J.A. Bolton

J.A. Bolton

I once knew a man by the name of James. He was born and raised on a small farm in northern Richmond County. James was born in 1918, the youngest of three brothers. When they were old enough, all three walked several miles to attend a one-room school by the name of Covington. As time went by, James’ brothers dropped out of school but his Ma was determined that he would finish high school.

Later on, a lot of small rural schools closed their doors and buses started picking up the kids. James was assigned to the school at Ellerbe. At the time, this was one of the best schools in the state. The principal of the school, Mr. Richard Little, was a stern but well-educated man. He saw to it that each one of his students left his school a well-respectable and responsible person — even if he had to paddle a few.

In the ‘30s, a high school student didn’t have to go but to the 11th  grade to graduate. In James’ case it took 12 years because he failed his senior year English class. It seems his English teacher loved for her students to write themes but that won’t James’ thing.

When James got old enough, he started driving a school bus to pick up a little money of $7 a month. He also got a job on Saturdays at a local grist mill called Capel Mill. The mill was located right below his house on Mountain Creek and was run by a man named Jenkins. James loved his job at the mill because Mr. Jenkins took time to show James how to grind corn into corn mill and wheat into flour. James would also take an old truck out into farming areas to buy corn for the mill to grind and resell. James couldn’t wait to finish high school and go to work at the mill full time — but that was never to be.

In the ’30s and early ‘40s, all of Europe was at war with Germany and her allies. The Japanese were invading and taking over other countries day by day. A time of war was at hand all over the world. The U.S. had managed to stay out of the war until Pearl Harbor in the Pacific; all the while German subs were sinking U.S. ships all over the Atlantic.

Our country was just recovering from a great depression but during a time of war, people are called upon to do some extraordinary things. The draft was reenacted and young men were called into service unless they could prove they could better serve their country on the home front.

This would be a sad time for lots of families seeing their sons — and in some cases, their daughters — shipped overseas to fight yet another World War.  Some never came back but gave the ultimate sacrifice, while others came home with physical or mental scars.

In 1941, James was drafted into the U.S. Army and shipped to Louisiana for basic training. While there on a night training mission, four soldiers accidentally set up their tents in a bed of rattlesnakes, were all bitten and later died.

James was so homesick for North Carolina that he volunteered for a new division that was being formed known as the 82nd Airborne Division. Fort Bragg, Camp Mackall and Maxton Air Field were the training grounds for this elite division. Men were trained to be paratroopers and glider personnel. Being flatfooted, James was assigned to a glider unit — even though the highest he’d ever been up was in the top of a pine tree.

Finally, after some tough training, the 82nd was on a troopship headed to North Africa. They would be co-allies with the British troops in Operation Torch. This operation was meant to push German Field Marshal Ervin Rommel and his Afrika Korps out of North Africa.

When the U.S. troops landed on the coast of Africa, James said he had never seen so much equipment and men in his life. All these men had to be fed and there was a lot of fresh goat meat in Africa, so the army cooks started feeding a lot of goat meat to the troops. 

James said, “If’n you got in the front of the chow line, you might could eat it, but if you were bringing up the rear and the food got cold, all you could do was close your eyes and swallow.” 

The Allies finally beat Rommel at his own game in Africa but would later face him in France. In a few weeks the 82nd dropped into Sicily at night to face both the Italian and German troops. Their mission was to keep the enemy busy until U.S. Gen. George S. Patton and his tanks could establish a beachhead. After some tough fighting, Sicily was ours. Then with their new two-star general (James Gavin, the youngest U.S. general since George Armstrong Custer) plus a lot more U.S. troops and our allies, all marched into and took the country of Italy from the Axis.

The European campaign was far from over, for on the early morning of June 6 1944, the biggest invasion this world has ever seen took place along the French coast, called Operation Overlord. The Germans were well entrenched and laid down some murderous fire on the Allies as they went ashore. The mission of the 82nd was to drop behind enemy lines before daylight, take control of bridges, take out gun emplacements and try to prevent a German counter-attack. 

It was before daylight the day of the invasion, James and 15 others in their glider were cut loose from the main plane. Their glider sailed silently down toward their intended landing site. At the last moment, the pilot yelled, “I’m going to have to land this damn wooden crate between two trees — hold on.” When the glider stopped, both wings had been knocked off but 16 soldiers scrambled out of their so-called plywood coffin to face an uncertain fate behind German lines.

James and his division still faced many hard battles that were yet to be fought before Germany surrendered. The fighting would take them through Holland, Belgium over the Rhine River and the last great battle push by the Germans (the Battle of the Bulge) in the Ardennes Forest.

James had been wounded twice by shrapnel and received a Purple Heart before he got in the motor pool and started driving a jeep to transport the officers.

As the war ended in Germany in 1945, James was told by his lieutenant to pick up three more soldiers and meet the rest of what was left of the division at a seaport in France. James said it was cold as all get-out and a heavy snow was falling the day they left. The men were wearing all the clothes they could put on, but with just a windshield and a small canvas top, it was still cold. It wasn’t long before they ran up on an old bombed-out chalet where they found two kegs of wine in the cellar. 

James said, “Between all them clothes and that wine, we made it to France.”

James was one of the lucky servicemen to make it back home alive, although he carried the many bad memories of the horrors of the war and shrapnel in his leg for the rest of his life. He never spoke about those bad memories unless he was drinking. He said to his knowledge, he never shot a woman or a child and that he didn’t harbor any bad feelings against the German soldiers because they were just doing their job just as he was doing his.

The day of his discharge from the Army, James’ dream of going back home and working at the grist mill also came to an end. The old mill burned to the ground that very day.

Folks, we should be proud of every man or woman that has ever served or is serving our great country. I know for a fact I am proud that my dad, Pvt. James Bolton Sr., was part of the greatest generation our country has ever known.

J.A. Bolton is the author of “Just Passing Time” and co-author of “Just Passing Time Together.” He is also a member of the Anson County Writers Club, the Anson and Richmond County Historical Societies, the N.C. Storytelling Guild and the Story Spinners of Laurinburg.

 

Friday, 25 October 2019 19:54

COLUMN: Don't forget them cane poles

When I was a lad, one of my favorite hobbies was to go fishing and it still is today. Why, when I was just 4 or5 years old, I would follow my Ma (grandmother) down into her pasture to round up her cows. While she looked for the cows, I would be fishing in the spring with a cane pole. Don’t remember catching anything but I always told my Ma that I got a few bites.

Back in the day, some well-off folks had expensive bamboo fly rods and some owned big bulky ocean rod and reels. But everyday folks like my family still fished with bamboo reeds or poles that were cut off the river banks.

Seems on our very first fishing trip of the year we used the same bamboo poles that had been cut the year before. Why sometimes the poles would last several years before breaking but it was on this first trip that new ones were cut down.

To get a nice bamboo fishing pole, you would search through a patch of bamboo and pick ones the right length and circumference to fit your hand. Then, with a bush ax or machete, you cut down the ones you wanted.

After reaching home, the bamboo poles were laid flat on a tin roof to dry out. After several days, the poles were turned over to allow the bamboo to dry on the other side, which made for a straighter pole.

No siree, back in the day we didn’t have much choice of rigging our fishing poles either. Some of the older folks still used sewing thread for their line but when I came along there was a type of black nylon fishing line that came wrapped around a piece of cardboard. 

To rig up a cane pole, you just tied your line on the little end of the pole. Then you added a lead split-shot by clamping it with pliers, banging it with your pocket knife or, in some cases, using your teeth to close it around your line. Seems folks didn’t think much about lead poisoning back in them days.

The size of your hook depended on what type of fish you were trying to catch. Old folks always said, “The bigger the hook, the bigger the fish,” and that saying still carries a lot of weight.

Last, but not least was a cork being placed above your weight. Why, some folks still carved their own corks from wood, while others bought bobbers made of cork. Plastic corks would later come around.

To me, there’s just something about fishing with a cane pole that these new rod and reels can’t compare to. My Dad never owned a rod and reel till I bought him one back in the ‘60s. Like his ancestors before him, when Dad hung a fish on his cane pole, he would throw the fish back over his head and try to make sure it didn’t flop back into the water. Won’t no catch and release back into the water back then, it was catch and release it into the frying pan.

In the ‘40s and ‘50s, most families didn’t own but one car and that was used for everything including going fishing. Why, folks would roll down the passenger side window, gently place their cane poles through the window and head out to their favorite fishing hole.

When people got set up at their favorite fishing hole, some would only hold their one pole while others fished with several cane poles leaning on a forked stick. Other folks wanted more fish so they would have shorter poles, sharpen the big end, and stick them in the banks along the river. These were called set-hooks.

Home-dug regular fishing worms, crickets, Catawba worms and grasshoppers were ‘bout the only types of bait used back then. Artificial baits came along later when rod and reels came on the market.

Another way of catching fish, especially largemouth bass with a cane pole, was called jigger fishing. To rig your pole for jigger fishing, you wrapped the strongest fishing line you could find the full length of your cane pole - sometimes using tape to hold it. On the small end of the pole you left about six to eight inches of line. On this short line, you placed two or three large hooks or treble hooks one above the other. Then, you made a small skirt with strips of the most colorful balloons you could find. Then, you tied these skirts around the eyes of each hook.

This jigger rig could be fished from the bank but worked much better while sitting or standing on the front of a boat. Sometimes folks would take turns jiggering around stumps and logs while the other slowly paddled the boat.

When the strike came, it was like an explosion on top of the water. Sometimes the fish would hit so hard it would break the cane pole, leaving only a small piece of wood and string in the fisherman’s hand. Folks, that’s why a smart jigger fisherman wind his line all the way down his pole. With only the line in his hand, the fisherman could pull the fish in. 

Fair warning folks, fishing like I just described was so productive that it is illegal by today’s fishing regulations.

In closing, I hope you will take a kid fishing and introduce them to a cane pole. It’s by far a simpler and older version of fishing but it is so much fun.

J.A. Bolton is the author of “Just Passing Time” and co-author of “Just Passing Time Together.” He is also a member of the Anson County Writers Club and the Anson and Richmond County Historical Societies.

Friday, 18 October 2019 19:35

COLUMN: My own little red tractor

In the early 1900s, farm tractors started appearing on larger farms. They were pretty pricey so most small farmers just stuck with their horses and mules. Later in the early ‘40s, competition among larger tractor companies allowed small farmers to be able to afford a tractor for their farms. This was great timing because a lot of farm laborers were off fighting in the war.

Friday, 11 October 2019 19:53

COLUMN: Is our climate changing?

Has anyone felt that our summers are hotter and our winters milder? Well, if your answer is yes, you are not alone. 

Friday, 04 October 2019 17:15

COLUMN: Fords, foot logs and ferries

Seems nowadays when we drive down the road and cross a bridge, we don’t even think about the river or stream below it. It wasn’t that way in our forefathers’ times, no sirre.

Thursday, 19 September 2019 22:41

COLUMN: Exploring the Sandhills Game Lands

In the northern parts of Richmond and Scotland counties lies more than 60,000 acres of the Sandhills Game Land. This land was part of a bigger purchase of land by the federal government in the early part of the 20th century. Over a half million acres of sandy poor land in five counties were and still are used to  train our armed forces. Over time, the part known as Sandhills Game Management Land has been managed by state agencies like the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, Fish Hatchery and Forest Service.

Friday, 13 September 2019 15:05

COLUMN: Keeping it in the family

When my neighbor, Steve Allen, got home from his last day of school in 1956, he was surprised at what was parked in his yard. Seems his Dad, Mr. Tom Allen, had bought himself a new pickup truck.

Friday, 06 September 2019 15:03

COLUMN: Keep those blades sharp

Landscaping our yards with flowers, shrubs, trees and grass has become a multi-million dollar business. Many folks have their own landscaping business and employ lots of workers. The average homeowner  invests in a riding lawn mower, weedeater and many types of hand tools just to maintain their yards. Grass seed, fertilizer and chemicals are purchased along with irrigation equipment. Now let’s not forget about those high-priced water bills that come in every month.

Friday, 23 August 2019 18:08

COLUMN: School buses are rolling again

Around the end of August, school buses will be on the roads again carrying children back and forth to school. Why, some kids have to rise before daylight to be able to catch the bus. Some might have an hour ride to get to their school.

 

Nowadays during the month of August, children are returning from camp or vacations. Within the next few weeks they will be headed back to school. Clothes and school supplies have to be bought and whatever else that is required for the start of the school year.

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