TAKING THE HILLTOP

by Randy Reynolds

When I think of veterans the first person who comes to mind is my Uncle Strick.  He was a teenager in Gainesville, Georgia, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.  He and his best friend Arthur Stover signed up soon after and were sent to the South Pacific together. 

Strick and Arthur stayed together throughout the war, as promised by the U.S. Army’s ‘Buddy Plan.’  Afterward, they came home to Gainesville and built homes on the same hilltop near Lake Lanier and raised their families there.  Arthur built his house first.  When Strick was building his (the summer that I was 10) he’d let me come with him to hang around and play with Arthur’s son Jewell.  Strick and Arthur and my Papa Bonnell (Strick’s father-in-law) would work on the house till dark, then (sometimes) build a little fire in the sunken spot among the rocks where a gold mine shaft had been filled in.  I remember gazing alternately at the fire and then the shooting stars above us as  Strick and Arthur reminisced about their great adventure. 

They spoke of fear:  the fear of getting on a train at Gainesville Depot and riding day and night to boot camp in San Antonio.  They spoke of survival: surviving that damn boot camp and then riding another train to San Diego for embarkation to the South Pacific.    

They served with MacArthur’s forces, beginning with a long posting in New Guinea where Strick and Arthur were highly impressed by the native women who wore no clothing on their upper bodies. (Fortunately, they never got close enough to find out that some of those females were cannibals.)  

Both men agreed that the most unexpected thing about combat was airplane parts falling from the sky as U.S. and Japanese fighter pilots engaged above the combat zone. Strick said it seemed like debris would fall for five minutes after a dogfight and the soldiers on the ground had to curl up and make themselves small and pray they didn’t get crushed.

Strick never bragged about what he saw during the war (other than the topless women.)  In fact, his favorite war story was a simple moment of serendipity: he was dog-tired, slogging down a muddy track through the heart of some godforsaken jungle during monsoon season when he and his unit had to get out of the way to let a line of troop trucks pass.  Corporal Strickland and his buddies were shouting unkind things to the lucky guys sitting high and dry in the canvas-covered trucks when suddenly one of those guys yelled out to him.  “Hey, Jewell!”  It was one of his 9 brothers.  They didn’t even know they were in the same hemisphere yet there they were meeting up in the jungle in a war zone.  15 years later, beside me at the campfire on the former gold mine on the hill, he still thought that was amazing.  

When Strick was on his deathbed in 1990, he had another moment of serendipity.  A preacher who stopped by to counsel and console him just happened to have an Army background.  When Strick revealed the name of his South Pacific unit and dates of service, the good reverend got in touch with the Pentagon.  I don’t know why—perhaps he was getting a head start on Strick’s eulogy.  But it turned out that Strick had earned a medal that he didn’t know about and the preacher’s fortuitous inquiry resulted in that medal finally being awarded.

Strick and Arthur were heroes, with or without the medals—everyday guys who put their lives on the line so they could someday come back to create families and live in peace on their hilltop near the lake.
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ANOTHER STRICK STORY 

STRICK:   Despite all that fancy equipment he never caught a fish. 




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