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

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

THOMAS JEFFERSON JAMES

CAPTAIN T.J. JAMES


The Founder of Adrian


In the last twenty-five years of his life, Thomas Jefferson James was known as a builder of railroads. At the turn of the 20th Century, Captain James, as he was dubbed by all those who admired him, built a small metropolis in the wiregrass fields of East-Central Georgia. James died in Atlanta one hundred years ago on November 28, 1911. This is his story.

Thomas Jefferson James was in the northeast Central Georgia county of Jones on June 20, 1846. His mother, the former Miss Druscilla Lyles, died just before Thomas' fourth birthday. His father, Benjamin Jones, while visiting his elder sons in the Confederate Army fell victim to a fatal case of pneumonia and died on September 11, 1861.

Thomas was sixteen, strong, and eager to join his brothers, Abel and William. He traveled to Caroline County, Virginia, where on the 2nd day of June 1863, Private Thomas James subscribed his name before J.N. Beall on the enlistment roll of Company B, 12th Georgia Regiment, known as the Jones Volunteers. A single month later, Thomas James would witness the greatest carnage in the history of North American warfare. Serving in the brigade of George P. Doles, of Milledgeville, James's regiment attacked from the north into the town of Gettysburg on July 1, 1863. Luckily, the regiment was not heavily engaged and casualties during the three-day epic battle were relatively light.

Things wouldn't be so easy at Spotsylvania Court House on the 10th of May 1864. The 12th regiment was overrun by Union forces at the Mule Shoe salient. Nearly all of Company B's soldiers still in action were captured, including James and his brothers Abel and William. They were taken prisoners and imprisoned at Point Lookout Prison in Maryland. The James boys were then transferred to the den of death, Elmira, New York, where Confederate prisoners died at a rate equal to or greater than their Union counterparts in Andersonville, Georgia.

By the end of October the number of prisoners crammed into an inefficacious facility designed for three thousand men had swollen to more than ten thousand prisoners. Decades after his imprisonment, T.J. James told of the horrors of his internment at Elmira. T.J. James recovered from a severe bout of measles. William succumbed to Typhoid pneumonia on October 1, 1864. To pass their time, the James brothers learned how to make gutta percha rings made from silver or pearl with thirteen stars representing the Confederate states. They sold them to the Yankees for a few dollars each. Abel and Thomas along with another prisoner used spoons and case knives to dig a tunnel under the house sixteen feet under the outer wall. Their escape was foiled, probably by a camp snitch.

Some five weeks after General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox, Thomas James told his captors that he would sign an oath of allegiance to the United States, because all he wanted was to go home. Finally, a month later in the middle of June and after eleven months in prison, Abel and James began their long trek home.

When Thomas James returned home, he found his homeland decimated, barren, and burned. He returned to farming, going to school when he could. By the age of twenty-five, Thomas James's future began to be apparent. In 1868, James went to work as a common laborer on the Macon and Augusta Railway. He saved his scant salary until the "Panic of '73" tolled railroad construction in the state. James went to work for the contracting firm of J.T. and W.D. Grant on the Chattachoochee River. The firm purchased the 4,060- acre, $100,000-dollar, Old Town Plantation just below Louisville, Georgia in Jefferson County. James bought out the Grants in 1884 with other partners, including U.S. Senator and Civil War Governor of Georgia, Joseph E. Brown.

After the economy rebounded, Thomas James bought out his partners and began the practice of leasing convicts from the State of Georgia. Within fourteen months, James' gang of convicts, reportedly numbering as many as three thousand men, built more than 225 miles of railroads across the state. Capt. James, as he was known then, joined a large saw milling operation under the name of the Southern Lumber Company. When the company faltered, James purchased the assets and transformed the ailing company into a profitable operation.

Capt. T.J. James built his own railroad, the Wadley and Mt. Vernon, which ran from its terminus in Jefferson County, southwesterly through Kite, Adrian and Rockledge. The railroad never made it to Mt. Vernon, but did run another line into Emanuel County and operated at the Wadley Southern Railroad.

James expanded his operations to include timber and farming. He was one of the largest planters in the state and certainly the largest in East Central Georgia. His operated gristmills, sawmills, and cane syrup plants on his farm and timberlands which encompassed 38,000 acres.

Thomas James moved his headquarters to the western corner of Emanuel County in a small community named Adrian. James personally made improvements to the infrastructure of the fledgling town, furnishing the town with water from his well east of town on the Ohoopee River and his electric light plant. He owned James Mercantile Company and the Farmers Bank of Adrian.

Captain James was always looking for ways to improve his railroads. In the early spring of 1899, he traveled to Atlanta to put in a bid for the trains of an insolvent traveling circus company. There he met George V. Gress, who was solely there to acquire the circus animals. James and Gress discussed their wants, entered a joint bid of $4,485.00, and walked off with their respective prizes. James took his train cars back to Adrian. Gress offered the animals to the city of Atlanta. The city council accepted. Gress, a lumber dealer, built a building and cages, which became the Atlanta Zoo.

On June 30, 1881, Mr. James was united in marriage to Miss Alice Cheatham, of Jefferson county and a direct descendant of Gov. David Emmanuel, America's first Jewish born governor. They had six children, Thomas Jefferson, Jr., Alice N., Arthur Emanuel, Frank C., Albert H. and Annie M. James.

James told biographer A.B. Caldwell, that he found relaxation in horseback riding and musical evenings spent at home. James credited his success to his parents and the "habits of industry and frugality" that they taught him, along with private study and contact with business men. To the young he commended, "truthfulness, honesty, careful calculations and thoughtful execution, regular and temperate habits."

James held few political offices, but he did serve on the town council of Adrian. He was so loved and so admired that during the "new county" movement of the early 20th Century, residents of the area nearly succeeded in garnering a new county, James County, with its seat in Adrian, Georgia.

It was in 1909 at the height of his business career when Capt. James' health began to fail. He moved to Atlanta in hopes of better medical care. He died in an Atlanta hospital just before 2:oo o'clock, p.m. on November 28, 1911.

Capt. Thomas J. James left his footprints across East Central Georgia. Along the 680 miles of railroads his crews built grew the small towns which are the roots of our area's long and rich heritage, all of which ended one hundred ago.

ESTHER GORDY EDWARDS

ESTHER GORDY EDWARDS


The Mother of Motown


She has been called the "Mother of Motown." You may know of her brother, Barry Gordy, Jr., the founder of the Motown sound - the sounds of the Sixties and Seventies that we all danced to and sung, sometimes like no one else was watching or listening. Esther Gordy Edwards, a native of Washington County, Georgia, was the behind-the-scenes driving force behind one of the most successful record companies in history and a mother and mentor to several iconic American musical legends. She died this past summer at the age of ninety-one. This is her story.

Esther Gordy Edwards was born on the 25th day of April in the year 1920. Her parents Berry Gordy, Sr. and Bertha Fuller Gordy lived in Oconee, Georgia in southwestern Washington County. Esther, the couple's second child and eldest daughter, left home with her family when she about two years old. Their destination, Detroit, Michigan, was a place where good paying jobs could be found as the southern cotton crop was baking in the dry fields or being devoured by the pesky boll weevil.

Esther attended Detroit's prestigious Cass Technical High School, which boasts scores of successful graduates including Diana Ross, Lily Tomlin, and Della Reese. Esther continued her education at Wayne State and Howard University. Along with two of her brothers, Esther Gordy founded the Gordy Printing Company in 1947.

In 1951 at the age of thirty-one, Miss Gordy married George Edwards. Edwards served as a Michigan state representative.

The Gordy siblings designed a way to make things easier for the family when one sibling needed help. They formed a cooperative of sorts. Each sibling would periodically deposit a small sum into a family savings account. All siblings were required to approve loans to the others.

Berry Gordy, Jr. had a dream. He wanted to start a record company. He asked his brothers and sisters for the $800.00 he needed to buy a house and open a studio. Esther initially said no to the request. She finally agreed.

"I knew right then, if I ever made money, she would be the one I'd get to watch it for me," Gordy later wrote. So, the enterprising entrepreneur asked Esther to help him with the company, which he named, Motown.

As the company's comptroller, it was Esther's job to manage the business affairs of the burgeoning company. It wasn't long before her role in the company expanded. Mrs. Edwards developed close personal relationships with many of the singers. Her personal skills and business savvy were critical to the successes of many of Motown's most successful and popular recording artists.

Esther Gordy Edwards did more than watch his money. When the artists went out on the road or had difficulty in dealing with their new found and meteoric fame, Esther was there by their sides to lend an ear and give wise and trusted advice. She mothered and mentored singers and musicians and hired people who helped polish and develop their talents

Edwards took a personal role as a advisor of the Marvellettes, whose first song, Please Mr. Postman, rocketed to the top of the Hot 100 and R&B charts. Perhaps her most famous pupil and ward was a young teenager, Stevland Judkins, who over the last four decades became an American musical legend under his stage name, Stevie Wonder. Wonder, in a statement issued after her death, said, "She believed in me - when I was 14 years old and many other people didn't or could only see what they could at the time, she championed me being in Motown. I shared with her many of my songs first before anyone else."

Esther Edwards' business activities extended beyond the music business. She served on the board of directors of the Detroit Bank of the Commonwealth and was the first woman chosen to serve on the Greater Detroit Chamber of Commerce.

Esther remained in the forefront of the management of Motown as the company's corporate secretary, director of international operations, vice-president and chief executive officer until 1972, when she was replaced by singing legend, Smokey Robinson. When her brother and the business moved its headquarters to Los Angeles, Esther Edwards remained in Detroit. Eventually she turned the original studio building into Hitsville, USA, a museum to honor the lasting contribution of the studio, its founder, and its artists to American musical history.

Esther Edwards, a persistent conservator of Motown memorabilia, began preserving pieces of the company's rich heritage. "She preserved Motown memorabilia before it was memorabilia, collecting our history long before we knew we were making it," Berry Gordy said. He sung her praises by turning the "trash" they left behind when the company moved west into a lasting reminder of the company's rich musical heritage.

Esther Gordy Edwards passed away on August 24, 2011 in the presence of her family. In speaking of her life, her brother Berry said, "Whatever she did, it was with the highest standards, professionalism, and an attention to detail that was legendary. He praised his sister for not being concerned with being popular, but being dedicated to making everyone in the Gordy family and Motown better.

So now you know a little bit about the story which proves the old adage "that behind every successful man is a wise woman. That old saying has never been more true than the story of Esther Gordy Edwards, the little girl from Washington County, who grew up to be a mentor in the history of American music.

Friday, November 18, 2011

FOLLOW THE FELLOW WHO FOLLOWS A DREAM
A Eulogy for Karl Slover, 1918-2011




Three days ago, the big heart in this big man gave out. The Wizard of Oz once told the Tin Man, "Hearts will never be practical until they can be made unbreakable." Our hearts are breaking now. Karl touched the lives of everyone he ever met. When you met him, you walked away feeling better about your life and the world itself. He touched the lives of you his adopted family, his friends, and all those who met him at the Sheridan, at the malls around Tampa, and from coast to coast.

When the Tin Man insisted on getting a heart from the Wizard of Oz, the great wizard cautioned him by saying "A heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.

The Wizard was talking about our friend Karl. Some of us had the honor and the privilege of accompanying Karl to Hollywood four short years ago to be honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Everywhere Karl and the other six Munchkin actors would go, crowds followed them as if they were the greatest of our celebrities.

Lights gleamed, cameras were shoved in their faces, crowds cheered, children smiled. Adults smiled too, remembering the days when they first saw Karl and the other little people in Munchkinland.

I'll never forget sitting in Grauman's Chinese Theater where the movie first premiered in 1939. We were actually sitting with the Munchkins watching the movie for the last time it was shown in its original film format in the theater where it all began.

I'll never forget watching that little man eat like he had not eaten in days. Once I ate with him and he told me that the dessert I was served wasn't any good. So he told the lady at the Sheridan to bring me some chocolate pie like he had. By the way, he ate my other dessert when he finished his piece of chocolate pie.

I'll never forget him telling the same stories, never missing a word or a fact. And, if I was lucky, getting him to add something new to an old story.

I'll never forget the smiles in the faces of the crowd as I drove him through downtown Dublin when he served as the Grand Marshal of the St. Patrick's Parade.

I'll never forget that smile, that giggle, and that song.


Follow the Yellow Brick Road.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road.

Follow the rainbow over the stream, follow the fella who follows a dream,

You're off to see the Wizard, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

You'll find he is a whiz of a Wiz If ever a Wiz there was.

If ever oh ever a Wiz there was The Wizard of Oz is one because,

Because, because, because, because, because.
Because of the wonderful things he does.

You're off to see the Wizard. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

by E.Y. Harburg

Karl had a long journey down the Yellow Brick Road of life. And, just like Dorothy, the Tin Man, The Scarecrow and The Cowardly Lion, he had a hard start. Like Dorothy, it was the friends along his way who helped and led him to all of us here in the Emerald City.

In the last decade of his life and especially in the last five or six years, Karl was treated as Prince of the Emerald City. The story of his death has been published in nearly a thousand newspapers and web sites around the world.

Not too bad for a once 30 inch tall adult man, who was basically sold away by his father. But, Karl was never bitter about that. He loved his family as he loved all of us.

Three days ago, Karl was introduced to the real Wizard, our Lord God.

Way up high in the blue skies, he heard his mother's lullabies. He saw that his dreams of seeing his real family and his Oz family once again really did come true. Somewhere, over the rainbow, Karl found that blue birds do fly and trees really do talk. His troubles melted into lemon drops as he wiped his sleepy eyes, blew his trumpet, and saw that he was home.

Ed Grisamore, of the Macon Telegraph, described Karl this way, "The lines on his face are bunched together like rings on a dwarf maple. The tiny, squeaky voice is unmistakable. He was delightful, polite and witty, with a face forever locked in a smile."

We will all miss Karl. Even at 93, we expected him to always be there with that smile. But as we send Karl down the last leg of the great Yellow Brick Road, let us remember his own words: "I've got a good life. A wonderful life. I have no complaints." Just try to get along the best you can. Enjoy what you have. Enjoy where you live. Most of all remember what Judy Garland said, 'There's no place like home." And, now Karl is home, home!


Scott B. Thompson, Sr. November 15, 2011
Rentz Cemetery
Rentz, Georgia

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

KARL SLOVER








2008 St. Patrick's Parade - L to R - Karl Slover,
Scotty Thompson, Scott B. Thompson, Sr. ,
Photos by Dr. Grady Campbell

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Karl Slover, Dublin St. Patrick's Festival Parade, 2006 @ Scott B. Thompson, Sr.





KARL SLOVER,
MORE THAN A MUNCHKIN

Have you ever met someone that you liked to be around the first time you ever met them? If you are lucky, sit down beside him and just listen. Listen to his stories. Listen to his contagious laugh as the tales flow. He tells and retells the same stories verbatim, but everyonce in a while, he’ll add a new twist or accent his point with an obscure phrase and his infectious giggle. And, once you get up to leave, you’ll find that you have just met one of the warmest, funniest and kindest people you’ve ever met. I felt that way the first time I met Karl Slover and every time I sit down with this little man with a big heart, big ears and an even bigger grin.

Karl was born Karl Kosiczky on September 21, 1918 in Prakendorf in that portion of Hungary which later became a part of the Czech Republic and later Germany. Karl’s six-foot six-inch tall father expected that his only son out of his five children would follow in his footsteps as a local gendarme. No one knows exactly how large Karl was when he was born, but for the first few years of his life, Karl appeared to be a normal child. But then, Karl stopped growing.
Desperate to make his two-foot tall eight-year- old son grow, Karl’s father came with all sorts of "bright ideas and brainstorms" as Karl calls them. "He got a big wooden barrel and filled it with coconut leaves and boiled them, and then put me in it. I was as red as a lobster when they took me out," Karl recalled. His mother had to coat him all over with an ointment to keep his skin from blistering. Eight doctors were called in to help. "They put me on stretchers," Karl said, "but one of the doctors thought they were doing it all wrong," he said when his bones began to pop.


"They would put me in a sand pile. I would wear a pair of long underwear. We had a maid. My mother would tell the maid, who came in around 2:00 p.m. one day, to get me out around 4:00 while she went to the grocery store. The maid went inside and it began to rain. I cried out for the maid, but she didn’t hear me. I called to our dog, a Doberman Pinscher. She came over and picked me up and drug me over to the dog’s house. Our dog loved us. My mother got home and asked where I was. The maid shrieked, ‘I forgot about Karl. He’s still out in the yard.’ My mother looked at the sand pile, and I wasn’t there where I was supposed to be. My mother called to me. I told her, ‘I’m here in the dog’s house.’ My mother and my father bawled out the maid."
One day Karl and his sister were returning from a walk when they stopped by the mailbox. They handed a letter to their mother who read it to Karl. The letter said that an agent was going to be sent over to the Slover house to see if Karl would be interested in joining Singer’s Midget Show, the largest midget show in the world. Karl remembers leaving the railroad station with his father as if it was yesterday.
"Dad and I went to the train station. He told Mr. Singer that he was glad to get rid of me and that I would do him no good in following in his footsteps," Karl recalled. Though his mother reluctantly relented, Karl kept thinking to himself "maybe it is for the best." Karl missed his family, but being around people of his own size made up for it. "I was with little people more my size. It was like a new family," said Karl. The midget show owners tried to find clothes for Karl. They looked all over for underwear. Finally they found a man in a department store who gave me some underwear to try on. "They went back and told me that the underwear had been given to the world’s smallest midget. The man was so excited that he gave me and some of the other midgets all the underwear we could wear for free," Karl chuckled.
John Ringling, one of the world’s most famous circus owners, sought out Karl for his circus. After all, Karl was billed as the "World’s Smallest Midget," and Ringling had to have him in his big top shows. Karl remained with Mr. Singer and played in Billy Rose’s "Jumbo Show" in the Hippodrome Theater in New York. He appeared in "They Gave Him a Gun" with Spencer Tracy, his favorite co-star. His first speaking role came as "Sammy the barber" with an all midget cast in "Terror of Tiny Town." In another single line movie appearance, Karl uttered the classic line "Out, please!" in Blockheads, one of Laurel and Hardy’s most popular films.



Karl as "The Barber" in Terror Of Tiny Town



Karl as a singing bass player in barroom scene in Terror Of Tiny Town.







Karl in "Blockheads"

Karl’s most famous role came as one of Munchkins in the Wizard of Oz. Karl played five roles; the first trumpeter, a sleepy head, a soldier, one of those who escorted Dorothy down the Yellow Brick Road, and even a female villager to balance out the mostly male midget cast. Karl is most often asked why he thinks the Wizard of Oz remains so popular nearly seventy years after its original airing. His standard answer goes something like this, "Children love it. It’s a family movie. There’s no filthy language in it." Ironically, Karl’s parents never saw the movie, nor did any of his sisters.







Karl as the First Trumpeter (far left) in the Wizard of Oz.





Karl as a Sleepy Head (far right) in the Wizard of Oz.



Singer’s Midget Show continued to stage performances until the early days of World War II. Many of the Munchkins left Singer because he had robbed them of most of their pay. They made less than the dog Toto. The troup disbanded, and Karl was left to face the world alone. He went to work for B.A. Slover and Ada Slover in Tampa, Florida in their amusement show. Karl finally received his American citizenship and elected to adopt the new surname of Slover for the family who tried to adopt him but couldn’t under the prevailing state law.
During the war, Karl received a letter from his sister, who was confined to a concentration camp in Germany. He told her to try and contact their father to get her out and then go to the American Zone where she would be safe. Ironically, the abandonment of Karl by his father may have not only saved his sister’s life, but may have saved Karl himself from the maniacal and diabolical Nazis who wanted to experiment on non pure Arians.
It would be thirty seven years before Karl would return to his native home. He found his mother living in the American sector of Berlin. He expected to find that his mother would be gray, but he was surprised to find that she still had blonde hair. Karl discovered that she had little memories of him and his childhood, a result of the horrors she endured during the war.
After the war, Karl continued to work with the Slovers as a barker, ride operator, and ticket taker. He also kept the books. When his days in the carnival were over, Karl’s main occupation was a poodle trainer. "I first started training Daschunds and all small breeds of dogs and even some police dogs as guard dogs. Then, I mostly trained poodles. I didn’t believe in hitting dogs. Once you hit them they won’t obey you. I tried to give them a snack when they did what I told them. I also trained horses for a time. I used to train dogs and perform them at nursing homes, schools, birthday parties and even churches. But you can’t get any more jobs like that, so I gave it up," Karl recalled.
Karl never learned how to drive though he did try driving a go-cart. It scared "the heck" of out him and he gave up driving forever.
For ten years, Karl would pack up his memorabilia once a month and go an antique mall near his home in Hyde Park and set up a table covered with an emerald green cloth. For a small fee of ten to fifteen dollars, he sold autographed pictures of himself from the Wizard of Oz and other films. Slover made his last appearance in July 2004.
For nearly twenty years now, Karl has traveled all over the country for Oz festivals and autograph signing sessions. Donna Stewart Hardway, a regular sized child who portrayed one of the Munchkins, described Karl as "a baby doll." "When people find out that he was in the movie they go nuts. Children especially warm up to him," she continued Karl’s closest friend among the surviving Munchkins is Clarence Swensen, who played a soldier in the movie. "He’s a good and nice guy," Karl quipped.
After his movie career ended, Karl began to grow. He always wanted to grow to a normal height, but after being dependent on others to do the most mundane of daily tasks, his extra height allowed him to do things on his own. He never regrets being a midget. "I got to be in the Wizard of Oz and got to meet some movie stars and a lot of nice people," Karl said.
These days Karl likes to watch television, especially game shows. When the weather is warm, Karl loves to work in his garden. He loves sweets, especially chocolate, and more especially chocolate ice cream. I recently watched Karl eat the "largest hamburger he ever saw" before topping off his meal at an LA eatery with a big bowl of chocolate ice cream.
Karl Slover is more than just a Munchkin. He is one of the kindest, sweetest, gentlest and funniest people you will ever meet. After nearly ninety years of traveling all over the country, Karl firmly believes "there is no place like home," and he is right here, living in the Emerald City to prove it.


"The lines on his face are bunched together like rings on a dwarf maple. The tiny, squeaky voice in unmistakable. He was delightful, polite and witty, with a face forever locked in a smile."
Ed Grisamore, The Macon Telegraph, December 4, 2005





"I’ve got a good life. A wonderful life. I have no complaints."
Karl Slover





Advice to people in their eighties.
"Just try to get along the best you can. Enjoy what you have. Enjoy where you live. Most of all remember what Judy Garland said, ‘There’s no place like home.’"
Karl Slover








______________________________________________________________




RETURN TO OZ


For nearly seventy years, Karl Slover has been following the Yellow Brick Road to the land of Oz. Though he and his fellow midget actors were on screen for less than ten minutes in the epic film "The Wizard of Oz," the Munchkins have become icons of American cinematic history. Finally, and most fittingly, seven of the nine surviving members of the Munchkin cast returned to Hollywood, California, where their legend began in 1939. During the week of Thanksgiving, on a boulevard lined with golden stars, Karl Slover, Mickey Carroll, Ruth Duccini, Margaret Pelligrini, Meinhardt Raabe, Clarence Swensen and Jerry Maren accepted a well deserved and long overdue star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on behalf of the 124 actors, who welcomed Dorothy Gale over the rainbow.
Many people thought that the Munchkins were already honored with their own stars. Chicago restauranteur Ted Bulthaup led the effort to have the Munchkins awarded their own star. His dream was aided by such Hollywood icons as Steven Speilberg, George Lucas, Ted Turner and dozens more. Actually they are the only group of characters to be so honored for their memorable, albeit brief, appearance on the big screen.
Karl Slover, a resident of the Sheridan Place in Dublin, received the news this past summer. The 89-year- old Slover frequently travels throughout the country to Oz festivals and autograph sessions. Upon the receipt of the news, Sheridan director Gina Ensley Drown and her staff began the preparations for the trip to Hollywood during the week of Thanksgiving. A dozen Dubliners traveled to Hollywood to accompany Karl. Ten travelers stayed up all night following a Dublin football game to catch an early morning flight. The celebration began on Sunday night with a delicious meal hosted by Mayor Phil Best and his wife Cile at the L.A. Prime, some three hundred feet above downtown Los Angeles. Mayor Best presented an honorary award to Karl, who was accompanied by his niece Gay Griffit.
Scotty Thompson, Karl Slover and Scott Thompson
at L.A. Prime. (Photo by Cristol Cannon)

Karl Slover and Gina Ensley Drown

Dublin Mayor Phil Best toasts Karl.

Laura Ensley, Karl Slover and Ashley Ensley.




align="justify">The festivities began in earnest on November 19 at Graumann’s Chinese Theater. The Hollywood Preservation Society sponsored a showing of "The Wizard of Oz." It would be the last time that this legendary film, specially enhanced just for this showing, would ever be shown in its technicolor format on the big screen. The entrance to the theater, one of the country’s most historic movie houses, was lined with yellow brick road carpet, a battalion of cameramen, and a few hundred adoring fans and passers by. My son Scotty and I, along with Pam Green of WDIG-TV got our crowded guard rail spots two hours early. The official media stood in relative comfort across the aisle in their reserved places. While the rented spotlights beamed into the unusually foggy L.A. sky, the honored guests began to arrive.


Karl Slover and Jerry Maren mobbed by
photographers in front of Graumann's Theater.

As the Munchkins began to walk down the yellow carpet, a hoard of media, more voracious than the wicked witch’s monkeys, swarmed over Karl and the other midget actors. They don’t mind being called midgets, because that’s what they are. After the honorees had their pictures taken with the sponsors and in clips for the national networks, the ceremony opened with a humorous introduction by Gary Owens, of "Laugh In" and "The Gong Show" fame. Stan Taffel, a comedian and Hollywood historian interviewed the Munchkins. When it came Karl’s turn, he began to sing "We’re off to see the Wizard," a charming tune which drew a loud round of applause and quite a few tears.



Karl relaxes prior to screening of Wizard of Oz.
The feature of the night was the showing of the Wizard of Oz in the same theater it premiered in August 1939. The picture was so clear you really could see the freckles on Dorothy’s face. If you have never seen the movie on a big screen, you missed a wonderful treat. And though most of the audience had seen the movie before - some dozens of times - there was reciting of the lines, applause, laughter, and cheers throughout the showing. Some in the Dublin delegation drew the attention of several photographers and a documentary cinematographer as we were all dressed in emerald city green attire, each of us wearing specially designed "Karl Slover Fan Club" buttons. Also present that night were actresses Tippi Hedren, of Alfred Hitchcock’s "The Birds," Margaret O’Brien of "Meet Me in St. Louis" and a childhood friend of Judy Garland, and Anne Rutherford, who played a sister of Scarlett O’Hara in "Gone With the Wind." The granddaughter of Frank Morgan, who portrayed the Wizard and several other Emerald City residents, was in attendance along with the great grandson of L. Frank Baum, the writer and creator of the story. There were also several actors who portrayed Munchkins present, but because they were children and not midgets, they were inexplicably - to me anyway - not included in the festivities.

Margaret Pelligrini, Mickey Carroll, Ruth Duccini,
Mrs. Jerry Maren, Jerry Maren and Karl Slover.
Back row: Stan Taffel and Gary Owens.


The highlight of the week came on Tuesday morning with the star presentation ceremony. Hosted by Johnny Grant, the "Mayor of Hollywood," and Joe Luft, son of Judy Garland, and a squad of politicos, the ceremony began right on time. Covering the entrance to the theater was a tall arch of balloons simulating a rainbow. The Munchkins arrived from their hotel rooms in a carriage, pulled by a horse of a different color. This particular steed was a pale purple one. The crowd swelled. The Hollywood High School band played.

Munchkins Star on Hollywood Walk of Fame

Karl walks toward the unveiling ceremony.

Cameras went high into the air to catch a glimpse of the little people as they approached the podium. We had been at our station near the star site for two hours, long before any of the crowd arrived.
The Munchkins walked down a wider and much longer yellow carpet strip to the site of their star, located at the far eastern end of the theater. In front of a battery of television and still photographers and barely within our view, the star was finally unveiled. After thousands of photographs and hours of film were taken, Karl and his comrades were given another carriage ride back to the Roosevelt Hotel.
Following the presentation ceremony, a luncheon was held in honor of the Munchkins in the Blossom Room of the hotel. In the very room where the first Academy Awards were held in 1929, the tables were decorated with green table cloths and illuminated underneath to give the room a virescent glow, reminiscent of the chamber of the Wizard of Oz. Behind the dais was a striking rendition of the Emerald City. The tables were decorated with baskets filled with red poppies and a stuffed toy version of Toto.



Carriage ride to Roosevelt Hotel

The luncheon passed all too quickly before the actors were once again whisked off to face the media for one final time and much to the chagrin of autograph seekers who had politely waited until they finished eating.
Karl’s final night in Hollywood was spent with his niece and the folks from Dublin in a quiet restaurant on Sunset Boulevard. Following a long day and puny luncheon food, Karl enjoyed the largest hamburger he ever saw. Still hungry, Karl downed a big bowl of chocolate ice cream.



Karl enjoying a big bowl of chocolate ice cream.

Karl enjoyed the visit and appreciated the honor that he and his fellow Munchkins had finally received. Though he was honored to be there, he found nothing very exciting in Hollywood like he did seventy years ago. Feeling smothered by the media sticking microphones in his face and blinding his eyes with spot lights, the little man with the big smile was glad to be back in the "Emerald City" of Dublin. "Heck yeah, I am glad to be home," Karl said, "after all, there’s no place like home."



Karl with Emma, Vicki, Kathy, and Mandi Hutto.

All other photos @ Scott B. Thompson, Sr.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

CHANDLER MAURICE BEASLEY, SR.


Always Faithful


Chandler was eating lunch in a small café when the world was turned upside down. One day after his eighteenth birthday, Beasley had no too much to worry about. He had a job at Snow's Laundry in Milledgeville. The country was at peace or so it appeared. Beasley and most everyone else knew that the world was at war, but at home, the war seemed so far away.

By the fall of 1939, a war with Germany was on the minds of everyone. When the National Guard mobilized a year later, Beasley entertained the very real thought of joining up after his graduation from high school.

As the U.S. Marine Corps was heavily engaged in the Battle of Guadalcanal, Chandler Maurice Beasley decided to join the Marines. He and a buddy were shipped off across the country to San Diego. After seven weeks of grueling training, Beasley was off for even more training. On the first anniversary of the war, Beasley was traveling aboard a train bound for Chicago and guard duty at the Navy Pier. For ten months, he trained in the Aviation Maintenance School before reporting for duty with the 3rd Marine Air Wing.

"We finally boarded a ship and arrived in the Caroline Islands group in the Pacific in mid October 1944," Beasley recalled. His unit's mission was to convert Ulithi Atoll, a jungle about the size of two city blocks, into an airstrip. Once the construction was complete, the installation would become one of the most advanced in the Pacific, primarily to be used to launch F6F Hell Cat fighter to protect the fleet anchorage from night attacks.

"We worked twenty-four hours around the clock and life was not all that exciting," Beasley recalled. "I think the biggest excitement the Japanese came up with were five suicidal mini submarines and they tried to send them into the fleet anchorage there at the end," Beasley concluded.

Beasley vividly remembered that in February of 1945, his unit was split into two groups. One was the assault group. "We boarded ship at that time headed for Okinawa. We did not know we were going to Okinawa. But that's where we wound up. We left the aircraft and the rest of the squadron back in the Carolines and we went down to the Philippines and lay around there for a while before taking off for Okinawa. We had no idea where we were going," he recollected.

"I woke up one morning and went out on the deck and every ship in the world was there! This was just before D-Day in April. We were in a convoy the day before; it was really not that large. During the night everything rendezvoused there at Okinawa. Somebody got the word out! I had never seen so many ships in all my life." the Marine exclaimed.

Then there was the never to be forgotten day when Chandler was sorting through his much over due shipment of mail, hoping to find out something about his father's poor condition. "When I came out, all hell broke loose. We were hit by a surprise kamikaze attack. I'm telling you that was quite an experience! The ship on the left side of us took a bomb. The ship on the immediate right side of us had a kamikaze plane crash into it. So we were right in the middle of it and it was no fun," Beasley remembered.

On Holy Easter Sunday, the U.S. Navy and the Marine Corps launched the largest naval invasion in the Pacific theater of the war. In the beginning, Japanese resistance was not as strong as was feared. Soon, those fears were realized. "We were hit pretty heavy most every night. We suffered the most casualties at night," Beasley said.

Things began to settle down by the end of May although suicide bomber attacks continued to rattle the troops on the ground and the ships off the shore. Then there was the night when thirteen stripped down "Betty Bombers" approached the airstrip at Yontan. "One plane made it and I'm telling you, they created more hell around that strip. We had people from the unit that were down there that night right in the middle of it," he recalled.

"They were evidently well informed and they knew where the ammo dumps and fuel dumps were and started blowing them up. You just didn't dare stick your head above the ground. It was that rough," the former Tech Sergeant Beasley said.

As things began to settle down into a normal routine, the war was suddenly over. "Thank God for the Atom bomb. I say that because we were packing up getting ready to invade Japan. Only God knows what that would have been," Beasley stated.

Beasley bided his time racking up enough to points to go home. After a few weeks of delay, he was headed home, home for Christmas aboard the USS Altamaha. Chandler Beasley didn't quite make it home for Christmas. But he did get the gift he wished for. On Boxing Day, Beasley was discharged from the Marine Corps.

Beasley's service to his country was not over, not at all. After a three-year respite, he rejoined the Marine Reserves for a two-year hitch. "I wanted to keep my hand in it. The only reason I had chosen the Marine Reserves, I couldn't get into any active Reserve unit."

In 1954, a National Guard unit in Dublin was reestablished. Beasley joined the unit and served for thirty-three years before retiring as a Command Sergeant Major. "All in all, it was a great ride. It was a riot, but it was something you wouldn't want to go through twice," Beasley fondly remembered.

As was the case with many of the members of the "Greatest Generation," Chandler Beasley returned home to serve his community with distinction and pride, nearly forty years of military service and thirty-two years as a rural mail carrier in Dexter, Georgia. Beasley is still active in his new home, living with other veterans at the VA Hospital. In fact, he now supplies many of his new buddies with greens from his garden on the grounds.

Beasley and his wife, Bettye Scott Beasley, were the proud parents of four sons, Scott, Chandler, Jr., Danny and Willie.

And today, nearly seventy years after World War II began, CSM Chandler M. Beasley is still ready to serve his country if called upon. That is because Chandler Beasley loves America and because Chandler Beasley is still a Marine. Semper Fi!









Thursday, November 10, 2011

JOHNNY PAYNE, WALKING POINT IN VIETNAM


Many of you know John L. "Johnny" Payne. He has been a fixture in the religious,

military, civic, scouting, business, and athletic activities of Laurens County for most of his life. Those years he wasn't living here and contributing to our community, he was nearly half way around the world, serving our country in the jungles of Vietnam. What you may not have known is that his job was one of the most dangerous an infantry soldier could be assigned. He was the one walking in front of a jungle patrol, the one likely to make contact with the enemy first, he was walking point."

When Sergeant Johnny Payne was walking the point, he saw green, and more green. His eyes scanned the thick jungle paths of central Vietnam for venomous vipers, slithering serpents, essentially invisible booby traps, and the elusive Viet Cong, all the while enduring horrendous heat and monotonous monsoons, not to mention the loathsome leaches.



A once famous psychic, Jeanne Dixon, predicted that Payne's unit would be wiped out in Vietnam. That very same unit had been wiped out, some ninety four years earlier. That outfit, Bravo Co., 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, fifth platoon was previously commanded by General George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876. "We did have some contact that day, but there were no deaths, not even any injuries," Payne remembered.


"I was very fortunate to have been born in Dexter and Laurens County, hunting and fishing," Payne asserted. " I could have had all the college degrees in the world and I could have been very skilled at reading maps, but that skill set of knowing your senses and the senses in your body came in good, " in commenting on how he was able to cope with the stress being the lead man in a jungle patrol.

As a platoon of less than thirty men moved out along trails or simply through dense trail-less jungles, one man was responsible for walking point. In Johnny Payne's platoon, the average life expectancy was from seven to ten days. The point man was usually the first person to make contact with an enemy sniper, a deadly mine or a booby trap.

Payne considering himself blessed, professed, "I wouldn't follow a trail, but we as a platoon would work off the old French trails which had a lot of movement on them." He always tried to walk through the dense jungles, stopping every once in a while to untangle himself from a "wait a minute" vine, which entangled in his uniform, his gear or his exposed skin.

"I really wanted to walk point because I felt comfortable doing it," Payne, two to three years out of high school, recalled. Walking point didn't make him proud, but he was more comfortable in the fact that some of his comrades came from New Jersey, the Bronx, Colorado and other places. Some had never fired a weapon. "I had an advantage. I walked point on my own for about five months. I pretty much volunteered," Payne added.

Crossing streams was especially difficult. At the point where the patrol was crossing, they were the most vulnerable to enemy fire. "When we got to a stream, we would never have more than one or two men in the stream when we were crossing it and then we would fan out right and left," Sgt. Payne believed as the reason his unit's casualties were kept to a minimum.
 
Payne soon realized that the hardest thing his unit could do would be called in to aid another unit in an existing firefight. He learned to instantly recognize and differentiate the reports of an AK-47 and an M-16. "As you got closer to the firefight, with the helicopters overhead, with the artillery support from an artillery base in the jungle or off the coast, you had to put all that into your perspective. Your senses and your ability to listen is just amazing," Payne asserted.

"Life in the jungle was a struggle, you didn't know if you would live to see the next day," Payne said. His unit would go out on patrols lasting from fifteen to twenty days, sometimes twenty-five days without a break. The unit was re-supplied every four or five days with food and if they were lucky, with treasured letters from home.

Every soldier had to adapt to the lack of sleep and the lack of food. Walking guard duty at night was expected of almost every member of the patrol. "We worked as a team, never in the same place every night," Payne said. "Once we hit the ground, your rank didn't matter. When the unit got to a camp site, everyone took part in setting up trip flares and Claymore mines along the perimeter, as well as guarding the forward and rear areas," he added.

Being in the jungle itself presented natural problems. "It rained every day at 4:00 p.m.  During the monsoon season, it rained twenty-four hours a day, all week long," Payne recalled.  He saw all sorts of animals that he never saw in the swamps of Rocky Creek back home in Dexter. There were cobras and bamboo vipers, too. He saw one of those little green bamboo vipers lying on his stomach one morning after waking up from a night's sleep.
Decent food was a treat. Payne remembered the Chinook helicopters dropping "Gaines Burgers," military lingo for some type of mystery meat molded into a burger. "I weighed 160 pounds, but while I was in Vietnam my stomach shrunk. When I got home, I am afraid that I disappointed my mama. She cooked a big bowl of chili. I was only able to eat half of it. I think she died believing that she had burned it or something," Payne recalled.

Payne got an unexpected break during one patrol. Carrying the rank of private first class early in his career, Payne began his first tour of duty in Vietnam on September 1, 1970. One day, he was ordered out of the jungle to appear before a review board. Appearing in his jungle fatigues and with no bath in at least ten days, Corporal Payne (far right)  was examined and sent back to the jungle that afternoon. "The next thing I knew, I was a sergeant," he recalled.

Losing friends is always hard. Johnny lost his assistant gunner while he was carrying a machine gun. Still today, some four decades later, Johnny gets a lump in his throat as he serves as a master of ceremonies to honor veterans who gave their lives to their country. Payne said, "I get emotional. I know that somewhere out there is a gold star mother who has lost her son."

Johnny Payne returned to the United States a year after he first arrived in Vietnam. He was proud to serve in the infantry. His return to the United States was all too typical of the way veterans from Vietnam were treated. Payne and his fellow soldiers didn't come up to the tarmac after their plane landed.

"There were people standing there. I really had no understanding of what they were going to be saying or doing. They were yelling at us, throwing rocks, spitting at us. It was awful to see that happening," he recollected. Payne was puzzled. "These people didn't know. They were yelling baby killers, which is what they had seen on TV," he added.


Payne and his hero, his wife, Sue Ann


Some people were supportive, but it took a while for Johnny Payne to once again be proud of serving his country. Today when he sees a Vietnam veteran with a cap on, he tells them that he was proud to serve with them. "Time has a way of healing thoughts. A lot of people thanked me, although some went to their graves with no thanks, except from their families," he added.

Payne says that our citizens should communicate with returning veterans. He says that all veterans are the same regardless of which war or actions they served in. "They don't want to be treated as heroes, but they do want to be treated as normal people. Don't look the other way, he requested. "The hardest of hearts needs love. It will either come in or come out," he asserted.


Payne and the Moving Wall, Kathleen, Georgia

Payne says the cost of freedom is high. "It has been paid by so many people and it is an expensive one," he continued. "We had great needs for prayers, letters, care packages, and most of all, love and acceptance when we came home," he added. The mental anguish resulting from a war that was never won was compounded by the way in which Payne and his fellow veterans were received. "We quietly slipped back into society as quickly as possible. Only members of our immediate families seemed to share in the secrets of our own personal wars that would now begin. Our hearts had been broken and many of our dreams had been shattered," Payne proclaimed as he gave credit to the churches and God himself.

When Johnny Payne looks back on his service in Vietnam, he is honored to have been a part of it. In fact, our country recognized his heroism with the awarding of a Bronze Star for valor, although he does not consider himself by any means a hero.
Johnny Payne was one of the lucky ones. He beat the odds. And, all of us in Laurens County who have benefitted from his deeds of public charity and acts of volunteer service are lucky that he survived.


When walking the point, Sgt. John L. Payne knew that God was there and that he could turn to Him for guidance. "There is no doubt in my mind, that God helped me not to get shot with as many firefights as I was in," he believes. In one of those firefights, Payne's helmet fell off and rolled away from him. Two hours later, he was able to retrieve it. Payne picked up his steel pot with its 19 holes, each put there by a pecking sniper believing there was a living skull underneath it. "It was divine intervention. God was looking after me for some reason," he said.



Welcome home Johnny Payne! Thank you for your service to our country.









Walking Point (abridged)
by
Jim Northrup




His rifle was in perfect order,

he wasn't - fear, fear of not feeling fear,

the heat, mud, and mosquitoes

all addled his brain housing group

as he walked and thought along.



Thou shalt not kill,

that stuff didn't work here,

God must have stayed back

in the real world.



Is any of this real?

Is this a green nightmare

I'm going to wake up from?



He sang to himself as

his senses gathered evidence

of continued existence



His eyes saw, his ears heard,

his heart felt a numb nothing,

his mind analyzed it all

as he studied the trail



He amused himself as he walked along

the old story about bullets, Ha.

Don't sweat the one that's got your

name on it, worry about the one addressed:



To Whom It May Concern.

Movement!, something is moving up there!

Drop to the mud, rifle pointing at the unknown,

Looks like two of them, hunting him.



They have rifles but he saw them first.

Breathe, Relax, Aim, Slack, Squeeze.

The shooting is over in five seconds,

the shakes are over in a half hour,

the memories are over, never.



KENNETH HODGES: A VETERAN'S VETERAN


There was a time when many people in the United States of America turned their backs on Kenneth Hodges. But, there has never been a moment in the last forty eight years when Kenneth Hodges ever dreamed of turning his back on the United States of America. Called a “baby-killer” and a “murderer,” Kenneth Hodges had good reasons to feel anger, to furiously lash out at those who assaulted him with hate and looked away in pathetic apathy. Instead, Kenneth Hodges sought out a higher power, one who gave him a special mission to serve his country. And, thirty seven years later, he is still carrying out that personal mission with eternal pride and with gracious honor, giving back to those veterans who have also served our country.


AN HONORABLE WAY

As Kenneth Hodges walked off the stage with his diploma from B.D. Perry High School in his hand, he knew that serving in the military would be an honorable way. He had an uncle, Hubert Mathis, who had been in the Army. He thought to himself that he wanted to make the military a career. So, he enlisted in the Army, just three weeks after graduation in 1963.

His values of country, honor, and doing right had been ingrained into Kenneth since he was a young boy by his mother, Mrs. Pauline Mathis Hodges, and his father, J. Richard Hodges. Mrs. Hodges began her teaching career in one-room school houses. In her thirty-five years of teaching school, Mrs. Hodges taught in churches which were specially outfitted for classes and the old Buckeye Junior High School, before teaching at B.D. Perry School on Highway 319. Mrs. Hodges ended her career as a teacher at East Laurens Primary School in the early 1970s.

Kenneth entered the infantry and was assigned to Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment of the 11th Brigade of the 23rd (Americal) Division. As one of the division’s crack units after training at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, the 20th regiment was sent to the Province of Quang Ngai, one of the most pro-Viet Cong provinces of South Vietnam.

The Americal Division had taken many casualties since its arrival in November 1967. As many as one third of the losses came from booby traps and mines, many of which were set by civilians sympathetic to the Viet Cong cause.

Charlie Company suffered its worst casualties on February 25, 1968. Captain Ernest Medina was awarded the Silver Star for his actions in rescuing his men. Medina and many field grade officers demanded that their men keep up an all out attack on the Viet Cong and their sympathizers. Regimental planners formulated a plan to clear the villages of My Lai of all Viet Cong.

March 16, 1968: Hodges recalled, “The morning of the 16th started early. The mood was sort of somber, but there was an edge of excitement.” Hodges said in a 1989 Frontline documentary, “We knew we were going into something big and we were gonna deal with them.” Normally a rifleman carried 180 rounds of ammo. Hodges remembered, “We were instructed to pack a triple basic load of ammunition. So we were expecting great resistance in that village.”

Hodges and the other squad leaders were guiding their men into position to move out. “It was quite clear that no one was to be spared in that village, Hodges said, “The orders meant killing small kids, killing women, because they were soldiers,” he added. The men of Charlie Company knew that refusing to carry out an order could result in punishment. Twenty-one years after the incident, Hodges recalled, “If one of my men had refused to shoot, I shudder to think what have been the repercussions. It's hard to say now what I would have done, looking back. At the time that it actually happened, he would have been in serious trouble.”

In justifying his actions at My Lai, Hodges, in the Frontline documentary, said, “As a professional soldier, I had been taught to carry out the orders and at no time did it ever cross my mind to disobey or to refuse to carry out an order that was issued by my superiors.” His soldiers were trained that way. “It's either you or the enemy, and the people who were in that village, the women, the little kids, the old men, were all considered the enemy,” he said. Sgt. Hodges taught his soldiers how to deal with the enemy when they came face to face with him. “They are trained to be killers,” he added.”

In a 2010 American Experience documentary, Hodges, some forty-two years after My Lai, maintained that he and the others were following orders. “You train a man to soldier, you take him out of civilian life, you teach him to be a soldier, you train him to follow orders, you express to him the importance of following orders, and you train him to kill,” the former sergeant maintained.

“After the My Lai operation and we returned to base camp, Captain Medina told us do not answer any questions from anyone, news reporters or anybody else, about this last mission,” Hodges remembered. “Other units had experienced similar things, they had carried out similar operations. For some reason or another, it started off with a soldier sharing something with someone else who wasn’t there. And, that person sharing it with someone else, who happened to be a friend of that guy. It sort of mushroomed from there and then someone decided that his conscience won’t let him rest until justice was done,” he added.

Charges of murder and rape were lodged and dismissed against Sgt. Hodges. Lt. William Calley, the platoon commander, was the only person found guilty in the action at My Lai. None of the field grade officers who planned the operation were ever charged. Despite the fact that he was cleared, the United States Army discharged Sgt. Kenneth Hodges from the service.

Kenneth Hodges desperately wanted to remain in the Army and serve his country. After he got out of the service, Kenneth lived in Columbus, Georgia for a couple of years. Those years were spent hoping against hope that the Army was going reinstate him and take him back in. With the help of a lawyer, Frank Martin over in Columbus, Hodges took his case all the way to the Supreme Court. “But, I lost out,” the ten-year veteran looked back.

Hodges believes there is still a segment of society that Vietnam still rests on their minds. Not just the veterans, but people who are just ordinary citizens. “The full story, the incidents which led up to My Lai - a lot of people don’t talk about them, because a lot of people don’t know about them. As I relate the story to people, they say, “I didn’t know all of that took place. I never heard that.” Because, what happened before would shed a lot of light on why things went down like they did at My Lai.”





THEY CALLED THEM THE DREGS OF SOCIETY


“With the things that I went through and after and during the trial, I was recommended for a general court martial. It did not go that far. During that period, it was pretty dark. “Public sentiment turned, it was already out there, Vietnam vets were baby killers and more or less dregs of society,” Hodges expounded.

Hodges’ unit was considered the best of the brigade in their training operations in Hawaii, so much so that they were the advance party to go over first. Hodges said, “Once the news came out a year and half later, even the army said we were undertrained and undereducated. Which was hardly the case. We had been undereducated. Some of them did have low IQs. But that was not our fault, they were drafted. If you have ever seen the movie Forrest Gump, I saw first hand “Forrest Gump.”

Hodges was referring to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s 100,000 project, in which the military openly ignored intelligence test results in drafting and enlisting soldiers. “These soldiers were good soldiers because of the repetition in their training. Tthey could pick it up. And, because they were of a simple mind, following orders was something they understood,” Hodges maintains. “So after their experiences in Vietnam, they had a hard time dealing with what they saw and what they experienced,” the former sergeant added.

In general, Hodges felt that many in the country turned their backs on the Vietnam veteran. He recalled the story, “When the news broke about the things, the trial, my mother, who grew up teaching school in Laurens County and on the east side of the river, was shunned. None of her friends, or so called friends, even called and offered words of encouragement or words of consolation. But a woman whom she had never met, a white lady, called and said, ‘I cooked a cake. I want you to put on a pot of coffee. I know you must be going through something now.’” It was those things that were “heartwarming, touching and uplifting” to Kenneth Hodges. Those were the exceptions, and not the rule.

One touching exception to that rule came during the holidays at the end of Hodges’ first of his two tours of duty in Vietnam. Hodges was returning home when he was at the Atlanta Airport awaiting a layover flight to Macon before taking a taxi to Dublin to surprise his family, who didn’t know he was coming home for the holidays. “While I was waiting for the plane to fly to Macon, I was browsing in one of the shops there and I came upon this one white couple and the lady greeted me. I was in uniform and we started talking. She said, ‘Are you in the army?’ Yes, I said. She said, ‘Well, where have you just come from, where are you going?’ I said, I am going home for the holidays. She said, ‘Where are you coming from?’ I said, from Vietnam,” he recalled.

“A look of surprise came over her and she excitedly said, ‘You are home from Vietnam?’ I said, yes. She called her husband over and she said, ‘Honey, this soldier returned from Vietnam and he is going to be home for Thanksgiving and for Christmas.’ He looked me in the eye and with tears in his eyes said, ‘Thank you for doing my part. I couldn’t go. I have health problems. I was listed and categorized as F4 - unfit for military service. Thank you for doing my part.’ He hugged me and his wife hugged me. That stands out as one of the high points of returning from Vietnam,” he concluded. Hodges recalled that other than a welcome from his family, there were hardly any welcome homes or any thank yous.



A NEW BEGINNING, A NEW MISSION




“One morning I woke up with a thought that I needed to find a new direction. I needed to make a new beginning,” Kenneth said as felt that his new beginning should be back in Dublin and that he could turn his life around at home. He was drifting, going no where in a hurry, dealing with alcoholism and his problems with the military. Hodges saw his problems were not being corrected and were not going to be corrected in Columbus. In early 1975, Hodges made a fateful decision, packed his bags and came home to find his new beginning. All he had was his family, himself, and his faith in God.

Hodges never gave any thought to working at the VA until he met Grady Phillips. Phillips asked Hodges had he ever thought about working at the VA hospital. “That’s when the light went on. I said, wow!. That’s a great idea,” Hodges fondly recalled.

He gives credit to those who stepped up for him and embraced him. One of them was E.B. Smith, the union president and a veteran. “He had no requirement to help me as I was a temporary employee. He was a caring individual,” Hodges added. Bob Willis was another who came to assist Hodges in his quest to become a permanent employee. Willis went to the director, Harold Duncan, and pleaded with him to give Hodges a chance.

Willis declared, “I wish we had hundreds of employees like Kenneth.” I was so impressed with him, I went to the Harold Duncan, the director, and plead his case for permanent employment. I told him that he wouldn’t regret it. In my years at the VA, Kenneth did an outstanding job and we never had any complaints about the way he did his job. He is a fine man.”

Hodges’ application was bogging down in the bowels of the bureaucracy. In the first round of testing he received a very low score. He had completed high school, a year of college and trade school. Hodges, naturally frustrated at the endless delays asked a VA official, “What am I supposed to do to make a living, rob a bank? I can’t get on at the VA. This is crazy!” Hodges grabbed some sheets of paper and wrote out his case. The official took them to the board and plead his case. With his veteran’s preference, Hodges scored a 99 and got a permanent job in housekeeping.

Working early on in the kitchen, the laundry, Hodges kept looking for a more fulfilling position. In late 1977, a job was announced on the board for a motor vehicle operator. “The more I dug into it, the more I learned what motor vehicle operators do. They transport patients, veterans to other VA facilities, clinics and nursing homes. And these veterans come from our service area, which includes 59 counties surrounding Dublin. The idea came to my mind that this was a way to reach other veterans who may be experiencing similar problems.” Hodges remarked. Not long after he got the job a Seventh Day Adventist minister, who worked in the laundry, kept telling Hodges, “That’s your job. God has work for you to do in that job.”

Hodges does the things he does for veterans because it gives him a sense of accomplishment. “It gives me a good feeling - a giving back to those who gave to me when I was coming along struggling. When I started at the VA, it was hard getting on permanently. I managed to get on to a temporary assignment, but getting a permanent assignment proved to be a challenge,” he maintained.

Over the last thirty-three years, Hodges estimates that he has driven more than one million miles in transporting veterans. “I had veterans usually going to Augusta or Decatur, two to three hours. I had them and I had their attention. They couldn’t get away. So they were trapped with me. I could talk to them. There were veterans who had similar problems to what I had, especially Vietnam veterans. Some of them were younger. Some of them were older. I saw that they were going through the same problems that I was going through with PTSD dealing with every day problems after you got back, still making adjustments from being in the war. It gave me a great opportunity. It still gives me a great opportunity, because now I am seeing younger veterans coming from Iraq and from Afghanistan. They are suffering from similar problems and I am able to share my experiences with them and what I learned about PTSD, and ways to deal with it and cope with it.” he said.

Hodges counts the number of veterans which he has helped to be in the tens of thousands. “I am interacting with them in someway, talking with them about different things, different aspects of their lives - the things that they are going through. The assistance that I give some of them is just talk and advice - some of them, just a listening ear,” he says.

During the period between 1982 to the early 1990s Hodges was on the road to Augusta everyday, sometimes twice a day and even three times in one day. “ One Saturday, I had a scheduled transfer. When I got back from that one, I had an emergency. When I got back from that one, I had another emergency. The other two drivers were out sick, so I drove 600 miles within a twenty-four period in three trips to Augusta.” he remarked.

Hodges also takes veterans to get their driver’s licenses and IDs. Although his primary mission is to make sure the patients get transportation for medical treatment he finds a lot of guys coming in with their pockets empty. With no public transportation available, he makes sure that veterans can take care of their of the business during their stay at the VA Hospital. He took one man out to get a driver’s license for his van. He got it even though he lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam. “That really blew my mind. He is a Vietnam veteran. He lost both legs and an arm. I saw him in Atlanta and he was driving,” he fondly recalled.

An old friend, whom Kenneth met at Fort Benning back in the early 70s, called him. He was crying. The friend had been receiving bad treatment from his co-workers. “He was on the verge of doing something foolish. He called me and said there was going to be homicide or a suicide. I don’t know which,” said Kenneth, who told his friend, “It sounds like PTSD has set in on you.” This was in the early 90s, the mid 90s. Today he is on the road to receiving the help that he needs and getting the counseling he needs for the PTSD as well as other physical problems.





GIVE AND YE SHALL RECEIVE


Time and time again in his life, Kenneth Hodges has seen that giving back to others brings blessings back to the giver ten fold. He does good deeds not for any hope of reward nor recognition. Not one to blow his own horn, Hodges related the story of a veteran who had been sleeping under a bridge for two months and drinking whenever he could. After deciding that the vet wanted to come in and get cleaned up, Hodges transported him from Augusta to Dublin to be admitted to the detox ward. “The clothes that he had a stench in them - you could hardly stand it riding in the van. When I got back to Dublin, I took all of his clothes, everything that he had, which was in two large plastic bags. I took it home and washed them, dried them, and returned them to him fresh,” he recalled.

Hodges realizes that there are many people around town who don’t seek or want recognition for the acts of charity and kindness. He tells the story of a young lady who worked at the VA. Her estranged boyfriend slashed all of her tires. Her fellow employees raised $270.00 to help her buy new tires. Kenneth picked up the phone and phoned a friend, who was a local tire dealer. He told the man of the lady’s predicament. The dealer said, “Kenneth, as I have always told you if you need anything call me.” Hodges told the dealer what had happened. He said, “You’ve got $270?” Hodges said, “yes.” The dealer said, “Let me call you back in five minutes.” “He called me in three,” Hodges said. The tire shop owner asked, “You’ve got $270 and you want these tires mounted and balanced?” Hodges told the man, “I know it is a tall request,” to which the dealer responded, “The cheapest tire I have got is $325 for the set and that doesn’t include mounting and balancing, but bring me that $270.”

That tire dealer, as you may have guessed by now, was Hodges’ fellow good deed doer, Scott Beasley of Duncan Tire Company. When asked about Kenneth Hodges, Beasley smiled excitedly and said, “ You mean Kenneth Hodges, he is Dublin’s hero! Beasley declared, “Kenneth Hodges has a heart as big as the helmet that the soldier’s wear.” Beasley remembered watching the American Experience documentary on My Lai when all of sudden he recognized his old friend. He exclaimed, “That’s Kenneth!,” as his heart swelled with pride and admiration.

Hodges remembered meeting a couple in Augusta while waiting to return a patient home. He had known them in the years in which they ran a variety store on I-16 in Dublin. The man was suffering from an aneurism. The lady was recovering from cancer. While the couple were in Augusta, they had a flat tire. The lady was trying to call for a mechanic to come and change or repair their tire. That’s when Kenneth Hodges stepped in.

The man told his wife to hang up the phone and that help was on the way. Puzzled, the lady responded, “They are here already here? I didn’t get a chance to talk.” The man said, “No, Kenneth is here to change the tire.” Kenneth refused the lady’s financial reward. When Hodges got back to Dublin, the couple had already called his supervisor, Freddie Smith. Smith told the chief, who within a matter of days, presented a “Caring Award” to Hodges. He had a choice between a meal for four at a Macon restaurant or a fifty-dollar savings bond. Hodges laughed, “I said, “I know how to cook, give me the savings bond!”.

The list of good deeds goes on and on. There too many to list and too many which have never been told nor were expected to be known or publicly appreciated outside of those who received his generous aid.


THE SWEET TASTE IS STILL THERE


Kenneth Hodges has been serving our country for more than two thirds of his sixty six years. And, he has no plans to stop any time soon. He has no goal of fifty or fifty-five years. “I tell folks when they question me about my retirement. It’s like a piece of gum that you stick in your mouth, the sweet taste is still there,” Hodges said.

On almost every morning, Kenneth Hodges stills looks forward to getting up and going to work, facing new challenges and meeting new people, talking to them and sharing his experiences, and trying to shed some light on how they can better themselves. He unequivocally stated, “There are lot more opportunities now for the Afghanistan and Iraqi veterans than there were for the Vietnam veterans.”

Kenneth Hodges relishes in doing what he can to carry out the programs that the VA has as well as his own program of assisting the veterans and encouraging them by giving them the courage to continue on with what they are doing. Hodges insists that the veterans whom he meets continue to get an education. He challenges them not to give up on their dreams. “If they have something they want to do, pursue it,” Hodges declared.

”They are more warmly received. And, that does not bother me. Some people have problems dealing with that, but that was another time and another place,” Hodges commented on how he and other Vietnam vets were treated four decades ago.

From time to time, Kenneth Hodges interacts with female veterans. Some of them have dependence problems, and sadly some of the women are homeless. To the young veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq, Hodges encourages them to seek a higher power. “If you don’t want to call it God, seek a higher power, like an AA commitment,” he tells young veterans. He shares with them his own guidance from God in overcoming his problems. “I looked to God for my guidance and to get to me through it,” Hodges asserted.





WELCOME HOME





There were no parades, no ceremonies, not hardly a single celebration when Kenneth Hodges and other Vietnam veterans came home to the United States. But, it is not too late to welcome those who served. Hodges, himself now finds himself instinctively thanking the Vietnam veterans he meets for their service to our country.

Just five years ago, Hodges, wearing a cap indicating the he was a veteran of the Vietnam War, was at a convenience store gassing up his vehicle. He noticed a young veteran in his late twenties. The young man walked directly toward him and looked him straight in the eye. He stuck out his hand and said, “Thank you for your service to our country and welcome home.” Hodges said, “I was shocked at his actions, and I said what did you say? I had to hear it again.” The young man repeated, “Thank you for your service to our country. Welcome home, Vietnam veterans didn’t get a lot of that” Hodges was so touched that he began to cry.

When he meets a Vietnam veteran because of his insignia on his cap or what he is wearing which sets him apart, Hodges will greet him, “I don’t have to know him. I will just walk up to him and extend my hand, shake his hand, and welcome him home and thank him for his service to his country,” he maintains as most of them have the same reaction that he did.

Hodges says that the citizens of our community can help veterans who are now returning by embracing them and welcoming them home. “Give them some support and listen to them. Some of them are reluctant to share their stories,” he says. As for himself, sharing his story is therapy. He feels that so many people are in the dark as far as the Vietnam veteran, what he is and who he is. “We are a cross section of society of that period. We are no more and we are no less than the others are. It’s just that we served in an unpopular war. And, when it was over, there was not a win involved. We sort of tucked our tails between our legs and walked off,” he concluded.



A BAD MOVIE


Kenneth Hodges has fought many fights in his life. And, like his second-cousin, six-time world champion boxer “Sugar Ray” Robinson, he has won most of them. In commenting on his struggles and the triumph of his faith, Hodges says, “Sometimes life is like a bad movie. You keep on watching it and hope it will turn out good.”

Kenneth Hodges never really liked bad endings. His sister, Frenchy Hodges, remembered the days of their youth when they and their siblings, Marva, Larue, and Joe Richard, Jr., were working in the fields along side their farmer father, Joe Richard Hodges, Sr. Frenchy, a nationally recognized poetess and story teller, often made up stories, some of which had sad endings. “Kenneth has always been a sensitive and caring man,” said Ms. Hodges. “When he began to cry after hearing my stories, I would say, ‘No, the story really doesn’t end that way,” and I would change the story to add a happy ending to cheer him up,” Hodges happily recalled.

Many years ago Hodges learned that words can hurt and words can heal. “A lot of times you don’t know the impact of what you do or what you say will have on some people. Sometimes you’ll never know,” he says. He was reminded about a story of a professor who assigned his psychology students the task of telling someone what they meant to them. As he rushed through his own busy schedule, the professor forgot that he himself was supposed to complete the assignment. He went to his son’s room and told him just how much he appreciated what his son had done to help around the house and how proud of him he was for his good grades and how much he loved him. The boy began to sob uncontrollably. When asked what was wrong, the son said, “Dad, I didn’t think you had even noticed me period, or even noticed what I did around the house. I didn’t think you even noticed my grades or anything I did in school. That was why tomorrow morning, I planned to kill myself.”

That story got Kenneth to thinking that sometimes you say things that are ugly or hurting to people that you want to strike out. And, they can really hurt people. It made him think the angry and bitter words should stop coming out of his mouth.

There was a period there when he could pass it out freely, especially if you crossed his path. “I tell the guys sometimes that I used to be a revolving SOB and I loved it,” Hodges admits. One guy said, “What is a revolving SOB?” Hodges said, “Any way that I turned, I was one. It was nothing that I was proud of.” After Vietnam, Hodges didn’t realize what Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was. “It manifests itself in people’s minds. One of the effects is anger and not necessarily at anyone or anybody. Just anger. But since I have been at the VA, I have met a half dozen people who have shared their stories about anger,” he said.

After listening to veterans, Hodges realized that he too had some of that anger. “I realized that the angrier you get, the more excited and the more you like it. And, that is dangerous. That’s a part of that transformation. I turned it around. I said, no, no, you don’t want to go back there,” he recollected.

Kenneth Hodges gives all the credit for turning his life around to God. “The Master, the man upstairs. He showed it to me and let me see it vividly, vividly. I said, no, no, I don’t want to go back there.” He urges all veterans to get help from the VA. He shares his story of overcoming turmoil in his life through his faith in God and his God-given love he has for his fellow veterans.

And today, you’ll still find Kenneth Hodges after almost a half century of serving his country, still serving the country and the veterans whom he never turned his back on. While not working at the VA on or the road, you may find him at home, doing what he loves to do, cooking a delicious meal and enjoying life with this wife Margaret. Sometimes he closes his eyes and watches himself starring in a bad biographical movie which is now showing the good parts. And, it looks like there will be a wonderful and oh so happy ending.


Welcome home, Sergeant Kenneth Hodges! Thank you for your service to our country.