Double anniversary stirs memories

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 10, 2001

Important anniversaries are prompting many World War II veterans to pause and reflect on the memories of years that changed their lives forever.

Faraway places and an era so different as to be viewed as downright old-fashioned by the young generation of the 21st century are coming alive as these men and women tell of both heroic and everyday incidents that shaped the America we know today.

In cities across the land the stories are surfacing. In Natchez we are privileged to have many who are sharing 1940s memories.

For Charles Mayfield, a poignant memory of a cold night in war-torn France recurred this week, perhaps inspired by recent interviews about his many years of involvement in church work.

&uot;Have you ever bargained with God?&uot; he asked with a twinkle. He knew, of course, that anyone who ever has been in serious trouble has prayed to God, &uot;If you only get me out of this, I promise I will …&uot;

Mayfield had just gone to visit a friend who had been wounded and was in the nearby makeshift field hospital. Suddenly the air raid signal had all troops jumping for their foxholes.

&uot;I missed,&uot; he said. &uot;I jumped into a ditch that was half full of water, and it was cold, very cold.&uot; The raid soon was ended, however, and off to a small pup tent and a sleeping bag he went, a cold and wet soldier boy indeed.

&uot;I was miserable,&uot; he said. He had a conversation with God about the future and vowed that if he returned home alive and could find a way to go to college, he would do so and also would find a way to serve God.

&uot;The next day I read in the ‘Stars and Stripes’ newspaper about the G.I. bill,&uot; he said. &uot;I could hardly believe my eyes, but I knew what I had to do.&uot;

He returned home in December 1945 and applied to attend Louisiana State University. As a 1938 high school graduate, he found himself unprepared.

No matter, though. He began his studies in the fall of 1946 and took light loads for the first two years. &uot;I thought I had learned enough at the end of two years and almost quit then,&uot; he said. But he didn’t. He remembered his vow and recognized the privilege he had been given to get his education in payment for his years as a soldier.

He stuck it out and finished the four years, graduating exactly 50 years ago this week. On the day after graduation, he married his sweetheart. So the double anniversary makes the week doubly special in the Mayfield household.

&uot;I didn’t have a job, but my wife did,&uot; he said, smiling. He did have a friend in a management position with International Paper, however.

&uot;This was someone who had seen me work at a drug store, soda-jerking and stuff like that,&uot; Mayfield said. The friend knew the work ethic was solid.

Both Mayfield and his wife, a registered nurse, worked through much of the rest of the 20th century for the Natchez mill. It was a good partnership, he said. And they reared good children.

As for serving his Master, there has been plenty of that, too; and it’s ongoing into the retirement years. As a charter member of Westminster Presbyterian Church, Mayfield has performed about every job a church member can do, from cleaning the grounds to preaching a sermon. And for many years he has volunteered with other faith-based organizations, including the Salvation Army.

Quietly but purposefully, he lives life to the fullest, as that generation seems naturally to do.

Joan Gandy, special projects director, can be reached at 445-3539 or via e-mail, joan.gandy@natchezdemocrat.com.