Life brings to us a measure of hardships,
difficulties, and challenges. And I am not sure that we have given proper
thanks to many of our countrymen who sacrificed so much—especially those
who survived the Great Depression, built our national economy and saved
our nation during those terrible days of World War II.
I would like to tell you about an old WWII
sailor named John L. Hitchcock, born in the little dirt-road community of
Devereaux, Georgia, who, along with his wife Mary, raised five children
(including my wife, Marie) on a modest salary and the sweat of his brow.
(You many also be reminded of others who grew up in similar circumstances,
with few material possessions; but, without complaint or fanfare, did the
best that they could with what the cards they were given.)
John L., as he was affectionately known, was
like the rest of us—imperfect. Yet, he lived life with great courage,
determination, and humor. On May 1, 2003, I was given the honor of
presenting his eulogy in the historic city cemetery in Milledgeville—the
final resting place of Confederate generals, state governors, U. S.
Congressmen, and a local author who now holds national acclaim, Flannery
O’Connor. This ancient cemetery is a holy place, replete with century old
oaks and magnolias, is also the resting place of many unknowns and
paupers—ordinary men and women who, like John L., lived simple, unsung
lives. Left behind, however, are the memories of family, friends,
neighbors, and townspeople who know full well the circumstances of their
existences and of the hard work and sacrifice that has been generously
given on our behalf.
The short eulogy went like this:
John L. was a member of what Tom Brokaw has
now termed: “The Greatest Generation.” Like many others, he grew up
during the Great Depression in circumstances that are now termed with
words like disadvantaged or impoverished. He came into the world with
challenges: his father was blind and his mother died in childbirth
delivering his sister Ann. The family, consisting of another sister and
brother, with the assistance of a number of field hands who lived on their
property, worked hard to scratch out a meager living in rural Hancock
When World War II came, John L. left school to
serve in the Navy on battleships and destroyers in two theaters of war.
Those years of service meant facing death at sea, world travel, and life
changing experiences. And for this generation of soldiers and sailors, we
are forever indebted for their many sacrifices and for providing the life
we now enjoy.
And not everyone here today will know of John
L.’s many occupations or his work ethic. He was an accomplished
carpenter, a plumber, and an electrician. In the early years, he and his
blind father constructed over thirty houses without the use of power tools
and, later on, he built commercial buildings and worked to restore old
surplus army jeeps.
In his spare time, John L. would buy and sell
most anything imaginable to include pianos, furniture, land, tools,
machinery, and junk. For many years, he delivered mail on a rural route
and if you really think about it, he could not only fix things; he could
do more work in a day than was reasonably possible.
This unassuming man also knew that life came
with problems and that the world is oftentimes negative and pessimistic.
Nevertheless; he was an optimist and did not complain. In fact, this
countryman was kind and encouraged others; and, quite often, exhibited
generosity that was to his detriment. He had many friends, legions of
acquaintances, and, as we all know, was kind to strangers.
I also know that John L, like all of us, was
imperfect and, in later years, did not always make the best business
decisions. In fact, he would sometimes say, “please forgive me for my
shortcomings.” But, in actuality, we should have asked John L. to forgive
us for our shortcomings.
For many years, he had the responsibility of
supporting a large family and, I think, did so joyfully and until his
health started to fail, did so with pride and a sense of humor. I do know
full well that he loved his wife, Mary; his children: Marie, Lary (spelled
for a surname used as a first name), Robin, Susan, and Darryl and all his
There were times, however, that I am not sure
if John L. knew the best way to express his love. But, whenever one of his
children (who were grown adults) left his front yard for the trip back to
their home—he would tell them all that he loved them, and until their car
was no longer visible, he stood in the yard. His heart—and his life—was
John L. knew Jesus Christ to be his savior and
he believed, first and foremost, that everyone should be treated like a
neighbor . . . and he did. (Incidentally, Chiseled into his granite
headstone is the quote: “He knew no strangers.”)
On this special day, I know that this humble
man is fully restored in heaven. He is with his old shipmates; his
beloved Miss Kate and his father, John (who incidentally is no longer
blind). He also is with his sisters, Rebecca and Ann (the sister who was
injured in childbirth and who not now afflicted); and all the others he
loved so much. There is now no shortage of money or any problems to solve.
I also believe that he would not wish to come
back into his aged body and to poor health. He would want us to live
fully in sweet remembrance and to carry on with life as he always did and
to look forward to the day that we will all be together without pain or
sorrow in the place God has for prepared for us.
it is not enough to say that our community—and the world—is a much better
place because of the life and work of humble folk like John L. Hitchcock
and the other members of the “Greatest Generation.”
J. H. (Hank) Segars is the author
and editor of a number of books to include Andersonville: The Southern
Perspective (Pelican Publishing Co.) and Life in Dixie
During the War (Mercer University Press). For additional book titles
about the American South, please visit