Guard members gather for memories

Published 1:54 am Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wileen Watson remembers the January 1951 day well when she said good-bye to her high school sweetheart as he and about 120 National Guard members left Brewton on a train bound for Fort Jackson, S.C. — and maybe points beyond.

“Tom and I were dating, and I thought that my heart would break the day they left,” she said. “I was only 16 years old at the time, and we didn’t know what was going to happen. We’ve been married for 58 years so it all worked out.”

The Watsons, who now live in Florence, returned to Brewton Saturday to share memories of that Guard unit — Company F, 200th Infantry of the 31st Division — at a reunion held at the Brewton Civic Center. They were among about three dozen people who gathered to tell stories and share laughter about their training days.

Email newsletter signup

Many of the soldiers never went overseas and served their time at various military bases around the world and at home. Many of them were used as replacements to fill in other companies.

Roderick Lynn was in the group who stayed at Fort Jackson. “I stayed there until I was discharged,” he said.

Adolph Nelson from Richmond, Ga., was one of the ones who stayed in the military and went to Korea in 1958-1959 after the war was over. He also served two tours of duty in Vietnam in 1965-66 and 1970-71.

“I stayed in for 27 years and one month,” Nelson said.

There were about 20 of them who did get sent to Korea and five of them were at the gathering on Saturday. During the program, led by Ray Langham, everyone was given a chance to tell of their own experiences. Most of the stories told were filled with humor and remembrances of their fellow soldiers.

Many of them had humorous memories of Chester Sowell. Langham said that Chester didn’t have any clothes because he was always borrowing things.

“He wore any size,” Langham said. “He didn’t have as much as everybody else.”

Langham said that one time he told Sowell to pull off his clothes, and practically everything he had on belonged to Langham.

Tom Watson said that one time there were a few of the men who could not be found anywhere, and it was only later that they realized that they had gone back to Brewton.

Watson said Jack Brackin was trying to recoup some money he lost, and to make it back he let a group borrow his car and he charged each man $25 for a trip home to Brewton.

“(Jack) told me to get four others to pitch in with $25 each to get a ride to Brewton one weekend,” Langham said. “The problem was that we had two or three flats on the way to Brewton. By the time we got back and gave what was left to Jack, it amounted to about $14. Jack just sat down and cried.”

William “Grubb” Jernigan told of a group who went pheasant hunting and Gen. James Van Fleet happened to see them with their pheasant.

“Gen. Van Fleet was the commanding general of the U.S. Second Army,” Jernigan said. “After he found out about us hunting, he made sure that we were available to take him hunting a few weeks later.”

After the memories were shared, Theo Ballard gave a review of the company’s schedule and related a few memories of the day they left Brewton.

“The band played the day we left,” Ballard said. “Company F was the most outstanding in the division. We didn’t have enough supplies coming from a guard unit and many times we had to make do.”