Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Happy Christmas

Annual Christmas Party and Dinner
Many thanks to Kelly Ledford for taking photos and sharing them.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

11-11-11 Veterans' Day

Camp Cecil Perkerson American Legion Post 186 observed Veterans’ Day at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month at Greenville United Methodist Church. The pledge to the flag and the reading of the Preamble of the Legion Constitution were followed by a rousing medley of service branch hymns played by Sally Estes.  The highlight of the program was speaker Reverend Jonathan Porter whose patriotic message of appreciation and thankfulness for our U.S. veterans left the congregation quite moved. Photo by Dan Gabriel.

Legion Post Commander Alfred McCoy, left, and Sandy Whitlock, right, presented young veteran David Sepanski with the Patriotic Quilt.  Whitlock made the red, white, and blue quilt as a gift for the veterans’ day program.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Kisses and Cognac from the liberated French villages and too close a brush with Death

Greenville’s American Legion FDR Post 186 has been conducting interviews at Camp Cecil Perkerson of our World War II veterans for the Library of Congress’ Experiencing War: Stories from the Veterans’ History Project.   The following interview of Lelia Cheney Freeman and her daughter Patricia took place in June, 2010 and concerned Lelia's husband and Patricia's father, the late Ben Freeman.

 Benjamin Rosser Freeman III was born on January 31, 1917 in Greenville, Georgia. With the exception of his years at Emory University for undergraduate and law degrees and his time in the Army, he lived in Greenville all of his life.  He married Lelia Sims Cheney in 1948.
   Freeman went to Emory at Oxford and got his BA degree and law degree from Emory and because Emory had no ROTC he went to Civilian Military Training Camps at Anniston, ALA and then at Ft. McClellan. He also took related correspondence courses which earned him the rank of Second Lieutenant. He made $1.50 a week and was given $4 dollars for transportation. Student soldiers at that time would hitchhike to save money. In their spare time, they loved to go in the caves in Anniston and used Coke bottles for light with a strip of blanket for a wick.
   Ten months before Pearl Harbor, Freeman enlisted and gave up over five years of his life for his country. He had worked a year after law school but decided to enlist in Feb. 1941 before Pearl Harbor that December. He went to Ft. McClellan to sign up and was sent to Ft. Benning. He was like Brer Rabbit in the briar patch, Lelia says, it was great to be fifty miles from home, and he could stop to see his mother in Greenville.
   Freeman entered the Second Armored Division, 41st Armored Infantry Regiment, but soon transferred to the 36th Armored Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Armored. He received promotions to First Lieutenant, then Captain. His final assignment was intelligence officer for the 7th Armored Division, HQ 48th Armored Infantry Battalion.
   After training at Camp Polk, Louisiana (Swamp Polk!) and training in the Mohave Desert in California, Freeman came back to Benning for a second time. General George Patton, Jr. was in command and he addressed the troops saying, “Gentlemen, we are getting ready to shove off. I want you to look to your left and look to your right. One of you men will not make it back.” Sobering thought.
   Freeman’s unit sailed for overseas duty on the war time, stripped down Queen Mary where they were packed like sardines, he said, on the former luxury liner. They were sent to Scotland near Glasgow and then to the Salisbury plain near Stonehenge. They sailed the same date as D Day, and he later told Lelia he was thankful he was not on the beaches on D Day and if he had to be wounded he was so glad it was before the Battle of Bulge as he was cold natured!
   When they did sail and land at Omaha and Utah Beaches, the beaches had been cleared. Their first engagement in the Battle of France was at Senonches where they lost their first men. Chartres followed and it was quite battle with three American columns attacking the city from the north, east, and south to capture the vital transportation hub. After Chartres, Freeman’s 48th Armored Infantry Battalion made one of its greatest accomplishments: they were the first Allies to cross the Seine River. 88 mm shells rained down on them, but they made the crossing and routed the enemy. Other important achievements were establishing a beachhead on the Marne, freeing 150 cities as they pressed through Melun, taking “Radio Paris” the Nazi radio propaganda outlet, and liberating Chateau-Thierry, La Ferte Gaucher and Montmirail, Provins, and Verdun. It was at Verdun that Ben’s battalion ran out of gas. Freeman was in twenty three engagements before he was wounded.
   When they liberated the villages, the American forces received the gratitude of the French. The people would come out with praises, raise the two country’s flags and bring gifts: cognac, eggs, vegetables plus smother them with kisses. It was very different when they got to Alsace Lorraine-all the windows were shuttered and locked as the people were German there and not happy about the situation.
   Recouping after Verdun and being without petrol, they headed for Metz, a heavily fortified city which has resisted wartime sieges throughout history. On September 14th at 3 p.m. during a lengthy and costly siege, Ben was wounded.  As an intelligence officer, he was interviewing a German prisoner when shrapnel from mortar fire slashed through his helmet, grazing his forehead and seriously wounding his eye and face. He dashed up the road to a culvert and aid station, and Colonel Durante, the doctor, used his last bandage on Ben and gave him sulphur and morphine. He was rushed to an evacuation unit and while on a gurney being pumped with meds he insisted on keeping his helmet. At every aid station and at every field hospital, the staff would try, first thing, to take his helmet.  Weak and groggy and in pain as he must have been, he refused, gripping it tightly between his legs. And so he carried it with him all the way, and today it is treasured by his family.  A photograph of his slashed helmet hangs on the wall of American Legion Post 186.
   From the last field hospital near Verdun, he was flown to a stopover at 98th General Hospital in England, and on by ambulance and train to the 83rd General Hospital in Wales just over the border from Chester, England. Prospective recovery promised to be slow, so Freeman asked for Judge Advocate duty in Chester which he enjoyed between surgeries. This hospital stay lasted about four months.
   In January, 1945 he was transferred to O’Reilly General Hospital, Springfield, MO which would be his home until spring of 1946. Continuing surgeries were done, but as usual he made lasting friendships with numerous patients and nurses.
   In September, 2000, Freeman and his wife Lelia, attended a 7th Armored Reunion in Springfield and visited the hospital site. Now the home of Evangel College, WWII barracks buildings are still in use there interspersed with fine brick buildings.
   Captain Freeman was discharged May, 1946 receiving the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and other medals.  He served five years and three months, lost 80 % of his sight in one eye, but he never complained about any time in service.
   An enthusiastic member of the 7th Armored Division Association (of Veterans), he served it as Judge Advocate.  An annual highlight for him was always the reunion his “old army buddies” held in various parts of the country, and he returned from his last only a few days before his death.
   Ben loved his local American Legion Post 186, enjoyed its meetings, and supported fund raisers which resulted in building their impressive headquarters. For the Post’s September 2000 meeting, Ben was asked to be the speaker for the evening. He related his army experiences with his usual humor, dedication, and patriotism. When the Legionnaires met only one month later, he was gravely ill and died the following day.
   Ben’s wife, Lelia Cheney Freeman was born and grew up in Washington, Ga and met Ben after the war. He had come back to Greenville to practice law and Lelia was dating his best friend. Lelia was working in Savannah 200 miles away and at every opportunity Ben started driving there. They courted there, and Lelia told him she would not have left Savannah for anyone but him.
   Lelia was at UGA during World War II which she describes as a girls’ school with the men the all gone off to war. But life went on and they were very aware of the war. She gave blood until she was told she was too anemic. Lelia went to the Women’s Club and rolled bandages to be sent to the Red Cross. She learned to knit and laughingly said she had no knowledge of knitting and started with the hardest item: gloves. 
   There was rationing in the U.S.: sugar and gas. Art supplies for Lelia’s studies at UGA were also hard to come by. When she later learned Ben’s outfit had run out of gas before Verdun and it reminded her of those here who cheated to get gas. 
   In the years after World War II, Lelia and Ben visited the surgery in Wales-now a private home-as well as where he was wounded in Alsace Lorraine. Ben found the area around the steel mill where the mortar trajectory had fired on him and there were daisies growing there. Lelia and Ben both said they were thankful Ben was not pushing up those daisies!
   Enlisting in February 1941, Freeman was dismissed from the Army in May, 1946 after being wounded in September, 1944. He then came to Greenville and set up law practice. Freeman passed away in October, 2000.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Legiononie's Cafe Italiano

“Cead Mile Failte” or a hundred thousand welcomes was the Irish greeting for the American Legionnaires and guests at Camp Cecil Perkerson in Greenville at their monthly meeting held Monday, March 14th. Being the week of St. Patrick’s Day but having lots of pasta and sauce on hand, the Irish and Italian cultures conveniently intertwined for a delicious spaghetti supper.  Standing by the Irish decorations provided by Toots Hobson are Miriam Holliday, Isabel Keller, Mary Anne Harman, and Babs Gordon. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

John Albert Swanson

Greenville’s American Legion FDR Post 186 has been conducting interviews at Camp Cecil Perkerson of our World War II veterans for the Library of Congress’ Experiencing War: Stories from the Veterans’ History Project.   The following interview of John Albert Swanson was conducted on March 4, 2010 and is in his own words.
   I was born November 27, 1924 in Greenville on Jarrell Road in Meriwether County. I went to the Jarrell Road school, near where Meade was, and walked to school-about two miles everyday.  We had two teachers and the school went through the 7th grade. One teacher was for grades 5-7 and the other for children up to 5th grade. After 7th grade, I walked to Greenville to school. 
   My buddy was Lonnie Thrash, and we walked through the fields to Methodist Hill where the old school was.  My dad worked in Manchester, and when it rained he automatically stopped by and picked me up and even got me out of school. I dropped out in the 8th grade, but I finished 7th grade. I was the only kid in family and I had farm chores to do everyday: cut the wood and to smoke the meat.  We had a smokehouse and we used a two person saw to cut wood.
   As a boy, I used to see FDR. My grandmother lived where Meade was and lived on a hill and FDR came through on the train to Warm Springs and everyone would be out by the tracks waving and cheering him on-I saw him as a little boy.
   I registered in 1942 when I turned 18 as I had gotten a letter from the government telling me to report. We reported and I had to go to Ft. Benning. I had hoped to go into the army. We all lined up with no clothes on and they asked me if I wanted to be a Marine. I did not. We stayed at Benning a couple of days and they sent me to Augusta with another black man from Warm Springs.
    We got to come back home but then caught the bus in Greenville on the south side of courthouse steps and went to Atlanta and there we boarded the train and rode all night. It took all the next day to get to Camp Lejeune, NC and then a truck picked us up to take us into camp. We had a pretty rough introduction to the 48th platoon: we’d wake up and get out early and have our exercise and come back and get breakfast but over in the day they’d call us back out and we’d march practically all day. My buddy was with me, but he did something wrong and the last time I saw him was with rifle over his head and he was running. I didn’t see him anymore. I’ve got one little scar on my neck. I wasn’t doing an exercise right and the instructor called me out and hit on head with the butt of the rifle. It bothers me now, but I never had it on record.
   I wasn’t used to so many people.  They’d call us out into the night at 1 am and make us stand and they’d talk and the mosquitoes were bad.  You couldn’t help slap at one and then they’d say stand at attention another hour, but then someone would slap and it’d be another half hour standing there. If somebody did something, we’d all get punished for it. Training at Camp Lejeune was teaching togetherness-whatever we did we did together; we got punished together and it made everyone think about togetherness. I finally made it through training and then they said we had to go overseas.
   We boarded a train to go to California. We went through Atlanta where we wanted to get off and go home. St Louis was hot as it was the last of July. The desert was rough and hot too, but we stopped along the way and went to nice restaurants. I still can feel the hot air going through the dessert. We finally got to Oakland.
   We stayed there five days before we boarded the ship. We boarded around 1 o’clock but didn’t leave ‘til around 5 as the sun was going down. I remember going under the Golden Gate Bridge-tears rolled partly because it was the 3rd Sunday in August and I was supposed to be in church!
   I got seasick but got over it in a couple a days.  It was a big world; we were in the Pacific and we were on a ship. Some say they can’t sleep with the ship noise and lights. The ship creaked all the time. We’d get up in morning, and we played cards. When you’d look around, there was nothing but water-no other ships.
   We were worried abut getting killed; we got over in dangerous waters where the Japanese would set off bombs. I finally saw land after 27 days on ship. We stopped in New Caledonia and got off the ship.  After we got off, I was going for lunch and saw James Jackson, my Odessadale friend. We talked about where we would go next. I was afraid of some places because we had heard they all got wiped out there.
   We stayed at New Caledonia six months and went to the Philippines to an island that had fighting there.  My job was as a guard guarding rooms and I drove a truck. We guarded an area in a coconut grove with coconuts falling everywhere. I got so tired of coconuts: we drank the milk and ate it. I drank so much of it that I got tired of it. I had to guard a gate in the coconut grove and once two white guys came and wanted to come in. I told them no, I had a 45, but I really carried a carbine. I grabbed the carbine and the guys took off.  I had no more problems with anyone after that.
   I was not a drinker and they used to issue us two beers every night and I’d give mine to my buddy in the tent. Finally, I tried it and drank it from then on. When we went to town we drank rum. I didn’t know we had to cut this stuff and woke up two days later tied to the bunk because I was rolling off. That experience caused me not to drink now.
   We left there after a year. One night there wasn’t too many of us, 10-15 guys not a whole platoon, the island was secure, but we were sitting there talking and way up on the mountain there was a flashlight moving. I knew it was the Japanese. We walked all night, shot at it, but couldn’t get it.  We walked all the night after that and we fought a battle when we caught up with them. They would hide in caves on the islands and we used flamethrowers to get them. That was the way we fought during that time, knock everything down and burn it up-that’s the only way you were going to win. We tore everything down and secured it, and then walked over the whole island and secured it.     When we got to Okinawa, we had to dig foxholes. We made a great big foxhole for everyone in case they couldn’t make it to their foxhole.  The sirens would come on and we’d run to the big foxhole and get in. Many times I dove in foxholes praying I had made it fast enough.
   We finally got the call the war was over. That was in October 1945 and there was joy everywhere that the war was over and we were going home. We boarded an aircraft carrier that was so big you couldn’t see a guy at other end or he’d just be a dot. We got home in nineteen days. We came through Pearl Harbor and came on in under the Golden Gate, got on smaller ship and went back to Oakland, then back to North Carolina in five days to get discharged.
   We came back through St. Louis where our records got lost. We would have been home for Christmas of 1945 but ate Christmas dinner North Carolina. I was discharged on the 4th of January. The captain came by and asked if we wanted to rejoin and I told him I’d let him know.
  Every payday I’d take out 10 or 20 dollars but there was nothin’ to spend it but on candy or toothpaste and I didn’t need the rest of the money. Sixty six dollars a month was a big deal! I came home with a lump of money I had saved.  I didn’t want anyone to steal it so I put it in my sock and brought it home. I bought a car-1941 Chevy-and a fabricated house my daddy and I would put together.
   After the war I went to Michigan and worked in the car industry. They had me down in foundry room-dust and smoke with nothing over the nose. It was good money-double that of the military but I couldn’t take the dust and worked there two weeks. I was a janitor mostly and I kept machinery working by adding oil.  If I didn’t see anything to do, I didn’t do anything and they said I was lazy. I went over to Chevrolet and worked 1 year and 8 months then I came home and got married
    I went back and worked with Chrysler but it was the worst job I had-Chrysler laid us off every year if they’d see we had a couple dollars in the bank. After thirty years and seven months in Detroit I came back to Greenville in 1994. We had some real cold days in Detroit, but in the Pacific, we never had a cold day.
   Military food wasn’t good. We had Spam. “What do we have tonight? Spam. What do we have today? Spam.” I said I would never eat Spam again. Everybody got excited when we got real eggs ’cause they’d use powdered eggs.
   I earned one stripe in the Marines then I got another. I made it to the marksman level with rifle training. I could shoot pretty good –I used the M1 rifle, had a .45 and a carbine. We turned in our weapons when we left the military. I was given the World War II Victory Medal, the Marksmanship Medal, and the Pacific Medal.
   I was in some really rough spots; I was lucky to make it out alive. Recently I thought about fighting the Japanese and I was so loud in my sleep my wife woke me up. Those people were farmers and sometimes we made camp and used their gardens eating their potatoes and greens, but I didn’t eat any of it.
   I couldn’t believe I was coming from Georgia way over to California and then seeing the world. I didn’t think anything about it then as it was a job. But now I think and wish I had put more into it.