Monday, February 3, 2020

Minford Stearns was a Prisoner of War

What is the Test of a man?

The Korean Conflict resulted in different emotions being brought back home to some Clinton countians. Six months after the fighting began on June 25, 1950, Private Joe Elmore's family was told he was missing in action. His partial remains arrived back home 68 years later. James Morrison grew up not far from Elmore. At Heartbreak Ridge, the Master Sergeant saved another soldiers' Iife and performed other courageous feats to earn him enough citations to make him the Korean Conflict's most decorated soldier from Clinton County. And then there was the telegram that William and Dorothy Stearns received saying their son, Minford, had been captured during a battle on July 14, 1950, just three weeks after the conflict began. He would remain a prisoner of war for thirty-seven months, or until after the conflict ended on July 27, 1953.

Minford L. Stearns was Clinton County's only POW during the Korean Conflict. Upon his return home a celebration, organized by the local Veterans of Foreign Wars group, was held in his honor. October 3, 1953 was declared Minford L. Stearns Day in Albany. The headline in the Clinton County News said "2,500 WATCH PARADE GIVEN IN HONOR OF CLINTON COUNTY'S ONLY EX-P.O.W." Most all businesses shut down for the celebration that day. All of Clinton County's veterans marched in the parade and the Albany Nazarene Church Band performed. Sgt. Alvin C. York presented Stearns with gifts totaling around a thousand dollars. Superintendent L.H. Robinson delivered the welcome home address. Another speaker was State Senator Ed Warinner.

It wasn't until he became a prisoner of war that the Army learned Stearns had been under age when he enlisted, and being a prisoner of war didn't stop him from staying in the service. He went on to serve two tours of duty in Vietnam, spendings most of his career in military intelligence, serving as captain while stationed at Fort Bragg and Sergeant First Class while serving with the First Armored Division at Fort Hood, Texas. His final promotion was to the rank of Major. When he retired in 1975, Stearns had served in the Army for 26 years. Sixty-six months of that was spent in combat. He earned numerous awards and citations.

Major Stearns was only 47 years old when he died on Feb. 3, 1980, forty years ago today, in Oakdale, Louisiana, where he had lived for several years. A poem engraved on his tombstone, entitled "The Test of a Man," accurately describes Elmore, Morrison, Stearns and all other men or women who ever served in the armed forces.

The test of a man is the fight that he makes, The grit that he daily shows, The way he stands upon his feet and takes life’s numerous bumps and blows. A coward can smile when there’s naught to fear, and nothing his progress bars, But it takes a man to stand and cheer while the other fellow stars. It isn’t the victory after all, but the fight that a brother makes. A man when driven against the wall, Still stands erect and takes the blows of fate with his head held high, Bleeding and bruised and pale is the man who will win and fate defied, for he isn’t afraid to fail.

Regardless of whether or not the soldier won or lost the battle, he stood with valor and determination. He passed the test.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The Haircut

I came across a word the other day:

Presumptuous [pri-zuhmp-choo-uhs], adjective

It means failing to observe the limits of what is permitted or appropriate. It reminded me of a haircut idea I had when I was about eight or nine years old.

It was a rainy Saturday morning on Third Street. I was inside my house watching the Three Stooges on TV when I heard mom say she was leaving to go buy groceries, which meant dad would be charge of us five kids. He was given one chore to do while she was gone....haircuts for us boys.

At that moment a grand idea came to me. So grand, in fact, that I couldn't wait to do it. I wanted my hair to look like Moe Howard's hair. As soon as mom left, I went to the kitchen and searched until I found a bowl that fit on top of my head, right down to just above my ears.

"Perfect," I thought. "This will do!"

With the bowl still on my head, I went to my dad and asked him to cut my hair really short up to the rim of the bowl. "Okay, if that's what you want," he said laughing. When he finished, I realized quickly that, just as I had predicted, it was nothing short of a masterpiece!

I was so happy...and then my mom came home. Let's just say I had two haircuts that day. I also learned something pretty valuable. Surprising someone with something is not always a great idea.

Eventually, my mom relented and I was able to wear a bowl cut. Well, sort of. It was more like a burr with bangs, but that's a story I'll save for another day.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

I Know Whom I Have Believed

"But I know Whom I have believed
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed
Unto Him against that day"

This great hymn published in 1883 and written by Major Daniel Webster Whittle has been in my head pretty strong the past couple of days. Usually that happens it means it is something that I need to hear. I want to believe this is God's way of speaking to me. Is this something that happens to you?

Major Whittle wrote over 200 hymns in his lifetime, including "There Shall Be Showers of Blessings." Born in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts on November 22, 1840, he worked as a cashier for Wells Fargo bank beginning in his teenage years and in 1861 joined the Union Army, where he was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant and later rose to the rank of Major.

In the summer of 1862, as the Civil War began to intensify, his unit was called to go South. At his departure, his mother placed a New Testament in a pocket of the haversack she'd arranged for him. A haversack is similar to a backpack, but with one shoulder strap. The New Testament would have a vital role in his life.

Wounded in battle, he was captured and sent to a prisoner of war camp, where one of his arms was amputated. It was while in this POW camp that he began of to read his New Testament. One night a nurse informed him that a dying soldier from his unit was begging for someone to pray for him.

"I dropped to my knees and held the boys hand in mine," he wrote. In a few broken words I confessed my sins and asked Christ to forgive me. I believed right there that He did forgive me. I then prayed earnestly for the boy. He became quiet and pressed my hand as I prayed and pleaded God's promises. When I arose from my knees, he was dead. A look of peace had come over his troubled face, and I cannot but believe that God who used him to bring me to the Savior, used me to lead him to trust Christ's precious blood and find pardon. I hope to meet him in heaven."

Years later, Major Whittle began to write lyrics and, at the encouragement of D.L. Moody, entered into music evangelism. It was during this time that he wrote the words to "I Know Whom I Have Believed." The refrain is a direct quotation from II Timothy 1:12: "...for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day."

"I Know Whom I Have Believed" is about many things, such as faith and how the Lord paid the price for our redemption. Most folk, including me, identify with verse four's theme of assurance. Assurance that, no matter what the days may hold, in heaven, I will eventually see God in all His glory.

"I know not what of good or ill
May be reserved for me
Of weary ways or golden days
Before His face I see

But I know Whom I have believed
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed
Unto Him against that day"

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

1956, the Year of Elvis

Elvis Presley was born in East Tupelo, Mississippi on Jan. 8th, in 1935. His music career began in 1954 when he made his first recording at Sun Studio in Memphis. By the time 1956 had rolled around, he had scored his first #1 hit with "Heartbreak Hotel."

1956 was a year like none other for the 21-year-old singing sensation. Before "Heartbreak Hotel," he had only been a regional star. Both he and his new Rockabilly sound were unknowns outside of the South, but by year's end he would become a phenomenon, both nationally and internationally, like nothing anyone had ever seen before. His first two albums for RCA had both been million sellers. He appeared on national television eleven times that year, each one a pivotal event for America, considering the fact that his unconventional looks and his style of performing caused nationwide controversy, outraging adults and mesmerizing teenagers. Soon, Elvis would become the leader of a cultural revolution sweeping across the country.

His song, "Love Me Tender," came out on Sept. 28th that year. It hit \#1 on Billboard the week ending Nov. 3rd, where it remained for five weeks. Earlier that year, Elvis had signed a seven-year contract with Paramount Pictures and because of the songs' popularity, his first film, was named after it. Released on Nov. 15th, "Love Me Tender," starred Richard Egan and Debra Paget, with Elvis listed as a co-star, the only time in his acting career that he would not receive top billing. The movie was originally to be titled "The Reno Brothers," but when advanced sales of Presley's song passed one million copies sold, the title was changed to match.

What was the phenom surrounding Elvis all about in 1956 and why did he take the nation by storm that year? In reality, a close look at his schedule that year suggests it was because of his work ethic. The man worked very hard, performing ninety-four concerts, making controversial landmark national TV appearances, including Ed Sullivan, Steve Allen and Milton Berle, beginning a movie career and recording songs like "Love Me Tender," "Heartbreak Hotel" and "Don't Be Cruel." But for Presley's female fans, his catapult to stardom in 1956 was based on something else: his deep, rich and incredibly sexy voice, his thick hair and his dreamy eyes, all combined with the way he performed on stage. It was a sentiment echoed by girl fans all across America and around the world, even here at home.

Speaking of which, on Nov. 25th of that year, with a new song hot off the press, and just ten days after the release of his first movie, Elvis appeared for two shows at the Louisville Armory. For anyone in this region who had been wanting to get a glimpse of the future king of rock and roll, this was their opportunity. Four members of my aunt, Patsy Speck, and her cousins, sisters Johnnie, Fay and Betty Means, and their friend Neta Owens, attended the 8pm show.

Four days later, on Nov. 29th, the Clinton County News wrote that the four ladies spent the day in Louisville, first seeing the movie, "Love Me Tender," and then the live performance that evening. When asked to comment on his performance, the girls replied: "It was the most thrilling show in our life. We will never forget it as long as we live. Elvis was just wonderful. We all had a nice time." The girls reported that they had made pictures of Elvis on stage and standing beside his Cadillac. They remained Elvis fans the rest of their lives, the biggest by far being Johnnie. A visit to her home will easily tell you that.

For those four, and millions of others, the excitement level over Elvis Presley in 1956 was way off the chart, so excited that they probably never stopped to realize that there was barely a moments rest for the 21-year-old kid from East Tupelo, Mississippi. It definitely was a year like none other.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020


The dictionary defines 'motive' as the reason which causes a person to act in a certain way, or do a certain thing; an incentive, or the goal or object of a person's actions.

We need motivation, and I pray that in 2020 we find it.

Motive to live,
motive to laugh
and a motive to love.

Motive to listen,
motive to learn,
motive to lead
and a motive to follow.

But most of all,
a motive for others.
If we live for others we will have lived for God.

Find what motivates you in 2020!

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Did Charles Lindbergh, who in 1927 became the first man to fly the Atlantic ocean, once land his plane in Albany?

The late Johnny Thrasher, a former teacher and principal in Clinton County, wrote to Clinton County News in 1975 to tell about the time that the first airplane landed in Albany. The year was 1919. No one remembered the name of the pilot but, according to Thrasher, a history of Lindbergh tells the story of the famous pilot running out of fuel and having to make an emergency landing -- in a small town in southern Kentucky.

Thrasher was the principal at Albany Elementary in 1919 and also taught the 7th and 8th grades. Zel Davis taught the lower grades and W. M. Watkins was the high school teacher. The school was located beside the fairgrounds where Truck Rack-It Inc. is now located.

"One day we heard a roar and the students seemed frightened. Suddenly, one of the students, Roscoe Armstrong, jumped from his seat and screamed that an airplane had landed in the field near the school."

"About that time, an elderly lady who lived nearby ran to the door and screamed "The world is coming to an end!" The students jumped up from their seats and ran out the door. The old lady who had warned us the world was coming to an end had fainted and fallen to the ground just outside the door. The students were so excited to get to the airplane that they ran right over her."

After the pilot had found some fuel he attempted to take off but in the process hit an object which damaged the plane. The next day the wings were removed from the plane and it was hauled away.

The children trampling over the lady who thought the end of time was coming probably only led more to her belief that it was true. In reality, it was the end of the world for the youngsters as they has known it, and the beginning of a new world much different from what they had known before. It was the beginning of the air age.

Could the pilot have been Lindbergh? Thrasher wrote that his account of having landed in Southern Kentucky in 1919 after running out of fuel and then damaging his plane while trying to take off and having to haul the plane out makes it very probable that he was the pilot that scared the daylights out of young and old alike in Albany 100 years ago this year. And then, there is the photo. True or not, like the 'All for Benny' pitch, it makes for a great local story.

Friday, December 6, 2019

The Day the Civil War Came to Albany, Pt. 2 (The Making of Champ Ferguson)

When the Civil War finally did come to Albany, word spread quickly throughout the area of Southern Kentucky and Northern Tennessee. Allegiances were soon declared. "Everybody of military capability was expected to go to war," wrote Cordell Hull. "It really did not make so much difference which side he fought for. He had the privilege of selecting his own side, but he could not lie around the community, shirking and dodging. He had to go out and fight."

With the military-capable soldiers gone off to war, the region was left vulnerable to guerilla warfare. Despite the presence of home guards, which were left behind to defend their counties, the area became a gloomy no-man’s land, where bands of armed men from both sides roamed freely, spreading violence and bloodshed, ravaging homes and farms, stealing horses, livestock, food, money and anything else they could get their hands on.

"The land was full of robbery and murder," wrote David Sullins in his book, "Seventy Years in Dixie." "Bands of the worst men seized the opportunity by scouring the country by night, calling quiet old farmers to their doors and shooting them down in cold blood. It was the reign of terror, war at every man’s door, neighbor against neighbor. Neither property nor life was safe by day or night."

An incident involving twin brothers, Alexander and Floyd Evans, and their younger brother, Stokley, of what would eventually become Pickett County, came to play a major role in most of the Confederate guerilla warfare that took place in this area. It just so happened their sister, Amanda, was married to a cousin of Union guerilla Tinker Dave Beaty.

The incident I am speaking of began one day in the fall 1857, when the three brothers made their way from Fentress County across the state line to Clinton County to purchase hogs from Ben, Jim, and their brother...Samuel "Champ" Ferguson. He had been born in 1821 near Elliot's Crossroads, the main road leading into Clinton County from Tennessee (intersection of highways 969 and 1076 at Maupin). Floyd left a note for payment with the Fergusons and arranged a meeting in Albany to complete the transaction. When the Fergusons went to collect the money, Alex told them that Floyd had skipped town with the money. Champ and another man filed a lawsuit against Floyd.

As time went on and Floyd still had not been seen or heard from, the Ferguson's got it in their heads that the Evans’ were pulling an elaborate hoax to get out of debt. They decided that whenever Stokley or Alex were around they would take their horse as payment and eventually caught Alex in Clinton County and stole his horse.

Champ dropped the lawsuit filed in Clinton County Court on July 5, 1858 after Floyd had returned and secured his debt. Around the same time, Alex filed charges against Champ for his horse thievery. Alex and Stokely were said to be furious with Champ for stealing their horses and trying to claim it was a repossession by a creditor, when Floyd was the one who owed the money. They began speaking about it in public, which Ferguson took as threats on his life.

As fate would have it, on August 12, 1858, Ferguson and the Evans brothers all showed up at a camp meeting on Lick Creek in Fentress County. When Ferguson got on his horse to leave, the Evans' began throwing rocks at him. As he rode off, they gave chase. Realizing his young mare could not outrun their horses, Ferguson dismounted and took off on foot. Floyd Evans came up, still throwing rocks, and Ferguson picked them up and threw them back.

About that time, Constable Jim Reed rode up and when he tried to arrest Ferguson for stealing the horse, a fight broke out that resulted in Champ stabbing the constable to death. The story goes that Fentress County Justice of Peace James Zachary charged Champ with killing Reed, but made a deal with him that he would be released if he agreed to help the Confederacy. Champ, of course, agreed. It could also have been that Champ wanted revenge on the Evans' and Taylor's, who had strong Union connections, and chose to fight for the Confederacy for that reason.

After the war, Champ Ferguson became one of only two Rebels to be tried and convicted of war crimes. He was charged with fifty-three counts of murder, although he claimed he killed over 100 soldiers and pro-Union civilians. He was hanged on October 20, 1865 in Nashville.

During the war, rumors abounded that Ferguson commited his atrocities to get revenge against the Union for the raping of his wife, Martha, and daughter, Ann, by Union soldiers, who supposedly then stripped them naked and made them run through the streets of Albany. However, during his testimony, Ferguson dismissed the story as untrue. There was also the rumor that he sought revenge on the Union for the murder of his son, but in reality Ferguson’s only son and his first wife, Eliza Smith, both died from disease in 1845. The tent meeting and subsequent encounters with the Evans brothers is what Ferguson himself testified to in court as being the real reason why he entered the war.

By the way, Stokley Evans was shot and killed by unknown Confederate troops on August 3, 1862. Since his wife had just previously died during childbirth, their orphaned children who remained were sent to live with his sister, Amanda, and her husband, Pleas. On a personal note, just after the war, she became a member of my church, Clear Fork Baptist Church, but in 1968 she and fifty other members left to organize Beech Bottom Baptist Church.

On a more personal note, Pleas Beaty (short for Pleasant) was the nephew of Union guerilla Tinker Dave Beaty's father, George, who was my fourth great grandfather.

Minford Stearns was a Prisoner of War

What is the Test of a man? The Korean Conflict resulted in different emotions being brought back home to some Clinton countians. Six mo...