19
Nov
10

R.I.P. Bill Ragsdale

I just heard that the only WWII veteran that I’ve ever spent any time with has died.  I knew Bill Ragsdale from the time I was about 8 years old. He and his wife Helen spent their weekends at their 10 acre farm they owned behind our 5 acre property in Prince George, VA.  Bill used to come over and drink coffee with my dad when dad wasn’t working. Often I would sit and listen to them talk about what kind of corn they would be planting in their gardens and other important man-talk. Bill was a Pearl Harbor attack survivor. He was on the USS Utah.  He was a boiler man. I heard him tell this story a couple of times and as a young lad it was one I could never forget. He was in the belly of the Utah when the siren sounded for them to abandon ship. He ran up to his locker first, opening it and finding four dollars in his wallet. This was quite the sum of money in 1941.  He placed his wallet back in his locker, then ran up the steps and jumped overboard. This was always humorous to him because even into his early 80’s which was the last time I heard him tell this story, he had no clue why he did that. He left that money at the bottom of the harbor.

After he jumped overboard, he swam to shore. Bill said he remembered swimming while the Zeroes were strafing the beach. He swam with all of his strength and looked over and saw people running. The water was shallow and he didn’t know it, he always thought that was funny too.  Bill and several other sailors found refuge in a large drain pipe and waited out the attack. Some of the boys that he saw walking had terrible lacerations because they had stepped on shrapnel. He avoided it because he was swimming, not walking. He never laughed when telling that part of the story.

That is the only story about the war I ever remember Bill telling.

Bill had a large pecan tree on his property there by ours. In the fall we would pick up insane amounts of pecans and my sisters and I would sit on our back porch cracking them so that mom could use them in her pecan pies around the holidays. That tree was destroyed by hurricane Isabel in 2003.

Bill loved to garden. His garden was more than an acre and I never understood why that old man needed that much of a garden. We used to go pick corn and beans there.  One time when I was probably 10 years old or so, he told me to eat a certain plant that he was growing. I bit into the leafy plant and it was HOT. It was some type of mustard plant. He and my dad just laughed. I didn’t think it was that funny. That year, for some reason, there were dozens and dozens of quail that settled in his garden. I never saw more than a couple of them there since that year. I always wondered why.

Bill had a trailer on his property that he used for storage. He used to seal the roof with some type of roofing cement. One year our dog Farley rolled in the cement and mom had to shave him. That was one stupid dog. Bill paid me to seal it one year, I was happy to get the money. He hid his spare key under a tin can and when I went to get it, there was a HUGE wasp nest inside the can. It scared me, and I screamed like a little girl. I didn’t get stung and since it was out in the middle of nowhere, nobody heard me.

When we were kids we built a fort in our woods because if you are a boy, you are supposed to build a fort.  We took a bunch of bricks out of Bill’s ditch to build a wall in our fort. He was pretty upset about that because he kept them in his ditch to prevent the soil from washing out. The bricks were from a house that used to be on the property. It was built in the 1790’s.  Bill and Helen had intended on restoring it, but it burned down around 1987 and they never got the chance. I still remember waking in the middle of the night and looking out my bedroom window to see it burning. I never got to go inside, but I would have loved to.

I am sad to hear that Bill has passed. He was one of those men in my life who represented to me what a man is supposed to be. He fought, he worked, he raised a family, he gardened, he drank coffee, he drove a tractor, he drove truck, he lived in the country and so much more.  He was a friend to my father.  I haven’t seen him in a few years, but I will miss him, and I will not forget him.

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