NEBO’S GLORY DAYS – Emerson E. Jetton and Booker Little of the Trenton Wholesale Company are shown in Jetton’s store in Nebo, circa 1943.
By J.D. Pinkerton
Harry Harrison Kroll taught a journalism class at the University of Tennessee at Martin from 1935-1958. Harry Jetton took a class under him in the mid 1950’s. He was from Dyersburg and one of his many published works was made into a movie entitled “Cabin in the Cotton” which starred Bette Davis.
Professor Kroll had a deep Southern voice. He told about a teacher over the agriculture department that used to raise all kinds of fruit trees, from apples to peaches. He was an outstanding horticulturist. Kroll said, “Old man McMann there at the agriculture department, he’s got a bunch of apple, pear trees, and peaches, he only sells a few and I wrote about my one apple tree and I got enough to buy me a new Buick car!”
Harry went into the US Army in 1954. After he left the Army, he used the GI Bill to go to school for two years. Harry said, “If they were to research the grades at UTM they would see this was a person that did the best job they could at just barely getting by. I grasped what I needed in college to farm. I grew up in the bottom speaking how they spoke down there, up dere, down yonder, so when I started school they had to unlearn me Larue talk!”
Some of his classmates in grammar school that he recalled were Aaron Scott, Vernon Dodson, Gene Pigue (who was a nephew to Cotton Pigue), Bob Parker (Bobby was a very outstanding athlete), Billy Flowers and Jimmy Wamble. The girls were Faye Privett, Mary Alice Smith, Rebecca and Marlene Couch and Betty Jane Gregory.
“Some kids smoked back then, there was a tough little kid that was buying this sack of Northstate tobacco in my daddy’s store at Nebo,” Jetton recalled. “This older sophisticated lady of the neighborhood came in and saw him buying the tobacco, so she says, ‘Lit-tle boy, are you buying that tobacco?’ And he says ‘H— yes and I cuss too!’ Daddy used to sell all kinds of tobacco like Dukes, Bull Durham, Kildee and Northstate.”
“In fifth grade I had a bird dog named Old Skeeter, we got him from a man named Skeeter, so we decided to call the dog the same. That dog and I grew up together. We lived two or three hundred yards from the school so I used to walk to school every morning. Bobby Parker used to ride a old white mare to school named Old Fanny. Three kids could ride on that horse and occasionally he would hitch him to a buggy and several kids could ride then. Old Skeeter would come inside the school right to where I was sitting in the classroom and lay down beside me. It always caused a turmoil. One day I had my harmonica and I started playing it and that dog started howling. The kids had a fit and the teacher said I had to get that dog out of here. The dog was very obedient and I told him to go lay down in the corner. That’s where he stayed till school was out.”
Harry played harmonica at age five. His father sold paraffin harmonicas at the store. You couldn’t get a good tone out of them but still he learned to play a tune or two on them.
“They would get soggy after awhile, eventually just disintegrate into chewing gum. His father bought him a Hohner harmonica. You couldn’t get them after the war started since they were made in Germany.”
His teacher in the fifth and sixth grade was Ruth Fisher and she was an outstanding teacher. Her husband was dead. She had two children in Burl and Ann Fisher. “She taught writing poems and penmanship where I learned to write with such a good hand. When I write a check most of the time people compliment my writing, they asked me at the bank last week where I learned to write. I owe it entirely to Ms. Fisher.”
“I wrote a poem in school about the B-17, I still have it around here somewhere.”
“When the flying fortress is in the air, it looks like an elephant at the fair,” he quoted.
“Ms. Fisher gave us a assignment about what you want to do when you get older. One boy named Dan got up and said, ‘My name is Dan, when I grow up I want to fly a plane and go to Japan and I think I can.’ Sadie held up her hand and said, ‘My name is Sadie, when I grow up to be a lady, I want to have a baby and I think I can.’ Sam raised his hand up, he was in the back of the class aggravating the girls, he said, ‘My name is Sam. I don’t want to be like Dan. I’m going to stick around home and help Sadie with her plan!’”
Harry wanted to listen to other things on the radio like the comics and the mystery shows but his Dad only wanted to listen to war news. So he recalls some of the commentators they listened to every day. Among them are W. C. Teague, H. C. Calborn, Gabriel Heater and Walter Winchell.
“Ray Scott was killed in the war, Kenneth Martin too. Gerald Loggins got wounded. When he came back you couldn’t fire a firecracker around him. He would go into spasms.”
Harry Jetton’s daddy served in World War I in the trenches of France. He made sergeant. Back then they would automatically make you a sergeant if you could read and write.
One day after the war ended, they were sitting around the store talking. Oliver Larue told about the plane they shot down with a machine gun. They went out to that plane to see if they could find any souvenirs.
“Harry’s dad asked Larue if he had gone looking there, too, for souvenirs. He said ‘yes,’ and Dad said, ‘Me too.’ You could be thousands of miles away from home and meet a homey or serve the whole time and never realize someone from home was so close.”
“All types of meat was rationed here at home during WWII. All folks in the country killed their hogs and beef. There was no refrigeration so everyone canned their meats and sealed them. Since they were sealed you didn’t have to keep them in a cool place. A lot of the schools had canning facilities. It had enough soup in the can that the meat wouldn’t dry out, it tasted real good.” Harry said, “I remember eating canned goat. Aaron Scott’s mother canned goat meat. They had beef clubs. Every time someone killed and canned the meat, everyone would come and get their equal portions. No money changed hand in these clubs, it was the same way on hog killing.”
Harry said, “I enjoyed watching the airplanes fly over from Halls Airfield. They had 68 B-17’s there. They would come from someplace to the north to Halls Air Field. Formations would fly over and they would be erratic formations as they were training. They were very loud. They would fly at about 3,000 feet. You could tell that week by week, they were getting better. The sky was full of them over Neboville all the time. P-51 pilots trained on Stearman Model 75 aircraft, they were open cockpit 2-wing planes. They also trained on AT-6 single wing aircraft. The AT-6 came in from Millington. The P-51 carried six 50 caliber machine guns.”
“The only pilot I knew was Claude Hicks from Yorkville. He would fly his P-51 down here and turned this place inside out! He enjoyed scaring his brother-in-law Spence Trimble that farmed here. One day he found Spence in a long field cutting soybeans. Spence had one of the first self-propelled combines by Massey-Harris. They came before the Massey-Fergusons. They didn’t have cabs.”
“Hicks said, ‘I saw Spence down in that field on that combine and I got real low and pulled her wide open, when I got to him, I pulled it straight up and put all the pitch in the propeller and it jarred that old combine! I cut around real fast and watched him jump off that combine to see what happened, he never did see me!’”
“Claude Hicks flew P-51s and F-80 Shooting Stars. He used to tell the best stories and we’d go listen to him at the store. Claude said that he had a wing-man that flew with him and if there ever was a daredevil it was his wing-man. Claude talked like he had more nerve than he ever did. They were flying so low on the Tennessee River one time that it pulled the water through the propeller. Hicks said, “When I got to the Tennessee River bridge I pulled up but he went right under the bridge!”
“Claude was flying a reconnaissance mission out of England on a F-80 Shooting Star. It was one of the first jets,” Jetton said. “He was coming back from the mission over the English Channel and a seagull went through the intake. The result was the jet would get a burst of power and then fall. It didn’t glide it would just drop several hundred feet. He belly-landed it in a residential section and said he thought that thing would never stop. Soon as it stopped, he got out as soon as he could, then it exploded. After he got home that night after telling this at the store, this fellow that had been there, listening, called him on the phone. The phone was ringing and Claude was thinking ‘who in the world is calling me at 10 p.m. at night!’ The guy said, ‘Claude, I got to thinking, did it kill that seagull that run through there?’ Claude said, ‘Well, it ticked him pretty good!’”
“They had air-cooled propeller planes and water-cooled propeller planes. These P-51s went on a lot of strafing missions and if the enemy shots hit the radiator, well, they wouldn’t last too long. The P-47 had an air-cooled engine. They were more suited for missions in the Pacific. P-51s flew escorts in Germany with the B-17s. The pilots could fly 25 missions then they could come home. Most of them didn’t make it.”
“Claude Hicks related this story. ‘We were flying one day on a strafing mission. My wing-man got hit in the radiator and his plane went down. We were flying so low the Japs were shooting at us with their handguns. I kept circling and firing at the Japs to keep them off my wing-man but they eventually got him out of his plane and I had to quit firing as I was afraid I might hit him.
“Would you believe he beat me back to Neboville? Watt McClain was the name of my wing-man from Neboville. McClain was a dairyman, lived across the creek from me. He’s still living, he is a big farmer.’”
“As a parting note I wanted to say that ‘Big John’ Alf Halliburton was so good to me. I could never express how much I loved him.”