Vets Day honors all who served

By Willie M. Calhoun, MSG, USAR, Ret.
Special to The Journal

On this 100th anniversary of the World War I armistice, my memory of two Veterans comes to mind. Growing up just north of Gum Springs in Winn Parish, I didn’t hear many veterans stories, but the few I heard became imbedded in my memory.

They still inspire me and should inspire others. Upon returning home from combat zones in far away places, most veterans have dreams and aspirations. Some live to see their dreams become a reality with relative ease. Still others are tasked with overcoming hardships and disabilities to witness their post war dreams come true. Also worth noting is that the World War I and II veterans didn’t get help from the VA with PTSD. In those days, combat incurred mental trauma, weren’t recognized as an injury. Of the many veteran stories I’ve heard since childhood, these two of adapting to and overcoming situations still impress me even as a retired military person and Viet Nam veteran myself.

The first veteran story is of my grandfather and the other of a prominent Winnfield lawyer whom I never met. They were both born and raised in the Hill (Lone Hill) community and the Sikes community of Winn Parish. Other than sharing the same zip code, they didn’t have much in common. They differed in education, social class, church affiliation, race, physical disabilities, and probably politics. It’s not clear if they ever met, but I’m sure they knew of each other.

One wanted to become a hill farmer and the other a lawyer. The one trait they seemed to have shared was a dogged determination to succeed in their chosen endeavors after returning home from World War I and World War II respectively.

My grandfather, Ambus Riser(also spelled Rizer) returned to the Lone Hill community in 1918 from France after World War I. He was proud to have served his country, but wasn’t allowed to return home in his uniform due to racial tensions. The Louisiana he returned to in that era had imposed some of the most racially restricted Jim Crow laws of any southern state.

Despite the odds of him becoming a sharecropper, he remained steadfast in his ambitions of buying land and working for himself. With money saved from his Army pay he and my grandmother, Vadie (Nevada) McCarty purchased 120 acres near Flat creek from his brother-in-law in 1922. Their determination to farm this tract, raise nine children, and remain their own boss, would be tested many times.

Unknown to them, they would be confronted with two disasters-one manmade and the other godmade. The first disaster to surface was the Great Depression of 1929. Shortly after many area farmers adjusted to severe money shortages, a second disaster struck in the form of the drought of 1931. Faced with less money and less water, many farmer either quit or farmed only as a second job. Ambus continued farming as his primary occupation. I’ve heard him say that they grew anything that would grow. The crops they grew included but were not limited to corn, cotton, and sugar cane. From the latter, he made and sold syrup. Near the end of farming season, he and his sons sold ties to the railroad company. I’m told he also worked handyman jobs for community members. Though semi-literate, he supported the Lone hill church elementary school and helped get land for the church cemetery.

In retirement, he shocked his neighbors by reluctantly signing up for electricity and even buying a 1957 Chevy sedan in 1958.

Debt free and having ample leisure time, he and my grandm other could be seen riding aroubnd Winnfield and Sikes area in their chauffere driven car. He had answered his country’s call to serve, returned home anbd became self-emplotyed, raised a family, weathered hard times, earned respect of both black and white neighbors, and was considered a model citizen. The obstacles he overcame had failed to make him a bitter man. My most vivid memoryt of him is of him siting on his screened-in front porch and welcoming visitors with the phrase, “Y’all all git out and come in.”

Editor’s Note: Retired Master Sergeant Calhoun, who grew up in Winn Parish, is a resident of the Robeline community in Natchitoches Parish today.