GREENSBURG - It is said that when a human being dies, a way of life and a valuable look at history is lost forever.
The opportunity to hear first-hand about what came before is a wonderful and valuable opportunity which shouldn’t be missed. And so is chatting with Bill Caldwell, an 87-year-old seven -year resident of Heritage House in Greensburg.
“Since everybody either burnt coal or wood back in the little town in Kentucky where I was born,” he began, “My Dad told my Mama not to mess with the wood, that he’d get it. Well, she was hard-headed and liked to do for herself, so, as a result, I was a ‘seven-month baby,’ “ Caldwell finished, laughing.
“So it was alright for kids to get jobs,” he said. “And at nine-years-old, I got a job working at a dairy farm, getting up at 2 o’clock in the morning. And that wasn’t very good. But the first real job I had was working for the L and N Railroad... and let me tell you that was the hottest place in the world, and the coldest place in the world.”
“But when I got to be old enough, I volunteered for the Air Force. I wanted to be a cook!” Caldwell said.
Stationed in San Antonio, Texas for basic training at Lackland air force base, Bill explained that he decided to become a cook. “At least I knew I wouldn’t starve to death!” he said.
“So after that, they sent me to California for cook school. And then I was stationed at Samson Air Force Base in St. Louis for about six months, and then they called me in the office and asked if I wanted to go to another school in Sacramento,” he said. “And I thought... ‘Well, it’s all free’...so I said, “Hell, yes I’ll go!”
Afterward, stationed back at Sacramento in the Officer’s Club, Bill said he got married.
“Her name was Loretta. Then they sent me to Korea and she went home. But when I was there, it was ‘top-secret’ this, and ‘top-secret’ that, and most of it didn’t amount to much. And through all this, I learned to keep my mouth shut and behave. But I know that if I had talked like Trump did on the television last night, they’d’a slapped my happy a-- in jail,” he said.
“And even though the Air Force was supposed to be non-combat, I got to see some awful things. I can’t believe that the United States spent so much money and so many lives on such a junky place like Cambodia. I’ll never understand that,” he finished, looking out the window at the cold landscape on Park Road. “You wouldn’t believe the things I saw. I was cooking for the guys on the front line, and I have some of the lowest forms of humanity. And I usually don’t talk about it.”
Bill continued, saying that Korea was all mountains. “They had to climb so many of those mountains. And they were crying, ‘I want my mother; I want my wife.’ But we lost about 200 good men from my platoon. And even though I wasn’t in the thick of it, I wondered when a bullet was going to take me out.”
“But we got our a---- kicked in Korea. And when you go through something like that, your life changes. You learn a different way of looking at things. We’re still over there, and fightin’ for what? We never seem to mind our own business,” he mused.
“The military...for a single man, it’s the best thing in the world. But not for a married man. And Loretta wanted to wait for me, but she just decided to go home. So that was that.”
Bill continued with his story, explaining that after returning to the states and being discharged, he looked for a job.
“After the war, you couldn’t buy a job, they was so scarce,” he said. “So I finally got a job working in a sawmill. But I couldn’t handle the sawdust. It got everywhere,” Caldwell said.
“I got to where I couldn’t breathe, so I had to get a job working in a chain-link fence company here at Indiana Wire, here in Greensburg. I worked there as a sub-contractor. So, I told them ‘adios, amigos,” he finished.
When asked what he had learned in his life, Bill finished with “War is no good. We never get anywhere by having a war. But I know that my belief in the man above has kept me goin’,” he said.
“That, some good cookin’ and the love of another... those are what have kept me going in this life. Those are the things that matter,” he said.
“I never did give it much thought until now, but I know this... you can’t take things too seriously, Life’s too short,” Bill finished.
Contact Bill Rethlake at 812-663-3111, ext. 7011 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org