By: Jerry Barksdale

We were off on another “man trip” (our fifth), this time to the Aliceville Museum in Aliceville, Alabama. During WWII the small, rural town of approximately 1,500 hosted the largest German POW camp in America. More than 6,100 soldiers of Field Marshall Rommel’s once vaunted Afrika Korps were imprisoned there. Another 1,000 American military guarded and cared for them.

As always, women weren’t allowed on this trip. As I’ve written before, we didn’t have time to stop for pedicures, shoe shopping, engaging in petty gossip, and arguing about where the fork and napkin go on the dinner table. We gossip about major stuff. And men don’t give a darn where a fork and napkin are placed. Just set a bucket of fried chicken on the table and move back.

Retired Athens cop and Alabama Veterans Museum president, Jerry Crabtree, was driver and official wise cracker.

Museum board member, Bill Ward, retired mathematician and native of Pickens County was guide and color commentator.

Ewell Smith, Museum board member, former Athens Volunteer Fire Fighter, and retired business manager at Athens State University told us a story about an Athens “fire bug” who had numerous blazes that conveniently began when the firemen were at church on Sunday morning. The blaze was always extinguished and the rental house saved, but all contents were damaged. The insurance company stopped paying claims and the fires stopped. We talked about other things, but that’s none of your business.

Aliceville is 45 miles West of Tuscaloosa. There are two routes to get there. One is I-20 west from Tuscaloosa. We took the scenic route through Bankhead National Forest. Both routes are about the same distance, but you won’t see beautiful kudzu, endless trees, spattered squirrels, and trashy front yards along the interstate. I recommend the scenic route.

Bill Ward was also our trip humorist. Knowing that I take two Lasix pills a day, and sensitive to my needs (when you gotta go – you gotta go!), he pointed out trees large enough for me to hide behind and pee. Good friends are invaluable. If we had been on I-20, I could have been arrested for answering nature’s call. A retired mathematician, Bill once worked out complicated formulas before computers did the work. I tested his knowledge.

“Hey Bill, can you do long division?” He’s quick.

“Sure, bring down your nought and carry the zero.” Wow! He knows his stuff.

In Fayette, signs were posted along the curb that said, “Peace be to these streets.” We figured the mayor was planning to install “squeeze chutes” and “tire busters” around their square like in Athens. Once peaceful little Athens where folks attend church three times a week, the women carry guns, and there is no sin (until the sun goes down) has become a divided town. Many citizens complain they can’t circle the courthouse like they used to.

“We need those signs in Athens,” quipped Crabtree. I agree.

We stopped at the Pickens County Courthouse in Carrollton where Bill showed us “the face in the window.” According to Bill, after Henry Wells was arrested for burning the courthouse in 1876, he was placed in the garret of the newly constructed courthouse for safe keeping from a mob. While looking out at the mob, lightning struck and imprinted his likeness on the glass. I saw the image but can’t swear it was Henry since I never met him.

Aliceville (pop. 2397) is quiet and friendly, reminiscent of earlier times in the South when folks sat on their front porch in the evenings and gossiped about their neighbor. Gossip is far more reliable than the evening news and certainly of more interest.

John Gillum, executive director of the museum, was our tour guide and, an excellent one at that. “The POWs had been told that New York City was in rubble and the Statue of Liberty was twisted metal,” John said. “They rushed to the ships railing to see the destruction. Instead they saw a pulsating and vibrant city.” Many POWs thought they would be shot. Such is the power of propaganda.

The first group of POWs arrived in Aliceville by train on June 2, 1943. Locals turned out to gawk. Instead of seeing a “super race” they saw malnourished, bedraggled, and disheveled men in worn out uniforms. They were marched two miles to the 400-acre barb wire enclosure. Still, many thought they were going to be shot. Instead, mess halls were opened and they were fed. It was their first time to eat peanut butter. They squeezed white bread into a blob (Germans ate brown bread) and rubbed on peanut butter. They liked it. Who doesn’t like a peanut butter sandwich?

Over the years, many of the POWs returned to Aliceville bringing with them memorabilia, now on display. They also told many stories. Food was rationed during WWII and the POWs often ate better than the locals. (See Alabama Heritage, Winter 1988, No. 7 for an in-depth account of the POWs.) Corn was plentiful in the area and it was fed to the POWs. In their mind this was an insult, since in Germany, corn was fed to hogs. They didn’t want to eat it, yet they didn’t want to offend their captors. They hatched a plan. They buried the corn in numerous places to conceal it. Corn began sprouting up all over the compound. The locals thought they liked corn so much they were planting their own crop. They sent more corn!

Many of the POWs picked cotton, gathered peanuts, and worked in sawmills for which they were paid. The officers and NCO weren’t required to work pursuant to the Geneva Convention. All lived well. However, two POWs were shot and killed while trying to escape.

The POWs organized an orchestra, produced plays and concerts, wrote poetry, painted and promoted the arts, and pretty much lead a good life, except for being away from home. The museum is also chock-full of American military memorabilia, including a display of Pickens County’s two Medal of Honor recipients. There is also a large display of 1920s clothing.

Following our excellent tour, we lunched at Angie’s Place on pulled pork, smoked chicken, and fried catfish. Fine eating. A meat and three with a drink was $11.00.

It’s a good day trip and I recommend it. You can visit their website: www.alicevillemuseum.org or phone: 205-373-2363.

And for those of you taking Lasix, don’t worry there are many large oak trees along the scenic route.
By: Jerry Barksdale
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By: Jerry Barksdale

Back in the1950s “Ol’ Miz Doctor Powers” (called Pie-eers by locals) was one of Athens’ most colorful characters. Her name was Mabel Claire Gray, born in Elkmont, and the wife of Dr. A. D. Powers, one of Limestone County’s most prominent physicians. They lived in a rambling white house at the corner of 1st Avenue and North Jefferson Street one block north of Powers Hospital, now known as Powers Apartments. It was the first hospital built in Limestone County.

Ol’ Miz Powers was creme de la creme of the Athens social set, but that never interfered with expressing herself in the clearest terms. According to the authors of Gray, Powers, and their interelated [sic] families, Descendants of Col. Thomas Holden Wade, Miz Powers was attending a Presbyterian revival where the sermon topic was sin and going to hell. “You’re going to hell if you play cards and you’re going to hell if you smoke,” said the preacher. Miz Powers had heard enough. She stood and said, “I like to play bridge, and I’ve been smoking since before it was decent for a lady to smoke. And I’m not going to hell!” Then she huffed out.

She often went to the Limestone Bank and cashed checks. Instead of making a deposit, she rolled up the bills and stuffed them down her bra. “I’m depositing them in the Breast National Bank,” she would say.

Ol’ Miz Powers drove a Fleetwood Cadillac, a 2½ ton, 8-cylinder land yacht, which she parked wherever it was convenient, which was usually in the middle of the street.

It was said that she could out cuss a sailor. Mama was sitting in the hospital waiting room when Dr. Powers returned from a medical conference to find that Miz Powers had redecorated the waiting rooms with new curtains. Dr. Powers didn’t approve and snatched them down. Miz Powers took offense and an F-5 cuss fight ensued.

Athens installed parking meters that had to be fed coins. They hired young McElyea to ride around on a red, three-wheel motorcycle and ticket violators for illegal parking. Locals called him Red Ryder. The sound of Red Ryder’s motorcycle sent shoppers scurrying to feed the meter. He was ticketing Ol’ Miz Powers Caddy when she walked up.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“I’m writing you a ticket, Miz Powers.”

That’s when she introduced a new phrase in the English lexicon of cuss words. “You are nothing but a revolving son of a bitch,” she said.

Red Ryder was puzzled. “What’s that, Miz Powers?”

“You are a son of a bitch anyway you turn!” she said, ripped up the ticket and threw it on the ground.

The introduction of parking meters sowed confusion among some members of the Athens “brain trust.” For example, which meter did you have to feed? On Saturday mornings, country folks sat on their haunches in front of State National Bank, rolling their own, spitting on the sidewalk, and discussing boll weevils and cotton picking. An elderly gentlemen parked his pickup, got out, walked up the street a few yards, and fed a meter. Red Ryder wrote the old fellow a ticket.

“Now that ain’t right,” said one of the loafers. “I seen him put money in it.”

One of the more intellectual loafers weighed in. “Well, maybe he was supposed to feed the meter where he parked.”

They all agreed that the old gentlemen had been wrongly treated. Anyway, who ever heard of having to pay to park your vehicle?

In addition to inventing new cuss words, Ol’ Miz Powers was handy with a pistol. According to her great granddaughter (steemipatina.com), it was a hot summer night and Miz Powers was home, doors open, trying to catch a breeze when she saw someone lurking in the yard. Dr. Powers was at the hospital a block down the street.

“Get outta here!” she yelled. That was the only warning she gave before opening fire at the lurking figure behind a tree. Pow-pow-pow-pow-pow! The trespasser went down groaning in pain.

“Don’t shoot, Miz Powers! It’s the police.”

Doc Powers heard five shots ring out and figured it was Miz Powers’ .32 Smith & Wesson speaking. “That’s Mable’s gun,” he remarked. “I guess I better go see about it.” He found the wounded policeman, carried him to his hospital, and removed the bullet…no charge.

When I was a kid living in Booger Town, I walked past the Powers’ home on Saturday mornings headed to the Ritz Theater. During the fall, a small, wiry, black man was usually raking leaves and piling them between the sidewalk and curb. Miz Powers would be standing on her front porch, fists on hips, directing the little fellow and making sure no leaf was missed. I was afraid of her and always hurried down the sidewalk.

The Sutton boys and their Booger Town gang also walked to the Ritz on Saturday mornings. The first to see the leaf pile would yell, “Last one there is a rotten egg!” The boys would take off running and jump into the leaves, scattering them over the lawn and sidewalk. They would run off laughing and hollering before Miz Powers made the scene. Oh boy! What fun. It was a Saturday morning ritual.

There was a fire plug located between the sidewalk and curb by the Powers’ home. One Saturday, the Sutton boys, seeing the leaves neatly piled, took off running and laughing and jumped in. Bam! Bong! “Aahgg!” The leaves had been swept over the fire plug. That ended the Sutton boys’ leaf jumping careers.

Several years ago, I told a friend about having seen Miz Powers on her front porch, fists on hips, directing the small black man sweeping leaves.

“Do you know the rest of the story?” he asked me. “When he became ill, Dr. and Miz Powers sent him to the Mayo Clinic where he received the best medical care in the world. They took care of him until he died.”

Dr. Powers died in 1963 at age 80, and Miz Doctor Powers died 8 years later at age 80. They are buried side by side in the Athens City Cemetery.
By: Jerry Barksdale
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By: Jerry Barksdale

I have a lot to worry about nowadays. A groundhog has homesteaded in my garden and eaten my cabbage, my chainsaw won’t crank, and I have an enlarged prostrate. And I just learned Earth will perish in 12 years. My kind of luck. That’s according to New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, alias AOC. She’s a smart woman – an intellectual – and wears big owlish glasses to prove it. Since Earth has been my only home since birth, I would like to continue living here. Aside from Bama losing the National Championship, it’s the worst news I’ve heard in a long time. The stock market will tank and real estate prices will fall. There goes my retirement.

On the positive side, it will be a good time to buy real estate, and paying alimony and having to file income tax returns will cease. Thank the Lord! As Mama used to say, “Every cloud has a silver lining.”

Privileged rich people are already planning to bug out to Mars. Elon Musk, a privileged, old, white guy billionaire is building a spaceship to fly his wealthy friends to Mars – for a hefty fee, of course. I suspect they will live in a gated community behind a wall to keep out the Martian riff-raff and pay them minimum wage to clean their space suits and tend their rock garden. Whoopi Goldberg, Barbara Streisand, and Jon Stewart have been threatening to leave America for years. I’m sure they will be aboard. Cher is waiting for a ride to Jupiter. Bon Voyage to all. I would like to go, but I won’t be able to afford a ticket. Only the rich, privileged class will go. Anyway, I won’t leave Earth without my good friend, and sometime red-head, Pat. They wouldn’t let her on board with 150 pairs of shoes, 50 purses, and 25 pair of sunglasses.

Recently, Miss AOC proposed her Green New Deal to save Earth. Again, thank the Lord. She suggests we need to stop birthing babies. I agree. They are nothing but trouble. The little burping, defecating, diaper soiling snots just grow up to smoke pot, drink beer, get arrested, wreck cars, and flunk out of college. Then they cart us off to a nursing home. Zero babies can be achieved in one generation. But we may have to outlaw Viagra to accomplish it.

Miss AOC says that methane gas eliminated by cow flatulence is a major cause of climate change, which according to her, will contribute to destroying the earth in 12 years. She suggests that we should give up eating meat and become vegetarians. She’s wrong there.

Polite society doesn’t use the street term for flatulence. But folks living in Toney and Flat Rock, Alabama, may not know what a flatulence is, so I will translate. It’s a ten letter word to describe a four letter word – fart. For religious folks and English teachers, I assure you that it’s not a swear word. It’s one of the oldest words in the English language and can be used as a noun or a verb. If you feel more comfortable calling it a “poot,” “toot,” or “passing gas,” I understand. For the purpose of this white paper, and to accommodate sensitivities, I’ll call it “cut’n cheese.” There are 1.5 billion cows on Earth cut’n cheese, every day, all day long. They produce 150 billion gallons of methane a day. Holy cow! All animals cut cheese and produce methane gas: deer, bison, elk, horses, elephants, sheep, goats, all wild life – and yes, dogs. Termites are the worst offenders; even cockroaches pass gas. I’m for killing all termites and cockroaches. All cockroaches are good for is to make exterminators rich and scare women. Citizens, we have a real emergency on our hands. Humans also produce vast amounts of methane gas. The average person cuts cheese 14 times a day. Believe it or not, women cut cheese just as much as men! It’s hard to believe, but Queen Elizabeth cuts cheese. They say that Nancy Reagan did too. I doubt that Miss AOC does, even knowing the danger that methane gas poses to our survival.

Methane gas is also highly flammable. Several years ago, an Athens man cut an extra-large slice of cheese while sitting on the commode. He lit a Marlboro and blew himself up! There are over 7 ½ billion people on Earth cut’n cheese 14 times a day and producing billions of gallons of methane gas daily. Add that to billions produced by cows, animals, insects, and termites, and you can see the danger. If a critical mass is reached and someone lights up a joint – Boom! The Earth will erupt in a fiery conflagration.

I’ve laid out the problem, now what can we do to save our planet? Miss AOC says vegetarianism is the solution. Wrong. Many years ago I decided to go vegetarian and ate a diet of broccoli, beans, cabbage, etc. My stomach rebelled. I cut cheese all day and all night. My wife threatened to divorce me. I returned to eating fried chicken.

Eating vegetables produces methane gas. Cows are vegetarians. They eat grass almost exclusively, and they expel enormous amounts of methane. Solution: Feed them meat – preferably armadillos, groundhogs, dogs, and house cats. There are far too many of them. I’m especially jealous of dogs. They don’t work and don’t pay taxes or alimony. Dogs chase bikers, joggers, and mailmen, and act like they own the planet. We’re all in this crisis together. We must unite as a nation, and Congress should enact a methane tax similar to the carbon tax. The more you cut cheese, the more you pay. Similarly, if you don’t use all 14 of your daily poots, you could sell them to a rich vegetarian who lives miserably surviving on bean sprouts, pintos, and broccoli. A simple app on your phone would measure your flatulence. The tax proceeds would be used to find a solution to passing gas and help us save the planet.

We must all sacrifice. As for me, I intend to give up my favorite dinner – pork-n-beans on crackers – and cut back on poots.

A national ad campaign should be immediately launched by the Trump administration informing citizens of the danger of cut’n cheese and encourage us to cut back at least one flatulence a day – just one. We can do it. T-shirts, lapel pins, and bumper stickers would proclaim, “I’m a 13.” A National Day of Prayer and reflection should be declared. Ministers should mount their pulpit and encourage their flock to be a 13.

Another plank in Miss AOC’s Green New Deal is to guarantee an income to every American, whether they work or not. Many people will sign up for no work.

“Hey Joe, where you not working nowadays?”

“Oh, shoot I’m just lying on the couch drinking beer, watching reruns of the Three Stooges and sleeping. What about you?”

“I got an offer to not work as a taster in a pie factory. It just makes me tired thinking about it.”

“I know what ‘ye mean. I feel sorry for them fools who get up at 4 a.m. and go to a real job. Suckers.”

“Yeah buddy, I’ll drink to that.”

Some will say they should be forced to work before being paid. No way! It would be discriminatory and violate the “pursuit of happiness” clause in the Declaration of Independence. They have rights too!

Miss AOC also proposes that a rail system replace airplanes. Fine with me. I’m afraid to fly. The Air Force hasn’t weighed in on the proposal. They will probably whine that they can’t fight a war from a train. Whatever. Constructing a bridge to Hawaii will employ a lot of people, assuming that anyone will work. It has been estimated the Green New Deal will cost each household a mere $600,000. (Sounds like a green new steal). So what? It’s just paper. Print more money. Come on folks let’s get behind Miss AOC and save our planet. It’s the only one we have. I’m a 13, will you be one too? Just some thoughts from an old fart.
By: Jerry R Barksdale
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By: Jerry Barksdale

December 14, 1970, began like most days for chopper pilot, Warrant Officer Hal Baker stationed at Can Tho, South Vietnam. He would fly another dangerous mission, something he’d become accustomed to over the past ten months. Christmas was approaching and with a little luck he would spend the New Year holiday in Sydney, Australia, for much needed R & R. His first R & R was to have been in Bangkok, but a gunshot had put him on crutches and he didn’t want to go there hobbling around. Good luck didn’t always favor Baker.

A chopper pilot’s average life expectancy in Vietnam was 19 minutes. If Baker survived another two months, he’d be leaving this green hell hole for sweet home Indianapolis. Today would be different.

As a member of C Troop, 16th Cavalry, Baker flew one of two Loach (OH58) choppers at near ground level — one of the most dangerous helicopter assignments in Vietnam. The Loaches were scouts and marked the targets. A Huey flew at 1,000 feet as command, control, and rescue. Two Cobra gunships were at 1,500 feet providing covering fire. They were a hunter-killer team. They hunted the enemy and killed them. C Troop averaged over 120 kills a month. It was dangerous work. Life expectancy dropped to only 11 seconds once contact with the enemy was made.

It was a nice day in the Mekong Delta. Baker was flying 10 feet above ground when the Cobras spotted two enemy soldiers running through tall elephant grass. “They guided us to their position after we agreed to give them any war trophies we found,” says Baker. “They would trade them to the Air Force for a box of steaks.”

Baker zeroed in on the targets and immediately began receiving return fire. “The elephant grass was about 8 feet tall. I couldn’t see them but could see their path by the waving grass.” Baker rolled in and squeezed the trigger on his mini-gun that spit out 2,000 rounds per minute. Both men dropped, one on top of the other. They were NVA (North Vietnamese Army) and one carried a leather pouch over his shoulder. “We wanted the pouch. It could contain intelligence or at the least, it could be traded for steaks.” He slowly descended over the tall elephant grass and landed his right skid on the bodies. The left skid remained suspended a few feet over the ground.

The door gunner stepped out on the skid and grabbed the leather pouch. Then, the nose of the chopper slowly turned to the right. Baker thought the tail rotor was tangled in the grass. He saw blood and small pieces of flesh in the cockpit and on the left side of his face and helmet. Someone had been shot! He looked down at his left thigh and saw a hole the size of a silver dollar. “I’ve been shot!” He exclaimed. He was bleeding out. “I knew I had to get my gunner out before I passed out.” He lifted off and landed in the middle of a rice paddy and a hornet’s nest of enemy coming at him. They were at point blank range and firing.

Unable to walk, Baker hung onto his gunner with one arm and fired his .45 pistol at the charging enemy. He kept firing as he struggled aboard a rescue chopper. They lifted off and headed to the hospital. A South Vietnam medic aboard attempted to administer morphine and treat his wound, but Baker refused. He was concerned about infection. “I didn’t want his dirty hands on me.” So, he treated himself.

Later in the hospital, a bullet form a WWII Mauser was found lodged in Baker’s body armor. That’s when he learned that the enemy who shot him was in a spider hole just a few feet beneath him. If he had been firing an AK-47, like they usually did, the outcome would have been different. Again, Baker’s luck had held. That was the ninth time he’d been shot down. The other three crashes were mechanical.

Baker’s commander of Delta Aviation, a colonel, came to visit him in the hospital and asked if he was going home. “No sir, I’ll be back in 2 to 3 weeks,” replied Baker.

“We’ll see about that Thirteen. I don’t have time to keep coming here and checking on you,” the colonel said.

A few minutes later, the doctor came in. “You’re ordered home,” he said.

“They either don’t want me on their conscience or else I’m costing them too much money,” Baker quipped.

For gallantry in action, Baker was awarded a Silver Star, our nation’s third highest decoration for bravery.

Baker missed R & R in Sydney, instead he was going home.

He was confined to a stretcher on the flight from Tokyo to Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. “They told us if we could walk into the hospital, we could go home,” said Baker. He was flown to Ft. Knox, got off at the hospital, but didn’t have any clothes. His nurse whose husband was a pilot, brought Baker clothes and drove him to the airport in Louisville. “My twin brother, Carold, picked me up at the Indianapolis airport, and I arrived home on Christmas Eve.”

Baker’s departure to Vietnam was far more pleasant than returning home. He was on crutches and a young lady asked him, “Why are you limping?”

“Got shot in Vietnam,” he replied.

“Baby killer!”

Says Baker, “The next girl that asked me what happened I told her I was shot by the police. She was sympathetic and thought that was cool.”

Baker moved to Huntsville in 1972, and still pushing his luck, worked for Huntsville Police Department for about a year as an undercover drug cop. His long black hair was matched by a bushy mustache. He hung around bars and became acquainted with drug dealers — and even bought them drinks with his expense account. Baker worked about 30 cases during this time. Before making a buy, dealers always asked him if he was an undercover NARC. “I always told them I was,” says Baker, “but they never believed me.”

During this period, Baker met Karan Thornton, daughter of former Athens Dodge dealer, Franklin Thornton. Her grandmother was Birdie Thornton. They have been married 44 years and have one child, Jeff, a Vanderbilt Law graduate and Associate Law Professor at Pepperdine University, Malibu, California.

Baker spent 32 years crop dusting and 10 years flying a med flight chopper — you’ve probably heard him fly over Athens many times.

In addition to a Silver Star for bravery, Baker holds 5 Distinguished Flying Crosses for heroism above and beyond the call of duty during aerial flights, 3 air medals for acts of heroism while in aerial flights, 2 air medals for meritorious achievement during flights, 2 Purple Hearts for combat wounds, and several lesser decorations.

“I’m proud of all the awards, but being a flyer, I’m prouder of the five Distinguished Flying Crosses,’ says Baker.

Nowadays, about the most dangerous activity that “Crash Baker” does is climb a ladder. He and Karan will occasionally purchase a house in the Athens Historic District which they upgrade and re-sell. They live on East Street.
By: Jerry Barksdale
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By: Jerry Barksdale

If you met Hal Baker walking near his home on East Street in Athens, his unassuming appearance and quiet demeanor wouldn’t hint that he holds two Purple Hearts, a Silver Star and seven other medals for heroism in battle. To my knowledge he is the most decorated Vietnam veteran in Limestone County.

Baker has to be the luckiest, unlucky helicopter pilot that ever flew in the Vietnam War. His call sign was “Darkhorse one-three” and his nickname, “Crash Baker.” A sign in the operations room stated, “Fly with Crash Baker at your own risk.” He survived 3 crashes and went down a total of 12 times, 9 of which he was shot down. Cats must be envious of Baker.

Harold “Hal” Gene Baker and his twin brother, Carold were born on July 3, 1948 in a share cropper’s shack in a cotton patch near the small Arkansas Delta town of Swifton. He was too young to pick cotton, but not too young to ride his mother’s sack while she picked. Times were hard. His father moved the family north to Indianapolis seeking work when Hal was three years old. His interest in flight came early in life. When he was a first grader, he jumped out of a barn loft. Being unlucky, he severely injured his hip requiring traction for 6 months and crutches for 2 ½ years.

After graduating high school, he worked for Allison Motors manufacturing airplane props. He yearned for adventure. In the dead of winter, February 1968, at age 19, he joined the Army and was sent to Ft. Leonard Wood, MO, for basic training. “Ft. Misery” he calls it. Afterwards, having received a top secret security clearance, he was assigned to Cryptographic School, Ft. Meade, MD. He didn’t like it. “We were to be located in a small compound in Vietnam guarded by MPs,” says Baker. “If our compound was overrun by enemy, the MPs were supposed to destroy all crypto-equipment and kill the personnel. I didn’t think much of that.”

Living on the edge made Baker feel alive. He completed parachute school at Ft. Benning, and was assigned to the famed 82nd Airborne Division. Meanwhile, he tested for both the Green Berets and Flight School. “I weighed wading through rice paddies versus flying over them.” He chose flight school.

Unlike the other services, the Army didn’t require pilots to have a college degree. Baker was accepted and began 9 months of primary flight training, the first half at Ft. Wolters near Mineral Wells, Texas. It was brutal and the harassment never ceased. “We weren’t allowed to look up at a helicopter when one flew over,” he says. Then on to Ft. Rucker, Alabama, where he graduated and was commissioned warrant officer.

Following a 30-day leave, Baker flew to San Francisco, headed to war. The United flight attendant moved him up to first class. “I told one of the young hostesses that I wanted to see the Golden Gate Bridge before I died, that I was going to Vietnam and had no expectations of coming home. She drove him across the Golden Gate at 2 a.m. “That’s the nicest we were ever treated.” He adds, “Coming home from Vietnam wasn’t all that great.”

On February 17, 1970, Baker landed at Long Binh, a mosquito infested wet area in the Mekong Delta not far from Saigon. “I woke up next morning never to forget the smell,” says Baker. “It was damp and mildewy and smelled like a rice paddy.” Roads were clogged with motor scooters darting through the streets. The appearance was peaceful but deceiving. Soon, he would learn that it was a smelly green hell where ordinary looking people wanted to kill him. Over 40,000 Americans had been killed in the conflict to date. The average life expectancy of a chopper pilot was 19 minutes. By war’s end, almost half of the 12,000 helicopters sent there were lost, and approximately 5000 pilots and crew members were killed. That doesn’t include those injured.

A few days after arriving, Baker was assigned to the 162nd Aviation Assault Company at Can Tho. Initially, he flew a “Slick” (transport chopper without external weapons) often ferrying combat troops to “hot” landing zones. “I was scared to death,” he says. Later, he flew a Huey gunship armed with 72 rockets and machine guns manned by two door-gunners whose job was to suppress enemy gunfire. There were no gun sights on Hueys. The pilot marked an X on the windshield with a grease pencil and flew toward the target from 1500 feet, firing. “Below 500 feet you couldn’t pull out,” says Baker. “Some pilots got “target fixations” and flew into the ground and were killed.”

Bad luck stalked Baker, but good luck always saved him. The first time he was shot down was while inserting South Vietnamese troops on the ground. They began taking enemy fire. Baker went in to cover them, and his rotor blade was hit by AK- 47 rounds. The blade began shaking, and he went down behind enemy lines and was rescued. His luck held.

The pilots had to operate within strict rules of engagement. “I got in more trouble about that that than anything else,” says Baker. At the end of the runway at Can Tho, was an enemy bunker. “They shot at us in the morning when we flew out and when we came back in the afternoon. We couldn’t return fire. One evening I flew over and saw five enemy soldiers.” He rolled in and squeezed the trigger, killing three or four. The door-gunner was shot in the foot. He called for Cobra backup, but they told him he had to quit. “I kicked out the radio and told them I didn’t know what they were saying. Finally, I ran out of bullets and quit.” He grins, “I got chewed out.”

On another occasion after completing a firing mission, with two rockets left, Baker decided to practice on two water buffalo near a tree line. They swooped low and opened fire. Suddenly, bullets ripped into the flight control. “We splashed down by a dike on the other side of a rice paddy,” says Baker. “One of the door-gunners jumped up on the dike like John
Wayne and raked the tree line with bullets.” The enemy zeroed in on him. Baker, armed with only a .45 pistol, was no match for AK-47s, and moved away from the targeted machine-gunner. The fire fight lasted for 45 minutes, but again luck intervened. A recovery chopper from Can Tho rescued them.

A close friend invited Baker to join a “Hunter-Killer” team which consisted of 5 choppers. Two Cobra gunships armed with rockets, mini-guns on the nose, and a door-gunner, flew overhead at 1500 feet. A Huey flew at 1000 feet and acted as command and recovery. Baker’s 5’9”, 165 pound frame fit nicely into one of the two Loaches (light observation choppers) that flew no more than 10 feet above the ground. They were scouts looking for targets. His door-gunner, attached to a “monkey strap,” hung out the door and manned an M60 machine gun. It was dangerous and very stressful. The Hunter-Killer team averaged killing 120 enemies a month. “Our life expectancy as a Loach pilot was 11 seconds after we made contact,” says Baker. “We flew two missions a day for 3 days, then off.” However, most of the time he didn’t take his off days. Instead, he flew door-gunner or front seat on a Cobra gunship. “I figured if anybody was going to get killed, it’d be me,” says Baker. “We were young. I really didn’t care. Most of us didn’t care.”

Often Viet Cong hid in sampan boats in the river. Baker spotted an enemy and went in for the kill. The VC returned fire and shot out the chopper engine. “I splashed down in a rice paddy on the other side of the sampan,” says Baker. “The left skid broke off, and we flipped over.” Again, good luck intervened. The other Loach sank the sampan and rescued Baker and crew.

The first time Baker was wounded by enemy fire was when he was shot down with an M-79 grenade launcher. It was his ninth crash. He had a new door-gunner. They spotted three sampans turned over in the water. Enemy soldiers were hiding beneath them. “Water was so clear at times we could see people on the bottom breathing through a reed. Command and Control wanted to capture and interrogate them.” Baker dropped down to provide covering fire. Suddenly his chopper was hit on the left side knocking out his flight control. “We were going inland. All glass, airframe, everything on the right side was blown off.” It seemed Baker had finally run out of luck. “I stomped the left pedal and we crashed, rolling over, end over end, five times. My door-gunner was hanging on the monkey strap and wounded. I got out of my harness and jumped into the water and unhooked my door-gunner. Bullets were flying everywhere – water splashing around me. I saw blood streaming down my arm and I had been hit, with shrapnel in my arm and leg.” After rescue, they were flown to a hospital where pockets of shrapnel were removed from his body. “I never felt getting shot.”

Afterwards, Baker learned that a turncoat South Vietnamese soldier had fired the M-79 that shot them down. The turncoat was stood up in front of a brick wall and machine gunned by his fellow soldiers. In Vietnam, one never knew who was friend or foe. The barber that cut the men’s hair during the day was a Viet Cong fighter at night. He was killed coming through the barbed wire that surrounded the compound. On another occasion, a “friendly” pulled the pin on a hand grenade, wrapped a rubber band around it to hold the plunger down, and dropped it in the chopper’s gas tank while the crew was temporarily absent. Fortunately, the gas ate through the rubber, and the grenade exploded before the chopper was airborne.

To be continued…
By: Jerry R. Barksdale
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By: Jerry Barksdale

Early morning coldness lingered in the high mountain valley slowly giving way to the rising sun. Pat and I had spent the night in a small log cabin on the edge of the Wind River Indian Reservation. The welcomed sun warmed our faces while we watched the Wyoming sky gradually turn turquoise blue. The day held great promise and adventure. After breakfast and camp coffee, we saddled up.

“It’s a long ride up there,” our outfitter said, gazing west at the Wind River Mountains. Leading a pack horse carrying our camping gear, we rode toward granite peaks that thrust upward over 13,000 feet. Our destination was a mountain lake not far from the Continental Divide said to be teeming with brook trout. I couldn’t wait to try out my new fly rod.

Pat, an Arkansas native and former Huntsville surgical nurse, was a single mother of two daughters when I met her following my divorce in 1985. Two years later she said, “Barksdale, I’m the prettiest thing in Southeast Huntsville, maybe Southeast United States, and you need to stop looking around.” She was right, of course. A brown-eyed beauty with long raven hair, she was fully equipped with all the accessories that a man likes. And she had a wicked sense of humor. I took her advice and married her in 1987.

Earlier in the week we had flown to Jackson Hole, rented a car and drove near Dubois, turned onto a dirt road, and bumped across the Indian reservation to a small cabin and corral of horses on the edge of the national forest.

Stuffed inside two Army duffel bags was a tent, air mattress, sleeping bags, novels, flashlights, and our kitchenware. Mama’s old No. 7 blackened cast iron skillet was just the right size for frying brook trout. We had potatoes, Wesson Oil, cornmeal, and plenty of Maxwell House. Coffee, coughing and gurgling in my dented and smoke stained camp pot would bring great joy to our cold mornings. All we needed was good weather, hungry trout, and a little luck.

As we rode toward the high country, the only sound was clanging horse shoes and creaking saddles. As we climbed higher into thin air, the horses blew and caught their breath. We would be dropped off at a lake and picked up several days later. It was grizzly country. No radio, no phone, no problem, I could outrun Pat. I did have a Marine fighting knife for dressing trout and peeling potatoes. If I got in a knife fight with a grizzly, I wouldn’t hesitate to use it. If that didn’t work out, I’d put on my glasses. Down South a gentleman never assaults a man wearing glasses. Well, that’s what Mama always told me. I wasn’t sure grizzlies knew that Southern custom.

“Look!” Pat pointed toward a pinkish red field. As we rode closer, I saw that it was a small glacier inhabited with algae. We began a steep climb around switchbacks. The sorrel mare I rode and the pack horse I led were blowing and snorting. The trail was narrow, a wall of granite on our left and a deep chasm on our right. One slip and airborne! At the bottom of the abyss, I noticed a line of white bones strung out in row. “What’s that?” I asked our guide.

“I was hoping that you wouldn’t see that,” he said. “A cat spooked pack horses that were tied together. One slipped and pulled the others over the edge.”

Midafternoon, we arrived at a small blue lake and set up camp. When the last clanging horseshoes died out, I realized that we were totally alone.

Pat organized the inside of our tent like it was her kitchen, got a fire going, and made coffee. By late afternoon, I had caught a mess of trout. I chopped off their heads, gutted, and cleaned them; battered them in cornmeal; and dropped them into the sizzling skillet. We ate them like corn on the cob, washed down with camp coffee. Greasy and delicious. When the sun dropped behind the peaks, coldness came. We sat around the campfire watching as it turned to glowing coals. Pat zipped our sleeping bags together so we could share body heat. About the time I stopped shivering and got warm, my enlarged prostrate grew larger. I had to pee. I crawled out of the bag, unzipped the tent flap, and walked into the freezing night and peed. I was like an icicle. I scrunched close to Pat. She jumped. “Get away!” If we even went to divorce court, I’d remember that. Something was crawling on me. Was it a tick? Then I heard animal sounds nearby. My imagination ran wild. Was it a grizzly snooping around looking for dinner? I finally got warm and was almost asleep when I had to pee again. I crawled out; it was even colder. After crawling out a third time, I remembered the coffee pot. Hmm… The following day wind howled incessantly, and we remained inside the tent, read and slept.

I followed a clear mountain stream that fed the lake and saw trout. I made a few casts and caught my line in a willow bush. As I worked to untangle it, I noticed large paw prints in the soft earth. Bear tracks! No doubt about it. Between getting up to pee and thinking about a bear eating me, I didn’t sleep much that night.

I lay awake thinking about a TV program I’d seen several years earlier where a Department of Interior employee drugged a grizzly for tagging when suddenly the bear woke and mauled him. He drew a 44 Magnum and killed the bear. When and if I ever returned to bear country, I’d be packing a .44.

The following day got real spooky. Three men appeared and set up a camp nearby. They weren’t the standard skinny, pig-tailed, trail mix-eating hikers. They looked more like escaped cons. They looked at Pat with interest. I sensed danger. Thereafter, I carried my fighting knife on my belt. I lost interest in fishing. Pat and I were packed and sitting on our duffel bags when we heard horses approaching. It was the outfitter. Thank the Lord.

“Did you guys have a real adventure?” he asked.

“Yep, that’s an understatement.”

When we returned to Huntsville, I purchased a Smith and Wesson .44 Magnum at Larry’s Pistol and Pawn. The next time I went to the mountains I’d be packing it, just in case. I’d also be carrying an empty fruit jar — my version of a camper’s bed pan.
By: Jerry Barksdale

By: Jerry R. Barksdale

When I was a child and misbehaved, Mama would shake her head and say, “Uh, uh, you’re going to turn out just like Early Smith.” (Not his real name). Other mothers did the same. It was enough to never miss Sunday School and straighten up and fly right. There is no kinder way to say it.

Early was the town drunk. Daddy was no slacker himself when it came to drinking whiskey, but he wasn’t in Early’s class. When I was in the third grade at Athens Bible School, Mama left Daddy (one of several times) and we moved into one room at Grandmother Holt’s house in Milltown. It was winter time and I walked two miles each morning to school as coal furnaces belched out black smoke and soot polluting downtown Athens. After school I walked the railroad tracks back home, mainly because Mama told me not to, which made it even more tempting. My favorite activity was looking inside empty boxcars parked on the side track.

One afternoon I crawled inside a darkened boxcar, heard snoring, and when my eyes adjusted, saw a man slumped against the wall. Empty bottles of Bay Rum hair tonic were scattered at his feet. Lord, have mercy — it was Early Smith! I’d never been that close to evil. I inched closer…closer; slowly stuck out my hand and touched his leg. He woke up. “Get outta here, kid!” I scrambled out of the boxcar and hit the ground running and didn’t stop until I reached home. I didn’t dare tell Mama or she would’ve given me a long lecture on the evils of alcohol which she had experienced firsthand. At school the next day, my buddies were saucer-eyed when I told them about how I had barely escaped death, at the hands of Early Smith. They were impressed and I was very popular for a day or two.

Many years passed and, after graduating from Alabama Law School, I returned to Athens to practice. Early Smith was still alive. I saw him shuffling down the sidewalk wearing an old knee-length Army overcoat. He was humped over, head bowed, never looking up, a sad empty hull of a man. Who was he? Why did he fall so low in life?

I asked an older lawyer, Bruce Sherrill, about Early. He told me the back story. Early had graduated from Alabama Law School in the early 1920s and was said to have been a classmate of Senator John Sparkman, one of the most powerful senators in Washington. (Had I sat in the same seat that Early once occupied while a student at Farrah Hall?) “He was practicing with an older lawyer in Athens,” said Sherrill, “and began to drink and was eventually disbarred.” Losing his law licenses and the ability earn a livelihood was a knock-out punch. Maybe that’s what triggered his trip down a rat hole. Who can say? Perhaps I would have done the same.

During the late 1950s, Early was discovered by Sheriff Clyde Ennis passed out on a public bench on the courthouse lawn. Ennis arrested him for public drunkenness and hauled into court before Judge David L. Rosenau. Sheriff Ennis testified that he found Early passed out in broad daylight on a public bench. Early admitted the allegations. Slam dunk conviction, right? Not so fast.

Early pulled out the Code of Alabama and cited the definition of public drunkenness. “Any person,… drunk, appears in public place… manifests a drunken condition by boisterous…conduct, or loud and profane….

“Yo Honor, I was drunk and in a public place,” said Early, “but I wasn’t boisterous and I wasn’t loud and I wasn’t profane. I was passed out — sound asleep.” Judge Rosenau found Early not guilty, and rightly so.

As President Obama was fond of saying, “There is a teachable moment here.” When you get drunk in public, keep your mouth shut and always, always drink enough to pass out.

I’ve often wondered what the future would have held for Early if he hadn’t slid down the alcohol rat hole as a young attorney. Early didn’t aspire to be an alcoholic. He had a dream and ambition. It’s a lesson for all of us.

There are many ratholes in life – alcohol, drugs, hate, greed and blind
ambition, to name a few. We need to be careful we don’t fall in one and
can’t climb out.
By: Jerry Barksdale
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By: Jerry Barksdale

Hobey (not real name) didn’t look like a country clubber nor a deacon in the Baptist Church, because he wasn’t. Far from it. He liked whiskey – good or bad – loved to listen to Hank Williams, and was well respected at the local pool hall. To borrow from Roger Miller’s song, Hobey was a man of means by no means. He appeared at my office unannounced with a “case” as he called it. I sized him up from across my desk. Of average size and in his late 50s, his faded complexion reminded me of a pair of overalls that had been washed too many times. He looked me straight in the eye. I liked that.

“I’ll just tell ya right off the bat,” he said, “I’m a drinking man with the longest drinking rap sheet in Limestone County.” I liked his honesty, too.

I always sized up a potential client like a juror would. Did I like him? Was he believable? Did I want to help him? Over many years of trying cases, I had learned one immutable law: Jurors won’t lift a finger to help a litigant unless they know something about him and like him. I listened in silence as Hobey told his story.

It was a hot summer morning in Athens when Hobey departed his small rental house in North Athens and walked downtown to the pool hall. He had lost his driver’s license years earlier. After shooting a few games of pool, he purchased a bottle of “bootleg” whiskey and walked back home. Athens was “dry” at the time, and I knew jurors wouldn’t approve of his drinking. His modest house was located next door to an in-law. She didn’t approve of Hobey and didn’t approve of drinking. He raised the window in his bedroom to catch a breeze, placed a stack of Hank Williams records on the turn table, and killed the bottle of whiskey. He lay down on the bed and let the alcohol work its magic while he listened to Hank whine about cheating hearts and lost highways. Hank’s lyrics wafted out the raised window as Hobey dozed off. Not only did his in-law dislike drinking, she didn’t like Hank either. She called the sheriff’s office. “Hobey’s drunk again and playing loud music.”

Shortly, a county brown skidded up. Two deputies emerged and, without a warrant and without knocking, they entered Hobey’s castle where they found him peacefully asleep on his bed. They grabbed Hobey and began pulling him from the bed. Hobey, being suddenly and violently awakened from his alcohol fog and not knowing who was attacking him, began flailing at his attackers. Then one of the deputies beat the crap out of him. He was cuffed and thrown in the back seat of the squad car and hauled off to jail. “I’m hurting bad,” he said. They ignored him. After all, he was just another drunk. He was placed in a cell. “I’m hurting,” he said. Finally, he was transported to E.R. with fractured ribs.

“Why do you think a jury will help you?” I asked him.

He leaned close to my desk. “Them damn Japanese didn’t treat me that bad,” he said, referring to his WWII service. And that was the crux of his case. A man’s house is his castle and the king’s men have no right to enter without a warrant. Our ancestors fought a revolution to secure that right. A citizen can get drunk and listen to Hank all day long in his own house if he chooses. “Hobey, you just found yourself a lawyer,” I said.

I filed suit in Federal Court against Limestone County, the sheriff, and the two deputies. After the defense lawyer had milked all the money he could out of the insurance company, they offered to settle.

I didn’t think a jury would approve of Hobey’s lifestyle, but neither would they approve of the king’s men barging into a citizen’s castle without a warrant and dragging him from bed. Not in America! Justice is blind. She knows no distinction between a fallen sparrow and a soaring eagle, a deacon or a pool player. She knows only justice.

The case was settled. I received a nice fee, and Hobey got enough money to keep him in good whiskey and Hank records for a long time. Later, I was sitting at my desk with my back to the bay window that looks out to South Marion Street. I heard “beep – beep.” I turned around and there was Hobey astride a brand new shiny, red bicycle. It was loaded – basket in front, horn and tassel handle bar. Hobey was smiling like a kid. After telling him it was against the law to ride on the sidewalk, he pedaled off. That’s the last time I saw him until several years later when I was Athens City Prosecutor. I didn’t recognize him. He was charged with public drunkenness. “I’ll plead guilty,” he said, “but I don’t want to attend ‘drunk school.’”

“It’s mandatory,” I said. “The city makes a fat fee, and the defendant must attend classes.”

We approached the bench. “Your honor, Hobey admits he was drunk, but says he ‘don’t want to attend drunk school’ and pay a fee.”

“Why is that?” asked the judge.

“Your honor, I’m a drunk. Always have been and will be till the day I die. Attending drunk school and paying a fee won’t change that.”

“He’s telling the truth Judge,” I said. “I know Hobey.”

Hobey didn’t attend drunk school and I never saw him again. I heard that he died several years ago. No streets are names after Hobey, and he was never voted Man of the Year; but he had an honesty about him that not all of us are blessed with.
By: Jerry Barksdale
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By: Jerry Barksdale

Ever since I retired five years ago, Lilly Belle has asked me to take her on a fall tour of New England. “I want to see the leaves,” she said. Being a sensitive husband, I always try to accommodate her. “Darling, look out the back door. A leaf is a leaf no matter where it’s located.”

After she burned my cornbread three days in a row, I decided that I, too, wanted to tour New England. It was just before Halloween when I went online looking for a cheap tour and found Forever Tours in Birmingham. It was a new company offering reduced prices. I had lucked out. Lilly Belle was painting her toenails and watching QVC. “Sweetheart,” I said. “I’ve found a great deal on a fall tour. And I love their motto – Tours worth dying for.” “That’s clever,” she said and chuckled. “Let’s go – please.”

The tour bus picked us up at Cracker Barrel in Athens and we headed north on I-65, picking up other travelers as we went. Everyone was happy and excited, taking pictures out the window with their cell phone.

Bruno, our tour guide wore dark glasses and a three-day stubble and wasn’t very friendly, but he kept us occupied with rest stops where pastries, ice cream, and deserts were plentiful. The driver, hidden behind dark glasses, never said a word to us. He and Bruno often whispered while outside the bus. We overnighted in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley in Amish country; visited Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence was signed, and saw the Liberty Bell. I ate a Philly cheese steak which is my opinion, wasn’t as tasty as a Dub’s burger. In Boston, I stood in front of former Secretary of State John Kerry’s expensive home on Beacon Hill and saw the fire plug that he paid $125,000 to move a few yards so he could park his car. On Harvard Campus, I saw “Snowflakes” hurrying to their “safe space,” or maybe it was to Starbucks for a $5.00 cup of Joe. I’ve never figured out why a sane person would pay 79¢ for a senior coffee at McDonalds when he can get a cup of Starbucks for $5.00.

We finally crossed into Vermont where maple trees had exploded in red, yellow, and orange. “Look left!” someone exclaimed. Everyone rushed over to the left side of the bus nearly turning it over. We laughed. Oh, what fun! Everyone was as excited as school children. Lilly Belle squeezed my hand and smiled at me. I loved her happiness. She purchased a pint of maple syrup which was more expensive than a good single malt scotch whiskey. What the heck, it was vacation. She snapped pictures of covered bridges and colorful foliage and posted them on Facebook.

I was beginning to think that Bruno had no sense of humor when he cracked a real funny. “Three men were in a pick-up truck, one driving and two riding in back,” he said. “They ran off the road into a river. The driver rolled down the window and got out.” He paused. “The two men in back drowned. They couldn’t get the tail gate open.”

Everyone laughed. Oh, what a fun trip. I was glad Lilly Belle and I came along. I did notice something unusual. Each time we stopped for a break, a black Cadillac with tinted windows appeared behind us. I didn’t mention it to Lilly Belle. A mere coincidence, I told myself.

On Halloween morning, we crossed into New Hampshire and drove through the White Mountain National Forest. It was so beautiful that I won’t attempt to describe it. I can’t. It was also very isolated. A two-lane asphalt road snaked through dense forest. Fog enveloped us. We didn’t meet the first car. However, when we went around a hairpin curve, I did see the black Cadillac trailing behind us. The bus began a steep climb up a long hill, slowed to a crawl then stopped. Dense forest of hemlock, spruce, beech, and maple trees surrounded us. The driver exited, went to the back of the bus, and I heard him raise the door where the diesel engine was located.

“What’s wrong?” Lilly Belle asked.

“Must be engine trouble,” I replied.

She returned to her cell phone. No service. Bruno said the engine had thrown a belt and assured us that a replacement was on the way. “Everyone remain on the bus,” he said.

The black Cadillac pulled around to the front of the bus and stopped. My instinct kicked in. I didn’t like what I saw and what I felt. Several men wearing dark glasses exited the Cadillac and set up orange traffic cones to stop any traffic that might appear. Several hundred feet in front of us, I saw an oncoming car stop and turn around. Then, a refrigerator truck with “Ice Cream” painted on the side drove up. It looked like an average ice cream truck, but yet it didn’t. Strange. Something was wrong. Fear kicked in. My instinct was telling me to flee. Lilly Belle sensed it also. She squeezed my hand. “What’s happening?” she whispered.

“I don’t know, but I don’t like it.”

No sooner had I spoke when an ambulance with a Red Cross emblem on the side pulled up and stopped. Two men, wearing clown masks exited, snapping on surgical gloves. One was carrying a bundle of black plastic garbage bags. Bruno came on board and said sternly, “Everyone out of the bus. Now!”

Passengers were getting nervous and began asking questions. “Out,” said Bruno. He marched all 50 of us into the edge of a stand of hemlock trees and lined us up. Women began sobbing and praying aloud. My eyes darted in every direction. Behind us was a thicket of pines. I heard a chainsaw crank. I knew what was coming. And it was then I understood the corporate motto – “Trips worth dying for.” The ice cream truck wasn’t carrying ice cream. It was for preserving human organs. We were about to be slaughtered and our organs harvested.

I grabbed Lilly Belle’s hand and whispered, “Run and don’t look back!” We bolted and fled into the thick forest. I heard the chainsaw doing its evil work, ripping through flesh and bone, but the screams nearly drowned out its awful sound. We ran, never looking back, until we emerged on a paved road and flagged down an old Plymouth. I was frothing at the mouth, trying to tell the driver what happened, but I don’t think he believed a word I said.

I never heard about the terrible slaughter on the news. And I never reported it. I did hear that 50 tourists had mysteriously disappeared, but no trace could be found of them. Lilly Belle and I were the only living witnesses. We have since moved to another state and changed our names. Every knock on our door freezes me with fear. Every stranger I meet could be an assassin coming for us. The sound of chainsaw and screams fills my nightmares.

Halloween will never be the same. I lock my doors and turn off the lights and cower in my safe room. My advice to would-be travelers is stay home and watch the Travel Channel. Don’t trade your liver for maple syrup and seeing New England foliage.
By: Jerry Barksdale
JerryBarksdale.Com

By: Jerry Barksdale

Ever since I retired five years ago, Lilly Belle has asked me to take her on a fall tour of New England. “I want to see the leaves,” she said. Being a sensitive husband, I always try to accommodate her. “Darling, look out the back door. A leaf is a leaf no matter where it’s located.”

After she burned my cornbread three days in a row, I decided that I, too, wanted to tour New England. It was just before Halloween when I went online looking for a cheap tour and found Forever Tours in Birmingham. It was a new company offering reduced prices. I had lucked out. Lilly Belle was painting her toenails and watching QVC. “Sweetheart,” I said. “I’ve found a great deal on a fall tour. And I love their motto – Tours worth dying for.” “That’s clever,” she said and chuckled. “Let’s go – please.”

The tour bus picked us up at Cracker Barrel in Athens and we headed north on I-65, picking up other travelers as we went. Everyone was happy and excited, taking pictures out the window with their cell phone.

Bruno, our tour guide wore dark glasses and a three-day stubble and wasn’t very friendly, but he kept us occupied with rest stops where pastries, ice cream, and deserts were plentiful. The driver, hidden behind dark glasses, never said a word to us. He and Bruno often whispered while outside the bus. We overnighted in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley in Amish country; visited Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence was signed, and saw the Liberty Bell. I ate a Philly cheese steak which is my opinion, wasn’t as tasty as a Dub’s burger. In Boston, I stood in front of former Secretary of State John Kerry’s expensive home on Beacon Hill and saw the fire plug that he paid $125,000 to move a few yards so he could park his car. On Harvard Campus, I saw “Snowflakes” hurrying to their “safe space,” or maybe it was to Starbucks for a $5.00 cup of Joe. I’ve never figured out why a sane person would pay 79¢ for a senior coffee at McDonalds when he can get a cup of Starbucks for $5.00.

We finally crossed into Vermont where maple trees had exploded in red, yellow, and orange. “Look left!” someone exclaimed. Everyone rushed over to the left side of the bus nearly turning it over. We laughed. Oh, what fun! Everyone was as excited as school children. Lilly Belle squeezed my hand and smiled at me. I loved her happiness. She purchased a pint of maple syrup which was more expensive than a good single malt scotch whiskey. What the heck, it was vacation. She snapped pictures of covered bridges and colorful foliage and posted them on Facebook.

I was beginning to think that Bruno had no sense of humor when he cracked a real funny. “Three men were in a pick-up truck, one driving and two riding in back,” he said. “They ran off the road into a river. The driver rolled down the window and got out.” He paused. “The two men in back drowned. They couldn’t get the tail gate open.”

Everyone laughed. Oh, what a fun trip. I was glad Lilly Belle and I came along. I did notice something unusual. Each time we stopped for a break, a black Cadillac with tinted windows appeared behind us. I didn’t mention it to Lilly Belle. A mere coincidence, I told myself.

On Halloween morning, we crossed into New Hampshire and drove through the White Mountain National Forest. It was so beautiful that I won’t attempt to describe it. I can’t. It was also very isolated. A two-lane asphalt road snaked through dense forest. Fog enveloped us. We didn’t meet the first car. However, when we went around a hairpin curve, I did see the black Cadillac trailing behind us. The bus began a steep climb up a long hill, slowed to a crawl then stopped. Dense forest of hemlock, spruce, beech, and maple trees surrounded us. The driver exited, went to the back of the bus, and I heard him raise the door where the diesel engine was located.

“What’s wrong?” Lilly Belle asked.

“Must be engine trouble,” I replied.

She returned to her cell phone. No service. Bruno said the engine had thrown a belt and assured us that a replacement was on the way. “Everyone remain on the bus,” he said.

The black Cadillac pulled around to the front of the bus and stopped. My instinct kicked in. I didn’t like what I saw and what I felt. Several men wearing dark glasses exited the Cadillac and set up orange traffic cones to stop any traffic that might appear. Several hundred feet in front of us, I saw an oncoming car stop and turn around. Then, a refrigerator truck with “Ice Cream” painted on the side drove up. It looked like an average ice cream truck, but yet it didn’t. Strange. Something was wrong. Fear kicked in. My instinct was telling me to flee. Lilly Belle sensed it also. She squeezed my hand. “What’s happening?” she whispered.

“I don’t know, but I don’t like it.”

No sooner had I spoke when an ambulance with a Red Cross emblem on the side pulled up and stopped. Two men, wearing clown masks exited, snapping on surgical gloves. One was carrying a bundle of black plastic garbage bags. Bruno came on board and said sternly, “Everyone out of the bus. Now!”

Passengers were getting nervous and began asking questions. “Out,” said Bruno. He marched all 50 of us into the edge of a stand of hemlock trees and lined us up. Women began sobbing and praying aloud. My eyes darted in every direction. Behind us was a thicket of pines. I heard a chainsaw crank. I knew what was coming. And it was then I understood the corporate motto – “Trips worth dying for.” The ice cream truck wasn’t carrying ice cream. It was for preserving human organs. We were about to be slaughtered and our organs harvested.

I grabbed Lilly Belle’s hand and whispered, “Run and don’t look back!” We bolted and fled into the thick forest. I heard the chainsaw doing its evil work, ripping through flesh and bone, but the screams nearly drowned out its awful sound. We ran, never looking back, until we emerged on a paved road and flagged down an old Plymouth. I was frothing at the mouth, trying to tell the driver what happened, but I don’t think he believed a word I said.

I never heard about the terrible slaughter on the news. And I never reported it. I did hear that 50 tourists had mysteriously disappeared, but no trace could be found of them. Lilly Belle and I were the only living witnesses. We have since moved to another state and changed our names. Every knock on our door freezes me with fear. Every stranger I meet could be an assassin coming for us. The sound of chainsaw and screams fills my nightmares.

Halloween will never be the same. I lock my doors and turn off the lights and cower in my safe room. My advice to would-be travelers is stay home and watch the Travel Channel. Don’t trade your liver for maple syrup and seeing New England foliage.
By: Jerry Barksdale
JerryBarksdale.Com