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Remembering a childhood friend from afar

By By Lowell McGill
I wish had learned more about my childhood friend.
A childhood friend, you say? I thought everyone remembered their friends from the days of their youth.
Well, this was an unusual friend. Indeed, it was a most unusual friend.
You see, my friend was a German prisoner of war, better known as a POW.
A year or so after World War II had ended, German prisoners were brought to our country where they were situated in camps and barracks constructed by the Corps of Engineers. One of those camps was located in Loxley. From this location these men were transported to various work sites such as farms, and mostly agriculture type jobs.
My Dad signed up with the county for their services and two men were assigned to my dad’s turpentine tree farm where they learned to “dip the flowing sap” and empty it into barrels. They came for about a month until the work load required only one man. This man became friendly to our family. He spoke broken English, but it was obvious he was very intelligent. He worked hard throughout the day in the turpentine fields and at lunch time he and his supervisor would sit on our front porch steps and each their lunch. Their lunches were prepared at Loxley, but my mother always gave them water and sometimes slipped them cookies.
One day at noon time during his lunch break this POW, who was a young man, probably in his early 20s, asked for a pencil and a sheet of paper. My mother was able to interpret his request so she gave him these items. My middle sister, Pat, who was probably about 2-3 years old always caught his eye, an indication that he liked children. Well, that day he took that pencil and paper and drew a pretty little doll and gave it to my sister. I am sure my sister was too young to remember it, but I remember it well since I am older than her. Unfortunately, she could not keep the drawing due to the fact that, apparently, gifts could not be exchanged with the POWs.
Then one day his supervisor told us his work with us had been completed and that he was being moved to another work site. I was old enough to sense sadness in his leaving because I had grown to like him.
One afternoon all those men who had worked for others in our community assembled at Mr. Centinni’s barber shop porch, to be loaded onto a 2 1/2-ton truck and transported back to Loxley. I overheard some of the older men of the community saying they would be sent to another state. And, some time later I heard some of those same older men say these POWs would soon be released.
I wish I, or someone in my family, had gathered more information on “my friend.” Sadly, he left just like he came, never to be seen or heard from again.
Last September, I read a story in the “Press Register” about one prisoner who did leave a gift for an Alabama child. It was a handmade box. An inscription burned on the lids inside cover identified his name.
That newspaper story also said when all aspects of the war had ended those POWs were transferred to reparation centers and returned to their home lands.
Perhaps you, too, had childhood friends just like I did.
Well, let’s take a look at some news of people and events from the year 1975.
I am sure many of you remember Mrs. D.T. Peavy who wrote society news for The Advance for many years. She announced her retirement that year. She was 90 years of age. And, the amazing thing, her mind was still very sharp as she wrote her stories and columns right up until she retired. An Atmore native, her husband worked with Swift’s for a number of years.
Dr. Gene West and his family located in Atmore in 1975. The Piedmont native purchased the dental practice of Dr. John Millson. An Auburn University graduate, he finished dental school at the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB).
Greg McPherson, an ECHS graduate, was selected to participate in a worldwide musical tour with the United States Collegiate Wind Heritage Band.
All local banks ran ads asking Social Security recipients to sign up for “direct deposits,” a new Social Security system initiated in the summer of 1975.
Eubie Etheridge, a local broker for cucumber growers, announced the availability of new plants for the fall planting season.
Local and area residents welcome the addition to some new machinery and equipment at St. Regis Paper Company. The $45 million project eliminated emissions of “sauerkraut” like odors that sometimes could be sensed right here in the Atmore area.
Two ECHS football standouts, Lou Ikner and Joe Latham, were selected to play in the Alabama North-South All-Star Game in Tuscaloosa. Ikner, as you know, went on to an outstanding gridiron career at The Capstone.
Rhonda Haley became the third young lady from here selected Miss Lee County. The daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Ben Haley, she was a student at Auburn University when she reaped the coveted award.
Two other former Atmore girls, Susan Tennant and Sherry Robinson, were tapped Miss Lee County Queens in 1974 and 1973, respectfully.
Well, the football season has finally ended. Now all emphasis will be placed on recruiting. Here’s hoping both Auburn and Alabama have great years. It is good for the state to have such outstanding programs. Also, don’t forget about Troy. That school is now drawing recognition throughout the country.
More from 1975 next week.
Lowell McGill is a historical columnist for The Atmore Advance. He can be reached at exam@frontiernet.net