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Fish Or Cut Bait

A Southern Veteran
by Bob Ciminel


June 01, 2004

Memorial Day is a time to honor those Americans who gave their lives in the service of their country. I am going to take literary license today and write about a veteran who is still alive, but may not be for much longer.

Clyde Hudspeth is 83 years old. He remains a bachelor; living in a tiny house on Ebenezer Street in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Clyde retired 25 years ago from a job he held for 30 years. He worked at "The Bleachery," the local name of the factory that dyed fabric for the
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textile mills. Clyde began working at the Bleachery after he came back from Europe at the end of World War II. Clyde served in General George Patton's Third Army as a gunner on a Sherman tank.

World War II was the biggest event in Clyde's life. For many small-town Southern boys, the war was their first time away from home, and quite a few of those "good old boys" never came back. Clyde was one of the lucky ones, and he never left Rock Hill again.

Clyde is hard to understand, and he doesn't hear too well. He blames it on the 75-millimeter cannon he sat next to. Clyde speaks with a thick Southern drawl and slurs a lot of words. You have to listen carefully to understand what he's saying, and even then you're lucky if you can make out every other word. At first, what he says doesn't make any sense, but as you listen the words you do pick out provide enormous insight into what makes Clyde tick.

Clyde is not an educated man. He can read and write, but he grew up poor and worked all his life. There wasn't time for high school or college. And so, Clyde grew up to be one of those people who prefer to work with their hands and not their heads. Back in the old days we called them craftsmen.

Clyde reminds me a lot of our old tabby cat, Lucky, who graced our lives for 12 years. Lucky was not neat, nor did he care how he looked. And his table manners were atrocious. Lucky would put his front feet in the litter box and go on the floor. I always said he was brain damaged as a kitten. But no matter what he was doing, Lucky would always stop to let you pet him.

In many respects, Clyde and Lucky were cut from the same mold. Clyde is not what you would call a stylish dresser; he wears the same pair of pants for a very long time. And he's a packrat. He still owns two leisure suits he bought in the Seventies. He saves boxes of batteries left over from the flashlights used at the county fair each year. Some of those batteries are over 20-years old, but Clyde always says, "You never know when Wal-Mart will run out of batteries."

Clyde went ashore at Normandy on D-Day in the second wave. After fighting his way across France, he was with Patton's army when it did an about-face to relieve the 82nd and 101st Airborne troops that were under siege at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. Clyde won a fist full of medals during the war; he is the most decorated soldier in York County, South Carolina. Now, you might not find that impressive unless you knew that soldiers from York County, South Carolina have been decorated in every war since the American Revolution.

Clyde has compartmentalized his life quite well for an 80-year-old man. His typical day begins with a nice greasy, high fat, high carbohydrate breakfast at the Varsity Grill across from the Norfolk Southern yard. Then, he heads over to my mother-in-law's to bring in the newspaper, empty the litter box, water the plants, and stock the bird feeder. Alice's mom has been in a wheelchair for the past five years and needs a lot of help around the house. Clyde has been taking care of her for almost twenty years. After the morning "chores," Clyde drives over to the local VFW post to shoot the breeze with his fellow veterans. He makes another stop at Granny's house on the way home to bring in the mail, feed the cat, and take care of any other odds and ends that need doing, and then he's off to the Winn Dixie to pick up a TV dinner and drive back to his bachelor pad to watch the Atlanta Braves or the Charlotte Panthers.

Clyde is failing fast. When we last saw him, he was moving slowly, and had lost a lot of weight. He is unsteady and doesn't see too well. Awhile back, he ran a red light, and when the police tried to stop him, Clyde kept on driving. He didn't stop until he got to Granny's house. When the police pulled up to read him the riot act, Clyde just looked at them and said, "Why are you picking on me instead of going out there and arresting all of them damn drug dealers?" We were sure that South Carolina was going to pull his driver's license, but they gave him a six-month reprieve, and that will cause insurance rates to skyrocket around town. Although Clyde doesn't drive very far or very fast, the good citizens of Rock Hill need keep a sharp lookout when he is on the road.

Clyde's memory isn't what it used to be either. Alice's mom had boarded her cat one weekend when we came to visit. Clyde must have asked us a dozen times where the cat was. We eventually got through to him, but our patience was wearing to the point that I was going to go and get the cat out of hock.

We've learned that change really confuses elderly people. It seems that once they get their lives organized, it takes a while before changes in the pattern register with them. For instance, when Alice's sister stopped at the house during our visit, Clyde became very confused because there was one more car parked on the street than when he came over. He asked, "Whose belongs to all those cars out there?" We told him that one was ours and the other was Alice's sister. "Well, then whose car is that parked in the damn driveway?" "It's yours, Clyde."

For many years, Clyde was the only bread winner in his family. After his parents died and he retired, Clyde needed to find someone else to take care of. So, he's been looking after Alice's mother for at least 28 years. That's a long time for a strictly platonic relationship, longer than most marriages last these days. But America's World War II veterans always believed it was their duty to serve country and community. And they are probably the last generation that believes we owe something for all the freedoms we enjoy. This Memorial Day weekend I want to say thanks to Clyde. Thanks for serving his country in war and thanks for devoting so many years of his life to helping the woman who brought my lovely wife into this world.


Clyde passed away about two years after I wrote this article. I took a vacation day and drove over to Rock Hill with Alice to attend his funeral. He was buried with full military honors befitting a combat veteran. I made it through the eulogy okay, and the rifle team's salute, but choked up when they played "Taps." I think that is one of the times that "grown men" should be allowed to cry.


Bob Ciminel ©2001

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