The past is the present for future generations who do not know their history

Posts tagged “Sheffield

And the lights came on in Sheffield…

Below is an interesting bit of history for Sheffield and Colbert County, Alabama:
Messrs. J. A. May and C. B. Ashe Lease Light and Water Plants
TUSCUMBIA, Jan. 8. An important deal for Sheffield, in which Mr. J. A. May, of Tuscumbia, is interested, was consummated several days ago.
Mr. J. A. May and Mr. C. B. Ashe, of Sheffield, have leased the property of Consolidated Water, Light & Power Company, of Sheffield, and will operate the electric light plant.
It is probable that Tuscumbia will have a telephone exchange of its own in the near future. The Citizen’s Telephone Company, of Florence, contemplates establishing an exchange in this city, which will also be connected with the Florence exchange. The Citizen’s Company has been contesting the field in Florence with the Bell Telephone Company for a year, and has many subscribers.[Source: Daily Mercury newspaper, published in Huntsville, Alabama, 9 Jan 1897, Page 3, Column 5]

Another reflection of our past…

this is a 1933 photo of the Sheffield, Alabama downtown area.

Photo of downtown Sheffield Alabama in 1933

An Ode to family of my childhood…

is in order. News in the most recent of days send me back into time. Back to a time growing up in Sheffield, Alabama was like living in a Norman Rockwell painting. Good days. Good times. Big family.

My cousin Betty Bassham Porter was found lying on the floor in a coma in her apartment. She was not responding. So right this minute her family is sitting with her waiting for the transfer to hospice. It has been determined that she had a stroke and will not survive. Betty was born in Sheffield, lived in Tuscumbia and Sheffield.  In the 1950s her mother remarried and they moved to Dallas, Texas. The family moved to Arkansas, with some of them migrating to Missouri, mostly in the Springfield area.

The photo montage below is my tribute to a beloved cousin. Family.

Betty Bassham Porter

A little Sheffield, Alabama girl.

 Betty Bassham Porter

Betty Bassham Porter

Family is forever


This is a 1930s photo of the WMSD radio station tower located in Sheffield, Colbert County, Alabama.

WMSD radio tower 1930s

Amos Brenneman, World War I Soldier, Letter Two…

from Montgomery, Alabama.

Amos D. Brenneman served in Company C, 167th U.S. Infantry, served overseas and was severely injured in combat at Croix Rouge Farm in France on July 26, 1918. The last letter in the library collection written by Amos is dated 17 January 1919. Amos Brenneman remained in the military after the war, eventually achieving the rank of Master Sergeant.

Amos Brenneman served in the 42nd “Rainbow” Division, one of the first U.S. divisions to engage in fighting in Europe. The division participated in six major battle campaigns and served in occupation duty in Germany after the armistice was signed.

Amos Brenneman had a brother who also served in World War I. William Roy Brenneman probably spent the entire war at Fort Dade, Florida. He served in the Coastal Artillery Corps, Company 1. The last letter in the collection written by Roy Brenneman is dated 2 September 1918. Roy Brenneman was born 12 December 1894, and he died 8 October 1961, in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is buried in the Crawfordsville Masonic Cemetery.
R3 August 1917 letter home from Amos Brenneman, page 1

3 August 1917 letter home from Amos Brenneman, page 1

3 August 1917 letter home from Amos Brenneman, page 2

3 August 1917 letter home from Amos Brenneman, page 3

Postcards from the edge…

well, not really postcards, but letters from the past. And the Shoals area has a past very saturated with historic people, happenings, places, and events. Take, for instance, one Amos Brenneman.

photo of Amos Brenneman from Sheffield, Alabama, World War I soldier

Amos Brenneman was born 13 July 1898 and died 9 February 1956. He and other family members are buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Sheffield, Alabama. Amos Brenneman was a soldier of World War I. He served in Company C, 167th U.S. Infantry, served overseas, and was injured in combat at Croix Rouge Farm in France on July 26, 1918.
photo of Amos Brenneman World War I Soldier
The dates of his nine letters extend from 22 July 1917 to 17 January 1919. Amos Brenneman remained in the military after the war, eventually achieving the rank of Master Sergeant. His brother Roy also served. The letters will be shared here:
22 July 1917 Letter 1
22 July 1917 Letter 1 page 2
22 July 1917 Letter 1 page 3
Each letter will be published as a separate article so that size can be maintained.
All Rights Reserved by Remembering the Shoals 2012

I wonder aloud as to how much history has been forgotten…

about my hometown area – the Shoals area. In 1976 the American Chemist Society erected the historical marker at 300 W. 20th Street at the edge of the Furnace Hill area, as a tribute to Furnace Hill and the chemists of the five blast furnaces that operated there in the center of the industrial Park of Sheffield, Colbert County, Alabama.

The span of the years from 1887 to 1895  five blast furnaces were built on the west side of the new town – Sheffield. That was the birth of my hometown when they organized for the express purpose of exploiting the iron and coal so richly abundant in the area.

Tracts of land on the Tennessee River that contained twenty-acre lots were used as inducements to encourage development of furnaces for the production of pig iron. These inducements were provided by Sheffield Land, Iron  and Coal Company after its formation in 1883. Sheffield Furnace Company grabbed up the first tract when they agreed to build one blast furnace. Three tracts were awarded to Tennessee Coal & Iron Company in exchange for three blast furnaces.

Sheffield Furnace Company built the first blast furnace in Sheffield. It went operational New Year’s Eve 1887. A short three months later, Enoch Ensley (from Nashville) purchased the furnace. He was a very enterprising man and went on to acquire vast acreage in Franklin County rich in brown hematite used as ore. He also acquired the Horse Creek Coal Mine in Walker County, Alabama where a couple hundred beehive ovens were constructed to make coke for the Sheffield furnace. Prior to that enterprise the needed coke was shipped in from Virginia.

Ensley’s company formed the Lady Ensley Coal, Iron & Railway Company and received the deed for his company. It later became the Hattie Ensley Furnace. Enoch Ensley named the furnace in honor of his daughter. The Hattie Ensley furnace did not cease production of pig iron until 1926.

In 1888 another twenty-acre tract was awarded Ensley when he built another furnace. That furnace to honor his wife was named Lady Ensley. This furnace was blown in on 25 April of Sheffield Ammunition Plant

Three more furnaces were to be built by the Sheffield & Birmingham Coal, Iron & Railway Company, which was formerly Tennessee & Alabama Coal & Iron Company. Completes were in 1888, 1889 and 1895. By the time of completion in 1895, the property was transferred to Alabama Iron & Railway Company, then transferred to W. W. Coke & Associates. The Cole Company then formed Sheffield Coal, Iron & Steel Company.In 1883 all the land now embraced by the city of Sheffield was acquired by the Sheffield Land, Iron & Coal Company, and in May of 1884 lots were put on sale and my hometown of Sheffield was founded.

The production of pig iron ranged from 170 tons to an average of 221 tons per day. the Hattie Ensley Furnace set a record in May of 1904 by producing  6,851 tons. That is a lot of pig iron.

The area schools taught chemistry since 1825, but there were no Industrial Chemist employed in the area to that date that the furnaces were opened. Of note are the chemists this industry brought into the Shoals area.

Chemists who worked at the Furnace operations were: John Foster, James C. Foster, S. P. Cowardin, Marvin Garrison, Cletus McWilliams, and Frances E. Holloway. And a whole village was born that housed workers for these furnaces and future government jobs through the Tennessee Valley Authority.

The Fosters were natives of Pennsylvania. Their ancestor Thomas Foster was a soldier in the Revolutionary War (DAR 5152) and ancestor William Foster served in the War of 1812. James C. Foster, who married Dee McDavid of Florence, died in 1900. He had accidentally consumed water poisoned with corrosive sublimate.

It would be of great interest to those who attended Sheffield schools, that the children of John Foster and Martha Elsie Stebbens Foster were: William Anson Foster, Josephine Marie Foster,  Mary Dee Foster, Anna Foster, and Martha J. Foster . Daughter, Josephine Foster,  was the wife of William August Threadgill. Mr. And Mrs. Threadgill were long time teachers and principal in Sheffield Schools. When I started first grade they were at Alabama Avenue School where the Board of Education is now housed.  A school bears his name in tribute – the W. A. Threadgill Elementary School, now Primary School. The school is at 900 Annapolis Avenue in Sheffield.

John Foster worked in the Sheffield Furnace until 1912. He then removed to Tennessee. Later, in 1933 he went to work at the Tennessee Valley Authority as a chemist.

By the beginning of World War I only one of the Cole Furnaces was operable. It did not produce until early 1918 because of legalities. The Lady Ensley Furnace was torn down in 1916, but had ceased operations in 1910. A new furnace was built to replace the Lady Ensley. The new furnace began operation in 1915 or 1916 and continued operation until August 1927. With Lady Ensley’s replacement being blown out in 1927 there came an end to iron production in Sheffield – forty years of production.

Sloss-Sheffield Iron & Steel Company acquired the Ensley furances after 1891 and Enoch Ensley’s death. They went on to acquire the Cole furnaces, and another furnaces property in Florence. Eventually U. S. Pipe & Foundry acquired the properties; then ownership went to Jim Walter Corporation and it was renamed the Coal, Iron & Chemicals Group of Jim Walter Corporation. After several years of leasing the property, the property came under the ownership of U. S. Steel Corporation.

Before closing the dialog on the blast furnaces of the Shoals area, there needs to be a mention of one important invention that Sheffield and the workers at the blast furnaces influenced. A Vanderbilt graduate, D. I. Miller a graduate Mechanical Engineer, invented the furnace top. He worked as Acting Superintendent at several blast furnaces including those in our area, procurement agent, foreman, and then inventor extraordinaire. The blast furnace top was designed for charging and properly distributing the material in a blast furnace. This new blast furnace top was intended for furnaces with an output of less than 300 tons per day – a perfect fit for the blast furnaces in our area. He acknowledged that he invented the new furnace top with suggestions from his co-laborers at the Sloss-Sheffield Company blast furnace. The invention was of epic proportions and his new invention was manufactured by likely the largest manufacturing concern of the time, the Hunt Company.

There were furnaces in Lauderdale County as well. The Florence Land, Mining and Manufacturing Company was incorporated with a capital of $800,000 by a group of Florence Citizens on 31 August 1886. The company purchased thousands of acres in and near the city of Florence and set about the task of bringing industries to North Alabama. The Florence Land Company, a division of the aforementioned company, donated a tract of 128 acres in the city of Florence on the Tennessee River to the W. B. Wood Furnace Company, and there was the Philadelphia Furnace in Florence. In northern Alabama there were also furnaces in Decatur and Fort Payne.

William Basil Wood was the leader of our beloved 16th Regiment of Alabama Infantry who fought so valiantly during the War Between the States. It is on record that because his men were so tattered and torn in their clothing, many without shoes because they had worn them out and many had rags tied on their feet in those bitter winters of the war, that he started his own manufacturing company making uniforms for them; and possibly bullets.

By the time of World War I, the manufacturing of pig iron was pretty much a thing of the past. The people were desperate for industry and jobs. President-elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed an immense crowd in the Shoals area  from his railroad car in January 1933, and promised “to put Muscle Shoals back on the map.” He then toured the idle U.S. Nitrate Plant No. 2 and Wilson Dam with Senator George Norris. The new Congress approved Norris’s plans for development of the entire Tennessee River and FDR signed the Tennessee Valley Authority Act 15 May 1933, thereby ending years of bitter controversy about the future of the Muscle Shoals district. The nitrate plants were given to TVA for development of fertilizer in peacetime and production of munitions in wartime.

FDR returned to Sheffield in 1934, to inspect the work underway by TVA at Wheeler Dam and Nitrate Plant No. 2 and again boarded his train in Sheffield. The TVA projects helped the area recover from the Great Depression, and power from the dams induced new industries to locate here.

Wilson Dam was once used as a power supply center for munitions plants in World War l. For production of ammunition for use during WWI, the Sheffield Nitrogen Plant, built in 1917 was to be converted to a 90 and 105 MM Plant, as soon as possible.

Photo of Sheffield Munitions Plant being built

The J A Jones Construction Company was contracted for the construction of the building. Construction went on rapidly, until the main plant was to be put in and then it was decided to cancel the entire plant because the shells were no longer needed in the war effort.

Alabama Blast Furnaces written by Joseph H. Woodward is the first and remains the première source of information on all blast furnaces built and operated in Alabama, from the first known charcoal furnace of 1815 (Cedar Creek Furnace in Franklin County) to the coke-fired giants built before the onset of the Great Depression. From the rise of the iron industry in support of the Confederate war effort, to the giant internationally important industry that developed in the 1890s, the manufacture of pig iron in Alabama was the most important industry of the State and was a vital factor in the prosperity and welfare of its people.

Alabama has been the site for seventy-seven blast furnaces. Four more furnaces were either partially completed or, if completed, were never operated. Out of this total of 81 furnaces 32 were built to use charcoal as fuel and of this number 10 used coke at some time during their operation. Five of these eleven furnaces were later permanently converted for coke fuel. So, it would seem Enoch Ensley and his imperialistic nature benefited the Shoals area citizens; and that Sheffield was ahead of its time in the respect to the production of pig iron using coke.


Alabama Blast Furnaces written by Joseph H. Woodward. Reprinted by University Of Alabama Press, 25 October 2006.

A Record of University Life and Work,” The Vanderbilt University Quarterly, Volume 7, Number 1, page 223. Published by the University of Vanderbilt on January 1907.

“Sheffield Historical Context ” written by John A Ford. Published by Sheffield History and Recollections, a Journal of Muscle Shoals History, Tennessee Valley Historical Association, Volume XVIII, pages 5-6. Published 2011. Photo of Richard Sheridan of Hattie Ensley Furnace.

“Chemists will Pay Furnace Hill Workers Tribute” by Staff. Published by Florence Times Daily Newspaper, 28 March 1976, page 4 and 22.

Here is a doll…

as the photograph clearly shows.

This is a photograph of a doll.

This is a photograph of a doll.

Most of the time a doll for my mother and her sisters were sticks from a tree that had a fork to them. There would be no head or arms, just two legs. But that was enough to spark Mother’s and Ellen’s and Preston’s imaginations. Since their dresses and drawers were made of the hard to come by flour sack material that Mama would fashion into pretty little things for the girls from pictures in the Sears & Roebuck catalogs (that served a dual purpose), there were no scraps of materials to use to clothe the dolls. So, they improvised with whatever was available to ‘dress’ their dolls. I wish I had asked if they were pretend baby dolls or pretend fashion dolls, but I think I know the answer to that for they always lived out in the boonies and likely never saw fashion in anything. I do recall that mother said once that when Mama told her it was her fourth birthday and Mother asked if her birthday could walk because she equated birthdays with the calendar on the wall. The calendar always had a picture of a pretty girl on it. So she figured birthdays could walk, unlike her stick doll.

Mother and her siblings grew up during the first great depression. Times were hard. Very hard. When the girls were lucky enough to come across a passion-flower they would create the most beautiful colorful doll in the world. Mother always loved purple, so I am quite sure this was very pleasing for her. The siblings would pluck the flower with as long a stem as possible as those were the doll’s legs. Then they would pluck off certain parts until there was a head and two arms. The purple fluffy and flowy part was the skirt. They pretended the doll was a dancing doll. I always called them a ballerina, but I did not remember to ask them if they thought that – likely not as Mother never had a hamburger until she was grown and they had moved to town so it is just as likely that they never saw a ballerina until grown either.

To this day, I have never witnessed anyone who could play a game of Jacks as well as mother. My jaw dropped to the floor at her skill level and dexterity when she played with us when we were little. No doubt they played this game when they were little, too. But not with store-bought Jacks, just rocks and whatever they could use for a bouncy ball.

Didn’t we have it good when we were growing up compared to most of them in that generation?

Four generations of Hillard…

are featured in this photo taken in 2009. Hillard Murray was born in Sheffield and lives in Colbert County. Hillard has two children: Tim and Patty. The photograph shows Hillard with son, grandson and great-grandson. Hillard is one of the subjects of a prior story published on Remembering the Shoals.

Four Generations Of Hillard Murray

Four Generations Of Hillard Murray

Related posts:

Another Father’s Day without Daddy…

April 22, 1944. LVTs (Landing Vehicles Tracked...

LVTs 22 April 1944; Daddy would be on one of these landing vehicles

should be the norm now since he died in November of 1979. The one thing most lacking after losing my father is that my children will never know the meaning of what a ‘Gran’ or a “PaPaw” can be. For as my first cousins can attest; it is the gatherings of family on special occasions that jolts our memories of good times and family, especially extended family. Sadly, my children really have never known much extended family. So, I must tell them my firsthand accounts and stories that will give them a sense of what ‘family’ could be and should be. So, dedicated to my children, my grandson, and my great-grandchildren, I proffer this about my soldier father:

Four buddies during WWII

Daddy on the left with three of his buddies during WWII

James A Murray — a member of  THE GREATEST GENERATION

“The Victory Division”

24th Infantry Division, US Army  1941 to 1996*

   There are some histories of the battles of the 24th Inf. Div. and  its men and women over its 55 years of service to  country, especially  for the Victory Division who fought so valiantly  in the Pacific in  WWII. They were truly the greatest generation. And we are free because of them.

 Nick named the “victory division” and the ” pineapple army” because it was formed in Hawaii in early 1941. It also carried other nick names and mottos; “First to Fight” and ” Taro Leaf “, which is now  the name of its association’s news letter.

         World War II:      Campaign Participation Credit

1.          Central Pacific;

2.          New Guinea (with arrowhead);

3.          Leyte (with arrowhead);

4.          Luzon;

5.          Southern Philippines (with arrowhead) 

The Victory website welcomes us to the official Web site of the 24th Infantry Division Association, the Pride of the Pacific Theater.  Our motto is, “First to Fight.”   An Act of Congress confirms this.  We were first to take arms against Imperial Japanese forces, and we were first to engage the North Korean aggressor in 1950.   We are the division Japanese Army General  Yamashita said broke the back of the Japanese Army at Breakneck Ridge on Leyte, and we are the division the liberated people of the Philippines called, “Victory”.  Taromen have always stood ready to defend freedom and the democratic way of life, anytime, anywhere, against all aggressors . . . in the jungles, through the snow, or on the sands in far off lands.  We are fiercely Proud of our heritage, and when our nation calls upon us once again . . . we will be, First to Fight!!! The 24th Infantry Division (Mech) inactivated on August 1, 2006 at Fort Riley. Its most recent operations included preparing Fort Riley for the return of the  1st Infantry Division, previously stationed in Germany.                                                  

World War II

The 24th Infantry Division was among the first to see combat in World War II and among the last to stop fighting. The Division was on Oahu, with Headquarters at Schofield Barracks, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941, and suffered minor casualties. Charged with the defense of northern Oahu, it built an elaborate system of coastal defenses. Pvt. James Murray arrived in Hawaii on May 17,1942. In May 1943 it was alerted for movement to Australia and by 19 September 1943 had completed the move to Camp Caves, near Rockhampton, on the eastern coast of Australia. After a period of intensive training, the Division moved to Goodenough Island, 31 January 1944, to stage for the Hollandia (currently known as Jayapura)Tanahmerah campaign. The 24th landed on Dutch New Guinea, 22 April 1944, and smashed its way to and seized the important Hollandia Airdrome despite torrential rains and marshy terrain. Shortly after the Hollandia landing, the 34th Infantry Regiment moved to Biak, 18 June, to reinforce the 41st Infantry Division, and captured Sorido and Borokoe airdromes before returning to the Division on Hollandia in July. After occupation duty in the Hollandia area, the 24th Division landed on Red Beach on Leyte, 20 October 1944, as part of the X Corps, Sixth Army, and driving up Leyte Valley advanced to Jaro and took Breakneck Ridge, 12 November 1944, in heavy fighting. While mopping up continued on Leyte, the 19th RCT moved to Mindoro Island as part of the Western Visayan Task Force, landing in the San Jose area, 15 December 1944. Airfields and a PT base were secured for operations on Luzon. Divisional elements effected a landing on Marinduque Island. Other elements supported the 11th Airborne Division drive from Nasugbu to Manila. The 34th RCT, landing at San Antonio, Luzon, 29 January 1945, ran into a furious battle on Zig Zag Pass and suffered heavy casualties. On 16 February 1945 the 3d Bn. of the 34th Infantry took part in the amphibious landing on Corregidor and fought Japanese under a hot sun on the well-defended Rock. After numerous mopping up actions in March, the Division landed on Mindanao, 17 April 1945, cut across the island to Digos, 27 April, stormed into Davao, 3 May, and cleared Libby airdrome, 13 May. Although the campaign closed officially on 30 June, the Division continued to mop up Japanese resistance during July and August 1945. Patrolling continued after the official surrender of Japan. On 15 October 1945, the Division left Mindanao for Japan.

                  United States Army

                   U. S. 6th Army

                   X Corps

                                    24th Infantry Division

                                    1st Cavalry



President Franklin D. Roosevelt

                                    General Douglas MacArthur

                                                      Gen Walter Krueger

                                                                      Major General Roscoe B. Woodruff, Commander of the

    • 24th Infantry Division and
    • 19th Infantry 
    • 503rd Parachute Regimental Combat Team

All the little ones, at least those not experienced enough to escape, would get the perfunctory pinch and twist of the jaws by this man, my Daddy. I am here to tell you, it would be something that you would not soon forget. Daddy had a sense of humor. That humor is attested to in the following postcard that he sent home while in the service during World War II:

On leave Postcard Daddy mailed home during WWII dated 20 Feb 1942

On leave Postcard Daddy mailed home during WWII dated 20 Feb 1942

History: First Hand photo page 12…

that did not get attached when the article published:

Photos of the Vietnam War courtesy of Bill Presley

History: First Hand photo page 11…

that did not get attached when the article published:

Handsome, even if in a hot sweaty steaming jungle.

History: First Hand photo page 10…

that did not get attached when the article published:

Harold Hovater pays tribute to his friend Ray Ashnault. I love that poem.

History: First Hand photo page 9…

that get not get attached when article published…

The photo of Harold was an attempt to document the scars on his head from wounds received while serving in Vietnam; that injury was the impetus for one of his two Purple Hearts.

Harold Hovater, Vicky Laster Hovater, and some of Harold's awards

History: First Hand photo page 8…

that did not get attached when the article published:

History: First Hand page 16

In photo: weapons, gravemarker photo of Dennis Lavern English, and cemetery where Ray Ashnault is buried Saint Gertrude’s Roman Catholic Church located in Colonia, Middlesex County, New Jersey.

History: First Hand photo page 7…

that did not get attached when the article published:

Howard Brown Handley Remembrances page 2

History: First Hand photo page 6…

that did not get attached when the article published:

Howard Brown Handley Remembrances

Howard Brown Handley Remembrances, page 1

History: first hand…

With great respect and a slight feel for the excruciating agony that those who served in a thankless war in the Republic of Vietnam experienced, the following is an attempt to provide a snapshot of history as lived by those boys we grew up with in Sheffield. They were our sons, our husbands, our brothers, our schoolmates, and our friends. There are many who served from the area, but few could match the nightmares experienced by the two subjects of this story: William “Bill” Presley and Harold Lee Hovater. Sheffield may never be more proud of its boys, turned men by war. Sheffield, in Colbert County, Alabama has a long history of volunteers in each and every war since our Independence. I am so proud of my little hometown of Sheffield. If only, it could return to the thriving little city it was once.

Look closely. Come closer. Closer. You can clearly see that the war lives in the mind of this hero. It plays, like a 3-D video with maximum volume surround sound, in his mind and it shows in his eyes. It plays pretty much nightly.

Harold Lee Hovater is just a hometown boy. If you see him today he seems so like your brother, your cousin, your neighbor, or your husband. And he is, but more importantly he is the stuff that heroes are made of, In fact he IS a hero. A real life, living and breathing hero. But if you could see what he sees, especially when he tries to sleep, without a doubt, you would shudder with all that he has gone through for you, for me, for our children , and for our children’s children.

Harold Hovater is proud of his family. He and his wife, Vicky Laster Hovater live in a nice apartment in Tuscumbia, Alabama. Vicky tells of her love story with Harold. In the their youth Harold and Vicky had dated. She was three days away from marrying someone else when Harold stated he needed to talk to her before she married. She never had that talk with Harold. The day after the wedding Harold joined the Army. Each married and went about having children and a family of their own. Two years ago, she contacted Harold and told him that she had loved him all her life. That was it for both. They left everything behind them and became a couple after all those decades. They truly seem to be happy. Vicky would grab Harold’s hand and squeeze it tight when it was obvious that he was having a hard time relaying his memories of the war. For Harold Hovater the adage that war is hell is as true today as it was in the 1960s when the war was raging.

Vicky has one son Jon-Thomas Willet and Harold has five children all from previous marriages. When asked if I knew Lee Hovater, the name seemed familiar. He grabbed a photo of his son Lee Hovater and pounded at his chest saying “…he is my heart.” Those at Leighton Elementary will remember Lee Hovater as a student in Vicki Turberville’s class. Lee Hovater was a special needs student, he is now 34 years old. Harold’s children are Tammy Hovater, Lee Hovater, Roger Hovater, Casey Hovater, and Jennifer Hovater Collett. Harold’s five children and Vicky’s one child are now Harold and Vicky Hovater’s six children.

Harold joined the Army  and enlisted in Company A, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Battalion of the Light Weapons Infantry of the U. S. Army; and trained. They saw service in the Republic of Vietnam: South Vietnam. Harold and his unit flew into South Vietnam. He said it looked just like they were flying onto Panama City Beach. It seemed picturesque to the soldiers just arriving. They did not stay long on the beach scene, but entered the steaming jungle of Vietnam to get the job done for their America. It was in the jungles of Vietnam that every breath was one more breath toward living to get home to tell the stories of his bravery.

Harold Hovater, Leldon Roden, Herschel Kyle, and Steve Kyle all joined the Army together. It was Steve Kyle that Harold would wind up serving with in Vietnam. Harold served in the Spirit of America Platoon.

Harold’s best friend was Ray Ashnault. This account of the war in the jungles of Vietnam is dedicated to Raymond John Ashnault at the request of Harold’s family. That seems like such a small way to honor one of our Heroes of the Shoals just a little bit. A little more information about Harold’s best friend follows.

Raymond John Ashnault was born 17 April 1948 in Union County, New Jersey and lived in Cranford, Union County, New Jersey when he entered service. He held the rank of United States Army Specialist 4 and served with Company A, First Battalion, Eighth Cavalry, First Cavalry Division. His tour date started 2 Dec 1968. He was of the Catholic faith. He was deployed in defensive position with this Battalion when a friendly tank crew accidentally fired a shell on them that was directed at hostile forces. The prior June  he had been injured during an offensive  and was awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star with a V for Valor.

His death came shortly after his discharge from treatment for these injuries.  Ray’s casualty status is listed as hostile dead: killed out-right. It is also noted that his death was Not Booby Trap Connected: None Of The Above; Other Weapons (including Cutting Instruments, Piercing Instruments, Blunt Instruments, Etc. Specialist 4th Class Raymond John Ashnault was killed outright in a war that was not declared to be such by our President or our Congress in Binh Long Province of the Republic of Vietnam in South Vietnam.  Harold grieves for the loss of his very best friend of all in that lonely foreign place.

His burial site is located at Saint Gertrude’s Roman Catholic Cemetery. The cemetery is located in Colonia, Middlesex County, New Jersey, USA. He is listed on The Wall of Vietnam soldiers killed in action. His name is located at: Wall Number: P-19W / L-65.  May God bless your soul; and may your spirit of patriotism live on forever, and may your very best friend find peacefulness, Specialist 4th Class Raymond John Ashnault.

Another good friend in the same unit and who served with Harold and Ray Ashnault was Sgt. Leonard Bauck. He was killed in action on 2 June 1969. Harold recounts those dates like rote. If we could see in Harold’s mind’s eye, he probably relives their deaths second by agonizing second.

The accompanying photos show a proud display of just some of the awards that Harold Lee Hovater earned during his tours in Vietnam. He earned one Purple Heart when a direct hit exploded and ripped his head open. He earned theHarold Hovater Awards second one when shrapnel tore into his arms.  He has five Bronze Stars. He is most proud of one in particular. The military ceremony included General Westmoreland awarding that Bronze Star in person to one of our Heroes of the Shoals – Harold Lee Hovater.  It was Gen. Westmoreland who pinned that Bronze Star on the chest of one who richly deserved the award. Vicky has tastefully mounted Harold’s medals and awards on the wall of the living room in their home. The wall is covered.

William “Bill” Presley grew up in our southwest Sheffield neighborhood. He was ‘one of us’. He was special as they all were, and a handsome guy to boot. He survived the war well—but only as well as he wants you to see. He has wounds he walks around with every breathing second of the almost fifty years since his experience in the Vietnam war began. He succeeds in his daily life. But, oh those torturous nights he still experiences. He did not talk much about his service, just about those from our neighborhood who went into combat in the same war.

Bill Presley talks in a calming voice about the experience in South Vietnam; the tenor of his voice seems to soothe the listeners as he talks. What seems to bother him most is that five young southwest Sheffield boys served together. But only one returned home. The one who returned home was him. He was the only one alive to come back home.

Bill Presley is our quiet hero. He does not complain. He tries to ease the pain for others; maybe that helps him as well. He is also one of our Heroes of the Shoals. He and his wife, Nelda, travel sometimes on their motorcycles. Life seems good for Bill.

One of the four southwest Sheffield boys who was killed in action in South Vietnam was David Rolland Jackson. David David Rolland Jackson Obit, Sheffield, Colbert County, AlabamaJackson was a Warrant Officer and died a victim of a helicopter air crash on land. He was with the Army Reserve which was active in the US Army. He served in Military Region 1— Quang Tin.  He was born 23 November 1942 in Sheffield, Alabama and was killed in action at age twenty-six on 25 Sept 1969. He was the commander of the rotary wing aircraft when it was downed in the Province of Quang Tin. David Jackson left a grieving wife and children. He left a widow, Mrs. Mary W. Jackson, a son David R Jackson II, a daughter Jill S. Jackson, his mother Mrs. Lois Jackson and other relatives. He had a funeral with full military honors and was interred at Oakwood Cemetery in Sheffield, Colbert County, Alabama. His number on The Wall is P-17W L-07.

Another of the four southwest Sheffield boys who was killed in action in South Vietnam was Dennis Lavern English. Dennis lived in southwest Sheffield, but the family moved to Russellville in Franklin County, therefore, His name does not appear at the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial near the Standpipe in downtown Sheffield. His name appears on the memorial in Franklin County.  Dennis English only served twenty days in Vietnam. His tour of duty began on the second of August; he was killed in action on the twenty-first of the same month 1969.  Dennis served as a Private in Company HHC of the 60th Infantry of the 2nd Battalion in the Light Weapons Infantry. Dennis was a ground casualty from a gun shot or small arms fire. His body was recovered from Military Region 3 in Long An. Dennis English’s number on The Wall is P-19W L-85.

In response to my query of a relative, a niece Danielle English, wrote this:

Dennis was my father’s youngest brother, we lost him to war before I was even born. I have always wondered about him. What he was like, what music he listened to, was there someone he had waiting forDennis Lavern English's gravemarker photo KIA in Vietnam him at home? These questions and countless others have been left unanswered. He was so young like so many others that died so far from home. I have posted on other site[s] to see if there were any soldiers who served with him that might have some answers but have not had any luck.

My father John was over there at the same time. He has returned home with memories too painful to discuss and those include those about his brother. I have a picture of Dennis, he is about 12 year old in it and all smiles. The few comments that have slipped through from my dad are those of a sweet boy who everyone loved and could have done good in this world.

I wish I had more to offer you about him. I look forward to reading the article. Who knows maybe there is something more that the men who served in his unit can tell me. If there is please feel free to give my contact information. I would really love to know more about him. My hopes have always been to find someone who could fill in a few of the blanks, maybe find a few pictures so that I could continue telling my children about a young man who gave all in a country so far from home. His loss and those of the men with him that didn’t make it home and those who did but [were] damaged and scared should not be forgotten.

God bless

Danielle English

Another  of the four southwest Sheffield boys who was killed in action in South Vietnam was Howard Handley. Quiet Howard Brown Handley Obit KIA in Vietnamunassuming young Howard, it is hard to believe he was gone so young. I can visualize him as he looked in the 1950s with his golden tawny brown complexion and his crew cut hair that glistened the lightest blond in the sun. He never got to have a family. He will never know the heartache and joy that comes with having children. But, alas, he will forever be young.

His tour of duty included Saigon. He was a Staff Sgt, Specialist 5th Class ,Infantry Operations and Intelligence Specialist  in the Military Region 3 – Tay Nnh for the US Army. He was killed as the result of artillery or rocket fire; he was ground dead but his body was recovered. He died of wounds received in action near Saigon; the obituary was published in the Times Daily Newspaper on 21 September 1968. He was killed in action 13 September 1968. He was but nineteen years old.

Howard was one of a large family of children born to George Hasten and Flora Belle Handley of Sheffield. His siblings were: James, Donald, Billy, Catherine, Wallace, Margaret, Gary and Kayla. This family lived on the next street from our house in southwest Sheffield on the same side of the street as Jimmy and Earl Johnson. The boys of like ages were all good friends; some still are today. The parents and family of Howard’s would visit The Wall any chance they got. Howard’s Wall Number is P-44W L-498.

The last of the four southwest Sheffield boys killed in action in South Vietnam was Robert King. Robert and his family lived behind the Winston Cemetery on Hook Street. Right there is where Sheffield meets Tuscumbia. His sister Joan was in my class at Southwest Elementary. Robert Henry King was born, likely in Winston County, on 12 February 1944 to Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Harrison King; he was the namesake of his paternal grandfather who was a lifelong resident of Winston County, Alabama. His home city was Tuscumbia in Colbert County, Alabama on the date of his enlistment. His tour start date was 17 November 1967. Robert King served as a First Lieutenant in the 117th Aviation Company, 12th Aviation Group of the 222nd Aviation Battalion in Province 42. Robert was a rotary wing aviator for the Army. The date of his death is 25 January 1968. He died serving his country in the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). He was married at the time of his death. His Wall number is P-44W L-498..

Robert King was one of the handsome hometown boys that graduated from Sheffield High School in the class of 1962. His senior portrait is featured top left of page 21 in the Demitasse 1962. He is listed in the Index as Bob King. There were others from that senior class that would serve their country in that undeclared war in that faraway land of jungles.

Despite the different locales during the war that Harold Hovater and Bill Presley were assigned to in The Republic of Vietnam: South Vietnam, there were similarities that resulted from their service. This is likely true of all vets of this long war. There was the Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome that afflicted the returning veterans. The fact that our government attempted to deny the syndrome, postpone acknowledgement, and delay services to these heroes just makes my blood boil. But, as a student of history, this is the pattern that our government has developed and continues to employ.  This strategy is evident as far back as The War Between the States in the 1860s. Online the Mayo Clinic describes PTSD as:                                                                 

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

Many people who go through traumatic events have difficulty adjusting and coping for a while. But with time and taking care of yourself, such traumatic reactions usually get better. In some cases, though, the symptoms can get worse or last for months or even years. Sometimes they may completely shake up your life. In a case such as this, you may have post-traumatic stress disorder.

Getting treatment as soon as possible after post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms develop may prevent long-term post-traumatic stress disorder.

Hovater and Presley acknowledge they suffer from PTSD. The nightmares these two heroes have are indescribable. Bill says that his wife, Nelda Holloway Presley, knows better than to wake him during one of his nightly movies-in-his-mind. If he does not get awakened, he does not remember the dream, or should I say nightmare. Vicky Laster Hovater, on the other hand says that she does wake her husband up when he has one of his frequent night terrors. The two heroes discussed the disorder and the huge numbers of vets who continue to be plagued with the terrors that anxiety of war has visited upon them. One thing that Bill Presley stated helps him is to go to the gatherings that vets like him have, such as reunions. He says that talking to someone that has been there and had similar experiences during and after the war helps. It seems that vets can talk to vets, while vets find it impossible to talk about their experiences with the rest of us. That is so very understandable and seems to be true of veterans of all wars.

Again, the Mayo Clinic addresses the needs of those who suffer with PTSD: traumatic stress disorder. Things you can do include:

  • Follow your health professional’s instructions. Although it may take a while to feel benefits from therapy or medications, most people do recover. Remind yourself that it takes time. Healing won’t come overnight. Following your treatment plan will help move you forward.
  • Take care of yourself. Get enough rest, eat a balanced diet, exercise and take time to relax. Avoid caffeine and nicotine, which can worsen anxiety.
  • Don’t self-medicate. Turning to alcohol or drugs to numb your feelings isn’t healthy, even though it may be a tempting way to cope. It can lead to more problems down the road and prevent real healing.
  • Break the cycle. When you feel anxious, take a brisk walk or jump into a hobby to re-focus.
  • Talk to someone. Stay connected with supportive and caring family, friends, faith leaders or others. You don’t have to talk about what happened, if you don’t want to. Just sharing time with loved ones can offer healing and comfort.
  • Consider a support group. Many communities have support groups geared to specific situations. Ask your health care professional for help finding one, look in your local phone book or contact your community’s social services system.

And then there is consideration that is needed for those surrounding the veteran with PTSD; this is what may be overlooked especially by those who surround the veteran. The Mayo Clinic provides us with the understanding that Post-traumatic stress disorder can significantly strain the emotional and mental health of the affected person’s caregivers and loved ones. In fact, the term “compassion fatigue” was coined to describe the feelings, such as depression and helplessness, that commonly develop in those close to a person with PTSD. So, even the ones who never left home can suffer dramatically along with the heroes that returned.

The next logical topic brings our narrative to how the government handles the needs of those who have returned from service and their families. Mighty poorly is what I have noticed from those that I have known over the years who have tried to obtain services. If benefits are provided at all, the time span (especially for the War Between the States) was to begin the benefits after most all of the intended recipients are dead. There are the VA hospitals, but the service and the quality of the service is just not there; not even after all these one hundred and fifty years or more of existence. Sometimes the veterans can not communicate with the doctors and other personnel because of a language barrier; and the turn-over rate at these facilities is astounding.

Bill and Harold agree that veterans who have medical needs or who suffer from PTSD are in a pickle. Veterans have a hard time getting disability benefits. At first the government would not acknowledge the disorder, the government dithered with beginning treatment, and now for the last forty-six years or so the disability benefits for the veterans is a hard fought for battle. It seems that a veteran who gets his head blown open is only eligible to a thirty percent disability. And a veteran who has both arms ripped by shrapnel is only eligible to a twenty percent disability, iirc. There was no mention of what the loved ones might suffer on the government’s part. But to be fair, a vet can get a Purple Heart for having his head exploded open, and for damage to both arms in an attack by the enemy of war can earn him another Purple Heart, but try to work and make a living to raise a family with all that plus coping with all the complications added on by Post traumatic stress syndrome. The Purple Hearts are more than well deserved, but do our veterans not deserve more for their service to our country? Something tells me that the hospitals, the caregivers, the medicine, the processes would all be improved that are provided by our tax dollars, if the elected and appointed government officials were forced onto a health plan that included using the VA facilities, personnel, and processes.

Another similarity that Bill Presley and Harold Hovater noted was veterans seem to have a problem with keeping a stable home life. They both gave some thought to the topic and agreed that many veterans they know of have had multiple marriages. Three seems to be the magic number. Perhaps it has a lot to do with “compassion fatigue” on the part of the spouse, perhaps it is just that the war rages on the mind of those who returned from war. Perhaps, it is just normal behavior reflected by our society of the day. But, it seemed to bother both heroes. The question in my mind is this: What do the young boys who went to Canada, shot off a toe, enrolled in college, or got married just to avoid the Vietnam War wonder and worry about today? Are the heroes or zeroes in their own mind? Even if one did not love the war; every American must love the soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen who serve to keep us free; it is a requirement as far as I am concerned.

When asked what was the hardest thing about the war the heroes had very similar answers. For Bill Presley the hardest thing seemed to be that of the five southwest Sheffield boys who went to war together, only one returned. The one who returned was him. While Bill seems to be a very easy going, laid back guy, he also appears to be a very thoughtful and kind person. He seems to have adjusted well to life outside of war, but still has scars that are not seen with the naked eye. The burden of living up to being the only one to survive must be very heavy. He has not forgotten the soldiers that did not return, or their families,  even after almost fifty years. It brings to my mind the song by Kris Kristofferson that echoes the sentiments: Why me, Lord? What have I ever done to deserve even one of the blessings I’ve known? Why me, Lord? What have I ever done to enjoy even one of the blessings you’ve bestowed?

I recounted the story of a Vietnam vet that I know who said that the hardest thing about the war was having to shoot down a child who was seven or eight years old. But, that child was carrying a live grenade and heading toward that soldier. There was no choice. It was kill or be killed. The military conditions soldiers to kill reflexively . They train soldiers to target locations, not target humans. The term locations suggests target the location of the imminent threat, whether it be bullet, bomb, or grenade. Soldiers who kill reflexively in combat will likely one day reconsider their actions reflectively.  If soldiers are unable to justify to themselves the fact that they killed another human being, especially a civilian, they will likely–and understandably–suffer enormous guilt.  This guilt manifests itself as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and it has damaged the lives of thousands of men who performed their duty in combat. 

The use of child soldiers was rampant in the Republic of Vietnam: South Vietnam’s steaming jungle of hell from 1964 to 1972.  In the most notorious case in Vietnam/Cambodia/Laos, the Khmer Rouge communist group exploited thousands of desensitized conscripted children to commit mass murders and other inhuman acts during the Cambodian genocide. The brainwashed child soldiers were taught to follow any order without hesitation. And yet there were those celebs of the day taunting our soldiers and calling them “Baby Killers”. Oh, please, just shut up you who disrespected our boys upon their return home!!!

When I was telling of this soldier, Sam Barron, one that Harold and Bill likely knew, I could see motion in Harold’s body. I witnessed a stiffening in his body. I saw his head shake with affirmation. His hands were shaking  grand mal seizure-like and I believe that is when Vicky reached over and grasped his hand to quell the shaking; she held his hand with a squeezing grip like I have never seen in a woman. I  witnessed a river of tears well up in his big blue eyes. The tears welled up in his eyes in such volume as I have never witnessed, and yet they did not flow down his face. Those big blue eyes and that river of tears that refused to flow is stamped indelibly into my mind. I told Bill and Harold that the soldier in question, mucho macho that he was, was torn apart by having to kill a kid in order to live. Harold nods his head, yes. He holds up two fingers and in the softest masculine voice you can imagine said, “Two.” He said without words that was the hardest part of the war for him.

Wow. Now that was emotional. At that point I asked Harold if he had family. At first he seemed confused. I asked since Vietnam did you have a family and kids? He said he had five kids. Well, if he had not done what was necessary in Vietnam, I stated, those five beautiful human beings would never have existed. At that point I felt some of the tension in his body fall away. Harold Lee Hovater was awarded a wall full of awards, medals, ribbons and stars. And he deserves every single one of them.

And then the discussion went into more global topics about the Vietnam War. There were the topics of: was it a conflict or a war since it was never declared a war, women in combat during wartime, the lack of respect that these returning heroes encountered, and the use of Agent Orange. Volumes could be written about each of these topics and there would be as many opinions of each topic as there are people discussing the topics, though some may be uninformed and lacking in knowledge of the history on the topics. Those can be ignored. But for what matters, it is the opinion of those who served, sacrificed, and suffered that stand above the rest of the crowd. Jane Fonda’s and other celeb opinions do not count one iota. Protestors of the war opinions do not count one iota. Mainstream media opinions do not count one iota. Politicians and government officials’ opinions do not matter not one iota. Nor do the opinions of those who refused to serve count one iota. And as never before, the history books often do not reflect the true story of political events. Each of these men had his own personal opinion on each of the above subjects, but it is the Agent Orange issue and the lack of respect these returning soldiers have been shown that should concern us most.

Vietnam map depicting  dispersion of Agent Orange

Map depicting dispersion of Agent Orange

Agent Orange was the code name for a herbicide developed for the military, primarily for use in tropical climates. Although the genesis of the product goes back to the 1940’s, serious testing for military applications did not begin until the early 1960’s. The Vietnam conflict started in August of 1964 and ended in April 1975. That was a total of 116 months of combat. That was sixteen months longer than the American Revolution had spanned. American involvement in Vietnam began in the late 1950s; my father-in-law was one of the first Ambassadors to Vietnam in the early 1950s. Major combat forces began taking part in large unit combat in 1964.

The purpose of the product was to deny an enemy cover and concealment in dense terrain by defoliating trees and shrubbery where the enemy could hide. The product “Agent Orange” (a code name for the orange band that was used to mark the drums it was stored) in, was principally effective against broad-leaf foliage, such as the dense jungle-like terrain found in Southeast Asia.

The product was tested in Vietnam in the early 1960’s, and brought into ever widening use during the height of the war (1967-68), though it’s use was diminished and eventually discontinued in 1971. It was a combination of two chemicals mixed with kerosene or diesel fuel and then distributed from airplanes. It was also sprayed by hand and from vehicles. The TCDD’s in Agent Orange are man-made and unwanted by-product of the manufacturing process of Agent Orange. It is NOT found in nature. It is toxic to humans. The Agent Orange used in Vietnam was later found to be extremely contaminated with TCDD, or dioxin. Estimations are that some 19 million gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed on South Vietnam during the years the war was raging.

Source and credit for Vietnam map:

Mysterious and seemingly not diagnosable ailments started occurring among those who had served their country in the Republic of Vietnam: South Vietnam. It would seem that the government and the VA made the veterans feel crazy, for even though there were medical problems apparent and obvious, there were no diagnoses to be had. Scores of them had symptoms, but no disease. Huh? This added to the psychological stress of those veterans and their families. The government had failed our servicemen again; so, what else is new?

Many who returned from warfare in the Republic of Vietnam: South Vietnam point to the prolific use of Agent Orange in resulting illnesses suffered. Cancer, birth defects, mood swings, depression and skin problems were reportedly contracted after the exposure to the by-products of Agent Orange. In addition, the veterans of this war had to live with the fear that they would contract one or more diseases as a result of exposure to the toxins in Agent Orange. The negatives poured upon these servicemen must have felt insurmountable to those who returned home.

At a recent appointment to the VA in Birmingham a sailor who became disabled after his service in the Persian Gulf War, encountered a Vietnam veteran who was still trying to get on the Agent Orange Registry and they told him it would be several months before they could schedule him for an appointment. The government and the VA already knows who served over there, so there is no need for veterans to have to prove their exposure to the toxins. Only recently have some of the rules and criteria to exposure been corrected.

He gives another example of a Navy man who had benefits denied because the VA said he did not serve in the areas that were affected. Well, no, but they failed to conceive that he was stationed there; but, he as a mailman for the ship went into those affected areas on a daily basis.

The use of Agent Orange in Vietnam brought the discussion around to the fact that for the first time known in history, the government had used an agent of destruction to plant and animal on our own men and women in  battle. And yet they continue to sign up to serve even yet. When asked if they would serve their country again, both men answered with, “Yes.” Harold Hovater had served more than one tour in Vietnam voluntarily. Bill Presley had answered his country’s call for his first tour of duty; but re-upped for a second tour. Only one four letter word describes these two men accurately, and that is the four letter word HERO!




The United States’ longest conflict, Vietnam shaped a generation and tested the resolve of the nation. Major battles in the Republic of Vietnam: South Vietnam:





Pictured from the left: Leonard Bauck, Ray Ashnault, Harold Hovater, behind Harold is unnamed, and at the far right is unnamed.



Did anyone ever meet her…

that did not love her? That question is asked about Mary Frances King, nee Davenport.

She was the daughter of Lee Gregory and Dee Davenport. Lee Gregory was one of the daughters of Elmer Gregory and Alice Sparks Gregory. She was a Sheffield girl. Frances and Lacey King’s children are Robert King and Evelyn King Lackey. This is a very musical family. Evelyn plays the dulcimer very well. And Robert’s son Tanner King was a star in the Show Choir at Florence High School. Robert’s son, Tanner is a Florence High School Alumni, as he graduated in 2012 Tanner is currently a student at UNA in Florence Alabama. Tanner has formed a group call Cypress & Ivy a duo group.

Post memories of Frances King. She would like that.

Mary Frances Davenport King


Brother Tittle at Grant Hotel in 1949!

Now, had I known that I would have given Brother Tittle the same advice my mother gave me as a young girl. She said when downtown Sheffield that ‘nice’ girls do not walk on the side of the street where the pool room is located. At another time she stated that ‘nice’ girls do not walk on the side of the street where the Grant Hotel is located.  Anyone else see what is wrong with this advice? Iirc, they were on opposite sides of the streets.

Brother Tittle was a huge asset to the community where he pastored at Southwest Nazarene Church. I know my grandmother thought a lot of him. I went to services with her as a young girl several times. The ladies wore hats and gloves. The following newspaper photograph is courtesy of Sheila Turberville, Virgil Tittle’s niece.

Virgil Tittle 1949

David Johnson got me to thinking…

with the event he and Ian Sanford are putting together for downtown Sheffield. The event is called Back to the Sixties on Saturday Night. It will be held Saturday, May 28, 2011 on Montgomery Avenue 6:00pm – 10:00pm. Included in the performer lineup for the event are the Weejuns. Weejuns I asked? What are weejuns? Perhaps they are ‘Long Tall Texans’ with a penny in their shoe.


Girls, did you wear a penny or a dime in your Weejuns?

Photos of Norwegian farmers wearing loafers to perform work inspired the re-introduction of them here in the United States. That was back in the 1930s. In the 1950s they were again popular, very popular.

The shoes featured no buttons or shoestrings, had a low heel, and fit below the ankle. Loafers suddenly became quite popular, and were manufactured by both Spaulding and the Bass Company. Bass retained the Norwegian name for loafers, calling them Weejuns. One can still purchase Bass Weejuns today, though technically they only differ from other loafers in name.

The shoe had a mouth opening which soon was used to hold an ornamentation – perhaps a penny and thus penny loafers became a style. Penny loafers often held a dime instead of a penny. If a girl’s date got out of line she could call home on a pay phone. We called the dime or dollar mad money.

Never having been a material girl, it is just now that I realize that you were not cool unless your penny loafers were Weejuns. By that statement I’m not confessing that anyone was or was not cool in high school, I just did not care if the brand name of my penny loafers was Weejuns.

Do you know how you tell a good guy from a bad guy?

The good guy always wears the white hat. The bad guy always wears the black hat. Simple. Nothing to it. Life was so simple back in 1956. Life was good in Sheffield Alabama in 1956; Norman Rockwell-esque, really. In December there was the gIANt Santa on the Y and holiday lights that made visions of  Christmas dance in the little ones heads. And the good guy always wore the white hat. Always. But not to worry, the guy in the white hat had paid a visit to the Vengrouskie household on Annapolis Avenue in Sheffield.

I find this Tri-Cities Daily article hilarious. Funny because I can envision Big Joe’s reaction. Funny because I envision Little Joe’s reaction. And even funnier because I can envision Pauline’s reaction. Pauline would be nervous and would run to the phone to tell Irene, her twin, all about it. I can just hear, “Ohhh, Joe is going to kill me!” She would hurry to try to think of something to do. Bet you there was a lot of hand wringing going on.

The article posted here was published in the local newspaper on 1 December 1956. Since someone in the class of ’57 still remembers it, don’t worry I won’t reveal who you are Mr. Vetters, it must have been h-i-l-a-r-i-o-u-s. Having known the Vengrouskie’s for many years I can just imagine how hilarious Little Joe and Big Joe may have thought it.

And, oh, the class of ’57 had its dreams! Do you think that any one of them ever dreamed that as a freshman, s/he would look out his/her window to find a real cowboy (I hope he wore a white hat) delivering a five hundred pound steer to his/her home in a downtown residential area? It had to have violated a whole slue of city ordinances, if not they were likely created after this incident by the bundles. I wonder who fed and cleaned up after the steer and who shoveled the-you-know-what.

That Pauline, you gotta love her, and I did. She was a delight to be around and she never met a stranger. I was blessed to have Pauline Vengrouskie and Irene Marks as guests at my home with my family at what would be Pauline’s last Christmas. Irene and I talked about that as I stayed with her to allow more immediate kin to attend Pauline’s funeral.


Pauline, you gotta love her!

Sheffield High School’s…

spirit was high that year. And it was a very good year. We are Remembering the Class of 1957. That was a year of many changes. And on December 1st of 1956 Joe Vengrouskie had a surprise waiting on him when he returned home from school. Joe must have done a double take when he saw a steer in his front yard. Pauline Vengrouskie, his mother, won a “jingle” contest, and a steer was delivered from El Paso, Texas to their home on Annapolis Ave. It was a good thing that there was a fence around Joe’s house to contain the steer and to keep it safe from neighborhood dogs, According to the newspaper article the steer was afraid of dogs. No doubt, Joe Vengrouskie, sold it or maybe they ate it.

Remembering the Class of 1957

Elizabeth Eleanor Landers…

was born at LaGrange in Colbert County, Alabama on 21 May 1847. Her parents were Jacob L and Eleanor Luna Landers. She died 10 Jan 1918 in Sheffield, Colbert County, Alabama. She married John David Vandiver Feb 1870.  They had seven known children:  John Robert Vandiver  1870 – 1960, Mary M Vandiver 1871 –   , Matilda Doshie Vandiver 1872 –    , Nancy Irene Vandiver 1875 – 1951, James Vandiver 1879 –    , and Matthew A Vandiver 1882 – 1917.

There are a number of photographs of the John David Vandiver and Eleanor Landers Vandiver family over the years. The photogrph in this article is thought to be that of John David Vandiver’s wife and the mother of his children. Can anyone verify that this is indeed Elizabeth Eleanor Landers Vandiver?

Elizabeth Eleanor Landers Vandiver