May 25 2009
11:49 am
By: WhitesCreek

By Ray Collett

Hello Readers, Happy Memorial Day to all of you. I didn't have a clue what to write about this week, when out of the blue an old classmate , Ralph Billings (Class of 1957) showed up with some newspaper clippings from June 1953. This story went nationwide from newspapers in Jacksonville, Florida to San Diego, California. So Rockwood was in the news nationally "way back when."Here is the story broken down from different newspaper accounts. The police office Avery Billings, was Ralph's dad..

Two young AWOL U.S.Navy men walked up to Rockwood Traffic Officer Avery Billings one day last week and said, "We're AWOL from the Navy base in San Diego and want to give ourselves up." Thus starting a very unusual story of accommodation and friendliness by a large number of citizens and police here.
The two boys, Seaman 1/C Charles H. Robinson, 21, of Knoxville, and Fireman 1/C Roy Lee Auston,19, of Wilson, Oklahoma, have both been "laying it out" , in the Rockwood city jail waiting for someone from the Memphis Naval Base to come for them but their stay in the jail here was not an unpleasant one.
Officer Billings, after questioning the two youths, came to the conclusion that they were typical American boys who just decided to take a trip home and during their stay here he has taken them to church, let Robinson's mother and sister visit them at his home, gave the boys use of his bathroom facilities, fed them, and even let them go swimming.
In addition to his hospitality other citizens had them for meals and one furniture company here loaned the boys a new fan in order to make their stay in the Rockwood "jail" more comfortable.
On about the first of June the two boys were in San Diego when Robinson said to Austin,"Let's go to Tennessee." Austin replied, "Don't say that if you don't mean it." "Well, I mean it," Robinson said, and they began their 3,560 mile trek to Knoxville hitchhiking, which was made in an unbelievable 55 hours and the boys say that when they left they didn't have a "red cent" nor a cigarette. They caught rides, did the driving for the car owners, thus earning their meals while en route home. They remained in Knoxville for about 10 days and started back to San Diego.
"We ran out of money in Rockwood and decided to give up and let the Navy take us back," they told the officer. "We didn't feel we would be as lucky going back as we were coming home," Austin said.
Officer Billings said that after the first two days the boys were here and no one from the naval base had come after them,"We decided to let them out. So I unlocked the jail door about 9 a.m. every morning and they reported back about 9 pm. each night and were locked up again," the officer reported. They gave me their word they wouldn't run off, and I knew they would stick to it."
The policeman said he used his personal car to take the boys swimming, at the nearby Rockwood City Beach after they had borrowed a couple of bating suits. He said they swam for about two hours and called him to come after them. Several members of the First Baptist Church, where they attended Sunday school and church last Sunday, have invited the two to dinner, a kindness which led them to express their flattering opinion of Billings, their new acquaintances and the town as a whole. Roane County has made them honorary citizens and they can't handle all the invitations to home-cooked meals.
Both boys are Korean veterans, Robinson having served in the air force as a member of a C-47 crew, and Austin a member of a cargo attack ship crew. Robinson, after his discharged joined the navy. Austin has been in service for the past two years.
The police department here said they called the Memphis Naval Station on the same day the boys gave up and were told someone would come for them the next day. It was exactly seven days before they came, officers here said.
The two youngsters, somewhat bewildered at the kindness, said, "This is the best town we have ever been in and if the people treat us this good then they must surely treat other strangers like kings. The guys at the base just won't believe it when we tell them what happened."
They said they would probably have to spend 42 days in the brig. "We will have our pay docked for all expenses it costs the government to return us, but we would gladly take six months' punishment in the "brig" here."
After being picked up here by Naval Shore Patrol, the two were taken to Knoxville and sent on their own to the Memphis Naval Station where they reported on Saturday morning. They were then flown to their station
at San Diego. Since the sailor's turned themselves in, the Navy explained, they were under "technical arrest" only and permitted to come to Memphis on their own. ...........
I wonder what happened to ever happened to the two sailors and if they ever visited Rockwood again? The "jail" that they were housed in is the old "calaboose" in the alley behind "Yonder Holler". It sure would be a keepsake to restore. There are only two like it in Tennessee. Ralph Billings also gave some pictures from the newspaper of the sailors and Officer Billings. If I can ever get them copied I will send them out to you.
Don't forget our RHS Classmates Reunion coming in June 8th thru June 13th. I will have the "Rockwood Memories" there, both Volume One and Volume Two...You may also get them at "Shacks", "Yonder Hollow", O'Those Were The Days Antiques", all in Rockwood and at David Webb's "Rocky Top General Store" in Harriman, or call me at (865) 354-7680...Keep the emails coming in ....Until next week, Ray

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