As the second World War comes to an end, Pence Mefford returns from active duty to New Castle, his small hometown in north central Kentucky.
Now armed with his typewriter, Pence writes columns for the local paper, commenting on everything from rural life to world affairs.
When war breaks out in Korea, Pence finds himself back on the battlefield, far away from home. He continues to write for the paper, reporting his first-hand perspective on a conflict that threatens to begin another world war.
From Kentucky to Korea and back again, Pence's columns chronicle the path of a growing, booming America through the 1950s.
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Pensive MethodsThe 1950s: From Kentucky to Korea and back again
By Alan Powell
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Alan Powell
All right reserved.
A New Column Begins By Pence Mefford
Hello! As you can read in the byline above, I am Pence Mefford. Many of you read my letters home from overseas during World War II. My grandfather is the longtime editor and owner of this newspaper, and he believed those letters provided a more personal glimpse into the real war than offered by larger newspapers and radio. My grandfather realized that not many residents of Henry County had a regular chance to attend motion picture theaters where they ran weekly movie newsreels with updates on the war.
Many of you know me as the grandson of Sandy Pence Mefford. Some of you know me as the son of Preston and Sadie Mefford, reared right here in New Castle by my grandfather after the untimely passing of both parents.
Being the editor of this newspaper has brought "Pa" Mefford a great deal of pleasure and purpose. He has always considered the publishing of such a paper as a "sacred trust" between his readers and himself. Nothing is printed in any edition that does not first pass under his eye. That is the way he has always believed the job should be done, and his decision is not open for debate by any employee.
When I returned home to New Castle last year after being away for most of the past decade, "Pa" began to impress upon me the importance of me having a regular column in the paper. To be honest, although I had worked part-time during school vacations at the paper, I had no intention of becoming a columnist here or anywhere. However, as some of you are aware, "Pa" can be a very persuasive man. After discussing the positives and the negatives of such a position with my wife, I decided to give if my best effort. You, the readers, will eventually make the final decision. Welcome to the experience.
This column is to be a combination of international, national, regional and local news along with intermittent columns dealing with the abundance of local characters living in our county.
The editor has instructed me to bring you all up to date with how I have spent the last several years, so I will comply with his wish. Besides, it would not be a wise move on the part of your humble servant to violate a direct "suggestion" from the owner.
I enlisted as soon as I legally could after Pearl Harbor, which was on my eighteenth birthday in early January 1942. To make a long story short, I went through months of training to become a bomber pilot in the war. Stationed the majority of time in England, my crew and I were blessed enough to survive many bombing raids over Germany without a single loss.
Upon release from active duty in the fall of 1945, I entered Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana on the recommendation of an esteemed alumnus, who happened to be my commanding officer for most of the war. I became an engineering student and was fortunate enough to play some football and baseball there as well.
In June of 1947, I married a Purdue co-ed named Colleen My new wife graduated with a degree in nursing in June of 1948 and gave birth to our first child two weeks later. We named our son Preston in honor of my father. I followed with my degree the next year. July of 1949 saw the three of us come to New Castle.
A New Decade Begins
By Pence Mefford
As we begin the decade that will include the exact middle of the century, perhaps it would be a good idea for us to take a moment to check on what events have brought us to this historic threshold and also take some time to muse about the future.
Since the end of the war many rather remarkable things have occurred in our world and some of them will have a profound effect on our lives. Allow me to use our time together to examine happenings, which may eventually reach into the far corners of our county.
Back in 1947, an Arab boy discovered ancient leather scrolls rolled inside earthenware jars deep in a desert cave. Scholars have determined the manuscripts date from one hundred years before and after the birth of Christ. While it will involve years of study to translate all of the writings, historians agree they are of inestimable value. If the scrolls contain information on the life and teachings of Jesus, they will be priceless to His millions of followers.
The same year the scrolls were uncovered in the desert, U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall outlined his plan to assist the war-torn countries of Europe. The Marshall Plan would send tons of material goods to those countries in the hope of stimulating their shattered economies suffering from years of war. In addition, Marshall theorized these receiving countries would see the growth of democracy. While the plan has worked very well in lending a helping hand to needy people, the growth of new democracies is still open for debate.
Would you like to fly in an airplane traveling faster than the speed of sound? Such a fantasy could become reality thanks to a USAF Captain named Chuck Yeager. Flying his Bell X-1 Rocket Plane above the high desert testing grounds in California, Capt. Yeager broke the barrier. Soon, it will be commonplace for fighter jets to fly at such a tremendous speed. As a pilot, my only regret is a personal one – that I wasn't flying the first plane to crack the sound barrier.
Many countries gained independence of one form or another in the past few years; most notably among them were China, India, and Israel. While most of these new countries had struggled with colonial powers for years, Israel's battle for a homeland had lasted for centuries. While there are only a handful of Jewish people in Henry County, I am sure they all rejoiced with deserved relief and humility when, in May of 1948, the State of Israel was finally established in the Old Testament lands.
As for India, I can foresee nothing but turmoil for that area. The many religious factions will continue their ancient rivalries and keep the country in upheaval. Without the calming personality of Gandhi, it can only become worse.
China is altogether different. Under the iron rule of Mao Tse-tung's Communist Party billions will continue to live in abject poverty across the vast hinterlands. I have read several reports and articles concerning the Chinese people and government with the idea of relaying important information to you. There is precious little for me to report since the rulers desire to keep the rest of the world in the dark about their plans. I will warn you that Mao is a warrior and will instill this attitude in his subjects.
The Serviceman's Readjustment Act
By Pence Mefford
Unless you are a veteran or related to one, you may not be familiar with a piece of legislation signed by FDR back in 1944 named The Serviceman's Readjustment Act. You probably know it by its more common name, the G.I. Bill. This is one of the few acts of the U.S. Congress that lives up to its name. This bill was intended to assist the returning serviceman adjust to civilian life, and it has done exactly that in millions of cases.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt looked into the future with the help of several members of the military and civil service. This group could see that when WWII was over and done with, millions of veterans would be returning to a civilian life for which they would not be adequately prepared. It was a frightening thought, conjuring up images of overcrowding and hardships for families that had undergone nothing but hardships for years. Staggering unemployment was high on the list of probable misfortunes to befall the country.
The bunch in Washington, prodded by the American Legion to eventually include women and minorities in the legislation, decided to fund vocational training and college tuition for those who qualified, which was almost anyone who wanted either. I remember reading an article in The Stars and Stripes about the concerns, voiced by many college presidents and trustees. At the time, I could not understand the reluctance of the college officials to accept the bill wholeheartedly. Since that time, I have come to understand their hesitation was not elitist, but rather one of economics. The college representatives feared they returning soldiers and sailors would not be able to meet their incurred debts to the schools. Uncle Sam solved the potential problem by picking up a larger percentage of the tuition payments.
Another portion of the Act supplied mountains of money for home loans. The overcrowding fears quickly eroded as housing starts jumped into the millions by the end of the decade. I recently read in The Louisville Courier-Journal that housing starts actually numbered nearly twelve million since the end of the war, and the G.I. Bill has backed nearly ninety percent of those. Obviously, the high number of new houses solved both the overcrowding and the unemployment for many. The same article mentioned less than twenty percent of returning G.I.s even applied for unemployment insurance.
I was one of the millions who went to college on the G.I. Bill. Simply put, it would have been difficult for me to afford the costs of an education. While I could have worked my way through school, the Act made it much easier, allowing me to concentrate on my studies while even playing football and baseball. It would have been a much different four years for me without the G.I. Bill. After Colleen and I were married, we lived in married student housing partially supplemented by the government program. Being an "unofficial orphan" reared solely by my grandfather, I was very grateful for the assistance.
A better-trained working class and more employment opportunities have allowed most of the benefits of the Act to pay for themselves by way of increased tax collections.
Russia, China, and Two Little Boys
By Pence Mefford
My father, Preston Mefford, died as a result of injuries suffered when his airplane crashed during a training mission in Georgia in 1938. I had turned fourteen and did not understand what had happened—a pretty typical response for a young teenager who did not have a realistic grip on life at that time. I was the only child of Preston and Sadie Mefford of New Castle, and since my mother had passed away two years earlier, the death of my father left me all alone in the world. All alone except for a widowed grandfather living back in the old hometown. Sandy Pence Mefford, the wise old Scottish Presbyterian/Methodist took what he considered the only correct course of action and invited me to live with him.
During those years growing up in my grandfather's house, he impressed upon me those things that he considered to be important. One of those was to remember the lessons my father had taught me while he was alive. While his military duties kept him away from our home most of the time, when he was home, my father was a real presence to reckon with for a young boy growing up on a succession of army bases.
I can recall many of my father's recurring topics of conversation. Highest on his list was: "Always remember the obligation you have to serve your country when it needs you." Another was: "Never forget the sacrifices your mother made so that I could remain in the military." But the one that eerily comes to mind these days is: "Russia and China, son. They are the ones to watch. You may not be forced to deal with them, but your sons surely will face them on the battlefield." Well, the man is looking more and more like a good prophet in a historical sense.
Our first son, Preston (named after my father) is not yet two years old. A second son, Pernell (named for my maternal grandfather) is a tender three months of age. Therefore, I am watching the events taking place in Russia and China with a great deal of interest.
Personally, while I liked most of the Russian soldiers I met in WWII, I have never actually trusted Joe Stalin, whom I believe will be discredited by history as nothing short of a cold-bloodied murderer. My commanders during the war considered the Russian dictator as a necessary evil. Stalin's troops were needed to keep the German war machine occupied on the eastern front, while our boys stormed the beaches at Normandy and worked their way inland.
Since the end of the war, Stalin has pulled one trick after another and proven himself to be untrustworthy in the eyes of President Truman and many others. We have not met the Russians on the battlefield yet, but anyone with a chance to review facts must come to the conclusion that it is just a matter of time.
While the thought of fighting the Russians is unsettling enough for this father of two boys, it pales in comparison with what could possibly happen in China. Mao Tse-tung has solidified his hold on the millions and millions of Chinese peasants. While lacking the technology of the Russians, China can throw almost unlimited manpower at any foe.
Perhaps the most chilling photograph of the new decade is the one showing Mao and Stalin signing a 30-year mutual defense treaty. If these two powers should decide to join forces to fight the West, God help us all.
A Peek Into the Future
By Pence Mefford
Last month we took a quick glance back at the last few years and discovered them loaded with events of great historical significance. In fact, the last decade was absolutely packed with life-changing events. The 1940s would have been noteworthy if for no other reason than the tumult of World War II.
As the war came to a conclusion, which was both tragic and triumphant, the countries involved found they desperately needed the time and the means to heal their wounds and also to take a step back in order to rest. We all needed time off from the front lines of history. Yet, those weary war years taught us a great deal about ourselves personally and about our country as a nation.
Many of us whom fate and providence placed in the firestorm discovered we could function as we were trained to do with clarity and purpose. Many who remained at home to hope and pray for the safety of loved ones on the distant battlefields learned much about patience and faith. Millions around the world suffered terrible losses of heartbreaking proportions. While millions returned home shattered and broken mentally and physically, millions of others did not return at all. Some came home to warm embraces and were allowed to peer into eyes of children they had never seen before. Others had their bodies buried in foreign soil. Such has always been the fortunes of war. The best are sometimes taken from us without rhyme or reason.
Granted, the world needed time away from war, but alas, the peace did not last for long in many parts of the globe. In America, we could take a deep breath, but were forced to keep a wary eye focused on the struggles being waged in India, China, the Middle East and in a few other places where the average citizen would be forced to consult a map to pinpoint an exact location.
And now, we face a new decade, rolling along into our lives whether we are ready for it or not. Time marches on, as they say. We are almost forced to ask ourselves what the next ten years will bring. Allow me to do what mankind has done for untold centuries – attempt to forecast the future. This is surely the most unreasonable request we make of ourselves. If any of us could accurately predict the future, we would certainly be in the betting lines in Louisville come the first Saturday in May to place our hefty wager on the sure winner of the Derby.
I would like to predict that the United States would not be involved in a war anytime within the 1950s, but I cannot do so with any confidence. The world is just too fraught with opposing ideologies to predict a lasting peace.
Excerpted from Pensive Methods by Alan Powell Copyright © 2011 by Alan Powell. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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