The Lives and Times of Extraordinary Athenians: Jack Thornton and Morgan “Bucky” Redwine

The 1994 Athens-Clarke County Library Heritage Room Oral History Project “Rendezvous with Destiny” features interviews from World War II Veterans of Athens, as well as people who helped in the war effort. One exciting aspect of this project is discovering that many of the interviewees played pivotal roles in whatever community they were apart of- be it on the battlefield or in Athens.   In this series of blog posts, we’ll take a closer look at the individuals interviewed in this collection. 

Photo of Bucky Redwine   Photo of Jack Thornton

Robert “Jack” Thornton and Morgan “Bucky” Redwine were two Air Force lieutenants from the Athens area. Although both of these men were deployed in Hiroshima at the same time during their service, they did not befriend each other until after the war when they both worked in real estate.  During their service, the pair flew single engine P-51 planes to escort and protect large B-29 bomber planes. Both gentlemen recall their planes being very small; the cockpit had about the same amount of space provided by a desk chair. This was a shocking experience for both Jack and Bucky since neither one of them had even been on an airplane prior to the war. 

Jack enlisted in the Air Force in 1942. He completed his advanced training in Jackson, Mississippi in 1944. His class in Jackson was the first class of Americans to complete training on his particular base since only Dutch pilots were trained in Jackson prior to the arrival of Jack's class. In the interview, Jack chuckles as he remembers the Dutch pilots as stiff competition in meeting the local girls. In spring of 1945, he arrived in Hiroshima where he flew four missions. On Jack's fourth flight, June 19, 1945, he crashed his plane on take-off and burned over 50% of his body. After at a brief stay in a field hospital in Japan, Thornton was transferred to a large general army hospital in Gaum. He returned to the U.S. before the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.    

Bucky's entrance into the war was somewhat different than Jack's. When the war broke out, Bucky was attending the Virginia Military Institute. He enlisted in the Air Force in 1942 because he was told that if one enlisted early, the Air Force would allow one to finish college before being called to serve. He was disappointed to find this was only a "malicious rumor". He completed his training in Dothan, Alabama and was sent to Japan in 1944. Although Bucky was serving in Hiroshima during the dropping of the atom bomb, the event had no large impact on him since he had to continue his service after the matter. In the interview, he laments not going to the surrender ceremony since it became such a historically significant event.

One topic of interest that the two men laughed about together was Tokyo Rose. Tokyo Rose was a radio program that broadcasted Japanese propaganda. The host of the show was an English-speaking woman who attempted to break Allied Soldiers' moral. However, Bucky and Jack remember that all their fellow soldiers simply laughed and made jokes at the show. Bucky interjected saying how the program even "played pretty good music."

After the war, both men lived in Athens, where they met their future wives.  Because he resided in the Athens area for virtually all his life, Jack joked that he doesn't even remember meeting his wife, Ruth Thornton. Together they had five children. He found his career and passion in real estate. He was able to further foster his dedication to real estate when he was a charter member and first president of the Athens Board of Relators and a charter member and first secretary of the Athens Area Association of Real Estate Appraisers. 

Bucky and his wife, Karen Redwine, had two children. He held a wide range of business jobs in Athens, which included establishing Redwine Real Estate and Insurance and serving as the vice president of the Athens Federal Bank and Trust. An energetic community leader, he served on the Athens-Clarke County Schoolboard, as President of the Friends of the Georgia Museum, and in many other community outreach groups. Bucky even wrote a weekly column in the Athens Observer, showing what a highly regarded citizen he was.  

Since both men lived around Athens all their lives, their interview provides unique insight into what daily life in Athens was like many decades ago. For example, Jack explained how Alps Road received its name: According to Jack, the road was originally a dirt path, where teenagers loved to drive their cars over the hills. When they went to drive over the hills, the teenagers said they were driving in the Alps, and the name has since stuck. At this point in the interview, Bucky nods along as if he heard this explanation time and time again.

Jack Thornton died July 21, 2008, at the age of 85, and Bucky Redwine died November 5, 2013 at the age of 89. Their obituaries can be found here and here.

Although Jack and Bucky did not meet until after the war, the pair was able to reminisce over their time in both Asia and Athens as if they had been together through it all. There were even points in the interview when Jack would add to Bucky's story and vice versa, highlighting information that they left out. Their interview is a true testament to friendship built on shared stories and experiences.

You can learn more about Bucky and Jack's experiences by listening to their interview, which is available on YouTube.

The Lives and Times of Extraordinary Athenians: Joe Rakestraw

by Jess Edwards, Oral History Project Intern

 

The 1994 Athens Clarke County Heritage Room Oral History Project “Rendezvous with Destiny” features interviews with World War II Veterans of Athens, as well as people who helped in the war effort. One exciting aspect of this project is discovering that many of the interviewees played pivotal roles in whatever community they were a part of, be it on the battlefield or in Athens.  In this series of blog posts, we’ll take a closer look at the individuals interviewed in this collection. 

Joe Kinney Rakestraw, a self-taught Athens folk musician, had been married to his wife Alberta a little over a month when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. He was drafted shortly thereafter in June of 1942, and was sent to Casablanca, Morocco once he completed his training. In his interview, Joe, chuckling to himself, recalls battle ships firing outside the ship he arrived on as if they were practicing for combat. Later he realized this was not target practice as he initially thought, but an actual attack on his ship.

During his time in the army, Joe served in both Northern Africa and Italy as a driver transporting war provisions on a daily basis. He transported a wide range of materials including ammunition, airplane parts and airplane fuel. Although he mostly drove 6 by 6 trucks, toward the end of his time overseas, Joe and the other men in his unit were required to learn how to drive 18-wheeler trucks. This was a task none of the men in his unit except for one had ever before attempted. This man was quickly promoted from private to sergeant in order to instruct all the men in the ways of operating an 18-wheeler. After only one day of training, Joe had to drive one of the large trucks in order to deliver materials. He said he eventually got used to being a truck driver, but it did take him thirty minutes to back the truck up the first time.

Although Joe grew accustomed to maneuvering a large vehicle, he recounts one time when his mission did not go according to plan. He was driving his truck, just as he successfully had done many times before, when he realized that he was off his route. As he continued, he discovered he was extremely lost—around 60 miles from his original course. When he asked a civilian for directions, the civilian told him to be careful turning his truck around since part of the road, separated only by toilet paper, had not yet been tested for mine fields.  Joe was very thankful once he successfully delivered the materials. In his drives after that, he took extra care in studying his maps.   

Even in times of war, Joe relied on music as a source of happiness. In his interview, he cites with pride that one of the highlights of his time overseas centered around the melodies of an organ player. One night, when Joe was visiting the United Service Organization in Casablanca, his friend Lazarus was going to perform on his portable organ. Prior to Lazarus' performance, world renown jazz singer Josephine Baker sang for the troops and was going to stay to hear Lazarus preform. Joe introduced himself to Baker, telling her he would want to dance once Lazarus began preforming. With a smile beaming across his face, Joe recalls that they danced together multiple times that night.       

Much like his entrance into war life, Joe's return to life as a civilian was equally as shocking. Sadly, Joe recalls realizing he was back in the South when a white man yelled racial slurs at him for sitting outside a “whites only” church. Although in his interview Joe refers to himself as someone who never tried to rock the boat, he knew at that point segregation needed to end. In fact, he remembers the U.S. Army during World War II being progressive in this endeavor: the organization was highly segregated when he was first drafted, but it was starting to integrate toward the end of his service. This was his final thought at the close of his interview, and he said that was the one idea he wanted future generations to remember when studying the World War II era.

Before and after World War II, the music that Joe and his brothers played was enjoyed by all, regardless to their race. From an early age, Joe remembers his two older brothers playing music that white people in Arcade, Georgia would square dance to.  Joe himself started playing music when he was around ten years old as a form of cheap entertainment.  Inspired by his older brothers to continue in their folk music tradition, Joe and his two other brothers formed a string band. One brother played the bass, another played the guitar, and Joe played the violin. The band soon became good enough to perform in public, making six or seven dollars a night. They even performed in the fraternity houses on Milledge Avenue, among many other venues around Athens.

A gifted fiddler, singer, and guitarist, Joe continued to play his music all throughout his life. In his musical recordings Joe is humble, commenting that he didn't actually possess a great deal of musical talent, but he had the motivation to learn how to play. If one listens to his songs today, this seems like a tremendous understatement. His songs sound like a perfect combination of bluesy and hopeful. Most of them are tunes Joe and his brothers composed that tell stories of what it was like to grow up in the South. One depicts the boll weevil wreaking havoc on the farms; another describes the sights seen on Market Street in New Orleans. It is undeniable that Joe and his brothers made people feel something great through their lyrics and melodies.  More information on Rakestraw and the Athens music scene is available in this article by Art Rosenbaum.  

Joe Rakestraw died January 19, 2000.  One lyric that captures Joe's kind spirit is, "….reach out and give a friend a hand, what you plan, do the best you can, it will make a better man, and this will be a better world." Whether he was serving in World War II or entertaining his friends in Athens, it is clear Joe maintained a positive attitude and always carried a song with him. You can learn more about Joe's experiences by listening to his interview, available on YouTube.

 

Video still courtesy of the Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection.

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