THE BOOK is titled The Jake Mosby Story: A Man For All Seasons, but somehow, that alone doesn’t seem to do it justice. It could’ve been called The Jake Mosby Epic or Jake Mosby, Whose Life Can’t Be Summed Up in Just a Few Short Words. Because while those might seem rather over the top, a little on the nose, the life that’s described in these pages is one that could only be described in those terms. Written in an informal, conversational tone whose telling wouldn’t be out of place on a wood-plank front porch—it won’t come as a surprise that the book was dictated to Janis F. Kearney, former diarist of President Bill Clinton—the story that Jake weaves for 175 pages, its arc sprawling from Hazen to Korea, covers not only the life he’s lived from 1929 to the present, but provides insight into the area where he was raised, both the good and the ugly. In the two excerpts included below, we meet Jake at two very different points in his life: In the first, he’s heading off to war as a young man in his 20s. In the second, the years that follow, he tells of the life he made for himself in the place that his family had called home. Again, although it’s a story fairly simply told, one that reads quickly and abstains from literary flourish, it’s an honest, well-told story—a story that we’re happy to have the opportunity to share.
AFTER FIELD training, we rode in a deuce and a half truck to get back to the main post. Master Sgt. Screws lined us up in formation and complimented us, saying, “You are no longer recruits. You are Private E-1 soldiers. Congratulations. Get you some rest. Tomorrow you will be getting your orders. Some will go to Germany. Most will go to Korea.”
There were four Arkansas boys. We prayed that we all could stay together like brothers. One of the four boys, Eddie B. Dobey, was from Gregory, Arkansas. He told us he didn’t want to go to Korea. We asked him why, and he said he felt like he would be killed in Korea. Dobey was the only one of us we felt needed help, and the only one who was ordered to go to Germany. The other three Arkansans—Robert Reynolds of Augusta, Roger Norton of Okolona, and myself—were ordered to go to Korea.
We all received a seven-day leave to go home, then to Camp Stoneman, California. Eddie B. Dobey finished his duties. He was riding with his brother-in-law and two friends one Saturday night in Des Arc when their car went off a swinging bridge that stretched across the White River. Eddie Dobey was the only one in the car that was killed. May my friend Dobey rest in peace.
My two days at home went far too quickly. Frances and I had been married only eight months before I was inducted. We spent two hours at my Aunt Carrie Perry’s house, 918 West 10th Street, in Little Rock.
It hurt me to leave her there with her mother Lee and her Aunt Alice Watson. I asked them to please take care of my wife until I came home, and they both assured me they would. One of the saddest nights of my life was saying goodbye to Frances as the train slowly pulled off, bound for California. We watched each other until we lost sight of each other.
Frances and I agreed that while we were apart, we would do the same thing at the same time on a clear night. We would look up into the sky in search of the sevenstar dipper. My time on the state’s side, that did not last long.
After being in the military six months, I had been in Korean six days. They wasted no time. We were in the middle of the Korean Conflict. I had a friend named Henry Lee Russell who was shipped over to fight in World War II, and he warned me that I might get seasick on the ship. I said, “What are you doing on the ship?”
He said, “Nothing.”
I said to him, “Let me tell you what I think about a man who can’t ride without getting seasick: He’s just not a man. That’s all.” That was how I felt then, but I was in for a lesson. I learned from that trip. Today I will tell anyone, watch what you let come out of your mouth, and watch what you do because a lot of it you cannot take it back.
I was placed on the ship detail, sweeping down the deck. There were about thirty people on that same detail. I was so sick that I would crawl out on deck to sweep. The sergeant would come by, and he finally asked me if I was sick. I told him I was.
He said, “I noticed you here every day, and you’re always on time. The rest of the boys try to get around their detail any way they can.” He took me off the list.
I was on the ship twenty-six days, and twenty-six nights. I was seasick twenty-six days and twenty-six nights. Henry Lee Russell, I take it back. I wrote home and told my wife to save every dime she could, because when my time was up, I wanted to come home on an airplane, not a ship.
When we arrived in Hawaii, we got a twelve-hour pass to downtown Honolulu. I was seasick all the way. We got back aboard and went to Yokohoma, Japan. When we arrived, we went to Camp Drake, Japan, to be briefed on the Far East. From there, we went to Okinawa.
We left Camp Stoneman by bus to Oakland, California. There, we boarded a ferry boat that went across the Oakland Bay to the ship. I began to get seasick before we were loaded on a double-stack ship called the Sturgis. Two thousand sailors and four thousand soldiers were bound for Hawaii.
I stayed aboard the ship, but those who wanted a pass could go on shore for twelve hours. From Okinawa, we were shipped to Incheon, Korea. We boarded tugboats and went ashore. We got on trains and went north to the processing center, and from there, finally, to our outfit.
When we arrived in Korea on April 3, there was a sign: “Welcome to Incheon, Korea.” They also made an announcement that Roger Norton’s son was born on April 2.
My outfit was at Luck’s Cassell, ten miles from the front line. We immediately began to hear big guns, 90 millimeters and the 105 Howitzers. We all went to a combat training center where we found out how important our general orders were. The instructor said, “If you know your general orders, you can get the day off. But every one of you is going to have to say your general orders in front of me.”
Three hundred hands went up. It was a long time before he got to me. At night, when everyone else was asleep, I’d sleep on my general orders, to make sure I learned them.
I assumed all had college degrees or at least a high school education, when I was only fifth-grade educated, who at the age of eleven became the sole breadwinner for a family of fourteen children. I thought, if these instructors would only call me, I could pen these educators to the mat by saying my general orders. I knew my general orders.
After a while, the instructor said, “You. Come on up here. Say your general orders.”
I said, “Sir, my first general order is…” I went through each and every one.
When I finished, the instructor said, “Yes, and you’ve got the day off.”
You can only imagine how I felt walking out of the classroom with a day off in Korea. I walked through the crowd and waved at them. The sergeant smiled. I knew to survive I was going to have to know my job.
When we had to dig a trench, I did it. If it wasn’t done right, or it rained, I did it again. I became a Private First Class after two months. The Army doesn’t give you stripes; you have to earn them.
I had the day off, while the others were yet struggling, trying to get a day off. Having a day off in a combat zone felt like a week’s vacation back home.
There have been some very special people who have made a difference in my life: Master Sgt. Rall, Little George Mosby, Hardy Burnett and Master St. TA Cowan.
They wasted no time getting us here. When the combat training was finished, I went to my outfit where I served my country under Master Sgt. Sgt. Rall, First Sgt. Kelly, and Squad Leader Corporal Green. My Squad members were Grossman Louis Struckman, Lloyd Keaton, Billy Jack Thacker, and Jake and Jim Hawn. I was so fortunate to be assigned to the M-16 halftrack. It was what I was trained on, back at Fort Bliss. It was now time to dig the M-16 in, level with the ground.
Using a pick and a shovel was never a problem for me. It is in line with what I did back home. Some of the privates had never had a shovel or a pick in their hands. It threw a big load on me to dig the M-16 into the ground level so we could just walk on top of the ground right into the fighting compartment of the M-16.
First Lt. Dader, our battery leader, said, “Dig it in now, boys.” He didn’t ask who can handle a shovel. He just said to dig it in. I got it dug in, and in doing so, we dug up a human skull. We stopped for only a moment to discuss the skull. We were facing the enemy and had to keep digging. We drove the half-track in and camouflaged it. We were on incoming fire alert and enemy plane alert, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
Our mission was to protect the 90-millimeter guns and the 105 Houzers, the big guns. Thanks to the 24-7 outgoing big gun fire, I lost sixty percent of my hearing, which eventually led to my having to wear hearing aids. Incoming fire came so close to our bunker that we were always afraid it would hit our ammo storage. Sometimes it would set off our ammo dump and cause an explosion.
First Lt. Dader went to Tokyo on an R&R, leaving 2nd Lt. Crowley in charge. When Lt. Crowley came up the hill in his jeep, it was my first time seeing him. “Who is supposed to be on guard here?”
I said, “I am, sir.”
“Private, where is your post?
“In the fighting compartment of the M-16 half-track, sir.”
“Soldier, man your post.”
As soon as the word came out of his mouth, shells started coming in from the enemy. Cpl. Green and Lt. Crowley dove in under our supply trailer. Cpl. Green said to Lt. Crowley, “Sir, look on the ground by your leg.” It was a piece of red-hot shrapnel in wet mud frying. The lieutenant hollered out, “Get in the bunker! Get in the bunker!”
I heard him the first time. I dove into the bunker quickly and saved both of my legs. Where I had stood between the two fuel tanks on each side, both were hit. We lost all of the diesel fuel. The lieutenant’s yelling for us to get into the bunker not only saved my legs, but it also could have saved my life from flying shrapnel.
First Lt. Dader was back from his leave. One of our half-track drivers up on the main line of resistance got hit. First Lt. Dader was taking him to the hospital. He said, “Mosby, pack your bags and baggage. You’re going to the frontline with me.” He asked me, “Do you want to go?”
I said, “No, sir.”
He said, “Why not, Mosby?”
I said, “Sir, that was the answer to the question you asked me–did I want to go? But lieutenant, if you give the order, I will be ready when you come back. I’ll go up with you on the main line of resistance, and I’ll fight with you until I die.”
He said, “Get ready.”
I was trained for the job. I got ready. An hour later, the he came back and said, “Mosby, unpack. I picked another driver up down at the headquarter.”
I thought about it later. I was trained for the job, and the one he picked probably was not. But this was God taking care of me.
MY OLD BOSS came to see me at my mother’s house. I had on my shirt that said “Staff Sergeant.” He saw the stripes on my shoulder and sleeve, and told me he had the same rank in the Army. “You didn’t get that rank just playing around,” he said.
It was good to see my old boss and his wife. He told me I could resume work on the farm if I wanted to. He said my old job on the farm was still there. I said, “Give me two weeks. I’ll be back to work.”
In the summer, when I was not working in his fields, I was around his house mowing or taking care of the yard. One day, I asked to get off at 5 p.m. He told me I could. At a quarter before 5 p.m., he asked, “Junior, you want to get off at 5 p.m. today? Come on, get in the back my brother’s truck.” I stopped what I was doing and jumped in the back of his brother’s truck. As soon as I got in, his wife drove up in his truck.
He said, “Junior, soon as I asked you to jump in George’s truck, here is my ride pulling up.” His brother’s wife said, “Well, can’t that nigger get back out there and work those other fifteen minutes?” My boss, stunned, said, “Stay on in the truck, Junior. My brother will take you home.”
Years later, after my boss died, his nephew and his mother owned a TV-repair shop. I went by and offered the family my condolences. They were very cordial and thankful that I cared enough to come by.
I always thought white folks were very smart, and some are. Isn’t it kind of funny, though, that even today, I never knew my boss’ sister-in-law’s name? I was just twenty-four years of age when I first met her, but today I’m in my eighties and still don’t know her name.
His nephew and sister-in-law’s kind acceptance of my condolences, however, erased years of malice I’d held towards her for calling me a nigger. That day, she said, “I would like for you to come out to my house sometime and get some things I would like to give you.” I said to myself, “No, I won’t.” I knew lots of time had passed, but even in this day and age, I wouldn’t be comfortable going out to her house.
I told her, “I don’t do hauling off junk or stuff, but I know of some people of color that would.” She stopped me and said, “I don’t want just anybody coming to my house. You are like family.”
And that’s how she wiped clean that painful memory of her calling me a nigger after I’d just served and fought for our county in Korea. I thought that was pretty smart of her, and it got away with me. So today it’s like it never happened. Today, I am grateful because my old boss’ sister-in-law and I truly are like family.
Speaking of racial tensions, Hazen certainly had its share of racial tensions and hardships. One that comes to mind has to do with the Lion gas station owned by a white man and his son.
Years ago, a black resident of the city was drinking from the station’s water fountain that said “Whites only.” He was an older gentleman and was simply thirsty. He thought that surely no one would mind him getting a drink of water. But somebody did.
The station owner saw him drink from the fountain and punched him in the jaw, yelling, “Get away from there. Can’t you read? Whites only. Whites only!” A bystander said to him, “You ought to kill that nigger for drinking out of a fountain that said ‘Whites only.’”
In more recent years, there came a time when the city of Hazen needed to upgrade its post office. No one fought harder to keep the post office in the heart of town than the son of the gas station owner who had punched the old black man for drinking out of the water fountain.
The station owner’s son ended up winning that post office battle. Thanks to him, the post office remains in downtown Hazen, today. If he had lost, it would have been moved outside town on what was then Highway 11 and is now Highway 63.
One day, I was standing at the post office talking with the station owner’s son, as we often did. It seemed that we always always find plenty to talk about. After talking for quite some time, I told him, “I have to go home. I need to use the bathroom.” Without missing a beat, he said, “Jake, you can come to my house. I want to talk some more. You can use my bathroom.”
I wondered to myself, “If his father heard that, he would surely turn over in his grave.” I went with him to his home, and he showed me to his bathroom. It came to me as I sat in this young man’s house, “God wants someone else to know about how He works in such amazing ways and how He moved my old boss’ sister-in-law to say that we were like family.”
The young man and I were talking when my boss’ sister-in-law came in to visit the young man’s wife, who was not feeling well. when she walked in, I said to myself, “Now is my time to see if she will say in this white man’s presence that we are like family.”
I said, “You know, I have lived to hear this fine lady say that me and her are like family. I was just wondering if she will let you hear her say that we are like family.” She smiled and said, “We are like family, Junior!” Then she walked on back to the bedroom to visit the man’s wife. After she said that, the young man looked at me and said, “Jake, we’ve come a long way.”
In the fall of 1954, my boss and I planted a crop of oats. We had made a drain first with a levy ditch. That way, when it rained, the water would only run through the ditch, not into the fields. That’s how we had to do things on the farm, run the water off one way. Today, I don’t know how levy draining works, but back then, we would take a shovel and clean out the ditches so that the water could run both ways.
I had been away in the Army for two years, and when I returned, I’d forgotten how we’d always cleaned the drain first. I was piling the dirt into the ditches, and I’d later remember that was not how we’d done it on the my old boss’ farm. He was a good man to work for, but he became angry that day. I guess he got up on the wrong side of the bed, but when he saw what I was doing, he became unglued.
“Now, you listen to me, Junior. You have not been gone that long that you have forgotten how we do things here on the farm.”
“I am sorry,” I said.
“I pay you to think about how we do things here on this farm.”
I thought to myself, “He could have just taken the shovel and showed me how we did things on his farm instead of coming unglued.”
The very moment he said, “You scatter the dirt, not pile the dirt,” it all came back to me. That was how we always did it on his farm. Now I remembered that if the dirt was piled during the winter, the piled dirt would get hard, and when the combine got to a pile of dirt, it would either raise the header over the piles or get a header full of dirt.
I never had full employment with the boss in the winter months. I worked only during the months that he needed me. That left quite a bit of time when I thought I could be working and making money.
I decided I really needed a full-time job and went to my old friend and classmate, Thurman Penn. I knew he worked at the tire company, so I asked him if he could get me on at the company where he worked. That would be full-time employment.
Thurman said he would. He took me to his job to talk to them about a possible job. They were paying $6 per day. I was hired on as a full-time employee at $6 a day. Even making a dollar less a day, it would turn out to be much better than the part-time work at $7 a day for Mr. Joe. I took the job with the tire company, then went to my boss to tell him I’d found another job. He said, “I hate to lose you, but that is fine with me.”
Excerpted from The Jake Mosby Story: A Man for All Seasons. Courtesy of Janis F. Kearney and Writing Our World Press. For more information, visit writingourworldpress.com.