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Today is June 4, 2020

Grin 'n' Bare It

Don’t forget your old friends

Kay Grafe
Kay Grafe

Several years ago during one of our late-afternoon meetings, Mr. Roy said, “There are a few people who I knew in high school, college and during my working career that were close friends, but I have lost contact with them. I’ve decided to try to locate the special ones.”

Over the years Mr. Roy has made similar comments about things he intended to do, and that was the last I ever heard about of it. I have to admit, though, that he has followed through on this one. He began by contacting some older people whom he looked up to, and had a sincere affection for. Several of these included high school teachers, football coaches and people who had worked at his dad’s business when Mr. Roy was a young boy. Many of these people are now deceased.

Approximately two years ago he began trying to locate friends he had worked with from 1958 through 1990. After a stint in the Army, Roy worked for 10 years at Brookley AFB in Mobile, Ala. Brookley closed in 1968 and scattered thousands of people all over the United States.

After it closed, he spent a year at Eglin AFB in Florida. The girls and I loved Valpariaso. We rented a house on a huge bayou, Babette begin kindergarten and I took my first college courses. Soon Mr. Roy moved us back to Lucedale so he could begin his career with the Navy in Pascagoula.    

With little information available other than names, he began his search. Using  his computer and numerous search sites, he was able to contact several long-lost friends. But the prize find was a friend he had known in college and was also a fraternity brother. Many older readers from the Delta will remember Troy Tolbert from Hollandale. Troy was a star athlete in high school and attended Mississippi State on a football scholarship.

After Roy contacted him, the two old friends, who had not seen each other for over 60 years, planned a get-together. That event occurred the first weekend in June. Since I am “much” younger than Mr. Roy, I didn’t know Troy or his wife, Louie. I soon realized that they were outgoing and friendly, and it didn’t take long for me to get in the middle of their talk.

Mr. Roy had told me his friend had retired from the Air Force and had a stellar career, but when I found out he had been a fighter pilot during the Vietnam War, I began to listen intently to his stories. When he mentioned his rank of brigadier general, I was more impressed.

Now don’t think for a minute that my new friend was bragging about his experiences or rank; Troy was humble and thankful for what he had accomplished. He grew up on a farm outside Hollandale, in the heart of the Delta, and during his early years there was no electricity, running water or phone in the family home. He said he had always wanted to be a pilot and that ROTC at Mississippi State University gave him that opportunity.

I listened intently as he talked about his time in Vietnam and how he had to watch for SAMs (surface-to-air missiles) and how the pilots learned to evade them.

He told a touching story about something that happened during his first tour in Southeast Asia. At Cam Ranh Bay his crew chief was a rough talking, cocky sargent. On his first mission, Troy stopped at the top of the ladder to his cockpit, bowed his head and said a prayer. The crew chief shook the ladder and said, “Major, there’s a war going on!” Troy said that before each mission he continued to say a prayer before crawling into the cockpit.

After several months, the crew chief asked Troy if he would say his prayer before climbing the ladder so he could listen. The next day Troy and the crew chief knelt next to the plane as Troy prayed. Several weeks later the crew chief asked if he could occasionally say the prayer.

Later, when it was time for Troy to rotate back to the States, the crew chief went with him to the chapel to pray before leaving.

We never know how our actions affect the people around us.

This visit by one of Mr. Roy’s old friends taught me several things:

1. Old friendships are worth renewing.

2. Mississippi continues to produce outstanding men and women in all walks of life.

3. Don’t put off visiting or calling an old friend to say “I love you, and thank you for being my friend.”                             

William Troy Tolbert has told his life story in an excellent book, “From Dirt to Duty.” A fitting title for a book about the life of a Mississippi country boy who rose out of the Delta dirt to become a brigadier general.

Kay Grafe is the author of “Oh My Gosh, Virginia.” To order, send name, address, phone number and $16.95, plus $3.50 S&H to Kay Grafe, 2142 Fig Farm Road, Lucedale, MS 39452.

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