Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Notebook: New Faces Hope To Help

Notebook: New Faces Hope To Help: "We talked to longtime Packers fan Erik Walden and big nose tackle Howard Green; plus the latest on who will start at right tackle; more from Thursday."

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Making Montrose Proud

If you were to say that Demaryius "Bay Bay" Thomas was the first native of Montrose, Georgia to play major college football and for a team in the National Football League, you would be wrong. That high honor goes to one Willie Hall, who although he lived only a short time in his native home, was the first from his community to play football on Sundays. In fact, Hall played on many Sundays including the most heralded football Sunday, Super Bowl Sunday.

Willie Charles Hall, according to Wikipedia, was born on the 29th day of September 1949 in Montrose, Georgia. Willie's family moved to New Brittain, Connecticut, where he was a multi-sport star at Pulaski High School, including running out the backfield, throwing the javelin and putting the shot in track. Hall, a talented athlete, did not go to a major college but opted instead to attend Arizona Western. His team lost to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M college in the 1969 National Junior College Championship. Hall became a defensive stalwart and caught the eye of John McKay, coach of the University of Southern California Trojans. The Trojans, led in previous years by running back O.J. Simpson, were considered one of the top teams in the country.

Hall, a small (6'3") but solid (214 pounds), stepped right in and led the staunch Trojan defense. His first game was one of his biggest. The Trojans traveled to Alabama to face the Crimson Tide under the direction of Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. It was the first time in the history of Alabama football that a fully integrated team had played in the state. The Californians triumphed by defeating the Alabamians, 42-21. With no let up in the schedule, the Trojans, minus their usual squad of All-Americans, played well on defense, but failed to live up to their reputation as an offensive powerhouse. Hall's team lost to rival UCLA, but ended the 1970 season on a positive note with a drubbing of national rival Notre Dame to finish the season fifteenth in the national polls at 6-4-1. Hall was named the Player of the Game for his outstanding defensive performance of eight unassisted tackles and in hounding Irish quarterback Joe Theismann all day long.

A revenged loss to Alabama in the Rose Bowl and three straight losses to Oklahoma, Oregon, and Stanford was too much for the Trojans to overcome. In the second half of the season, the team played well with victories over Notre Dame, California, Washington, and Washington State, along with a season-ending, sister-kissing, oh-no tie with U.C.L.A for its second straight 6-4-1 season and a 20th spot in the polls.

In between his two football seasons, Willie was a member of the U.S.C. track team.

Despite his team's lackluster performance, Hall, in his final collegiate season, had one of this best seasons of his football career. As team co-captain and wearing jersey number 83, Hall was chosen as a first team player on the Pacific 8 All-Conference team at linebacker. He was honored by his teammates as the team's most valuable player in addition to his winning the Gloomy Gus Henderson Trophy for most minutes played. Willie Hall's penultimate honor came when he was selected as linebacker on several NCAA Division I All-American teams.

The post season honors continued to pile up for Hall. He was selected to represent the West team in the 1971 East-West Shrine game, the North in the 1972 Senior Bowl game, and the College All-Stars in the once perennial summer preseason game against the NFL's defending World Champions, in this case, the Dallas Cowboys. Because of injuries and circumstances beyond Willie's control, he did not make the last two games.

Hall was selected by the New Orleans Saints in the second round of the 1972 NFL Draft. The young linebacker's career got off to an inauspicious start. His injury before the All-Star game kept Willie from playing a full schedule of games in his rookie season. But like all good players, Willie Hall shook it off and got right back in the game in his second season with the Saints. He told a reporter for the Times-Picayune, "I suppose I had a bad year last season, if you call getting hurt and not getting to play a bad season." Hall added, "I wasn't expecting a lot of things I found in pro football. I had to rearrange my thinking. The Saints improved in Willie's second season, but only to a five-win, nine-loss mark.

Following the 1973 season, Willie was let go by the Saints and became a free-agent. The Oakland Raiders picked him up just before the opening of the 1975 season. Finally, Willie was back on a winning team. The Raiders went 11-3, captured the AFC West championship, but lost in the AFC Championship against their new rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Hall saw limited playing time in seven games in his first year with the Raiders.

During the 1976 season, Willie played in all the games for the Raiders, intercepting two passes. The Raiders went 16-1 during the regular season and in the playoffs. And, on January 9, 1977, Willie Jones was back at home in front of 110,000 screaming fans in the Rose Bowl in the biggest game of career, Super Bowl XI. Playing along side Willie were his former U.S.C. teammates, Clarence Davis, Alonzo Thomas, Mike Rae, and John Vella. Hall, starting at right inside linebacker, had a rough day running all over the field trying to keep Minnesota quarterback Fran Tarkenton contained. In the second half when the Vikings were rallying to bring the score within five points, Hall stepped in front of a floating pass, picked it off, rambled for 16 yards, ending the Purple Gang's comeback hopes. "The other halfback was my man but I saw Tarkenton look to the inside and that's where I went," said Hall. "I don't think he saw me coming. He just threw it, and I was there." In the game, Hall stopped another Vikings drive with a fumble recovery at the Oakland 6-yard line. The Raiders, with seven future NFL Hall of Fame members, defeated the Norsemen, in a 32-14 rout.

The Raiders went 12-4 in 1977, but failed to make it past the AFL Championship. But, on December 11th, in a rematch of the Super Bowl, Willie, wearing his silver and black #39 jersey, picked up a fumble on the bounce at the Minnesota 2-yard line and took the ball into the end zone for the first and only touchdown of his career. He also picked up his third career interception that year.

In his final season in the NFL, the Raiders dropped to an uncharacteristic 9-7 record. Hall, playing only in eleven games, picked up his 5th and final career interception and his third fumble recovery.

I am sad to say, I don't know what happened to Willie Hall after he left the NFL. I have met some of his relatives, but regretfully didn't follow up with them on his status. If there is someone out there, who knows more about Willie Hall, Montrose, Georgia's first NFL player, please let me know. But for now, let us all cheer Montrose's newest NFL star, Demaryius Thomas, and hope that he will play at least a hundred Sundays and come back home to Montrose with one or more big fat gold Super Bowl rings on his hands.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


An Intrepid American Hero

Congressional Medals of Honor are shiny and blue. They come in a narrow black box. So, when Sam Coursen was handed one by General Omar Bradley, he really didn't know what was inside. You would have to excuse Sam. He was only fourteen months old. You see, the medal, the nation's highest award for heroism, was given in honor of his father, Lt. Samuel Streit Coursen, Sr., United States Army. If you went to Dublin High School in the mid 1960s, you knew Little Sam. None of you here were lucky enough to have known Big Sam. So, I will tell you his story, the story of an intrepid American hero.

Samuel Streit Coursen, a son of New York accountant Wallace M. Coursen and his wife, Kathleen Howell, was born in Madison, New Jersey on the 4th day of August 1926. Sam was an outstanding athlete at Newark Academy. Sam entered the United States Military Academy in 1945.

Following Sam's graduation from the Point in 1949, he married his sweetheart, Evangeline "Evie" Sprague, a daughter of Captain Albert Sprague, of the United States Naval Depot at Lake Denmark, New Jersey. More than six decades have passed since their marriage. Evie, as she is known to her friends, remembered, "We had only a few years together and only one year of marriage, but it was the loveliest time of my life and was further blessed by the birth of my son Sam." "He was very good looking and was as nice as he was handsome," Evie fondly remembered. Former West Point classmate Philip Feir said, "I don't know when Sam met Evie Sprague. Never have I beheld a more complete happiness than theirs. My mind goes back to Sam coming down the ramp after receiving his diploma. And, there waiting for him at the bottom of the ramp was Evie. I think at that moment they were completely alone in that vast auditorium. Their marriage was . . . a perfect union."

After his early training at Fort Riley, the Coursens moved to Fort Benning, Georgia for a rigorous round of basic training at the Infantry School. After the war in Korea began in June 1950, Sam shipped out to Asia.

By mid September 1950, the forces of the United Nations, under the leadership of the United States, began preparations for the invasion of North Korea. On October 9, 1950, Sam's 1st Cavalry Division set out on the offensive, with his regiment, the 5th Cavalry, on the right flank. Sam was in his third day as commander of a platoon in Company C. The advance of the 5th regiment was stymied by North Korean positions in a trio of hills, fifteen miles northwest of Kaesong on October 12, 1950.

As C Company moved forward to its objective point, Hill 174, Coursen's platoon entered a camouflaged gun emplacement, one which they thought had been abandoned. When Lt. Coursen heard the cry of one of his men as he was ambushed by North Koreans, Coursen rushed to his aid. Without any regard for his personal safety, the six-foot, six-inch-tall West Pointer found himself entangled in a hand to hand fight with a squad of enemy defenders. When the skirmish was over, seven enemy soldiers were found dead, their heads smashed with the butt of Sam's rifle. Sam was dead too. The soldier, who Sam gave his life to save, was found alive. More important than rescuing a sole soldier, Coursen's dauntless actions neutralized the one impediment to the regiment's advance. The Division accomplished its mission by capturing Kumich that afternoon.

The early American successes wouldn't last long. The fighting was brutal, bloody and vicious, lasting until the summer of 1953. Lieutenants were among the first to die, prime targets for enemy sharpshooters as they scurried about attempting to put their men in position. Thirty-seven of Sam's classmates lost their lives in the war, eleven in the previous September alone.

Sam's body was buried with full military honors in the hallowed grounds of the cemetery at the United States Military Academy.

Sam Coursen hasn't been forgotten by his classmates, the Army, and his friends back in New Jersey. A year after his death, the athletic field at Newark Academy was dedicated to the school's war dead and named Coursen Memorial Field. At Fort Benning, Georgia where his son was born, the Infantry School named a rifle range for Sam. It adjoins one named for Gen. George S. Patton. There is a plaque in Cullum Hall at West Point honoring him, and one at Benning, too. The Baltusrol Golf Club at Springfield, New Jersey awards a silver cup, named for Coursen, to younger members who display the fallen hero's outstanding qualities.

The Army, in 1956, christened the Lt. Samuel S. Coursen, to ferry passengers between Manhattan and the First Army headquarters at Fort Jay, Governor's Island, New York. The ferry boat, which is still operating after fifty-four years, has carried the ordinary and the famous, including Queen Elizabeth and Russian leader, Mikhail Gorbachev.

Sam's roommate, Lt. Philip R. Feir, in a letter to Sam's parents wrote, "One of Sam's finest traits was his splendid sense of humor and optimistic outlook on life. Coupled with his zest for life, Sam had tremendous loyalty and respect for his fellow men."

After Sam's death, Evie remarried to Dr. Wyatt B. Pouncey. Dr. and Mrs. Pouncey moved to Dublin, where Dr. Pouncey practiced medicine at the VA Hospital. They had two daughters, Barbara and Elizabeth.

Some people have called it the Korean War, the "Forgotten War" or the "Unknown War." Too many others dubbed it the "Korean Conflict." Armies stand ready in conflicts. They kill in wars. It is important to remind ourselves, that the killing and dying in Korea should not be forgotten, nor should we ever forget the heroism of Lt. Coursen and thousands of others.

As for little Sam, his father's heroism has inspired him to be the best he can be by leveraging his own talents to become a successful executive with NCR, AT&T, and currently as CIO of Freescale Semiconductor. One of the highlights of his life came in 1999 when his father's classmates invited Sam to come to their 50th class reunion. He heard the stories of the father he never knew and the man whom he has grown to love and admire, the stories of a real American hero.

So, on this anniversary of the gallant death of the father of one of our own, let us all remember that it is well that war is so terrible that we may grow too fond of it. And, when you go to bed tonight, say a prayer for the soul of Lt. Samuel S. Coursen, Sr., who made the ultimate sacrifice for us on a Korean hillside, sixty years ago today.

Monday, October 04, 2010


A Half Century of Memories

You may ask your self, what does Andy Griffith have to do with the history of Laurens County and East Central Georgia. Is there a relationship between the North Carolina born actor and our area? Unfortunately, there is no tie with the legendary television icon. By now, you may have realized that the Andy Griffith show premiered on television fifty years ago this past Sunday night. Whether you realize it or not, this show, which never garnered Griffith or the show itself a single Emmy award, has effected our lives in some way.

The lessons which Andy, his family and friends have taught us have been many, some obvious and others subliminal. Love of family and friends is right there at the top. Perhaps most important among the lessons which Andy learned as a parent was that parents were not always right and children were not always wrong. It was about love of one another, treating each other with respect, even the bad guys some times. It was about patience and enjoying the simple things in life. Most of the shows centered around some moral virtue, or the lack thereof. It was about life, our lives, when life was just a little slower, people a little kinder, and doing for others was well, what you did.

And now, for those of you who think you have seen and remember all 249 episodes, here are some things you might not know, don't remember, never saw or recognized. How many names did Barney Fife have? The answer is three: Bernard P. Fife, Bernard Oliver Fife and Bernard Milton Fife. Writers often gave different names to the same actor playing the same role. For instance, Hope Summers was first known as "Bertha Edwards." Bertha became Clara and then Clara became Clara Johnson. By the end of the show, Clara had gone back to being an Edwards. Opie's girl friend played by the same actress had five different names. Burt Mustin, Gus the Fireman on Leave it to Beaver, played nine different roles.

But, Barney and Miss Edwards weren't the only ones to undergo name changes. Bobby Fleet and His Band with a Beat was also known as Freddy Fleet and His Band with a Beat. Floyd Lawson, the town barber, is introduced first as Floyd Colby. Even Goober Pyle, the lovable oaf, was once addressed as Goober Beasley. First introduced as Millie Hutchins, Millie, the waitress at the diner, became Millie Swanson. Thelma Lou didn't change her last name. She had no last name, that is until she married, divorced and then remarried her old flame, Barney Fife.

And in case you are wondering, Andy Taylor was officially Andrew Jackson Taylor, named for the former president Andrew Jackson. Even Andy wasn't immune from name changes. When Andy and Helen celebrated the birth of their son, Andrew Samuel (Andy Griffith's real middle name) Taylor, Jr., Andy's name changed as well. Bet you don't remember that Opie had a little brother. In case you missed it, Opie's mother and Andy's first wife was Barbara Edwards Taylor, who was several years older than Andy. In reality, Barbara Edwards was Andy Griffith's first wife. Andy and Barbara Taylor named their son Opie. Actually the show's writer named him Opie after Opie Cates, a big band leader of the 1930s and a favorite of Andy Griffith.

Obviously, the show's scenes were not filmed in a North Carolina town, or any other town for that matter. They were filmed in Hollywood on the back lots. The filming of Andy Griffith took place on the same outdoor set as Gone With the Wind in 1939. Watch the street scenes closely. If you were to look to the right as you left the courthouse, you will see the Atlanta Post Office seen in the legendary movie. The set was used by other television programs. How many of you are original Star Trek fans? Look for the episode, "City on The Edge of Forever," one of the show's most highly heralded episodes. When Captain James T. Kirk and social activist Edith Keeler, played by Joan Collins, are walking down the street holding hands, look behind them and you will catch a glimpse of Floyd's Barber Shop. The courthouse, Walker's Drug Store and the hotel are plainly visible in another Trek episode, Miri. Well, I'll be dogged!

Star Trek episodes, "City on The Edge of Forever" and "Miri" showing the Mayberry Hotel.

Quick, name the most famous actor other than the regular cast members to appear on the show. You might say Buddy Ebsen, who would later appear as Uncle Jed Clampett on the Beverly Hillbillies or Edgar Buchanan, who would later star as Uncle Joe Carson on a Hillbillies spinoff, Petticoat Junction, or Bob Denver, known to billions as "Gilligan," or Barbara Eden, the Jeannie of dreams. No, the most highly heralded actor to appear on the show was Jack Nicholson, who played a young defendant on trial. Aunt Bee sat on the jury and held out for his eventual acquittal.

There was another quite famous actress who appeared in several episodes. Barney's nitpicky landlord, Mrs. Mendlebright was played by Enid Markey. You ask, "Who is Enid Markey?" Enid Markey was famous in our grandparents' and great grandparents' generation as the first woman to play "Jane," wife of Tarzan the Ape Man, way back in the silent movies days of 1918.

The Andy Griffith Show was all about family. And, if you watch the early episodes you will remember that Andy and Barney were actually cousins, although the relationship was not mentioned beyond the first season. Ron Howard, who played Opie, had his family acting in the show with him. Howard's father Rance played a bus driver in an episode. His brother, Clint, who later went on the star in "Gentle Ben," played Leon, the little kid with a cowboy hat who was always offering his sandwich to people he met. Their mother Jean never appeared on the Griffith show, but did appear in other movies with her sons. And of course, you all know that Goober and Gomer, the Pyles, were cousins as well.

Speaking of Gomer, how many of you know that the actor who portrayed Gomer Pyle, Jim Nabors, actually lived in Augusta, Georgia for a short time, appearing on local television and singing in the church choir.

Questions: If Aunt Bee was supposed to be a spinster paternal aunt of Andy, why is she seen wearing a wedding band in the episode where Barney arrests most of the town folks on various charges? Wonder why the map in Andy's office was a state map of Nevada turned upside down? And, before that it was a map of the state of Idaho, yes and it was upside down too. Why did the Taylors live at three different addresses when their house was always the same?

So, what's your favorite episode? We all have them. Mine is Opie, the Bird Man. How did the shows affect your life? Despite all the delicate situations, problems, and difficult people Andy faced, in the end he always seemed to do the right thing. As you go through life and problem people confront you, think WWAD, What would Andy do?

P.S. There is no Mayberry, North Carolina. But, there is a Mayberry (Maberry), Georgia and it is right here in Laurens County. If you don't already know, Mayberry was a railroad stop on the Dublin & Southwestern Railroad. And, SW Laurens Elementary School sits in downtown Mayberry. Shazam!