March 2017
Youth Matters

FFA Sentinel: Our Heroes

Patriotism and civil service have always been a part of FFA.

The Alabama Chapter of the National FFA Organization has supplied leaders since its inception in 1929. Patriotism and civil service have always been a part of FFA, but no time in history was that more apparent than during World War II. Young FFA members committed to service answered the call both on the frontlines of the battlefield and here at home. The U.S. Veteran’s Administration estimates we currently lose 492 WWII veterans per day. As we continue to lose these American heroes, many of which were FFA members, let us take a moment to remember that service was a sacrifice and honor these heroes by sharing just a few of their stories.

FFA chapters throughout Alabama were involved in the war effort. The Alabama Future Farmer magazines during the war years of 1942-45 had articles and other morsels about what FFA members were doing to aid the war cause. What follows are various notes and stories of what FFA chapters were doing to help the Allies win the war, as well as information on former FFA members serving in the Armed Forces. Some of the wordage in this article would not be considered politically correct today, but, during WWII, it was and, when it does appear, it is in quotes.

From the September 1942 issue: "FFA Men in Service. In a recent survey among the FFA chapters of Alabama to determine the number of FFA members in Armed Services (Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, etc.) the following information was revealed: Active members, 542 and associate members, 2,724; giving a total of 3,266 FFA members serving in the Armed Forces."

 

Private Raymond Ballard of the Rawls FFA Chapter, circa 1942

From November 1942: "Private Raymond Ballard Remains FFA Member. Raymond Ballard, former president of Rawls FFA Chapter now in the Armed Forces, sends his greetings and best wishes to the Chapter together with 50 cents for his dues for next year.

"Raymond was elected president of the Chapter in 1940, and, during his year’s administration, the Chapter was more active and the boys more interested than ever before.

"His leadership ability should make him a good soldier, and with his ideals he should set an example among the boys with whom he serves."

The December 1942 issue reported: "Members of the Red Level FFA Chapter were shocked to hear of the death of their former adviser, Mr. W. C. Smitherman. He was in the Naval Aviation Service and was killed November 7 [1942] while on a regular training flight near Jacksonville, Florida. He had won his wings and commission as Ensign less than a month before.

"Mr. Smitherman had been FFA Adviser at Red Level for three years before he joined the Naval Air Corps in December 1941, and was known by FFA members and advisers in all parts of the state. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. W.H. Smitherman, Stanton, Alabama."

The February 1943 edition included: "Sailor Enjoys Gift From Lincoln FFA. Playing Santa Claus to all former FFA members now in the Armed Services was part of the activity program of the Lincoln FFA and FHA. The presents ‘hit the spot’ as you can see by the letter received from the 1932 FFA President at Lincoln.

"U.S.S. Tenacity, Dec. 29, 1942. Dear friends of FFA and FHA: I received your nice gift several days before Christmas, and you cannot know how much I appreciate it. The items you sent are much needed, and very hard to get; in fact, impossible for weeks at a time. It is inspiring also to be remembered by such a fine group.

"‘I would like to tell you of the life and happenings aboard our ship, but I’m sure you know that is forbidden. Thanks again, and I’m looking forward to thanking each of you personally. Your friend, Sid Kirksey.’"

Wartime Convention, June 1943

 
   

From June 1943: "Bill Whitt, chapter president now in the armed service, writes the following V-Mail letter to the Sardis FFA Chapter:

"‘Fellow Members: Let me congratulate you on your fine work. I saw in the Gadsden Times where you had increased your membership. It should be the ambition of each of the Green Hands to keep in mind the motto and how to carry out orders. The things I was taught have helped me lots in the service method of obeying orders. I owe it to the training I received while I was president of our chapter.

"‘You can do your part in winning the war right there in FFA work. All of the former members now in the service are giving the enemies all they can and, believe me, that is plenty, for I have been in there myself.’"

Also from June 1943: "Sgt. Jack Methvin, Future Farmer from Arley, has been on 55 bombing missions against the ‘Japs.’ Jack had 14 months of active duty in the South Pacific as bombardier on a two-motored Mitchell bomber. In spite of many close calls, including a crash landing and the death of many buddies, Jack was not wounded or hurt at all. He was awarded the Silver Star, as well as the Distinguished Flying Cross."

The April 1945 issue had an article sent in by Howard Smith, Pell City Chapter Reporter, on one of its former members in the Navy: "Sailor Appreciates FFA Membership Card.

"The following letter to our chapter gives the experience of Otto Walker, 1942 president of the Pell City FFA Chapter, who is now in the Navy at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station.

"‘I was undressing one night getting ready to turn in when I happened to remove my Alabama Future Farmer membership card from my billfold. As I did so, several nearby sailors noticed what it was and that started something. As fast as lightning, sailors from Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, Nebraska, Kansas, Texas and several other states that I can’t remember spoke up. From that, we became acquainted and had an old-fashioned FFA meeting in the barracks. I learned an FFA membership card is the key to many doors that otherwise might not be opened to me. I find FFA members everywhere I go.’"

Many former FFA members in Alabama came home to continue their lives. Some continued in agriculture while others chose a different avenue. However, we will never know how many FFA members made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf in WWII. To them, we can never say thanks for what they did nor should we ever forget what they gave. FFA members and advisors from across the state, I encourage you to honor your veterans as part of your chapter’s FFA program of activities. These men and women who sacrifice so much in order that we may live in a nation where we are free to live and work on a good farm or engage in other agricultural pursuits and participate as FFA members in all manner of events and competitions more than deserve our thanks. We live in the greatest nation on Earth. It is because of our veterans and their service to this country that we are free. If you have served or are currently serving, on behalf of all of our FFA chapters and the Alabama FFA Association, I want to thank you for your service, your dedication, your love of country and your sacrifice. May God bless and keep you.

In closing, I would like to share one last story with you. From the April 1945 magazine: "Private Joe Vines.

"The following poem was written by the principal and coach of Pell City High School and dedicated to Private Joe Vines, a Chapter farmer and officer in FFA in 1943. Joe joined the Army after graduation and went to France, where he was killed in action within six months after leaving his group."

 

Joe

He stood by my desk that December day
A stalwart lad, so gently bred
With a soft Southern drawl and hair of red.
We talked of the team the year before,
When Captain he’d been – how we kept up the score.
His girl stood near, his sister wandered in,
His whole life was there in this little group of friends.

 

Two short months have gone by since he stood by my desk.
His youth with its shining beauty has fled
For his country, his life’s blood he has shed.
Did I imagine that day a look in his eye?
He wanted to live, not to die.
He went as many a lad will go, with courage.
And a wistfulness in his heart for a life he will never know.

 

I want to give a special thank you to Philip Paramore for his contribution to this article, research, diligence and love of history.

 

Andy Chamness is the education specialist serving the Central District FFA.