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July 2, 2012

A flag, a flagpole and a ‘Thank You’

World War II veterans get priceless gift from Whitley man

CORBIN — By Jeff Noble / Staff writer

To a passerby, they see an American flag with a homemade flagpole in someone’s yard.

To the person who lives there, it’s a symbol of what they did some 65-70 years ago. And it’s also an expression of thanks for the job they did in one of America’s most challenging times.

A little poignant reminder of the big job a World War II veteran did. That’s all it is.

It came from a retired Whitley County man, Norman Teague, who lives in the Faber community. For the last three years, the 77-year-old man who worked with the old L&N (and later CSX Railroad) in Louisville and Corbin has been doing the noble gesture. He gets the flags, makes the flagpoles and places them on the lawns of World War II veterans.

For those who receive the special gift of the Red, White and Blue, the simple act speaks volumes. It comes from someone who has made over a hundred of the flag displays. During that time, the yards of World War II vets from Corbin to Middlesboro have been dotted by the patriotic displays. About 50 of them have been made for those living in the Corbin area alone, according to Teague.

Teague noted it’s his way of repaying someone who set the table for the way of life he, and generations after him, cherish today.

“I go by sayings a lot. One of those sayings is, ‘Want to change the world? — Do for someone who can never repay you.’ It’s my way of saying, ‘I can’t repay you with money for what you did in the war, but I can repay you with thanks,’ and what better symbol to do that with than with the American flag. It’s what you fought for, and why we’re here today. You have to give back, not in a big or expensive way, but with little things, like our flag. And my mom and dad is where I learned to pass along good deeds for others. All that good trickles on down,” he said, standing next to a flag display he made in front of his house.

Teague was born in 1935. He didn’t serve in the military, and was 10 years old when the Second World War came to an end 10 years later. But as a kid growing up in Faber, he remembered it.

Just barely.

“I had a little ‘Victory Garden,’ behind my dad’s old smokehouse. We saved scrap iron, tires and rubber, even newspapers. Dad hauled it off and all that went to the war effort. He bought war bonds, too. And the L&N passenger trains would be full of soldiers. The soldiers would pass through the train stations at Corbin, Woodbine, Faber and further down the tracks, and those soldiers would wave at us kids. That was a big thing to us kids. We wanted to do what you can to help, and we felt we were all playing a little part in that big effort,” Teague pointed out.

On a hot August day in 1945, then-President Harry Truman made an announcement to the world from the White House. Teague said it was what everyone had waited for.

“Mom and Dad and I were in the family car, going to Corbin. I can remember standing on the floorboard in the back seat of the  car, and we heard something on the radio. The war had ended. Mom and Dad talked about it. Everybody did that day. We were all glad it was over,” recalled Teague.

When the youngster became a teenager, Teague had an inkling to work in the railroad. And he did, leaving the Faber home and his parents for life with the L&N in Louisville, where he stayed for 34 years, before he was transferred to Corbin to finish his career with CSX. But deep down inside, Teague wanted to do something for others. There was volunteer work with his church, and other special means of showing gratitude for people. He painted the words, “Whitley County Colonels” on the railroad overpass and tunnel that crosses Highway 26 near his home. It’s still there today.

He had a reason to do that.

“Anytime you do something for people, it makes you feel good, and for God. I don’t want to leave Him out. At the tunnel, I painted those words on the side for the school kids. It’s to encourage them, just like I did my daughter and my two grandsons. You want to encourage them to do something I couldn’t do. And that’s to follow their dreams, no matter what,” he said.

Norman Teague was too young to serve in World War II. But Harold Adkins, of Corbin, did.

Adkins served in the United States Navy, and was stationed in the Pacific Ocean. Under Admiral Chester Nimitz, the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Adkins and others fought in some of the most important battles of the war, including the invasion of Luzon in the Philippines, and at one of the fiercest battles in history — the assault on Okinawa.

He and Teague were friends for years. Then one way, he saw something on his lawn.

“It was about two or three years ago. We’re both square dancers with the Dudes & Dolls square dance group, and somehow Norman found out I was a vet. One morning, I went outside and there was a flag in my yard. He put it there. At first, I thought he was losing his mind. I thought, ‘He’ll go bankrupt doing this for all of us World War II vets.’ Then he asked me if I knew any other veterans. And I gave him names, and he put up flags for them. A week or two later, I appreciated what he did, because he appreciated what we did. We still have freedom,” said Adkins, who at 86 years of age is one of a vanishing breed of World War II veterans still living.

There were other World War II vets in the Corbin area who received the Teague treatment. Soldiers like Charles Jackson, a Gordon Hill resident, and Tom Smith, a regular at the McBurney Center.

When Adkins visited him at home last Friday, Teague told his friend this. “You and those soldiers who fought in World War II set the table for the next generation. All of you set the pace for the world. The war you fought changed the direction for America, the World, and for generations to come. If we had lost that war, it would have been a different world. God had to be with all of you in battle. You fought for freedom, our way of life, and the American flag is the enduring symbol for all that. That’s my way of saying ‘Thank You’ for a job well done.”

That word of thanks from Teague also included a particular group of soldiers whose recognition he said is long overdue — the “Tuskeege Airmen,” the first African-American military aviators in the U.S. Armed Forces. “They were the fighter pilots who protected the bomber pilots on their missions, and never lost a plane. They’re finally getting their reward now. Finally. To me, we’re all just people. I don’t care if you’re male, female, black, white, or rich or poor. The roles, the respectability and how you treat other people apply to all of us,” Teague said.

There will be many displays of Old Glory next Wednesday as the United States celebrates its 236th birthday. To those World War II veterans who served — the ones referred to as “The Greatest Generation” — the flags and flagpoles Teague presented to them is a tiny, but very important token of appreciation of their service as soldiers. That’s all it is.

“After they get the flag, when you see that big grin that comes on their face, that means a lot. It’s for them. And it’s for America and the world. It’s very small, but yet big in thought. And meaning. That’s good, because there’s not many World War II vets living today. I always wondered if those who passed away recently got recognized for what they did. I wonder if they got a ‘Thank You’ from a family member, a relative, or their friends. They so bravely earned it. I hope they did,” said Teague, as the bright summer sun shined down on the American flag in his yard.

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