“I am going to be 92. I am like the little boy who says, I am three, but I am going to be four next year. I was born in Mobile. When I was a kid, Airport Blvd was a swamp. Old Shell road was a shell road. I went to West End Methodist Church. It was called West End because it was the west end of Mobile. Government and Broad was the busiest intersection in town. The Loop was the end of the road. There was no garbage pickup and everyone dumped their trash there. There was little garbage because we didn’t have plastic, cans or styrofoam. Whatever you couldn’t burn, you dumped next to Eslava Creek. Cottage Hill Road was named that because there was no cure for TB. They moved TB patients to cottages on a hill outside of town for treatment. Living this long, I am full of history. There wasn’t a city of Spanish Fort yet when we moved there. Whoever had the energy to do things, they were the mayor and the city hall. I did that for a few years. I organized the volunteer fire department. With 29 people we started the Spanish Fort United Methodist Church. I am the only original member left.
We moved to Moss Point when I was in ninth grade. I skipped eighth grade and graduated from high school when I was 16. Whatever you are supposed to learn in eighth grade, I didn’t learn it. I had one year at Ole Miss in 1945. The enrollment for Freshman students was 900 girls and 100 boys. Did I make good grades that year? No, I did not. I turned 18 and waited for them to draft me. I was hoping the war would end before that. Most of the boys were drafted in high school because they turned 18 in high school. The day Pearl Harbor was bombed, there wasn’t a boy in the senior class of my school. They all enlisted.
Leaving home was a challenge for an 18-year-old who hadn’t been much out of Mobile. I thought the Mason-Dixon line ran through Montgomery and Jackson, Mississippi. My parents had four sons in World War 2. Can you imagine them lying in bed at night wondering their sons were and what was happening to them? It was very difficult to call and I talked to my parents twice while I was overseas. You had to sign up, only had five minutes to talk, and hoped service worked that day. Some guys had been there for three years without going home. One went home to a three-year-old child he never met. They needed men and then replacements for those men when it was time for them to go home. They don’t ask if you ready to go to war. I would have said no. You put off going to college, getting married, going to work. You put off the rest of your life and don’t know if you are coming back to it.
I went in the service in 1945. They loaded us in New York with a cup of coffee and a doughnut on the Liberty Ship. We watched the Statue of Liberty as we sailed away. It was my first time to see it. Crossing the Atlantic and took nine days and there were 1500 of us stacked five deep in bunk beds. The first stop was at camp Lucky Strike in Lahavre, France. It was a big staging camp where everyone arrived and then transported to units across Europe. A train to carried us into Germany. The boxcars were called forty-and-eights. They hauled 40 men or 8 horses. We stayed in those boxcars for three days.
I was stationed in Stuttgart and assigned to Army intelligence in General Patton’s headquarters group. We analyzed data from Troops, formulating what should be done the next day. We were occupying troops and I went to the University of Heidelberg for night courses. I took calculus from a professor who spoke broken English, I dropped out of that.
I was approved to go home the day after Christmas. It snowed all day the next day and we drove through the mountains in the Jeep to get to the station. I took the Liberty ship back to New York. I called my girlfriend and said I am coming home. The first plane I could find took off at 11 at night and got to Mobile at 7 in the morning. It stopped at every city between New York and Mobile. One of my best friends brought my girlfriend to the new airport that had just moved from Brookley Field. I hugged my future wife for about 15 minutes. I went back to Ole Miss on the GI bill and studied to be an industrial engineer. I got my master’s at South Alabama and taught there at night.
My wife died in 1992, six weeks before my son died. That was a tough time. I started dating one of my first girlfriends and best friends from Moss Point. We took up where we left off in high school. We got married and started living again.
I teach my kids that you don’t always get what you want in life but you have to always try. I used to think there is no way I would get to 92. We have wrung life out like a dishrag. Still ringing it. We have been there and done that. We still play the slot machines and jitterbug, waltz, and tango. I like to write corny poems
I often wear my World War 2 hat to represent my brothers who aren’t here today. It allows me to talk about them or someone tells me their story. We are getting scarce. There are 459,000 of us left but we are dying 352 a day. I also keep hat on the seat of my car. There have been two occasions where it has been helpful. Not one speeding ticket, but two. I put the hat on when the officer walks up to the car. Young kids don’t know what the hat means or what they are looking at. They don’t know we had world wars. Thank you for understanding and keeping our stories alive.”
(There are 4,609 living World War 2 living veterans in Alabama and 2,745 in Mississippi according to The National WW ll Museum)