(Note: I had the opportunity to speak at a local, Bowling Green, Ky., Veterans of Foreign Wars Post in February of 2004 about Willie Brown, a veteran of World War II who was still alive at the time. I read the following story that I have posted below to all the veterans in the room that night. This story originally appeared in the Spring issue (2004) of a short-lived newsletter that I was publishing at the time called, "The Southcentral Kentuckian." Willie Brown was an amazing man and I got to know him as one of my best customers where I worked. I went to his house on a monthly basis and got to know him pretty well. He eventually allowed me to interview him and take a couple of pictures regarding his life as a Disabled American Veteran. Sadly, Willie died several years ago in Bowling Green at the age of 89 in 2008. There's not many like him around anymore.)
ROCKFIELD, Ky. _ Willie Brown of Rockfield has been injured ever since 1944 when he was in the Army infantry during World War II but has managed to make a life for himself as Disabled American Veteran while living in Southcentral Kentucky.
Brown was shot in his left leg during combat in France near the Rhine River when the German troops occupied Paris and other parts of Europe.
"I was on top of a hill when I was shot in my left leg and when I got shot, I rolled down the hill and that's when a mortal shell, "German 88" went threw my legs and exploded into the ground," Brown said. "I would say that mortal shell went two or three feet into the ground before it exploded. And when it exploded a few seconds later everything just went white. My legs were then blown to pieces."
Brown was born in 1918 in Columbia, Ky., in Adair County and later moved to Burkesville, Ky., in Cumberland County when he was a young boy with his mother, father, brothers and sisters. His father was a farmer, a bootlegger or "moonshiner" and made some of the "best dog-gone whisky" in the state of Kentucky at that time according to Brown.
Brown said when he was a boy growing up on a farm in Cumberland County he said he had to milk cows, feed chickens and cut firewood like a lot of youngsters had to do back in the 1920's and 1930's in rural Southcentral Kentucky in order to survive.
"Let me tell you, we were poor when I was growing up. We didn't have a whole lot of money back then. We just had to work, plain and simple," he said with a smile on his face.
When Brown turned 16 years-old, he moved to the great northwest to go to work for a work project in Idaho to help protect forest from fires. Because there was hardly any money in the family back on the farm, Brown sent money back home to his family while he worked in the work project. He said all the boys at the camp were from Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio that they all got along pretty good.
After the work project was over, Brown went back to Cumberland County for a while before he left for Louisville and went to work the former Colgate Co. across the Ohio River in Jeffersonville, Ind.
"I can remember many times, I walked back and fourth across that bridge to get to Jeffersonville from Louisville," he said.
Brown said he left his home in Cumberland County because there was not a whole lot around there for young people to get a decent job. Brown said he worked a at Colgate for two years before he was drafted in the Army during World War II. After that day he was injured in combat in France, Brown said he was transferred to several mobile hospitals before was shipped to Colorado in the United States where he recovered for two years with his severe leg injuries and after 19 surgeries. He said while he was in a hospital in Denver, he received some the best medical care in the world at the time.
"They were good to me. I had some of best nurses and one of them I have kept up with through the years," he said. He said while was in the hospital recovering, several movie stars and famous people came to visit him such as Jimmy Durant, James Cagney, Richard Loo and Gary Moore just name a few. He also received the Purple Heart Medal Citation and some other ribbons and medals for his bravery. The walls of his home are also dotted with autograph pictures with the likes of President George W. Bush and former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. Bush. Brown says he has been somewhat "political" through the years and has written or called many of his congressmen and representatives in the past in order to keep up the current Disabled Veterans Affairs on a local and national level.
After his recovery, Brown wore braces on his legs for years while living off his government pension for being a disabled veteran. He decided to settle in Bowling Green because he said that he would drive downtown to visit one of his favorite houses in the city at the time. And that, little ole house just happened to be one of the most famous or "infamous" houses in the area at the time. It was known as "The House On Clay Street," or simply known as "Pauline's." Pauline's was a cat house or brothel, where a man could find himself some self-indulgence and fun according to Brown.
"I just loved those girls. And they loved me," he said. "But I never did meet Pauline herself though," he said. The late Pauline Tabor was the madam of the house. Back then according to Brown, Bowling Green was the about the only place you could get a drink at a bar and have that type of pleasure all in one place in this part of the state he said winking his eye.
However, wearing braces on his legs never did stop Brown from going anywhere or doing anything in those days. As a matter of fact, Brown said he has owned two travel trailers and travelled all over the country including out west and back and fourth to Crystal River, Fla., through the years. He has been married three times and had two children. Now at 85, Brown does not do much traveling anymore because he has to spend most of his time in a wheelchair and has had to hire help around his house so that he can manage to get things done. And through the years, he also had several hobbies such as collecting rocks, arrowheads, driftwood, grapevine sticks and has even done some brick and stone masonry work on his own in his front of his home.
"I built that waterfall out there in the front yard all by myself. I even collected the rocks for it out here in Rockfield," he said.
When asked how has managed to survive all these years since World War II with those leg injuries and has been able to achieve all the things that he has done in his lifetime, all Brown could say was, "I just hung in there, that's all," he said. "I guess you could say that I'm just one tough ole bird!" he laughed.