WW II vet goes far afield since his Cloverdale days
Posted: Friday, May 22, 2009 9:30 pm
By JOHN BRANNON
Messenger Staff Reporter
Following a mule and plow at Cloverdale. Planting trees in California with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Manning a 90-millimeter anti-aircraft gun in the South Pacific.
An interview with Obion County native son and World War II veteran Bill Jordan of Cape Cod, Mass., fuels thoughts about living history and service and sacrifice.
Ponder, please, his words about a young lady he met not long after he was drafted into military service in 1941. “Before I left to go overseas, we got married,” he said. “I was gone two years. When I came home (in November 1945), I had a 22-month-old son who didn’t know me and wouldn’t have anything to do with me.”
It’s a giant step from G.I. Joe to John Doe, but veterans returning from war were ready to readjust and forge a future with their families. They could look back with a great sense of pride. Their country had called, they had answered. This thing called war is an ugly thing. Some had lived, some had died. The common bond? Honor. Gold-plated Honor with a capital ‘H.’
Perhaps it was men of such stripe that Gen. John A. Logan had in mind when he officially proclaimed Memorial Day in 1868. Logan was commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. Memorial Day was first observed nationally on May 30, 1868. Flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.
The tradition continues. More than 140 years later, the nation pauses each spring to remember and honor its sons and daughters whose military service manifests the wise maxim that freedom is not free.
Their service to the nation are remembered and recognized each year. In May 2008, Jordan served as grand marshal of a Memorial Day parade at Sandwich, Mass.
William H. “Bill” Jordan was born May 20, 1920, to the late L.A. and Emma Jordan, a sharecropper couple whose small farm in the Cloverdale community supported their family of five boys and five girls.
Besides Jordan, the survivors of the 10 Jordan children are Don Jordan of Troy, Rachel Savage of Rives, Lennie Turner of Columbus, Ga., and Virginia Kesler of Oxford, Miss.
Earlier this week, they and others gathered in Rives for the funeral of Mrs. Savage’s husband, Willie Joe Savage, who died on May 15. (See related photo, Page 9.)
Wednesday afternoon, the family gathered at a Union City restaurant to celebrate Jordan’s 89th birthday with a luncheon and cake.
“Corn. Beans. Cotton. Chickens and hogs and two milk cows,” Jordan recalls of his years on the family farm. “Everything we ate, October to April, mother had canned.”
He was 15 and an eighth-grader the year that his daddy took him out of the former Cloverdale School to work on the farm full time to help support the family.
The Great Depression was on. Times were hard. Whether one worked in factory or field, it was a struggle just to get by. Jordan was the oldest of the five boys. It was his duty to help. And he did.
“We didn’t have a tractor. Few people did. Maybe two between us and Obion,” he said. “We farmed with mules. Two of ’em — Jim and Mike. Jim was an ol’ red mule. He was smart. My mother would ring the dinner bell down at the farm house. You could hear it out in the field. Every farm had a dinner bell. You knew the tone of your bell. The mules knew it, too. They knew they were going to get a break, so they’d turn and head for home, leaving a streak across the cornfield, and here’s this young kid trying to hold ’em back.”
And no farm story would be complete without a dog somewhere in the mix. Jordan’s daddy had some fox hounds. One of them wouldn’t chase foxes. It preferred rabbits. “So Daddy give him to me. I named him ‘Baldy,’” Jordan said.
Jordan said one of the smartest moves he ever made was his joining President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps. CCC was created by New Deal legislation in the early 1930s to help the country out of the Great Depression.
Simply stated, it was a public works relief program for unemployed men. It ran from 1933 to 1942 and focused on natural resource conservation.
Jordan signed up and was sent to a CCC camp in Murfreesboro. “I was in Murfreesboro three months. One day I saw on the bulletin board that you could sign up for two years and they’d send you to California. Well, the furthest I’d ever been was Murfreesboro, and I wanted to see the ocean. So I signed up,” he said.
Two milestone moments were reached during his stay at the CCC camp in California.
First, he made more money than ever before. “They paid us $30 a month,” he said. “We got to keep $5 for spending money. The rest was sent to our folks back home. Out of that $5, I bought toothpaste, shoe polish, razor blades, even went to a movie now and then and ate a hamburger. The $25 that went home helped clothe and feed our family. That was more money than they’d ever seen before. They thought they’d struck gold. They even went to town and bought groceries.”
The second thing of note was that he turned 21 while in camp, and dutifully registered for the draft. The paperwork was sent to his home of record, Union City, for processing.
“So when the draft board met the next time … well, you can figure out the rest of that story,” he said. “I got the letter saying I’d been drafted. I took it to my captain and he arranged to send me back to Union City. While the paperwork was being processed, I stayed at the Paris CCC camp a month.
“I was released from the CCC program, went home, spent two weeks with the family, and reported with a bunch of other boys to Fort Oglethorpe, Ga.,” he said.
The Army, Mr. Jones
After a few weeks basic training, Jordan was transferred to Fort Eustis, Va., and later to Fort Stewart, Ga. His specialty was gunner on a 90-mm anti-aircraft gun. He was ultimately transferred to the Pacific Theatre where he served on several islands. “I was on Guam when the war was over. We knew something was up, didn’t know what,” he said. “Everybody knew that eventually we’d be invading Japan. It was the only way to go. They were getting us ready to take infantry training. Then we heard about the bomb, the A-bomb. We heard on armed forces radio a powerful new bomb had been dropped on a Japanese city (Hiroshima, Aug. 6, 1945; and a week later, on Nagasaki). The Japs surrendered pretty quick, and we didn’t have to go.”
“In all the years of my life, the biggest thing that meant the most to me was dropping the A-bomb on Japan,” Jordan said. “We knew we were headed for Japan, we knew we would be part of an invasion force. We knew it would be a bloodbath. But (President) Truman’s decision to drop the bomb changed all that. We didn’t have to go.”
Indeed, they were discharged instead, not overnight, of course, but within a few months.
Jordan went to Cape Cod, Mass., where his wife, Evelyn, and their young son were living. He knew he had to make a living. He also knew there was practically no market in Massachusetts for a Tennessee plowboy. So he did the next best thing. He went to work in a cotton mill.
“I worked there 10 years,” he said.
And then, like others of the band of brothers, he felt a certain summons and joined the Massachusetts National Guard. “I joined to have a sort of club to go to, a place for camaraderie, renew bonds with veterans from the war days,” he said. “Well, the National Guard went into air defense and I went to work for them as a maintenance technician. Stayed with the Guard 28 years.”
Jordan said he retired — fully retired — in 1978.
And what has the ol’ veteran been doing since 1978?
“Not too much,” he said.
Published in The Messenger 5.22.09