James Jeter was born in Jetertown, Louisiana [Annotator’s Note: near Leesville, Louisiana]. It was a small settlement named for Jeter’s family. His family had a farm and did sawmill work. He attended school about 16 miles from his home but did not graduate. He had four brothers and one sister. His mother was happy when her daughter was born. She was the last child. In 1940, the family moved to a location close to where the Louisiana Maneuvers took place. Jeter was 14 years old during that time and enjoyed playing with the soldiers. There were about 400,000 soldiers involved in the maneuvers. Most of the boys were farm boys. Jeter could relate to them since they were country boys like him. Everywhere he went, there were soldiers. The local population was nice to the troops. When the family woke in the morning, there might be a group of them sleeping on the porch. When the troops came into the area, they cut the farmer’s fences and set up camp. On occasion, officers would run Jeter off from the area. They troops buried their garbage and the spent shells from their ammunition. Jeter collected the brass to sell. The military did not build roads or bridges, but they destroyed some. The winter was a bad one and the dirt roads were torn up by the heavy equipment. The troops did not destroy things for meanness. It was just part of the activities they were working their way through. Sleeping in homes was off limits but the Jeter family never minded if the men slept on the porch. The Jeters played host to some important military people. Jeter’s mother fried chicken for a group of officers which included then Colonels Eisenhower and Patton and likely Bradley and others [Annotator’s Note: Dwight D. Eisenhower, George S. Patton and Omar Bradley later became high ranking commanders in Europe during World War II]. After the dinner, the coordinating officer offered to pay the family but Jeter’s mother refused the money. The officers left tips for her. It turned out to be more than she would have asked for payment. Jeter later regretted not getting the autographs of the future famous military generals. It was a hot summer for the maneuvers. The family well was drawn dry by the soldiers refreshing their canteens. The family offered the water to the thirsty men. A scout car drove up and told the Jeters to not allow the men to drink from the well. Their training had to simulate not having readily available water because, in actual combat, the water might be poisoned. The men would still return and get water by coming around the back of the farm. There was a Blue Army and a Red Army in the simulated combat. Jeter served both sides. He supported the one camped closest to him. He worked for them and spied for them, too. He loved the jeeps and was offered a ride in one if he found out when the opponents were going to blow up a bridge over a local creek. Jeter agreed and was given a ride close to the crossing and he walked over and found out the time of the simulated destruction. Jeter returned with the vital information. The army he spied for successfully crossed before the demolition. That was the story he liked to tell on Veterans Day. He told the veterans that he spied for the United States Army when he was only 15 years old. There was some collateral property destruction during the period, but it was not malicious. It was not too bad. The officers sometimes tried to get Jeter to leave before the soldiers entered the area. When the maneuvers ended, Jeter did not go into the army.
James Jeter worked for Higgins Shipyard in New Orleans, Louisiana. He welded on different vessels but did not know exactly which type crafts they were. He was small enough to be called upon to weld in confined double bottoms. Sometimes, there would be a chipping hammer on top of his position. He could not even hear the lunch whistle when it blew. Before going to work for Higgins, he had to learn to weld. Men from Higgins came to his town and told them that if they went to school to learn to weld they would be paid and then given a job afterward at Higgins Shipyard. The country boys did not know where Higgins was but they wanted to go to school and learn the trade. Jeter borrowed 50 dollars to get settled in New Orleans. He took the classes and learned to weld. He passed the test and went to work for Higgins. At 18 years of age, he had to register for the draft. He did not want to do so in New Orleans so he returned to Leesville to register.
James Jeter was drafted in 1944 but did not pass the physical examination at Fort Humbug [Annotator’s Note: in Shreveport, Louisiana]. He had a kidney problem. He was given a month off and then went to his local doctor. The examination there resulted in him not being drafted. He had to have a job that would support the war effort. He transported grocery supplies to Camp Polk, which would later be renamed Fort Polk. His brother worked there also. His brother was a welder at Camp Polk. He welded a siren on a jeep for Patton [Annotator’s Note: General George S. Patton]. The grounds that became Camp Polk were sparsely populated before development started. The civilians were given a limited time to evacuate their property before the firing started for troop training. The civilians were given the opportunity to view training exercises in dugouts that were built for them. The people who received the job to construct those dugouts were happy to get the work. School buses were used to transport the men into town at night. One driver brought a big load of men into town. They fought all the way to town. When the men were departing the bus, one soldier turned to the driver and asked him what he thought about the way they fought [Annotator’s Note: Jeter laughs at the story]. Jeter’s father and brother’s father-in-law would go to town and buy Cokes for the troops. When they could not buy enough Cokes, they bought beer and iced it down in a washtub. Jeter opened the beers for the men. The beers would spew so much on him in the process that the next morning he could not get out of bed. He was too drunk. It was the first drunk that Jeter ever had [Annotator’s Note: Jeter laughs at the anecdote]. The Louisiana Maneuvers were very good for the local economy. Leesville was very small at the time. There were three movie theaters on Main Street. Now they are all closed. The soldiers would come into town and try to take the girlfriends away from the local boys. The numerous troops would even block the streets. That was true for surrounding parishes in the area of Camp Polk. It was all done in good fun though. Jeter received assistance from a soldier in an army truck when his Model A Ford automobile would not start. It turned out that Jeter had not flipped the switch that turned on the flow of gasoline to the engine. The car had to be run for a period of time to recharge the battery. Jeter had a horse and rode with the mounted soldiers at Camp Polk. One day a truck drove up and soldiers asked Jeter’s mother where he was. She did not know his location but pointed out the barn when the men inquired where Jeter kept his horse. The truck opened the gate and drove to the barn and dropped off several bushels of oats for Jeter’s horse. That really fattened up his animal. His mother thought the soldiers were looking for feed, but it turned out that they had excess and gave it to Jeter for his horse. Jeter never saw any serious military casualties. He worked at hauling supplies to not only Camp Polk but also Camp Claiborne near Alexandria and to Newton, Texas. During one such trip, there was an accident. Jeter and the driver of a truck hauling supplies to the military rear ended a convoy truck and its trailer. It was not too serious an incident. There has always been a good relationship between Camp Polk and the local population. Business people have always been glad the military was close by. It was good for the economy. Otherwise, there would be limited job opportunities. Those few negative things that cropped up did not amount to very much. Jeter had to leave the local area for work in Beaumont when activity at Fort Polk diminished. It closed in 1948 or 1949 and then again in 1954. There was a housing project planned for the area before the Eisenhower [Annotator’s Note: President Dwight D. Eisenhower] administration but it was circumvented shortly thereafter. The community and Jeter petitioned the general at Fort Polk to not close the facility. Jeter even made the statement that he had to leave the area too many times because of the reduction in activity in the installation. He was too old to do so again [Annotator’s Note: Jeter laughs].
James Jeter owns an apartment complex that serves military personnel. He has about two thirds of his 40 units used by the military. Leesville [Annotator’s Note: Leesville, Louisiana] is dependent on income from the local military. Fort Polk was a training center during the Vietnam War in the 1960s. President Clinton moved a JRTC [Annotator’s Note: Joint Readiness Training Center] training center from Arkansas to Fort Polk. Jeter and his brother intended to erect a monument to Jetertown where they were raised. They talked to General Magruder [Annotator’s Note: Lieutenant General Lawson Magruder, III] on Fort Polk about their idea and he agreed to name one of the sections in Fort Polk "Jetertown." People all over the world now know where Jetertown is located. Colonel Sage [Annotator’s Note: Colonel David Sage] came to Fort Polk as a garrison commander. He joined the local Lions Club where Jeter was a member. Finding the linkage between Jeter and Jetertown, the Colonel made a Heritage Day for the community to visit Fort Polk. The facility has had millions of dollars expended on training grounds and improvements where Jetertown formerly existed. On base, there are photographs of the old homes and even Jeter’s father on a horse. Jeter helped plan the posters and the acknowledgements of the old homes. The collocation with the community and the Army has been very good for all. They fit right in most of the time. Not always though. One of the soldiers got into trouble for drinking and knocking out car windshields. Jeter was asked to accompany the man’s sergeant to talk to the Chief of Police. Jeter did so and the soldier was released. Right afterward the freed man turned and asked the Chief if he could have his stick back [Annotator’s Note: Jeter chuckles at the recollection].
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