Saluting our veterans: These Alabama Power employees value their service

Saluting our veterans: These Alabama Power employees value their service
Veterans, from left, Edna Felton, Bill Daughtry and Paul Taylor share their stories. (contributed)

Young Daughtry fortified communications as Americans battled to defeat Japanese

The late Bill Daughtry served in the Army during World War II. (contributed)

Bill Daughtry was trudging around Leyte island, where less than a year earlier during World War II U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur famously waded ashore declaring “I have returned” to the Philippines.

Daughtry was looking for a tree that would make a good pole on which to mount a radio antenna. He had learned the skill of erecting and climbing poles to string wire as a telephone lineman for the Army Signal Corps – a skill he would later use to get a job as a lineman with Alabama Power.

The late Bill Daughtry served in the Army during World War II. (contributed)

With the 304th Signal Operations battalion in 1945, he was accompanied by Filipino troops on his pole hunt.

“One of them caught me on the shoulder and told me to halt,” Daughtry said from Eastdale Estates Retirement Community in Montgomery shortly before he died on Sept. 25, the day after his 97th birthday. “He told me to look down.”

Daughtry saw a tripwire tied to an explosive hand grenade across an unoccupied foxhole.

“I was standing a foot from it. If I had stepped one more foot, I would have pulled the pin and been gone.”

That’s the closest Daughtry said he came to being killed during his three-year stint in the war that saw the Allied powers of the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union battle around the globe against the Axis powers of Germany, Italy and Japan.

“I didn’t see any action,” he said in a monotone. But he did, helping establish vital communications across the island that was American headquarters for the Eighth Army that seized back control of the Philippines two years after MacArthur had been forced to leave, promising “I shall return.”

Invasion avoided

Daughtry felt certain he would have met his demise fighting on the Japanese mainland, if not for the atomic bombs dropped by the U.S. on Hiroshima on Aug. 6 and Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945, which caused Japanese Emperor Hirohito to surrender six days later.

“We had our equipment ready to put on a ship to invade Japan,” he recalled of what was to be called Operation Downfall. “I didn’t think we would have stood a chance invading the Japanese mainland. They had thousands of Purple Hearts made (to present to the wounded or families of soldiers who died). They knew it was going to be a slaughter. I don’t think I would have made it. When they dropped the atomic bomb, that was the best day of my life.”

Daughtry was from the Shellhorn community, 8 miles northwest of Troy, where he grew up hunting and fishing. “The best way to describe me was an outdoorsman,” he said.

His father was a section foreman for Atlantic Coast Railroad, maintaining tracks in the area. Daughtry wanted to work on the railroad after high school but was too young. Instead, he was hired by Alabama Power as a tree-trimmer in July 1941.

Once the war got into high gear, he joined the Army as a 20-year-old, doing basic training at Camp Crowder in Missouri, then being stationed at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, where he learned to scale poles and string phone wires.

Proud of service

“I was just like a telephone lineman for South Central Bell (now AT&T),” he explained. “It was me, a truck driver and a helper. We pulled the wire,” which means they not only pulled it up to the pole but connected it.

Asked if he could recall any positive or interesting memories of his service overseas, Daughtry was quick to answer with a straightforward “no.”

Still, he waxed philosophical about his time in the military. Daughtry wanted to ensure that his family knew what happened to him as a young man.

“I’m proud I was able to serve my country during World War II. The way it turned out, my 32 months of service didn’t help win the war, but it helped me in several ways that have lasted until now.”

After discharge, Daughtry returned to Montgomery and used his Army skills to become an apprentice on an Alabama Power transmission crew. He climbed the ranks as a troubleman, a district crew subforeman, a line crew foreman and finally as a line supervisor in the Montgomery district, which was a position he kept 17 years until retiring in 1987.

Daughtry and his wife, Ethel, were married while he was on furlough before he deployed overseas in WWII. She died in 2011. They had three children, five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Serving in Kuwait liberation campaign brought Felton a medal and memories

Edna Felton is proud of her Liberation of Kuwait Medal and what it represents about her time in military service. (Phil Free / Powergrams)

War is hell.

When Edna Felton remembers the Gulf War, she can almost hear jet bombers screaming across the night sky, dropping missiles close enough that she felt the ground shake and vibrate.

It was January 1990, and Felton was a young private first class stationed with the U.S. Army in the Arabian Desert, 80 miles from Kuwait.

“Several times aircraft flew over,” recalled Felton, Accounting Services manager at Alabama Power Corporate Headquarters. “It was 12 a.m., but the bombs lit up the sky like the midday.” The bombing lasted a couple of hours.

At 18, Felton learned many hard truths about war. She was in the 287th Heavy Equipment Transport Unit out of Livingston, one of only eight female soldiers in the unit. Felton served in the Middle East from late October 1990 to June 1991.

It’s been nearly 30 years, but Felton’s sharp memories of Operation Desert Storm remain. She was among 500,000 American troops in the 35-nation coalition that snuffed Iraq’s invasion of oil-rich Kuwait.

A life-altering decision

Career day at Robert C. Hatch High School in Uniontown could have been any other day for Felton. But it was her junior year, and Felton was considering the future.

“I can remember the Army recruiter,” she said. “It struck me, and I talked to a couple of people in my community who’d enlisted, and I was led to enlist. My Dad wasn’t that surprised that I’d done it – I was focused on academics and involved with sports, so he wasn’t shocked that I decided to go that route.”

At the end of her junior year, Felton took basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. She was selected to be a squad leader in charge of 10 soldiers. After graduation in May 1990, Felton completed advanced training in heavy equipment transportation at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. In August, she entered the University of Alabama but, shortly thereafter, was notified to serve, and withdrew from college. Felton went to Fort Benning, Georgia, for pre-deployment and flew to Saudi Arabia in October.

Desert enemies abounded

Felton served nine months overseas as part of a motor transport company that hauled disabled tanks. Danger beckoned at every turn. Army personnel were constantly on the lookout for the enemy and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

“We had to watch for attacks in Kuwait,” Felton said. “We were on the alert for IEDs and were watching out for people with explosive devices.”

When the transport unit was at their Army complex, Felton and other soldiers planned convoys and pulled guard duty.

Even the desert was an enemy. Scorching temperatures – 120 degrees and higher on roads – added to travel hazards.

Edna Felton looks back fondly on hter time in the U.S. Army. (contributed)

“The roads got so hot that tires would blow out,” Felton said. “It happened a lot. We’d have to take the disabled tanks off the trucks, change the tires and then winch them back up.”

During spring, the troops endured four sandstorms that forced them to hunker down in tents. Felton wrapped towels around her head to breathe and protect her eyes.

Luxuries were few: For the first time, Felton used a latrine. Female soldiers shared a wooden bathroom and a shower.

“It was medieval,” Felton said with a laugh. “There were no flushing toilets.”

Receiving reports that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein ordered attacks on his own people, the platoon was prepared for chemical attacks. Enemy Scud missiles carried chemical weapons.

“When the alarms would go off, we’d don our suit and mask,” Felton said. “We had to keep the gear with us at all times. We put those suits on and off a countless number of times.”

With so many perils, Felton realized that she could face death.

“I remember being over there and, at my age, I don’t know what I had to give, but I wanted my two sisters to get anything I had,” she said. “I wrote a last will and testament, just in case.”

“I was close enough to see and smell the fires off the Kuwaiti desert,” Felton said. “There was a lot of toxic stuff in the air. The Iraqis were being driven out of Kuwait and were setting fires and doing damage before they left. Iraq was just trying to destroy Kuwait.”

As the maze of Army convoys and tractors made its way out of Kuwait, she saw burned out cars containing what appeared to be human remains.

“There was devastation all around us,” Felton said.

After she was released from overseas duty, Felton was sent to Fort Benning. Her family was there to greet her as she got off the plane.

“I was highly influenced by my Dad,” Felton said of her father, who served during the Vietnam War and was Perry County sheriff for 37 years. “In all my years, I never saw my Dad cry. But I saw tears when I returned from Kuwait.”

Army helped shape Felton’s future

Felton saved the money she earned in the Army to buy a car for school. The GI Bill helped finance her education when she returned to the University of Alabama in 1991. Felton graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in Spanish and later earned an MBA. She began working at Alabama Power in July 1996.

Felton left the Army after serving eight years. Though the decision was difficult, she couldn’t imagine being a wife and mother and serving in combat.

“I look back on the experiences, and I know how much I grew,” Felton said. “I became much more independent.”

Giving back remains important to Felton. Now in her second year at the Birmingham School of Law, she plans to take the bar exam after graduation. Similar to her father’s legacy, Felton may consider a future role in public service.

If she had the opportunity to do it all over, Felton would again choose to serve in the Army. Her Liberation of Kuwait Medal – awarded before she left the Middle East – is an enduring testament to her teenage pledge to serve her country.

“When you’re in it and doing what you have to do, I was afraid,” Felton said. “But afterward, I had a feeling of pride. People look at military service positively. I felt good about what we had done to help free Kuwait. It was an accomplishment.”

Taylor served country for 30 years, with five deployments to Middle East

When Paul Taylor joined the Army as an 18-year-old, he saw a way to put himself through college. He never dreamed it would turn into a secondary career spanning 30 years and take him across the U.S. and around the world.

Paul Taylor joined the Army when he was 18 and served for 30 years. (contributed)

Taylor was a high school junior when he signed his name on the dotted line for his country.

“We had a recruiter come to the school, and he talked about the great benefits the military had to offer and that you could retire in only 20 years. That got me interested,” said Taylor, Alabama Power Greene County Steam Plant security team leader. “I knew my parents didn’t have enough money to put both me and my twin sister through college, so I decided the military was the way to go.”

Taylor didn’t waste any time. He went to basic training in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, the summer between his junior and senior years.

After his high school graduation in 1986, Taylor was assigned to a military police unit and was immediately deployed to Seoul, South Korea, where he was stationed for the next two years. As a private first class in Bravo 501 Company, he spent his days in the Demilitarized Zone, patrolling the border between North Korea and South Korea.

“It was a new and different experience,” said Taylor. “But the soldiers who had been over there a while took me under their wing and showed me what I needed to do to move up through the ranks.”

After Korea, Taylor’s unit was sent to Germany for eight years. Although he spent most of that time checking passports and other documentation at the Berlin Wall, he said it gave him the chance for sightseeing and travel to countries, including Spain, the Netherlands and Kosovo.

Middle East becomes second home

It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Taylor, who was deployed to the war-torn Middle East five times.

While his unit was stationed in Berlin, Taylor and his comrades were dispatched to Iraq in 1990 as part of Operation Desert Storm. Their job was to check the coalition forces through the border between Iraq and Saudi Arabia to ensure they were on the approved personnel list and were carrying the proper equipment and documentation.

“It was very stressful because you never knew if the Iraqis who were crossing the border were carrying bombs or guns,” Taylor said. “I was very afraid for the first three or four months. I kept thinking, ‘Am I doing the right thing? Why did I join?’ But over a period of time, that stress goes away and it just becomes a job.”

After eight months, Taylor returned to Frankfurt, Germany, where he remained until his tour of duty ended in 1995. He then joined the U.S. Army Reserve, followed through on his long-ago dream and received his associate degree in criminal justice from Georgia Tech in 2002.

While in the Reserve, Taylor, a sergeant in the 287th Transportation Company, was deployed to the Middle East in 2000 and stationed in Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, Iraq, for 21 months. Then, after only three weeks back on the job at Greene County Steam Plant, he received orders to return to Iraq. In 2008, Taylor shipped out again, this time to Baghdad, the epicenter of the conflict.

Taylor worked as a heavy equipment operator during all three deployments. His unit was responsible for moving tanks, armored vehicles and heavy equipment, and providing security for American soldiers. Taylor and his comrades drove 25-ton 18-wheelers from sunup to sundown, often into the night.

Paul Taylor’s military service took him to the Middle East five times. (contributed)

Although it was mostly business as usual every day, Taylor remembers one instance that turned “hairy” fast.

“We were in a firefight in Fallujah for three days,” Taylor said. “That was really scary because we didn’t always know where the enemy was hiding. But we were lucky. We didn’t lose anybody, and there were only a few injuries.”

New ground

Finally, Taylor’s unit was sent to Afghanistan for 26 months in 2009 as part of a major surge of thousands of soldiers to support a military action that had begun eight years earlier. U.S. troops had been engaged militarily in Afghanistan since October 2001 – three weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on Americans. Taylor’s transportation company was helping move equipment for the U.S. Navy and Marines, which were building American military outposts throughout the country.

“It was a challenging time,” Taylor said. “The Afghan people were afraid of us because they had been ruled by the Taliban for so long. We had to show them that we were there to help them, not to harm them.”

After Taylor returned home in 2011, he became a heavy equipment instructor and was sent on short-term assignments to train soldiers at bases across the U.S.

Taylor retired from the Reserve last year, saying that he was ready to stay home.

“I’m proud of what I have accomplished on behalf of my country and what I have helped other people accomplish,” Taylor said. “I love helping people, especially those who can’t always help themselves. But I’ve missed a lot of birthdays, Christmases and family events over the years, and that has been hard. It was time to step down and let somebody else take over so I can spend more time with my family.”

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