Saturday, March 14, 2015

Singleton tells of special veteran who 'fought, lived and died as a patriot'

(For decades, local historian and paranormal investigator George “Buster” Singleton published a weekly newspaper column called “Somewhere in Time.” The column below, which was titled “Special veteran fought, lived and died as a patriot,” was originally published in the Nov. 17, 1994 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)

As Veterans Day 1994 takes its place in the passages of time, many thoughts come to mind. On this day, we pay tribute to the many who wore the uniforms of our armed forces and helped to defend our beloved country against those who sought to destroy it and our way of life.

Thousands upon thousands sleep in numerous cemeteries throughout the world, while little or no thought is given to the horrors they suffered and endured in the defense of our beloved homeland.

There are many who lived to return to this land of the free. Many of these who returned spent the remainder of their lives remembering the comrades who sleep in some far-off land, never to return. This is a story of a veteran who lived to return from the horrors of war in the Pacific during World War II. But the memories of this experience haunted him until his death two months ago.

Shortly after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941, this man, being too old for the military draft, kind of stretched the truth about his age and volunteered for service.

Duty to defend country

At age 40, he had never married. He would leave behind his aging mother to be cared for by others of his family. He believed his duty was to help defend his country from the aggression of those that sought to destroy it.

Within a very short period of time, he was to find himself in the invasion forces among the bloody islands of the Pacific. Before his military career was over, he would be a part of the landing forces on several islands invaded by our military; the invasion of the island of Iwo Jima was to be the worst.

As the dreadful war came to a close, this man would return to lower Clarke County and home. He would try to take up where he had left off that dark day in December 1941. He would resume his duties as guardian of his aged mother, who had refused to leave the old home place, saying that she would remain there until her son returned home from the war.

Slowly, things fell back into place around the old homestead. Only the memory of those dreadful times during the bitter fighting in the Pacific seemed never to dim in his memory. Memories of fallen comrades continued to haunt him as he tried to go forward with his life.

In his mind, he began to formulate plans for the time when he would join those friends who had fallen in the bloody fighting of the Pacific Islands. But fate sometimes works in the strangest ways.

Wedding bells

A short courtship with a young widow younger than he caused him to push aside the memories of that dreadful past. Wedding bells soon sounded in the small, old country church of the rural community. Happiness rode the winds around the old homestead as true love blossomed, and before too long, a family was started. Two daughters and a son would brighten the homeplace as the sounds of laughter echoed under the large chinaberry trees there in the yard.

The life of this man began to take on new meaning. But the hand of fate was yet to deal the strangest of hands in the card game we call life.

A cold December wind swept across the small family cemetery as the old mother, and now grandmother of his three children, was laid to rest. With the death of his mother, memories of another time began to creep once again into his thoughts as he mourned her passing. But as the three children grew in size, life was full of their activities, and the happiness caused by watching them grow up seemed to lessen the pain.

But fate would not be outdone; the deck seemed to have been stacked against him once again.

Minor chest pains, thought to be a touch of indigestion, would prove fatal to his beloved wife. Within minutes after the pain began, she was dead from a heart seizure. From that moment on, life was never the same for this man.

Small family cemetery

Since none of the family knew of the agreement between the two, all were surprised when he gave instructions for his beloved wife to be buried in the cemetery where her parents were buried. He then revealed that they had agreed to this, since he wanted to be placed in the small family cemetery where his ancestors were buried near the old homeplace.

The passing years had begun to take their toll on this man as he secluded himself from almost everyone but his family. In his idle time, he wrote down the instructions for his funeral and the procedure to be followed on the day he was laid to rest in the small shady family burial ground there in the deep woods.

In this small cemetery was buried a great-grandfather who had survived the Revolutionary War. A grandfather and a great-uncle, both who had worn the uniform of the Confederacy in the Civil War, had been laid to rest here. Then, there was the uncle who had served in World War I; he, too, slept alongside the others.

Since he was the last of his family to help defend his beloved country, he wanted to be buried alongside his kinfolks who had done battle in defense of their homeland. His funeral would be the final chapter; this was to be the last burial in the small family cemetery here in the deep woods.

Since his return from the Pacific conflict, he had kept his old khaki uniform that he had worn home from the war. He also had all of his medals and battle ribbons that had been awarded to him during the bloody action of the islands.

His instructions were that he was to be buried in his khaki uniform. His medals and ribbons were to be pinned properly to his shirt. By his side was to be placed his army bayonet that he had carried throughout the war. Also, his army identification (dog tags) would be placed around his neck in the proper way.

There would be no weeping or signs of sorrow at his funeral. If anyone had to weep, they should leave the area. The only services would be at the graveside, and after the grave was closed, a picnic lunch would be served near the small cemetery to those present for the funeral.

One verse of “Nearer My God To Thee” would be sung by a distant cousin; his was to be the only singing of the funeral services.

I attended the funeral of this old man during the second week of this past September. His instructions for his burial were followed to the letter. Just prior to the folding of the American flag that draped the plain and simple casket, the single verse of a little known poem fulfilled his final request. This was the way he wanted it; I knew because he was my uncle.

The requested verse is as follows:

“Now as I am rapidly descending the hill which leads to the Everlasting and I see the beautiful sunset, I pray that I will be on time. And, as I answer the final roll call and the bugler is sounding ‘Taps,’ may my duty have been performed satisfactorily to Him who shall judge all.”

(Singleton, the author of the 1991 book “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” passed away at the age of 79 on July 19, 2007. A longtime resident of Monroeville, he was born on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from 1964 to 1987. He is buried in Pineville Cemetery in Monroeville. The column above and all of Singleton’s other columns are available to the public through the microfilm records at the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville. Singleton’s columns are presented here each week for research and scholarship purposes and as part of an effort to keep his work and memory alive.)

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