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The Ellen Payne Odom Genealogy Library Family Tree
The Family Tree - February/March 2006
Remembering a member of the “Greatest Generation.”


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 County, Georgia.

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 grandchildren. 

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 full.

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.

Indeed, 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 www.southernlionbooks.com..


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