Archives For General Interest

 

The removal of Confederate monuments from public spaces in several Southeast cities has sparked a vigorous debate. At its crux is the efficacy of paying homage to soldiers who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War, and with it the Confederacy’s association with slavery.

I will add my two-cents worth, but first a bit of disclosure: I’m a Southerner whose ancestors fought on the side of the Confederacy. I’m also an American who proudly served this nation as a United States Marine. And I’m a novelist whose latest book, That Deadly Space, A Civil War Novel, makes this debate especially interesting to me.

Several years ago there was a heated debate over the Confederate flag, and its image as part of the design of several state flags in the South, including Georgia, my own state. In historical terms, the Confederate flag was a battle flag, but in a more contemporary context it has often been used as a sign of defiance, an in-your-face symbol that can easily be understood to have racial overtones. I get that. I fully understand the need to remove such divisive symbols from state flags, and I was pleased to see Georgia remove the image of the Confederate flag from our state flag to its present form.

Monuments, on the other hand, were erected not in defiance, but as a way of honoring soldiers. And not just famous generals, but in many cases and in many town squares, honoring common soldiers—scared, homesick, brave young men who did their duty as best they could. The Civil War changed this country forever and established what we are as a nation, and what we are not. The Confederacy was defeated, slavery was abolished, and the Union was preserved. That is our history. So, if all of the monuments honoring Confederate soldiers are removed, then what has really been accomplished? Would it make us any less divided? How much bitterness would be mollified, how much created? And, importantly, where does it all end?

The Civil War period, both the good and the bad, was a chaotic, bloody four-year chapter in a young nation’s story. Pushing it out of sight does not change it. Attempting to re-write it likewise does not alter it. Failing to teach it, all of it, in the name of political correctness, is disgraceful. And removing monuments to soldiers 152 years after the last shots were fired seems of a piece with the efforts of some to rename buildings and dishonor other historical American figures with an assumption, I suppose, that in doing so, paradise will suddenly break out.

Hundreds of thousands of people protested the Vietnam War as being oppressive or immoral or racist, even to a point of cursing at and spitting on returning veterans. Many of the protestors viewed the war as criminal. Will there therefore be a movement to have the Wall in Washington D.C. dismantled and the names of 58,000 American servicemembers tossed aside?

Good luck with that.

It would be impossible to learn the full span of American history if parts of that history are deemed by some as too toxic or too politically incorrect, and end up as either blank pages in history books or revised to represent a version that has little historical accuracy or context. That would not be helpful. Leave the monuments. Teach the history, all of it. Give the vast majority of the American people credit for being strong enough to see the full sweep of the nation’s history without becoming convulsive. This nation has survived a revolution, a civil war, a depression, world wars, regional wars, and 9/11. It can deal with Southern monuments to Southern soldiers.

 

In researching certain particulars of the Battle of Gettysburg for my new novel, That Deadly Space, I came across a familiar figure who might very well have been the most consequential Union officer on the field during those historic three days in July, 1863. General Winfield Scott Hancock was that familiar figure. A battle-tested veteran of Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville, Hancock’s performance had earlier been described by General George McClellan as “superb.”

On the first day at Gettysburg, Hancock assumed temporary command of the Union I, II, III and XI Corps after General John Reynolds had been killed in action. While in command of the entire left wing of the Army of the Potomac, Hancock provided critically needed leadership while skillfully deploying his troops along the high ground at Cemetery Hill. He set in motion the “fishhook” position that spanned from Culp’s and Cemetery Hills to the Round Tops, and then recommended to the overall commander, General George Meade, that the fight should be made on the excellent defensive ground at Gettysburg.

On the third day, Hancock’s II Corps absorbed the brunt of the massive Confederate assault known as Pickett’s Charge. Hancock’s courageous personal example, even under heavy artillery fire, was inspirational to his soldiers. Again and again, Hancock was superb. When told by a subordinate that he was risking his life by calmly riding among his troops, Hancock was said to have replied, “There are times when a corps commander’s life does not count.” Hancock’s leadership did much to gain the Union victory, but not without cost. Hancock was seriously wounded in the thigh and refused to be evacuated from the field until the battle had been decided. He would be bothered by that wound for the duration of the war. In a strange twist of fate, Confederate General Lewis Armistead, a dear friend, was also wounded in the assault and died two days later. The two close friends, on opposite sides of that deadly struggle, were less than one-hundred yards apart when both were struck down.

The statue of the mounted Hancock at Cemetery Hill is impressive, all the more when the thoughts of Hancock’s uplifting presence among the dispirited Union troops on that hard first day are remembered. A marker also shows the location where Hancock was wounded on the third day. His presence can still be felt on the field at Gettysburg, even with the passage of 154 years. Winfield Scott Hancock is unquestionably one of the finest military officers this nation has produced.

He was, and still is, Hancock the Superb.

 

Are we a society that no longer has heroes? Have we become so indifferent and cynical that men and women doing heroic things are seldom reported and hardly noticed, and consequently neither celebrated nor emulated? Are we now too sophisticated to become caught up in something so yesterday as a “hero,” while news coverage goes to thugs who shut down a campus speaker and perhaps even destroy property, all while behaving in ways that they themselves consider virtuous and courageous?

So, where did our heroes go?

Admittedly, it’s a stretch to find public officials nowadays in politics or academia whose actions would qualify as heroic. Our Hollywood celebrity culture provides an endless supply of shallow, egocentric, sparsely talented individuals who provide us not only with the fruits of their “craft,” but with their standard, spineless lecturing as their enlightened gift to the rest of us, the great unwashed.

The sporting world has become so soiled with cheating, pampered, self-absorbed athletes and coaches, and so driven by college and professional organizations that devalue longstanding virtues like loyalty and integrity, that past sports giants like Tom Landry, John Wooden, and Vince Lombardi would likely turn away in disgust. In addition, the corporate world has had its share of arrogant industry titans who have lied, bilked, and bullied their way to lifetime riches with astonishing collateral damage to their companies, customers, and stockholders.

There have been eighteen Medals of Honor awarded to American service members during the course of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and two more for service in Somalia. How many Americans have seen television or print media coverage of these men? How many Americans have seen the photos and heard the stories of all twenty? Or perhaps even two or three? Is this confirmation that we no longer have any heroes?

No, I don’t believe so.

Heroes are still among us. U.S. Airways pilot Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger landing his stricken airplane safely in the Hudson River is one of them. So are the 343 New York City firefighters who climbed up those smoky stairwells and perished on that hard, dark September 11th day at the World Trade Center. There was 75 firehouses in New York in which at least one member was killed. Were these not heroes? Or the three young American service members who prevented a terrorist attack on a Paris train?

Americans still pull their fellow citizens from rain-swollen rivers. Single moms hold jobs, raise kids, and sometimes even go back to school. Dads teach their children about faithfulness, kindness, and sacrifice. Cancer patients, both young and old, fight back against their disease, often against overwhelming odds, and still give much of themselves to their families, churches, and communities. They are heroes, all. We are still a nation that needs it heroes, even without the high profile, to provide us with examples to follow, to cause us to remember our past, to give us reason for hope and encouragement.

I am a proud former U.S. Marine who marvels at the story of Corporal Kyle Carpenter, USMC, one of the twenty Medal of Honor awardees referenced above. In Afghanistan in 2010, Corporal Carpenter moved toward an enemy grenade to shield his fellow Marines from the blast. Kyle suffered extensive facial and limb damage and underwent multiple surgeries, not to mention enduring enough physical pain to last multiple lifetimes. And I couldn’t possibly comprehend the mental agony he has also bravely endured. After a three-year hospitalization and a medical retirement, Kyle became a college student. He is a survivor, a fighter, and an inspiration. He is a Marine, by God, in the very best way. And he is a hero.

So, it’s a fact that all the heroes didn’t get up and leave. They’re still here. Just like always.

Look around and I’ll bet you can find one. And when you do, thank them for staying.

For more on Kyle and other Medal of Honor recipients, follow this link.

 

 

My interest in the Civil War began in earnest in elementary school in Atlanta, a city with a strong Civil War association. I also developed a particular attraction to Gone with the Wind—first the movie, then the book. After all, Tara was the fictional plantation just outside Atlanta, and GWTW author and Pulitzer Prize winner Margaret Mitchell lived and worked (and later tragically died) in Atlanta. Additionally, on the property of the Atlanta Zoo was the Cyclorama, a large 360-degree painting depicting the Battle of Atlanta in astonishing detail. Twenty miles to the northwest, there was Kennesaw Mountain where the Confederate army attempted to slow the inexorable Union army campaign that had Atlanta in its sights. So, Atlanta had the battlefields, the paintings, and the historical markers from the real, and Gone with the Wind from the imagined.

As a teenager, my mother was among the estimated 300,000 fascinated onlookers who, on Friday, December 15, 1939, stood in the cold and awaited the arrival of Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Olivia de Havilland, and other celebs for the world premiere of GWTW. Twenty years later, the movie returned to the same Loew’s Grand Theater, this time with only a smattering of the original fanfare. It was then that I, as a boy, attended a showing of the film with my mother and grandmother, both of whom seemed to spend much of the movie in tears. The poignant scene of the thousands of Confederate wounded lying in the streets of Atlanta didn’t cause me to join in the crying, but it stayed in my memory as a reminder that war is cruel, ugly, and tragic. More than anything else, that scene is why I remember GWTW the movie.

A bit of irony here: Atlanta’s Loew’s Grand Theater was heavily damaged by fire in 1978, as was much of the same surrounding area in the summer of 1864 during that most unpleasant visit by Union Gen. W. T. Sherman.

Later, I became interested in GWTW the book. I learned about the life of Margaret Mitchell, how she developed the story and characters, and how she handled the remarkable success her novel achieved. In 2014, a Harris Poll found GWTW to be the second favorite book of American readers, second only to the Bible. More than 30 million copies have been printed worldwide. Ms. Mitchell wrote one novel, sold tens of millions of copies, was awarded a Pulitzer, and thereafter lived the life of a celebrity. As a fellow novelist, about the only way in which I can compare myself to Margaret Mitchell is in our common hometown of Atlanta. And while I have recently released a Civil War novel of my own, the chances of That Deadly Space overtaking Gone with the Wind are roughly equivalent to my making the Braves and then winning a major league batting title. But that’s okay. My book’s chances for success are not dependent upon a comparison to GWTW.

With all her accomplishments, however, things didn’t end well for Ms. Mitchell. A speeding automobile struck her as she crossed Peachtree Street at 13th Street in Atlanta with her husband, John Marsh, while on her way to see a movie on the evening of August 11, 1949. She died at Grady Hospital five days later without ever regaining consciousness. Ms. Mitchell was 48 years old at the time of her death.

The Atlanta of Margaret Mitchell’s day is very different from the Atlanta of today. And there are few if any signs of the Atlanta of Margaret Mitchell’s imagination. Still, the connection of Atlanta, Gone with the Wind, and Ms. Mitchell will remain through the ages.

 

 

 

 

 

Full disclosure here—I’m a history buff from the South. Certainly I’m not the only one who has wondered how history might have turned had the Civil War ended in a stalemate, which for the South would have been tantamount to victory. Improbable though it may have been, just suppose for a moment that it did happen, and with these possible consequences:

  • Robert E. Lee would be elected the second President of the Confederate States of America. Lee would issue his own Emancipation Proclamation and end slavery before slavery ended the Confederacy. Lee would see slavery as the immoral condition it is, not to mention that as long as an economic model of slave labor was maintained, the South would lose its trading partners in Europe, the USA, and much of the rest of the mercantile world.
  • Lee would lead the effort to reunite the country and add Yankee capital and industrial expertise into a transformation of the Southern economy.
  • President Lee would suffer a fatal heart attack less than a year into his administration, throwing the Confederate government into chaos.
  • Mexico, seeing an opportunity, would invade Texas and be soundly defeated in just under an hour. Texas would then annex Mexico and declare itself the Republic of Texas.
  • France, seeing an opportunity, would invade New Orleans. Louisiana would appeal to nearby Texas, who would intercede on Louisiana’s behalf. France would then be soundly defeated in a little over an hour. Texas would thereafter annex Louisiana.
  • Spain, seeing an opportunity, would launch an invasion of Florida from its base in Cuba.
  • Great Britain, seeing an opportunity, would invade coastal Georgia. British troops would claim Savannah, Georgia, and commence their own version of Sherman’s March, but in reverse.
  • Florida and Georgia would then appeal for help from the Confederate government. The Confederate government would become paralyzed with uncertainty and discord.
  • Italy, seeing an opportunity, would attempt an invasion of North Carolina. The flotilla would become lost and seize Bermuda instead.
  • Bermuda would appeal first to the British, who are bogged down in Georgia, and then to the Confederacy for help. The Confederate government would become further paralyzed with uncertainty and discord.
  • The bewildered Confederacy would finally appeal to the USA for help. The USA would issue its unconditional terms: Reunion as one nation, the United States of America, with the USA’s national flag, nation anthem, and national currency. And positively no grits permitted in Northern restaurants.
  • The Confederate government would reluctantly agree.
  • The newly augmented USA military would soundly defeat the Spanish and British in Florida and Georgia in a little under a week.
  • Using ships made in Mexico at a lower cost, the Republic of Texas Navy would then sail to Bermuda, expel the Italians, and annex the island.
  • During negotiations, the USA and the Republic of Texas would quarrel over the terms of reunion, specifically the national flag.
  • The Republic of Texas would eventually agree to give back Mexico, Louisiana, and Bermuda (and by that time, California) and rejoin the Union immediately prior to the outbreak of World War I.
  • Bermuda would become known for its pizza parlors and barbeque joints.
  • All would end well.

Yeah, right. Cheers.

(Note: My new Civil War historical novel, That Deadly Space, is available at this Amazon link.)

The Civil War still matters to a great many Americans, even with the passage of more than 150 years since Robert E. Lee’s surrender to U.S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in April, 1865. An estimated 620,000 Union and Confederate soldiers died during the conflict, giving their last full measure of devotion in a war whose cost in lives and property was unimaginable at the start. The death toll went on to claim 2% of the population, which in today’s terms would equate to six-million battlefield dead.

So why does the war still matter?

Civil War historian Shelby Foote said that before the war, our representatives referred to the country as “these” United States, but afterwards it became “the” United States. The war established who we are as a nation, and what we are. Likewise, it established what we are not. Millions of immigrants flooded to America based upon the values that the nation nurtures and embodies. Freedom. Opportunity. Self-determination. Self-sufficiency. They still come. They become Americans. In addition, they learn about the connection of the Civil War to the freedom of all citizens.

Slavery was abolished, and the South’s economic model of a slave economy was forever eradicated. President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, a 273-word masterpiece that ranks as one of the nation’s most important speeches, referred to the “unfinished work” that would be needed to guarantee “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from this earth.” That work remains unfinished with regard to race relations, even though significant progress has been made. Our journey as a nation and as a people continues, albeit imperfectly and sometimes slowly.

At the brutal war’s end, Lincoln and Grant extended generous surrender terms to the defeated Confederates—an important first step in unifying the country. Years later, the U.S. was magnanimous toward the defeated Axis nations at the conclusion of World War II, very much akin to the standard established at the end of the Civil War. Thus, Germany and Japan became important post-war allies as a result.

There is still great interest in the war, from the well-preserved battlefields to the many fascinating figures of the era. Leaders and commanders such as Lincoln, Lee, Grant, Jackson, Sherman, and Forrest are still written and read about widely. Clara Barton and Belle Boyd are also appealing characters. Such Civil War topics as infantry tactics, weaponry, logistics, communications, and medicine are still studied by historians and military professionals.

Since 1865, this nation has freed the slaves, produced the American Century, won two world wars, birthed the Greatest Generation, cured diseases, become the “shining city upon a hill,” and landed men on the moon. Our history, like our present, is far from perfect, but America’s greatness is unquestionably linked to the sacrifice of those 620,000 men in bringing the nation to the place it now occupies.

Yes, the Civil War still matters.

And always will.

Gerald Gillis is the award-winning author of the Civil War historical novel That Deadly Space.

denny crane

I herewith support the election of Denny Crane, Esq., for President of the United States. Consider the following:

Fact: Except for the Mad Cow, Denny is in overall good health.

Pro: Good health is a prerequisite for being president.

Con: Denny Crane may not always remember what he said. But c’mon, which is worse: not remembering or remembering what you just said is patently false?

 

Fact: Denny co-founded and is a named partner in the successful law firm of Crane, Poole & Schmidt.

Pro: He understands the private sector and the legal system.

Con: There are already too many lawyers (and law professors) in Washington. True, but c’mon, Denny’s an outsider. A real outsider.

 

Fact: Denny Crane has been married and divorced 9 times.

Pro: As is obvious, he strongly supports traditional marriage.

Con: He may be viewed as an unreliable partner. But c’mon, Denny’s a little impulsive, that’s all. Who among us???

 

Fact: Denny’s an unwavering advocate of the Second Amendment.

Pro: Denny Crane carries. He was a Marine sniper. Or was it a pilot? He can’t remember which.

Con: Guns kill people. But c’mon, that’s sort of the point, right? Climate change won’t kill the terrorists.

 

Fact: Denny’s a winner.

Pro:  His courtroom record where he was the first chair is 6,043- 0. He’s unbeaten.

Con: Incessant bragging about being a winner might not get a candidate any votes.

 

Fact: Denny Crane is viewed by some as being an aging buffoon.

Pro: How many aging buffoons are 6,043-0?

Con: None. Take a look around Washington and tell me what you see.

 

Fact: Denny enjoys a cigar and a drink.

Pro: See the above about Denny’s overall good health.

Con: It upsets the proponents of the Nanny State. What should he do then? Have a super-sized soda and chew some khat? Nope, not cool either. Well screw it, then. Pour, light, puff.

 

Alan Shore: “You ever wonder if you and I are la-la?”

Denny: “Don’t be ridiculous. We’re flamingos. And good ones.”

 

Denny Crane. I rest my case.

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General Louis H. Wilson, Jr. , the 26th Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps and a recipient of the Medal of Honor from World War II, read this poem at the Marine Corps Birthday Ball, Camp Lejeune, N.C. on 10 November, 1978:

Love

The wonderful love of a beautiful maid,

The love of a staunch, true man,

The love of a baby, unafraid,

Have existed since time began.

But the greatest of loves,

The quintessence of loves,

Even greater than that of a mother,

Is the tender, passionate, infinite love,

Of one drunken Marine for another.

On 10 November of every year, Marines across the globe celebrate the Marine Corps birthday. This year marks the 240th anniversary of the founding of the Corps, the original location of which was Tun Tavern in Philadelphia. Marines have always taken a special pride in tracing their historical origins to a recruiting station inside a tavern. Do you suppose a Leatherneck veteran of the Revolutionary War, sitting on a barstool in Tun Tavern in 1780 and enjoying a brew, would have any idea that nine generations later Marines would be fighting a War on Terror? “Terror?” he might ask. “Is that a place or an army?”

“It’s neither,” we might answer. “It’s an, uh, well, I suppose it’s sort of a thing.”

“Then how can you fight a thing?”

Good question. But I digress. Back to the birthday celebration.

There will be birthday balls at Marine posts all around the world. Marines will arrive decked out in dress blues, the ladies in gowns. There will be speeches, and a solemn moment of remembrance for those Marines who have given the ultimate sacrifice in defense of the nation. That number, by the way, is 44,500 Marine battlefield deaths, with another 220,000 wounded, from the Revolution to Afghanistan. The Tun Tavern Leatherneck might wince in astonishment at such numbers.

There will be elaborate cakes, often several layers high, ceremonially sliced with a sword. The traditional passing of cake from the oldest to the youngest Marine will demonstrate the passing of the honor, experience, and heart of the Corps to the next generation of Marines to carry on.

Then there will be toasts.

The stirring Marines’ Hymn will be played, bringing everyone in the house to their feet. “From the Halls of Montezuma . . . “

And more toasts.

The Marines know how to do a lot of things. They know how to fight and win (and yes, they’ve adapted to learn how to fight a “thing”). They know how to be innovative in tactics and equipment. They know how to maintain their rich traditions. And they certainly know how to throw an annual birthday bash. Nobody does it better. And I happen to know that for a fact.

Happy 240th, Marines!

And by the way, thanks to my Tun Tavern Leatherneck for not only helping to save our country, but for helping to start a Corps of Marines.

Semper Fi.

 

 

Arnie

Today marks the 86th birthday of one of golf’s most iconic figures, the incomparable Arnold Palmer. Arnie is referred to as The King in golfing circles, largely because of his status as golf’s first superstar in the television age. With his humble beginnings in Latrobe, Pennsylvania and his tenacious, stouthearted play, Palmer transformed golf from the pastime of the upper classes to a sport accessible to middle and working class Americans. He won often, and often dramatically, and his legion of loud, loyal followers became known as Arnie’s Army.

Palmer recorded 95 professional wins, and included among his 7 major championships were four Masters victories. By 1967, he became the first golf professional to reach one-million dollars in career earnings on the PGA tour. He adorned the cover of most sports magazines during the Sixties, and he was frequently seen on commercials as one of the most popular and recognizable figures in all of sports.

Palmer found success away from the golfing world, as well. He became equally formidable as a businessman and spokesman, selling lots of golf shirts with the umbrella logo, pushing Pennzoil, Coca-Cola, and Hertz rental cars. He was also involved in the founding of the Golf Channel. Arnie even has a lemonade-flavored iced tea named after him. He flew his own jet to business meetings and golf tournaments, and he began Arnold Palmer Charities to assist with several causes dear to him. Golf course design also came into his family of businesses.

Arnie was married to Winnie Palmer for 45 years, and who passed away in 1999.

Palmer was the first golfer to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2004), and the second golfer to receive the Congressional Gold Medal (2009), along with Byron Nelson.

For many years I have enjoyed seeing Arnie, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player become the honorary starters for the Masters Tournament. They were once fierce competitors and they are now fierce friends, still with the competitive spark that made them such compelling and admired figures for many years. Jack and Gary have likewise done much for the image of their sport, but none more than Arnie.

Arnold Palmer’s story is quintessentially American—he started modestly in life and through his own guile, determination, and tireless hard work, he became successful beyond his wildest dreams. He has been the friend and golfing partner of several American presidents. He is admired by the public and adored by the golfing community. He has set a standard for how a professional should behave toward not just his fellow competitors, but the general public as well.

Arnold Palmer is most assuredly an American treasure. He is indeed The King. Long live The King.

Happy birthday, Arnie!

This is the tribute I wrote to my Druid Hills High School classmates for our 50th Reunion

To the Druid Hills Class of 1965:

When we became Red Devils at the dawning of the Sixties, little did we know what that tumultuous decade would bring because, literally, little did we know about much of anything. So we arrived in 1960 from among the caravan of yellow buses, braced ourselves, and climbed the front steps, walking between those ionic columns and into the “School of Champions.” We were ready for a new chapter in our lives, ready to start striding toward young adulthood. We were lowly sub-freshmen, mostly nervous and unsure of ourselves, but we were in high school. It made us feel big and small at the same time.

Druid Hills was a larger place, had different smells to it in the main building, even had a marching band. There were over three-hundred of us 8th graders, with lots of pretty girls and big athletic guys and smart people of both genders. The classwork was hard sometimes, but not overly so. The teachers were good and mostly helpful unless of course they were coaches who wanted to be seen as hardasses, with Jimmy Carnes one of the notable exceptions. We soon got our feet underneath us and settled in as we became more comfortable with the place and the pace and the prospects. Before long we could sense that we belonged, that indeed we were going to be okay here.

Pretty soon we were 9th graders, and pretty soon after that we were 10th graders. We were really starting to find our way by then, driving and dating and slipping into one of the various social strata that came either by design or by default. We loved it when Coach Rogers would show up and tell us yet again about Eneas Africanus. We were learning real stuff, about the universe, about conceptual things, about ourselves. And then all of a sudden we were juniors, convinced as we were that we were enlightened, undaunted, and indestructible. We thought of creative pranks, we found the scent of mischief enticing, and we liked the look of the opposite sex a lot. The boys would sometimes settle things at the tennis courts when all else failed. Zesto’s was a famous hangout, not so much for the food but for the swapping of stories—some truthful, some sorta, some not even close. Downtown Atlanta and the Varsity were only minutes away. But who can forget that surreal weekend in November, 1963, when the gunshots in Dallas changed more than a presidency.

Our athletic teams won a few games and our band won all the halftime shows. We were now experiencing the very best teachers like Morgan and Hampton and Davis, tackling the most challenging subjects, and starting to think about what we would do after high school. We were becoming more fashion conscious. We looked around and noticed that we had a lot of talented people in our class, as students, musicians, artists, writers, singers, athletes, dancers, debaters, and emerging leaders. We were only one step away from being seniors—the rulers of the universe that was 1798 Haygood Drive.

And then came our turn, our senior year.

We did good work and had our share of fun in the ’64-’65 class year. Druid Hills was in good hands with our senior class. We had excellent student leaders and after four years of being together we were strongly bonded. We competed hard in the athletic arena and we showcased our previously noted talents in any one of a number of ways. We discovered alcohol, threw a few eggs, and did some things that we later dearly hoped our own kids wouldn’t do. We got a new gymnasium that made us proud. The music of Motown and the British invasion kept us moving to the beat. Many of us were hearing from colleges about our applications—sometimes happily, sometimes not so much. We honored Jack Wilks by dedicating the Saga to him, and we wrote lots of pithy phrases in the yearbooks of our friends and classmates. And before long we were singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and rehearsing our graduation exercise, trying not to become overly emotional, but mostly giving in to it, if even a little.

Soon it was all over, and probably for the first time in our lives we had a collection of years that, when looking back, had seemed to pass so very quickly, like the way our parents had told us about the passage of time.

Some of us went to college, some went to work, some went into the military. The times they were a changin’, and the nation was being pulled and stretched out of its post-WWII comfortable shape. The Civil Rights era was mostly civil, but not always. The Vietnam era grew more and more uncivil and seemed to usher in the most bitter and divisive time since the Civil War. Before many of us had reached the age of twenty-one, JFK, RFK and MLK had been felled by assassin’s bullets. The ‘68 Tet Offensive in Vietnam gave the USA a decisive military victory which oddly enough became a public-opinion disaster. We found comfort where we could—sometimes in sex, drugs, rock-‘n-roll, or cheap beer. There were heroes like Neil Armstrong, outsized personalities like Muhammad Ali, criminals like Charles Manson, and traitors like Jane Fonda. Some of our classmates were shooting dope, some were shooting NVA or VC, and some were working at jobs that paid the bills, but not much else. We were just doing our own thing, whatever that meant. We were the Baby Boomers, the sons and daughters of the Greatest Generation, and we would later be described as the most spoiled, self-absorbed generation in American history. I didn’t buy that description then, and I certainly don’t now.

Most of us made it through those challenging times—some more bruised than others, some changed forever. We got married, had kids, maybe got divorced. We went to work, some staying at jobs for years, some bouncing around looking for that elusive greener grass. Some of us went into the medical or legal professions, or became teachers or salesmen or stay-at-home moms. Some of us became entrepreneurs and got rich. Many of us made a decent living and enjoyed a certain degree of comfort, while others struggled with downsizing and rightsizing and all the other euphemisms associated with losing a job. We were scattered about the entire nation, following the twists and turns of fate and the lure of opportunity.

We had class reunions and by twenty years we guys laughed about the weight gains and the hair loss. In some ways it seemed like yesterday when we were at Druid Hills. By thirty years it no longer seemed like yesterday. We were saddened by the classmates and family members we had lost along the way, and much of the social layering that once seemed so important had diminished. By forty years it was gone altogether, most of us happy just to be alive and continent enough to fill in the gaps in our personal histories, including, of course, our most recent surgeries. Our memories of school weren’t quite as robust as before, nor were our knees and backs and hips. But thankfully there were now pharmaceuticals to help us lower things like blood pressure or cholesterol or chronic pain, or conversely to help other anatomical regions rise to the occasion, so to speak.

And now it’s fifty years. We grew up together, we sons and daughters of dear ole DH. And now we’re growing old together. It’s not so bad, really. We’ll miss the departed, to be sure, and we’ll remind one another of the many good times. And we’ll take some consolation in the fact that we’re able to join together once again in the warmth of renewed friendship. We’ll offer a toast or two, make a boast or two, and laugh a lot. A helluva lot.

Those were good years long ago, sweetened even more by the passage of time. Loyal, brave, and fair and true. That was us then, and here we are now. We’ve all had our successes and we’ve all been knocked around by life. But we’re still standing, we’re still friends, and we’re still the Devils that were once dynamite. It could’ve been worse—we could’ve been shipped off to Briarcliff, for cryin’ out loud, and be the bunnies that were once, well, whatever. But no, we were a great class from what was arguably the best school in the best school system in the entire South.

We are the Druid Hills Class of 1965, by God. And by the grace of God, we can enjoy it once again. And enjoy it we shall.

I SALUTE you, my fellow classmates!

And may we meet again on down the road.

Jerry Gillis

DHHS, ‘65