News from the Tennessee Valley Columnists

Steve Stewart

Running into a neighbor in California

Melissa and John O’Sullivan of Decatur were lunching with another couple at Anthony’s waterfront restaurant in San Diego when three short-haired young men sat down at the next table.

Melissa figured they must be servicemen and suggested that her group buy their lunch. One of the men protested: “No, we can’t allow you to do that.”

When he learned the O’Sullivans were from Alabama, he said he was, too. Where? Melissa asked. Decatur, he said.

He’s Pfc. Clayton Thomas, 19, a 2006 graduate of Austin High School and now a machine gunner in the U.S. Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

“There’s a lesson there,” Melissa said. “Someone may be a stranger, but at times there’s a connection and God put y’all there at the same time. You should follow your instincts.”

Melissa’s group connived with the waitress to pay for the Marines’ lunch.

A Marine’s calling

Clayton was saying he wanted to be a “shoulder” before he could pronounce the word, said his mother, Irma Lynch of Decatur. His late father, Charles Eugene Thomas, was in the Marine Corps, as was his mother’s dad, Alfred Alvarez Jr.

Clayton joined the Marines while a senior in high school. He could be going to Iraq. His mother is proud of him.

“He’s proud of what he’s doing,” she said, “and though I tell him not to volunteer to go to Iraq, he has no problem fighting for his nation. He says he feels it’s his calling, and he can’t see himself doing anything else.” Of the chance meeting in San Diego, she said she’s grateful “for somebody to be so generous to my son and appreciate what he’s doing.”

Fighting on CNN

Decatur native and national guard Maj. Dustin Awtrey has been in Iraq for several months now. His unit is training Iraqi soldiers. He e-mailed Daily Chief Photographer Gary Lloyd: “Our team just returned from a three-day operation. We had CNN embedded with us on the second day. This aired Sunday night and Monday. Arwa Damon was the correspondent embedded with us. It was a rather exciting day, of course CNN makes it look more dramatic than it really was. Later, MAJ Pain.” In civilian life, the major is an agent at the Carl Webb Agency in Decatur. The video can be viewed at

Send stories for You Don’t Say to, or call Weekend Editor Steve Stewart at 340-2444. Or write P.O. Box 2213, Decatur, AL 35609. Daily staff members contribute many of the items you see here. This column appears Sundays and Wednesdays.

Steve Stewart Steve Stewart
DAILY Weekend Editor

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