Friday, November 21, 2014


“A True Survivor”

For the last fifteen years, millions of persons all over the world  have tuned their television sets to watch the popular television show Survivor.  The king of reality of shows features everyday people who endure the elements and undergo a variety of contests.  Sixty five years ago, William Wallace and thousands of other American soldiers and civilians faced the same challenge.  However, this challenge was real. It was constantly brutal,  frequently deadly and unfathomably heinous.

William Wallace, son of Lase and Frances Wallace, was born on April 1, 1922 and grew up in Millen, Georgia.  After his graduation from High School, William enlisted in the Army Air Corps and began his training at Fort McPherson in Atlanta.    Private Wallace was assigned to the 27th Bombardment Group (L)as a tail gunner.  The group was assigned to duty in the Philippine Islands in November 1941.  Wallace was at his station when the Japanese attacked the island chain on December 7.

The invaders launched a ferocious siege upon the American and Filipino forces, who had little food and an ever dwindling supply of ammunition.  After the three months of constant fighting, the American forces surrendered.  William was taken prisoner and along with thousands of other prisoners, was forced to endure the infamous “Bataan Death March.”  The weakened men were force-marched sixty miles in intense heat.  The only drinking water was found in mud puddles along the way.  Rest periods were rare.  Slow walkers were beaten.  Stragglers were bayoneted.  Six or seven hundred men were left dead on the side of the road.

After three months and fifteen hundred deaths at Camp O’Donnell, the prisoners were transported to the nefarious prison at Cabanatuan.  William remained there until September 1943.     It was in the latter months of 1943 that the Japanese government began to transport American prisoners back to the mainland to work in the coal mines.   Wallace and six hundred other prisoners were crammed into the hold a cargo ship, which set a course for Osaka.

Along the way, the ship detoured to Formosa in China.  The men were sent to a coal mine and were worked more than a half day, every day.  William was forced to push a heavy coal car up hill.  Any slip might result in a beating.    A prisoner’s daily diet consisted of three cups of rice.  If they were lucky, the men were given a prize morsel of meat, a pickled grasshopper, known to its consumer as a “Georgia Thumper.”

By 1944, William was assigned to a coal mine of the Rinko Coal Company in Japan. Conditions in the mine were unbearable.  The men were placed in an open building, left to face the brutal winters with virtually no shelter.  Each man was given old clothes to wear and a single blanket to keep them warm.  On the coldest of nights, six men would lie on one blanket and lie together, three with their heads on one end and three at the other end, with the five blankets on top.  At least the meals were better.   Stewed fish and boiled soybeans were added to the customary, but highly treasured, three daily cups of rice.   Once a week, the men got a bath.

Wallace described the winter of 1945 as the worst.  Snow falls ranged from three feet and more.  In order to avoid work and gain a stay in the hospital, Wallace would hold his breath and fall flat into the snow to make it appear that he had lost consciousness on six or seven occasions.  His captors never realized his ruse.  Had they done so, he would have been immediately executed on the spot.  “Getting out the snow, the freezing rain and still being allowed to eat was worth the risk,” said Wallace.   During that winter, William suffered from dysentery and double pneumonia and spent Easter Sunday, his 23rd birthday, in the hospital.

Conditions in the camp began to deteriorate rapidly.  The men began to steal food and cigarettes from each other, but were strongly disciplined if caught.  Distribution of food was scrutinized down to the pro rata bean and crumb of rice.

William was not released until the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  When he left the coal mine, he weighed 87 pounds.  Constant hunger and debilitating malaria and beriberi nearly killed William.  Thousands of others who weren’t so lucky.  

In August 1945, William returned to the United States and entered a hospital in California.   When he arrived home,  he possessed six stitches in his head, a result of an unprovoked attack by a Japanese civilian with a large chunk of coal.   After a period of recuperation, William returned to Georgia.  Among the first to greet him was his high school sweetheart Mary Dickey.  The couple married in 1946, but William believed his obligation to his country was not yet completed.  He returned to the Army Air Corps for a three-year hitch.  Though he tried to live a normal life, the haunting memories of his incarceration prevented William from sleeping with a light off for more than eight years.  Talking about his experiences was difficult, if not impossible.  It wasn’t until the survivors held their first reunion when William began to relate the horrors of his internment.  Wallace’s  remembrances are featured in Donald Knox’s “Death March,” the story of the Bataan Death March and its survivors.

Wallace told Knox, “the further we went into captivity, the worse it became.”  He began to doubt whether or not he could ever survive, but came to realize “that the human body can suffer nearly everything and still survive.”

William Wallace graduated from Mercer University with a double major in religion and history.  For forty-one years, he served small rural Baptist churches in our area and worked at Warner Robins AFB until poor health forced his retirement in 1943.  His last sermon was delivered in 1991.

In January 1992, nearly fifty years after his capture,  William Wallace was presented the Congressional Prisoner of War Medal in his hospital bed by Congressman J. Roy Rowland.   Never bitter toward his captors, Wallace was disappointed that Japanese Americans interned in camps in our country were given a reparation of twenty thousand dollars, while he and the four thousand survivors and the families of the five thousand who died never received a cent of compensation.

The Rev. William Wallace died on February 27, 1995.  The lung disease he contracted in the camps eventually killed him.   Wallace survived one of the most brutal prison camps in the history of the world.  He endured to serve his fellow man and to espouse the word of the Gospel and spread the message of peace and love toward all mankind.  On this Memorial Day, take a moment to remember William Wallace and the millions of brave Americans who sacrificed their lives, their homes and families to preserve our freedoms.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


A Paradigm of Ethics

 Randy Evans always knows the right thing to do.  He was raised that way.  This native of Dublin is a mixture of two of Laurens County's oldest families, the Thigpens from the east side of the river and the Evans family from the west side.  In a world when all too many lawyers are looked upon with distrust of their true motives, J. Randolph Evans is regarded by his peers as one of the best attorneys in the nation.  His clients have included several of the nation's most prominent politicians and erudite  corporations, but his roots to Laurens County still run deep.

Randy Evans was born in Dublin, Georgia on September 24,  1958.  His father James C. Evans is a son of Elton Evans and Martha Hilliard Evans of Dexter.  His mother Betty Evans is a daughter of Malcolm Thigpen and Marie Clements Thigpen of Rockledge.  Randy grew up in Warner Robins, where in 1976 he graduated from Northside High School.   Randy and his brother Greg spent most of their summers on their grandparents' farms.

"I decided to become an attorney before I started school and never wavered," Evans recalled.  Randy was awarded a scholarship on the debating team at West Georgia College, which he entered in 1976.  Evans was elected Judiciary Chairman of the Student Government Association and in 1979 was chosen by his fellow students to serve as President of the association.    Randy was a member of the debate team, one of the top three teams in the nation.    A Summa Cum Laude graduate, Evans majored in Political Science and minored in Mathematics and Speech. 

While at West Georgia, he met a professor who would shape and mold his life forever.  Law and politics are often inseparable.   Evans met Newt Gingrich and volunteered on his campaign staff in 1976 and again in 1978, when Gingrich was first elected to Congress.  During the summer of 1979, Randy lived in the basement of Gingrich's Virginia home while he interned for the freshman congressman.

In 1980, Randy Evans began his study of the law at the University of Georgia. While in law school, he was a member of the Editorial and Managing Boards of the Georgia Law Review.  His Moot Court team was one of the top four in the nation.  In 1983, Randy was awarded a Juris Doctor Degree Magna Cum Laude along with citations of honor from the Order of the Coif and the Order of the Barristers.
Randy was asked by the firm of Boundurant, Miller, Hishon & Stephenson to join the firm as an associate.   Inspired by the wave of conservatism and old-fashioned values espoused by Ronald Reagan, Randy entered the world of politics and was elected chairman of the Douglas County Republican Party in 1985.  Later that same year,   Evans was asked to join Arnall, Golden and Gregory, one of Atlanta's most prestigious firms, in their legal malpractice section.  

Before the age of thirty,   Evans assisted Newt Gingrich by taking an integral role in drafting the ethics complaint against the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Jim Wright, which eventually led to his resignation and Gingrich's rise to the speakership. In 1991, Randy was elevated to partner and was appointed chairman of the Professional Liability Group of the firm.   Now recognized nationwide as an expert on professional liability insurance, Evans is the author of Practical Guide to Legal Malpractice Prevention.  In 1996, Randy Evans was chosen by his colleagues to head the bar's second largest section, the Torts and Insurance section.

When Speaker Newt Gingrich found himself on the hot seat in 1996 after an ethics complaint was filed against him, he called upon Randy to defend him in the Congress.  Evans became the speaker's personal attorney representing him in his divorce, in book deals and in contracts as a news analyst for Fox television news.  

As his star began to rise,   Gingrich's successor as speaker, Dennis Hastert, retained Randy to act as his outside counsel in 1999.  That same year, Evans was appointed by Georgia Chief Justice Norman Fletcher as a Special Master for the State of Georgia for a five-year term which ended in 2004.    With Speakers Gingrich and Hastert on his client list, Evans became the logical choice to represent the Republican party in Georgia.  His stock in the law firm was also on the rise.  In 2001, he was named co-chairman of the Litigation Department at Arnall, Golden & Gregory.

One of the busiest attorneys in the nation, Randy Evans was named in 2001 to head  the business companies owned by former speaker Gingrich.  In 2002, he began to represent J.C. Watts, the former and always popular congressman from Oklahoma.  After one year, Watts named Evans to head his business interests as well.  That same year he accepted employment as the outside counsel of house majority whip Roy Blunt.  

When the Republican party took over control of Georgia politics in 2002, Evans became more active in state politics, serving on the Georgia State Board of Elections and as general counsel for the Georgia Republican party.  Evans continued to represent his clients in book deals, negotiating Speaker, by Dennis Hastert and National Party No More for Zell Miller.   Though most of his known clients are well-known Republicans, Evans also represents many members of Congress and the Senate from both sides of the aisle. 

In 2003, Evans became chairman of the Financial Services practice group at McKenna, Long & Aldridge in Atlanta.  He continues to try cases as well as author hundreds  of  law articles as well as being a coveted speaker at seminars and legal programs.   He finds that by writing and lecturing on legal issues, he is forced to keep up with the rapid changes in the law.   In his spare time, Evans is a member of the Roswell Baptist Church, the United States Supreme Court Historical Society and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Historical Society.  His wife Linda is a former Wall Street lawyer.  He has a twenty-year-old son, Jake.  His hobbies include chess and collecting lapel pins.  He also enjoys following his beloved Georgia Bulldogs.  He once told a reporter for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, "I bleed red and black."

The editors of Best Lawyers in America have cited Randy in the practice areas of Commercial and Legal Malpractice in 2004, 2006 and 2007.  He has been recognized as one of Georgia's Super Lawyers by Atlanta Magazine.  James Magazine has named him one of the  most influential persons in the state  in the last two years.  

Like all good lawyers Evans describes himself as a solution-driven lawyer.  As it relates to a main area of expertise, Randy Evans defines discipline as "doing that which you don't want to do when you most don't want to do it."

Thursday, November 13, 2014


Paying it Forward

     Lawyers are supposed to serve their communities, at least that's what my Daddy taught me.  On this Law Day, let us take a glance back at one lawyer, who was a native of Dublin, but left his home here and left a lasting legacy to the State of Florida and northern Florida in particular.   Born with a God given talent, Keen paid it forward and lent his skills to promote the enforcement of the law, the improvement of education and the establishment of nuclear energy facilities.   

     James Velma Keen was born in Dublin, Georgia on August 23, 1899.  His parents, James Henry and Ida Keen  lived on a farm in Smith's District on the eastern side of the river.  Since his father was known as James, James Velma Keen was known by his friends as "Velma."  When Velma was an infant, the Keens moved to River Junction in Gadsden County, Florida.    James Henry Keen followed the course of his Holmes cousins and moved south to open a Coca Cola bottling plant in 1907.  Keen operated the plant until 1913, when it merged with another plant in Marianna.  After James Henry's death in 1942, his son Charlton took over as president and manager of the plant.  When Charlton died in 1957, Velma found himself in control of his father's business, the Purity Bottling Works.

     Velma Keen returned to Georgia where he entered Georgia Tech and later Oglethorpe University in Atlanta.  After a brief period of study at the University of Pittsburgh, Keen returned to North Florida and entered Law School at Florida State University.  After obtaining a law degree in 1922, Keen was admitted to the bar in 1923 and began the practice of law with the firm of Sawyer, Surrency, Carter and Keen.  

     From his new home in Sarasota, Keen launched his public service career.  He served as the State's Attorney for the 27th Judicial District.  In 1930, Keen was chosen as the State Attorney for Sarasota County.  After failing in an attempt to become the mayor of Sarasota in 1927, Keen returned to politics and was elected to represent his county in the Florida legislature in 1931.  Following his two-years in the state house, Keen once again climbed the ladder to become the Assistant Attorney General of Florida in 1933.  

     In 1936, Velma Keen returned to private practice in Tallahassee in a general civil practice with the firm of Keen, O'Kelly and Spitz.  Keen was often called upon to write articles for the Florida Law Journal and remained active in the State Bar Association, serving as a committee chairman and the organization's president.  In 1959, Keen was honored with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by Florida State University for nearly four decades of outstanding legal services to the State of Florida. 

     In 1947, Keen represented the estate of circus magnate John Ringling, who bequeathed his estimable art museum, luxurious mansion and its grand gardens to the people of Florida.    Velma Keen's passion was the furtherance and improvement of educational opportunities in his state.  He served as a trustee of Florida Southern College.  He was president of the Southern Scholarship and Research Foundation and chairman of the Continuing Education Council of Florida.

   Velma Keen and his wife helped to found the Southern Scholarship and Research Foundation.  The program continues today to provide free housing scholarships.  In the early 1960s, Keen was appointed to the State Advisory Committee on Libraries.  He was a member of the National Citizens Council for Better Schools, The Advisory Council on Education  and a member of the Education Committee of the United States Chamber of Commerce, from 1948 to 1963.  

     Perhaps Velma Keen's most enduring legacies came in the field of nuclear energy. Just ten years after the detonation of the first nuclear bomb, Keen led his state in the establishment of the atom as a peaceful implement of man.  In 1955, Keen was elected to chair the Florida Nuclear Development Commission. The board of citizens was charged with the responsibility of implementation of policies and advisement of nuclear development in the state.  Keen and his fellow board members began to recruit math and science teachers who would encourage their students to excel in their studies and remain at home to further the interests of Florida.  Eventually the commission promoted the studies of nuclear energy at the Florida State and the University of Florida.  His personal goal was to make the state's top two universities among the best in the nation.   As a member of the Southeastern Regional Council on nuclear energy, Keen helped to develop policies for the establishment of nuclear power plants and the storage of radioactive waste products. 

     In 1966, James Velma Keen was honored for his work in the development of nuclear energy. Florida State University named its new physics building the James Velma Keen Physics Research Building in honor of one of the founders of the Southern Interstate Nuclear Compact in 1959.  An excellent public speaker, Keen was frequently asked to speak to scientific, business and education groups. 

     Keen was an astute businessman as well.  He was the founding president of the Leon Federal Savings and Loan Association in Tallahassee.  The Commonwealth Corporation, a large financial institution, was founded under his leadership.    Always asked to serve on many boards, Keen served three terms as President of the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce in the late 1940s and as a director of the Florida Chamber of Commerce in 1950s.   Velma Keen was also active in historical affairs.  He served as vice president of the Florida Historical Society in the mid 1950s.
     James Velma Keen died on March 4, 1963.  His life was one of untiring public service.   Keen represents the qualities of what an ideal attorney at law should be.   Those of us who are blessed with a talent to represent others in times of tribulations and triumphs  are obligated to share our blessings with others.   Of course, everyone else should aspire to those same goals of selflessness and service to others.

Monday, November 10, 2014


Since the first biplane flew over the skies of Laurens County just about a century ago, our young men, and a few young women,  have dreamed of flying up and into the skies above us.   Many of these young men went on to serve in the Air Force during the wars of the 20th Century.  On this Veteran’s Day, let us salute the Fly Boys, the warriors in the skies.

The first glimpses of the flying machines came during fair and festival times when barnstorming pilots thrilled thousands of curious onlookers.  

The first Laurens County pilot was Corporal Walter Warren.  Warren, a member o the American Expeditionary Force, was the first American airmen to be wounded in World War I in early December 1917.

After World War I, flying became a national obsession.  It was in 1919, when Dublin, then one of the largest cities in the state,  became the destination of pilots around Georgia.  Recruiters out of Souther Field in Americus flew in and out of Dublin in hopes of getting some local boys in the seat of plane.

But it was in the 1930s, when interest in flying exploded.  The Dublin City Council established the first airport on the Phelps Place on Claxton Dairy Road in 1929.   Mayor T.E. Hightower urged that “Dublin be put on the air map of the United States Aeronautical Association as soon as possible.”  “All the world has taken wings and Dublin must take to the air, too, or be left behind,” Hightower added.   Another landing strip was on the west side of town on the E.T. Barnes place on the Macon Road.  This primitive landing strip, probably located near the Dublin Mall

The kids of Dublin formed a Junior Birdmen Club in February 1935.  Emory Beckham was elected the wing commander, while Jack Baggett was chosen as the club captain.  Billy Keith served as the secretary-treasurer.  Other members of the club were Earle Beckham, Luther Word, Owen Word and Jimmie Sanders.  The club, organized to promote an interest in aviation, was the only club between Macon and Savannah.

The enthusiasm of the Junior Birdmen inspired city officials to begin construction of a municipal airport two miles south of town on the Dublin-Eastman Highway south of  the present site of Mullis’ Junkyard.  With the support of Monson Barron, the city’s oldest aviation afficionado, Clafton Barron, and Ellison Pritchett, who had worked for Boeing, Lockheed, and Douglas, a four plane hangar was constructed on the site.  Local officials continued to push the Barnes site on Highway 80 West, as well as the Cullens site in East Dublin on Highway 80 East.  Neither of the three sites ever attained the status of a first class airport. 

By far, the greatest interest in flying came when the United States entered World War II. Robert Werden, Jr. loved to fly and was so anxious to fly planes in World War II that he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force.  When the United States declared war, he joined the Army Air Force, only to be shot down and killed in the early years of the war.  

Lt. Lucian Bob Shuler, a former Cadwell High School basketball coach, was an ace, having shot down seven  Japanese planes in combat.   Captain Shuler (LEFT)  was awarded eleven Distinguished Flying Crosses and twelve Air Medals.   Cpt. William A. Kelley, a former Dublin High School coach, was flying the “Dauntless Dotty” when  it crashed into the sea on June 6, 1945.  The B-29 Superfortress was the first B-29 to bomb Tokyo.  Kelley and his crew, who flew in a bomber named “The Lucky Irish,” were the first crew in the Pacific to complete 30 missions.  

Lt. Colonel J.R. Laney,  former residents of Dublin and graduates of West Point, was cited for their actions in India and Europe.   Laney was a member of the three-man crew of the Douglas XB-42 Mixmaster, the world’s fastest transcontinental plane, when it crashed into a Washington, D.C. suburb in December 1945.  Lt. Col. Laney survived the crash to complete a distinguished thirty-year career in the Army.   

Marion Rodgers,  (LEFT) who spent his early years in Dublin, was a squadron commander of the Tuskegee Airman in the years after World War II.  Major Herndon Cummings was a Tuskegee bomber pilot in the 477th Bomber Group. Cummings was incarcerated along with a hundred other fellow pilots for attempting to integrate an all-white officers club at Freeman Field in Indiana in 1945 in one of the country’s first major civil rights incidents. John Whitehead, who grew up in Dublin like Rodgers, was the Air Force’s first African American test pilot, was also a Tuskegee Airman. 

Major Herndon Cummings

 Col. John Whitehead

Captain Alvin A. Warren, Jr., of Cadwell, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for flying 70 missions in the Indo-China Theater night and day through impassable mountain ranges and high clouds. Walter D. Warren, Jr. was a member of the famed Flying Tigers in China-Burma-India Theater.  Flight officer Emil E. Tindol also received the same award, just days before he was killed in action  while “flying the hump” - a term used for flying over the gigantic mountain ranges of India and Burma.    

For his battle wounds and other feats of courage and bravery, Lt. Clifford Jernigan was awarded the Purple Heart, an Air Medal and three Oak Leaf clusters in 1944.   Lt. Garrett Jones was a highly decorated pilot who participated in the first daylight bombings of Germany.   Lt. Col. Ezekiel W. Napier of Laurens County, a graduate of West Point, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and retired from the Air Force in 1959 as a Brigadier General.  The "Pilot's Pilot," Bud Barron of Dublin, was credited with the second most number of air miles during the war, mainly by ferrying aircraft to and from the front lines. Barron has been inducted into the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame.    

Near the end of the war, the U.S. Navy established an airport northwest of Dublin to support the Naval Hospital in Dublin.  That airport became the Laurens County Airport after the war.       Passenger and air freight service began in and out of Dublin in 1945 with flights on Southern Air Express Airlines.

J.P. McCullough was an aviation instructor in the Air Force.  Among his more famous pupils were two of the country’s better known aviators, United States Senators John Glenn and John McCain.

Major James F. Wilkes, (left) a Forward Air Controller flying a modified civilian Cessna airplane, was awarded a Silver Star for directing fighter aircraft in between friendly and enemy positions and saving the lives of many American soldiers.  Major Wilkes also won two Distinguished Flying Crosses and fifteen Air Medals. Lt. Col. Holman Edmond, Jr. in his two tours of duty in Vietnam was awarded 2 Bronze Stars and 17 Air Medals. 

Today, flying remains a popular pastime in Laurens County. And, still there are young men who fly missions for our country on a regular basis to preserve the freedoms e still enjoy at home and around the world. 

Lt. George Spicer

                                                                   Lt. Roy Malone



Some 85 to 90 years ago, three young Laurens County boys played in the cotton fields and stared into the sky as their parents and the older members of their families picked cotton and other crops from the field.

Hardly any of them had ever seen an airplane in their young and isolated lives.  In the next two decades, each of them would not only learn what an airplane was, they would learn to fly some of the fastest airplanes in the U.S. Air Force.

Each of these three men took separate career paths.  One flew bomber planes, another fighter planes, and the last one flew jet planes higher and faster than few people had eve flown before.

On Veteran’s Day, the State of Georgia will honor these three men by naming the intersection of U.S. Highway 80 West and the U.S. Highway 441 By-pass as the Herndon Cummings, Marion Rodgers, John Whitehead Tuskegee Airmen Interchange.  

The legislation was sponsored by Representatives Matt Hatchett, Bubber Epps and Jimmy Pruett at the request of Laurens County Commissioner, Buddy Adams, who has been the driving force in honoring veterans in Laurens County since his election to office in 2008.   Adams proposed legislation to name the two legs of the by-pass for Lt. Kelso Horne,  the cover man of Life magazine’s first D-Day issue and Lt. Col. Clyde Stinson, who was awarded two Silver Stars for heroism and was one of the highest ranking officers killed in actual combat in Vietnam. 

     Of the estimated one thousand men who bore the title of a “Tuskegee Airmen,” three of these remarkable aviators can call Laurens County, Georgia home.  

One, Major Herndon Cummings, was a native of Laurens County, while two others, Col. John Whitehead and Col. Marion Rodgers spent portions of their childhood living in Laurens County.  The legacy of these three men lived well beyond their years as a separate unit of the United States Army Air Force.  Laurens County’s three Tuskegee Airmen went on to remarkable achievements in aviation for decades beyond their service during World War II.

   Herndon Cummings was born on April 25, 1919 in the Burgamy District of Laurens County, Georgia.  The son of Joseph and Mollie Hill Cummings,  Don’s interest in aviation was sparked on Christmas Day in 1928 when his father gave him a toy German zeppelin.  His interest in flying was forever sealed in 1936 when Don and his brother took a five-dollar ride  in a Ford Tri-Motor plane.  As the plane soared in the skies west of Dublin, Don underwent a life-altering experience.  "By the time the plane landed, I knew what I wanted to do," he recalled.   

     Cummings enlisted in the Air Corps on June 25, 1942.  He trained in the B-25 bomber at Tuskegee and later at Lockbourne Air Force Base in Columbus, Ohio, where he would later make his home.   Of the nine hundred to a thousand men who successfully completed their training at Tuskegee, most trained as fighter pilots in the P-51 fighter and other fighters. 

     Lt. Cummings was assigned to the 477th Bomber Group, which was based at Selfridge Army Air Field, Michigan in 1944.  Many of the members of the group were commanded by white officers, who according to some, favored white officers over the black officers.  Concerns over racial troubles in Detroit forced the group to move to Godman Field near Fort Knox, Kentucky.    By March 1945, the 477th was uprooted again and moved to Freemen Army Field at Seymour, Indiana.  

    The field at Freeman maintained two clubs, one for supervisors and one for trainees, but were defacto separated between blacks and whites.  In the early days of April 1945, the relationships between the commanding officers and the black pilots began to deteriorate rapidly.   On April 9, 1945, the day of the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, more than 100 of the airmen were arrested and placed in jail for twelve days until they were released by order of new President, Harry S. Truman.  

     Just weeks after they were freed,  Lt. Cummings was promoted to captain to command a bomber.  After completing his four-year stint in the Army Air Corps, Cummings served in the Air Force Reserve and attained the rank of major before retiring after twenty years of service.

     Cummings earned a commercial pilot's license, but never utilized it because there were virtually no opportunities for employment of black pilots.  He went to work laying bricks in order to support his family and send his two daughters to college.

In one of his last official reunions with his fellow Tuskegee airmen, Major Cummings was invited to sit on the stage during the inauguration of President Barack Obama.  He died some six months later on July 2, 2009.

Marion Rodgers was born in Detroit, Michigan  on September 23, 1921 and raised to about age eight in Dublin, Georgia until his family moved to New York.   Rodgers grew interested in aviation when a man in the neighborhoold began to restore a damaged bi-plane.  From that point forward, Rodgers would spend his free time going to airports watching plans take off and land.  

           Not immediately accepted into flight school at Tuskegee, Alabama, Rodgers was first assigned to an anti-aircraft artillery unit and the served a short term as a radio operator.  Eventually, Marion was accepted into flight school at Keesler Field.  In May 1943, I'm sent to Pre-Flight Training at Tuskegee Army Air Field.

Rodgers trained at Moten Field before returning to Tuskegee where he flew the Vultee BT-131 for the requisite 80 flight hours.  Promoted to the much more powerful AT-6, Marion earned his 2nd Lieutenant wings.

             After flying the P-40, P-39 and P-47, Marion was assigned to the 99th Fighter Squadron, the famous unit eternally known as the “Red Tails.”  In 69 combat missions Lt. Rodgers  flew 370 hours as am escort for B-17s and B-24s. 

After the war, Rodgers was eventually promoted to command the 99th Fighter Squadron “The Red Tails”  at Lockbourne Air Base.  In 1948, the Air Force was integrated under orders from President Harry S. Truman.  Col. Rodgers, a twenty-two-year veteran of the Air Force and a 17-year Civil Service worker, spent one year working for N.A.S.A. as a program manager on the mission of Apollo 13.  In technical circles, Rodgers was prominent in the development of electronics and communications procedures with N.O.R.A.D..

           After his retirement in 1983, Rodgers became known for his exceedingly kind contributions of his time  to public organizations in his home town. He also attended as many events honoring the Tuskegee Airmen whenever and wherever he could.   In his spare time, Rodgers spent many fun times with his wife Suzanne and engaging in his favorite hobby as an amateur radio operator.   

         Just a few weeks ago, Rodgers, 93 years old,  was treated to one more flight in a P-51 over Camarillo, California.  The flight in the fighter plane which turned the tide of the air war in Europe came nearly seventy years after his first flight.

Col. John Whitehead, known to his fellow pilots as “Mr. Death,” was born in Lawrenceville, Virginia in 1924.  Like Col. Rodgers, Whitehead spent several of the years of his youth in Laurens County.  Lt. Whitehead flew several missions over Europe in World War II.

Col. Whitehead was the Air Force’s first African-American test pilot.  Many of his hours in the air came while he was a pilot instructor for the Air Force in the 1950s.   A former President of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., Whitehead was given his nickname, not because he cheated death on many times, but because of his gaunt looking face, supposedly resembling that of a skull.
In his 30-year career, Col. Whitehead spent more than 9,500 hours in the air, with some 5000 of them coming in jet aircraft.  In January 1951, Whitehead was featured on the cover of Ebony magazine.  

After serving as a pilot in Vietnam and retiring from the military, Whitehead served as an instructor and Air Force Liaison at Boeing and  Northrop Aircraft.   

Whitehead was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with three oak leaf clusters,  the Air Medal with seven oak leaf clusters and numerous other citations and medals.   He was a man of firsts, the first African American to graduate from the U.S. Air Force Experimental Test Pilots School, the first African American to fly the B-47 bomber and the first African American to serve as an instructor of jet pilots.

Thursday, November 06, 2014


The End of the Long Gray Line

William Joshua Bush was the last of his kind, or perhaps one of the last of his kind.  As a teenager, he fought for his country, the Confederate States of America.  As a centenarian, Bush was celebrated as one of the last Confederate veterans of the Civil War, or the War Between the States, which ended in 1865.  When he died, Bush was the last Georgian to have worn the gray, or butternut, uniform of the Confederacy.  

William Joshua Bush was born in Wilkinson County, Georgia on July 10, 1845 or by some accounts in1846.   That is his recorded date of birth, but the 1850 Census indicated that he was one year old and therefore was born in 1848 and not in 1845.  His father Francis Marion Bush and his mother Elizabeth Pattisaul Bush lived in the western regions of the county, possibly near Gordon.   

In July of 1861, just before the war began in reality, William enlisted in the Ramah Guards, designated as Company B of the 14th Georgia infantry.  He lied about his age. He wasn't about to turn sixteen the next day.  He was about to celebrate his first full day in the Confederate Army as a thirteen-year-old.  The 14th Georgia saw action that month in the Battle of First Manassas, or Bull Run.  When the fighting ceased for the fall and winter months, William was discharged and sent home to Wilkinson County.   

A few months after his real 16th birthday, William enlisted in the Georgia Militia in October  1864.  Only a few enrolling officers asked questions about age in those days.  The Confederacy, and Georgia in particular, needed bodies who could fire a gun.  General Sherman was in Atlanta, ready and poised to begin his climatic "March to the Sea." 

Right in the line of his march was Wilkinson County.  William's company first saw action in the area of East Macon near Cross Key's.    He may have participated in the attack on the rear of  the Union line near Griswoldville, Georgia, an attack which resulted in a devastating defeat for the militia, composed primarily of older men, wounded regulars and boys.  According to Bush, he fought in the Battle of Atlanta.  After viewing Gone With The Wind, he pronounced the depiction of Atlanta to be accurate.  When he visited the Cyclorama in Atlanta, the circular painting brought back old memories of the climactic battle.  It is said that he even pointed out the tree he hid behind, though  the painting is merely an artist's conception.   There is even a story that when he saw Union General William T. Sherman depicted on horseback, Bush, vowing "let me at him,"  had to be restrained by his wife.

         Bush remained with his company until it surrendered at Stephen's Station on the Central of Georgia Railroad in 1865.    Like many veterans, Bush loved to tell stories about his experiences in the war.  He related the often told tale about the ransacking of the family home and how it was stopped when a Union officer discovered that the owner was a Mason.  Masons, their homes and personal possessions, were considered off limits to looters and souvenir hunters.  He told one interviewer, "when I got into the war we wore overalls, and when we surrendered in 1865, I didn't even have a pair of shoes."

  After the war, Joshua, as he was most well known, married Mary Adeline Steeley.  They had six children and were married until her death in 1915.  In 1922, at the age of 54 or so, Bush married Effie T. Sharpe, a widowed mother of two small children.  

For seventy-five years, Bush lived the normal life of an aging Confederate veteran.  Bush ran a store on the Levi Harrell place and moved from Rhine in Dodge County to Fitzgerald the early 1870s.  He received a pension check to help pay his bills.  He was a regular church goer, serving as a senior deacon in the Baptist Church.  He followed in his father's footsteps and became a member of a Masonic Lodge.   He worked as long he could, taking jobs with the railroad, turpentine companies and even a short stint as a butcher in a grocery store.  

It was in 1938 when Bush and the few surviving veterans of the war began to acquire celebrity status.  That year marked the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.  Those veterans who could, gathered in the Pennsylvania town for one final reunion to commemorate the "High Water Mark of the Confederacy."  As a souvenir of the event, Bush brought home a large rebel flag.

Joshua Bush spent his last years in Fitzgerald, which had been founded as a colony by former Union soldiers.  For many years, Bush and Henry Brunner, the last surviving Union veteran in town, would meet at the city cemetery and place flowers on the graves of their deceased comrades. When Brunner died, Bush sent a flower from "the last of the gray to the last of the blue."  As his status grew, the Judge of the Ordinary Court would personally deliver his pension check and bring the requisite amount of cash to cash the check and eliminate the need for Bush to go to the bank.    He was often given an escort home by police officers when he stayed out late.  He liked to stay out late.

Bush became somewhat of a celebrity.  Admirers addressed the one-blue eyed centenarian  (he lost an eye in a sawmill accident) as "General Bush."  The owners of 20th Century Fox presented the general with a new uniform befitting his newfound stature.  The aged rebel commented, "when I got into it we were in overalls.  In 1865, when the army surrendered, I didn't even have a pair of shoes."  In gratitude  Bush vowed to be buried in the only uniform he ever owned.    The uniform was donated to the Cyclorama Museum in Atlanta and later transferred to the Atlanta Historical Society.  The producers of I'll Climb the Highest Mountain invited him to attend the movie's premiere in Atlanta.  
As the decade of the 1950s came, the number of living veterans of the war began to dwindle rapidly.    For the first time in his life, Joshua Bush boarded an airplane for Norfolk, Virginia.   Bush joined John Sailing of Virginia and William Townsend of Louisiana for the 1951 Confederate Veteran's Reunion. (See below)   It would turn out to be the last reunion of the Long Gray Line.  By the spring of 1952,   the remaining Confederate veterans outnumbered their Union counterparts - a stark contrast to the superior Northern armies during the war. In 1952, the Sons of the Confederate Veterans held their annual meeting in Jackson, Mississippi, with only Joshua Bush and William Townsend of Louisiana in attendance.  The delegates sadly voted to end the reunions. 

On November 11, 1952, Joshua Bush, Georgia's last Confederate veteran died. His body was laid to rest in Evergreen Cemetery in Fitzgerald with Masonic and military honors.  For the last time in history, Confederate flags were flown all over the state at half mast in his honor.  It was a time that brought a great sorrow to those who still remembered the tales of their fathers and grandfathers of days of long ago.    

Monday, November 03, 2014


The Legend of a Legacy

     A century ago tonight, a political legend was born.  None of our county's congressmen, not even the indomitable George M. Troup, nor the incomparable Alexander Hamilton Stephens, have surpassed the lifelong legacy of Congressman Carl Vinson of Milledgeville.  For fifty years and one month, Vinson represented the citizens of the 6th and 10th Congressional Districts of Georgia with unwavering tenacity, dutiful honor, and distinguished patriotism.  His contributions to the people of Laurens County and to the nation as a whole are no less than monumental.

     Carl Vinson, one of seven children of Edward S. Vinson and Annie Morris Vinson, was born on November 18, 1883 in Milledgeville, Georgia.  As a young man, Carl was a good student and a born story teller.   After completing his classes at Middle Georgia Military and Agricultural College during the day, he worked in Culver and Kidd's Drug Store and two other department stores in town.  He once supervised the distribution of an Atlanta Paper throughout the town, for which he earned a paltry $15.00 a week.

     At the turn of the 20th Century, young Carl became interested in studying the law.  He read law under the supervision of Baldwin County Court Judge Edward Hines.  He enrolled in law school at Mercer University in 1900 and graduated two years later.  After taking the oath of admission to the bar, Vinson accepted Judge Hines' invitation to form the partnership of Hines and Vinson. With the benefit of Judge Hines' influence, Carl Vinson became Solicitor of the County Court of Baldwin County in 1904. He was reappointed to that position in 1906.

     In 1909, Carl Vinson was first elected to public office as a State Representative from Baldwin County.  At the age of twenty-seven and during only his second term in office, Vinson was elected Speaker Pro Tempore of the House of Representatives, a prestigious honor to anyone of any age.  Rep. Vinson was denied a third term in the House following the reapportionment of Congressional districts following the 1910 Census.  Vinson supported the transfer of Baldwin County to the 6th District and into a district where the major population center was in Augusta.  Voters resented his actions and turned him out of office by a scant five votes.  It was the only election that he would ever lose, but it was one that may have turned his life around forever.  Vinson, not through with politics by any means, accepted an appointment as Judge of Baldwin County Court, in which he had previously served as solicitor.

     Following the death of Augustus O. Bacon, a United States Senator from Georgia, in 1914,  6th District Congressman Thomas Hardwick, of Sandersville, announced his candidacy for the vacant seat.  Vinson, unsatisfied with being a jurist in a inferior court, announced his intention to return to legislative service, this time at a national level.  Vinson easily won the election to fill Hardwick's remaining term and to a full second year term beginning in January 1915.  On November 3, 1914, Judge Vinson took the oath of office and became Congressman Carl Vinson, a position that he would hold for longer than anyone else in history until his retirement.  Cong. Vinson's only serious opposition came in 1918, when he was challenged by Populist leader Thomas E. Watson of McDuffie County.  Vinson won a close election over Watson, who was thought to be politically finished, but  soon won an election to the U.S. Senate. 

     During his second term in Congress, Vinson was appointed to the House Naval Affairs Committee.  The appointment was unusual in the fact that the congressman's district was no where near any large body of water and there were no naval installations within the district either.  During the early days of the country's involvement in World War I, Vinson made an electrifying speech before Congress espousing President Woodrow Wilson's declaration of war.  From the very beginning of his congressional career, Vinson became a proponent of building a bigger and better naval force. He maintained that he would like to see the fruits of his labor in Congress and bases and ships were visible evidence of his work.

     In 1925, President Calvin Coolidge appointed Congressman Vinson to the Morrow Board. The Board was formed following the court martial of Billy Mitchell, who criticized the Defense Department for their lackadaisical attitude for a strong air force program.  By 1923, all of the Democratic members of the Naval Affairs Committee were no longer in office, leaving Vinson as the senior Democratic member.  Acknowledging his expertise and aptitude for military matters, the committee chose Vinson to author many of the board's main recommendations, which included the establishment of an Air Corps and increased funding for building more planes and training more pilots and ground crews.

     The Congressional redistricting following the 1930 Census forced Vinson to return to the 6th Congressional District. When two incumbent Congressmen were placed within his district, one of them being Congressman William W. Larsen of Dublin, Vinson had to take action to avoid a highly contested election for the first time since 1918.  Congressman Larsen retired and the other fellow congressman died before the primary election in the summer of 1932.  

     But then, and apparently out of nowhere, a new candidate emerged. It would become the second most contested election campaign of Vinson's career.  It would also be an election which would have the most impact on Laurens County.  Judge R. Earl Camp of Dublin announced his candidacy to unseat the popular congressman from Milledgeville. In a letter published in Army-Navy Air Force Journal in February 1961, Judge Camp wrote to Cong. Vinson and said, " I am going to give you hell, I mean nothing but merry hell, and I don't mean maybe.  I am going to take the flesh, bone, marrow, hide, and hair off you."  Vinson refused Judge Camp's offers to debate the issues.   Camp was faced with overwhelming challenges. Vinson had become popular in national circles for his work on improving national defense.  He always made sure that members of his district were taken care of with their share of federal programs, a practice that would affect Laurens County in many ways in the decades to come.

     Vinson canvassed the entire district in the hot summer months leading up to the September  Democratic primary, speaking in every town in Laurens County.  Judge Camp struck back with faultfinding criticisms.  He belittled  the very core of Vinson's platform, a powerful U.S. Navy.  The strategy didn't work.   Vinson garnered nearly 65% of the vote in defeating Judge Camp, who managed to carry only four counties out of the district's eighteen, including the judge's home county of Laurens.

Before the 1932 election, Vinson was made chairman of the Naval Affairs Committee. He would serve in that office until 1947 when the committee merged with the Military Affairs Committee to form the House Armed Services Committee.  Under Vinson's leadership in the1930s, the United States naval force was essentially rebuilt.    Congressman Vinson was a workaholic when it came to being a congressman. He was in his office well before 8:00 a.m on most days and spent his nights reading nearly every scrap of newspapers, books and reports as they related to the work of his committee.  In 1938 and again in 1940, Cong. Vinson authored and ushered through Congress the Naval Expansion Acts which helped to prepare the country for the inevitable second World War.  His efforts went somewhat un-applauded until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

     At the beginning of World War II, Carl Vinson was one of the most powerful men in Georgia and in the nation.  He had served longer in Congress than any other Georgian and had been a member of the House Naval Affairs Committee longer than any other Congressman in the country's history. From his Washington office, Congressman Vinson led the civilian effort to win the war on  two oceans.  He constantly pushed for more ships and more personnel. In the end, Vinson's efforts to build the greatest navy in the world were finally and wholeheartedly endorsed by the Congress and the President.  As the war came to a close, Vinson made it clear that the country should not and must not scrap the country's naval force like it did following World War I.  He was somewhat successful though many ships which were no longer necessary were sold to private companies for conversion into civilian ships and for scrap.

     It was during the World War II years that Congressman Vinson's lasting legacy to Laurens County began.  When county farmers lost their work force to the war effort and county leaders were denied an application to establish a prisoner of war camp here, Congressman Vinson stepped in and approved the transfer of some of the German and Italian soldiers incarcerated at Camp Wheeler in Macon to a camp in Dublin in the summer of 1943.  For three summers the prisoners filled the void left by the hundreds of farm workers who were in military service.

     Right in the middle of the war Congressman Vinson wanted to make a lasting contribution to the citizens of the county who had stood behind him for many years. Vinson envisioned the establishment of a naval scarlet fever research hospital on the outskirts of Dublin. Still today some question the location of a naval facility more than 120 miles inland.  The answer is simple.  Dublin needed the economic shot in the arm that a hospital would generate.  As many as one thousand people and a greater number of jobs were generated by the establishment of the hospital here in January 1945.  The facility became part of the Veteran's Affairs Department in 1948.   The hospital was renamed the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center in honor of the man who was responsible for the location of the facility which has a profound impact on Laurens County.

     Ancillary to the location of the naval hospital was the location of an airport to facilitate the transportation of patients and personnel into the hospital. The airport was eventually turned over to the county and has been an important economic tool and recreational facility for more than sixty years.  Obviously important in the location of the two facilities were the vast number of support jobs that were necessary to serve the civilian and military personnel working at the hospital.  New homes were built by the hundreds to house families who were moving here from all parts of the country. Even local citizens built new homes with the security of their new found employment.

     In the post war years, the Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon began the transition to dissolve the union of the Army and Air Force into two separate branches.  Incumbent in that plan was the necessity to establish a separate military academy for the training of the finest officers and pilots in the country.  One of the finalist communities to house the new Air Force Academy was Laurens County.  Vinson, whose influence extended mainly to naval affairs, wanted to place the facility in Laurens County.  When the naval and military affairs committees merged and Vinson was not elected chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, his plan was averted.  Had he been chosen chairman, it begs the question, "what might have been?"  

     As the Cold War began to heat up, military planners began a massive base construction program to stem the tide of Communism throughout the world.  A plan was made to construct a base on the elevated plateaus of the Buckeye District of northeastern Laurens County and neighboring Johnson County.  Excitement was rampant through out the county.  The government planned to establish an Air Force base to house a pride of the fleet, the legendary long range bomber, the B-52.    The news of a  base electrified some because of the economic jolt it would bring to the local economy.  Others feared that it would bring the county on the fringes of a target in the sight of a Russian "A bomb."  The plans didn't turn out like Congressman Vinson had hoped.  The base was closed even before it was built.  

    In the 1950s,   President Dwight Eisenhower began to resurrect the idea of a national interstate highway system.  The network of roads was designed to allow motorists to travel at high speeds with little impediments along their way.  The roads were also designed to allow the military to move rapidly throughout the country.  Georgia was susceptible to an attack because of her large number of military installations.  Interstate Highway 16 was designed to run from Macon in the center of the state to Savannah at the coast, tying in the air base at Warner Robins with Ft. Stewart near Hinesville.  The original route of the highway was to have run north of Dublin nearer the Central of Georgia Railroad, which ran through McIntyre, Toombsboro, and Tennille.  A subsequent modification brought the highway closer to Dublin.  In 1962, Soperton's Jim Gillis, Chairman of the Georgia Highway Department, and Dudley's R.L. Hogan, businessman and President of the Bank of Dudley, enlisted the aid of Congressman Vinson to move the route even further south.  Gillis, Hogan, and Dale Thompson, county attorney for Laurens County, visited with Congressman Vinson in his office and asked him to move the new highway to benefit more of the citizens of his district.  Vinson took the proposal to President John F. Kennedy.  After a five minute presentation, Cong. Vinson emerged and announced, "Gentlemen, you have your road."  Just like that with a handshake, Interstate 16 became an integral part of our county's infrastructure for centuries to come.  

   When a bitter dispute arose over the issue of a new county courthouse in 1962, Congressman Vinson stepped in and saved the day.  Voters disagreed over whether or not to build a new courthouse on the courthouse square or at another site in town or simply to keep the old courthouse and renovate it.  When a bond issue failed to provide the funds to build a new courthouse, the county commissioners turned to Carl Vinson for help.  Vinson convinced his fellow law makers to appropriate funds from a newly created federal program designed to aid towns and cities with urban renewal projects.  In doing so, the program funding half the cost of the construction of the present Laurens County courthouse.  In the summer of 1964, Congressman Vinson appeared at the dedication of the new courthouse, the first federally funded county courthouse in the United States.

   Carl Vinson's final legacy to Laurens County came later that year. In one of his last beneficial acts in office, Carl Vinson was enlisted by Elizabeth Moore, his old friend and director of the Laurens County Library, to help the citizens of Laurens County to build a modern library to replace the antiquated Carnegie Library building.  Vinson came through again.  With the aid of the same federal program, Vinson was able to secure the necessary funds to complete the project.

     Carl Vinson died on June 1, 1981.  During his life time of service to our county, district and nation, he was a stalwart for a strong national defense and was a champion for the members of his district.  The next time you pass by the VA Hospital, drive down the interstate, or check out a book at the Laurens County Library, stop and, just for a moment, give thanks to the memory of Carl Vinson.