The closing paragraph of General Douglas MacArthur's April 19, 1951 address to Congress: "I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barracks ballads of the day which proclaimed most proudly that old soldiers never die; they just fade away. And like the old soldier in the ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away, an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty."
Fitting words for a general; equally fitting for an impoverished sergeant in World War II who after the war earned two degrees from Georgia Tech and a Master's Degree from Georgia State. A product of Cabbagetown, at the time one of the poorest sections of Atlanta, Bud Sosebee set high standards for his future: an education, hard work, a loving spouse, and unwavering patriotism.
During a May 4, 2011 interview, I asked Bud if he recalled his reaction to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. His reply, "Oh, I thought it was great!" Clarification was requested. "Well, I was selling newspapers at the time and with the headlines describing the attack, the newspapers sold like hotcakes. Shoot, I thought I was rich!"
Bud Sosebee's life would indeed be rich. An education and hard work gained financial success, but Bud's richness came from living life to its fullest, an authentic example of realizing the American dream. With a common sense work ethic attributed to the Greatest Generation, Bud used the opportunities presented him to earn a pilot's license, learning to scuba dive, becoming an accomplished artist and musician, shaking the hands of two Presidents, enjoying astronauts as friends, and serving 12 years as a Rockdale County Commissioner.
By age 15, Bud was hauling 100-pound blocks of ice on his back for the ice boxes in his neighborhood. "That was hard work," he said. "But it paid a lot better than selling newspapers." "Paid a lot better" meant $3 a week. Hawking 100-pound blocks of ice took a toll on Bud's feet; they were soon as flat as the hotcakes. At age 16, he was begging the US Army to ignore his flat feet so he could fight for his country. Apparently 16-year-old Sosebee had a knack for words even then: the Army accepted Bud, flat feet and all, and the youngster from Cabbagetown was off to war.
He witnessed Hitler's V-1 rockets pounding England, crossed the English Channel with the Fighting 69th, survived strafing by German aircraft and participated in the famous battle of the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen. Bud was with the first unit of American soldiers at the Elbe River to link up with the Russians, including a tank brigade of Russian women. Two Bronze Stars for bravery were among his many decorations, including the ‘Ordre National de la Legion d'honneur', France's highest honor.
We lost Bud Sosebee on Sunday, March 29, 2015. The many tributes and obituary will list his accomplishments and family members. But this narrative is personal; just a few brief thoughts on a great American.
Thousands of Georgia citizens had seen Bud Sosebee at various events but never knew his name. They described Bud as, "The WWII veteran who still wears his uniform." Yes, Sgt. Bud Sosebee was proud of his uniform and his service to his country in WWII. An unashamed and faithful patriot, Bud understood what freedom meant to this country and its citizens, under God, with justice, with laws, a flawed system at times yet capable of righting the wrongs with the passage of time.
As the Vietnam generation of warriors came home to a hostile citizenry and uncaring government, Bud's simple remark of, "That wasn't right," developed into his founding The Walk of Heroes War Memorial in north Rockdale County. I recall his words, "I wanted a war memorial to honor all veterans, especially the Vietnam veterans. We have a beautiful park now for people to visit, but it's not finished, and I'm afraid I will not live to see its completion."
The old soldier has faded away. His body gave out, not his mind nor his spirit. In the hospital and nursing home, his main topic of conversation was, as always, The Walk of Heroes, The Walk of Heroes, The Walk of Heroes, and now the "WWII veteran still wearing his uniform" has made the most beautiful walk of all.
God has called Bud to report for his Final Inspection; Sgt. Sosebee will pass with flying colors.