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Homer Hirt

Homer Hirt

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Dayspring Christian Academy... Groundbreaking and more

On a leveled expanse of land just to the west of the existing facilities of Dayspring Christian Academy stood two shelters, and, as the time neared, the officials and guests gathered near them, and watched as the classes of the school walked in ordered fashion to stand facing them.  It was time for the groundbreaking for an 8200 square foot building, a building that will house six additional classrooms, a large and much-needed cafeteria area and more.

Almost on the hour of two PM the principal, Lori Gregg, stepped forward and began the ceremony, an observance that indicates  a major stepping stone for the Academy, a school that began in a much smaller building that had once  housed a church and a charter school.  After the prayer that reminded all of the reason for the school’s existence, a paper that symbolized the old mortgage was burned, to the applause and cheers of the adults, and probably somewhat to the wonderment of the little fellows, standing with their teachers, and remembering the admonition not to play with fire. 

The mortgage’s final payment of $35,00 had just been paid this week in time for a new one provided by  First Federal Bank to be signed.  Board members present smiled, and the watchers cheered and applauded, and then some  board members and others stepped forward and lifted shovels and dug into the level soil, soil that will be the foundation for  the needed addition to Dayspring Christian Academy, but, more than that, a building will give to the young fellows watching the mysterious proceedings a future based on Christian precepts. 

It would be difficult for a bystander that had heard the story of the Academy not to think of Saint Paul’s teaching of “faith, hope and love” as the foundation  of education from out of the past that  reaches into the future.

The publisher and the staff of the Jackson County TIMES lauds this action that indicates faith in the future of the County.  May Dayspring long be an inspiration to our citizens and a foundation for its wellbeing.

The Battle off Samar: When the world’s largest battleship ran from our “small boys”!

The Battle off Samar, fought on October 25, 1944, was not supposed to be a battle.  Admiral Bill Halsey, with his mighty task force of giant carriers and supporting cruisers and destroyers, had been lured away from the Philippine Islands, where General Douglas McArthur had promised “I shall return”.  The main Imperial Japanese fleet, supposedly in full retreat to the north, took with it the task force under Admiral John S. McCain, and left almost unguarded the strait near the island of Samar.  

There were a few token ships:  some “jeep” carriers, ships mostly converted from merchant ships and intended primarily to ferry needed aircraft to islands and to larger carriers. Their names: St. Lo, White Plains, Kalin Bay, Fanshaw Bay, Kitkin Bay and Gambia Bay.

The destroyers and destroyer escorts were there, the “small boys”, the fast, lightly armored, all-purpose ships that no commander ever had too many of, but often did not appreciate until after an action. The USS Hoel, a Fletcher class destroyer stood ready, as did the USS Heermann and the USS Johnston.  The USS Samuel B. Roberts, a destroyer escort, known then, and forever after, as the “Sammy B”, awaited the call, as did the other destroyer escorts, the USS John C. Butler, the USS Raymond and the USS Dennis.  

And through a strait at Luzon came another Japanese fleet; eleven destroyers, eight cruisers, and the world’s largest battleship, the Yamato, accompanied by three other battleships. Rear Admiral Takeo Kurita intended to strike the ships in shelter of the bay and turn and run down Admiral Halsey as he steamed north chasing a decoy fleet.

The small American fleet that was left near Luzon was commanded by Rear Admiral Clifton “Ziggy” Sprague, and had been tagged with the unwarlike call sign “Taffy 3”. Sprague could have turned and run, and saved his ships, but he chose to stand. 

The huge Japanese fleet bore down on them, and Sprague sent his “small boys”, his destroyers, and destroyer escorts into action.  They closed on the battleships and the cruisers, some firing their guns, others holding their torpedoes in readiness until they reached 3,000 yards.  Pumping out smokescreens as they went “all ahead flank,” they zigzagged, fired, and turned into the smoke, and fell back only to turn once more and go back after the battleships and the cruisers. 

There were no surprises.  Taffy 3 was the underdog, and the captain of the “Sammy B”, as they engaged the enemy the first time, told his crew that there would be a “fight against overwhelming odds from which survival could not be expected.”  He was right.  His ship went down, with almost all hands perishing.

Admiral Kurita mistook the destroyers for battleships and the destroyer escorts for cruisers, and, after exchanging unequal gunfire, turned his flagship Yamato to the north.  The other Japanese ships that were afloat turned with her and retreated.

Sprague’s miniscule fleet was chopped up.  The “Sammy B” was sunk, as was the Johnston, and the Hoel, but the tide was turned.  As the Hoel slipped beneath the waves of the bay, the commander of one of the Japanese destroyers slowed his engines and saluted the valiant crew. Only eighty six out of three hundred thirty nine survived. 

The Imperial Japanese Navy left two heavy cruisers on the bottom. The Yamoto went home, and was sunk in the waning days of the Pacific war.  

And the Battle off Samar, a battle that lasted about two hours, an unbalanced battle if ever there was one, gave our nation a long list of heroes, both ships and men.  But the war went on, and the fleet was faced with the most dreaded of enemy weapons, the kamikaze, the “divine wind,” that was more deadly than the huge battleships and the cruisers that went up against the Navy.

(Recommended reading about destroyer action, particularly the Battle off Samar, is “The Last of the Tin Can Men”)

The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot

When the United States entered World War II, the major warship was the mighty battleship, almost unsinkable and equipped with massive firepower, including guns that would fire a projectile the weight of a modern automobile twenty-five miles. It had seakeeping second to none and an awe-inspiring appearance as it would appear in silhouette on the horizon or in a foreign port. It even lent its name to a new term: “battleship diplomacy”.

A few minutes at a place named Pearl Harbor changed all of that.  Pearl Harbor was supposed to be too shallow for even the vaunted “Long Lance” Japanese torpedo to be effective.  However, the addition of wooden fins made them more than effective, it made them deadly. Pearl Harbor was supposed to be too well defended by land-based bombers, but the fast, weather-shielded aircraft carriers of the Imperial Japanese Navy proved the United States wrong again.  Pearl Harbor was supposed to be too distant for Japanese bombers to attack, but fast carriers changed that, and so changed sea warfare forever.

Fortunately for United States forces, Admiral Bill Halsey had his carriers at sea that fateful Sunday, and they all survived.  The exigencies of the times put the carrier-borne aircraft as the weapon of choice, and soon there were Pacific battles that were fought with the major surface ships never in sight of one another. The first of such engagements was known as the Battle of the Coral Sea.

The Battle of the Philippine Sea was the third, and was also known as the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot”.  The two days counted 645 Japanese planes downed, to 123 for the Navy. A pilot said, “This is just like shooting turkeys back home” and the name stuck. The back of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s air arm was broken, and the number of effective aircraft was sliced to almost nothing. 

In the 1960s The U. S. Navy Institute held a symposium on the Battle of Midway.  During that morning in Pensacola over 2,000 people sat enthralled as two former enemies, Naval and Marine officers from the United States and officers of the Imperial Japanese Navy, told of that day. 

And then at night, at the U. S. Navy Aviation Museum, we gathered for a meal, drinks, and conversation.  It was natural for us to cluster around the heroes of the Pacific War.  I was standing near an old man who talked with his hands, as most flyers do.  His name was David McCampbell. 

Captain David McCampbell had retired with the distinction of being the Navy’s “Ace of Aces”, with more kills to his credit than any other Navy pilot.  He was a veteran of the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot, and he told, using his hands and his voice, a voice that boomed out, how he took off on that day and shot down fourteen enemy planes, bombers and fighters alike.  

And in one sortie he shot out of the sky nine planes.  An Army general standing with us looked incredulous, especially when the Captain admitted to having only fourteen seconds of firepower.  

“And JUST how did you accomplish THAT?” the general asked, somewhat skeptically. 

And the reply came, in calm, measured words, VERY carefully, general, VERY carefully”.

Chipola Ford: 95 Years and Counting!

It is not often that any small town business can claim a continuous existence that goes back ninety five years, but Chipola Ford does.  

Since the writer has, very far back, a similar dealership in his background, let me walk you through this one  that began here in Marianna and continues, successfully, onward into the future.

The present dealership building and other facilities are located on Lafayette Street, about a mile from where Mr. J. J. McCaskill first sold Ford automobiles, trucks and tractors.  I, as a young man and later as a dealer, often visited the old site, and even more often came to the present building, particularly during the time that the original J. J. McCaskill’s son Dexter was dealer. Dexter was my friend, even though we were occasionally competitors. After I sold my business I purchased all of my vehicles, except for a couple, from him or his successors. 

Today was a stroll through Memory Lane, interspersed among the newest of the Ford line are Model T automobiles, and a couple of restored Model A vehicles, including a Model A town car that once was in a museum. Outside, gleaming like a jewel is a Thunderbird from “back in the day”.  

I chatted first with Rick Barnes, the sales manager.  Barnes had come into the automobile business early in life, selling cars and trucks, and eventually becoming an important part of the management team of Chipola Ford, a spot the he feels that he was meant to be in. He is proud of the past, and he is confident of the future.

I meandered out into the showroom, and stood for a few minutes admiring the old cars, so beautifully restored.  I could not resist telling stories about them, about the Model T that Henry Ford built in the first mass production line for automobiles.  I quoted him, once when he was asked what the public would have asked for when he began production, he said, “Faster horses.” So much for surveys! The Model T put the common man behind the wheel and forced the United States to build and pave a great network of roads.  

Will Rogers, the present dealer, snared me and we went into his office, where he armed me with historical clippings.  We could not resist talking shop, even though my  “shop” ended in 1971.  We spoke of quality, and he expressed quiet pride in Ford’s standing.  “You know, Homer, folks talk about recalls as something bad.  I look at it as the proof that the manufacturers are looking out for their customers.  We handle them properly, too, as a dealer.” 

I wandered out onto the lot and registered for several things, and got a bag containing a nice pen and a key chain and, of course, a tee shirt, proving that “I’ve been there, and got the T shirt!”  The folks were nice, as they should be and always are at Chipola Ford.  The salesmen greeted me as though I was really going to buy a new car, and the ladies at the tables acted as though they knew me and showed me the respect due my gray hair and wrinkles.  I declined the hamburgers and hot dogs, but I promised to return.

And I will return. 

This coming weekend Will tells me that there will be more of the same, and added to that will be a fleet of Mustangs, Ford’s all-time best car (that’s my opinion). The “Pony Cars”  will come from Tallahassee and from Panama City, and will be polished and spiffed up and completely restored, and I will be there to admire each and every one of them.  

And I will bring with me my memories, thanks to Will and Dexter and all of those in between at Chipola Ford.

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