Monday, October 14, 2013
MAJOR GENERAL RENDER BRASWELL
A BORN STORYTELLER
They say I was born to tell stories. I had a long and happy life. And, I went to a lot of places around the world. I loved to tell stories to whoever would listen to them. There are so many stories to tell, but for now, I’ll stick to my own story.
I was born on October 27, 1907 on the road leading from Adrian to Norristown in Emanuel County, Georgia. My daddy was Timothy J. Braswell, an insurance salesman and farmer. His daddy and my grandpa, John Arthur Braswell, was known to be one of the greatest story tellers around. He studied and read law, but never became a real lawyer.
Grandpa Braswell used to tell the story of when he was with the Confederate Army over in South Carolina in the last few months of the Civil War. He was only 18. He and his fellow soldiers were forced to dig out undigested grains of corn from the horse manure, just to get something to eat. Starving, freezing and homesick, my grandfather took a man’s horse and rode home to Emanuel County as fast as he could.
My mother, Diva Dewberry, used to teach school over in Meriwether County. My momma and daddy split up before I was two. I moved with my mother, a beautiful and smart woman, to Covington, Georgia. She was later introduced to and married Dr. Courtney Brooks, a pharmacist and later, a mayor of Covington.
When I was only fifteen, I enrolled at the University of Georgia. I liked science, so I got a degree in Pharmacy at Georgia at a time when most of my contemporaries were just getting out of high school. I stayed on at Georgia and got another degree, a Bachelor in Science, four years later. The thought of going to Medical School kept coming into my head. So, with the help of my stepfather, I went on to Emory where I finished my studies in medicine in 1932. At 25 years old, I was one of the youngest doctors anywhere around the state. When I was in school, I joined Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Alpha Kappa Kappa, a medical fraternity.
After finishing my internship at Grady Hospital in Atlanta, I made a career change. In fact, my decision to join the Army would change my life forever.
As a newly commissioned second lieutenant, I was ordered to report to Fort McPherson, where I was appointed the Chief of Surgery. I went back to school at The Medical Field Service School in Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania before I was sent overseas to Manila in the Phillippines, where the Army made me Assistant Chief of Surgery in the Sternberg General Hospital.
Just after Valentine’s Day in 1938, I married Elizabeth Willingham, the most beautiful and wonderful woman, I had ever seen. We got married in a real big wedding in St. Philip’s Cathedral in Atlanta. We had a grand time traveling all across the country on our honeymoon, before we traveled to the Philippines to make our first home.
Just before the war began in 1941, Elizabeth and I were sent back to the states, where I was assigned as Assistant Surgeon at Walter Reed Hospital. Soon they chose me to become a member of the American College of Surgeons. They say I was the youngest doctor ever to receive that prestigious honor.
I decided I wanted to serve in the Army Air Corps. My first assignment came as a Commander and Chief of Surgery at the base at Big Springs, Texas. In September 1943, I was promoted to a position at the Air Force Cadet Center in San Antonio. I took some time to attend the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Then just as the war was winding down in Europe but heating up in the Pacific, the Air Force sent me to serve as the Command Air Surgeon of the 20th Air Force in Guam.
Our planes flew almost every day or night, bombing the island of Japan. Tens of thousands of the Japanese people were dying every day when our bombers dropped bombs which exploded and ignited fires that wiped out many Japanese cities. Then on August 6, 1945, the course of the war changed forever.
I was called in to examine the pilot of a B-29 who had just returned from the most important mission of the war. It may have been the most important military mission of all time. My patient was Col. Paul Tibetts. His plane was the Enola Gay. You know, it was the plane which dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan. That almost ended the war right there.
I was at the hospital in Iwo Jima when they brought Col. Tibetts in to see me. The Air Force was concerned that the rashes on his body may have come from atomic radiation. I went over every part of his body. I finally figured out the rashes were actually scratches from the dirt and grit which were blasted up from the ground and went through the Colonel’s flight suit.
My wife and I returned to the states in May 1946, when I was assigned as Commander and Chief of Surgery, Keesler Field Hospital in Mississippi. After a little more than a year, we moved to Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, with the same duties as I had at Keesler.
In 1952, I was assigned as an air surgeon in the Third Air Force. We enjoyed our stay in London, before once again we came back home, When we returned to the US, I went to work as a surgeon for the Military Air Transport Service.
My colleagues gave me a great honor when I was recognized for my professional attainment in the field of aviation medicine. My uniform was filled with all sorts of medals. I was given a Legion of Merit for my work in Iwo Jima and an oak leaf cluster for my time as Command Surgeon of the World-wide Military Air Transport Service. I got Air Force commendations for my surgical work at Maxwell and as the Senior American Medical Officer in the United Kingdom from 1952 to 1954. They gave me three battle stars for the time I served in the South Pacific during the war. My greatest award came when the Air Force gave me a Distinguished Service Medal.
After I retired from the Air Force as a Major General, I went to work as a Medical Director of General Motors in Atlanta. I later went into practice with my half-brother, Dr. Courtney Brooks.
My darling Elizabeth died in 1971. Elizabeth and I had three fine children, Stephen, Thomas and Elizabeth. Some three years later, I married Lillian Cox Dawes de la Fuente in Atlanta.
I died on May 20, 2001. They buried my body in Section 5 of Arlington National Cemetery. The Air Force gave me one grand send off into the skies of heaven. I can’t remember if I ever wanted to be a lawyer like most of the men story tellers in my family. But, the government buried me in a crowd of Supreme Court Justices. They are a right smart bunch of fellows. Sometimes they get together and talk about the law. And the stories they tell, well you can’t make up these tales. Right around me are Chief Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. and Warren Burger, and others like Thurgood Marshall and four more Associate Justices.
You can’t see them from my grave, but not too far from me, a few hundred feet or so, and just across a small hill out of sight of the Justices and myself are the Kennedy boys; Joseph, John, Robert and Edward. Boy, do those Yankees have a good time when they all get together! I can’t they say what they do. After all, one of them was my commander in chief for a thousand days. And what happens in Arlington, stays in Arlington.
Well, folks this is my story. Obviously, I couldn’t speak to you directly. So, I asked my first cousin Claudie Braswell Thompson’s grandson, Scott Braswell Thompson, Sr., to tell my story. He’s a hopeless storyteller like me. He got it from his daddy, Dale, who was another one of us who every time you see one of us Braswells, we’ve got a story or three to tell.