MEET OUR VETERANS:
M.L. “Mac” McLee Brewer (Passed Away May 9, 2020)
US Navy, WW2 ( 1942- 1945 )
M.L. “Mac” McLee was born west of Canton in a community called Phalba.
INFO: PHALBA, TEXAS, also known as Snider Springs, is on State Highway 198 and Farm Road 316 eleven miles southwest of Canton in southwest Van Zandt County. The settlement was originally named for John Snider, who bought the land on which the springs were located on November 3, 1853. A Snider Springs school, established by 1890, had an enrollment of 104 in 1904 and was consolidated with the Canton Independent School District in 1950.
Mac was born August 21st, 1920. That makes him nearly 100 years old. He had six brothers and three sisters.
“All my brothers worked in the aircraft industry in Grand Prairie during the war but none other than myself served in the military,” said Mac. “I was also working in the aircraft industry for about a year and a half when I joined the military. I always wanted to be a fighter pilot. I didn’t know how to go about it or who to ask. I went to San Antonio and figured someone down there could help me, but it was on a weekend and no one was home,” he laughed.
“My dad, Latson, grew up in the Nacogdoches and Lufkin area of Texas. He had some family west of Kemp and at 21 he moved there. He farmed with his daddy and that is where he died. That left three kids at home. My mother went to Dallas and got a job sewing. She didn’t abandon us but did what she had to do to support the family. The kids eventually got married and left and she was left by herself.”
“We depended on cotton for our money crop and that wasn’t very much. Dad had about 50-80 acres of cotton. Sometime in the late 30s he set out 25 acres of Elberta peaches. That helped pay the farm off. Thank goodness he never went back to cotton. That is a tough way to make a living.”
“I went to Canton High School and graduated. I played fullback on the football team, mostly used as a blocker. I didn’t get my name in the paper very often. I weighed about 160 lbs. I played about a year and a half. I didn’t have transportation back then and I had a job waiting for me when I got back home. I had to do the chores. I picked cotton, peas, work the cows and a lot of hogs,” he said.
“I also went to the CCC, the Civilian Conservation Corp in Flagstaff, Arizona. I loved that. On the 11th of September we had six inches of snow. I wasn’t use to that,” said Mac.
INFO: The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was a National public work relief program. Operating from 1933 to 1942, it was organized to assist unemployed, unmarried men from relief families as part of the New Deal. The CCC provided jobs for these young men, helping families who were having difficulty finding jobs during the Great Depression. In addition to jobs, it was designed to provide a natural resource conservation program in every state and territory.
Working for North American Aviation
INFO: In 1929, the cattle and farming community of Grand Prairie, population 1,429, welcomed the Curtiss-Wright Airport of Fort Worth – Dallas. The airport was located at Jefferson Street and Carrier Parkway and was one of several civil airports built and operated by the Curtiss-Wright Company across the country. After Curtiss-Wright operated a flight school at the field for a year, it then became the city’s Municipal Airport. In 1940, the field was purchased by the Lou Foote Flying School for military cadets. In 1942, the Navy took over the property, establishing the Grand Prairie Naval Landing Field, also known as Squadron Two.
Just southeast of Curtiss-Wright, Hensley Army Air Force Base opened in 1932. Although technically in Dallas, the base (which in 1943 was renamed Dallas Naval Air Station) would forever change Grand Prairie. In 1939, North American Aviation, an industry giant, chose a site west of Hensley Field for its new production plant.
“I went to North American Aviation in Grand Prairie.
My brothers helped me get a job there. I was about 19 when I got a job there. They made trainer planes, the AT-60s? I got paid $.82 to .90 cents an hour. That was big money back then. My job was to make hand made parts. We had hundreds of types of airplanes. We didn’t have any dies to make the parts with back then. The biggest items we made were in the wing tips.
A lot of them got torn up. We would tear those airplanes all to pieces. I didn’t put the entire wing back together but just the part I was specialized in to work on. We put them back together just like new airplanes. I worked on the leading edges of the airplane. Using rollers, we made the outer edges so thick and had to hand roll them on machines. I was experienced enough that I could look at that wing and tell a finished produce. If not you could always put it back on the roller and put clamps on it and rivet them down,” explained Mac.
Joining the Military
“On September 1st , 1942 I was sworn into the U.S. Navy. The draft was going on but I volunteered. I was a draft dodger,” he laughed. I had some experience working on airplanes so I started off as a 3rd class Petty Officer. I still wanted to be a fighter pilot. I don’t know why, I just wanted to be a fighter pilot,” he laughed.
“My first wife, Louella, and I had planned on getting married in December. I graduated from Canton High School with her and I had lived near her. I came home one day and told her I was joining the Navy and I would be leaving shortly. She started crying. We ended up getting married on September 2nd, 1942, one day after I was sworn into the Navy. I was a busy man,” laughed Mac.
Mac entered the Navy about a year after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. “I had a lot of kin folks that already had been drafted or volunteered for the military, and lost two cousins in the war. One was named Mac Jones and he was underaged. He begged his momma and daddy to go into the service. They finally relented and gave him permission to join. He was a crew member on a ship and died on his first mission. I had another cousin killed on the front lines of Germany. I felt ashamed. I was single and eligible to be drafted. I felt a little guilty so I volunteered for the Navy. I enjoyed NOT being in the Army, though,” he laughed. “I thought I would be safer on the water than I would on the ground.”
“My brother and I were heading back to Grand Prairie and we had stopped for gas. We overhead someone talking about some trouble at Pearl Harbor and was told about the attack. It was a solemn drive home from Grand Prairie. We both knew we were going to go to war. You could tell listening to Franklin Roosevelt on the radio. He was preparing the nation for war. There was no doubt we had to get into the war. England was going to lose if we didn’t and Hitler was going to overtake all of Europe,” Mac said, his voice slowly trailing off.
“I went to boot camp for about six weeks in San Diego. Boot camp was easy for me. Picking cotton and playing fullback on my high school team toughened me up and boot camp was a breeze. We had about thirty-two recruits from Fort Worth on my train so I got to know a lot of them and we became lifelong friends,” he said.
“After Boot we went from San Diego to Jacksonville, Florida. It took us six days on the train. We didn’t travel at night and they never did tell me why. I met a lot of interesting people along the way. One night we stopped and went out to an Indian home and they fed us and one of my sailor friends was doing an Indian hat dance with a little jug on his finger. He really put on a show. Those Indians just ate it up. The chief of that tribe was in the group and he adopted that boy doing the dance. I guess he was about three sheets to the wind with his big black hat on,” Mac laughed and shook his head.
Macs wife was a school teacher and when she got out for the summer she moved to Jacksonville. Nine months later they had their first daughter, Janice Elaine. She weight two pounds and five ounces. “I did not touch that baby until she was three and a half months old. Mac lost his daughter about three years ago to breast cancer,” he said sadly. The couple had also adopted a boy and unfortunately, he too, passed away about four months before our interview. His name was Danny Brewer.
His job in the military
“I was a tinsmith in civilian life and was given a similar ranking when I joined the Navy. I worked on fuselages and wings. I didn’t do structural work. We had an assembly and repair hanger in Jacksonville. We didn’t have a lot of technology and the work was similar to what I had been doing in civilian life. At times we would have 25-30 planes torn down for repair. When they left our facility, they looked like a new airplane. We received the planes from the Atlantic and from Europe.
A lot of them had swastikas on them. One had five Nazi emblems which meant the pilot had shot down five Allied planes. We had a motor division separate from where I worked and they broke down and repaired the engines. All their engines were Whitney’s and round radial engines and master crankshafts.
I worked a lot with the aluminum parts and once you got the heat treatment it was easier to work on and could form better. A few times I was attached to special jobs but most of my career was spent in Jacksonville. We went down to Daytona and Banana River on special projects. I also did some shore patrol or MP (Military Police), duty in Daytona. I was there for about three months,” Mac said.
“I did get to fly a little in the Navy. Not as a fighter pilot, unfortunately. You can just about fly anywhere in the Navy if they had room for you. I did get to shoot the 30 caliber machine guns. Those pilots let you do just about anything you wanted to do. On the PBY’s we would open the rear hatch and slide that machine gun over on the rails. We would drop a dummy bomb out and try to hit it while it was falling. I never did hit one. Those machine guns don’t sit still while you are shooting them. That was good experience for a Navy guy,” he said laughing at the memories.
“I got out of the Navy in November of 1945. Some of the recruiters tried to get me to stay in. By this time, I was a 1st Class Petty Officer. They offered me Chief Petty Officer if I would stay, but I declined their offer. I had a book of phone numbers when I left the service. I lost contact with a lot of my old friends and the ones I knew. If you haven’t seen somebody in three or four years and you call them and hear the recording that says, “ sorry, but that number has been discontinued.” You know they are gone,”
Mac told me with a sadness in his voice. Being 99 years, a lot of your friends pass before you and in Mac’s case both his children and his first wife. It is the sad part of getting old.
“The Navy was all fun for me,” said a grinning and laughing Mac. As far as food in the military, I always looked forward to roasted ears of corn or corn on the cob. I was in the chow line one time and they had roasted ears of corn. I hadn’t had those in a couple of years. I was overjoyed. The cook took his fork, stabbed a corn and threw it on my plate. I told him, that doesn’t have any corn on it. Give me a good one. He told me to get on down the line. I grabbed me a good ear of corn and dumped mine back in the plate. He said you put that back in there. I told him to go to hell.” You know what good corn is, I asked and he said, “YOU BETCHA,” and burst out laughing.
Moving back to Canton
Mac and his wife moved back to Canton for about a year after the military. He had a spare house on his parents farm. “My wife wanted me to go back to college because the Navy was going to pay for it. She wanted me to teach with her. After one hot, rainy, steamy day on the farm I decided it was time to go to college. I came in around noon and told my wife. You are going to be happy. I told her I was going to college and I was going to be an AG teacher. That is what I did. I went to Henderson County Junior College and then went to Sam Houston State University. I kept going until I got my Master’s Degree in AG Education,” said Mac.
INFO: Sam Houston State University (colloquially known as SHSU or Sam) is a public university in Huntsville, Texas. It was founded in 1879 and is the third-oldest public college or university in Texas. It is one of the oldest purpose-built institutions for the instruction of teachers west of the Mississippi River and the first such institution in Texas. It is named for Sam Houston who made his home in the city and is buried there.
“My wife had not gotten her teaching certificate so I went to East Texas State at Commerce with her for two different summers. I eventually went out to Texas Tech in Lubbock and received my Administrative Certificate. My wife was working on her Master’s Degree at West Texas State University in Canyon and I went with her for a couple of courses. I think that was all the school I attended,” recalled Mac. “We both had our Master’s. I took student guidance and counseling courses later. I was told I had to go to two more years to get my certificate in student guidance and counseling.
I didn’t enjoy that as much as teaching Vocational AG, though. I ended up with 209 hours of college work, that is equal to two Master’s and a Bachelor’s degree,” Mac said adding, “I still wanted to do what I always wanted to do and that was working with my hands.”
Buying acreage in Canton
I bought thirty acres and a little house on it and was going to Henderson at the time. I got a job teaching Vocational Ag in Lockney, Texas. I taught there for 13 years. I went from $50. A month income to $2,800 a year. I had more money than I knew what to do with. Had enough for us to take a trip to Iowa to see some of my Navy friends. My wife was also teaching the 4th grade. She was an outstanding teacher. She and I taught for about 29 years each.
I left Lockney and went to Mt. Vernon for about another eight years as an Ag teacher. I was working on my guidance counselor certificate while I was teaching at Mt. Vernon. I became a counselor there after I received my certificate.
From there I went to Kaufman as a counselor for about 4-5 years.
I enjoyed teaching Ag more than I did counseling. The kids I taught were ready to go. They were ready to go into the shop as soon as I arrived in the classroom. We used cutting torches, for the more experienced, in welding. In woodwork we used table saws and joiners. I didn’t let freshmen work on the electrical tools. I didn’t want to be responsible for those boys injuries.
We had a livestock show every year. We showed sheep, hogs and cattle. We had about 12 beef calves. That was the biggest thing in the show. We would have a lamb for slaughter. We sold our livestock at the county show. A lot of people bought animals there,” he said.
I left Kaufman and came to Canton as their High School Principal. I was there for about five years. I retired from the teaching business after my stay at Canton High.
Over the years Mac acquired about ten tractors. His wife had passed away and he remarried to Clara Mae, a girl he knew from childhood.
Mac owned John Deere tractors and implements. At one time he owned about 1,200 acres. “I bought farms that had gone out of business and resold them.
With my bulldozer I would go in there and clear the trees and brush. I would plow it up and plant coastal Bermuda grass and made it look pretty. I then doubled my money on it. I bought about twelve farms. The biggest farm I bought was 500 acres.
I bought about two or three with 250 acres and several smaller farms. All of them were for sale when I bought them. I leased some of them and took care of the ones I could farm. I was looking to make a little money to retire on. I am still trying to make that money to retire on. I will never retire. I might get disabled and can’t do anything, but I won’t ever retire. Hay is about all I personally farmed. I can grow a good premium hay.
I sold lots and lots of hay south of San Antonio in dry years. One year I carried 91 truckloads to south Texas,” rememberd Mac.
“I also like driving my dozer. I just built a large pond and a smaller one. The larger was about 3 or 4 acres.
I run a D-6 Dozer at 99 years old. The major portion of my diet is fruit. Not more than two apples a day. Do what the doctor tells you to do. I don’t have any physical problems. I take a lot of medicine though. I am thankful. My dad was 96 and a couple of brothers in the upper 90’s. A good clean life. I am blessed. I know that I am lucky. I don’t push it. It can get rush.
I am always on some kind of equipment. I nearly always on an air-conditioned tractor but the dozer is not cold. I like doing what I like to do. It is not work to me. The Dozer tires me, but I have always enjoyed running that Dozer. It is not work to me if you enjoy it.” Mac looks and me and smiles.
“If I had a bucket list one thing is all those fish I put in my pond I want them to be about this long,” Mac holds his hand apart about a foot.”
“If I had my life to live over, I would live it just like I did, including the war. It could have been a lot worse for me. I have told my only son and grandson that when you are working for someone, make them think they can’t do without you. Always be honest whether it hurts you or them. Tell the truth, always.”
Mac, thank you for your service to our country while serving in the United States Navy.
“Every Veteran has a story to tell.” Phil Smith
GOD BLESS OUR VETERANS AND GOD BLESS AMERICA
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