This Old School

This old school was built in 1939 by local men of the community as part of FDR’s work projects. Architech was Karl Johnson from the neighboring town of Cameron.

The building burned down before they ever held a class and was rebuilt in 1940. Classes were held until 1960 when the school children started being bused to the nearby Rockdale school disctrict. At that time the school closed. It changed hands two or three times and around 1970, James Eugene Luckey (my dad) bought the school and surrounding property at auction. It’s been in the family ever since.

Dad had been a teacher and coach at this school when it was open. He had a bee farm, and used one of the classrooms for extracting the honey from the hives. He also added to the building a shop and an auto shop, two apartments, and he covered the landcape with 300 Elberta peach trees. People came from far and wide to pick the delicious peaches on the honor system. They would gather their peaches, then take them down to Mrs. Harbuz’s store to be weighed and paid for. She would give the money to Dad.

In 1998 Dad and Mom (Eleanor Louise Clore Luckey) built their golden years home on the playground location of the schoolgrounds, an area full of many beautiful Post Oak Savannah trees.

The Prisoner

I want to think that this happened on the island of Tinian. But it could have happened on Iwo Jima, I’m not certain. Tinian was nothing but a “walk, walk, walk” from one end of the island to the other. While at Iwo Jima, Dad was embroiled in battle from the time he got there until the time he was injured. So I don’t know how he would have had time to do this on Iwo Jima. Tinian makes more sense.

But there was a Japanese soldier who surrendered with his hands up to some of the men in Dad’s squad, which was very unusual. Because the Japanese were trained to fight or die. This soldier was turned over to Dad’s charge. He spoke perfect English and it turned out that he was an American citizen. A barber who lived in California. He had gone over to Japan to visit his family and was inadvertently drafted into the Japanese army. His job was to cut hair for the officers. Somehow he wound up on this island. And he surrendered in hopes of finally getting back home to California.

He carried Dad’s heavy radio equipment during the time they spent together. He was a smart man. I bet he did finally get home!

The Garden Stone

Stephen and Charlotte 1/1/11

This is the story of two people who were destined to be together nearly 100 years before they ever met.  A love story, replete of hometown history and family.

Charlotte, a fiery, petite beauty with dark hair and big, brown, almond-shaped eyes, and  Stephen, a handsome Greek, a brave US Marine , met 10 years ago after Stephen had returned from his first deployment to Iraq.  Both living in the same area at the time, they were introduced by a mutual friend. Their relationship flourished and when Stephen left for his second deployment, Charlotte waited for him.  By the grace of God, he returned.  They were reunited and spent much of their time together.

Their story is beautiful, alas, it is a private affair.  I will just say that they found out they love each other.  And when Stephen asked Charlotte for her hand. She accepted, happily.

Charlotte’s grandparents have almost always lived in this area of the state. They had a farm in Cameron during the early years of their marriage, and moved to Rockdale later on. About 15 years ago they decided they would spend their golden years at their nearby property in the country. There is an old school here. They built a nice home on the old playground, amidst a grove of tall oaks.

Charlotte is my daughter.  I live here also, with my love, Glenn. We actually reside in the old school.  It was built by the local men as one of FDR’s work projects back in the era of the Great Depression.  It burned to the ground before they ever held a class and they built it all over again. They carried on the business of education here for many years, but eventually the old school closed down and they began busing all the children to Rockdale. It changed hands a couple of times before my Dad acquired the building at auction about 45 years ago.  He converted some of the classrooms into living spaces, and Glenn and I have a comfortable home here.

Charlotte lived in Rockdale until she was four, when our family moved away.  But the first time Stephen came to visit and met the family, we learned that he too, has roots in this county. His grandfather actually grew up in Cameron.  Furthermore, Stephen and Dad compared military records, and found many similarities. Both are marines from the 4th division, who specialized in communications and reconnaissance, and proudly wear the purple heart medal. It was a great visit.  We all liked Stephen, and I felt very happy for Charlotte.

Now, Glenn likes gardening and one day he decided to make an asparagus bed. There was a row of huge old piers bordering a flower bed in our front yard, probably 10 of them.  Dad had put them there soon after he bought the building. They came from the foundation of the old gymnasium which had been sold off separately and moved before he ever acquired it. That spot is now home to our vegetable garden.

The piers really didn’t look that great in our front yard. So Glenn decided to make a raised bed with them for the asparagus.  It required a tractor to move them. So one by one, he picked them up, carried them to the garden and sat them down at their new resting place.  He made a rectangular border and filled it with rich, black dirt that he found down by the pond. We bought nice, big crowns and he planted them just exactly how his research told him to, by digging a trench and making hills for them to rest on. We had ferns in no time. And now, this garden produces a lot of asparagus.

Luckily, my Dad is a very observant fellow.  One day he was out watering the asparagus, when he looked down and discovered that on the right, front cornerstone of the border that Glenn built, there was something inscribed in the cement.  He splashed water on it, as to read it more easily.  Written on the stone was “YA Gjeddi 1929”. He thought about this for a minute and recalled that Stephen’s mother was a Gjeddi.

So we asked her about it.  It turns out that YA, also known as Yancy Gjeddi, was Stephen’s great uncle!  There were eight Gjeddi boys that grew up in Cameron back then.  They were all adopted and all went by their initials. My mother went to school with these boys. And Stephen’s grandfather was one of them.  It’s been said that the Lord works in mysterious ways, I believe this!

Almost 100 years ago, Yancy must have helped build the old school.  I wonder if he knew it was important that he inscribe that stone? Glenn never saw it, he just stacked the stones at random.  But this wound up on the right, front corner, facing outward!!  And was discovered around the time of Stephen and Charlotte’s wedding, two people who met in a totally different part of the state, and never knew before, of all these amazing coincidences. Perhaps Yancy wanted to express his approval of this union.  I find it amazing and beautiful.  I wish I had a photo of Yancy.  If I ever find one, it will go here.

Veterans Day

Battle of Iwo Jima
Battle of Iwo Jima

I have always loved my father.

He is a marine who served during World War II, and when I was about 30 years old, he asked me to sit down with him, and he told me his story.

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.  Dad was 14 years old at the time. America was now at war, and he decided that he wanted to join the fight. He volunteered for the marine corps at the age of 17.  But being so young, he was concerned that his parents would not allow him to go. He had to have a signed permission. So he took the paper to his Dad, and said, “Mom said I could go if it was ok with you”.  And his Dad agreed.  Then he took the paper to his Mom and said, “Dad said I could go if it was ok with you”.  So she agreed also.

Once he turned 18, he boarded a bus and went out to San Diego, California, for his basic training, where they taught him how to survive war.  Being very smart, they decided to train him in communications as well.  So he learned to use morse code. He was the one who carried and operated the very heavy radio equipment for his squad.  After basic, he was stationed in Hawaii.

World War II began in Europe.  It was not until the European war had drawn to a close, that the pacific war began. Dad was originally assigned to the 5th Amphibious Corp – Reconnaissance Battalion. He was deployed to 3 different battles.  First, was the island of Siapan. The mission was to take possession of the island. But there was a sailor that flew over the area just before they deployed. He could see that the island was crawling with Japs, and that they would surely all die.  So this mission was aborted at the last minute, but not before Dad had his first experience of war.  He jumped off the ship where a Jap had been blown in half, and became entangled in the long, stringy, human intestines, floating out in the ocean.

The 5th Amphibious dissolved, and was absorbed into the 4th Division. Their next mission was the island of Tinian.  This island was decidedly, the perfect place for a landing strip, to support the planes that would carry the A-Bombs.  So the mission was to secure the island.  The operation went smoothly, it took about a week. And finally, they went to Iwo Jima.

Joseph John Rosenthal (October 9, 1911 – August 20, 2006) was an American photographer who received the Pulitzer Prize for his iconic World War II photograph Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, taken during the Battle of Iwo Jima. His picture became one of the best-known photographs of the war. (Wikipedia) He also took this photograph, my father is in the fox hole, left top, operating the radio. It was published in Life magazine during the war.
Joseph John Rosenthal (October 9, 1911 – August 20, 2006) was an American photographer who received the Pulitzer Prize for his iconic World War II photograph Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, taken during the Battle of Iwo Jima. His picture became one of the best-known photographs of the war. (Wikipedia) He also took this photograph, my father is in the fox hole, left top, operating the radio. It was published in Life magazine during the war.

Iwo Jima is known to be the turning point in the pacific war.  Before Iwo Jima, America was considered to be losing the war.  After Iwo Jima, America was considered to be winning.  The island was heavily fortified with Japanese at the beginning of the battle.  There was actually an entire city, underground, with barracks, hospitals, mess halls, everything the Japs needed.  They were literally “dug in”.  So this island would be really a terrible battle.  Huge numbers of American lives were lost just upon arriving.  Dad lost many friends, and had many memorable experiences from the encounter.

He remembers becoming so accustomed to being shot at, that he did not even try to cover himself a lot of times.  He remembers watching a fellow marine get shot as he leaned against a tree.  It took the marine about 30 minutes to reach the ground, as his lifeless body slid slowly down the tree trunk.  He remembers he and another marine being trapped in a fox hole, lying on top of each other for 2 days, playing dead; while Japanese surrounded them.  He remembers the famous flag being raised, and thinking, “What are those crazy guys doing”?, as the battle raged on, all around them. And he remembers the day he earned his purple heart medal.

The battle of Iwo Jima lasted 42 days.  Dad was there for the first 17. He said it was common to hear shells whipping through the air. From experience, he could tell by the sound, whether it was near or far, or right on him.  This day, he heard a shell coming toward him, closer and closer, rotating on it’s end, “whip-whip,… whip-whip,… whip-whip…”. He realized that it was coming right at him. Over the space of a split-second, he summoned the refuge of Mother Earth, hitting the dirt, into a foxhole.  Just then, the shell exploded, and he was buried alive.

He could hear the sound of a big, loud, Chinese gong, “Bongggggggggggggg…”.  He felt like he was in a spiraling tunnel, and as the sound slowly faded, his body seemed to race ever faster toward a distant, bright light.  He doesn’t know how long it went on, but it ended when a corporal of the surname “Clark”, who was a school superintendent from North Carolina, saw him go down, ran to him and dug him out.

War is hell.  But there are people who are willing to endure it, for the sake of our country.

Much of the first couple of days, he was unconscious.  And he has gaps in his memory about this.  But he recalls that someone dragged him to an aid station. And eventually they carried him on a stretcher to the hospital ship, Solace.  Here he received treatment and was transported for a several months long stay at the R&R hospital in Guam. His numerous injuries, of which some still plague him today, included a severe concussion, crushed lungs, and severe hearing loss. The entire recuperation phase is kind of blank in his memory.

Marines burrow in the volcanic sand, on the beach of Iwo Jima.
Marines burrow in the volcanic sand, on the beach of Iwo Jima.

On this Veterans Day, I want to thank my father, and all veterans for your courage and sacrifice.  And may God bless America, the land of the free.

89 years old.
89 years old.

Footnote:  This year, 2018, my Dad is 93.   He and my mother have been married for 72 great years.  Together, they have 3 daughters , 8 grandchildren, and altogether 10 great-grandchildren. He is in good health, but he can’t hear thunder without his hearing aids, and his memory is better at some times, more than others.  He spends his time helping my Mom, taking care of his chickens and other stuff around his farm.  He actually just bought a milk cow! As always, he takes very good care of himself and follows a daily fitness routine. And these days, he battles the floods, droughts, and twisters.

2nd Footnote: Dad passed away in the year 2020, at the age of 95. He was preceded in death by my mother, who died in 2018. They were wonderful parents and are greatly missed.

Basic Training

Dad volunteered for the marines when he was 17, but he had to wait until he turned 18 before he could actually enter. In order to train for the corps, he worked at improving his running abilities.  They lived out in the country and their mailbox was about 1/2 mile away from their house.  So each day, he would run to get the mail.  He got better at it gradually, and before long he would run non-stop, both directions, to and from the mailbox.

He had a job collecting money for the Houston Chronicle. He would borrow his Dad’s truck each Sunday.  It had a cracked block, so the radiator did not hold water, and he took plenty with him for his route. He would fill it with water, then go as far as he could, trying to reach hilltops before he could go no further. At the top of a hill, he would turn off the key and coast down as far as he could.  He would look for water in gullies first, before he would use the precious water he had stored. Then he would fill the radiator again, drive as far as he could, to the next hilltop, cut the key and coast, then fill it with water again,…  This was how he made his 200 mile round trip route each week.

In his spare time, as always, he did a lot of running, hunting, killing and skinning of hides, and curing them for selling.  He was always a tough, strong, and very physically fit kid.

When his 18th birthday arrived, he completed his paperwork at the local recruiter office, then got on the bus and went out to San Diego, California. There were many, many men there, ready for training, and they were divided into groups.  He settled into his group of about 75 men, for boot camp.

Boot Camp

Each group had a Sergeant, who was “one tough cookie”.  His job was to turn smart-alecky civilians, into marines.  No kind of smart mouth was tolerated, and you had to stay clean and follow orders.  The sergeant would try to make you mad!  Calisthenics, wash your clothes, get in order, stay at attention,… He would conduct tedious inspections, turning up his nose and contorting his face to your perfectly clean clothes.  Then he might pull off your shirt, drop it on the ground and stomp on it, make you do it over.  And they would be as clean as could be.

Occasionally, someone would take him on and there would be a fist fight. The sergeant would beat them up and that would be that.  He wanted orderly, obedient people.  Sometimes he would have them dress in their best dress blues, shoes shined and buttons polished. Then he would take them out to the beach and make them run in the deep sand, until they fell down.

Dad was among the best runners.  The Navajo Indian tribe had a lot of marines. The Japanese could not understand their language.  So they often carried radios. A movie was made about them.  They are known for their ability to run, as well.  2 of them challenged Dad to a run.  None of the 3 of them could ever beat each other. They were neck and neck, all the way.

Dad was assigned to morse code training.  “dit – dot – dit – dot – dit – dot – dot – dot”. The goal was to send at 40 words per minute with no mistakes.  Write it down, code names in place of dots, send.  The training lasted about 6 weeks, and it was hard.  He was also trained in semi-fore, which was sending coded messages with the use of flags.

After communications training, he went to the rifle range and made sharp shooter.  He had a boil on his cheek during that training, right where the rifle touched his face.  But he still shot with great accuracy, despite the terrific pain. And he believes they probably recorded his high pain tolerance.

At the end of boot camp, there was a big beer bust celebration.  They had completed boot camp, they were now marines, but not yet assigned.  Dad was sitting among friends.  Everyone had been drinking. Dad never liked alcohol, but he had been drinking too.  There was a message repeating over the loud-speaker, calling for someone sounding like, “Private Lu-Kay”.  They probably called for him about 50 times.  After quite a long while, someone told Dad that he thought they might be saying his name. So Dad went up and checked things out.  It was a Louisiana Cajun, and he said, “I have your billfold”.

The best day of boot camp, was the last day.  They had been treated like “dogs in dog prison” for weeks.  But the closer time came for them to re-enter civilization, things got some better.  Typical early morning drills included calisthenics in cadence with their rifles, while being yelled at by the sergeant.  On graduation morning, things were a little different. They were told to put on their dress blues with polished buttons and shined shoes.  They all met, all 500 to 1000 of them, on a large parade ground area, where they assembled in rows. They were ordered to attention.  Over the loudspeaker, emerged a favorite song of that era, a waltz called, “3 O’Clock in the Morning”. They performed their morning drills to the accompaniment of that song.  Dad said it was the most pleasant boot camp experience that he remembers.  He had grown up on hillbilly music, guitar and fiddle.  At that moment, he lost his taste in hillbilly music, and it has never been the same, since.  The song really made an impression on him.  It sounded so pretty, and they were like a bunch of New York girls on stage 🙂  This was their graduation ceremony.

Three O’clock In The Morning
Three O’clock In The Morning, performed by Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra for Victor Records.

After boot camp, they were rewarded with a 10 day furlough.  That was enough time to go home.  So they sent him there via train.

After having been home several days, and having visited with everyone, he only had 3 hours left, so he decided to go visit his girlfriend one last time. He took his Dad’s truck to her parent’s home five miles out in the country. On the way there, a bridge was washed out.  He did not see it, and went right into the creek bed. With a little bit scrambled brains, and an hour to spare before time to board his train back to California, he turned back on foot, and went to a farm house.  The farmer came out with his gun, but soon realized that Dad needed help.  So he drove him to the train.  Dad called his parents to let them know where the truck was. With 5 minutes to spare, he boarded the train.  He did not get to see his girl. She sent him a Dear John letter, and married someone else.

Three O’ Clock in the Morning sheet music cover (1921).

“Three O’Clock in the Morning” is a waltz composed by Julián Robledo that was extremely popular in the 1920’s. Robledo published the music as a piano solo in 1919, and two years later Dorothy Terriss wrote the lyrics. Paul Whiteman’s instrumental recording in 1922 became one of the first 20 recordings in history to sell over 1 million copies.

Julián Robledo, an Argentine composer born in Spain, published the music for “Three O’Clock in the Morning” in New Orleans in 1919. In 1920 the song was also published in England and Germany, and lyrics were added in 1921 by Dorothy Terriss (the pen name of Theodora Morse). The song opens with chimes playing Westminster Quarters followed by three strikes of the chimes to indicate three o’clock. The lyrics then begin: It’s three o’clock in the morning, we’ve danced the whole night through.

This “Waltz Song with Chimes” created a sensation when it was performed in the final scene of the Greenwich Village Follies of 1921. In this performance Richard Bold and Rosalind Fuller sang the song while ballet dancers Margaret Petit and Valodia Vestoff rang the chimes. Frank Crumit recorded the song for Columbia Records in 1921, but its biggest success came in 1922 when Paul Whiteman released a recording on the Victor label, selling over 3.5 million copies of the record, and fueling the sale of over 1 million copies of the sheet music.

The song has been recorded by some of the most renowned orchestras of the 20th century, including Frank De Vol and his Orchestra (1950), Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians (1960), Mitch Miller and the Gang (1960), Bert Kaempfert and his Orchestra (1964), and Living Strings (1971).[6] The song also has become a jazz standard with notable recordings by Dizzy Gillespie (1953), Oscar Peterson (1956), and Thelonious Monk (1969).

The song was also repatriated to the home country of the composer, Argentina, where it was published as “Las Tres de la Mañana” by G. Ricordi & C. and interpreted as a tango vals by the orchestra of Enrique Rodriguez in 1946. (Wikipedia)