October 18, 2007

Walkin' Notes: Live Oak

Chiles had a grand time in Live Oak, and got to rethinking about Vietnam on his journey:

I met a fine gentleman, Mr. O.T. Watley, in Live Oak. He was cutting the grass of a business establishment and when I shook hands with him, I noticed his hands were gnarled. He told me that he had been hit with 7,500 volts of electricity and that it had literally blown up his hands and feet. The doctor told him he would never be able to work again and that he was 100 percent disabled. Mr. Watley decided he didn't want to spend the rest of his life lying around feeling sorry for himself, and now he has a lawn care service. What a wonderful example this man is and what a contrast he is with the people who refuse to even try to get a job but rather want someone to hand it all to them on a platter.

Then I moved on to the Occidental plant nearby. It's a phosphate operation, and I talked with many of the workers. I had an opportunity for them to ask me questions and one fellow asked what I could suggest to help the small farmers today. He pointed out that the farmer is getting $1.10 to $1.20 a bushel for wheat, exactly the price he was getting 10 to 15 years ago, yet the price of bread has gone sky-high during that time. I certainly had to agree with him that farmers have really had to improve efficiency and work doubly hard to stay alive with the price levels staying the same. The markup has been with the broker, the stores and others in the chain from grower to consumer. This, of course, is why the farmer is gradually disappearing and this is a critical problem.

I told this worker about a bill we'd just passed which allows soybean producers to get together and work together to promote the use of soybeans and get better prices. To me this is a much better answer than government controls. I think the small farmer is an essential part of this country, and to save him we must give him help and encouragement in every way we can — AND freedom to do anything he can for himself.

Another question I've run into quite a bit lately is, "What are your views on Viet Nam?" Well, I point out that I had always considered myself a hawk before, but I have now reached the position that I believe we ought to pull out of Viet Nam as soon as possible. President Nixon has now said we are not seeking a military victory. If we are not going to seek to win, then I think we should get our troops out as soon as possible. The danger is that Viet Nam will drain us economically, is dividing the country and is costing the lives of our fine young men. We cannot afford any of this. The greatest strength we have is our economic strength, being able to prove we've got a better system than Russia or Communist China. We cannot continue to produce more and do more for people if we allow this war to drain us, and to push us into the trap that the Russians have set for us. I don't know how soon we can pull out. We must prepare the Vietnamese people; I hope that this is already well along. But we must be firmly committed to getting out, and I don't think we should get involved in any more land wars in Asia.

The remark I made about my undershorts the other day brought many reactions. Sen. Beaufort from Jacksonville and his daughter, Mike, took pity on me. They came to walk with me Saturday and they left me two pairs of silk shorts, one pair bright orange and one bright green. I want to thank them. I wore the green pair and they cured all my troubles.

I got in on the tail end of a meeting at Madison High School the other night. The men there were making plans for the integration that their schools have to go through in September. I thought it was interesting because these men had gotten together and decided that, since they were under court order and there was nothing they could do, they were going to see that merging the black and white schools went as peacefully and as orderly as it possibly could. They had arranged to have the athletes from both schools have spring training together and the black coach had come over as the assistant coach in the white high school. They had brought a number of parents and students in from both schools, and all of them were really proud that they had decided to see that this thing worked smoothly.

As I went through Live Oak, I had a tour of the Boys Ranch with Jim Strayer, his wife Betty and their 5 year old son. Betty (Skipper) Strayer was a classmate of mine at Lakeland High School, and their son is a real pistol. It was after dark, but I could see what outstanding facilities they have there. They have several thousand acres with 2 1/2 miles of frontage on the Suwannee River itself. They have beautiful, cottage-type red brick homes with a couple living in with the boys. There is a gymnasium and stables, and some volunteers had flown in to build a ham radio station. There are over 100 boys here. These are dependent boys, not boys in trouble. They are either from broken homes or families where something has happened to the parents. They can really grow up here as boys. They have dogs to play with, they have family life, and many of the boys have gone on to the service or college. The ranch has been operating now for over ten years. It is sponsored by the Sheriff's Association, and they've done an outstanding job here for the boys.

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