Part 16: In the Army Now

The ages of the Henry Sprouse children ranged from Brice, born in 1928, to Nora fifteen years later. In between there were Ann, Larry, Wayne, Zula Mae, and Mavis. And among them, they would add seven more to the next generation.

Nora remembers when she was about five years old, Brice had graduated high school and was not home as often. She still wanted to keep tabs on Larry and Wayne, and of course they would slip away from her. On Friday and Saturday nights, those two might have disappeared in the direction of the music at the O’Neal house overlooking JJ’s cabin, then vacant. Nora saw the cars going beyond the Sprouse home across the pasture past the barn. The road was rutted and muddy, especially in the winter, so guests would park and leave their cars to walk up the hill. She remembers men and women, loudly talking and laughing. “Of course as a little girl, I would want to look and ask questions and see what was going on. I guess I remember because Mama would make me go in the house and be quiet. And it happened a lot. Her reaction probably put importance upon the memory. Sometimes, Larry and Wayne and some of their buddies would go up on Friday night and lay out in the woods to watch and listen.” They said they were entertained by the frequent fights.

Brice picked up the story. “The road sat in a ravine and you could squat down in the road and be right in front of the house and

Sprouse Farm in Brackett Town Valley

Sprouse Farm in Brackett Town Valley

couldn’t be seen because of a pine thicket there. One night the boys were gigglin’, and Gus was out on the porch and heard them. He said, ‘Let me get Old Hannar.’ That’s what he called his gun. When he went to get Old Hannah, the boys skedaddled. Our parents must have heard about it because their lives were threatened if they ever did that again.” Brice grinned.

“But it wasn’t long after that, the story goes, that one of the children came down and told Daddy that ‘Pawpaw’s in bed asleep for three days. We can’t get him to wake up.” Henry sent for an old

Augustus O'Neal "He is Just Away"

Augustus O’Neal
“He is Just Away”

gentleman who lived up there, and he came down and told them there had been a fight and Gus was beaten up. “Daddy called the Sheriff. The wife said Gus had been clearing a row of pine trees and one of them kicked back and hit him. She thought he was all right, and they put him to bed. But that wasn’t the case. Gus was dead.”

“So Daddy called Detroit for Gus’s sons to come down. The road was so bad, they had to tie his body to a kitchen chair to transport him to a car to take him away.” Later on the story came down the hill that Gus was hit in the head with a liquor bottle in a domestic dispute, and he was covered up in bed where he died February 28, 1948. “They never did nothing. One of those cold cases.”

Henry was almost fifty when his best friend died. He was very upset. When he was in his eighties and almost cut off his leg with a chain saw, Henry showed less emotion. But this time “he cried. The funeral was at the church up here at Mt. Moriah.” Nora went with her parents, and they sat on the back pew. She thinks they were the only white people there. Gus was buried in the Brackett Town Cemetery, at home by his first wife Matilda, who died in 1930.

Soon after that, a larger fight broke out in Korea, and reservists who had already served in the “big” war were called back for duty. The military also took hold of Earl Brice Sprouse.

“Ft. Jackson was my first station. I stayed there 13 weeks basic, and went from there to Ft. Campbell, Ky. An airborne base where I joined the 11th Airborne. Then they sent me to Ft. Belvoir. To the heavy equipment school.” (According to my source [Wikipedia], this division was combat ready in 1944, active in WWII and recalled home in 1949 to become a training formation.)

Although Brice expressed the opinion, “I don’t think the army never panned out for nobody,” his situation worked out fairly well. “They come around and issue a (tag) that represents what you do. They gave me a MOS as a heavy equipment operator and sent me to Ft. Belvoir. School only lasted 6 hours a day, and the rest of that time, you were on your own, so I decided to make good use of it. I kinda was mechanically inclined, and there was schools all over the base, so I joined a mechanic’s class in the afternoon. It was free, why not take it? When I got back to Ft. Campbell, I never was on a piece of heavy equipment again, not in the army. They assumed because I went to mechanic’s school that’s what I wanted to do so they put me in the motor pool working on equipment. Dozers, cranes, tanks, any kind, and they trained us in all that stuff. I got 6 hours in the morning on the heavy equipment and 6 hours in the afternoon on light equipment, with hand tools.

And when I got back from Ft. Belvoir, they sent us to Pine Camp, NY, Watertown, in that area, for cold weather maneuvers. And as soon as we got back, they boxed us up and sent us to Alaska. Talk about cold weather. We had two tours. The first time we went, we went in by trucks, convoyed up there. A long, cold ride. The second time we went in, where we was going there was nothing, just wilderness, and they dropped us in there. We got up some barracks in short time. Dropped our lumber and all our equipment. Course I was in an airborne outfit and they dropped the machinery, and we went to work. In about 24 hours we had shelter. We didn’t have to sleep under the trees. About 22 miles north of Anchorage. Cold country.

I liked it up there but it was just so cold. What I didn’t like was the whiteouts. It would snow and blow, you couldn’t see your hand in front of you. From our barracks, the motor pool area was about like from up here to the bridge. And they had ropes strung up and you held on to them because you couldn’t see. If you went to the motor pool, you held to those ropes. It wasn’t that way every day. But it was dangerous to be out there. We didn’t have no sense to survive it. People from North Carolina and Florida didn’t know nothing about whiteouts. People who lived up there could survive it, yunno. I kinda enjoyed it. But glad to get back and wouldn’t want to do it again. I can’t stay warm in the house now let alone…”

Iva interrupted to tell him he had thin blood. They had been married since April of 1951, and her job was to keep up with him.

“I moved into my Granddaddy’s house when I got married. Lived over there a couple years. Then I bought me a house in Marion and moved to the city. Wanted to be a city boy. I came out of the service on November 22, 1952, and went to work for Johnson Motor Line the same day and worked there for thirty years. They later split the terminal up, put half in Hickory and half in Asheville, divided the operation, and I went to Hickory with the company and bought a house.”

In June this year, Brice told me, “It took me several years to get Iva to the farm, but she’s been here a long time. I’ve heard people talk about their wives runnin’ away. If mine runs away, I’m gonna be runnin’ beside her. Sixty-two years of a pretty good life together. Some of it’s been tough, but I enjoyed most of it.”

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