Birthday gift: long-delayed WWII medals
HARTSELLE — An 8-inch-thick stone step at the front of her log cabin home on U.S. 31 is solid gold to Linda Huskey.
It’s almost 5 feet long, more than a foot wide. Her dad played on it as a child in Cullman County. He and his brothers slipped hickory nuts into a small hole in the rock, cracking them with a hammer.
When Quinton “Bill” Cheatwood went off to World War II, he said goodbye to those years and to a young bride, their toddler daughter and a mongrel named Fyfy.
“Fyfy lived to be 25 years old,” Huskey said. “So I grew up with him.”
But without her father.
The Army drafted him in October 1943, two months after her birth. He would see her only twice more. She was 17 months old when Pfc. Cheatwood died in combat March 7, 1945, near Hamm, Germany, with Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army.
He was 19. Three months later, his brother, Wayne, died on Okinawa at 23.
One of Bill Cheatwood’s buddies was fighting that war, too. He and Joel Don Lawrence, a year older, had attended school at West Point. As children, he once spent the night in the Cheatwood home but he did not know the girl who would become his friend’s wife, Nov. 7, 1942.
Lawrence had volunteered for the Army Air Forces in September of that year and worked primarily as a mechanic on power turrets and gun sights on B-17’s. He recalls taking gliders out of boxes and assembling them at Nottingham, England, northwest of London.
“We then made living quarters out of the boxes,” he said. “It was a big improvement from the tents.”
The military discharged Cpl. Lawrence in November 1945 at old Maxwell Field in Montgomery, after he serviced planes for five campaigns: Normandy, Southern France, Northern France, the Rhineland and Central Europe.
Back home, he met Huskey’s mother, Jean, at his cousin’s house in Falkville. They married Jan. 10, 1947.
“My stepfather always treated me like his own daughter,” Huskey said.
“He and Mom weren’t selfish to the point that they kept me from my father’s families. They always took me to see them, and my grandparents told me all about my dad. Their shared memories were all I would know about him.
“They called my stepfather their son-in-law, and my two half-brothers claimed the Cheatwoods as their grandparents.”
Good nature Huskey said that while she was growing up, Lawrence maintained a good nature.
“Some of my friends called him ‘Mr. Cheatwood,’ ” she said.
“He’d just smile and never say anything about it.”
Huskey, a 1967 graduate of Morgan County High School, now Hartselle High, said she often thinks of the children whom American soldiers killed in Iraq leave behind.
“For those who are serving now, it’s up to the parent that’s left to make sure those children know the history of their other parent,” she said.
“They should invite them into the lives of their grandparents on the other side.
“I want people to know they can grow up remembering their father even though they’ve never met him. It’s such a wonderful gift for everyone.”
She recently revealed the love she has for her stepfather, who retired as an electronic technician from NASA.
When Lawrence left the service, he was in line for the European-African-Middle Eastern Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal and Good Conduct Medal.
“They didn’t have them in stock when I was discharged,” he said.
“Later, a fire destroyed my records, and I never thought about applying for them.”
His stepdaughter did. All but the Good Conduct Medal came in time for Lawrence’s 83rd birthday Saturday.
On Sunday, he pinned them to his chest and proudly wore them to services at McKendree United Methodist Church at Massey, accompanied by his wife of more than 60 years and Huskey.
He smiled broadly as the congregation sang “Happy Birthday.”
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