Toward the end of Jimmy Carters's term of office Vice President Mondale landed at the Nashville airport on two separate occasions in a fairly short period of time. One of these times was to see his daughter perform in a horse show at M.T.S.U. Whenever Air Force One, or Two, landed in Nashville, the planes were parked on the Air National Guard side of the airport. We were tasked to guard both planes, along with augmenting the Secret Service and local law enforcement whenever they were on our base. There was only one problem. We were carrying empty weapons. National Guard troops had shot 13 Kent State University students, killing four of them, during an anti-war demonstration on May 4, 1970. The state of Ohio did not insure their Guard troops and they were held personally liable in civil court. Since Tennessee didn't insure it's troops against personal liability, we were not allowed to carry loaded weapons. On the other hand our commander wanted us to carry weapons in order to remain familiar with them. Personally, I did not like this. If the bad guy were to see us with a weapon he would have to assume that our weapon was loaded. We would be a target with no way to fight back. On one occasion a Secret Service agent walked up to me and asked if my weapon was loaded. I sheepishly said no. He laughed and shook his head as he walked away. This ridiculous policy continued throughout Carter's presidency. Almost from the moment that Ronald Reagan took office in January 1981, our situation improved. We were notified that all Guardsmen were insured by the Federal government and from 1981 on we were allowed to carry a full load of ammunition. For the first time our training began to improve. We trained in Air Base Ground Defense, which is basically infantry training. Our unit was also trained in NBC or nuclear, biological and chemical warfare training. We also received some good law enforcement and weapons training, For the first time we were actually earning our money. Reagan pushed the Total Force Concept. The mechanics of Total Force Concept moved most of the combat support and combat service support functions of the Army — the units required for sustained operations — into the Reserve Components: the United States Army and Air Reserve and the Army and Air National Guard. This set the stage for Guard units being heavily relied on during Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and the later military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq after September 11, 2001. We would never again have to guard a Vice President, President, or anything else with empty weapons. Over my almost seventeen year career in the Air Guard I was involved in the security of not only Mondale, but Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Dan Quayle and Al Gore. In my opinion, Ronald Reagan was the greatest president that I remember, and it was an honor to serve under him for the full eight years of his presidency.
One Sunday night, while I was at work, Debbie called me from church. She was crying as she told me that Misty had been molested by Steve. I felt like someone had punched me in the gut. Debbie said that she and the pastor were waiting to talk to me in his office. I left work but I didn't know what to do. This came straight out of left field. By this time Butch and Jenny Hunter had moved to a new house in Antioch. I needed some legal advice and Butch should be able to help me since he was a police officer. In addition I was so upset I needed to compose myself before I got to the church. Luckily Butch and Jenny were home when I got there. They asked what was wrong but every time tried to tell them the words just wouldn't come. It was a long while before I could speak. When I could I finally told them what had happened and I asked Butch what I should do. He told me to have a doctor check her and see if there was any evidence of molestation or physical damage. Butch said that I should report this to the Rutherford County Sheriff Department and let them start an investigation. Before leaving I asked Butch if he had a gun I could borrow. He must have trusted my judgment because he loaned me a 22 caliber pistol. When I arrived at the church the pastor and Debbie were waiting for me in his study. Debbie was crying as she told me what happened. She said that she and Misty were watching T.V. on the couch. All of a sudden Misty burst into tears. Debbie held her and asked what was wrong. Sobbing, she said that she didn't want Steve to go to jail. Slowly but surely Debbie was able to pry enough information out of Misty to realize that she had been molested. He had used threats and enticement by offering her gifts to buy her silence. Steve told her that he would hurt us if she told anybody. He also played on her sympathy by saying that he would go to jail. Over time we found out more and more details. The molestation had started when we were helping Steve move to the house next door. Misty would ride in the truck with him to help unload and apparently some of the molestation was happening during these times. It continued after the Ikemire's moved into the house next door, and on those occasions when he would babysit. There were many red flags but we were too naive at that time to pick up on them. Misty was victimized the most but we were all victimized by this man. He violated our trust and robbed Misty of her innocence far too young in life.
It was a Sunday when Misty opened up to Debbie about what had happened to her. She went to our pastor for advice. Incredibly the first thing he suggested that I do was to talk to Steve. According to him, I should tell Steve that if anything like this ever happened again, I would go to the police. I knew immediately that this was bad advice. I told him that I would follow Butch Hunter's advice and we would take her to be checked by a doctor. After that I was going to the police. I told him that even if I didn't involve the police, the doctor would be bound by law to report this to the authorities. It would be much later that I realized what a conniving snake we had for a pastor. He was more worried about a potential scandal in his church than he was about Misty. After the doctor confirmed that she had been molested I called the Rutherford County Sheriffs Department. They referred me to an officer who headed up their sex crimes unit. The deputy was also an M.T.S.U. professor. He was a nice guy and very sensitive to the situation. Unfortunately he would be dead just a few months later from a kidney disease. He quickly brought me up to speed on pedophiles. They were usually someone that you knew and not some derelict off of the street. Someone like your preacher, coach, teacher, a businessman, Boy Scout leaders, your father, brothers, uncles, friends and neighbors. Some females were pedophiles but they were usually male. Many times they worked in occupations that they were guaranteed close contact with children. The deputy brought in a female officer to question Misty. It was tough to hear the things that this thirty-three year old monster had done to her. Misty had revealed things, in bits and pieces, to both of us over the first few hours. I held her close to me and tried to reassure her that she had done nothing wrong. As parents we both had guilt feelings about not picking up on what was going on sooner. After Misty was questioned the deputy told us that the next days and weeks could be really tough on us. In order to build a case for prosecution detectives would have to gather evidence. He wanted us to conduct ourselves as if we knew nothing about what had happened. If the Ikemire's came over to visit, we were to act as if nothing was wrong. Debbie was the one who had to keep up the charade for the rest of the week. Luckily, I worked the 2nd shift at Colonial all week and I managed to avoid him. Debbie said that she thought Steve was aware that something was up. Especially after two plain clothes detectives showed up one night to talk to Misty and search her room for evidence. It is possible that the pastor tipped him off. I was dreading Sunday because I sang in the choir and Steve would be facing me from the congregation. That Sunday, as I was putting on my choir robe, the preacher came to me with a worried look on his face. He said that he had a premonition that Steve was going to approach the altar and accept Christ as his savior. The pastor asked my opinion about what he should do if that happened. At this point I naively believed that the preacher was on our side. I now believe that the preacher colluded with Steve in concocting this plan so we would go easier on him in court. As scripted, Steve came forward when the invitation was given. I lost it at that point and told the preacher that I wanted to confront Steve right then and there about what happened. We walked to a Sunday School room and sat down at a table. The preacher, Steve and his wife sat down across from Debbie and myself. Before I could say a word Steve confessed to what he had done. He was crying crocodile tears and apologizing over and over. He kept saying how much he loved children and that he would never intentionally hurt one. I can't tell you how many pedophiles that I have heard talk and act like Steve since that day. When Michael Jackson was accused of molesting boys I was convinced that he was guilty by the way he was acting and the way the boys were acting. Everytime I tell people about Misty being molested they will usually tell me how they would kill someone if their child was treated this way. Talk is cheap. I have no doubt that there are people who would have killed this man or had him killed. There are people, who at the very least would have beat this man to within an inch of his life or had someone else do it. Most people are like me however. They go through the criminal justice system. If I had killed or injured him, I might have gotten away with it or got a slap on the hand. At the time however I had four small children and a wife that were depending on me for support. I could not risk going to jail, prison, or the financial costs of hiring a lawyer to defend me. As a young Christian I was just then really getting into the meat of the word. I was actually trying to follow Christ and was struggling with how I should treat the man who had just molested my daughter. In 1980 the subject of pedophilia wasn't in the news very much. Until then I couldn't imagine anyone doing this to a child. Rape was a common thing in the news, movies and television, but not this. We were entering unfamiliar territory. In retrospect, there were things about the way we handled the situation that I would do over if I had the chance.
I asked Steve to turn himself in to the sheriffs department and he readily agreed. When we arrived he was questioned, photographed and booked. He was then released on bail. As we were leaving I did something that I immediately regretted and I will regret to the day that I die. He walked up to me and apologized again. Trying to exercise my faith I hugged him and told him that I forgave him. This was a rational move on my part but emotionally my heart wasn't in to it. I suddenly felt like I had ice water in my veins and I was disgusted with myself. I still didn't fully realize how I was being manipulated by both the preacher and Steve. Pedophiles do not change for the most part. They continue to molest over and over, throughout their life. Steve has served several prison sentences in the years since he molested Misty. There is no telling how many children that he molested before Misty and how many he has molested since. I am convinced that he molested his own step daughter and that is why she left home as soon as she turned 18. All of this was unknown to me that day that I hugged him in that parking lot. I knew from that moment that he had to be punished for what he did. Forgiveness is good, but it had no bearing on the case. He had to be punished for what he did. I knew in my heart that it was too soon to forgive him. When someone creates an open wound it must have time to heal and there hadn't been enough time. Ultimately forgiveness is not so much for the offender as it is for the offended. Hatred can destroy you. I was present on the day that Steve met the district attorney for the first time. Steve told the DA that he needed psychological help for his problem. The DA cut him off at the knees when he replied "No, what you need is to have your ass kicked". I wanted to high five him at that moment. It took two years to prosecute Steve. The thing that really irritated me was how many people took the stand to vouch for Steve's character. His boss, co workers, and friends. In retrospect I am surprised that the preacher didn't take the stand in his defense. It would have been different if Steve had denied his guilt but he admitted that he was guilty. In the end Steve was sentenced to thirty days in jail to be served on weekends. He was allowed to work during the week at his regular job. Steve was also ordered to pay for any psychological counseling that Misty might need. It had taken two years of our time to get this ridiculous decision. If they had put him away forever other children could have been saved from this man.
|Misty Cheer leading for the Steelers|
|Steve Ikemire with his back turned on the right|
Misty has suffered from many emotional problems over the years that can be directly traced to this experience. I tried to get counseling for her. Every time that I tried however I had to take Steve back to court for payment. Eventually it just became too much of a hassle and I gave up. My insurance wouldn't pay for it either. She also suffered physical problems related to the molestation. Her stomach began hurting and the doctor thought she might be having an appendicitis. He admitted her to the hospital for a battery of tests. Misty was there for close to a week and the doctor could find nothing wrong. On a particular morning I was passing her bedroom when I noticed that she was sleeping with one eye opened and one eye closed. I was kind of freaked out and when I woke her up she looked like she had just had a stroke. One side of her face was drooping. We took Misty to her pediatrician who diagnosed her with Bells Palsy. He said that it was very rare for a eight year old to have this condition. It was fairly common among the elderly. Again we attributed the Bells Palsy to the trauma that she had suffered. The weirdest thing that happened during that time was a series of supernatural occurrences. They occurred over a two year period. Debbie claims that she heard footsteps in our house at night when the kids were asleep and I was at work. She told me about the footsteps but I just blew it off. Late one Saturday night I was studying my Sunday school lesson for the next morning. Debbie was sound asleep and I had my feet next to her head. My head was at the foot of the bed as I lay there reading with the bedroom light on. All of a sudden I became aware of how quiet the house was. It was so quiet that you could hear the proverbial pin drop. I raised my head in anticipation of hearing something. Suddenly I heard the footsteps of a large man walking from the back door of our house to the entrance of our bedroom. I grabbed my gun and walked all through the house. The kids were sleeping soundly. After that we continued to hear footsteps off and on. Debbie and I were lying in bed one night when a hair brush bounced off of our bedroom door. Again the kids were in bed asleep. Unfortunately Steve and his family continued to live next store to us for a short while until they could find somewhere else to live. Our neighbor across the street was still in contact with them. One day I was talking to her about the weird things going on in our house. She said that Steve was also hearing footsteps but his problems were even worse. His faucets were turning on by themselves and the toilets were flushing. He was also hearing footsteps. One night he even saw the ghost of a little boy walk through the wall into his sons bedroom. When he looked in the room his son was asleep and there was no sign of the little boy. My scariest experience happened in the Fall of 1982. For some reason I would wake up around 3:00 A.M. and hear the footsteps. On one particular morning I woke up at 3:00 A.M. and again the house was eerily quiet. I lay there waiting for the inevitable footsteps. Our dogs usually stayed outside but on this night they were sleeping under our bed. Suddenly the dogs started growling. A few moments later I could hear someone walking toward our bedroom and feel the house vibrate from the heavy footsteps. Again I jumped out of bed and grabbed my pistol. As usual there was no one there and the kids were sound asleep. This would turn out to be our last supernatural occurrence. In thirty four years we have not had a similar experience. In the early 1980's we did a series of Bible studies. One of the subjects that we studied was the state of the dead. Simply put, it is my belief, based on scripture, that a person doesn't have a soul, they are a soul. When a person dies their spirit, which is energy, returns to God. The body returns to dust. The spirit is energy and is not a conscious energy. Upon the resurrection the spirit will be reunited with the body. Only then will the person be conscious. He will again become a living soul. The saved will instantaneously acquire a glorified body and live forever. The damned will be destroyed after the Great White Throne Judgement. They will die the second death by being consumed in the Lake of Fire. In short, what I am saying is that if the deceased are in the grave there can't be spirits of the dead haunting the living. Any supernatural occurrences are caused by demons. They are the fallen angels cast down from heaven after the rebellion by Lucifer. After we discovered this truth the weird happenings at our house never occurred again. There was one more incident that happened to a neighbor however. She lived two doors down from us, on the opposite side of the Ikemire house. The neighbor was working in her flower bed one day. By this time the Ikemire house was empty. Suddenly she began to hear bag pipe music coming from the empty house. The music got louder and louder until she was so spooked she ran into the house. At the time all of this was happening I did not link it to Misty's molestation until I read a book much later about the Bell Witch. The book was based on a supposed real life diary found many years later belonging to Betsy Bell in Alabama. Betsy Bell was the young girl that was being abused by the Bell Witch. Her father, John Bell, was supposedly poisoned by the witch and died as a result. The book claims that the Bell Witch was actually a poltergeist. A poltergeist is defined as a ghost or spirit supposed to manifest its presence by noises, knockings, objects flying through the air, etc. The following is from a article at www. crystalinks.com. "Poltergeist activity usually takes place when a particular individual is present - usually young teenagers at puberty who has emotional problems. A poltergeist is often thought of as a negative spirit attracted to these teenagers. Due to hormonal and emotional changes in the teenager's body, negative energy may be thrust outwardly sometimes moving or destroying objects telekinetically. Young teens seek to develop telekinetic abilities. Poltergeist activity can cease as suddenly as it started. It can last anywhere from a few hours to a few years". According to the Bell Witch book, which later became a movie, John Bell was molesting his daughter Betsy Bell. The Bell Witch was a manifestation of the trauma associated with the molestation. Although Misty was only seven years old when she was molested I began to suspect that our house and the Ikemire's house was experiencing poltergeist activity. This might explain why the activity only lasted for two years and during that period of Misty's life. The Ikemire house was rental property for many years. I would occasionally run into people, some I couldn't even remember, who had rented that house over the years. One of the first things that they would tell me is that house was haunted. I can't say for sure what really caused the strange things that occurred during that time. However I tend to believe that it was demonic activity of some sort.
On the afternoon of Thursday, October 2, 1980, one of our C-130's, belonging to the 105th Tactical Airlift Squadron, crashed on a hillside next to a nursery in McMinnville Tennessee. Witnesses said that the plane was at a low altitude when it suddenly plunged, nose first into the ground. It then cartwheeled into a ball of fire. The subsequent investigation revealed that it lost part of the port wing leading edge,This aircraft had been operated by Air America in February 1970. Air America was a C.I.A. air operation in Southeast Asia. Our monthly Guard drill was that weekend and we were sent to McMinnville very early on Saturday October 4th, to relieve the handful of Security Policemen from our unit that had been sent to secure the crash scene. They told us that the scene was chaos when they first arrived. A crowd of gawkers and souvenir seekers were rummaging through the wreckage. They cleared the crowd and set up a restricted area with a entry control post. A crash scene must be secured so crash investigators can determine the cause of the crash. They said that the plane had virtually disintegrated and they were having to locate human remains which were everywhere. Of the four man crew only 100 pounds of flesh were recovered on the first day. Human remains were still being located three months later. When I arrived on Saturday morning most of the remains had been found. However there were pieces of white plastic everywhere. These had been used to mark the remains. I saw a charred combat boot along with strips of flight suits hanging from the trees. The smell of JP 4, (jet fuel), was very strong. In the nearby nursery you could follow a trail of debris that had fallen from the wing as it flew into the hillside. There you could see the imprint of all four engines where they made contact with the ground. There are few sights worse than a crash scene.
When Ronald Reagan ran for president in 1980 I was a Democrat. I was a conservative Democrat and somewhat independent because I voted for Nixon in 1972. McGovern was just too far to the left for me and obviously for many Americans. After Watergate I wanted honesty and integrity to return to the White House. Jimmy Carter passed himself off as a moderate and a Christian. I was excited about the prospect of what I thought would be a moderate Southern Democrat as opposed to a northeastern liberal Democrat being in the White House. In addition, a moderate Democrat who was not a racist or segregationist. Gerald Ford was a good man but I couldn't forgive him for pardoning Nixon. In retrospect Nixon looks like a saint now compared to the corrupt Clinton and Obama administrations but my eyes are wide open now and not so much in 1976. It seemed like the country was in a funk during the 1970's. We had been defeated in Vietnam. The military suffered from low morale and drug use was rampant. This was not only in the military but in society as a whole. There had been a serious gas shortage and long lines at the pumps in 1973. At the end of WW2 the United States was the lone economic superpower in the world and the greatest military power. We were virtually untouched by the war. The war had been a great boon to our economy and brought us out of a depression that the government policies of Roosevelt's New Deal had allowed to go on for far too long. Our cities had not been bombed and with the exception of the remote Aleutian Islands our territory had not been invaded by a foreign enemy. Many of our soldiers had sacrificed their lives and bodies during the war but they had done it on foreign shores and not in the vast numbers that the Russians, Germans, Japanese, and Chinese had. The American civilian population was virtually untouched but total civilian and military casualties worldwide was at least sixty million. Most of these casualties were civilian. At the end of the war we had no economic competition from abroad. Many of our competitors today, Britain, France, Italy, Germany, and Japan were bankrupt and devastated by war. During the 1970's they were putting out high quality compact cars and many other quality products. Japan was modernizing and producing high quality cars and steel. These countries were capturing a greater share of our manufacturing market because we were caught flat footed. We had not modernized. Our car manufacturers were producing junk cars and they were gas guzzlers. In the late 1970's our traditional manufacturing areas like Detroit, Pittsburg and Gary Indiana were becoming known as the Rust Belt. By 1979 we were paying for the Vietnam War and the War on Poverty of the Johnson administration with high inflation and interest rates of twenty percent and more. The real estate market was dead and we were in the worst recession since the great depression. This recession was even worse than the recession caused by the real estate market crash of 2007. Our national defense posture had deteriorated and we were suffering through the humiliation of seeing our embassy staff taken hostage in Tehran. The pro-American Shah had been overthrown by the radical fundamentalist Muslims. On top of this Americans died in the Iranian desert in an embarrassing hostage rescue attempt that failed miserably. Incredibly Carter was saying that we needed to learn to adjust to the fact that our best days as a nation were behind us. I didn't want to hear my president say this because I didn't believe it. I wasn't ready to give up on Carter however. As we approached the 1980 election I bought into the Democratic propaganda that Reagan was a dangerous cowboy that was going to get us all killed. Just like the propaganda of the 2016 election today that Trump will get us all killed.
I liked Reagan's movies and I identified with his distrust of communism. His message was hopeful and he destroyed Carter in the debates. I cast my vote for Carter. I was becoming more conservative however and troubled by my allegiance to the Democrat Party. Part of this change was spiritual. In the late 1970's and early 80's I was really getting into the meat of the Word and closer to God. I began to seriously ask myself why I identified as a Democrat. They were pro abortion through all nine months of pregnancy. Even as a Democrat I had never been for abortion. The Democrats were proponents of homosexual rights. I never mistreated homosexuals and I was always respectful of them. I have had many homosexual friends over the years. As a Christian however I didn't believe in the right of homosexuals to adopt children or the right to be married. They were proponents of radical feminism which I felt was destructive to the family and to the proper raising of children. I always felt that women deserved to be paid the same as men if they were doing the same job as men. They should be able to work any job that a man could do as long as they were physically able to pull their weight. However I did not believe that women should be in combat and I still feel that way. To me radical feminism was anti-male, anti-family and anti-Christian. On the more secular subject of national defense I was aware that something had happened to the Democratic Party in the late sixties and early 1970's. They were sounding more and more anti-military. The Democrats had been the biggest resisters to the war in Vietnam and they insured our ultimate defeat in Vietnam by ending the funding of the war. There were many in the party who were literally for unilateral nuclear disarmament. I was so depressed on election night, 1980, that I literally wanted to cry and I couldn't sleep. Reagan's presidency quickly turned me around. His words and speeches inspired me. On the very day he was inaugurated our hostages were released from Iran. The country was ablaze with patriotism and American flags. His message was that our best days were not behind us but before us. In his "Evil Empire" speech he broke from our old foreign policy of containment. Reagan not only intended to contain the Soviet Union, he wanted to put it out of business. Almost immediately I felt like I was a soul mate with Reagan, I seemed to understand his every move and I felt secure under his leadership. It felt good to be an American again.
We were in court that day in March 1981 when John Hinckley tried to assassinate Reagan. Steve Ikemire was on trial for molesting Misty. It was like a scene from a movie. During the trial someone approached the judge with a note and handed it to him. A shocked look came over his face and he suddenly interrupted the proceedings. He said ladies and gentlemen I have just been informed that President Reagan has been shot. A collective gasp rose up from the court room and I remember sinking low in my seat in disbelief. First there was the assassination of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy and now Ronald Reagan. There had been the nearly successful assassination attempt on George Wallace that left him paralyzed in 1972. All in the span of less than twenty years. The judge then said that the condition of the president was unknown at that time. I can't remember if he adjourned court for the day but I remember being glued to the television after I got home. Reagan was the oldest president elected in history. At first the media made it sound like his wound was not life threatening. Over the next few days the world would find out just how close Reagan came to dying. There seemed to have been a twenty year curse on presidents elected since 1840. William Henry Harrison died of pneumonia that year. Lincoln was elected in 1860 and died in office. Garfield was elected in 1880. Mckinley in 1990. Harding in 1920. Roosevelt in 1940 and Kennedy in 1960. Reagan was elected in 1980 but maybe he broke the curse by living. I admired his grit, tenacity and humor during this whole ordeal that could have killed a younger man. Reagan made me realize that I had been a conservative all along but I just didn't know it. I took stock of all my beliefs and decided that like Reagan I didn't leave the Democratic Party they had left me. The man that I thought was a cowboy and reckless turned out to be the greatest president of my lifetime. He was responsible for the longest period of economic growth in American history and put the Soviet Union out of business. I was very proud to serve under Ronald Reagan as my Commander-In-Chief.
In the early 1980's my sister Donna began talking to me about moving to Florida and going to work for her husband Richard. He was part owner in a company called B&B Utilities that operated water and sewer plants in Ft. Pierce and the east coast from about Melbourne down to West Palm Beach Florida. She made several promises. They would pay me the same as I was making at the bakery and provide health insurance. Until I was able to get on my feet she would give me her paper route. Donna claimed that she made good money off of the route. I thought that I was ready for a change. My union job was stressing me out. In March 1982 we took a vacation in Ft. Pierce along with the Travis family. I wanted to make this move but my gut was telling me no. It seemed like I was being pushed by an invisible hand however. I knew that I couldn't trust Donna but I was determined to make the move. Debbie felt the same way but she left the final decision up to me. I decided to take the job. Misty and I would go down to Florida the following month of April. Debbie and the rest of the kids would go down in June, after school was out, and we could sale the house. Because of the recession of the early 1980's the real estate market was virtually dead. Interest rates were sky high. It soon became apparent that the house was not going to sale so we put it up for rent. Misty and I took a Greyhound bus to Ft. Pierce. It was a long trip. After an all night ride I was having a nightmare as the bus pulled into the Ft. Pierce Greyhound station. As I stepped off the bus I knew from that moment on that I had made a terrible mistake. For a while we lived with Donna and Richard. It wasn't long before we were fighting. From the very start it was apparent that Donna had no intention of honoring her promises to me. Every time I asked her when she was going to give me her paper route she always had an excuse why she couldn't give it to me. Over time it became obvious that she wasn't going to give it up. I had a number of accounts that I took care of for B&B Utilities. They were for the most part trailer parks, businesses and restaurants. There was one account in a gated community. It was in Stuart Florida where we took care of the water and sewer plant. The homes were valued at one million dollars each. I enjoyed driving my route in south Florida and not having a supervisor breathing down my neck but it was obvious that I wasn't cut out for this job. For now I was stuck in a job that I knew wasn't going to work out. In the meantime I was kicking myself in the butt everyday for leaving my job at Colonial. I would slam my fist into the dashboard of my truck and scream "you fool, how could you be so stupid"? For the sake of family harmony I don't want to rehash all of my grievances against Donna and Richard. That is all water under the bridge now and I have forgiven them. I have to take the lions share of the blame because I made the decision to leave my job and move to Florida.
|Me with Melanie in Vero Beach|
|1981 World champion LA Dodgers at Dodgertown Vero Beach Florida- Sandy Koufax is the man with his hands on his hips|
In June Misty and I traveled home to Tennessee on a Greyhound bus. If I had been smart I would have stayed home and started over from scratch. I would have saved a lot of money and pain but I wasn't ready to give up on Florida yet. We rented our house to a family that were gospel singers. I then rented a truck and loaded our furniture for the long trip to Ft. Pierce. In 1981 I bought a brand new Chevy Chevette. I was looking to save money on gas. However this car was a certified piece of junk. I began having starter problems and most of the time the car would start on it's own but occasionally I would have to raise the hood and start it with a screwdriver. I drove the truck with Jonny riding shotgun. Debbie followed me in the car with the rest of the kids. It was in the middle of the summer and steaming hot. Things went pretty well until we got to Atlanta. Normally I get my gas just north of Atlanta or south of it. On this occasion I pulled into a gas station just off the interstate in downtown Atlanta which was a bad mistake. I tried to pull up to a pump but I couldn't get close enough. There was a gas station across the street so I drove over there hoping that I would have better luck. I was able to get close enough to pump gas this time but there was no sign of Debbie and the kids. From where I was I didn't have a good view of the gas station across the street. A car load of unsavory looking characters drove up and tried to sell me jewelry. While the gas was pumping I positioned myself close to my gun on the front seat. After filling up the truck I realized that Debbie was broken down in the parking lot of the 1st gas station. Thinking that I was getting gas, she turned off the car. When I crossed the street the car wouldn't start. She had to start it with the screwdriver. Debbie was mad as a hornet. This was before cell phones and she had no way to contact me. She was approached by a man trying to sell her a ring and I believe that she was even propositioned. When she caught up with me we drove a few miles on the interstate before I pulled over on the shoulder to ask what happened back at the gas station. She came very close to cussing me out.
From the start Debbie and the kids seemed to be having a ball living in Florida. We lived in a nice ranch style house in a subdivision called the Highlands. There was a clubhouse available to the residents in the center of the subdivision with a nice pool. Debbie and the kids virtually lived there. While they were having so much fun I was miserable. I just couldn't get over the feeling that I had made a terrible mistake coming to Florida. By this time I had a paper route delivering the Miami Herald. I would be up all night delivering papers and when I got off I would set out on my water and sewer route. While delivering papers one night the transmission went out on my car. From that moment on I had to deliver papers in my work truck and the truck became my only means of transportation. I had no money to fix my car. The only bright spots about Florida was that I at least had my family with me now and we found a spirit filled church. We began attending the First Church of God of Anderson Indiana. The church was in Vero Beach. We loved the preacher and the people were fabulous. One thing that I liked about the church is that there was no formal membership. If you were a Christian and attended the church you were considered a member. Almost every Sunday after the evening services someone would invite the members over to their house to swim or to socialize. I felt like I belonged to a huge family. The amazing thing was that most of these people owned beautiful homes. By the looks of their houses you would think that they were doctors, lawyers or bankers. Most were small business owners or owned their own lawn care businesses. We loved that church experience in Vero Beach. Over the years since we left Florida the church has gone through radical changes. The pastor had an affair which caused a split in the church. The church overcame this and expanded to the point that they moved to another location in Vero Beach. A much larger church was built and it continued to expand. First Church of God is one of the largest churches in the area now. In my opinion, like too many churches it has grown too big and too fast. It is nothing like it was when we were going there.
I loved the weather in Florida, although it was extremely hot in the summer. However the insects were nearly overwhelming. Mosquitos, love bugs and fire ants were the worst. Twice a year the area would be infested with love bugs. For several days after mating the bugs will remain attached, even while in flight. Your car would be covered in smashed love bugs. There is nothing worse than fire ants. We didn't have them in Tennessee and occasionally I was too careless about where I was standing. Without realizing it I would be standing in the middle of an ant hill. They would be halfway up my legs before they started biting. Sometimes I would have to take my pants off in order to brush them off. I was working at a gated community called Pipers Landing in Stuart Florida one day. Each house was worth over a million dollars apiece. I was flushing fire hydrants. After flushing my last hydrant I jumped in the truck and drove off. Without realizing it I had fire ants crawling up my legs. They began biting and I jumped out of the truck and it was still rolling. I took my pants off right in the middle of the street. The bites looked like pimples on my skin. I was bitten so many times I would get staph infections. When they bite, they clamp to your skin with their two strong pincers. Because of this it takes a lot of vigorous brushing to get them off. After biting, they sting by swinging their tail to and fro. One biting fire ant can sting you six to eight times. Snakes seemed to be as numerous as insects in Florida. I would see them everywhere. One day I was testing water at the water plant on Pipers Landing. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed something moving. It was a huge water moccasin passing by the foot of the open doorway just a few feet from where I was standing. On another occasion at Pipers Landing my brother-in-law Richard and myself were checking the sewer plant. Richard got out of the truck and walked over to a sewer tank. In the rear view mirror I saw Richard jump and a snake slither out from under his feet. I grabbed my pistol and spotted the snake about 20 feet away. Thinking that it might be a water moccasin I took aim and fired. I am a pretty good shot but from that distance I never expected to come close to hitting the snake. It wasn't moving as I cautiously approached to see if I had hit it. I was shocked when I discovered that the bullet had nearly cut the snake in half. It turned out to be a harmless garden snake. Debbie and the kids were crossing a dry canal from the Highlands into Lakewood Park, where my sister Donna lived. To hear them talk about it today the there was a snake as big as a python crawling along the bank. Needless to say they didn't go to Donna's that day. There was an access road along the canal. We would use this as a shortcut over to 27th Avenue. At night there were thousands of toads hopping across the road and you could hear a squishing sound as we ran over them. It couldn't be avoided there were so many of them.
|Love Bugs after hitting your windshield|
|Fire Ant bites|
|Fire Ant nest|
After moving to Florida I tried to find an Air National Guard unit or an Air Force Reserve unit to join. The closest was in Jacksonville, I believe. That was just too far to drive so I joined an Army Reserve MP unit in Melborne Florida. I had to take a reduction in rank from an E-5 to an E-4. One morning after delivering papers I drove to the Miami Florida induction center. I was so sleepy I thought that I wasn't going to make it on time. Every few miles I had to pull over and walk around. When I finally got there it reminded me of when I was inducted into the Air Force. We stood around in our underwear waiting in long lines for various medical tests. I began a conversation with a man next to me in line. When we reached the x-ray room a nurse that looked old enough to be my mother, and about five feet tall, motioned for the next man in line. Thinking that it was me I stepped forward but the man I had been talking to also stepped forward. I said oh, excuse me, and stepped back to let him pass. The old woman grabbed my arm in a vice grip and angrily said " Oh come on, we don't have time for that". When I joined my Army Reserve unit they were getting ready to deploy to Ft. A.P. Hill in Virginia for their annual two week summer camp. Because I was new I couldn't go with them. I attended about five weekend drills since I was only in Florida for about seven months altogether. My uniforms were issued just before I resigned from the unit and I never dressed out. I attended drills in civilian clothes. Officially however I can say that I was in the Air Force and the Army. I have a total of four honorable discharges. One from the Air Force, two from the Tennessee Air National Guard, and one from the U.S Army Reserve. I was also issued three full sets of Air Force uniforms and one full set of Army uniforms, although I never wore them. This was before the military began deducting the cost of uniforms from the paychecks of recruits.
As time passed it became more and more obvious that Florida wasn't going to work out for me. I was growing more and more angry at my situation. Promises weren't being fulfilled. However I thought that if I could get a part time job and give up the paper route, I could make it until I could find something better. At least Debbie and the kids seemed to be happy in Florida. Even in the best of times economically, good paying quality jobs are scarce in that part of Florida. The area is dominated by retirees from up north living on pensions and acquired wealth. The locals call them "Snow Birds". They winter in Florida during the cold months and return north for the summer when the heat becomes oppressive. I applied for a undercover LP or (Loss Prevention) job at a department store in the local mall. I lost out to a female because they were wanting someone who would blend in better as a shopper. Then I found out that my landlord was raising our rent. The last straw came when Debbie hurt her back doing the laundry. She was bedridden and could barely move. I was barely able to get her to the emergency room. After this incident I found out that I had no medical insurance. This was promised to me before I took the job. Debbie's cousin Gloria, along with her husband Steve and their children, came down on vacation and stayed with us. We were great friends and while they were there I confided in them my frustrations and anger over my treatment and broken promises while living in Florida. Steve, was the type of guy who never seemed to worry about anything. He told me that I should just leave. Steve said that if I could get the money to rent a truck, he would help me load everything and we could all go back home together. The whole idea was daunting to me. I began weighing the pros and cons. There were far more cons than pros. The one big pro was that we still had a house to go to in Tennessee. Beyond that the odds were all against us. When we arrived home I would have to give the people renting our house at least thirty days to move out. This would mean that I would have to store our furniture somewhere. The six of us would have to have somewhere to live until our house became available. America was going through the worst recession since the great depression. I had a bad feeling that because of my union activities, and the recession, I would never get my job back at Colonial. Jobs in general were very scarce. I had been making almost nine dollars an hour when I left Colonial, which was a very good wage in 1982. Getting a wage as high as Colonial was slim to none, and Slim had left town.The minimum wage was 3.35 an hour in 1982 and I would have to have much higher than that to make it with four children. If I found a job, it would have to be in walking or running distance. My transmission was out on my car and I had a bad starter. Being broke, I did not have the money to move back home. Besides not having a car I would not have the deposit money for a phone. Without a phone potential employers would have a difficult time contacting me.
Maybe it is because I was orphaned at a young age and Debbie and I had it so rough starting out in life, I didn't hesitate to take Steve up on his offer. I had no clue how we were going to make it but I had faith in the Lord and faith in myself to make it. On top of that I was very angry and determined to salvage what was left of my pride. Debbie wasn't as eager as I was to go. She cried a lot over my decision but I tried to convince her that we had no other option. I could have searched the world over and never found a woman that would have put up with the things that I have put her through. She has stood by me every step of the way and life has not always been easy for her. To her credit she warned me not to make the move to Florida but I was bound and determined to do it. Yet she stood by my side anyway. God blessed me when I found her. It is funny how things seem to always fall into place. When there is a will there is a way. My sister -in-law Judy loaned me the 300 dollars I needed to rent a truck so I could move my furniture and belongings back to Tennessee. I rented a tow bar and attached the car to the back of the truck. We loaded the truck in a day and early the next morning, October 22, 1982 we set out for Tennessee. Steve and Gloria offered to let us live with them until we could move into our house. I was so angry at Donna and Richard that I just left without giving a notice that I was quitting my job or leaving Florida. I would not speak to her, or see her again for two years. As a Christian I knew that eventually I would have to forgive her and Richard. However I have discovered that when someone hurts you deeply, especially someone you love, there has to be time to heal the wound. Forgiveness is more for yourself than for the offender. Hatred will just eat away at you. The trip home was very depressing. Especially leaving the warmth of Florida and going back to the colder temperatures of Tennessee. It was Fall and colder weather was becoming the norm for that time of year. The leaves were changing to beautiful Fall colors but somehow this just added to the gloom for me. Luckily, our good friends Kathy and Wayne Bolton let us use their garage to store our furniture and belongings. Steve and Gloria have not only been our family but our best friends over the years. However when two large families are living in a fairly small house for any length of time it can put a strain on any relationship. Benjamin Franklin expressed it best when he said that "Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days". We all managed to get through the ordeal with our friendship intact and again Steve helped us move back into our house on Diane street. I will always be indebted to Steve and Gloria for helping us through this very trying time in our lives.
We thought that the people who rented our house would have taken better care of it but there was more damage done than I expected. They weren't happy campers when I notified them that they had to move. Whether the damage was intentional or not I can't say. We were finally back in our own home but I had no job, no car, no telephone, no food in the house and no money. If I remember right we moved in on a weekend. That Sunday night we were surprised to see Debbie's family pull up in a caravan of cars in our driveway. They brought us much needed groceries and we were very grateful. I don't know what we would have done otherwise. We never saw this coming. Immediately I set about applying for jobs. I was having to give potential employers my neighbors phone number. As expected I received a cold shoulder from my old job at Colonial. I was one of their best and hardest working employees but my union activities sealed my fate there. They rehired former employees during that time but I was black balled. I went through a grieving process because I really wanted my old job back. On top of all this my old Security Police unit in the 118th Tactical Airlift Wing had no room for me. Unlike Colonial, they did want me back and promised to make me their first choice as soon as a spot opened up. Technically I was still in the Army Reserve and because I had taken a reduction in rank to E-4 they could only take me back at that rank. However they assured me that I would acquire my old rank pretty quickly. I wasn't having much luck getting a job. There were quite a few minimum wage jobs available but with a wife and four kids that wasn't much of an option. Then one day Debbie's cousin Joetta Kemp knew someone at Lee Refrigeration Company in Nashville. He could help me get on there. Construction on the new Nissan manufacturing plant in Smyrna was getting into high gear and Lee Co. had been granted a contract to install heating and air duct mainly in the two employee cafeterias and a few other places. The plant was going to be massive. I would be paid 4.50 an hour starting out and I would acquire raises as my level of expertise increased. One reason that I took the job was that the Nissan plant was less than three miles from my house. I either walked or ran to and from work. From the start I was like a fish out of water. I had never worked any kind of construction work before and I knew that there was no future for me with this company. When I started working in early November the walls were just being built and I froze to death. They were running portable heaters but most of the time these were inadequate. While the walls and ceilings were being constructed we were assembling much of the duct work on the ground. As a new employee I was a gopher running errands throughout the plant. Mostly taking raw materials and tools from one job site to another. There was going to be at least a mile of territory under roof once the building was completed and I got plenty of exercise. As someone who averaged running seven miles a day this was probably the thing about my job that I was most prepared for. The thing I wasn't prepared for was working on tall ladders installing heating and air duct high up in the ceiling. I am terrified of heights. When Debbie applied for Food Stamps the lady who took her application was impressed that I would take a job so unsuited for me just to have a job. She said that that was rare for people who applied for Food Stamps. This is the first and last time that I have ever been on assistance. We were only on Food Stamps for about a year until I could get on my feet. There is no shame in getting assistance when it is truly needed for a short period. Far too many people are too dependent on the government however. I worked for Lee Refrigeration from November 1982 until March 1983. This was a long five months because I was absolutely unsuited for this work. I was desperately hunting for a better job situation. During this time Debbie's cousin's husband Mike worked as a bread salesman at Bunny Bread in Nashville. He put in a good word for me because of my past bakery experience and his supervisor wanted me to come in that day to complete the necessary paperwork. I was ecstatic because a bread salesman job was good money and meant great benefits. It was very hard work and long hours but that didn't matter to me. I wasn't scared of hard work. Officially I was still in the Army Reserve but I hadn't joined a local Reserve unit because I wanted to rejoin my old Air National Guard unit. I like to level with people from the start so I told him that I was still on the rolls of the Army Reserve. The man's whole attitude changed instantaneously. Within seconds I realized that I had lost all chance of getting the job because I was in the Reserves. His attitude went from your hired to don't call us we'll call you, just like that. I told him that if he would just hire me I would quit the military. I would easily trade my military part time job for a good full time job. Nothing I said would change his mind. The law was on my side. I could have forced him to hire me if I had filed a complaint with the Federal government. It would have been one of those times when you win the battle but lose the war. He would have found some reason to fire me later on. In retrospect I am glad that he didn't hire me. Retiring from the military was one of the best decisions I ever made. The monthly pension I receive is nice but the Tri-Care for Life health insurance that Debbie and I have is worth it's weight in gold. On most everything it pays 100%. Just before I left Lee Refrigeration in March Mike called again to say that another bread route had come open. I thought I would give it another shot. Hopefully the guy had forgotten who I was. At first I thought I was home free. He didn't act like he remembered me. Again he acted like he really wanted me and told me to come down that day and fill out the papers. That is until he asked me my name. It was like a light bulb had popped on in his head and again his voice turned cold and I lost all chance of getting a job. I was very disappointed because I really wanted that job.
|Misty and Carol|
|One of the rare times I had beard|
On one cold and rainy day our neighbors were kind enough to loan us their car so I wouldn't have to walk to work in the rain. The only bad thing was that the car had no seat belts. After Debbie had dropped me off she was driving down Florence road toward Old Nashville highway. As she was approaching Florence Baptist church a car in the on coming lane hydroplaned and hit her head on. She said that when she woke up her feet were hanging out of the passenger side door and paramedics were talking to her. She was taken by ambulance to the hospital in Murfreesboro. Her neck was broken but it wasn't discovered until twenty years later. My boss at Lee told me that Debbie had been in a wreck and he took me to a phone. By the time I was able to get hold of her she was already at home. She made it sound like the wreck wasn't that bad and that she was okay. Because of this I decided not to come home. When I got home I was shocked to see how bad that she had really been hurt. Her head was swollen to twice it's size and the next morning she had two black eyes and looked like she had been in the ring with Rocky Balboa. By the grace of God Melanie was not in the car with her. She could have been killed. Normally Melanie would have been with her but the other kids were home that morning and watched her while Debbie took me to work. Not long after this my neighbor Shirley, from across the street, got me a job at Cumberland-Swan in Smyrna. Things were finally starting to look brighter. There were strong signs that the economy had turned a corner. Cumberland-Swan was a job that at least on the surface seemed more to my liking.
|Debbie, after her wreck|