In his book War Not Forgotten: A Frontline Officer's Eyewitness Account - World War II - North Africa and Italy (Wolfe Publishing Co., 1995) Lt. Colonel John Paul Souther entitled Chapter 11 "Going Home." After three years of rigorous service in the First U.S. Armored Division in the North African and Italian Campaigns, he was finally going home to Gainesville, Ga., to see his wife, Virginia Parks Souther, and his 37-months old son, Billy, whom he had never seen.
Virginia had met her returning war hero in Atlanta, leaving their son in Gainesville with her parents. When John Paul and Virginia arrived home, young Billy ran from the porch with his hands outstretched, saying the wonderful words, "Hello, Daddy!" He had seen pictures of his daddy and greeted him for the first time in his young life, not with shyness, but with excitement. John Paul Souther wrote: "There could be only a few such joyous occasions as this in a lifetime" (War not Forgotten. Page 224).
Friday, August 18, 2006 was "Going Home" time again for John Paul Souther.
When his daughter, Lynn Souther Godshall, called to tell me of her father's death, she said: "He died quietly and peacefully about 3 a. m." He had shed the bonds of earth and illness, and with a transition not unlike the end of the war and returning home to family, he was welcomed to his eternal home by the Lord he loved.
On earth he had earned many medals and commendations for his bravery and excellency in battle. I imagined the Lord's welcome to this trustworthy soldier and follower: "Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful...enter into the joy of the Lord" (Matthew 25: 2, 23).
"Going Home" had much meaning for World War II veteran, Lt. Colonel, retired, John Paul Souther. He was a decorated soldier returning after rigorous years during World War II. He was one of those we now term "the greatest generation." But he had another love for home, and "going home," back to his roots in Union County, GA.
He was born May 4, 1915 to Jeptha Freeman Souther (1865-1953) and Mintie Iva Ann Dyer Souther (1876-1937). He was the eighth of nine children born to this couple. In a tribute lauding the attributes of his mother written March 16, 1987, John Paul said of her: "Today, there are eight of these nine children living between the ages of 68 to 89. This being very extraordinary has to reflect her ability on how to raise a large family...My brothers and sisters... think of our mother in this great accomplishment." (p. 332, Souther Family History by Watson B. Dyer, 1988).
Seeking to pay even greater respect to his mother and father and his upbringing on a dirt farm in Choestoe, Union County, Ga., Lt. Col. Souther wrote a book-length tribute to them and to their way of life. Between the Blood and the Bald, Choestoe, Georgia, 1915-1940 (c2000) is a look at 25 years of life there. Taken together, both this book and War Not Forgotten comprise a chronological account of life from strong family roots in Choestoe to a valiant (though humble) hero's part in World War II. At the same time biographical and memoirs, his widely received books added greatly to the history of an era from 1915 through 1946.
It was my privilege to work with John Paul Souther on some major historical projects, and to participate in and observe him as he engineered several more.
On April 30, 2005, just prior to John Paul's 90th birthday, we held a program at the site of the Souther Mill on Cane Creek, Choestoe. Jesse Souther Jr. (1813-1869), grandfather of John Paul, built the grist mill in 1848 after he had migrated from North Carolina. My own great grandfather, John Souther (1803-1889), older brother to Jesse Jr., had arrived in Union County about 1836. He and another brother, Joseph Souther (1802-1937) all assisted with building and operating the mill. Following Jesse Jr.'s ill health and death, his youngest son, Jeptha Freeman Souther (1865-1953), father of John Paul, when he became old enough, and with the help of various millers, oversaw the operation of the Souther Mill until it was closed in 1937. Theodore Thomas, a great, great grandson of Jesse Souther Jr., built a shed to house the memorial plaque and pictures at the millsite. Now people who travel by where the old mill stood for almost a century can stop and read a portion of history. It was a cold, misty day, that April 30, 2005, when we met for the program to honor work of our ancestors. But the fact that John Paul Souther, at almost 90, was able to see this dream of preserving history accomplished gave all of us present a warm glow of gratitude.
Earlier, John Paul Souther had purchased and installed tombstones at the graves of his grandparents, Jesse Souther Jr. and Malinda Nix Souther at Old Choestoe Cemetery. Tracing some of the exploits of his grandfather, John Paul knew that before his move to Union County, Georgia, Jesse Souther, Jr. had served in the U. S. Army during the removal process when the Cherokees were sent to the Reservation in Oklahoma in 1838.
Another preservation effort by John Paul Souther was marking the graves of Malinda Nix Souther's grandparents at the Stonecypher Family Cemetery at Estanollee, Ga. She was a daughter of William Nix and his wife Susannah Stonecypher Nix. Susanna was a daughter of John Henry and Nancy Curtis Stonecypher.
The stately ceremony conducted in 1995 saw numerous people gathered near the two story mansion (preserved and still standing) John Henry Stonecypher built for his family about 1790. With a lofty tribute given about the Revolutionary War service of John Henry Stonecypher (1756-1850), with taps played by John Paul's grandson, young Jonathan Mark Souther, and appropriate patriotic music for the processional and memorial service by Jonathan Mark and my own son and grandsons (Keith Jones, Brian, Nathan and Matthew), we stood beneath tall trees and thought on the legacy left by John Henry Stonecypher Jr. and his wife, Nancy Curtis Stonecypher. Thanks to John Paul, the small family cemetery had been surrounded by an ornamental iron fence and gate, and a granite marker told major highlights in the lives of the Stonecypher patriot of Revolutionary War fame. Thanks to John Paul, it was a time of deep reflection and appreciation.
In John Paul's own words, he stated that "my largest project was the George Washington Bicentennial Year bust" erected at the corner of Washington and Green Streets in Gainesville and dedicated on December 14, 1999, the bicentennial of our first president's death. As chairman of the committee, John Paul Souther raised $42,975.00 for the successful project. The original bust, twice life-size, sculpted by Dr. John Lanzalotti, is mounted on an eleven-ton base of Elberton, Georgia granite. There passersby on Washington Street, Gainesville, can see the bust of George Washington and think on the contributions of the "Father of Our Country."
In 2004, although not able to attend the Dyer-Souther Heritage Association Reunion, John Paul Souther donated to the Union County Historical Society Museum the oxen yoke his grandfather, William Jesse Souther Jr. had used when he moved from Old Fort, NC to Choestoe, GA., in the 1840s. Theodore Thomas had restored the yoke and had it in tip-top shape for the presentation. That same year, Virginia Parks Souther, John Paul's beloved wife, presented a picture of her husband in his World War II uniform, and a picture of the medals and awards he earned in service. These all can be seen in the Old Courthouse Museum, Blairsville, GA.
This week a hero was laid to rest. One who loved and cherished his home on earth and contributed significantly to life and freedom here, was freed from the bonds of feeble flesh and made his last trip home. His "Going Home" was celebrated with accolades and fond remembrances. All of us who knew him have been enriched by associations with John Paul Souther, farm lad, soldier extraordinary, businessman, historian, family man, kinsman.
c2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Aug. 24, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.