Notes from the Southwest Corner: The Centurion that wasn’t and Oliver Wendell Holmes

Published in The Lebanon Democrat Tuesday, September 16, 2014.

This is my father’s comrades in arms displaying a Japanese flag they confiscated. His 75th Navy Construction Battalion came ashore on Leyte four days after McArthur’s forces landed in the Philippines in his return to the country, October 20, 1944. Jimmy Jewell with a cigarette in his mouth is in the white tee-shirt to our right of the Japanese flag.

This is my father’s comrades in arms displaying a Japanese flag they confiscated. His 75th Navy Construction Battalion came ashore on Leyte four days after McArthur’s forces landed in the Philippines in his return to the country, October 20, 1944. Jimmy Jewell with a cigarette in his mouth is in the white tee-shirt to our right of the Japanese flag.

SAN DIEGO. – We are nearing the date for something I desired to occur but won’t happen.

On September 28, we would have celebrated Jimmy Jewell’s 100th birthday. I will be honoring my father but will not be with him to celebrate his becoming a centurion.

On that coming Sunday, I will spend quiet time imagining Lebanon on that date in 1914. I am dedicating several columns to his history as I know it, not as a tribute solely to my father but as a tribute to all of his generation. Tom Brokaw called them “The Greatest Generation.” Considering what they experienced and not only survived, but rose above validates they were, in fact, the greatest generation. They are the reason our country is living the wonderful life we have today.

My father did not become a centurion, but for a decade, I hoped he would be the modern day version of “The Deacon’s Masterpiece.” In 1858, Oliver Wendell Holmes published his wonderful narrative poem, “The One Horse Shay.” A shay was a carriage, normally pulled by one or two horses. The deacon constructed his shay with the purpose of eliminating flaws. He used the finest materials and paid close attention to every minute detail in construction of his amazing carriage.

The shay lasted and lasted until the parson who apparently inherited the wonderful carriage took a ride on the 100th anniversary of the shay’s construction. The shay, exactly 100 years old, collapsed underneath the parson in a pile of dust.

Several weeks before my father passed away, a relative attended a wellness workshop to discuss how to live a long and healthy life. The leader opened up the seminar with the pronouncement “the best thing we can hope for is to live in relatively good health into our 90s and then go quick.”

That is exactly what Jimmy Jewell did. He didn’t become a centurion like the shay, but he was a fantastic example of good health until the last seven weeks of his life. My sister, Martha Duff, accompanied him to a doctor’s checkup last spring. When she called to report the assessment, she cracked she wished he had his vital signs. We all did. He was a model for moderation and continuing to work until the end, taking only  a daily vitamin and an occasional pill for his vision when he needed it. He left us 42 days shy of 99 years.

Jimmy and Estelle Jewell were a depository for Lebanon history. They were proud of the town where they were born, grew up, and never left. Their travels throughout 49 of the 50 states (In 1984, a trip to Alaska was aborted due an illness my mother suffered) only gave them more reasons to love Lebanon. My mother always wondered why any of her children or grandchildren would choose to live anywhere else.

Both of my parents never stepped into leadership roles in the community. Yet they were always in the background providing counsel and support of Lebanon leaders throughout their careers. They had a unique perspective of how the town operated and often would tell stories about the town’s history and leaders you won’t find in G. Frank Burns’ histories.

My father was born three months to the day after the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie were assassinated by a Bosnian nationalist. Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on July 28. World War I lasted through the first five years of my father’s life.


i believe this photo of my father was taken on Bouganville, an island in the Solomon Island chain about 400 miles east of Papua New Guinea. It was his battalion’s second stop in the Western Pacific in 1944. This was a photo he sent my mother and a 10-month old me.

As noted a number of times, he was in the Western Pacific for two years of World War II. He witnessed the Korean War, the Vietnam Conflict, the Cold War, both Iraq conflicts, and the War in Afghanistan. His war was different than all of the others. There was no question World War II was all or nothing. World domination by evil empires was a real possibility. Our citizens cinched up their belts and took on the task. The entire country was involved. Political correctness, fairness, and many other facets took a back seat to winning the war. But they won when they had to win.

Not only that, they spawned the culture that would lead to more equality, more diversity, more justice. We certainly haven’t reached perfection on any front, but my father’s generation took care of business and allowed us to move forward.

I hope we never forget. I also hope there are more of Holme’s deacon’s masterpieces to follow.




The accompanying photo is my father’s comrades in arms displaying a Japanese flag they confiscated. His Navy 75th Navy Construction Battalion came ashore on Leyte four days after McArthur’s forces landed in the Philippines in his return to the country, October 20, 1944. Jimmy Jewell with a cigarette in his mouth is in the white tee-shirt to our left of the Japanese flag.

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Notes from the Southwest Corner: Sunday, a day for parades

Published in The Lebanon Democrat Tuesday, September 9, 2014.

SAN DIEGO. – There are parades and parades, but the best ones were on Sundays in a land far away long ago.

With autumn looming even in the Southwest corner, memories of those parades are palpable in my memory. On Sunday mornings of my youth, the family would don their Sunday finest and drive down Castle Heights Avenue to West Main through the square to the First Methodist Church. En route, there would be a bunch of grey clad young boys marching in formation to the church of their choice. No, those weren’t the parades I remember.

We attended Sunday school and the 11:00 service (until my teens, there was only one Sunday morning service) and then rendezvous with Snooks and Bettye Kate Hall for Sunday dinner (yes, dinner was the noon meal and supper was the evening fare) at either a local restaurant or a home cooked meal at one of the two homes.

Sunday afternoon, I would play in the front yard. There, I first heard the parades. The military march music floated down the hill from across West Main on what is now Stroud Gwynn field. The Castle Heights cadets, about 500 strong, were marching in formation around that field in cadence with the band’s thumping beat. The marching rhythm was inspiring to this young lad.

I think in all of those Sundays through junior high, I actually went to one, maybe two, most likely to see my cousin Maxwell Martin.

When I reluctantly began at Heights, I was not as thrilled with the idea of Sunday parades. Sunday was my uniform free day. In addition to Sunday school and church, the Methodist Youth Fellowship met in the late afternoon, and we then attended the evening service. A free afternoon would have been a delight.

Regardless, I donned my grey wool uniform, put on my grey combination cap, and shouldered my M-1 rifle on most autumn and spring Sundays. With the band leading, we marched down the hill on that narrow tree-lined road now called Castle Heights Avenue North, executed a column left and lined up on the north side of the field with the battalion staff facing us mid-field on the south side. The stands behind the staff were filled family and other observers.

The drill team performed its fancy drills with their silver helmets glistening in the sun while the troops, including me, sweated underneath the grey wool. Then with the band still playing, our companies would march counter-clockwise, more or less in step executing an “eyes right” while our officers saluted the staff with their sabers.

chma-pir-05As much as I groused about my Sunday afternoon being ruined, I actually got to like the regimen in a reluctant way.

The spring parades were much more impressive. That was when we donned the white pants, white combination cover, and the white webbing with brass buckles. However in retrospect, I remember the autumn “Pass In Review’s” as special in their own right. The autumn colors of yellow, orange, and brown were abundant. You could smell the season in the air. The marching music seemed to fit better with autumn.

At Vanderbilt, I suffered through what the NROTC called marching for a couple of years, and I didn’t go to a class or event without marching during my four months of Navy OCS in Newport, R.I. In fact my time at Castle Heights made me the go-to guy for spit shining and marching as an OC. But none of that compared to those Heights’ Sunday parades.

When I was the chief engineer on the U.S.S. Hollister (DD 788) in 1974, the officers were in the wardroom discussing the upcoming change of command in Long Beach. It was winter. A possibility of rain threatened the scheduled outdoor event. Considering alternatives, the weapons officer suggested marching the crew to the reserve auditorium about a mile from our pier.

The captain and I fell out of our chairs onto the floor laughing. We knew such a march would be total chaos. Thankfully, it didn’t rain.

The Corps of Cadets and the Aggie Military Marching Band at Texas A&M reintroduced me to the thrill of marching in the late 1970s. But I was an observer, and the marching there was a big time event. Yet A&M couldn’t match the Heights Sundays in my mind.

It was a long time ago and unfortunately, Lebanon or I will never experience that weekly parade again.

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A Pocket of Resistance: “Once Upon a Summertime”

folks-anniversary-1Adjusting to retirement (sic…again) is a tough adjustment. i am finding myself sitting at the computer or wandering around the house marveling at my inability to schedule anything.

There are a million things to do. After all, i still want to write several more books, make my more regular entries on my blog (lord, i still dislike that term), create another blog with my Navy friends, Pete Toennies and JD Waits, do about an infinity number of projects around our house, establish a viable and realistic budget (hah!), and get my office and garage organized including throwing out a bunch of worthless stuff.

It seems i am having difficulty getting it all moving.

It’s been about a month since i left the employ of Pacific Tugboat Service, yet here i am staring at this confounded, time-eating laptop monitor.

This morning, however, i seemed to have made a breakthrough. Perhaps the transformation is coming.

This morning, Maureen made a scrambled egg, vegetable concoction with fruit on the side with Donny’s great Columbian coffee. Maureen makes great breakfasts and one of my favorite parts of the world is a leisurely breakfast and afterwards reading the morning paper with a second cup of coffee, all with Maureen. It reminds me of a Castle Heights neighbor telling me one of her joys was to look out her window into our family legendary breakfast room to see Mother and Daddy having breakfast together…every day except when on their travels, they were there for sixty-two years. The neighbor noted when she saw them there, she felt all was right with the world.

After this morning’s attempt to emulate my parents, i went into my office with some records (That’s what we called them but “LP’s” became the accepted term for 33-1/3 RPM wax or vinyl discs). While working on my computer, good friend Dave Zurell helped me get my stereo in working order. It was time to listen to music, old music i didn’t have on my IPod.

As i put on the first cut of the first record, i called for Maureen. As Tony Bennett sang “Once Upon a Summertime,” i explained the significance:

While commuting to Middle Tennessee after my colorful but incomplete matriculation to Vanderbilt, my parents allowed me to live at home, but i had to pay for everything else, including tuition. It was the way it should be, and i learned a lot. My county and sports correspondence work for The Nashville Banner would not meet all of my needs even when augmented by working for Jimmy Hankins at his clothing store in the Cedars of Lebanon Shopping Center (i think that was the original name).

An after Sunday School discussion between my mother and Jack Hendrickson revealed WCOR needed another announcer. i interviewed with Jack and Coleman Walker, took and passed my third class radio engineer test, and began working in the summer of 1965. i became the regular weekday evening FM announcer (107.3  on your FM dial), working 7:00pm until 10:30 Monday through Friday. On the weekends, i was the Saturday and Sunday AM disc jockey (900 on your dial) as well as the Sunday morning and evening FM man again. Sometimes i was alone attempting to run both stations with the two studios about forty feet down the hall from each other.

The AM stint called for me to be the Top 40 rock and roll dee jay. i called myself “JJ the DJ, the Weekend Warrior” and had an opening and closing spiel. The opening background was the “B” side of Bobby Moore and the Rhythm Aces “Searching for My Love.” My track was “Hey, Mister Dee Jay,” and i can still reel off my spiel although i don’t think it is quite as energetic as it was 50 years ago. The closing spiel i don’t remember but the fading out track was another “B” side. The hit side was the Swinging Medallions’ “Double Shot.” I closed with “Here It Comes Again,” a great instrumental.

Perhaps my best deejaying was on those weekday FM evenings. i came up with the program i called “Evening Accent.” Back then, the only interruption to music on FMs were five minute news casts every half hour and required public service announcements. I introduced “Evening Accent” with another spiel i still can recite emphasizing the fact the 3½ hours of music would be a “potpourri” of different types of music: jazz, big band, classical, and show tunes. It was fun, challenging and quite a bit of work to come up my play lists.

The show was especially rewarding in the two summers when i added the title of “Summer Accent.” I opened and closed that program with Bennett’s great tune mentioned before, “Once Upon a Summertime.”

When we started listening together in my office strewn with books and papers, Maureen and i simultaneously held each other and did a slow dance through the track.

It was a magical moment. i think i’m going to make it through this retirement thing okay. Of course, i may have to start every morning with breakfast, a cup of coffee, and dancing with Maureen to Tony Bennett.

That doesn’t sound so bad.

The accompanying photo has nothing to do with any of this. It’s just one i found in my organization effort. It was taken, i believe, at my parent’s 60th wedding anniversary (July 2, 1998) at the Cherokee Restaurant on Old Hickory Lake.

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