way, but our Grandmother Smotherman lived only 200 yards from the school and we ate a lot of hot gingerbread men at lunch and after school before the long walk home. My teacher for two years was my first cousin Zelma. She had gone from high school with us to Normal School in Murfreesboro. It is now Middle Tennessee State University. Then it prepared teachers--usually two years and a teacher's certificate, followed by summer school each year until a degree had been achieved.
We heated the school by large wood and coal-burning heaters in each room. It was the teacher's responsibility and Zelma hired me as her janitor one year. I think I got sixty cents a week to make the fire each morning before the other kids got to school. I also did a joint trap line with "Scoot" Pinkerton one winter. Our primary purpose was to catch possum, coon, fox or skunk. I think we mostly caught possum. I am sure they were most plentiful and were dumb enough for us to catch. Our best catch was a skunk--especially a solid black one. His skin was maybe worth a dollar and a quarter. A skunk catch made us unpopular in school a few days, but it was better. A possum fur was worth about thirty cents.
A grown man was doing ten hours of labor for seventy-five cents and considered himself lucky to have a paying job in theoe depression days. I remember we sold cotton for three cents a pound. We heated and cooked with wood. We raised all kinds of produce and farm animals for food. During early summer through fall we killed a young goat nearly every Saturday morning. We kept part, gave some to other family members, and sold the remainder to neighbors for about fifteen cents per pound. We never seemed to have money, but we always had plenty of food that suited me well. Still does. People now have decided to call that kind of food "soul food."
Part of President Roosevelt's financial plan for the nation was to limit agricultural products on the market by limiting production, thereby improving the prices on behalf of the people farming. The main thrust was to pay farmers to reduce acreage of crops and reduce production of hogs and cattle. At the heart of this was a permit to raise only so many acres of certain crops. The allotment was based on the number of acres the farmer had historically grown. My father got a job surveying acres actually in crops in our end of the county. He used a horse and buggy for transportation and I often went with him to carry and move his surveyor chains. The cash income was welcome in our cash-starved family.
About my eighth birthday we had a newcomer to our family. A cousin, seventeen year old Melvin, came to live with us. He was having difficulty with his parents and by mutual agreement he moved to our house. He was to make that his home base as long as either of my parents lived. That stretched to more than sixty years and at this time he lives for the rest of his life in their home place. And a blessing it was to them in their old age. My brother and I were long gone and involved with raising our own families. He was, indeed, a wonderful help to them and by freeing James and myself of much worry, he was very helpful to us.
In 1935 I started to Christiana High School. I was to go there for two years--two very undistinguished years. I was on average two years younger than my classmates and I rode a school bus at least three hours every day. This made it impossible for me to participate in organized school sports. After two years my father was able to get a school bus route change and I returned to Rockvale High School. My bus time was cut in half and I could participate in school sports and social events in at least a limited sort of way. We still did not have electricity, a telephone, or a car.
Our first radio was homemade from available and mostly scrap parts. It was a crystal set and required headphones. Our first loud speaker radio and our first Victrola record player were paid for by a project of my mother's. She custom-hatched baby chicks in the spring of the year for the public. All sold before the incubation of the eggs started. We had a flock of Plymouth Rock, or as some people called them, "domineckers." We used nearly all of our eggs for hatching. If someone wanted another breed, they had to furnish the eggs.
The incubator was heated by hot water pipes that in turn were heated by a kerosene lamp. Since the temperature needed to be constant, there was a thermometer placed in the center of the eggs. Mother used a flashlight to read it and then adjusted the flame on the lamp up or down as needed. This went on at intervals even at night, and more frequently in cold weather. Since it took three weeks per hatch, we probably started the project in February. The eggs also needed to be turned over each day. At the end of seven days, the eggs were candled to pull out any infertile eggs, and then again after fourteen days in the event any embryos had died. Mother earned her pay.
The first cars I remember were Model T Fords, Chevrolet, Essex, Willys Knight, Pierce Arrow, and Hudson Terraplane. Most are now long gone. I remember the Herbert Hoover election and the election of his successor, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I also remember the three work programs used to add employment in the depression days. They were the Works Progress Administration (WPA), another called the PWA, and a third called CCC--the Civilian Conservation Corps. My father was always too proud to accept WPA checks. Melvin did spend a year or two in CCC. It was a very good thing. Many of our National Park improvements were made and are still in use as built by CCC. They also gave us a good start in manpower for World War II by providing a training place for young Army officers.
The Wright Place
In 1937 my father sold the farm we lived on and bought a somewhat larger and more productive one. It was known as the Wright Place. The house was only about three hundred yards from the old Lebanon Methodist church and about one mile from the country store and blacksmith shop that made up the community of Link. All this was about ten miles out of Murfreesboro, the county seat of Rutherford County.
This was convenient in several ways. One, we belonged to the Methodist Church and we could now walk to church. We went nearly every Sunday and when Big Meeting time came around, we went every evening for at least a week. Big Meeting was the annual revival meeting that started the third Sunday in August every year and ran for a minimum of one week. We always had a visiting minister and, if it was a successful meeting, it could run for several more days. At least one day Mother always had the preachers as guests for dinner. Middle of the day, that is. Preferably on a Sunday.
We also had a program we called "All Day Singing with Dinner on the Grounds." It was exactly that. All day gospel singing. Quartets from far and wide. All the ladies would bring more fried chicken and ham than you can imagine and vegetables, cakes and pies. We had a big picnic under the many beautiful maple trees in front of the church. Singing would resume after lunch.
There was a dark side to our new home. About two years before, one of the Wright sons shot and killed his father. Two more were killed and two wounded. He then killed himself as police closed in on him. He had shot his father on the back porch of the farm house we had newly-acquired. He had also fired his shotgun into a cedar log in the exposed log wall of the porch, apparently a decoy shot. I suppose the buck shot-filled log is still visible in the house to this day. At this time, another one of the Wright brothers, Clifford Wright, was my eighth grade school teacher. His brother Hestil was one of the wounded. It was apparently an accidental wounding. He ran to school and warned us. We kids scattered into the woods like a covey of quail.
Our homespun fun from a boy's viewpoint was first of all hunting. In summertime and fall, my father would take me with him squirrel hunting on days it might be too wet to work in the fields or maybe after a thunder shower on any given afternoon. The activity was great fun, but just as important, it provided excellent eating. Fried squirrel and milk gravy with fried potatoes and hot biscuits is great food. When Thanksgiving came, we switched to rabbit and quail. We did not have a bird dog in my early years, so our quail hunting was somewhat accidental in that we would walk into a covey of quail while rabbit hunting and then follow by sight where individual birds came to ground. We killed lots of quail in this manner. My father had a single shot shotgun, and on a covey flush I have seen him kill a bird on the flush and reload and kill a second bird before they got out of range.
In 1941, I took steps to have a bird dog. I bought a bird dog puppy for five dollars and named him Mac. He had no registered blood lines, but the owner told me his mother and father were good hunting dogs. Mac turned out to be the best. I trained him that fall and got to hunt before going to the Army. He trained easy. I could work him over a 40-acre field with a whistle and arm signals. I left and was gone three and a half years for World War II. My father hunted him very effectively while I was gone, but when I returned home he was one happy dog and would no longer work for my dad if I was along. His plan was to be strictly a one-man dog. He could be a very reproachful dog if I missed a shot. He couldn't understand why I should ever shoot and miss.
As I grew up we fished mostly in the spring of the year--again, when it was too wet to work in the fields. We would walk two or three miles to either Panther Creek or Stone River with cane poles equipped with lines, hooks and bobbers. And, of course, a tomato can with fishing worms in it. We usually caught fish, but I would grade fishing accomplishment low. Sun perch and ten-inch catfish were the usual. This was long before the days of TVA lakes and numerous manmade ponds. We did have a few fishable ponds. I fished these frequently because they were nearer and I frequently caught edible perch or catfish. In fact, the biggest catfish I remember catching was at Hudson's Pond. I was alone and fishing for perch with the smallest hook I had. It was a deep pond, having been formed by stopping up a large sinkhole. I hooked a catfish, landed him, and ran directly home. This was the biggest fish I had ever caught. In fact, he was a very nice fish. He measured 25 inches long and we had fish for supper. By the way, supper was the meal we ate about dark. Dinner was the meal along about the middle of the day--maybe because we were farmers and did hard work. We certainly ate as much at dinner as at supper.
My brother and I started on baseball as soon as we learned to throw and catch a ball. Every community had a team made up of local boys and the rivalry was intense. No matter that few of us had uniforms and we took up collections to buy bats and balls. We had guys designated as foul ball chasers and we used a ball until it had cut seams. Horseshoe pitching was a big tournament type thing every Saturday afternoon in summer. Two-man teams played until a loss of two of three games and then a new challenger. This was always behind the Link General Store. A break in action nearly always meant a bottled Coke. Only one because it cost a nickel, and one was all most of us could afford in one day.
My father bought me my first .22 rifle on my twelfth birthday. It was a breech-loading Hamilton maybe 30 inches long. In a year I had worn it out. I shot a lot of squirrel and rabbit and a lot of target practice. We bought a new model 67 single shot Winchester for my thirteenth birthday. I have the rifle to this day, almost 60 years later. It will still fire when called on--and I expect quite accurately. My eyesight will no longer allow me to give it a fair test. At the time, I bought .22 Shorts, two boxes for 25 cents, 50 rounds per box.
Later on I became the official hog killer for the community when cold weather and hog killing time arrived. A hog brain is no larger than a walnut and many good marksmen, my father included, seemed to have difficulty in where to aim the bullet to find such a small target that could not be seen inside of a live hog head that was moving much of the time. Without effort I seemed to know. I could shoot from the front or even through the ear and the side of the head. Rarely did a hog even squeal when I shot him. Me and my .22 supplied the community with pork through most of my teenage years.
My .22 was also a source of great embarrassment in one case. I mentioned earlier that we kept and ate from a herd of goats. It was a good arrangement. Goats preferred to eat bushes and cows needed grass. You must remove bushes for grass to grow. The goats ate the bushes and cows got grass. We did not have to cut and burn bushes and we got goat meat and skins. The problem was that our goats were almost as wild as deer. We had great difficulty in herding goats into a barn to catch one. Dad decided after finding I could be of help killing hogs by using a rifle that we could do the same thing with our Saturday morning goat slaughter. We determined that a salt lick was the ideal spot for the ambush. It worked well for several Saturday mornings. We always selected and took a young 35-40 pound goat. On this particular morning there was a group of goats around the salt block. Nothing unusual about that. But this time as I squeezed off a round at my target, an old nannie raised her head from the salt lick directly between me and my target. You know what happened. My bullet took the old nannie in the neck. We had more meat than intended that week. My father did not want to embarrass me, but how could he explain that we decided to kill an adult goat without telling anyone? We laughed about it as long as he lived.
After my move to Rockvale High School in August 1937, I found a much-improved chance to develop some social skills and start enjoying (?) the ups and downs of adolescence. I remember it as a time of delirious joy or abject depression. Fortunately for me, I would always find a way to limit the down side to about fifteen minutes. I have retained that ability through the years. I do, however, still feel sympathy for kids during the swings of adolescence. When I reached my Junior year in high school and had rejoined many of the kids I had started to school with, the class elected me Vice President. My to-be very good friend, John R. Hughes, was elected president. My baseball coach, Mr. Campbell, made me his starting third baseman on the baseball team. I was not really the best fielding third base candidate, but started on the basis of a strong right arm. I was able to make the long and hard throw across the diamond with more accuracy than others. John R. was the star of the pitching staff. I one time allowed a bad hop on a grounder to hit me on the end of a little finger the day before a game with Eagleville. I would not tell Coach for fear I would not be allowed to play. I carry a crooked finger to this day because it healed without medical attention.
I also started my first really serious girl/boy thing. She was one of the girls that I had started school with initially. Her father was Sheriff of the county and her name was Emma Dolores McKnight. She wound up as Valedictorian and I as Salutatorian of the senior class the following year. Some suggested it was deliberate on my part when I came in second. If so, it was unconsciously deliberate. On the Fiftieth Class Reunion and probably at least forty years since seeing each other, she said she would never have known me. I could have said the same, but I did not. It was better to remember the 17-year old with freckles across the bridge of her nose. Better to remember things as they were. It was a different time and our society had a different set of mores than now. In our senior year she was selected Best All Around Girl and I was selected Best All Around Boy. Also in our senior year, John R. and I swapped elective posts. He became Vice President and I became President. There were no hard feelings. John had made my nomination in our class organizational meeting. I should mention that we were a small class of only 17 students in the graduating class.
Without a car I could not lead the social life I might have liked. If Melvin had just offered to let me use his car once in awhile, it would have eased my pain a lot. He never did and I have never mentioned it to him. My shortage of money would have been a serious enough handicap.
I had not played basketball before and therefore could not expect to make what was a very good team in both my years at Rockvale. I opted instead to stand for election as one of two boy cheer leaders. Maybe I had more fun than the basketball players.
In our Senior year it was not too unusual to play hooky for a day sometime shortly before graduation. John R. and I decided to play hooky and attend the season baseball opener in Nashville in April 1939. We had no difficulty hitching a ride to Nashville some forty miles away. We saw the game and had a great time. After all, we were honest to goodness player/fans who could appreciate the finer points of the game. When the game was over, we walked from old Sulphur Dell (the baseball field) south on Fourth Avenue to Murfreesboro road. Our intent was to catch a ride to Murfreesboro and then a second ride to Rockvale. I could walk home from there if I had to. Boy were we lucky. We caught a ride all the day to Rockvale with the first car that stopped. Unfortunately, the driver was John R's dad.
We did not have guidance counselors at that time, at least not in small high schools. I thought I would like to attend West Point Military Academy and Mr. Campbell contacted a congressman about a possible appointment and secured copies of entrance exams given in recent years. After some consideration, we realized that college work would be required before I could hope to pass entrance exams. My father talked with me about the situation and offered to find a way to pay the cost for me to go to what is now Middle Tennessee State. At that time it was a Teacher College and I wanted no part of teaching. I made a mistake in thinking it might lock me into a profession I didn't want and did not go directly. Mistake.
I opted instead to stay at home and grow up, as well as doing farming for a profit. I must have reasoned that something would happen to give me a clue of a life path to follow. I raised hogs very successfully. I secured several brood sows that I maintained, and struck a deal with an older young married man whereby I furnished him sows and he raised pigs to weaning time, giving me half the pigs. The sows still belonged to me. It worked well for both of us. I rented a semi-abandoned farm down on Panther Creek for two years. I then bought yearling cattle in the spring from the weekly live stock auction in Murfreesboro farmers market. After grazing them all summer, I would round them up in the fall and send them to the packing house in Nashville. I had one old crooked-horn steer go wild on me in 1942. Melvin and Dad finally were able to round him up for market after I left for the Army.
I hunted small game, fished, played baseball on the local team--and I guess I spent three years growing up. My social life was stunted by my lack of transportation. I had two friends, Wilburn Westbrooks and Scoot Pinkerton who had cars. This allowed me some mobility and Saturday night socializing. That was all the money I felt I could afford anyway. Wilburn left for the Army Air Corps in the spring of 1942 and I followed to the Army in the fall of 1942.
Volunteer for the Army
I knew that draft age was dropping and if I had chosen to ask for an agricultural deferment, it would guarantee that my younger brother James would go immediately after his 18th birthday. Our agricultural operation was too small to justify two draft deferrals. I chose instead to go to the military as a volunteer just ahead of the draft. My intent was to join the Marine Corps. In my youth the Marines seemed to be the heroes and helped one prove adulthood and maleness. Selective Service changed the rules on me in September and I had to follow the time they wanted me and go to the branch of service they decreed. Just as well.
I was examined at Camp Forrest, Tennessee, the first week of December 1942. I was accepted and told to go home and report to the train station in Murfreesboro at 10:00 a.m. on December 28, 1942. It was my father's fiftieth birthday. My mother was not emotionally prepared to see her older son go off to war and whatever her imagination may have manufactured. My father and Aunt Bertha Haynes saw me off at the station on my way to the Reception Center at Ft. Oglethorpe, Georgia.
My first day in the Army found me near the front of the chow line when it opened for breakfast in the early morning light. The Mess Sergeant assigned about the first dozen men in line as KP (kitchen police). These guys did all the dirty work from washing pots and pans to peeling potatoes--usually at least a 14-hour work day. I obediently started stacking cereal bowls for use as the job assigned me. I remembered that no one had taken my name. The Sergeant had no idea who he had on KP. I knew none of the chow line winners in my group of KPs and none of them knew me. It seemed that, under the circumstances, I could do better to proceed with Army classification than do fourteen hours at hard labor. On my first trip into the kitchen, I went straight out the back door and joined the rear of the chow line. By the time I was into the kitchen to eat breakfast, I was home free. My conscience never bothered me over the event.
Among the things that happened was one that affected my army career and all my business life after that time. It fed my ego and made me more confident in myself, even to this day. The armed forces in World War II had an extensive testing procedure known as the Army General Classification Test (AGCT). It graded the new military men into five grades based on the numerical score achieved. The top classification was 135 or above. The average, I was told, was between 90 and 100. I guess it was a rough equivalent to an IQ test. To attend any Officer Candidate School that could lead to being a commissioned officer, one must have a minimum score of 110.
The Sergeant in charge called someone else over in my presence when scores and personal information forms had been completed. My personal information sheet showed me to be a high school graduate only. I was a young farmer who had averaged a net after expenses income the previous year of less than ten dollars per week. His consternation was caused by my AGCT score. My score was 144. This became part of my permanent file and was the early information any new unit found out about me. In my years I never saw but one higher score--at 146. This alone opened some doors for me and gave me an ego shot I sorely needed, coming as I did from roughly a nineteenth century environment.
My orders sent me to Ft. Ord, California. We went all the way on a troop train, including a kitchen car. There was no sleeper. We had to sleep in our seat. There were no civilians on the train. I thought we would never get across Texas. It took days. We would stop and get an exercise break from time to time. Two impressions. When we stopped at Ft. Smith, Arkansas, we had a big crowd around the station. I had never seen so many black faces in my life, probably even if you added all previous black exposure altogether. I could hardly see a single white face. Remember, this was the time of almost total racial segregation, and I had never gone to school or associated with Negroes. Even at that train station we had separate rest rooms and even separate drinking fountains.
My other memory is of a platform exercise break in El Paso, Texas. I couldn't believe it was so cold. I can shut my eyes and still remember it. We must have had an unusually cold spell in El Paso the first week of January 1943.
I arrived at Fort Ord, California, on January 10, 1943 and was assigned to the 195th Field Artillery Group, quartered at the East Garrison. Fort Ord is about equidistant from Salinas and Monterey, maybe 100-plus miles south of San Francisco. The unit was an 8-inch Howitzer outfit. A big artillery piece. It had been a National Guard Unit from Saint Mary's, Kansas. After being nationalized about late 1940, they had spent time in Camp Robinson, Arkansas, and the Presidio at San Francisco.
I was assigned to headquarters battery along with two other Tennesseans and about a dozen New York City boys. The other Tennesseans were Richard Sims from Murfreesboro. His father was an optometrist that my mother knew, and although Richard and I went separate ways in September of that year, my mother would still ask me about him years later. The other was Mickey Krichner. Mickey was a young professional baseball catcher with the Nashville Vols in the Southern Baseball Association. He had been injured in a collision at home plate with Paul Richards, the Atlanta catcher, late in the season. Paul later caught for Detroit and was a Major League manager several years. In any event, Mickey had his bunk right next to mine. He would shake his head and ask me if I couldn't hear a rattle in his head. Of course, I did not. He eventually went to the hospital and the last time I saw him was when I took his toilet articles to the hospital. Several months later I saw his name in the lineup of the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League--the same team that is now the California Angels, Major Leagues. The rattle in his head must have convinced the army doctors. It was also my first encounter with big city boys and the several Jewish soldiers in my platoon.
We really never had the standard Basic training most all others did. We were assigned specific duties and the mornings were dedicated to such things as close order drill, manual of arms, and such military niceties. The afternoon we then went to our military specialty. I was wire communications. My squad leader was Staff Sergeant "Mogen" McCoy. Master Sergeant Hap McCoy was my platoon sergeant; Lieutenant Buck, my platoon leader; and Captain Rollins, the Battery Commander. Funny how I can remember these names so easily from more than fifty years ago but can't remember the names of the guys I played golf with yesterday. The people in my outfit from Kansas all knew each other or were related.
You can imagine the challenge for an individual who had only rarely even used a telephone, to find himself as the switchboard operator in a field training exercise or to be Charge of Quarters all night with the responsibility of handling and routing all telephone communications within my military unit. My, was I naive, and almost felt like a resident of a foreign planet. We clambered up and down the sand hills of our northern California military reservation on the Monterey Peninsula. I did have a chance to visit the cities of Salinas and Monterey on weekends, mostly to gawk and see things never seen before by this Tennessee farm boy. I remember old Cannery Row in Monterey, as made famous by John Steinbeck in his book, Grapes of Wrath.
I went fishing on a charter fishing boat one Sunday morning. It was different from fishing I had done in Tennessee. There was more water, and the squid used for bait was gross and smelly. I had never fished with worms that smelled so loud. We anchored a few miles from shore and received a continuous rocking of the boat that I was told came from ground swells. At least I found out that I was subject to the malady of sea sickness. I still am plagued by sea sickness. We used hand lines, no rods or poles, but I did catch fish. I must have caught a bushel basketful of a fish they called yellow tail--either a small tuna or maybe a kind of snapper. Big day to a kid used to catching very small perch. I had no way of preparing my catch to eat, so I gave my catch to a local lady fishing on the trip.
My first field exercise was on a Military Reservation called Hunter Liggett. It was a portion of the William Randolph Hurst estate and site of San Simian Castle. Hurst was a late 1800s and early 1900s newspaper tycoon. On the first night of bivouac, I pitched my pup tent, along with my partner, on a sloping hill. That was about my only choice since we were in a very hilly area. Of course, a rain came up. A hard rain. Our drainage ditch cut around the uphill side of the tent could not handle the volume of water. It spilled right through our tent, but we managed to keep our blankets dry. Then it turned real cold. So cold I would keep slipping downhill and my feet felt they were frozen. But we were in warm California and it was only February. At reveille time I reached for my canteen to get a drink of water. It was a solid chunk of ice. No wonder my feet were cold. Welcome to outdoor army life.
But of all my sights as a country kid hick, the farming in California stunned me the most. We were in the Salinas Valley, also known as the nation's salad bowl. The work went on seven days a week. Back in the Bible Belt where I came from, we never worked on Sunday. We did only necessary chores like milking and feeding--the livestock as well as ourselves. And they used monstrous Caterpillar tractors to till crops in California. The most I had seen was a two-cylinder John Deere or a Farmall tractor. We used man, horse, and mule power back home.
Mojave Desert Maneuvers
We stayed at Fort Ord until Easter Sunday. On that date we departed by truck with all our big guns and equipment for the Mojave Desert and maneuvers. The North African military campaign was under German General Rommels, the British General Montgomery, and the American General George Patton. They must have thought desert warfare was to be a major effort of the war against the German/Italian forces. Many of us spent a lot of time training for desert deployment. We took several days to move from North California to the Arizona/Southern California desert around Indio and Desert Center.
We set up a bivouac area and pitched pup tents for each night. The kitchen truck would set up and prepare supper and breakfast each morning with cold rations for lunch during the next day. We virtually took over the roads. Civilian traffic was not allowed to pass and our typical speed was forty miles per hour. Then we had to stop for a restroom break from time to time. The time probably depended on the tolerance of Colonel Cannady's kidneys. The convoy probably stretched for the better part of two miles. Pee call was unload from the trucks, turn our backs to whatever civilian population might be around, and relieve ourselves on the truck wheels. Maybe we missed the wheels since our experience told us we would likely scrub these same wheels and tires down with soap and water sometime soon.
We arrived in due time and started preparing for desert warfare. They say the generals usually prepare for the last war. In this case, it must have been for the last campaign. Some of the early people probably did go as units or as maybe replacements. We did not. We were issued dust masks for truck travel in areas of unpaved terrain made into temporary roads. And we did need them, 'deed we did. We almost choked and without mask and goggles it would have been near impossible. Faces would be a solid cake of dirt except for the white rings when we removed mask and goggles. The heat was near unbearable. Our medics required us all to take salt tablets. When a unit area used a company sized kitchen, a Sergeant would be stationed and issue and require us to swallow our salt tablets. Some soldiers would feel nauseated from the salt and not take them. When we could get back to our tent city after field exercises or problems and could undress before going to bed on a canvass cot, our military fatigues could be stood alone because they were so stiff with salt. And one actually is not aware of profuse sweating. The air is so dry that evaporation of sweat is almost instantaneous.
By this time I was made an acting Corporal in Wire Section. Our job was to set up quickly a telephone net for the unit. Since I was in Headquarters Battery, we ran ground lines to all firing batteries to, of course, the Commanding Officer and his staff as well as our own Battery CO. We had half ton trucks with a spool of wire mounted on back. The driver would move as rapidly as a man could pay out line in back. Then someone had to walk each line to dress it--that is, to lay it flat to reduce the chance of it being broken by traffic or to minimize the chance of it being cut by shrapnel in a real combat situation. It still was frequently cut. Since communication was vital, it meant isolating the areas of break and walking until found and we could do a splice to make a repair.
We ran over the Mojave Desert for about four months. Field problems were frequently at night, mostly because of the 100 to 120 degrees temperature. We would go back to the tent city we had started between military exercises. Here it was like garrison in the field. We had our field kitchen and mess halls for a few days.
We finished in early August, loaded Howitzers and trucks on railroad flat cars at Rice, California, and left for Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri. By now I had decided there must definitely be an easier way, or at least a more comfortable way, for me to fight my part of World War II than to be in a heavy field artillery outfit. I saw a request for a transfer to Aviation Cadets and maybe fly airplanes as a good solution. I was concerned at fighting thousands of feet in the air and the fact that most destroyed planes seemed to burn with disastrous results for the crew. I reasoned that was not much worse than artillery shells exploding in my lap or hand to hand combat with bayonets and grenades. And the level of living promised to be much more comfortable up until that moment of truth came. So I applied for and took the test as required and was notified that I was accepted into Aviation Cadets. This was in early September 1943, and soon after we arrived at the Missouri post.
I got a one-week furlough home and at the end of that time I was to report to Jefferson Barracks, Missouri in St. Louis to be classified. That was for the purpose of deciding if I was physically fitted to be a pilot or if Bombardier or Navigator was more likely. This occurred during the baseball World Series, and it was being played in St. Louis. The New York Yankees and the St. Louis Cardinals were playing. I could not buy tickets, but I was told a section would be reserved for servicemen in uniform on a first come first served basis. I cut short my visit to Tennessee and arrived back in St. Louis for two of the games. I got in both days, and the next day reported to begin my new service life as a member of the Army Air Force. At that time there was no independent service as we now have the Air Force, with its own Academy and all. Then, the Army had an Air Corps, and the Navy had the Marines with still another air force under the overall direction of the Navy.
Several days after classification testing, I was told I was being sent to CTD (College Training Detachment) by enrollment at Kansas State College in Manhattan, Kansas. The name was later changed and remains today Kansas State University. Finding that Dr. Milton Eisenhower was President of the university was a real thrill. Milton was the younger brother of General Dwight "Ike" Eisenhower, then tabbed as Allied Supreme Commander of Allied Forces for the imminent invasion of Europe.
Returning to a study environment at a college level, and at least double the typical student study level, was a challenge to me. I realize that today many courses would be considered remedial. I found myself taking a Trigonometry course, Physics, Astronomy, Public Speaking, Geography and courses in Navigation. Maybe others I can't remember. We lived in the Sigma Nu Fraternity house and we formed up as Flights to march to class. The attractive part of it all was the fact that we had a total of two thousand male students, at least half of us in uniform, and about seven thousand women students.
It could have been a great environment, except we marched to breakfast before sunrise, and several evenings we would have class. Then we had more homework in the evening. We had no free time except Saturday afternoon and evening and Sunday until supper time. Some of us went to church in downtown Manhattan. I went to the Methodist Church and met some nice families and would get an invitation to eat with them from time to time. Young men would frequently meet daughters of these families. One such family was the Duncans. They had a red-headed daughter about my age named Ruth. Ruth had gone to KSU and was a brand new Registered Nurse. My weekends were more pleasant after that.
About May 1944, this came to a screeching halt. The Army in its wisdom decided it had more pilots in the training process than would likely be needed. Since many of us had volunteered from other branches of service, that was the answer--not one of evaluating individuals. Thirty-six thousand pilots-to-be were released and returned to previous branches. A single notation in each Service Record, "returned to previous branch without prejudice." And my career had to change again.
Officers Candidate School
A large percentage of my effected classmates wound up in Infantry or other combat arms headed for the imminent invasion of Europe, at least as an early replacement since the invasion began on June 6, 1944. I was sent to the 13th Armored Division at Camp Bowie, Texas, for a short stop. Since my experience was in Field Communications, I was shortly sent to a signal company at Camp Maxie, Texas. This was in Paris, Texas. The stay was uneventful this time and there was no indication of the lifetime effects Paris, Texas would have on my life the next time around.
I met a young lady from Ft. Worth and planned to be in that city over the July 4th weekend 1944. The duty roster declared, however, that I was to be on guard duty on the Fourth. I was much put out. On the same date, the Company Commander called me to the Orderly Room. He was the only Major I can remember commanding a company. Table of Organization called for a Captain, but 1st Lieutenants frequently commanded companies. The Major had received an army memorandum stating that any enlisted man with an AGCT score of 135 or more and less than 22 years of age would be eligible for a direct appointment to West Point. I was the only person in the company that appeared eligible for appointment. My disappointment made me a ready prospect. I said yes and the Major started the process. Several days later I was again called to the Orderly Room and told I was not eligible after all. It seems they really meant that the soldier had to be less than 22 when the school year actually began. I would reach 22 days before the next class started.
The Major must have felt bad about this turn of events. He informed me he was on the Post Officer Candidate Board, and he would see to it that I could go to the OCS of any branch of service I might choose. I chose infantry. I had never been in an infantry unit for a single day of my life at this point. My brother James had recently finished Infantry Basic training at Camp Blanding, Florida, and as I suspected, it was a short time until he was in combat with the 36th Infantry Division in Europe. He was wounded at a later date, but made a substantially full recovery. There was also expected to be a shorter wait for an available opening. They used 2nd Lieutenants fast in the Infantry.
Since I had to wait for an opening at the Infantry OCS in Ft. Benning, Georgia, my commander suggested I might as well be in school somewhere as hanging around Camp Maxie waiting. He and I picked a four-month school at the Signal Corps school in Ft. Monmouth, New Jersey. The subject was in cable splicing (as in telephone). It met the time limits we needed and I was told if an OCS opening came up before the four months was up, that I would be contacted. I finished the course. I reported directly to my new post and was in for the most enjoyable summer this farm boy had experienced up to that date. The course was not too demanding and we had an eight to five, five day week environment. Long Branch, Red Bank, and Atlantic City were easy visits any night.
New York City was maybe an hour away by train, and I think I went nearly every weekend that summer. New York in 1944 was the best possible place for a young soldier with little money. I could stay at the Times Square YMCA for a dollar a night. Eat all the hot dogs and drink all the Pepsi Cola I wanted for free at the Pepsi Cola Times Square Canteen. The USO could find free show tickets for Broadway shows on Saturday nights. Best of all, a subway ride cost only a nickel and we had three Major League baseball teams in New York. If you were in uniform, there was a free section reserved for servicemen. The Giants played at the Polo Grounds, the Yankees played at Yankee Stadium, and the Dodgers played at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn--all with free tickets and a five cent subway ride. I think I saw a double header every Sunday all summer. Great ball players.
The people, including girls, were superb to us. Too much other stuff for me to get too interested in girls. At best they required some money, and I had little. Later years when I would need to go to New York on business, I could almost cry for the New York I had known. By that time the people were surly, the streets dirty and unsafe, and everything too costly to enjoy. In fact, I one time needed to have a meeting with two Shenandoah Life Insurance General Agents who lived in northern New Jersey. I flew into LaGuardia airport in midday, and arranged to have an airline VIP lounge for business. We conducted our business through the afternoon and I bought a couple of drinks and dinner in the airport restaurant for my GAs before boarding a flight back to Roanoke. I congratulated myself on making a New York business call and avoiding the necessity of actually going into the city.
One other event sticks in my mind from that summer. We had a very strong hurricane come up the east coast in late summer. Much damage was done, including damage to wire communications. Several other soldiers and I with wire communication experience were loaned to the telephone company to clear lines over some of the swampy areas of New Jersey. I remember on this day riding on a pulley on the steel weight-bearing cable to clear off limbs and check for other damage.
Another memorable event was my attempt to visit my brother James at Ft. Meade, Maryland, when he was processing to go to Europe as an infantry replacement. I went down on a train on a Saturday to Ft. Meade. When I arrived I found that he had departed on Friday. I was sad at missing him, but I decided to visit Washington the rest of the weekend. I had never seen Washington before. It made me a Washington Redskin fan forever. I went to my first ever pro football game on Sunday afternoon--the Redskins with Sammy Baugh at quarterback and the Cleveland Rams (Rams in Cleveland then) with Bob Waterfield at quarterback. The Redskins won and made a longtime fan. Good times and bad.
Before I left Ft. Monmouth in November, I found a store in Red Bank that had under-the-counter shotgun shells. Under-the-counter really meant black market to avoid price controls. I wanted to return to Texas by way of Tennessee and quail hunt a few days with my father and my old bird dog "Mac." We had no shotgun shells. I bought several boxes of black market shells at six dollars a box. It was an unheard of price since I had paid 75 cents a box for all shells in stock at our Link Country store the year before I went into the Army. They were not even quail loads, but a Magna load of number five shot that was more suitable for turkey or geese. We used them and we killed quail. I thought this might be the last time home and the last quail hunting for a long time.
I proceeded back to Camp Maxie and found my company had moved off and left me. I thought this happened only to very troublesome children when the parents had the opportunity to move and leave no forwarding address. In my case, I was able to find out from Post Headquarters that my company had moved to Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio. I followed on a Greyhound bus. When I checked in at the Orderly Room, I was told that my time to go to OCS and Ft. Benning was the next class. I did need processing, which included physical exam and clearing post. They found a cavity in a wisdom tooth and decided it was not worth saving, so the tooth was removed. In a few days I had cleared post and it was mid December 1944.
OCS is a haze in my mind. I know it was seventeen weeks and classroom, weapons instruction, tactics, and field problems are all mixed together into sixteen-hour days. I fought so many battles in practice back and forth across the Chattahoochee River that I always think of "Benning's School for Boys" and the Chattahoochee as one and the same. It was weeks before I could get to town (Columbus) on a weekend. Finally, however, the big day arrived for the survivors. May 12, 1945, I was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant of Infantry in the U.S. Army and handed a dollar bill to the first man who gave me a salute. The enlisted Cadre in the company gathered around the barracks for our departure after we got our gold bars pinned on. Easy dollar in 1945. President Roosevelt had died just a few days before my graduation. He was in Warm Springs, Georgia, at the time of death and many from Ft. Benning were detailed as Honor Guard units as the body proceeded by rail back to Washington. My unit was not one of them.
I was sent to Camp Maxie, Texas in Paris for the second time--three, if you count my company moving off and leaving me. By this time the post had been turned into an Infantry Basic Training Center. It was usual at that time to let a newly commissioned Lieutenant take one group of new inductees and spend about four months turning them into infantry replacement soldiers. Then both officers and men would proceed overseas--not as a unit, frequently, but often some few would be assigned to the same unit. That was what we all expected.
The war in Europe had ended in the spring and the island hopping war in the Pacific was drawing the circle smaller all around Japan. Given the tenacity the Japs had exhibited on Siapan, it was conceded they would fight to the last soldier and probably most of the civilians when we invaded the island nation of Japan. It was widely projected that we might have as many as one million American casualties in the invasion. That is where I had every right to expect to go. I never knew there was such a thing as the Atomic Bomb under development. I would never have understood the potential even had I known. Needless to say, I have never made a second guess on President Truman's decision to use the bomb, not once but twice, and end the fury of World War II.
I digress. The summer of 1945 saw an event that was the most important and life-shaping of my life. I met a young lady. I had met a good number of women at various other posts in the past three years, but this seemed different. I shall tell the way we met in the way she tells it. We frequently don't remember events the same, but much of this is actually true.
I had a young Corporal named Thomas who on occasion was my Jeep driver. I was in Paris on a Friday night in mid-July. I was walking the street looking to see what I might see for the most part. Corporal Thomas saw me from his position inside an Army/Navy store and hailed me. I had taken the bus to town. We could not use military vehicles for personal purposes. The Corporal told me he wanted me to meet a young lady working in the store, thereby explaining why he had staked out a stand in this particular store. He gave me to understand that he was very interested in her and he may have indicated he expected to get married. Being a gracious young officer who wished his men to respect him, and if it cost nothing, as this did appeared not to, I said okay. He introduced me to his "girl" Jerrie Hobbs.
Somewhere in the store a very large rat appeared scampering wildly. The feminine part of the crowd took cover wherever they could about the floor and the Corporal and the Lieutenant proceeded by killing the nasty invader and becoming instant heroes. Miss Hobbs and I became almost inseparable on all time off from that time on. Corporal Dan Thomas was regrettably transferred to the Aleutian Islands shortly thereafter. I have protested truthfully that I had nothing to do with it for nearly 50 years. Jerrie pretends she does not believe me. I have never seen Corporal Thomas to see how he feels about it. Anyone who knows the total lack of influence a 2nd Lieutenant has, knows that I am innocent.
Jerrie is part Cherokee Indian and very proud of it. Her father was at least 50 percent and maybe as much as 75 percent Cherokee. If so, then Jerrie is at a minimum of 25 and perhaps 37 and a half percent Cherokee. I have about one sixteenth, same tribe, but mine is before the "Trail of Tears" and hers is after relocation to Oklahoma. Our children have more than a smattering of the blood of the Cherokee Nation. Sorry, Kids. We can't prove enough for oil land on the Reservation.
Miss Jerrie Hobbs and I were married about six weeks later on September 1, 1945, by a Presbyterian minister in Paris, Texas. I suppose Las Vegas odds would have been pretty long on us ever celebrating a Golden Wedding Anniversary. Shows good judgments can be made quickly--at least some of the time. She still makes me wonder sometimes when she buys cocktail napkins that declare, "I fell in love at first sight. I should have taken a second look." My parents and her parents must have been worried to distraction by what they had every right to see as the impetuous and probably stupid action of youth.
In early November my orders came through for overseas move to the Pacific Theater of Military Operations. The trip to Japan was made in a Liberty Ship--a ship turned out quickly, cheaply, and in great numbers by Kaiser Industries. They made a great contribution to World War II, but the ships did not ride easy as a troop carrier in a Pacific typhoon. And that was what we got. A terrible storm that kept us mostly below deck for three days and most of the time we were in a thirty foot trough or on top of a thirty foot wave with the ship screws whirling in the air. I, by my very nature, tend to get seasick, even to this day. The only food I even attempted to eat for most of the fourteen-day trip was oranges and crackers. As a young 2nd Lieutenant, I shared a state room with five more of similar rank and was commander of a three-deck deep compartment that housed a few hundred enlisted personnel. I had to spend a fair amount of time below deck, and during the storm the time required was much more substantial because we sprung a leak by a steel plate being bowed, breaking a welded seam in my compartment. We kept two men on duty with pails and mops all the remainder of the way to Japan, arriving 14 days after departure from southern California.
Arriving in Tokyo, we debarked and were transported to Zama and the Japanese Military Academy. The U.S. Army had requisitioned the property and turned it into the Fourth Replacement Depot. Its purpose was to return high point men to the States for discharge and, of course, bring in a sufficient number of replacement personnel to allow the military to function as an occupying force in a hostile country. I was surprised when the Depot held me for assignment as permanent party. I had expected to go to an Infantry Division. So I, an Infantry officer, was assigned to the Judge Advocate General or JAG. I thought all they had was lawyers.
As the only infantry officer in the unit, I found myself assigned the task of planning the post defense. I mean defense from potential military attack. Remember Japan was being occupied by enemy forces after almost four years of a most vicious war, ending with two atomic bombs after several months of fire bombing cities with B29s. And they had been a very fanatical enemy for all those years. We had reason to plan for a possible retaliatory attack. I did the best I could as an almost new 2nd Lieutenant to plan defensible gun positions, fields of fire, and alternate positions in event of being overrun in an initial assault. Fortunately we were never tested. My primary function was as a platoon commander of a constantly changing group of men--people who had been in the Pacific for a long time and by rules deserved to go home first. I usually had several hundred at a time, and for the first time in my life I had black soldiers. Remember that the army was still a 100% segregated by race institution in 1945. This was some adjustment for all of us.
One incident stands out in my mind. In order to keep as much of a military appearance as possible, we stood Reveille each morning and my sergeant did a roll call to determine if we had all personnel present or accounted for. In the winter time that meant near dark in early daybreak. I established a routine of checking barracks to see no one was sleeping in. If so, I routed them into formation. One frosty morning on my move through the barracks, I found a soldier still in his canvass cot sleeping. Roll call was already in progress outside so I grabbed a corner of the cot and upended the soldier in the middle of the floor. He was a big black guy well over six feet tall. He had on only boxer shorts and I made him put his overcoat on and hit the formation for roll call. Nothing unusual until after breakfast this same guy was at the Orderly room door asking to see me. It seems he was a visitor. He came from some other post to visit a friend and decided to stay overnight. They found a cot and blankets and the visitor made himself at home. I made him even more at home I guess when I dumped him on the floor and sent him into a frosty morn with underwear and an overcoat. I remember to this day and I bet he does also.
My curiosity as to why I was stopped at Fourth Replacement Depot was answered after I started playing poker several nights a week in a game that frequently included the Post Commander, one Colonel Arney from the Great State of New Jersey. The colonel told me when he needed replacement people he selected people who had earned at least a hundred dollars a week in civil life or one with the highest AGCT score he could find. Since a hundred dollars a week was not me, then my old classification test AGCT was why I was where I was.
Another incident that sticks in my mind was a train trip. I made many train trips on Japanese trains where all Americans could be seen because we all stood on the crowded trains and even the shorter Americans stood inches over the natives. This train trip was on orders from Colonel Arney to take a train load of newly-arrived stateside replacements from Tokyo to Osaka and deliver them to the 25th Infantry Division. I was to select one officer to assist me and, of course, I picked my closest friend Bob Phillips. We found we had a Japanese train crew that spoke no English and my few words of Japanese would be of little help. Bob and I looked over the roster and we saw several sergeants with Regular Army serial numbers. We reasoned if we wanted to get all our charges to Osaka that we needed help, so we picked as many Regular Army Sergeants as we had railroad cars and put one in charge of each. We gave instructions that no one except Lieutenant Phillips, train crew members and I were to pass. Without this rule we undoubtedly would have failed to get them all to Osaka.
On arrival at the 25th and turnover of our charges, we were ready to complete the rest of our mission with gusto. That was the balance of the order I received which stated specifically that after we delivered the troops we were to proceed to "carry out the orders of the commanding officer." When I had been handed the orders and knew I had no special orders, I proceeded immediately to the colonel's office to seek my "special orders." Sounded like some sure cloak and dagger operation. I was told the balance of my orders was to have a good time, and I was handed a reservation for four days R&R (rest & recuperation) at Lake Biwoika (not sure of spelling) for Phillips and myself.
The R&R was a delightful change, but the most memorable part was becoming an expert sailor--of sorts. We found sailboats and sailing lessons available. We went through the program for one session and then the next time we did it alone, always in sight of the dock. We reserved a boat for day three, arose early to pick up the box lunches we had requested, and headed for our boat. We were much surprised to find no one else around. We thought the rest must be really sleeping in for R&R, and why did 23-year-olds need sleep? As we departed for the opposite shore that we could not see because it must have been ten miles away, we commented on the fine spanking breeze filling the sails and speculated that maybe it would get a little stronger and give us a real fast trip. It did. We still saw no boats on the lake, but we made it across and had lunch before returning. Now we did all this without mishap, but when we got to our temporary home we found anxious people. The wind was to be so high that it was decreed for the day that all boats stay anchored. We just got out too early, plus the Lord looks after stupid 23-year olds. Bob and I had a memorable day and a memory I am sure we have both retained.
About August 1946, my time to go home came. While Jerrie and I had each written with great frequency several times a week, I was most anxious to go home; but very concerned about how I should earn a living and discharge my newfound responsibilities of marriage. I even considered staying in the Army, but they were not interested in keeping me as an officer. They had too many better educated officers with more experience than I available. I was ahead a fair amount of money in my poker game. I even had a few hundred dollar Money Orders made by Colonel Arney. As you may expect, the game continued on the boat trip from Tokyo to San Francisco. I had no duties this time, so I played poker. When I reached $10,000 in winnings, mostly fifty dollar bills, I decided luck would likely turn at some point and I wanted to keep some of that money. I stashed 100 fifty dollar bills inside my coveralls and continued the game. Luck did turn and I ran so low on funds before San Francisco that I withdrew from the game. I didn't tell anyone that $5,000 was put away. Some people take a dim view when a winner leaves with game money.
I rode a troop train from California to Ft. Sheridan, Illinois. After a few days processing, I was paid for my terminal leave time, promoted to First Lieutenant, and placed in the Army Reserve. I celebrated by catching an Eastern Air Lines flight to Nashville. Jerrie had decided to come to Tennessee from Texas by train and meet me at my parents' home. I rode a bus to Murfreesboro and caught a ride with someone out to our farm. I was not sure when Jerrie would arrive, but I knew she was en route. She arrived the next day and caught a taxi to the house. Remember, she had never been even in the State of Tennessee before. It happened that the cab driver was an acquaintance of the family and he thought a great joke to make it sound like she had married into the mountain clans of the Hatfields or McCoys. When she arrived it was mid-afternoon and a water melon feast was in progress in our front yard. She saw me eating a slice of melon with my mouth from the slice. She swears that the process covered the face with melon from ear to ear.
After a few days of introducing my new bride to my family, I made reservations, including a Pullman compartment on a train to New Orleans and a long overdue honeymoon. I had poker winnings and my terminal leave pay totaling about seven thousand dollars. We will start worrying later.
Jerrie was substantially surprised by Bourbon Street and the wide open porn-type shows of that time. At least she made a good case for that position. Of course, with my great worldliness of 45 months military service, I pretended I had seen it all before. We returned on an average of every five years for the next forty years. Must have been a successful honeymoon.
After a couple of months it came time to find a way to make a living and get a job doing it. We had taken a room in Nashville to facilitate a job search. Since I had done things in the management of people while in the Army, I presumed that a job of some sort of personnel section might be possible. What a laugh. I really was qualified for nothing. I started looking for a job that would offer me some on-the-job training with government help if possible. I cannot remember why I did not consider the GI college benefits offered to returning World War II servicemen. Maybe I thought it was too long to graduation and a start on the rest of my life.
Trainee Insurance Salesman
In any event, in early November 1946 I took a job as a trainee insurance salesman with the promises in the above paragraph. The company was the Great Northern Life Insurance Company and the General Agent was Jerome French. I was soon disillusioned. The primary teaching I got was reading text books and sales brochures. To my disappointment, the primary market Mr. French was interested in was the poor black market and small medical or disability policies. Small was certainly the most they might afford. And he never took me out and demonstrated how to find a prospect and how to present a product and make a sale. As bad as this was, it was not the thing that made me leave as quickly as I did. His wife was his secretary and his treatment of her was bad. After five or six weeks I told Jerrie I must leave before I threw Mr. French out of our sixth floor window. The next morning I resigned.
In the meantime, while I could say I was employed, we decided to buy a house and pass buying a car until later. We bought a two-bedroom home at 1525 East Douglas Avenue in Nashville. The purchase price was $7,250, and we paid closing costs and $1,250 down with a GI guaranteed loan of $6,000 at four percent interest. We had enough money to make a minimum down payment on a little cheap furniture. We had at the best an uncertain period of income and had to look forward to riding the city bus until our fortunes changed.
Fortunately I met a nice gentleman named Ancil Smith through a Help Wanted ad he ran. He was branch manager for The Commonwealth Life Insurance Company of Louisville, Kentucky. This company also had a middle to lower income target market and had agents collect the insurance premiums at the homes on a weekly or monthly basis. The city was divided in smaller sections that allowed me to ride a bus to the section I wished and then walk on my collections and sales efforts in my assigned neighborhood. Contrary to Mr. French's method, my new company gave me a week of intensive study and then two full weeks of an experienced person working with me in actually doing the job, including making sales efforts on behalf of my account. They paid me $52 a week for the first 13 weeks and then a combination of collection fees and sales commissions after that. The only hurdle was I had to be bonded. That was okay, but the company had a $200 deductible on the bond and decreed I must put this amount up in cash. We had extended our resources so thin that we did not have it. Ancil agreed that if I would raise $100 he would hold two dollars a week of my pay for the balance. I had to pawn a watch for twenty dollars to make it. Good thing we had some food in the house until I got my $52 paycheck on Friday.
I made my first sale alone in about two weeks. It was my first solo attempt and to a total stranger as a result of knocking on a strange door to look for a prospect for life insurance. A hard way and one I never liked. The fact I found it distasteful and found other ways to prospect as quickly as possible does not change the fact that I knew practically no one in Nashville and if I was to be successful it was necessary that I meet people on the most direct basis. Fast.
I was reasonably successful in 1947. We paid our bills, and I spent five weeks in one-week increments in school in Louisville, courtesy of Commonwealth Life. I changed and was able to pursue more pleasant and lucrative markets in later years, but I am grateful and remember Commonwealth with fondness for giving me an opportunity to learn. That I needed. I qualified for the company leaders convention in 1947 to be held at the Brown Hotel in May 1948. Jerrie was elated. We didn't know what to expect, but the indication was that maybe I had enough gumption to make a pretty good living. This was more important to Jerrie than I knew. She later confided that she was certain when I decided to become an insurance agent that we would go hungry. Seems that in no way did I fit the stereotype of a salesman that Jerrie held.
We bought a car in February 1948 in celebration and drove to the convention in Louisville. New cars still required we make a deposit and get on a waiting list. We bought a 1942 Chevy and paid (cash and loan) $1,175 for it. The car sold new in 1942 for approximately $750, but that was inflation and the lack of all civilian auto production during World War II. We had a house payment of $55 a month (we rented a part of our house to another young couple for $35 to help defray the payment), car payment of about $50, and a grocery budget of $12 a week. We made payments on furniture and all the other expected and unexpected bills. We tried to eat at the S&W cafeteria and go to a movie on weekends. But we made it.
We decided that since there was some evidence we could survive, we wanted to start a family. So on February 15, 1949, a son was born--healthy and squalling. We each at 26 years old were proud. Jerrie insisted he be named Willis Junior. We quickly showed him off to his paternal grandparents, but it would be sometime before his Texas grandparents could be visited. Cost. Also, our larder was supplemented when we went to the farm. Vegetables, eggs, chickens and ham. I was by now earning an average of about $75 a week. Not steady. Commission salesmen must adjust to varying size paychecks and not blow the big one and then have no money for the light bill next week.
War in Korea
By 1950 I had been made assistant manager in the Birmingham office and we were living in Gadsden, Alabama. Jerrie was pregnant with our second child and we had bought a new 1950 Studebaker Commander--financed, of course. Then the Korean War popped to the surface. My army reserve status was still in Nashville, but since I found it impractical to be a member of a reserve unit, I had been assigned to a composite group of inactive Reservists. In September I got registered mail from the Department of the Army directing me to report to Camp Stoneman, California port of embarkation for overseas assignment. I made a hurried trip to Nashville and was able to persuade the army to delay my September recall until after Wayne was born and I could move my family back to Nashville.
Wayne was born in Gadsden on November 20, 1950, and as quickly as possible we moved back to Nashville. We had chosen to rent our house instead of selling. Thank goodness. I then reported to Camp Stoneman as directed and took my overseas shots while still in civilian clothing. My group had very short refresher courses in some weapon changes and prepared to embark. Jerrie by this time felt it time to go to Texas and show her new offspring. She did have a new car to drive, but the challenge of two small babies and a trip from Nashville to Paris, Texas, would have been one only a young person could have handled.
In any event, we had a weekend while on shipment alert and were directed not to travel more than 100 miles from post and be sure to sign out where we could be reached. On Friday night I got into a small poker game but my hand was hot. I won about $200. I was very lonesome and was on a trip that I thought I had an excellent chance of never returning from. I called the San Francisco Airport and found that I could catch an American Airlines flight at about 8:00 p.m. and be in Dallas early Sunday morning. I could get a flight out Monday morning and be back to Stoneman by late Monday. I called Jerrie at her mother's in Paris and told her when to meet me in Dallas and my flight number. I signed out of camp with a contact of a telephone number only and made the trip. It was the right thing for us to have done under the situation as it existed for us. Another fast spur of the moment decision that was right. It all happened as planned and I departed for Korea two days after returning to California.
My first stop was my old post in Zama, Japan, now named Camp Drake. The four artillery officers in my group of eighteen company grade officers (captains and lieutenants) were out to Korea in 24 hours. The fourteen Infantry officers took about a week.
We went by train to Sasebo and crossed the Sea of Japan by boat to Pusan, Korea. I do not remember the exact date when I arrived in Pusan. It must have been the last half of April in 1951. On that day I got my first ride on a Korean train. It would have been pretty good for cattle, but kind of rough on a soldier. The bunks were plain lumber with no padding. I traveled most of the night on this train until I was somewhere near the 25th Division. I offloaded and there was a Jeep waiting to take me to the 35th Regiment Headquarters. I reported to the commander (Colonel Cheek, as I remember). He asked me how I felt about my very sudden recall to active duty. I replied that the way it was done would ruin the Reserve in my opinion. But I also added, "Having said that, you will not hear any complaining and I'll do my best so long as I'm in Korea." He suggested I have dinner at his officer mess. We had a "Happy Hour" with grapefruit juice and medical alcohol. Powerful cocktail. The next morning he sent me up to Fox Company of the 35th Infantry Regiment of the 25th Infantry Division.
At this point in the early days of 1951, the Chinese had poured over the Yalu River in tremendous force and had driven American and South Korean forces back with great losses in bitter cold. We had the job of starting the drive back up the Korean Peninsula all over. This time the primary enemy was the Chinese, not the North Koreans. I will not dwell on the horrors of war and especially Infantry combat. No one who has not experienced it can know the moments of absolute terror or the strange experiences of "highs" that I cannot explain. I think it was General Lee who said, "It is good that war is so terrible, otherwise man might learn to love it too much."
Setting the Record Straight
When I joined the company in a reserve position, I found at 28 I was the second oldest man in the company. We had one Regular Army sergeant named Sergeant Emmons who was 30 years old. The company commander was Sam Holliday. He was two years my junior and a 1946 graduate of West Point. I liked them both.
Sam Holliday informed me that I was the new leader of the 3rd Platoon. Sergeant Emmons was my Platoon Sergeant. Emmons called a platoon meeting so I could meet my platoon and let them know who the new leader was. I told them my military dated back to 1942, but I had never been in infantry combat. Therefore, I expected to learn more from them than they would from me. I had brought two bottles of good Kentucky Bourbon with me. I gave them to Sergeant Emmons and suggested he divide them with whomever desired.
A friend I had gone to Officer Candidate School with, now 1st Lieutenant Paul Clawson, arrived the same day I did and was made the commander of the 1st platoon. Associations are sometimes short but very intense as a combat infantryman. I have a friend who finished World War II as a Commander of an LCI (landing craft infantry) in the Pacific for about the last two years of that war. He has told me about suicide Japanese planes hitting his ship enough that he had burns from the resulting fire. His prime job was to land Marines on the beaches during island invasions. Yet he told me he finished the war with all his original crew, about 35 men. I said, "Tom, I have seen a 30 percent casualty rate in one day for an infantry company."
My first contact with the enemy was maybe a week or ten days later. Someone decided we needed a Company-sized contact patrol to check where the Chinese really were. Fox was elected and we were to proceed until fired upon, then come back inside our lines before dark. We did exactly that. We had an American .50 caliber fire at us and then we withdrew as planned. I'm sure the weapon was one earlier sent to the Chinese Nationalists. We saw no further combat action until an assault on Hill 329 on May 21, 1951.
I will set the record straight on the truth as I remember the events that led up to me receiving the Distinguished Service Cross. On the 21st day of May 1951, we were near the Korean village of Uijongbu. The Regiment was in a broad attack. There was a tall, chocolate drop-shaped hill dead in the center of a zone that was heavily fortified by the Chinese. It had to be taken because it was the high ground holding up the entire Regiment advance. The size dictated we could not use more than a single company to move up the hill. Some way we got elected. Sam decided that Clawson and I each would attack with a reinforced platoon.
We were able to get very good American air strikes on the positions, but that is not terribly effective on well dug-in troops. The Canadians had prepared concentrations to give us artillery coverage on our call. The Turks had already secured the high ground to the right of our objective. Hill 329 on our map was our objective.
The early going was reasonable, but we took casualties--me included. Our Regimental Commander felt his officers should carry only side arms, not rifles. He threatened a $100 fine to an officer doing otherwise. His reasoning was that the temptation was too great to become involved in a fire fight and not fight our platoon or company. He said if we really needed a rifle, rifles would be laying around. He was right, but I was leading an assault with a .45 pistol in my right hand when I was hit by either rifle or machine gun fire in the left. So much of everything was flying around that one wonders how anyone escaped a hit. In any event, the Medic put a prepared bandage on my hand, but I refused to let him give me a shot of morphine. I needed nothing that might dull whatever brain I still retained.
As we neared the top, we got bogged down completely under heavy and very close range automatic weapons fire and even grenades. I called for the Canadian Artillery Concentration. The first shell hit behind my position and I knew we were in trouble. I was trying desperately to stop the Canadians. Finally a friend of mine from World War II named Maxwell who was commanding a Heavy Weapons Company in the 45th Division, got the fire lifted. I found this out later. We took ten men wounded from "friendly fire", but none were killed. I shall repeat here the citation given me with the DSC, then give my readers my memory of what happened.
Distinguished Service Citation
Now I will tell how it really happened and maybe even why. As to the hero stuff, I'll let the military be the judge of that.
After we were pinned down the last time as mentioned in the citation, I found myself behind a rather large rock with my runner or radio operator. Not only did we have a machine gun emplacement to contend with and it was less than 30 yards straight ahead, but we had a lone rifleman in a fox hole maybe 25 yards away that could see us. The first time or two he fired a single shot and knocked dirt in our faces. It was apparent that he was afraid to expose himself long enough to accurately direct his shots, so I decided to hit his head with my trusty .45 when his head came up again. Twice I tried and he was still popping his head up and firing. I figured after a while that the worst shot would get lucky at such close range. One of my riflemen had been wounded and under cover of the same rock. I borrowed his rifle and after the next duck down of the Chinese soldier, I moved from behind the rock and dropped to one knee as though I was on a rifle range. When his head next appeared, we were free to concentrate on the machine gun emplacement. While they could not bring me into their field of fire, they could get grenades too close for comfort. One had actually fallen within four feet of us and I had grabbed it and quickly threw it back toward the enemy before it exploded. It gave me an idea, however. My radio man and I were borrowing grenades and since I could not pull the pin that arms the grenade with my wounded left hand, he pulled pins and I tried to lob one over into the emplacement. I was not making the mistake my opponent had just made, however. I wanted no chance he could throw one back before it detonated. Since our grenade had a six second fuse, I would pop the percussion cap and throw on the count of three. Let him try to get that three second grenade back.
After some three or four attempts, I was successful and a grenade went over the top into the gun emplacement. Knowing the shock value of the explosion would be short, I ran with my borrowed rifle yelling, "Let's go." In the noise and confusion, I just traveled the 30 yards before my men could react. I had no intention of charging that place all alone. Inspiration be damned. I found that my grenade had barely cleared the sand bags and landed on a kind of shelf where it exploded. The men had simply ducked and no one had been touched. Since I was on top of a five-man machine gun crew, I thought I might as well give it my best. I had a bayonet on the rifle, but I figured I was a better shot than a knife fighter, even on the end of a rifle. So as I went over I fired the rifle full into the face of the first man. Then my strategy went to pot. The empty clip flew out with a clang and I knew I had an empty rifle in my hands. One doesn't think, one reacts. I did not bother trying to fire an empty rifle. I wasn't too hot still on that bayonet, so I swung the butt of that heavy M1 and caught him squarely on the side of the head. Two down and three to go. My men still were somewhere back behind. Fortunately for me the other three decided it was time to get out of there. When they ran out the rear end of the emplacement, I picked up a Chinese sub machine gun that we referred to as a grease gun, since that is what it reminded us of, and killed all three of them. I did use their own weapon, but I did not beat anyone to death with his own rifle.
We did, in fact, prepare for a counterattack and it came. They persisted until the last man in the skirmish line was killed. My friend, Lieutenant Clawson of the 1st platoon was one of the dead. Lieutenant Shankle, a 2nd Lieutenant, West Point 1950, was our Field Artillery Observer. He took over Clawson's platoon after he was killed. Shankle was then wounded before the action was over. I was happy later to find Paul was also awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. His, of course, was awarded posthumously. I never intended to be a hero, if a hero I was, but I found myself in a place that I saw no way to live through. Once you accept that this is the day it ends, you are not particularly brave, since you now have no more to lose.
I left the company in twilight and walked down the hill. My first stop was a MASH unit (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) where they did some first echelon clean up and surgery. I then traveled to Pusan Harbor and the Swedish Hospital ship by ground ambulance that night. They operated again and gave me a cosmetic set to the fingers of my left hand that gives some use and hides the fact that the hand is now malformed. From there they flew me to 364th Army General Hospital in Osaka where I spent about three and a half months. Strange how Osaka and the 25th Infantry Division both came back to play important parts in my second time around.
I had found three things about myself that I had not known before. That I was more afraid of allowing the people behind me to know I was frightened than I was afraid of what might lie ahead. That a position where we took long range fire with no way to react, such as long small arms or artillery fire, made me as nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rockers. Finally, at the time I would have expected the greatest fright, I seemed to have none. Perhaps you have heard really good baseball hitters say that on a good day they could see the rotation of the ball and almost count the stitches. I was that way in what is normally called hand-to-hand combat. It probably can be explained as adrenaline or some other reasoning explanation. The world simply slowed down for me. Many years later when Jerrie and I were in an automobile wreck and she was driving, I had the same thing happen when I saw the collision was inevitable. I could literally see the metal crumple and rivets pop out in slow motion. I'm glad I found out.
I sent Jerrie a telegram to let her know where I was and that I was okay. I could only select phrases and Red Cross had a number for each phrase. Line 10 or 5 etc. Then Red Cross stateside unscrambled it before delivery. I say good thing because one of the Nashville radio stations carried the news at five o'clock in the afternoon that I had been killed in action. Jerrie and my parents both heard the news, but they already knew better. I even had a high school friend see me several years later in a supermarket in Nashville. He thought I was my younger brother James and he proceeded to tell me how sorry he was to hear that "Willis" had been killed in Korea. It was my astounding news that I must be the second case of resurrection since in fact, it was me.
In August I retraced my steps back to Camp Drake and was prepared to return to my unit. A Medical Corps colonel examined my wounds and interviewed me. He asked things about me and said he thought he should send me to the States. Not really home, because my recall orders had specifically said 21 months. I still owed the Army considerable time. I got a 30-day leave and was ordered to report to the 101st Airborne Division at Camp Breckenridge, Kentucky. Easy driving time from Nashville. It was a basic training regiment and non-jumping in this phase. They wanted Infantry officers who had been in combat as training cadre. They would go to Benning to jump school after we finished with them. I came home every weekend and would leave before daylight on Monday to get back to the post driving Jerrie's Studebaker.
On arriving back in Nashville, I found Jack had suffered face and arm grease burns in a cooking accident. He was swaddled like a cocoon, but he knew me and was glad to see me. Wayne, on the other hand, knew I was some invading stranger that he wanted nothing to do with. He screamed like a banshee when I picked him up. He got over the screaming part after a while, but maybe continued to think of me as the interloper.
In January 1952 I had to go back to the hospital for more surgery. The pulverized bone in my finger joints started to knit as a broken bone is supposed to. The chips were just as likely to be pointing toward skin as bone. The result was to give me the appearance of cutting several small teeth through the skin on the sides of my knuckles. Just before any bone spurs broke through the skin, I went to the post hospital at Camp Breckenridge for the required surgery. After I was ready to return to duty, the Surgeon asked me if I wanted to stay in the Army or get out. I assured him that out was what I wanted. He suggested that he would send me to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, to a Physical Evaluation Board.
And so on meeting with the Board, they determined I was no longer qualified for general military service and offered me a minimum of Permanent Disability Retirement. That minimum for pay purpose was 30 percent of base pay. I was retired with little money, but all the fringe benefits of retired military on 29 February 1952 at the ripe age of twenty-nine.
Life Insurance Career
On the next day I went back to work with Commonwealth Life Insurance Company as a Field Training Manager, which meant that the company had selected me to be a branch office sales manager if I satisfied them with my performance during the next two years. I would travel almost full time during the first six months and then be permitted one week per month assignment in Nashville. I might go anywhere to become a full-fledged manager. The grand salary was $500 a month to start and moving to $6600 a year after the six month period. Not much money, but we had never been used to much money. Neither Jerrie nor I required things that were obviously beyond our means. There was one plus that lasted until I was bored with it. I caught a plane Sunday evening if flying was needed and had instructions to leave as early as necessary on Friday to be home for dinner. That was a full weekend with my family and I learned the joys of expense account living.
The habit got started that I brought the boys a present each Friday when I returned home. Jerrie also usually. It might be a Woolworth nic nac for 40 cents, but still a present. I realized after some time that my present meant more than me. Never solved it except Jerrie convinced me that my return was more important. That made hurrying home on Friday always a pleasant trip. We did this for two years exactly. We had traded cars twice in this time. We bought a 1952 Nash Statesman, but when we found it was not as much road car as the Studebaker Commander, we traded for a 1953 Nash Ambassador. And we traded without financing. Things were low in cost or we really knew how to stretch $550 a month plus $85 a month Army retirement pay.
In November 1953 I was sent to Mobile, Alabama, as acting manager during the illness of the manager. I took Jerrie and our two pre-school age boys with me. We took a place out near the ocean and when we found the manager would not return, we really wanted to move to Mobile to that job. It was not to be. Someone else went to Mobile and two months later, March 1, 1954, we went to Knoxville as Branch Manager. We did not buy a house, but leased a house from a Methodist minister for one year. At the end of a year we had sold our place in Nashville and bought a house in Knoxville on Chilhowie Drive. It was directly across the street from Chilhowee Elementary. In fact, that was why we bought it. We realized we had two boys near school age and nearness to school was an advantage. Also, a new high school, Holston High School, was under construction a few blocks away. We, in fact, saw both boys in these two schools. Ten years later we did build a new home on Crestwood Drive in Holston Hills and oined the Holston Hills Country Club. This indicates we must have been doing all right in business. Right.
I enrolled at the University of Tennessee as a part-time student in 1955 with the intent of taking courses that would prepare me to take CLU exams as given by the American College. My intent was not a degree granted by U.T. I was successful in completing all requirements for a CLU in 1958. As this was happening, Commonwealth Life told me that they wanted me to take a transfer to Chattanooga as Branch Manager there. We wished to put down roots and stay at one place for Jack (Willis Jr.) and Wayne to attend school. It ended with me leaving to join Shenandoah Life Insurance Company as manager. I was earning a gross income of $12-$15,000 per year by now. I asked Shenandoah for their regular compensation agreement and a guarantee of at least $10,000 per year for one year. They agreed. After six months I asked to cancel the guarantee and go regular commission and override on agents commission. It appeared I would make more money.
The target market of this company was moved up the economic scale from the Commonwealth target market. I was now qualified to work a higher level market. In 1958 with only eight months with my new company, I grossed more than $20,000. In 1959, I told my father that my earnings amounted to more than $30,000. I expected to be told what a great job I must be doing. Instead, my father said no one was worth that much money. I understood where he came from. In his nineteenth century world, that amount of money was unimaginable. The effect in the change in value of a dollar as changed by inflation is hard for one to grasp over a lifetime. The Jacksons were doing all right--better than I ever expected, and I presume Jerrie must have felt the same way.
The boys were growing up, we had a comfortable home, income, and lots of friends. We joined the Methodist Church and went nearly every Sunday. We thought it a better influence to take children to Sunday School rather than send them. I served as President of the Life Underwriter Association and the Kiwanis Club. Jerrie was President of the Lady Kiwanians and the Band Booster Club at Holston High School. Jack graduated from Holston, went to Tennessee Tech at Cookeville for two years, then back to Tennessee with a Marketing Major and a degree in business. He went on to Law School at Tennessee and when he graduated we were proud, indeed. Wayne finished his high school at Tennessee Military Institute and enrolled at Tennessee, later Tennessee Wesleyan. He was a good golfer and we might have hoped at one time he would be a successful pro tour golfer. It never happened. He went for other interests, but today he is in golf club manufacture and sales. Still a good golfer. The point is that we traveled a fairly predictable road and this history does not require me to make a blow by blow and year by year accounting. Each reader can add his own version. The early parts could not be done by you.
Both boys got married during this period. Both marriages ended in divorce. Wayne and Shelly have one daughter Jennifer Ann, born November 8, 1976. She is eighteen and a lovely young lady. We are very proud of her. There may still be more family down the road. Who can tell. But what we have we are glad we have them. Should there be more--naturally, adopted, or whatever, we would welcome them.
We did move to Roanoke, Virginia in 1969 to a new job, Vice President of Marketing for Shenandoah. Part of the move was a possibility that I would become President of the company in three years. It never happened, but I'm not sorry I took the run. It was not about money because I was earning substantially more money in Knoxville than the new job in Roanoke. It was trying to achieve. I earned enough money either way. The last several years I was Senior Vice President Individual Insurance. In this capacity I was responsible for the full array of individual insurance and services, including the bottom line financial results.
Legion of Valor
I became a member of the Legion of Valor in 1954. This is the oldest of the veterans organizations and membership is limited to holders of one of the two top combat military decorations--that is, the Medal of Honor or the top cross for each specific branch of service. That is the Distinguished Service Cross in my case. The organization was chartered in 1890. It usually has a worldwide membership of less than a thousand. I became active and served as the National Commander in our nation's Bicentennial period 1975 and 1976.
I had many moments I was proud to experience. I have been invited to the White House for dinner. I have appeared at the same head table and as guest speaker on the same program as the Commandant of the Marine Corps. Jerrie and I were invited to South Korea with a group of my peers to help them celebrate the 25th anniversary of the start of that war. We were wined and dined and treated like major heroes by the major figures of a nation. We, Jerrie and I, and sometimes the boys, enjoyed the major resorts as part of my job--places like the Homestead, the Greenbriar, Acapulco, San Francisco, London, Scotland, Spain, Italy, and scores of the finest places in this country.
The last day of February 1986, I chose to take retirement from Shenandoah Life Insurance Company exactly 34 years to the day since my retirement from the Army. We had bought a retirement home in Florida on the Gulf Coast on the Cypress Greens Golf Course. We play all the golf we wish. I have returned to work some to put off the day my brain turns to mush. We travel all we want. Cruises. A trip to Australia and New Zealand this past year. While we divided time between Virginia and Florida for a time, after nine years we prefer to live in Florida only.
It's been quite a trip and there is not too much I would wish to do differently. Maybe three things. I should have made a way to be a normal type college grad. I doubt I would have made more money, but the accomplishment, I needed. I could have received a Master of Financial Services degree from the American College late in my career. It would have taken only six weeks of residency on campus. I did not because I knew it had nothing to do with the job I was paid to do. It would have been ego on my part only. Finally, I wish I had been a better husband to Jerrie and a better father. But I wouldn't want to try over. You get one chance. You don't know how to do the job, there is no manual. You do the best you can and hope some of it is right. I wouldn't want to do it over because I don't think I would know any better the next time. And I could do worse.