Retired Athens cop and Alabama Veterans’ Museum President, Jerry Crabtree was self-appointed tour guide and driver. Museum Board Member, Bill Ward, a retired mathematician, served as unofficial trip humorist. (Have you ever met a funny math teacher?) Retired ASU Business Manager and Board Member, Ewell Smith, with his handy Iphone was the IT man.
The stated purpose of our trip was to visit the German POW cemetery at Fort McClellan, tour the Berman Museum of World History, followed by a fine lunch at the Victoria. However, our real purpose was to get out of the house, get out of town and discuss the personal lives of everyone who came to mind during the two hour and thirteen minute and 118 mile trip. Believe me, I learned a lot. Ewell pulled up a photograph on his Iphone of a beautiful chick in a bathing suit. We played “Guess who?”
“Marilyn Monroe,” I offered.
No one knew her identity. It was Aunt Bea from the Andy Griffith show. Unbelieveable. Ladies, keep eating potato chips and pork rinds and the same thing will happen to you.
We discussed the sad state of world affairs and concluded that we are in a real mess. When the Pope gives up and jumps ship, you know things are really bad.
Crabtree, a retired Sergeant from the Alabama National Guard, followed the “old convoy” route taken over the last years by local guardsmen traveling to summer camp. It’s scenic, and we saw plenty of chicken houses along the way. We turned off of Interstate 65 to Alabama 67 at Priceville, and headed southeast toward Attalla. At this historical intersection of U.S. 431 and Alabama 278, Crabtree pointed out where the convoy always stopped and the guardsmen always took a pee break. Dang! And I didn’t bring a camera.
Arriving at old Fort McClellan, (closed by the Feds in 1999) we located the POW cemetery situated on a sunbathed hill overlooking piney woods, a couple of magnolia trees, and large oaks which offered shade. Too bad the men buried there can’t witness its simple beauty. The patch of ground is home to three Italians and 26 Germans who died in captivity across the South during WWII. A German Brigadier General, Hans Schuberth, is buried next to a private. A camp was once located near the cemetery, constructed in 1943 that held 3,000 POW’s. A larger camp was located at Aliceville, Alabama.
Afterwards, we toured Fort McClellan. Originally established in 1917 and named after Yankee General George McClellan, it was once one of the largest camps in America. The spit and polish days of yesterday were gone. Weeds grew in asphalt cracks. Old shabby buildings were vacant. The once manicured parade ground where a half million citizen soldiers had marched to the call of cadence over years past was weedy as a cow pasture. Homeland security had blocked off roads and occupied several of the buildings. We had luncheon reservations at the Victoria, a fine restaurant located in a large and beautiful Victorian-style house built in 1888 on a hill overlooking Guintard Avenue. I was confused.
“Are we in Attalla?” I asked.
“Let me review the article before you turn it in,” said official trip humorist, Bill Ward. “You might have us in Mississippi. This is Anniston.”
Inside, I asked him where the men’s room was located?
“Down the hallway, at the back door and behind a tree,” he replied.
He doesn’t know it, but in the next Man Trip Story, he’ll be referred to only as “the smarty-pants passenger.”
White table clothes, delicious food and excellent service made it a classy restaurant. A meat and three was only $9.95. Fresh Gulf Amberjack was available. It’s a country Inn with guest rooms furnished with period furniture. Guys, if you want to get out of the doghouse, take your favorite woman down for overnight. She will love the place (256-236-0503).
After visiting St. Michael’s, a gothic Episcopal church built of sandstone in 1887 – it resembles a British Castle – we headed to the Berman Museum of World History. Unofficial tour guide, Crabtree mistakenly took us in the Museum of Natural History located next door. I’m about to demote him for incompetency. But the tour was worth it, and I was fascinated by large rattling copperhead behind glass. Kids would love this museum. Finally we arrived next door at the Berman Museum. Farley Berman Anniston enlisted in the Army following Pearl Harbor, and spent most of his service in military intelligence. While in North Africa he met Germaine, a French National, who worked in French Intelligence. “I was spying on her and she was spying on me,” Berman later recalled. I guess they liked what they saw. They married and returned to Anniston and later established the museum. The large and roomy two-story building is chock full of 8,000 artifacts “from the rugged American West to the exotic far east….”
Remington, bronzes, oil paintings, jade sculpture, ancient and modern weapons, suits of armor, photos, clothing and even a gatlin gun are there. Hitler’s Civil Service is one of a kind. Check it out at www.bermanmuseum.org.
It was a great trip with great guys. I learned a lot. Imagine Aunt Bea was once a hot tamale…
By: Jerry Barksdale