Sunday, May 24, 2009

WWII Veterans from Johnson City Share Grim Memories

NET News Service

JOHNSON CITY — War is much more than notable battles mentioned in history books.
Of course, war has tales of terror, loss, carnage, destruction and other terrible things that happen in the heat of epic battles. But war also takes supplies. Bullets, bombs, parts, gasoline, food and other material must be sent to the front and then doled out as needed. Soldiers serve this function while also facing the enemy in any combat zone today as in the past.

Allen Harris, 89, and Hugh Collie, 85, both of Johnson City, were such soldiers in World War II. Harris was a mess sergeant in the South Pacific. Collie was a buck sergeant with the Red Ball Express in Europe.
“I remember it was a terrible war,” Harris said.
His first experience in the war was in a medical sanitation company, or graves registration. When he arrived at a staging point on an island in the Pacific, he was ordered to unload wounded and dead soldiers being shipped out of the war zone. Some soldiers were blind, others had only one arm or no arms. Harris unloaded soldiers that were burned and missing legs and other parts.
“And that was pretty gruesome for a young fellow,” Harris said. “You know, unloading dead bodies and seeing all of the wounded in every shape you could possibly think of.”
Another lasting impression Harris got from WWII was the smell of death that hung constantly in the battlefield. “That was the main thing you had to get used to,” he said. “And I always associate that smell with war, because once we got out in the field and you’d run across bodies that had been there for a time and they were in different stages of decomposition... I don’t have any kind of pleasant memories of the war to recite.”
The Japanese were terrifying fighters and uncanny masters at camouflage, Harris said. He had to develop a sixth sense to be able to know when an enemy was nearby.
Harris was a mess sergeant. As such he was in charge of feeding the men he was attached to. To do that he had to protect his rations from Japanese attack. He said he would have to arrange the food dump so it appeared as though it was insignificant, placing no guards near it because Japanese soldiers would sneak close enough to lob grenades into the camp. One of their main targets was the food supply.
Even though he was in charge of the food, he did not get out of combat operations. He was part of a group that would patrol the perimeter of camp. Most of the time he was assigned to night patrol because of his duties as a cook. He said the Japanese would set traps for American soldiers.
“You couldn’t tell the earth had been disturbed,” Harris said. “You’re walking through those little fine leaves, you couldn’t tell. And suddenly they step into that trap cover and down they’d go. And they’d have these sharpened spikes that would spit you like you would put a chicken on a rotisserie.”
He saw this happen several times.
Harris said the only way he came back from the war was by the grace of God. Collie, his friend and neighbor, shares the same sentiment about his war experience in Europe.
Hugh Collie got drafted in 1942 and went into the Army in 1943 after graduating from Langston High School. He went to Europe and served as a truck driver in the 3415th Quartermaster Company.
“We hauled gas for what they called the Red Ball,” he said. “We hauled gas for (Gen. George) Patton. You don’t hear too much about the Red Ball, but if it hadn’t been for the Red Ball, Patton would have run out of fuel, too, just like the Germans did.”
He was a buck sergeant in charge of 24 men driving trucks. They hauled everything needed to wage war.
“It was dangerous because a lot of times airplanes would come by and strafe our column,” Collie said.
Most of the time Collie would use the back roads that were more out of sight. At night he would sleep in cemeteries for safety.
He left Europe after Germany fell to prepare for an invasion of Japan, but Japan surrendered after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So he was shipped back to France and got attached to a graves registration.
“We had to go out and pick up bodies,” he said. “And a lot of them had been out two or three months and you’d go to pick them up and the flesh would come from their bones. We had gloves and things on, but it was awful.”
Collie and Harris both think that war is not worth waging. Their experiences showed them what a terrible effect combat has on hum a n i t y.
“I don’t think it benefits anybody... even the winner in the long run,” Collie said.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Upcoming Marriage Class


Sunday, May 3, 2009

Pennington Church in Property Dispute With Former Conference

The conference says it owns the property because of a trust clause signed by the church’s trustees in the 1940s.



JONESVILLE — Members of Well’s Chapel Church in Pennington Gap say they are fighting to keep what is rightfully theirs.
At a hearing last Wednesday in Lee County Circuit Court, the Well’s Chapel Board of Trustees filed a complaint to keep the church’s former governing conference — the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in America — from selling its house of worship.

David Grace —
Shown is Well’s Chapel Church in Pennington Gap.

Because of the complaint, the hearing was continued and rescheduled for May 26.
The two parties were originally in court because of a petition, filed by the A.M.E. Zion Church in early April, to advertise the sale of Well’s Chapel Church of Pennington Gap.
The conference says it owns the property because of a trust clause signed by the church’s trustees in the 1940s.
Sandra Mitchell, a 44-year member of Well’s Chapel who is on the church’s board of trustees, said the congregation believes it is the rightful owner of the property, regardless of what the A.M.E. Zion Church claims.
“We’re fighting to keep the church because we feel like it belongs to us,” Mitchell said. “Everything that’s been done and all the work that’s been done on it, it’s been done by us. The conference hasn’t done it. We’ve asked them to help us, but we’ve never received anything.”
A hierarchical religious organization, the A.M.E. Zion Church contends its Book of Discipline contains a trust clause stating that local churches and congregations that own property do not own it for themselves, but for the conference instead.
In addition to claiming ownership, the petition, which was filed by a trustee appointed by the Mid-Atlantic II Episcopal District, contends that Well’s Chapel accepted pastors appointed by the conference and used its “names, customs and polity” in such a way “as to be known to the community as part of that denomination” prior to its split from the organization.
Calls to the Mid-Atlantic II district, which oversees the A.M.E. Zion Church’s East Tennessee and Virginia Conference, were not immediately returned.

David Grace —
Pastor Charles Robinson, front, poses with members of the Well’s Chapel Church in Pennington Gap. From left, are: Sandra Mitchell, Jill Carson, Ron Carson, Shirley Taylor, Roy Carson and Raily Taylor. Church members believe they are the owners of the property.

Jill Carson, who is also on the Well’s Chapel Board of Trustees, said one of the main reasons the church — which has roughly 20 active members — split from the conference was money.
“In 2003 we decided we had to drop out of the conference because we couldn’t afford to remain in it,” she said. “The church has been here since 1940. It needed a roof, it needed repairs, but we could not continue to pay those huge annual assessments, pay the pastor and do what we needed to do to maintain it. So, it was with much prayer, and discussion, that we came to our decision.”
The complaint to quit title, filed by attorney Joe Wolfe on behalf of the Well’s Chapel board, objects to the sale and says that the property was originally conveyed through a constructive trust to the “A.M.E. Zion Church of Pennington Gap, Va.” for local use.
It further asks the court to determine the actual ownership of the property through a jury trial and questions the legality of the conference-appointed trustee tasked with handling the sale, asking for trustees that “hold the property for the benefit of the local congregation of Pennington Gap as stated in the deed” to be appointed instead.
The complaint goes on to state that the A.M.E. Zion Church failed to provide monetary assistance of any type since Well’s Chapel joined in 1901 and lists numerous expenses the congregation paid.
It also contests some of the claims in the petition, stating that Well’s Chapel was associated with the A.M.E. Zion Church in name only and that a Book of Discipline was never provided and the congregation was never advised it was subjected to it.
In addition, the complaint claims the conference did not have “clean hands” in its dealings with the congregation because it had allegedly appointed a pastor with a prior felony conviction.
Although a decision won’t be reached until the end of May at the earliest, Carson said losing the church would not only impact the members of the congregation, but the community as well.
“This is family, it’s family property that has been passed down from generation to generation,” Carson said. “There are two black churches in this community, one is a Baptist church and one is this one, and it’s real important, no matter how we look at it.
“To take that away would be huge. It would have a tremendous adverse impact on our community. And the contributions that this small black community has made to this church are tremendous.”
Until the case is settled though, Mitchell said members of the Well’s Chapel congregation will rely on their faith and hope for the best.
“I’ve been in it all of my life, and it doesn’t look now like it did then because of all of the renovations and improvements, but it’s still the same place and same values,” Mitchell said. “We want to keep it, but I know God’s in charge of every decision and however he wants it, that’s how it’s going to be.”

Friday, May 1, 2009

Friends Mourn Death Of Longtime Virginia High Basketball Coach, Ballard Lee


By Allen Gregory
Sports Writer / Bristol Herald Courier
Published: April 30, 2009

Gentle giant. Role model. Pioneer. Those were just some of the terms used to describe Ballard Lee.
The former long-time Virginia High boys basketball coach and star King College athlete died late Wednesday night at age 64. The exact cause of death has not been determined.

Jim Norton, who served as assistant coach to Lee at VHS, said he was deeply saddened when he heard the news Thursday morning while on a trip to Alabama.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Norton said. “Ballard was a great coach and an even better person. He was like a brother to me, and I will miss him.”

Lee, who retired from coaching in 1990, earned respect throughout the Mountain Empire as an athlete, coach and mentor.
After starring in football and basketball at now defunct Douglass High School, the tall, muscular Lee was recruited to play defensive end at Tennessee State University in Nashville, but ended up serving a 13-month tour in Vietnam with the Marines.

“Ballard was around 6-foot-6 and 220-pounds, and I remember him having those huge forearms when he returned from Vietnam,” Norton recalled.

Lee became just the second African-American basketball player in King College history. According to former King teammate and longtime Tennessee High basketball coach Dale Burns, Lee was an instant force in the old Volunteer State Athletic Conference from 1969-71.

“King was very fortunate to have an athlete of Ballard’s caliber,” said Burns, who played alongside Lee at King for two years. “Ballard was such a dominant player in the paint. He was the top rebounder in the conference and a great outlet passer on the fastbreak.”

Lee, who played for coach Al Nida, earned a place into the King College Athletics Hall of Fame for his basketball skills.

In 1972, Lee was named boys basketball coach at Virginia High where he enjoyed a long and successful run with the Bearcats with players such as Darryal Wilson, Mike Pender and Kevin Jessee.
Burns, now the athletic director at King College, estimates that he coached against Lee for 15 years in high school.

“Ballard was a highly respected coach, and we had some really good battles,” Burns said. “We always liked to refer to Ballard as the mayor of Bristol, Virginia.
“Ballard was a real treasure. This is just a tough day for everybody.”

Terry Caldwell coached swimming, golf and tennis when Lee was at Virginia High. Caldwell now serves as the Director of Personnel and Support Services for Bristol, Va., Public Schools.

“I’m broken-hearted right now,” said Caldwell, who has worked in education for 32 years. “Ballard was one of the best basketball coaches Virginia High ever had, but he was much more than a coach.”
Caldwell said Lee’s reach at VHS extended far beyond the basketball court.

“Ballard was the go-to guy for many people in our school and community,” Caldwell said. “He was a great family person, an advocate for kids and a wonderful friend.”

After retiring from teaching in 2004, Lee spent several years working with youth at the Jacobs Creek Job Corps in Bristol, Tenn.

Lee was interviewed in 2006 by the Bristol Herald Courier shortly after the release of the motion picture “Glory Road.” The Walt Disney Pictures production focused on the exploits on the 1966 Texas Western basketball team which upset Kentucky for the NCAA men’s basketball championship with an all-African American starting lineup.

“Race relations in the Bristol area weren’t always the best when I was growing up, but it was better than what I saw traveling around the deep South,” said Lee. “Black athletes are now accepted, and there’s not as a much pressure on them to be the best just to earn a spot on the team.”

Norton said that Lee made a positive impression on everyone he touched.

“I don’t know if you could find a better role model than Ballard,” Norton said. “He was as good as they come.”

Current Virginia High baseball coach Mark Daniels said he cited the selfless example of Lee in a speech to his team on Thursday. Daniels played baseball and football at VHS when Lee was still coaching the Bearcats.

“It’s been a somber day for Virginia High School, that’s for sure,” Daniels said. “So many coaches over the years have relied on the friendship and wisdom of Coach Lee. He certainly had a big impact on my life.”

Funeral services for Lee will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday afternoon at Lee Street Baptist Church in Bristol, Va. A visitation is scheduled from 2-3 p.m.|(276) 645-2544