Tuesday, June 28, 2016

In Spite Of His Injuries From World War II, The Late Willie Brown Of Rockfield, Ky., Let Nothing Get In His Way

(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.
    "My daddy made some of the best moonshine around and people would come from miles away to come get it," Brown said.  "Oh God...boy, was that some good stuff that man made," as he said wiping a tear from his starry eyes.
     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.
     "Bowling Green was a lot different then, let me tell you," Brown said.
    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.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Most Incredible Summer of 1981

Me in my 1970 Pontiac LeMans Sport Car

I've been thinking about summertime lately especially since it's the middle of June and it's starting to get really hot outside.

Gordon, Dicky Dees and Me at the beach

I am 54 years-old now and mind always goes back 35 years ago to the summer of 1981 when I was 19 years-old. I had the most incredible carefree summer that I ever experienced in my lifetime when I look back. I suppose that we have all had one of those summer in our lives I suspect when we reflect on our lives. It was the summer before my senior year of high school at Hernando High School in Hernando, Miss. I am going to give you rundown on what I did that summer by bullet points. At the time, I was living at my father's lake house in Eudora, Miss., 15 miles west of Hernando. My older brother, Gordon, who was an electrical contractor who lived in Memphis. However, we were best friends then and we did a lot of things together in those days. He had money and I didn't have much. He was really good to me. So here it is:

*Drove to Jacksonville Beach, Fla., and Myrtle Beach, S.C., with Gordon and two of our friends. We stayed in the Beachcomber Motel in Jacksonville Beach and the Betty Boop Inn in Myrtle Beach. I'm sure neither motel exist anymore. We swam in the pools, the ocean and hung out at the beach bars for about a week.

Me, Dicky and Gordon at the beach

*Rode to Knoxville, Tenn., with Gordon and two other friends . We stayed at their apartment and went to the Smokey Mountains and climbed the Chimney Tops, swam in spring water holes and walked the mountain trails. It was the first time that Gordon and I had ever been to Smokey Mountains or Knoxville. We were gone for about a week. Then Gordon and I flew back to Memphis via Delta airlines and we had a layover in Atlanta. I was the first time that we had ever flown too.

The Beachcomber Motel

*Gordon and I went to Paris, Tenn., with a friend from Horn Lake, Miss., and stayed at his dad's cabin by the Tennessee River where his dad grew up in the old family home. We stayed there for about a week. We grilled out, fished and drank a lot of beer.

"Leroy," my car at the beach

*Gordon and I went to Greer's Ferry Lake in Arkansas with two other friends from Memphis and stayed at one of the friend's lake house for a weekend. We went water skiing, fishing and grilled out steaks and drank lots of beer.

Me and "Dutchenss" at the lake house

*Gordon and I went to Heber Springs, Ark., with two friends from Memphis, stayed in a cabin, rode mopeds and jumped off the rock cliffs at Greer's Ferry Lake. We also went to Blanchard Springs Caverns on the way home.

*During the second half of the summer, I went to Shreveport, La., to stay with my sister and brother-in-law where I worked at a Burger King for about month or so for some extra money.

The lake house in Eudora, Miss.

*In addition to traveling and going places, I went to concerts, movies, grilled out, smoked BBQ, swam and fished at my dad's lake house and played with my brother's German Shepherd dogs whenever I had a chance.

Graduating Class of 1982 at HHS

So when August of 1981 arrived, I was ready for the new school year. I was fit, tan and I had new school clothes. I was very well relaxed and focused. With the help of a lot of friends at school, I was elected Senior Class-Co President that fall and had one of the greatest school year's of my life before heading off to college at Ole Miss in Oxford, Miss., in the fall.. How could I ever forget all those once in a lifetime experiences thanks to my brother, Gordon, and good friends at Hernando High School? I still thank my brother and all in my high school friends in my heart when I look back on that time in 1981, the most incredible summer of my whole life!