A patriot dreams of freedom. And so do the people who came to the Shamrock Bowl on Independence Evening to honor America. They were Indian Americans, African Americans, Columbian Americans and Anglo Americans. But they were most of all, Americans united in the spirit of freedom, love of country and pride in just being an American.
Beneath a hazy nearly full moon on a warm dry summer evening, a small crowd of the young and old, veterans with scars and babies holding flags, boys scouts and girl scouts, new and old, gathered for a salute to what America means.
If you weren’t there, then you missed a special treat. Laurens County’s own and highly talented Clay Young, entertained the audience with a concert of patriotic and spiritual songs.
And then, there were the fireworks which illuminate the darkness of the night into a glorious splendor, much as America does in its role as the light of the world. From the vantage point of the bowl, the fireworks appear to descend upon you from a far superior vantage point than anywhere around.
If you dream of the patriot’s dream, then I invite all of you from the land of America the beautiful to fill the Shamrock Bowl every Independence Day evening for all the years to come.
FLY ME TO THE MOON PLEASE
Confessions of a Lunatic
It is hard, if not impossible, for me to believe that it has been forty years since man first walked on the moon. If you are over the age of forty-five, you can remember the night when Neil Armstong took a giant leap for mankind. I do. I remember it as if it were yesterday. And it was yesterday, but that was four decades ago.
It was way back in the late 1950s, when I went outside one night to see something in the sky. To this day, I don't remember exactly what it was, but I wasn't alone. As my parents, my sister and I came outside on a warm clear evening, there were many people standing in front of their homes on Stonewall Street. I believe it was some kind of satellite, American or Russian, I really don't know. Judging by what I remember of the number of people looking toward the heavens, I will assume they were patriotically looking for an American object orbiting the earth. Someone spotted the white light as it crossed the sky and yelled "there it is!"
I began to look more at the sky, the stars, the planets, and the Moon. I remember watching Alan Shepard and his rocket on our little black and white television. I remember John Glenn as he orbited the earth. The significance of these flights and the competition with the Russians was lost on me. I was only five to six years old. I had a hard time riding a bicycle, let alone ever thinking about climbing in a capsule and being blasted into space.
It was about 1963 when I came in contact with the space program. Well, not really, but it was close. I was with my family on vacation at Jekyll Island when I had heard my mother and grandmother talking about the fact that Dr. Werner Von Braun and his family were staying at the Buccaneer Motel where we were staying. I only knew he had something to do with the space rockets. I was playing in the kiddie pool with a blonde haired kid I didn't know. He told me that his name was Peter. After having a great time playing with Peter, we heard someone calling his name. We looked up to the penthouse apartment. It was his parents calling him to come up to their room. It never dawned on me until later that I was playing in the pool with the son of the man who practically invented space rocketry. That was the same trip, 46 years ago yesterday, when the moon covered the sun completely across the northern United States. I remember seeing my first eclipse on television. I wanted to go out to the beach and watch it, but my mother said that the sun would burn my eyes. I went outside anyway and squinted to get a quick view of a partial eclipse before my eyes, or at least one of them, got fried.
Every chance I got, I watched the space flights on television. I watched Walter Cronkite on CBS tell me and the rest of the country what the astronauts were doing way up there in the heavens. I read the newspaper articles about the Gemini space flights. I never read anything else in the newspaper unless it was a story about the Dublin Irish football game, the Braves score, or if my name was in the paper. On one of his trips to Washington, D.C., my daddy brought me a N.A.S.A. book showing photographs taken by Gemini astronauts of the earth below. That was it. I was hooked and I wanted to go into space.
The moon has also been a special place to me. Just call me a lunaphile. I never get tired of looking at it as it changes its face every day. I was a teenager when I learned that when the moon was full that the waves at the beach were the best late in the afternoon. There is something special, almost spiritual, about seeing the reflection of the moon shimmering in the water or seeing it peaking out from behind the buttermilk clouds of the night.
As our country was being torn apart by political strife at home and across the world in 1968, it came together if only for a moment on Christmas Eve. My family was making our annual visit to my Thompson grandparents that evening when we walked into the living room. In the corner, I saw that the television was on, tuned to the flight of Apollo 8. I knew what was going on. I had been a space geek since the flight of Apollo 7, when I began to make scrapbooks of each of the Apollo flights, cutting my clippings from newspapers and magazines.
I was only twelve, but I was deeply moved as I listened to Commander Frank Borman read from the first verses of the Book of Genesis. I wanted to be there. I still want to be there. That night, my grandmother presented me with a present. It wasn't in a box, but it came in an envelope. She told me she got it on a trip to Florida, where she and my grandfather once lived and worked to make it through the Great Depression. It was only a piece of paper, but my oh my, what a piece of paper it was. It was a deed. My lawyer daddy told me that a deed meant that you owned land. My eyes bugged. It was deed to a piece of the moon. Though it wasn't a real deed - a fact that I knew - it did say that I, Scott Thompson, owned an acre on the moon. Wow! It would be some thirty-five years later when I actually bought a small speck of lunar dust taken from the equipment brought back by the Apollo 12 astronauts at a much higher cost than what my grandmother paid for my pretend deed.
Then, the big event came. It was a time I had been waiting for a decade. It was an event that man had been waiting for since Adam took a walk on his first evening on the earth. I had seen the launch, recording it on my father's tape recorder so I could listen to it over and over again. A few weeks later that my mother would pick up a souvenir 45 rpm record at Winn Dixie with special audio moments of the entire mission. Later that next year, I built a capsule from a dishwasher box (my mother's first), complete with a tape recorder, television, periscope, and lighted panels fashioned from my mother's blinking Christmas tree lights.
It was a Sunday evening, July 20, 1969. My mother had planned one of her famous theme parties. Guess what the theme was that night. The lunar module Eagle landed just after 3:15 that afternoon. The moon walk was scheduled for later that evening just before 10:00 p.m. I don't remember what I ate that night, just going in and out the door to see what I could see in the sky. It was my mission to watch the moon landing on television and at the same time watch the moon as well. I had enough engineering skills to accomplish my objective for the night, but I still tested my equipment a few times before the company came. This was no easy task since we had only two televisions and only one cable outlet in the family room, too far away from the sliding glass doors to see the moon and the tv at the same time. So, I got some regular electrical cord, stripped the wires on one end and wrapped them around the screws on the back of the main television and peeled back the covering of the other end of the wire and hooked it to the upstairs tv, which I set in a strategic place on the patio just at the spot where the moon peeked through the oaks of Hunger and Hardship Creek swamp.
As long as I live, I will never forget the sight of Neil Armstrong coming down the ladder of the LEM and stepping onto the surface of the moon. I watched astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin late into the night as they walked and hopped around and planted the flag, our American flag, on the surface. I kept on watching the astronauts on the moon until the last lunar flight of Apollo 17. I felt closest to the Apollo 13. Jim Lovell, the commander, was and still is, my favorite astronaut and a true American hero. This was the Saturn V rocket I saw on my first trip to Cape Kennedy on a church choir trip during spring vacation in 1970, just weeks before the fateful flight almost ended in disaster. I spent that weekend with a man who was on the ground crew. He took me back out near the cape to see the illuminated rocket, shining like a beacon in the night.
I never have lost sight of the moon. Every day I see it in my kitchen, perhaps the only kitchen in the country decorated with the "the man in the moon." I did meet moonwalker Buzz Aldrin in Atlanta when I opened the door for him and gave one of my heroes the directions to the autograph show. I could have met John Young when he spoke to the Dublin Rotary Club, but my darling brother didn't invite me as his guest.
On this 40th anniversary of the first landing on the moon, I am anxious to walk on the moon and right now! I know my heart wouldn't hold up to the grueling gravitational forces necessary to escape the Earth's gravity. But, I am ready, so fly me to the moon, please!
P.S. Walter, when I get there, I'll see you at Tranquility Base at the third crater on the left.
The Day The Words Died
Words were the music of Vince Mahoney's life. He brilliantly composed them, thoughtfully analyzed them, and wove them into stories of the most glamorous movie stars of the early sound motion pictures to analyses of the most complex political issues of his day. Sixty years ago this Sunday, Vincent Mahoney, a widely recognized journalist, and a dozen of his distinguished colleagues were returning from a fact-finding mission in Indonesia. The pilot of their airliner fought desperately against a torrential monsoon to no avail. The plane crashed. There were no survivors. It was "The Day The Words Died."
Michael Vincent Mahoney, Jr. was born in Dublin on July 1, 1902. His father was a railroad man, working many a decade as a freight and passenger agent of the Wrightsville & Tennille Railroad. His mother, the former Miss Lynette Hightower, kept the family household on South Calhoun Street, a home which was razed a baker's dozen years ago to make room for the parking lot of Capital City Bank.
Of all of Vince's friends, and he had many of them, Don Joiner was perhaps his closest and dearest friend, especially in their younger years in Dublin. Joiner described his friend as "a hard drinking Irishman who loved life." "He had more personality than anyone I have ever known and he was liked by everyone," Joiner recalled.
Don remembered the good times when Vince came to his house to visit. There were the wonderful times when the duo joined together to form a dance band, which played on Saturday nights in the club house of the original Dublin Country Club, which was located
on Hillcrest Parkway between Brookhaven and Claxton Dairy Road.
When his parents thought Vince was having a little too much fun, they sent him off to a Catholic school near New Orleans. After a year of expulsion from his home, Vince entered college at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.. Though some say he graduated from the prestigious institution, Don Joiner recalled that Vince never finished his education at Georgetown. He did add, "Vince could do more with words than any other journalist I have ever known or read."
Mahoney's journalistic skills led to stints with the Associated Press, New York News, United Press, The Los Angeles News and Time Magazine before the onset of World War II.
In the mid 1930s, Vince reported stories for the AP and UPI in Hollywood, California at the beginning of its glorious era of talking pictures and iconic movie stars, all the time the earth shaking underneath him at any minute. It was in Los Angles where Vince met and married his wife, Virginia Nissen of Glendale, California.
During the war, Vince took a job as Chief of the Bureau of Intelligence in the War Information Office supervising the Pacific Theater of Operations.
Vince Mahoney loved the Pacific and California. In April 1945 as the war was climaxing, he took a job as a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle as an editorial writer. Mahoney began to develop a keen interest in the politics of Southeast Asia, and in Indonesia in particular.
Fifteen of America's leading journalists, including Vince and two Pulitzer Prize awardees, were invited by the government of the Netherlands to investigate the political upheavals in the southeastern Asia country of Indonesia in the spring of 1949. The Dutch government promised the reporters freedom from censorship and unrestricted access to interview Republican officials, who were leading a political war against the colonial Dutch controlled government.
On July 12, 1949, after a six week long stay, tour director Lynn Mahan gathered the writers together for the long flight home. William Matthews and Dorothy Brandon chose to stay behind. Matthews decided simply to return home on his own. Brandon feared the plane might be sabotaged by insurgents. After all, the same type of plane on which they were boarding had crashed some three weeks earlier.
Although Indian Prime Minister Nehru, in a move of sympathy toward his neighboring country's plight against a European colonial government, banned the landing of Dutch planes on Indian soil, special permission to land in India on the return flight was granted by Indian air controllers.
The pilot of the Dutch KLM struggled to keep his craft in a circular orbit around the Bombay Airport. A blinding monsoon made his task more difficult, if not impossible. No one saw the 800-foot high peak of Ghatkopar Hill, four miles east from a safe landing, until it was too late. The four engine Constellation slammed into the mound, incinerating all of the Americans, Britons, Dutch, and Chinese aboard.
Strewn and scattered over the muddy ground, were broken pieces of typewriters, cans of food, packs of cigarettes ( some smoked and others not), and torn luggage filled with uncleaned laundry. Not a living soul was found among the disintegrated remnants of the aircraft.
The people of the Netherlands honored the memory of the unlucky thirteen journalists who perished in the crash with the establishment of the "William the Silent Award." A plaque bearing the names of the fallen was placed in the American embassy in Amsterdam to "those who gave their lives for a free press." A permanent national memorial to all fallen journalists was established in 2001 on the campus of Cal State at Northridge. Mahoney was honored a third time by the Freedom Forums Newseum Journalists Memorial.
In the early fall of 1949, Vince's ashes were returned to New York City. From there, they were sent home to the family, who buried them in the family plot in Northview Cemetery.
The typewriters were all broken. And the thirteen admired most, their phrases spoke to the ghosts, to the fallen we drink a rousing toast, the day the words died.
MAJOR HERNDON CUMMINGS
A Fighter For Freedoms
This is a story of a Laurens County man who fought for the freedom of his country and the freedom of his people. Herndon Cummings was a member of what has collectively been called the "Tuskegee Airmen." Though he was not a part of the highly acclaimed circle of fighter pilots, Cummings served as a pilot in a bomber group which trained in the United States during World War II. In the waning moths of the war, Cummings found himself embroiled in one of the war's most controversial, yet unpublicized, instances, the first major attempt to integrate an all-white officer's club.
Herndon M. Cummings was born on April 25, 1919. The son of Joseph and Mollie Hill Cummings, Don grew up in the Burgamy District in the Old Macon Road area of northwestern Laurens County. Don was a grandson of Rev. Daniel D. Cummings, who saw to it that all of his children were educated. Many of his children excelled beyond their high school training to become professionals in a day when few blacks did.
Cummings said his interest in aviation was sparked on Christmas Day in 1928 when his father gave him a toy German zeppelin. His interest in flying was forever sealed in 1936 when Don and his brother took a five-dollar ride in a Ford Tri-Motor plane. As the plane soared in the skies west of Dublin, Don underwent a life-altering experience. "By the time the plane landed, I knew what I wanted to do," he recalled.
Like many other teenagers of his day, Don Cummings wanted to fly. The problem was that there were only a scant number of black pilots who had the means or were given a chance to fly. The United States Army Air Force instituted what was deemed "The Tuskegee Experiment." It was a program, thought by many to be designed to fail, to train black pilots to serve in Europe during World War II. Don Cummings enlisted in the Air Corps on June 25, 1942. He listed his occupation as a carpenter.
For nearly two years, Lt. Cummings trained in the B-25 bomber at Tuskegee and later at Lockbourne Air Force Base in Columbus, Ohio, where he would later make his home. Of the nine hundred to a thousand men who successfully completed their training at Tuskegee, most trained as fighter pilots in the P-51 fighter and other fighters. These men, who have been immortalized in books and films, were assigned to the 332nd Fighter Squadron and saw action in the skies of Europe during the last months of the war escorting long range bombers. These brave young men were credited with losing none, or only a very few, of the fighters they escorted.
Lt. Cummings was assigned to the 477th Bomber Group. The 477th was organized at Selfridge Army Air Field, Michigan in 1944. Many of the members of the group were commanded by white officers, who according to some, favored white officers over the black officers. Concerns over racial troubles in Detroit forced the group to move to Godman Field near Fort Knox, Kentucky. By March 1945, the 477th was uprooted again and moved to Freemen Army Field at Seymour, Indiana.
In 1940, the Army published a regulation that any officer's club must be open to any officer, three years before the Tuskegee Airmen received their commission and long before the government officially ended segregation in the armed forces. The field at Freeman maintained two clubs, one for supervisors and one for trainees, but were defacto separated between blacks and whites. In the early days of April 1945, the relationships between the commanding officers and the black pilots began to deteriorate rapidly. Some five dozen were placed under house arrest. The men were released, but field commander Selway determined that all of the black pilots were to be designated as "trainees" and were assigned to their own club building. It so happened that all of the trainees were black and the white officers had their own building.
On April 9th, all pilots were asked to sign a pledge to comply with Selway's directive. Lt. Cummings joined one hundred of his fellow pilots and refused to sign. They were arrested on the day President Franklin D. Roosevelt died. "The regulations said we could go in but the commanding officer said we couldn't," Cummings said. He added, "we just wanted a beer, why else would we go there?" The men, known as the Freeman Field 101, were taken back to a jail at Godman Field. They remained in jail for twelve days. Cummings gave new president Harry S. Truman credit for their release. "We thought it was the end of the line, but President Truman did the right thing," Cummings said.
"We fought on both sides of the ocean. We fought on this side for civil rights," Cummings told an interviewer. "I am sure we did the right thing. To me and a lot of other people, it was the beginning of the civil rights movement," Cummings said. He also credited Eleanor Roosevelt and Thurgood Marshall, lead counsel for the NAACP and a future Supreme Court justice, for the effort to drop the charges of mutiny. It would be five decades later when the official letters of reprimand were purged from the personnel files of the Freeman Field 101.
Just weeks after they were freed, General Hap Arnold replaced all of the white officers in the 477th with black officers. Lt. Cummings was promoted to captain to command a bomber. The unit was temporarily assigned to Godman under the command of Col. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., the former commander at Tuskegee and a graduate of West Point. Col. Davis was given the task of preparing the 477th for deployment to the Pacific theater where it would participate in the impending invasion of Japan. The dropping of the atomic bomb ended the war and the 477th never saw combat outside of the United States. After completing his four-year stint in the Army Air Corps, Cummings served in the Air Force Reserve and attained the rank of major before retiring after twenty years of service.
Cummings earned a commercial pilot's license, but never utilized it because there were virtually no opportunities for employment of black pilots. He went to work laying bricks in order to support his family and send his two daughters to college. Cummings and his second wife Mildred lived in their South Wayne Street home in Columbus until she died in 1988.
When he is able, Major Cummings appears at reunions and programs to honor the Tuskegee Airmen or to support aviation in general. He has never been bitter about his experiences in the military, stating instead that it wasn't too bad and nothing could keep a good man down.
On January 20, 2009, Major Cummings was a honored guest of President Barack Obama and invited to watch the historic inauguration of the first African-American President of the United States.
After a long and faithful life, Major Herndon Cummings died on July 2, 2009 in Columbus, Ohio.