Musing with Cecil Buffington
Musing with Cecil BuffingtonYou are always on my mind - Willie Nelson
You just never know!
It was June of 1966. I had just completed my twentieth month in the Georgia National Guard. I had joined the guard shortly after my graduation from Jefferson High School. Like most young men of that time, the Vietnam war was always on my mind.
I joined the Gainesville infantry unit, not out of a desire to serve, but out of a desire to stay out of Vietnam. I'm not ashamed of that as it was a priority of the time for most young men.
I saw many of my high school classmates and even some of my college friends drafted into the service at an alarming rate. I knew my induction was just around the corner. I made one of my biggest life decisions up to that time. I applied for membership in the Georgia National Guard.
I went to Gainesville on a Monday morning and was sworn into the guard under the grease rack at the Pratt Dunagan Service Station just down the road from Riverside Military Academy. Mr. Dunagan was the commanding officer of the Gainesville unit of the guard. He held the rank of Major.
Such was the life of the citizen soldier at that time. Work during the week at civilian jobs and turn into a "military fighting machine" that one weekend each month. ---- And for that two week summer camp every June. Some of my buddies in the guard were Larry Benton, Henry Doster, Jimmy Benson and Junior Parr, all of Jefferson. Lamentine Hardeman III and Carl Anderson were friends from over in Commerce that had also taken the National Guard route.
My summer camps for six years were always in Savannah at Fort Stewart. We called it Camp Swampy, after the Beetle Bailey comic strip.
I spent many weekends fighting off imaginary war opponents on Lake Lanier and in various fields and woods just outside Gainesville. I recall the squad and platoon leaders screaming “Get those heads down, soldier,” as we jumped off the back of deuce-and-a-half trucks. We were supposed to pretend they were helicopters. We didn’t want to get our heads chopped off by the “copter blades“, so we kept our heads down! We learned to do what we were told. That was the way of life for the citizen soldier. Train and do as you were told!
It was in 1969 at Fort Stewart that I realized there was a young man in our company that had an amazing ability to sing and play the guitar.
I had heard him picking and singing during breaks and at lunch around the armory back at home. Now he was getting ready to try and win the overall Georgia National Guard talent contest that was held every year while we underwent training at the South Georgia Military Complex.
He practiced relentlessly as he moved closer to the big Friday night event before we moved back to our home base that Sunday evening.
Johnny L. Christopher had attended Gainesville High School. He was an honor graduate.
He had always had one goal. That goal was to become a country and western singer. He was really good. He sang two songs that Friday night. I can’t remember what those songs were, but they were great renditions. He literally brought the house down. Christopher would later say that winning that talent contest was the springboard that propelled him to move to Nashville and devote a lifetime to singing and songwriting.
I lost track of Christopher until 1980 when I saw him on television being presented with a Grammy Award for his song writing.
It seems that Johnny Christopher had been a co-writer of the number one country song of that year.
That song was “You are always on my mind.” The recording artist was Willie Nelson. It was indeed a mega-hit in the country and western field. It remains so today.
Johnny Christopher wrote other hits for other artists. He recorded a few songs of his own and continued to live in Nashville. He still lives there today. He still writes and likes to play the guitar.
You never know what destiny holds for you as a young man. But Johnny Christopher had a pretty good idea.
He had a dream and he never let anything keep him from achieving that dream.
He pursued it relentlessly and it became a reality.
Good things often do happen to good people!
The Outlaw . . . Willie Nelson