By Jefferson Weaver
General Lee was a hero.
Before you get to attacking my Southern heritage, of which I am not ashamed and for which I shall not apologize, let me clarify: in this case, I am referring to William Lee, not Robert E. Lee. While Robert E. Lee will always be a personal hero of mine as well as a role model, the latter is a column for another day.
Gen. William Lee was born and reared in a simple two-story home not far from
where I lived as a child.
He retired to a much larger home on the same street, after establishing the concept of airborne warfare in the American military. His presence was felt every time a flight of C-130s flew over town, heading for the jump zones at Fort Bragg. I mowed the grass for his widow, Miss Dava, a quiet lady who paid me $5 to basically rearrange a lot of moss and acorns. Miss Dava was just another one of my lawn customers, but her husband loomed large in our town. His presence was felt every time a flight of C-130s flew over town, heading for the jump zones at Fort Bragg.
Their home is now a museum to Gen. Lee and the American paratrooper. A statue of the general stands where I used to rearrange the moss and acorns.
After fighting the military establishment for years, and almost finding himself
ostracized like Gen. Billy Mitchell, Lee proved his theory. Other armies had
paratroopers, but the U.S. Airborne troops showed the enemies of freedom what would happen when a bunch of motivated, well-armed and highly trained young Americans with very little adult supervision were dropped behind enemy lines. That last was a famous quote from career paratrooper, by the way.
Sadly, Gen. Lee, who was beloved by the soldiers he commanded, didn’t get to
participate in the “proof positive” of his theory. A heart condition sent him home
before June 6, 1944, when the parachute drop during the invasion of Normandy
christened a new and thoroughly dangerous American soldier. He planned to jump with his men. He died in 1948.
I grew up listening to veterans of World War II, whether they were in my dad’s
office, the barbershop, church, either drug store soda fountain, or the hardware
store. By the time I was a nosy little kid, many of those vets had finally gotten
comfortable enough to talk about their experiences of 30 years before. We boys
were eager listeners to howlin’ adventures fighting the Nazis and Imperial Japanese. Many of those men were my father’s friends; although age, two kids and a medical condition kept him out of that war, the Old Man made sure I never took their sacrifices for granted.
Papa and I were standing among a handful of those men – including two local men who were paratroopers at Normandy and Operation Market Garden – when we watched a parachute flutter on a hot June day in 1976. It was 32 years to the day from when the Allies invaded Europe, and under that parachute was a statue of Gen. William C. Lee.
That parachute drew us boys like moths to a flame for days; we were constantly
being shooed away as we tried to peek under the canvas tarp, then the ceremonial parachute, over the memorial in front of City Hall. When the cord was pulled and the silk billowed away, the crowd cheered. There were some racial tensions rising in Dunn at the time, but the celebration brought the town back together, at least for a little while. Black, white, Indian — didn’t matter. It was like someone flipped a switch, and people again realized we were all Americans.
There were veterans of WWII, Korea, Vietnam of all races at that celebration,
standing together. They had all served a sometimes ungrateful country, and
shared a bond most of us can never understand. The only colors that mattered
were red, white and blue. As the parachute blew off the statue of our local hero,
there was a black Korean war veteran, a two-war Coharie Indian, and a couple of
white Vietnam veterans standing with the WWII vets my dad had just interviewed. I have a photo of that scene somewhere. Everyone was clapping. They may not have served together, but they were proud together.
The day stands out as one of the times I felt the most "American" in my life. I'm not saying Bill Lee was another Martin Luther King Jr. or anything like that; it's just that his monument brought us together. I honestly think things began to improve in our town that year after the June 6 celebration of General Lee, followed by the 200 the anniversary of our country, less than a month later. I hadn’t really thought about Gen. Lee for quite some time until the news the other day that some race-baiting rutabaga tried to set fire to the statue of a hero I never knew.
First off, stone doesn’t burn worth a flip. As laughable as the attempt was, it was
still a cowardly thing to do, and a slap in the face to everyone who ever picked up a rifle and fought for the cause of freedom.
We are basing all this on the assumption, of course, that the statue was set on
fire in a surfeit of social justice silliness ignited because the general’s name was
“Lee.” Silly as that may seem, we live in a world of hyper-weaponized racism,
stoked by those who stand to benefit financially or socially by manufactured
outrage. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone saw the name “Lee” on a statue and
decided they had to “do something” to make a statement – in the dark of night, of course, so they wouldn’t get caught.
Darkness is when most of these social justice warriors creep out of the shadows
to express themselves. Few ever have the spine to say their piece in the light of
day, in public, without the assurance of a corrupt government official along with a lawyer or two to back up their historical revisionist ideals with the explanation that destruction of property is somehow a constitutional right for those who are
The statue wasn’t seriously damaged by the hooligan in Dunn the other night, but I feel like our country’s heroes were, once again, spat upon by the flibbertygibbits whose world is encased in a two by four inch screen, influenced by people who can’t speak without screaming a vulgar word or three. I’d like to be able to introduce the turnip-brain who tried to torch Gen. Lee to a few people who gave their sweat and blood to make sure said turnip-brain could freely express himself. I’d also like to take them through a crash course in civics, the Constitution and American history.
But I doubt it would do any good. Anyone who’s cowardly enough to attack a statue in the night, and stupid enough to try to burn stone – well, those folks deserve what they get if they ever manage to erase the history of things they don’t think they like.Share: