Athens Review, Athens, Texas

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Opinion

July 3, 2014

Independence ultimately won on battlefield

Athens — I always enjoy celebrating Independence Day, and hearing some of the stirring words written in the Declaration of Independence.

Thomas Jefferson wrote that our Creator has given us certain rights, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The way I see it, if I have life and liberty, that gives me a pretty good start on the third one.

But as eloquent as our founding fathers were, and how moving the texts they left behind, one fact can’t be overlooked. Our independence was ultimately won and secured on the battlefield.

Washington and his troops endured cold and hunger. They marched on, poorly-clothed, with the soles worn though on their boots. Their sacrifice won and preserved us a nation.  Their sacrifice made reality what Jefferson, Franklin and the others wrote and spoke with such conviction and power.

The Athens Review wasn’t around for the Revolution, 1812, or the Civil War,  but fortunately a few stories remain of the men from our county who took up arms for freedom in the past century.

I took the time to look over some of those accounts this week, and would like to show some of the stories I’ve found. They’re not all of extraordinary fetes of bravery and valor, but they serve as a reminder of how many of our ancestors sailed to faraway lands to keep America free.

Let’s begin with an interesting letter to the Review, dated April 19, 1917 from G.T. Robinson. It seems some agents of the German government were trying to convince the black people of America that they would be better off under the German government than our own. Here are Robinson’s words

“This is our own country; our fathers, by their sweat and toil helped to make every wilderness a garden spot, and each time this country has become involved in a war with a foreign foe, the American Negro has gallantly shed his blood in defense of the ‘Stars and Stripes.’ Why should we not be true to the American government in this present state of war?”

This letter is all I know of Mr. G.T. Robinson, but his words have a patriotic ring equal to any of the heroes of 1776.

Also from 1917 is a poem by W.R. Culberson of Henderson County about life in boot camp. The 12-stanza poem includes this passage:

“Now I lay me down to sleep’

Up through the straw the wind does sweep,

If I get cold before I wake,

There’s nothing to do but lie and shake.”

By World War II, the country population had grown and the United States’ participation in the war included not only Europe, but Asia, Africa and islands in the Pacific. On Dec. 2 1943, an Athens family received word that Lt. James Robert Gaines of Pickens Spur had been killed in action. Gains was 21, and was serving as a pilot of a dive bomber in Italy. His plane went down on Nov. 11, 16 years after the Armistice was signed bringing a close to the War to End All Wars.

Gaines had starred for the Athens Hornets, and worked at a local drug store before entering the service in 1942. Two of his brothers were in the military, one in Europe, and the other in the South Pacific.

Gaines’ mother told the Review that she had received her last letter from James on his birthday, Sept. 2. “Pray for me, because I’m in a tight spot,” Gaines wrote.

There was happier news from Bryan Barton in July 1943. His Murchison area parents received a letter from Technical Sgt. Barton saying his ship had been torpedoed by an enemy submarine. Barton was OK, and hooked up with the U.S. forces in North Africa.

Barton sent a poem written by one of the men in his outfit, describing the moment the ship came under attack:

“She cut a gash some 80 feet along our starboard beam,

And down three decks below our water line it seems,

Now the bells and sirens sound ‘Prepare to abandon ship,’

Dress quickly men, with heavy clothes,

To take this icy dip.”

The Review also includes the account of a tribute to a Henderson County soldier in the words of Gen. George S. Patton published in a Saturday Evening Post story. The general’s story concerned the March 1, 1945 capture of a bridge over the Moelle River.

“The capture of the bridge was due to the heroic act of Lt. Colonel J.J. Richardson, deceased. He was riding in the leading vehicle of his battalion of armored infantry when he saw the wires leading to the demolition charges at the far end of the bridge,” Patton wrote. “Jumping out of the vehicle, he raced across the bridge under heavy fire and cut the wires. The acid test of battle brings out the pure metal.”

Henderson County is not unique in raising the brave young men who fought for the survival and success of liberty. But we can be proud of those who paid the cost for our freedom. All these years later, they still deserve our gratitude.

Rich Flowers is News Editor of the Athens Daily Review.

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