Valor - Abner Teague

After growing up in Gainesville, just below the Red River, Abner Teague attended Texas Tech. Just before he was to complete his studies, the United States entered World War II and he joined the Army. He later moved to the Navy. After leaving the Navy, he worked for a variety of military projects as a chemical engineer.

Photo by Mary Drennon

Abner Franklin Teague never left the United States during World War II, yet his work was vital for the military — both for the U.S. Army and Navy and later as a civilian. Now 98, the Hamilton resident’s military career spilled over into his professional life and turned into a lucrative career.

Born and raised in Gainesville, north of Denton, Teague lived in the city where his father ran a successful department store until the Great Depression. He had odd jobs growing up, “mostly for no pay.” He sold newspapers on the street for a nickel (he earned 2 cents). Later, Teague made $1 a day (plus lunch) working a 40-acre farm, where he harvested wheat and oats by hand, a job he described as “hot and itchy.” It usually took two days to clear the field. He picked strawberries, too.

When the Depression hit, his father bought a house with a large back lot. The family planted a garden with peach trees and potatoes, which Teague kept bug-free.

He also nearly died in his childhood — twice.

When he was 4, he developed double pneumonia and was not expected to live.

“The rule was if you broke a fever, you lived,” Teague said. “If not, you died.”

Then, at 13, he had appendicitis; it had ruptured and gangrene set in. Again, expected to die, he didn’t. It took him more than six weeks to recover.

The rest of Teague’s childhood was normal. He became an Eagle Scout; he sang in the choir. He was too small for football, so he was the waterboy.

College on the high plains

After graduating high school in 1936, he attended Texas Tech, where he met football coach Pete Willis Cawthon. Teague eventually coached for the football and basketball programs.

Also significant was a suggestion that he become an engineer. “I asked my chemistry teacher what the difference between chemistry and chemical engineering was and he said, ‘Dollars,’ ” Teague said. At that point he decided to become a chemical engineer.

But that was before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. “That meant war and a whole change of environment,” Teague said. He got a wire to report to active duty in New Jersey. He worried he would miss his final exams, but a delay helped. He finished all but one course, so he didn’t complete his degree requirements.

Teague was initially in the Army, working in a radar lab. He represented the Signal Corps on the National Defense Research Committee, which conducted research in future weapons technology, including radar and nuclear weaponry. He worked with the proximity fuse that armed atomic bombs, serving as chief inspector. He also worked as a civilian in Milwaukee overseeing a workforce of women making automotive batteries.

Teague, however, wasn’t really interested in the Army. He went to a friend on the draft board, and got into the Navy in 1944. They sent him to the California desert to work in naval ordnance testing.

His commander gave him another job: bomb disposal. Teague had to take out fuses for disarming ordnance. “That was one of the most dangerous parts” he said. “I found out how the atomic bomb was really made.”

Although his time spent in the military lasted just over two years, it led to a lifetime career when he was discharged as an EM3C in July 1946.

Life in the private sector

After the war, he worked in a chemistry lab at Naval Ordnance Testing, which he loved, “trying to change the attitude of TNT,” he said. He was then hired to work in the Navy’s Bureau of Ordnance in Washington, D.C., in organic chemistry and engineering design.

He later resigned and went to work for Rocketdyne, a rocket engine design and production company headquartered near Los Angeles. He then decided to work for a friend in Waco at a plant located in McGregor that was owned by a petroleum company. It was later sold to Rocketdyne, but Teague didn’t want to work for the company again, so he resigned.

Instead, as a civilian, he worked under the Army and Air Force in Space Technology Laboratories, where he dealt with rocketry as well as the developing area of satellite technology. He also spent time with the Civil Service in naval weapons engineering.

In 1968, Teague got his master’s degree from Southern Cal. Since retiring in 1984, he and his second wife, Nora Katharine Henderson, have traveled the world. He has stayed active with his church, the cemetery association, the Lions Club and as a member of the Texas Silver-Haired Legislature. He also is a 50-year Mason.

After a heart attack in 1990, Teague underwent a triple bypass, which ended his recreational flying. In 2015, he suffered a stroke, but refused surgery. To everyone’s surprise, he survived. Today, he walks a half-mile each day, works in his flower garden and mows the lawn. His life, he said, has been good.

“I’ve had lots of experiences, seen lots of places and have had a good life,” he said.

“Veterans’ Voices,” featuring stories about Central Texas veterans, publishes every Sunday. To suggest a story about a Central Texas veteran, email veteransvoices@wacotrib.com. “Veterans’ Voices” is proudly sponsored by Johnson Roofing.

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