Where were you born?
In North Carolina, Eastern North Carolina. Rocky Mount, actually. It sounds like it is in the mountains. But it is not. It is on 95. I think it would be interesting to say when I was 3-4 months old, my family moved to Hamilton, North Carolina, and my father was an overseer of a farm. But after a few years, his health went very bad. And about the same time, my mother’s health went bad. We moved into the Baptist parsonage. I lived there for the next 5-6 years. You have to know that I was youngest of 10 children. So I was fortunate to be raised by my brothers and sisters. I think it is important. You see, I became a Baptist almost by osmosis—living in the parsonage. I think I was a Christian even before I went down the aisle. I was only 9 years old when we left there.
Why did you leave?
My parents’ health got to the point where we had to move to get them help. My oldest siblings all got jobs. We all moved to Rocky Mount. Almost all my family wound up joining that same church: Arlington Street Baptist Church.
We lived in the Rail Road section of town. There were three things that kept Rocky Mount, North Carolina alive: Rail Road, tobacco, and cotton. There were a lot of textile plants.
I was baptized when I was 12, my brother was 13 and we were baptized at the same time. And we are the only two left alive. The next transition was during World War II. My 4 older brothers went into the service. I was too young. But I served the best I could. During the last two years of the war, which were also my last two years of high school, I worked making army tents. I worked second shift, and worked 48 hours a week.
When the war ended in august 9th 1945, I was still 17. When I turned 18 two things happened. First, I went to the Rail Road to work as a pipe fitter. And second, I went to Fort Briggs to be fitted for the draft. But my father wasn’t too happy about that. You see the war was over, but his four other sons weren’t back yet. Crippled as he was, he was still able to convince the draft board that if they took me, he would come knock every one of them over the head with his cane. You could say he was very direct about the draft deferment request. And they granted it to him. You see I was the only bread winner in the house. If they took me, he would have no one to take care of him. But it was close. I was given a day to report. I almost went. They passed over me…until the Korean war.
The transition period between World War II and the Korean War was an important time in my life. I served a lot in church. There weren’t very many young men around. As a result, I headed up the RA boys. Now, usually the leader would have been older, but there were no young men around, and no leaders to lead them. Even today I‘m in contact with maybe 25 of those young boys. Those were good years. A lot of things happened in those years. I got married. But I had no children until after the war. I was married in 1948, and I went in the service in 1952. We have been married 63 years.
I worked as a pipe fitter in the Rail Road shop. One thing I found out very quick was that Blacks could not be plumbers. They were “helpers,” but not plumbers. We had a Black man that we worked with and I became very fond of him. He was a pipe fitter, and a better pipe fitter than I was, but he couldn’t be promoted to plumber because of race. He put a bathroom in his house, and they made him tear it all out, and pay twice as much for the pipe fittings, and he had to get a plumber to put it all back in. Now he was a very good plumber.
Now this set me on fire. This set me to buy a lot of books on plumbing. I passed the board. My rational was that in doing that was to help people like him. If I was a master plumber, he wouldn’t have had to tear everything out.
Around this time the army called me up again. A sergeant was at my door when I came home one day. He asked me if I wanted to join the air force. I said, no, I didn’t want to join the air force. He said if I didn’t, I would have to join the army. He was at my house to tell me I was being drafted. So I joined the air force. I went in for sure this time.
Is there anything noteworthy about your time in the Korean War?
They sent me to Germany to be head of the plumbing and heating at the air force base.
Being in Germany for three years was wonderful experience. We lived with the German people. I had heart breaking stories with them. They were very poor after the war. Things were not all fair. As soon as the government would find out that one of them had a police report, they would get fired from their jobs. I tried to help them. The German people loved me for that.
But things were far from perfect. Anitia and I had planned on naming our son who was born there David. But the family we lived with said, “If you name him David, don’t come back here with him.” In just a few words they said a lot. So that’s why he’s named Will, because I didn’t have any other place to take him if I didn’t go back. But they were good people. They told us where the SS men were and the ones to stay away from. They weren’t wearing their uniforms at the time, but they were still indoctrinated, and still dangerous. So when my time was up, I was discharged from the service, and I went back to work at the Rail Road. I also had a plumbing business on the side. And in 1958 at Christmas time, the Rail Roads of America died.
I think America made a choice to go with automobiles instead of Rail Road. The Rail Road laid off thousands and thousands of people. Rocky Mount was no longer a Rail Road town.
Luckily enough for me, I had a lot of Rich friends who lived in suburbs, and there came a very rainy spell, and the sewage was in the streets. The rich people didn’t want heavy equipment in the yards. So I told them that we could dig trenches by hands. So I hired the Rail Road people and we dug trenches in their yards. That’s when another great story broke.
I had decided to go to college. I said to myself, “I have my GI Bill. I’m going to get my teaching degree.” So I went to Atlantic Christian College. I met David on registration day.
He asked me what I was going to major in. I said “History.” He said, “Don’t do that! You will starve to death. Do something in math.” I said, “I can’t.” You see, it has been a long time since I studied math. He was a mathematical genius. He said, “I will help you if you help me.” So I gave him a job working in the plumbing business, and he helped me get through college in math.
About two years ago, he was dying. I got a call from David’s wife. She said David is dying, and he wants to see you. That was Friday. I told her that I would think about it and get back to her. Then Sunday morning, she called again. She said, “He is in hospice care, and he wants to see you, now.” I didn’t do anything with airplanes, and I didn’t know how to get around in the country. So I called Roger, and said, “I need to get to Boston, now.” So Roger made all the arrangements. Then He came to get me, and took me and put me on the airplane.
David’s family met me in the yard and said, “He is driving us crazy.” He didn’t want to see a chaplain or his wife’s priest. He wanted to see me. I prayed my way in there, and I said, “David, do you want to go to heaven?” He said, “Yes.” I so I just told what to do, and we talked about it, and he was ready to go. A wonderful experience, but it was heart breaking too, to see that happen to him. And then they didn’t have anyone to preach his funeral. So I preached his funeral, to all the scientist and engineers who would have never been in the church service. But there heard the message. You would have loved it.
What brought you to Greenbelt?
David did, really, because he came here to work for Goddard after he finished undergraduate school. But I decided I had some GI bill time lift (on account of going to summer school), so I went to graduate school. He called me and said, “I’m sending you an application. Get yourself up here.”
I know you’ve written books. Can you tell me about them?
Yeah, I did that after I retired, so my family wouldn’t starve. That is just something I like to do, write about my gowning up days.
You said you did it so your family wouldn’t starve. Did you turn a profit?
No. I broke even on the first one. I could go down to Rocky Mount and sell them. As I grew older, I was less interested in trying to sell them, and they were harder to sell. One day I went to a mall, trying to see the books. The girl scouts were selling cookies. I didn’t sell a single book all day. Then a girl from the girl scouts came over and started looking at the books. I told the girl, “I will give you a book for a box of cookies” She said, “No way.” And she put the book down so fast.
I have no regrets about it. I liked it a lot.
What is your favorite book of the Bible?
Ecclesiastes, easily. Romans would be next.
What do you like about Ecclesiastes?
It is so absolutely honest about life. It just wipes away everything. I can read it, and relate to it. I know my own mind. It tells me who I am, and what life is really about.
I know you are a reader. What is your favorite Christian book?
I’m definitely a C.S. Lewis fan. He is my favorite.
What is your favorite book of his?
Surprised by Joy, I guess. I’m not fond of Screwtape Letters. And there’s the tales of Narnia. They were wonderful. When I was 6 or 7 years old, I didn’t go to school for a time because I was sick in bed. And the teacher would bring me books. And I would read those books, and I fell in love with words. It was just a great life, just lying in that bed with the books. I owe all this to my brothers and sisters who stuck together as long as they lived, they stuck together. Family is powerful.
Is there anything else you would like to talk about?
You didn’t ask me much about Greenbelt Baptist. I was active in Church. I’ve been a deacon many years. I’ve served my time as chairman. But my crowning thing was the puppet ministry. We were the Heavenly Hobos. We traveled every state from KT, TN, NC, MD, VA, and DE, performing. And it was almost a self-paying thing. Take like the American Legion. At Christmas time, they kicked out the jugglers, and our heavenly hobos entertained them with a Christian message. Then they would pay us like 500 dollars. That went on for about 10 or 15 years. We hired a Silver Eagle buss to go to North Carolina, and we took about 40 some people. That was the highlight of my service. Ron and Mary Lou England, and Jean Huth (she isn’t in the area any more) and Rachel Schultz worked with us. Rachel was in charge of costumes. And Jean was in charge of assigning parts. And George and Hilda White, they could make anything.
So it wasn’t just me. It was a team. You see, when pastor Morris and his wife left, the youth needed something to so. Pastor Morris’ wife led the choir. When they left, I got all the young people who had been in her choir, which was 15 or 18 of them. I told them that I can’t lead the choir. I was in a quartet once, until they found out what was wrong with it. So, we did puppets instead.
Eventually we had to let it go. I tried to help other people take it over. But I found myself saying, “We used to do so and so.” But then I had to back off, because I realized I needed to let people go their own way. It was a good program. We had good help, and we had good kids. A new kid would come in, and I didn’t have to worry about discipline because the kids would discipline themselves.
I love the church. The people tolerated me. That’s the good part about it. That’s the only reason it could be a success.