My wife, Jane, was shopping at Belk in Warner Robins in early January. She met a nice lady who works there named Karen Sisk. Karen mentioned a monthly luncheon sponsored by Green Acres Baptist Church for Houston County veterans of World War II. She invited me to attend and extended an invitation to Dooly County native Charles Speight.
Mr. Charles is a decorated WW II Navy pilot from Unadilla. I’ve written about him before in a column titled “A Greatly Blessed Life.” He’ll be 98 on April 2 and continues to be active in his church and community. He’s been teaching the same men’s Sunday School Class for over 63 years.
“Some of these fellows are getting old,” said Mr. Charles spryly to the man seated across the table. His playful comment was as usual accompanied by a disarming smile.
“I’m 97,” replied Mr. Keath Morgan with a soft laugh. “How about yourself?”
It was delightful being a spectator in a conversation between 97-year-old war veterans. Rusty Simpson was seated next to Mr. Morgan, a cherished friend he affectionately calls Papa.
We had soup and sandwiches and listened as two men shared glimpses of going to war long ago and the joys of coming home. Mr. Morgan trained at Ft. Benning to become a paratrooper. He volunteered to jump out of planes because of the extra pay. “I went from fifty-two dollars a month to a hundred,” he said with enthusiasm, knowing his comment would generate laughter around our table.
“You fellows on the ground had it rough,” said Mr. Charles.
“It was cold in the foxholes,” replied Mr. Morgan. “If you raised your head to look out someone would try to shoot it off.” Freezing weather, canned rations, and dodging bullets were part of his regular routine. When shrapnel hit his leg, he wrapped a shirt around it and kept fighting.
Mr. Morgan was featured on the program which followed lunch. He’s the only known survivor of The Battle of the Bulge living in Houston County. There were two of them until a couple of weeks earlier. Now it’s just him.
He pulled a folded piece of paper from a front pocket on his pants to review some scribbled notes. Rusty asked to look over them, then smiled as he pointed to one of the topics. Rusty gently reminded him they had agreed it was best not to talk about that incident.
Mr. Charles, with his incurable penchant for mischief, said he sure would love to hear the story. An old soldier’s grin gave evidence of a humorous memory, a rare moment no doubt much needed in a time of war. I found out later that two women were involved. That’s all I know and I’m not asking any questions.
There were eight WW II veterans at the luncheon and about that many other guests. A dozen or so more people joined us for the one o’clock discussion. Mr. Morgan and Rusty sat in folding chairs facing the small group which had gathered. Rusty posed questions to facilitate the conversation. “Papa, do you remember your service number?”
Mr. Morgan recited it without hesitation, then called out the serial number of his rifle. He smiled and said, “I knew that M1 rifle inside and out, but when I got to Germany they took it away and gave me a 30-caliber machine gun.”
General Eisenhower shook his hand in Mourmelon, France, a moment he recalled with obvious appreciation. Then he noted with amusement what Eisenhower said to the troops that day: “I know you boys are looking for some action and I’m going to see that you get it!”
Cheri Adams with the Houston Home Journal was at the luncheon. The HHJ recently published a magazine highlighting 18 WW II veterans of Houston County. Cheri, Karen, and a few volunteers are helping preserve bits of history while offering a platform for some voices that deserve to be heard.
I don’t know anything about war except what I’ve learned from others. I’m thankful for soldiers who were willing to go, and for people who are now helping them share their stories. The luncheon for veterans at Green Acres Baptist Church is a good ministry model for all of us.
Our short time together gave me a greater appreciation for the costs of freedom, and a renewed gratitude for a dwindling group of aging heroes. There’s a lot we can learn by having soup with old soldiers.