Veterans 20180304 - Singletary

Waco resident Cecil E. Singletary, 94, served his country during World War II. He wrote a memoir in 2014.

Photo by Mary Drennon

Waco resident Cecil E. Singletary, 94, is filled with memories from childhood impressions, school years and home life, and serving his country during World War II.

There are so many memories, in fact, family urged him to write it down, so he did, and the result of his memoirs accumulated in a book in 2014 titled “From Down Between the Creeks.”

Children are always impressionable, but none more so than Singletary. He doesn’t miss a thing. From his colonial-style high school to his entrance into the workforce and later, the military, his impressions make for interesting, detailed reading, such as this excerpt:

The Rawleigh Products Salesman

There was a man who name was Mr. Wisby who traveled from farmhouse to farmhouse in an old Ford Model T car selling Rawleigh products. He had several large suitcase-type pieces of luggage which he would bring to our front porch, open them and display an array of bottles of medical liniments, salves, tonics, cooking spices and flavoring extracts. My mother always claimed that Rawleigh’s extracts of vanilla and lemon were the best that she ever used. I remember two things about his car. First, it had to be hand cranked; and second, it had a small wire cage attached to the rear where he carried chickens that he took in trade for his products. Now that was a unique trader! Just for personal information, I went on the Internet and learned that the company was founded by W.T. Rawleigh in 1889 in Freeport, Illinois, and is still a very active company which continues to operate through route sales. (page 53)

Of course, Singletary had plenty of fodder growing up in Dry Creek, Beauregard Parish, in rural Louisiana. It was during the Great Depression, and he witnessed the devastation of the stock market crash that preceded it, when his father lost his job.

Fortunately for the family, they had purchased a farm to which they moved. They grew a variety of crops and ate well, supplemented by sacks of flour from the government. “We just didn’t have any money,” he said. “Nobody else did, either.”

That’s not all. In those days, “we didn’t have electricity,” Singletary said. “We did not have a radio and we did not take a newspaper.” They kept their perishable products in a bucket lowered into a well. A lot of people did that, he said.

For a rural community, Singletary’s schooling took place in a building that is now a national historic landmark. The lower grades were on the first floor, and the higher grades – only through 11th grade – were on the second floor.

During the summers, Singletary worked a lot, including picking cotton when he was young. By age 13, he worked for two different farmers and sold The Grit newspaper to mainly parents of schoolmates, earning enough to purchase a “little” radio. That connected the Singletary family to the world, he said.

Singletary graduated from high school in 1940 and was at home alone one day when a recruiter from Chenier’s Business College came calling. When he said he didn’t have the money, the recruiter suggested selling livestock. It turned out he was bequeathed five sheep, which over the years multiplied to about 35 or 40 head of sheep. That’s how he attended college in Beaumont.

Afterward, he went to Fort Polk, Louisiana, and took a civilian job in inventory control. His parents, in the meantime, moved to Orange, Texas, and once, when he was visiting them, he applied for a job in the shipyard with Consolidated Steel in October 1941, before Pearl Harbor. It nearly doubled his pay.

He bought his first car in Beaumont. “That was the first transportation I had since I quit riding my horse,” he said.

Even before Pearl Harbor, the company was ramping up. Shifts were now 10 hours a day, seven days a week. He was at work on a Sunday when someone came rushing in and asked if he had heard the news about Pearl Harbor.

“I was 18 years old and I understood exactly what it was,” Singletary said. “I told my folks to be prepared because they would probably drop the draft age.” Sure enough, by June 1942, the draft age was 18.

Singletary decided he wanted to fly, so he signed up for the Army Air Corps. He was sworn in on Dec. 8, 1942, in Houston.

Next week: Singletary serves in the Burma-China-India theater during his time in the Army Air Force. He would go on to attend Baylor University, where he met his wife-to-be. After graduation, the couple moved to Houston until his retirement, at which time they moved back to Waco.

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

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