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GUEST COLUMN: Ordinary Americans achieving the extraordinary

Last week we observed Veteran’s Day. Recently we voted. Next week is Thanksgiving. These activities all remind me of America’s people. Ordinary American citizens who achieved the extraordinary.

Consider the Great Depression. Things were so bleak for all Americans during the Great Depression that being able to shelter, clothe and feed one’s family was a major achievement indeed. My maternal grandfather, Bert Griffin, was a sharecropper in Whitfield County. However, he did well enough. Three of his five children graduated from college. Of those three college graduates, two were teachers, the other was an architect.

My paternal grandfather, Henry Grady Terrell, had a dairy in the Coosa community. The Great Depression notwithstanding, the cows had to be milked. Granddaddy delivered milk to everybody in the community even though nobody had any money. Of his seven children, four graduated from college. Of those four college graduates, one was a nurse, one was an attorney and two were teachers.

My grandparents were ordinary people who loved their families, and took care of them in the face of incredible odds.

AMERICANS IN THE MILITARY IN SERVICE TO OUR COUNTRY: I think about all the men and women who have served in the military through the years. Veterans. Ordinary soldiers like Tuskegee airman Willie Rogers.

Drafted into the U.S. Army in 1942, he served as a member of the logistics team in the 100th Air Engineer Squad. Rogers was not a pilot. He did important logistics work on the ground.

In January, 1943, during a mission in Italy, Rogers was shot in the stomach and leg by German soldiers. He spent three months in a London hospital convalescing from his wounds. Germany surrendered and the Dachau concentration camp was subsequently liberated. Rogers, along with other American troops, took inventory of Dachau on April 29, 1945.

Born in Apalachicola, Florida, in 1915, Rogers lived in St. Petersburg after the war and opened his own business, Rogers Radio Sales and Services. Willie passed away Nov. 18, 2016, at 101 years of age, at which time he was the last member of the original Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American military aviation squadron in U.S. armed forces history. We cannot even begin to imagine what he witnessed at Dachau on April 29, 1945. An ordinary American soldier, his exemplary service to our country was noteworthy.

ROSIE THE RIVETER: Remember “Rosie the Riveter?” A cultural icon of World War II, she represented the women who worked in the factories and shipyards during the war. These women helped keep things going while the men were away fighting. They did not hesitate to go to work in support of their families, and our county. There was a lady at the Veterans Day observance at Myrtle Hill last week. I regret not getting her name. Wearing a Rosie the Riveter T-shirt, she also sported the famous red bandana. A native of Savannah, she worked in the ship yards in Savannah during World War II! I understand she is the only surviving “Rosie.” The stories I bet she could tell! The Savannah native mentioned here is yet another example of an ordinary American doing extraordinary things in support of this great nation of ours.

THE AVERAGE AMERICAN who grew up in the Great Depression did not consider themselves to have done the extraordinary. However, they pulled through this most difficult time in our nation’s history. People such as they make America the great nation that it is. Our grandparents loved their families, and took care of them in the face of incredible odds. Ordinary Americans who achieved great things.

WILLIE ROGERS NEVER THOUGHT he’d be in the service. He certainly never imagined he’d be shot by German soldiers in a war way too far from home. A humble man, he did not think himself to be a hero. An ordinary American citizen who bravely served our country. An exceptional soldier, he achieved remarkable things.

Native Roman Pam Walker is a paralegal, a history enthusiast, and an avid reader of Southern fiction. Readers may email her at pamtwalker@gmail.com.