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Papa Jack, a local treasure

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By Ken Stone

 I have called Jack, “Jack,” so long that I don’t remember if I ever knew that his name was actually William J. Souder. The “J” is for Junior, not Jack.

Jack is a moving Grant County monument; a flesh and blood American treasure; a local icon; someone worth listening to; a grassroots Kentuckian worth five times his weight in gold or biscuits and gravy.

Finding Jack is like noodling for catfish. You just keeping looking in all the spots you think he’ll be and he’ll be in one of them.

Probably the easiest way to find him is between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. at EZY Stop in Williamstown. Jack usually visits EZY Stop three times a day. You can recognize him by his pure good looks and by all the locals who enter wherever he may be and yell out, “Hey Jack.”

I asked this William J. Souder fellow how he came be called Jack. 

Jack, now a widower, and his wife Claire, had four children, three boys and one girl. Two sons and the daughter are now adults. His son John, former local used auto dealer before the soon to be new U.S. 25 bridge took out his business, is so far into adulthood that Jack doesn’t want to think about it. 

One of Jack’s sons died of leukemia prior to his fourth birthday.

“He use to call me papa Jack,” Jack told me. The nickname stuck.

 

Young and Restless 

 

In 1941, a young restless Jack paid $75 for a 1935 Ford and drove it to Texas, hoping to find work building Fort Bliss, but he was too late to get hired. Instead he became a cowboy on a ranch mending fences.  I think the song “Desperado” was written about Jack.

Jack’s cowboy days were short and he returned home to help his father harvest the tobacco crop.

I asked Jack if he ever hung around the wild Newport, Ky, scene.  Newport once was America’s Las Vegas.

“Not that I will tell you about,” Jack said, “But when I was 10 or 12, my aunt and uncle use to take me to the burlesque shows on Vine Street in Cincinnati.

 

In the Navy

 

Jack volunteered for the military in 1943. Someone in a uniform asked him how he would like to be in the Navy. Jack told them he didn’t know anything about the Navy. He comes from Kentucky and there’s a shortage of ships and ocean in Grant County. This was before Lake Williamstown.

“Well, you’re in the Navy now,” said the uniformed guy.

Jack began his Navy stint training on the wooden ship, USS Constellation. Then he served as gunner on the US Barton DD722, which carried torpedoes, US Tolman M28 that carried mines and the US Robert A. Smith DM31 that also carried mines.

If you look at the ships, there are three main guns. One set is forward, one is higher and one is aft. Jack was in the higher gun that shot overtop the forward gun.

At first, Jack would have been in the aft gun but he couldn’t find it. He could have found it if they would have said, “the gun in the back.”

“When we fired, it would knock the helmets off the gunners in the forward gun,” Jack told me. 

On the US Barton, Jack fired at aircraft during the Normandy invasion. The Barton was one of 6,000 ships in the Normandy invasion.

On the US Tolman, Jack was in the Pacific at the invasion of Okinawa. His job was to fire at and destroy Japanese suicide PT boats.

“Did you ever hit one,” I asked.

“Well, I’m here,” he replied.

 

Meeting the One

 

Jack only has one shore liberty that he will share with most folks and that we can print. While on liberty in Boston, Jack and two of his friends were leaving the Navy yard. There stood a Massachusetts girl that caught Jack’s eye. He spoke to her and she said she was waiting for her friends to get off work. Later, Jack and two companions saw this Massachusetts girl and two of her friends. A conversation started.

That conversation lasted over 50 years and resulted in the birth of three sons and one daughter.

“The happiest day of my life,” Jack says, “is when I stood at the Cincinnati Union Terminal and a train came in from Boston and Claire stepped off.”

Claire passed away in 1998. 

 

Everyday Jack

 

EZY Stop honored Jack by placing his photograph in their March 16 Grant County Express advertisement, wishing him a happy 85th birthday.

Along with his routine EZY Stop visits, Jack can be found at the senior citizens center, or helping with meals on wheels.  

His oldest son, John, says his father has an exceptional memory and never met anyone he didn’t like.

“He’s always had a garden and given the stuff away,” John told me.  

With a smile of understanding, John said, “When people see me, the first thing they ask is, how’s your dad. They don’t seem to be too concerned about me.”

John said that his dad never talked about his war duties and that his father farmed for many years and then worked for the gas distributing company now owned by Royce Adams at South Main Street, Williamstown.

“He saved my life,” John said.  “He stepped between me and Bossie, a cow that hated my 5-year-old guts. The cow, which always had it in for me, was charging at me and dad stepped in front of me. The cow came to a stop as if it didn’t want to tangle with my old man.”

John said, “My dad seemed to be the proudest at being a simple Kentucky boy who found a great woman in Massachusetts.”

  (Ken Stone is the publisher for the Grant County News. He can be reached at 823-3343 or by e-mail at kstone@grantky.com.)