From: John De Armond
Subject: Veterans I've known.
Date: Sat, 26 May 2001 03:41:29 -0400
This thread came up on a private mailing list I'm on. Being
Memorial Day weekend, I thought I'd share my contribution with the
> I've met some Vets, mostly at work, with some very interesting stories. On
> this weekend, I feel compeled to write about them.
Maj. Eben A. De Armond, US Army Ret., Dad
I learned of the consequences of war from the very beginning. As a
child, I didn't really understand what had happened to Dad. I only
knew that he barely walked with a cane, was sick all the time, went
in the hospital several times a year for extensive surgery and would
drop a piece of shrapnel out of his remaining hip every so often.
He never talked about his war experience, never complained and never
took any veterans benefits. I once heard him tell someone that the
reason why was that being able to live in America was payment
enough. I only learned of his exploits when I grew old enough that
his old comrades in arms would talk to me as a man instead of a
Dad was 16 when he and his mother forged a birth certificate so that
he could join the National Guard. A year later he moved to the
Army. He wanted to be career infantry. Hitler was just starting to
secure his power. Within another year, he had made Sergeant and was
a drill instructor. Seven years from his enlistment when he was
wounded, he was a Major in the Army Signal corps.
He hit Bloody Omaha on D+1. He marched inland and engaged in the
battle of St. Lo. One evening when his company had been given
liberty, a report came in that the krauts had cut a commo line.
Rather than cancel a subordinate's liberty pass, Dad volunteered to
find the cut and repair it. He was standing on a French hedgerow
splicing the wire when a kraut artillery round hit a nearby ammo
truck. The truck exploded and blew his ass off.
He lay in the path between two hedge rows for 3 days. According to
a tank driver friend of Dad's, the rows were so narrow that if they
saw a body in the path, they had orders (and no choice but) to run
over it. A miracle he survived that long. When he was found, he
was transported to the beach, given a Blue Betty (morphine and
Sulfa) and left for 3 more days. By the time he made it to the
hospital ship, gas gangrene had set in on his hip and leg, along
with osteomelitis, a disease that eats away the bone. Penicillin was
in such short supply that urine was collected from the patients so
that the waste penicillin could be filtered out and reused.
Dad was triaged as "dying" and placed in a ward where the only
treatment was morphine until death. A nurse thought he was cute and
smuggled him enough penicillin so that he could be taken off death
watch and moved to a treatment ward. I got to meet this lovely lady
a few years ago. This lady told me his fever was so high that he
popped the mercury capsule on her thermometer. Needless to say, I
was in awe.
They brought him back to the States on a hospital ship. He was
placed in a government hospital where he spent the next 2 years in a
body cast. He came home with no hip joint, one leg 8" shorter than
the other and 17 pieces of shrapnel in his back, hip and legs. He
has a chronic staph infection and until after I graduated from high
school, he had a fistula from one of the pieces of shrapnel that
Unfortunately the Army wasn't as enlightened back then so they
drummed him out with a disability discharge. He lost the only thing
he'd ever wanted - a career in the army.
My earliest memories were of my dad studying to pass the CPA license
exam. He hated accounting and the study was rough but that was the
only field of study open to him as a wounded veteran at the U of
Chattanooga. True to the "press on regardless" ethic of that
generation, Dad stuck it out, build a practice and provided us a
Dad suffered badly from Post Traumatic Stress syndrome. Of course,
they didn't know about that back then, much less how to treat it.
But it took his personality and inverted it. Whereas before, he was
an aggressive soldier's soldier, my early memories were of a quiet,
introverted, passive man. A short fireplug of a man with arms the
size of my thighs and who was the best shooter I've ever know (he
was the Army's champion marksman in '42). (I didn't realize what
this PTS thing was until I went through a the same thing after being
trapped in my house fire.) Now he's one of those guys who literally
doesn't have an enemy in this world.
Though we've never had a real close relationship (real men don't get
squishy, after all!), he has been my role model and my hero for
years. I'm in awe of his accomplishments and his tribulations and
his sacrifices and cannot imagine going through that myself.
During the Viet Nam war, like most of his generation, he hated the
demonstrators and waved the flag with the best of them. But things
were changing inside. I was lucky that a combination of
"forgetting" to register for the draft for a year followed by very
lucky lottery numbers kept me out of that mess. One of the most
remarkable conversations I've ever had occurred a few years ago. He
told me that in case I had been drafted, he had made quiet
arrangements to sprint me off to Canada. I had no clue. He wasn't
willing to sacrifice another De Armond to a government he was
beginning to loathe. He continues to be my sanity check as my
hatred for the government builds while my love for America continues
Not many people get to be born to and raised by a hero. I was one
of the lucky ones.
Sgt. Bill White, US Army, ret.
Tellico Plains is a lovely little cove in the Great Smokey
Mountains. There is great trout fishing, lovely mountains, plenty
of trails to ride (until the Forest Service Gestapo came to town.),
lots of woods to hunt. A perfect place for a young disabled GI and
his bride to hide away. So started Dad's relationship with the
mountains. Over 50 years ago, mom and dad honeymooned there in a
one room cabin owned by my uncle. Twenty five years ago, my wife
and I did the same thing, only this time we had a small house that
we refer to as the cabin.
Just below the cabin was a HUGE log motel called the Tellico Lodge.
I first met Bill White when we started camping in an RV at the
adjacent RV park. Bill owned the Lodge. Bill was a tough-as-nails,
quiet mountain man, the master of the one-word-sentence. Initially
he didn't like me and my brother too much because we were kids but
after Bill and Dad met and clicked those invisible brotherhood rings
that only combat veterans have, we became favorites of Bill.
We shortly outgrew the camper and decided to build a cabin. The
cabin was quickly built right behind the Lodge and we began to
furnish it. Mom was always just a little paranoid so she had a
burglar alarm installed. One day Bill was visiting the cabin and
Mom told him about the alarm. She asked him if he'd call her if it
ever went off. "No need", Bill said. "I'll just shoot the bastards
and then go back to sleep." His stature climbed immensely to all in
Then came the fire. Great guy that he was, Bill was not an
electrician. The Lodge suffered the consequences. We arrived at
the cabin to find a smothering heap where that magnificent log
mansion had stood. Bill never said a bad word about the fire that I
ever heard. He simply built a small house next to the ashes and
carried on operating the small general store that was detached from
the Lodge and didn't burn.
I knew Bill was a war hero. Everyone did. He fought at Corregidor
and Bataan, being one of the few to escape. I knew he was missing a
finger and had a huge scar on his chest from fighting a sword fight
with a Jap general in a blacked out underground bunker. The Jap got
Bill's little finger and stuck him good. Bill got the Jap's sword,
his uniform, his scalp and his life. He had pounds of medals. And
he was locally famous for killing a black bear with a home-made
indian spear and hunting Russian Boar with a knife. But I had no
idea what sort of hero he really was.
Then one day Bill came up to the cabin with a small box like shirts
used to come back from the cleaners in. He told Dad he wanted to
show him something. Inside was a stack of old newspaper clippings
and other old documents. On top was a clipping of a newspaper photo
showing one of the baddest dudes I'd ever seen. This guy was
standing on a makeshift platform speaking to a crowd. He was
dressed in battle fatigue pants and a white tee shirt with a pack of
smokes twisted up in the sleeves. Arms the size of tree trunks came
out of those sleeves. Held over his head in one hand was an M1
Garand. Bill was organizing what became known as the Battle of
I had heard about the Battle of Athens. Mom and Dad told us about
coming over a hill on Highway 11 and being stopped by a National
Guard road block. But I never made the connection.
Then the Statute of Limitation ran out and Bill completed the story.
Bill and his GI brothers had returned home to find that his town had
been taken over by political thugs, something known as "The
Machine". Unlike most people, Bill and his buddies were not about
to give up the rights they'd just fought for without a fight. And
fight they did. The fight was so good a book was written about it.
Rather than recount the Battle in my words, I'll allow the author of
the book, Howard Cook do it for me.
What follows is first a scan of the dust jacket and then part of the
first chapter of the book. Any typos are brought to you by Hewlett
Packard and Omniscan :-)
SWIFTER THAN EAGLES
BILL WHITE AND THE BATTLE OF ATHENS
by HOWARD COOK
Incredible! The word used again and again to describe the Battle of
Athens in 1946 is still the only word that adequately sums it up.
"It was incredible," wrote the staid Chattanooga Times on the day
after it happened, "the Cantrell machine's deputies were so arrogant
in their gunplay and so bold in their efforts to frighten decent
voters and to intimidate war veterans who were working for the
independent county ticket. The reign of terror culminated in violent
scenes at the county jail late last night ... scenes which would
have been made to order for Cecil DeMille's movie camera ... Large
crowds of citizens witnessed the display of guns which would have
alarmed even Cripple Creek in its most lurid days."
As this editorial implies, this action-packed drama on its surface
resembles nothing so much as an old-fashioned shoot-em-up Western,
with the good guys lined up on one side and the bad guys
unmistakably lined up on the other. They were even costumed
differently to make identification easier. Incredible, but it
More incredible still is the story behind the story. The story
which was kept secret for three decades and more because Bill White,
who led this little revolution was silenced by the very men whom his
bold actions put into office. Silenced by the nasty threat of
exposure. Blackmailed, in short. Insurrection, young White was told,
was the name for what he had done, and for that he could be.... No
telling what! So he had better keep his mouth shut about what they
were doing. He did. Not out of cowardice, but out of loyalty to the
men whom he had led, out of fear of exposing them.
Now he has opened his mouth and told everything. Finally we have the
full story of what really happened on Election Day, August 1, 1946,
in Athens, Tennessee.
Howard Cook, the author, was born in Athens and still lives there.
He knows the region and its people intimately and writes about them
with a warm insight born of abiding affection. With enormous com-
passion, with gentle irony, sometimes with biting scorn, he narrates
this gripping drama in all its horrid and often hilarious detail.
Not since In Cold,61ood has the public been offered a nonfiction
novel of such sweep and concentration. Each episode is a fascinating
story in itself, serving at the same time the ends of an overall
disciplined design. Sea and land, water and rock, interchangeable
pairs, are the controlling symbols, and within that framework
emotion and symbol are interwoven to declare the theme: all men are
warped in some way and incomplete, but they can achieve a taste of
transcendence by striving together in freedom toward a common goal.
Mr. Cook is a gifted writer. In a prose style of great suppleness
and power, he ranges from simple reporting to rhetorical flights in
which rhapsodic lyricism and erudite allusion commingle. Dazzling
Friendly City Publishing Co.
P.O. Box 946,
Athens, TN 37303
From Chapter 1....
VIRTUE, accustomed to a stable order of things, moves with slow
deliberation. The liar, the thief, the murderer and the bully have
faster rules. Election Day, 1936, brought upon the scene in McMinn
County a rough beast that was neither the Big Bad Wolf nor the Blue
Eagle. The beast was a smiling, smooth-faced, almost pretty
politician named Paul Cantrell. He ran for county Sheriff against
Charles Scott, Senior. He did not win the election, but he got into
the office. The rules by which he operated and succeeded where those
of the liar, the murderer, the thief and the bully.
When it became clear that the money from his banking family would
not be enough to get him the office, his election workers stuffed
the ballot boxes with names copied from tombstones.
When even that was not enough, they stole the ballot boxes and
counted the returns in secret, all the while holding their
challengers at bay with blackjacks and pistols. A knife was used in
Englewood, where a young challenger, barely voting age, had his
juglar vein cut and died on the sidewalk in a pool of his own
bright, jetting blood before Dr. Seay could be fetched from two
doors down the street.
Stolen ballot boxes was a new trick. This achievement earned the
Cantrell machine national headlines. They went to the movies and saw
themselves featured in the news of the day: TIME MARCHES ON!
Flattered at being made for a brief time the center of national
attention, they giggled at their own cuteness and boasted openly of
their exploits. One John Rogers claimed that he had personally
stuffed the ballot boxes.
The proud county had fallen upon evil days.
The biggest steals were always in Etowah, where brother Frank
Cantrell, brains of the outfit, was mayor and controlled the police
force. In the rear of the Cantrell Banking Company's building
(Precinct 3 in Etowah), in August, 1942, the incumbent's officer,
judge and doorkeeper - all three - kept opposition poll watchers at
bay with pistols and blackjacks.
A type of government much practiced abroad in those days had come to
McMinn County. Over a period from 1940 to 1945, county citizens
placed in the hands of the Department of Justice evidence proving
that Federal money had been filched from the WPA and placed in the
Democratic slush fund. The accused was indicted and convicted in
Federal Court at Chattanooga. The Judge "Fined him one cent in lieu
of costs and sentenced him to remain in the custody of the marshall
Thus made a laughing stock and, in the words of Congressman John
Jennings, "cowed and assaulted by the pistols and blackjacks of
armed deputy sheriffs and policemen, and distressed over the absence
in the armed service of 3,526 of their boys" the people ate bitter
bread and bided their time.
There were, after all, more menacing figures looming on the far
horizons: Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Hirohito. Compared with these,
Paul Cantrell was merely an insignificant little varmint in a house
infested with diseased rats.
THE DAY OF RECKONING eventually comes. By late summer of 1945,
returning veterans were walking the streets of Athens in growing
numbers. They were conspicuous for two reasons: a) because war-time
shortages continued and most of them had outgrown their civilian
clothes, they still wore uniforms or parts of uniforms and b) the
uniform seemed to draw attention to the trim young man inside, and
the way he moved: organized, purposive, alert, with that
self-assured air of the winner, yet somehow restless, as if
dissatisfied with what he sees around him. By the spring of 1946,
there were so many of them about town it was causing some people to
feel a kind of vague uneasiness.
After the hugging and the weeping (My boy is back home! Oh, thank
God my boy is back!) and the happy business of rediscovering each
other (Jim? Is that you? Man, how you have grown up! Didn't
recognize you there! Heard you were in the Pacific!), came the
unhappy business of re-discovering Athens.
"Old town hasn't changed much, has she?"
"No, don't reckon it has."
"Maybe it ought to change a little."
"Yeh, maybe so."
"You know, they tell me . . ."
"I'll be dogged! Heard the same thing myself."
Gossip has a social function, and public opinion can sometimes make
itself felt in inscrutable ways. What they had been told in letters
from home or had read between the lines ("Do you know what that
Cantrell bunch has done now? They have sold the county's new voting
machines. Claim it will save money. I bet you can guess why
though.") was all too true. Fee-grabbing had become the rule of the
day. Graft and corruption were in charge, illegal gambling wherever
they pleased. Even combat veterans could be, and were, arrested on
the flimsiest of charges and taken to jail. If they didn't like it,
they might get a blackjack over the head. Armed and swaggering
bullies with badges made a mockery of their decorations. They didn't
give a damn what people were saying, and to hell with what they were
Intimidation, however, works inefficiently with the sophisticated.
In the Army and the Navy and the Marine Corps the GI's had learned
something about the principles of the "freedom" they had been asked
to die for; they knew 4omething about the basics of democracy. They
knew about esprit de corps and understood strategy. So the talk took
the form of organized meetings. Behind closed doors at first. Then
open to the public.
In May of 1946, they held a mass meeting limited to GI's with
discharge papers. A full-dress, non-partisan political party was
organized. A general election was coming up in August. They could
vote the thugs out of office. The GI's elected and announced their
At subsequent meetings the public was welcomed. The people of Athens
heard the GI's using a strange vocabulary. It sounded as if they had
all picked up the same foreign lingo in the same foreign country and
understood it perfectly. They talked about "briefing sessions" and
used terms like "task force" and "target date."
This fresh new approach somehow inspired fresh hope. They soon had
more volunteer campaign workers than they needed.
As the summer grew hotter so did the campaign. The Cantrell thugs
began harrassing the GI's and their supporters in dead earnest. They
followed the campaign workers about in cars and tore down their
posters. Anybody who dared talk back to "the law" had his windows
shot out at night from passing cars. Deputies seized one cheeky lad,
locked him up in the county jail, tore up his poll-tax receipt and
under gunpoint made him sign a statement that he had been treated
with fairness and courtesy.
But the campaign went on. Frightened business men contributed money
in secret, and soon they were showing more spirit than ever. Over
the local radio station, from the pages of the Daily Post-Athenian,
from loudspeakers mounted on cars and trucks that rolled over rough
country roads came that all but incredible campaign slogan: YOUR
VOTE WILL BE COUNTED AS CAST.
Tension had mounted to such a pitch by Election Day, that many
important people left town for their own safety, including the
mayor. Merchants ran public notices in the newspapers saying they
would be closed all day on election day "so that our employees may
have a chance to vote."
Now, everybody knew that clerks in the downtown stores were never so
busy they couldn't find time to run out and vote. They had always
voted, whenever they had even bothered to do so, that is, while out
to lunch or on a break. So the transparent lies fooled nobody. Those
merchants were afraid of what might happen to their plate glass.
Everybody expected trouble, and trouble came.
Election Day, August 1, 1946, dawned bright and clear. Voters turned
out in record numbers. But before they could even get to the polls,
they were treated to a menacing spectacle: meanfaced, cold-eyed,
arrogant deputies armed with pistols and blackjacks were prowling
the streets in pairs. Over two hundred and fifty hired gunmen, some
of them convicts released from prison for a day of special duty, had
been brought into Athens alone. The toughest were stationed at the
Trouble began early and lasted late.
Just as the polls were opening at nine a.m., a GI poll watcher was
hauled off to jail in Etowah. He had had the nerve to ask to examine
a ballot box, and needed a lesson.
At nine-thirty the GI poll watcher in the courthouse precinct in
Athens was taken to the county jail for a similar offense.
About midafternoon a black man was shot in the back at Precinct 11
for insisting on his right to vote.
In the same precinct two GI poll watchers were forced into a corner
at gunpoint so they could not get too close to the ballot boxes.
When the polls closed at four p.m., Sheriff Mansfield and his
deputies gathered up the ballot boxes and took them to the county
jailhouse for a safe count.
Now, the GI's anticipating the worst, had sent a telegram to
Governor Jim McCord, asking for help. The governor had not
They had dispatched another telegram to the Attorney General Tom
Clark in Washington, pleading for assistance. He did not answer
A group of GI's stood in the street in front of the jail and shouted
their demands to watch the counting of the ballots. They were
answered with gunfire.
They knew now, only too well, what would happen to them. They would
all be run out of town the next day unless they got those ballot
boxes out of there.
They had no choice but to fight fire with fire, so the battle began.
The shooting match between the Cantrell gang holed up in the
jailhouse, and the GI's firing from an embankment on the opposite
side of the street, started about sundown and lasted until nearly
cockcrow the next morning.
When the smoke cleared, the victorious GI's were being extolled
under banner headlines around the country. Athens was swarming with
news reporters, asking questions:
"Who organized and led the attack on the jail?"
"Looks like somebody knew a lot about combat tactics!"
"Who was it that knew so much about demolition and weaponry?"
"All the GI's. Just about."
"Who broke into the armory?"
That question touched a sensitive nerve and got a loud and official
response. "The armory had not been broken into." That story was
printed in all the papers, but nobody believed it. [JGD note:
According to Bill, they did.]
Where was the unsung hero?
A famous journalist, reporting the event in Harper's Magazine the
following January, wrote this: "From dusk to dawn, the story of the
siege of Athens dissolves into anonymity."
CRUMBLING, falling-apart pages, yellow with time; the old scrapbook,
a paste-in collection of newspaper stories taken from the
Chattanooga Times, The Knoxville NewsSentinel, The Knoxville
Journal, Tri-State News, and the Daily Post-Athenian, began with
items dated in July of 1946, and ended about August 6. Careless
scissors had snipped off some of the dates and sources. The facts
they reported had a disturbing resemblance to hack-writer fiction.
The photographs alone told an incredible story: smoothchecked youth,
trim from military calesthenics, hardened by combat, scarred,
decorated, shooting it out Wild West fashion with a bunch of
pot-bellied politicians and their mean-eyed sullen-faced henchmen,
the hired gunmen - shooting it out on the streets of Athens. Gunning
for the right of the home folks to have their votes counted.
Listed in the bibliography of the master's thesis Bill White had
brought on his second visit, this scrapbook belonged to Ms. Reba
Boyer, who had obligingly retrieved it from a basement room in the
courthouse where her local history group keeps its archives.
Even on faded newsprint The Battle of Athens had the irrestible
appeal of a re-run movie classic. Some of the key figures, from all
appearance, might have been dispatched to the scene by Central
Casting in a mood for extravaganza, or in too much of a hurry to
tone things down. Even their costumes - everyday clothes at the
time, to be sure-looked theatrical.
There was Paul Cantrell, for example, the county's ten-years
political boss: in his campaign photo (he was running a third time
for Sheriff) he looked like a prettyfied version of Edward G.
Robinson. His black Stetson hat, bow tie, rimless glasses, from
behind which he seemed to be regarding the world with watchful,
calculating eyes, all made him look like Hollywood's favorite image
of the corrupt Southern politician. Was that a cynical sneer curling
his upper lip?
The heroes as well. They, too, were close to stereotype:
Walter Ellis, for example, the day's first victim of the Cantrell
thugs: a poll watcher at the First Precinct (courthouse), he had
dared challenge some preliminary stuffing of the ballot box and had
consequently been hustled off to jail to spend the rest of the day
and the night of the siege behind bars. But did he have to look so
much like Gary Cooper?
Like certain famous photographs of World War II, a few of these had
been faked-posed after the event to accommodate news gatherers. But
the most startling photograph in the whole scrapbook had been shot
in the heat of live action. A lucky camera had caught Ed Vestal and
Charles Scott, Jr., in the act of walking away from the Eleventh
Precinct seconds after they had crashed their way to freedom through
plate glass. Bleeding, hands over their heads, they are walking
slowly, desperately, between parked cars, away from the suited
gunmen pointing revolvers at their backs. Only the watchful eyes of
an angry crowd restrains the deputies from shooting, The
over-dressed gangster types, the vintage cars, a nightmare scenario
threatening death. They look as if they were playing a scene from
Bonnie and Clyde.
Pictures, moving or still, prove that facts can be photographed. But
the Battle of Athens, like America itself, is not only fact of
history; it is fuel for the imagination also. Around the courthouse
square, where the action centered, the names of the streets read
like names on a mythical map: Washington and Madison, two Southern
aristocrats; Jackson, the Indian hater; White, a jolting reminder of
the color problem. And right across the street from the courthouse
the marquee of The Strand Theatre said that the movie for the day
THE DARK CORNER would be followed by GUNNING FOR VENGEANCE.
There, in The Strand, on long-ago Saturday afternoons smelling of
hot buttered popcorn, these battling GI's had learned that cowboys
in white hats are always two-fisted and brave and fight with blazing
guns against the desperately wicked.
No doubt about it. For one whole sinister day and clattering night a
myth was stalking the town. As if bent on staging some abstract
morality play, the GI's were unseating corruption in a spate of
undying theatrics. It was too much.
Even the men involved in it, when questioned later, protested. "Aw
shucks! We were just trying to get our rights." "But who led the
effort? Things like this don't 'just happen'." Silence. "Somebody,
from the looks of things, had learned a lot about combat tactics and
demolition charges." "Well, stuff like that, nearly all of us did
.... .. You mean to tell me that it was just a spontaneous uprising,
like Bastille Day? You boys are pretty big in the news right now,
and people want to know who the hero was, who led it. Nobody?"
Silence. "We want to give credit where credit is due." "We'd rather
just forget it."
No doubt the ancient Greeks wanted to forget about the Trojan war,
too, another small-town squabble over a stealing. Homer wouldn't let
them. Being blind, he knew that when gods walk the earth only the
quick-eyed see them, that spiritual beings move swifter than eagles.
So he kept on telling the story over and over, in hopes perhaps of
enlightening a few of the duller epigoni.
AN EMPTY HOLE existed in the bull's eye of the target story, and all
the arrows of journalistic inquiry flew through it. In the very eye
of the storm there was nothing but an odd anonymous silence.
Theodore H. White, that most sophisticated of all the journalists
who tried to describe what triggered the explosion, had to content
himself with these words: "Then something happened."
That something that happened was Bill White. He remained silent
until that statute of limitations had expired, not from lack of
pride in what he had done, nor out of fear for himself, but for the
protection of others; because he was led to believe (young enough
and green enough at the time to believe them) that if he didn't they
could all be prosecuted. The men who so generously advised him to
keep quiet had carefully prepared themselves to step into the power
vacuum in the town and in the county that his explosion had created.
These were the men who also showed a noticeable eagerness to step
into the spotlight of publicity and pose as the missing hero at the
center. And he knew then that these same men had spent the night of
battle frantically running around the dark countryside waking up
sleepy farmers to ask them to sign affidavits to prove, if ever
proof were needed, that they had been far away from all scenes and
acts of violence.
Violence, as Bill White, like all wise men, knows well, and has
known since boyhood on the Little Tennessee River, where he learned
this truth from his Grandfather Wiggins, cannot be eliminated from
life; but it can become highly and sensitively organized.
War, foreign and domestic, has taught him another truth: a large
part of the art of politics, regrettably, is the art of organizing
violence, organizing it in such a way that it serves the good of the
larger whole, the transcendent polity in which a man finds his
larger self; whether it be county, town or combat unit, one
principle is manifest.
Greek drama took that perception for a major theme. The problem that
troubled Euripides and troubled Sophociese and troubled Aeschylus
was the problem of human violence. Inchoate conditions in primitive
society make possible the hero, that man out front (call him
Hercules, Roland, Malcolm X or Neil Armstrong) pressing forward at
the knife edge of crisis, not for himself alone but for his polity,
call it Athens, France or Mankind (all those invisible creatures
called men back down there on that little blue ball called earth,
floating in the infinite dark).
This, then, is the story of the force exerted by one man's moral
conscience in a moment of crisis, a story for that reason valuable
to keep in memory.
If you've made it this far, you're tough. These are the stories of
just two veterans I've had the honor of knowing. There are many
more. I had the honor of meeting Sgt. Paul Huff, our homegrown
Medal of Honor winner. There was Dake, my apprentice at TVA. He
was a tunnel rat who was really messed up, not the least of which
was from the bayonet some gook ran through his stomach as he was
crawling through a tunnel in Viet Nam. Said he had to twist around
the knife in his gut to get to his .45 so he could kill the gook
and get the knife out. I haven't see him in years. Hope he's well.
Being an avid fan of history, I know that it is normal for a country
to eat its veterans after the war is over, to toss them out to
pasture and forget about them. Oh, we wave the flag on Memorial day
and Veteran's day and some areas even still have a parade. But
that's not enough. I believe that the government ought to care for
a veteran's needs, whatever they may be, until death. That's not
going to happen so I try to do my little part.
For years I've had a policy of buying any vet I meet a meal if he'd
sit and talk. The restaurant has enabled me to expand that
program. Now there's a fine meal waiting any combat vet who comes
in and introduces himself. And if he's down on his luck, well the
table's never bare.
I encourage anyone who reads this message to figure out what he or
she can do along these lines. Those of us who didn't have to go can
never really say thanks enough to those who did but taking care of
and helping a vet will go a long way. Perhaps we could divert that
money away from that pinko United Way and channel it directly into
something that benefits a vet or two.
Of course, we could all stand up and fight against any sort of
government encroachment on the freedoms these men have fought for.
But that's another story.
Finally, Guys, thanks, again, for everything.