Figures of Speech: Fish We’ve Never Seen
By Allen Tullos, Photographs byTom Rankin
Vol. 7, No. 3, 1985, pp. 10-21
An annual highlight of the late summer in Fayetteville, North Carolina and neighboring Fort Bragg, the United States Army’s Heat and Death Festival was moved this year at the request of the Army Corps of Engineers to Columbus, Mississippi to coincide with the June 1 dedication and grand opening of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. The Tenn-Tom, a 234-mile-long, nine foot-deep and three-hundred foot-wide trench stretching across northeast Mississippi and west Alabama, connects sixteen-thousand miles of mid-America’s navigable rivers with Elvis Presley’s boyhood home. Only after reaching Fulton, Mississippi, must Presley pilgrims transfer from the Waterway barges and travel west on US Highway 78 by air-conditioned tour bus for the few remaining miles to Tupelo. There they can choose to walk or ride down Canal Street toward Elvis Presley Lake, stopping on their way at Lawhon School where, in the fifth grade, Elvis won second place in a talent contest by singing “Old Shep.”
The Army, especially when it was This Man’s Army and had not yet become the New Action Army Concept, has always kept a warm spot for former Pfc. Presley. Madison Avenue still can’t do in a day the work The King once did for recruiters before nine in the morning. So, twelve years and two-billion dollars worth of dredging across the forests, fields and towns of two Deep South states became the Corps’ way of saying, “Aloha Elvis.”
Since 1972, when Alabama Governor George Wallace and President Richard Nixon broke ground in Mobile for the Tenn-Tom, not the Corps, nor the Secretary of the Army, nor the dozens of members of Congress, governors and other dignitaries present at this summer’s grand opening and dedication have been willing to talk freely about what most Mississippians, years ago, embraced as their Elvis Canal. Down to the present, officials continue to ballast speeches and press releases with projections of thousands of new jobs the Tenn-Tom will create in wood products, recreation, and the polymer resin industries. Yet, from Iuka to Paducah, the locals know that it is Elvis who will haul the freight for the Waterway’s foreseeable future.
“You have to understand,” says one community leader- Sheriff R. O. “Red” Leflore of Shelby County, Mississippi -a bit defensively, “mercenary training camps and the Elvis industry are two of the South’s hottest tickets for what’s left of the 1980s. Several states have jumped the gun on us with the mercenaries. But now that Tenn-Tom’s finished, we’re primed for the Elvis crowd, on their way to or from Graceland.
“We’ve worked quietly in the trenches,” continues Leflore, “digging out 307 million cubic yards of dirt. That’s more than the Panama Canal could hold. With the Waterway in place, a family coming to Presley Park from Iowa City, will save over eight-hundred miles of travel. We harvest the difference at the Elvis Youth Center Gift Shop and Interfaith Chapel.”
As the mid-morning hour for beginning the Tenn-Tom dedication ceremonies approached on this first day of June, the sun spread waves of heat over the broad, straight rows of plastic folding chairs set out on a patch of river bank next to the Columbus Pool. Several hundred visitors trailed currents of sticky air into and out of three Army canvas circus tents erected to the Past, Present and Future of Mississippi. Dry clothes soaked through in minutes, whether one sat paralyzed near the display cases of the John C. Stennis exhibit or, dripping sweat and lemonade, walked the sawdust-covered Pathway to a Dream Trail connecting the three tents.
“They ain’t many people here,” said a muddy-haired woman wearing a straw hat, deck shoes and a cotton dress printed with dogwood buds and blossoms that offered little shade.
“It ain’t about people, it’s about progress,” said the red-faced man with her. A cap on the man’s head bore a drawing of a large-caliber revolver and the words: “I traded my wife for this.” An on-the-site radio crew urged the temperature toward a hundred degrees:
“Jim Bob, there’s not more than a few thousand people in attendance today. As many as ninety thousand were expected. But with twenty-some odd acres out here, no matter how many people you put on it, it would look like it’s not very crowded.
“If you’re listening, there’s plenty of room for you, but try to hurry because the dedication ceremonies look like they will begin any minute.”
“On the other hand, Linda, I’m sure this is a larger crowd than Sieur de Bienville expected when he suggested to Louis XIV the plan for a waterway connecting Quebec and Mobile Bay.”
“You’re right, Jim Bob.”
“You’re listening to a live broadcast of the Tenn-Tom dedication from the Gulf-Southern Radio Network. I’m yours truly, Jim Bob Bugles, here on the east bank of the Columbus Lock and Dam. Linda Comfort is talking with us from the west bank.”
“Jim Bob, all the dignitaries, such as Senator Stennis, et cetera, are taking their seats here on a ceremonial barge right on the edge of the water and that’s where the big ceremonies will be taking place. Our listeners might not know that one expected guest, Governor Wallace, will not be coming. Apparently, he talked with several of his advisors about a dream he had last night in which the Alabama State Capitol caught fire. President Reagan, also an announced guest, is also not coming.”
“Linda, as many as thirty members of Congress are on hand. Secretary of the Army John Marsh will be the principal speaker. Set to deliver short remarks are Mississippi Senators Stennis and Thad Cochran, Alabama Senators Howell “Judge” Heflin and Jeremiah “Blinky” Denton, Mississippi Reps Jamie Whitten, G. V. “Sonny” Montgomery, and A. K. A. “Tootle” Tutwiler. Alabama Representative Tom Bevill will be the master of ceremonies and will also speak, as will Mississippi Governor Bill Allain, Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander, and Kentucky Governor Martha Lane Collins.”
“Jim Bob, before things get going here, let’s go for a word back to Mike Mann at the WLQC studios.”
“Thanks Jim Bob and Linda. The Tenn-Tom dedication ceremonies are brought to you by another pioneer of the Waterway, Tom Soya Grain Company. The hard work you put into your crop is the same hard work and dependability Tom Soya gives you in storing and marketing your crop. Tom Soya is now accepting wheat, and booking for soybeans and milo. Call your nearest Tom Soya Grain Elevator with river locations in Aliceville and West Point or also in Macon, Hamilton and Muldoon. Plus, look for our new facilities to open soon in Amory and Aberdeen.
“Before we rejoin Linda Comfort and Jim Bob Bugles at the dedication site, let’s check in with Bud Trotter in our remote newswagon out on the Bypass. Bud, how’s that shuttle bus system working?”
“Mike, it’s just fantastic. As you know, there’s only one road in and out of the dedication site and no private vehicles are being allowed to enter. East Columbus gym, First Federal Savings and Loan, Franklin Academy, National Bank of Commerce, Waters Building Parking Lot, Fairview Baptist Church-those are just a couple of the locations you can go to park and catch a shuttle bus out to the Columbus Lock and Dam. It’s a fantastic system they have worked out, Mike.”
“Bud, tell our listeners just where you are now.”
“Mike, I’m out at the Waffle House near Military Plaza. And I think if we could hold it here just a minute we could talk with a visitor or two…. Excuse me sir, what about sharing some of your thoughts about this great day for the Columbus area with our radio audience?”
“Sure. Well, yesterday they had some top flight entertainment-Little Boy Bluegrass, the Gospelettes-and no one was publicizing it. I’d like to get out there and hear some of that but I don’t care about going out there to listen to speeches and pats on the backs. We get enough of that anyway.”
“But it’s a milestone. And I hate that everybody’s shying away from it. But they’ve been broadcasting all week long, said, ‘Don’t you try to go out 45 North. Stay off 45.’ Everybody said, ‘Heck, I ain’t going out there to fight that crowd.’
“As for the Waterway, you got to outrun the skiers, but there’s outstanding fishing out there. From an ecological standpoint, enhancement of fishing, it has definitely improved. I’ll give them full credit for that. We’ve had a Coors Bass Tournament. We’re catching some sea run, some stripes and some hybrids out there. It’s real nice. We catching northern pike. Some folks carried some pike home, but everybody thought they was river trash fish–gar. We’re catching fish we’ve never seen. That what you want to know?”.
“That’s great. Have a good breakfast here at the Waffle House. Mike at the studio?”
“Okay. Thanks, Bud Trotter in our remote unit. Right now it’s ninety-seven degrees and that’s in the shade in Columbus in front of the radio station. We’re going to take you back out to the Lock and Dam and Jim Bob and Linda.”
“Thanks Mike, it’s close to a hundred out here because there ain’t no shade. The Corps bulldozed all the trees down to make the Waterway. I think Linda has something for us over on the west bank.”
“… tore violently…. Uhm, Jim Bob, we might say here that if you are out on the grounds and you need medical help, Red Cross has stations scattered out. You can see their big flags. Rescue and Search are out here in their yellow shirts. There are cool quarters back over here, a couple of units of air conditioners for those who need to just come in out of the hot weather. Plus plenty of ice water.”
“Linda, I was talking with one of the first aid volunteers at the water’s edge. We were watching the ski show that was really nice. And he said that the biggest problem was the folks that think, ‘Aw, it’s not that hot. I can keep going.’ He said that’s always the ones that faint.”
“You’re right, Jim Bob. You really don’t know the change of your body temperature. You do not feel real warm. But if you begin to feel just a little bit nauseated, or fainty, be sure to move into a shade. And when you drink ice water, don’t gobble it down in a big hurry because that will add to your dilemma.”
“Linda, with ceremonies about to begin there are still a few visitors coming out of the Past Tent here on the east bank of the Columbus Lock and Dam. Let’s see if I can …. Ma’am, would you talk with us a minute?”
“I’ve seen the beginning and I’ve seen the end.”
“Beginning and end of what?”
“Never you mind. I’ve seen the beginning and now I’ve seen the end.”
“Well, okay. Thank you. Let’s see about someone else here. Sir, your impressions of the Waterway dedication celebration?”
“I’ve done my thing and I’m leaving.”
“Would you tell our WLQC listeners what was your thing?”
“It was a multi-image audio visual program, it was a patriotic message. But outdoors is just not the place for an audio visual program. We were very fortunate to have good weather last night. I had to set up last night for it.
“It’s a religiously oriented patriotic program. I use 450 slides and seven projectors. It’s totally original. It started at 8:15.”
“Do you show it around?”
“I guess you might say I do. I’ve shown it over sixteen hundred times now in thirty different states. I guess I’m about to learn how to do it.
“The official title is “America, O America the Beautiful!” First of all it’s just a general survey of the beauty and majesty and splendor of America and then we go back and trace the history and the heritage, beginning with the American Revolution and touching on each conflict up through the Viet Nam conflict. It’s the kind of program you’d think would be prepared especially for Memorial Day type things, but it’s more general than that. Kind of about projecting Christ’s and America’s power around the world.”
“How long have you been out here?”
“I got here at eight o’clock yesterday morning and
haven’t hardly left this hill. And I am bushed.
“There wadn’t a good crowd all day yesterday. Don’t look like much today either. I don’t mind sharing my personal thinking. I think they were so tight on the parking restrictions that it just scared people away. I tell you I’m generally a very mild type individual. I very seldom get perturbed or lose my temper, but I almost did last night. I’m a guest up here and I had to beg them to give me a pass to get on this place. I started to say, ‘I’ll take my projectors and go on back to Clinton.’ That just wadn’t necessary. I been in the Army, I been in the Pentagon with this program and I had less trouble up there than I have down here.
“I’ll tell you something I saw which just about says it all. Yesterday, just as I was finally getting my truck around this state patrolman who had his car straddling the only road in here, up comes a fellow in a pickup, loaded down with ice and something brown under the ice. Course, he has to stop at the roadblock. So he says, ‘Where can I deliver these crawfish?’ And the patrolman says, ‘I don’t know. If they was shrimp, I’d say leave ’em right here.”‘
“Well, thanks and we wish you and your equipment a safe trip back home.
“Linda, to you at the west bank. The ceremonies should be starting.”
“Jim Bob, our invocation is about to be given by Glover Wilkins, one of the Waterway’s several fathers, who from 1962-84 was Administrator of the Tenn-Tom Development Authority.”
“Let us pray.
“Almighty God, we come to you today with hearts overflowing, with joy and appreciation for this great gift, the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. We have gathered here today to dedicate it in thy holy name. May this great project-the engineering miracle of our time-which represents the collective dream of the people of this region fulfill their every expectation and bring to them a better way of life, needed economic development and expanded recreational opportunities. We appreciate all of the dignitaries who have done so much to bring this watercourse into being.
“Particularly do we appreciate those who continued to support the waterway even after suffering crippling infirmities.
“For these all your good gifts, we thank you, O God, Amen.”
“This is Linda Comfort for WLQC radio. Our live broadcast continues with the arrival, out of the blue, of more than two-dozen members of the US Army’s crack Hype-Jumpers Parachute Team. Each soldier, or fighting unit as they prefer, descending in a plume of self-activated smoke, will land right in front of the ceremonial barge, bringing a small vial of water representing a state connected with the Tenn-Tom Waterway network. The contents of each vial will be poured together in a large vat, then, when all the jumpers have made their drops, a symbolic spigot will be turned to empty the mingled waters into the historic Waterway.
“We’re expecting Representative A. K. A. “Tootle” Tutwiler, the sky-diving Congressman from Mississippi’s
Ninth Congressional District to join us here in our WLQC broadcast tent after he free falls onto the site as a guest of the Hype Jumpers. Let’s see if we can pick up official announcer Mark Ledbetter as the Army parachutists deliver their fluids of American commerce.”
“. . . the Big Muddy provided a key link between East and West in our nation’s early development. The Missouri River holds great promise for flood control, recreation and hydroelectric development.
“The water from Wisconsin is from the Saint Croix River. The upper reaches of the Saint Croix is a wild and scenic river that is very popular with outdoor recreation enthusiasts. The lower portion of the Saint Croix is used to support commercial activities. This river is an excellent example of a multi-purpose resource.
“Michigan. Has sent water from the Great Lakes, which with their connecting channels to the St. Lawrence River, have been the key to development of the . . .
“This is Linda Comfort again, at the Tenn-Tom dedication where Representative Tootie Tutwiler has joined us, fresh from his parachute jump onto the Columbus Lock and Dam. Congressman Tutwiler brought a small container of ceremonial water from the Mississippi River, Father of Waters, collected at Vicksburg, to be mixed with the waters from the other states tied to the Tenn-Tom.
“What a thrill, Congressman! We’re happy to have you with us in our broadcast booth for the remainder of the ceremonies.”
“Thank you Linda. I’m very glad to be here today.
“Actually, I’ll share a secret with your listeners. I had already bailed out of the damn plane before I realized I didn’t have my Vicksburg water. Somehow, I found a Dixie Cup in my chute pack and managed to produce a little substitute by the time I touched down. But that’s between us.”
“Quite a presence of mind.”
“Quite a relief, but Linda, if I could just say one thing. There’s been all this talk by the media, not so much you folks at WLQC–all of us know and appreciate what a team player your boss Clyde Price is–but others, and especially the Northern and out-of-state papers, about the Elvis Artery or Elvis Canal, some call it. Well, I say that’s hitting below the Sun Belt. . . .
“I know as ranking member of the House Intelligence Oversight Sub-committee that the Tenn-Tom is a multiple use waterway, not built exclusively for the Presley pilgrims, as much as we love and welcome them with Mississippi hospitality. Nor is it merely a fatted calf for the Corps or politicians hired by-the timber and coal industry. Seeing that this is dedication day, I’ll say a little more.”
“Please.” . . .
“Well, Linda, I know your listeners know that for years the Army and Elvis shared the very same slogan, “Be All You Can Eat.” You see, and Army Secretary Marsh will make reference to this in his speech today, the Tenn-Tom provides us with a jumping-off place to attack Communist aggression in Central America, particularly Nicaragua and, El Salvador. The TennTom will enable us to follow the current Operation Big Pine in Honduras with Operation Heartbreak Hotel, if you get my drift.”
“Representative Tutwiler, this is exciting, and exclusive, news. All Southerners, not just Mississippians, can be proud of the way you and your colleagues in Congress from the South-both Democrats and Republicans-have hit upon the plan to reduce our foreign trade deficit by making counter-revolution America’s biggest export. And we are especially proud to learn of the Tenn-Tom’s role.”
“Thank you, Linda.”
“Congressman Tutwiler is going to stay with us here and offer some additional comments later. Now, let’s go back
out to the ceremonies. The last of the Army Hype Jumpers has landed.”
“. . . water from the Ohio River, which provides the major arterial link to the Tenn-Tom. This water system will provide a large increase in commerce between the regions of our country.
“Illinois sends water from Blackberry Creek where Abraham Lincoln may have refreshed himself from its cool running waters. Today more than ever, water is the lifeblood of Illinois and is used and reused by cities, industry and commerce.
“Iowa has sent water from the Iowa River, an early transportation system for settlers.
“Nebraska. Sends water from the historic Platte River, which is a truly multi-purpose river. This river provides irrigation, aquifer recharge, hydropower production, recreation, wildlife habitat enhancement and aids barge transportation upon its confluence with the Missouri River.
“West Virginia sends water from the Kanawah River. This water system serves the central coal fields of West Virginia as well as the Kanawah Valley’s chemical manufacturing industries. The Tenn-Tom will shorten by five hundred miles the barge travel distance for thousands of tons of commerce.
“Arkansas . . .
“This is Jim Bob Bugles for WLQC radio. As the last of the parachuters arrive and before the official remarks begin, we’re going to let you listen to a pre-recorded portion of a press conference held earlier this morning in the Columbus Hilton with Mississippi Governor Bill Allain, Speaker of the Mississippi House, C.B. “Buddie” Newman-an uncapped well of the oil and gas industry, and Jerry Mc Donald representing the Tenn-Tom Development Authority. Can we roll that tape now?”
Governor Allain: Not to put cold water on the enthusiasm of people in this area, nor dampen their hopes of what this waterway can do here, but a job in any part of Mississippi helps all Mississippi. All of us must work together in a cooperative spirit in order to bring the kind of jobs we need in this state.
Buddie Newman: Is that fellow from Fortune magazine here today? He was telling me a story about this rich friend of his. Said he went out to Las Vegas in an eighteen thousand dollar Cadillac and came back home in a hundred thousand dollar Greyhound Bus. We don’t want that to happen to the Waterway.
In Mississippi we have an internationally recognized bidness climate. Bidness is going to be coming to make a profit. And I believe bidness will find they can make their profit in Mississippi.
Jerry McDonald: We will be marketing the Tenn-Tom for
different types of industry. We are targeting two areas: polymer resin industry (plastics industry) and wood products.
You may ask, “Why plastics?” Number one: it has been identified as a growth industry. Number two: there is some plastic products industry in the region now, so we do have an available workforce. Number three: water is a precious commodity and the plastics industry uses less water than a lot of other industries. Buddie, you have another word?
Buddie Newman: Industry is looking for a good bidness climate where they can make a profit. Now they’re not coming here if they can’t make a profit. They’re not going to risk their capital if they can’t make some money. They’re looking for a good life for their bidness and their employees. On the Waterway, you’ve got water, recreation, hunting, fishing, swimming, boating. You can throw a rock and hit a junior college. So you’ve got it all in a package.
Governor Allain: It’s not boiler plated. The techniques of marketing remain the same: telephone solicitation, direct mail, advertising, and so on. There’s shotgun marketing and target marketing.
Buddie Newman: I can tell you that the members of the Mississippi legislature are free enterprise people and we are going to maintain this good bidness climate. Thank you for coming this morning.
“This is Jim Bob Bugles along with Linda Comfort, back live again for WLQC radio at the Columbus Lock and Dam. Governor Martha Lane Collins of Kentucky, who is also Chairman of the Tenn-Tom Development Authority is about to address the several thousand persons in attendance at the dedication barge.
Collins: Thank you very much. Distinguished platform guests and ladies and gentlemen, I’m delighted to be here in my two capacities.
Today marks an historic day in the commercial life of the Southeast. Today our rivers are joined to Gulf ports by a new navigational artery. Today Mobile becomes our port.
The Tennessee-Tombigbee means more markets and lower transportation costs for Kentucky coal, for Tennessee timber, for Mississippi chemicals, for Alabama steel and for Florida produce.
Idn’t it great to be in Mississippi in the summertime?!–on our way here we saw a dog chasing a cat, and they were both walking. But seriously, we’re going to remember the hospitality more than the heat.
Right now, I’d like to introduce our host, a man who has presided over unprecedented growth in this great state. His support of the Tenn-Tom is living testament to that leadership. I give you now the Honorable Bill Allain, Governor of Mississippi.
Governor Allain: The other night I was in Tishomingo County. A lady came up to me from Holcut, Mississippi. Now many of you might not know where that is. I had to confess I didn’t know whether I’d ever been through there. But the town of Holcut lay, smack, in the path of the TennTom’s construction. The Army had to buy the town and destroy it.
And she said, “Governor, I love that town. I was born and reared there. My parents were born and reared there. My grandparents lived there.” But she said, “We willingly allowed our town to die to give birth to the Tenn-Tom.”
She said, “Governor, will you promise me one thing? That you will not go back to Jackson and the others go back to Washington and forget us. And forget the promises you made about the economic development, the jobs we’re supposed to have, and the kind of quality of life all of us will have because of the Tenn-Tom.”
And I promised her then, and I promise you now that we will work long and hard with the local administrations, with the state and the federal, to make sure that that little town of Holcut, Mississippi did not die in vain.
Governor Collins: And now to hear from representatives from our other Compact states, I call on our master of ceremonies, the man who for ten terms has been perhaps the Tenn-Tom’s biggest supporter in Congress. As chairman of the Energy and Water Resources Development Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, Congressman Bevill has been the author each year of the bill that provided funding for the Tenn-Tom. I’m proud to introduce Tom Bevill of Alabama.
Congressman Bevill: The dream of the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway began in the early 1800s. It has been a long fight, an uphill fight, but today we are privileged to be very happy over this special occasion because we are dedicating the biggest manmade waterway in the world.
This country wasn’t built by the negative thinkers and if we had listened to them, we wouldn’t be here today.
The opening of the Tenn-Tom comes at an opportune time. A time when in the last year we have witnessed the greatest international trade deficits in the history of our I country. The TennTom will help turn that around.
The current chief of the Army Corps of Engineers has served this country for more than thirty years and has worked closely with the Tenn-Tom. He is my good friend, an outstanding officer. It is my pleasure to present General Vald Heiberg.
General Heiberg: This is a proud day for the Army. We’re glad to be with you here today and members of the Army. From the active Army, both the civilian and military part, including the Rangers that many of you met coming in, the advance force, these are the captains, the future leaders of the Corps of Engineers.
The Reserves and the Guard are here today to promote the One Army Concept that is preparing our defenses. Many of you crossed the ribbon bridge to get here put up by a couple of companies of the Alabama Guard. Many others from the Services stand here who have done a fine contribution. The United States Air Force. The United States Coast Guard. The United States Marines.
The Tennessee-Tombigbee is prepared. It is finished early. It always takes a few years to get the traffic going, but we are always surprised by uses that we do not expect when a waterway is finished.
On behalf of the Corps I salute all of you who have helped make this contribution to the generations of the twenty-first century.
Congressman Bevill: Now, it is my pleasure to present to you the senior senator from Mississippi, my good friend John C. Stennis, without whom there would be no Tennessee-Tombigbee.
Senator Stennis: Many years ago this June, I came here to this county and surrounding counties, a total stranger almost. I was a candidate for district prosecuting attorney. I’m back today.
That was during what they call now the Great Depression. I’m back here today where we’re in a period of uncertainty but I have no doubt that we’ll pull through our present financial situation.
Now let me mention, many could be mentioned, let mention just a few of the processes that I’ve seen over the years. I just mention, by way of gratitude, the work brought about, here’s our Waterway, connected-up with all the waterways in America and the United States. Well, it’s here at our doorstep.
I want to especially thank those who gave, whether willingly or not, of their land to make this possible.
I want to thank especially the United States Army engineers for their capacity to conceive this entire plan and prove their case and help obtain the money to make it come out even. I believe that of their type and their kind that they are truly the finest, greatest organization in the world when it comes to big time construction.
We’re grateful too to the organization of the five states who helped make a tremendous difference in the push, the
POWER, behind this project to get the money: Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Florida . . . and the fifth one. . . umnh. . .
Voice from the behind Stennis: Tennessee.
Now that’s not just a casual thing, this recognition, but they went in it at the time without any real expectation of getting the case to the world that they’re now going to get.
I know it means a lot. Bet’s take it quite seriously that we now are on this Waterway, the greatest and the lowest cost form of transportation the world has ever known. When it comes to gross products, lumber and lumber products, ore, coal, a host of other things that move on these barges…. very timely . . .
I go back to when we first had the boll weevil. . . change is on us again. . . I’m in full sympathy with farming in all forms. I know a little about it. I was born and reared on a farm in Kemper County, very small town, I know the problems of the little farmers, the little-little farmers, the medium-sized farmers and those a little above that. I was taught to plow a straight furrow, that that was the measure of a man.
We have this grand opportunity here now of working with others by giving business a real chance. I think we’ll put a straight furrow to our financial affairs in Washington, finally. We’ll come through it a strong nation and we’ll continue our pattern of having one era of growth and development after another and for a long, long time we’ll be the United States of America, the land of real freedom.
“This is Jim Bob Bugles for WLQC radio at the Tenn-Tom dedication ceremonies. We’re going to break away from the official remarks for a minute to talk with Wendell Paris of Livingston, Alabama, representing the Minority Peoples Council here today. Mr. Paris, you’ve heard Senator Stennis speak and the other remarks here today. What are your thoughts and those of your organization about the opportunities the Tenn-Tom brings?”
“Well, Jim Bob, after hard and diligent efforts we were able to get minority participation almost In proportion to minority population in the Tenn-Tom region for only one
year of its construction. Needless to say it’s nothing to be so overly proud of because the Army Corps of Engineers and the proponents of the Waterway never wanted to see that happen.
“As with most of the times that we have had to deal with the Federal government, this effort to gain participation has taxed us to our very limit. We didn’t have anyone from the government’s side who was willing to measure up at all to its pronouncements.
“As to the prospects for black citizens in the Waterway’s future, the Tenn-Tom will help communities develop economically in direct proportion to the indigenous efforts that are made here. It has been called a panacea for solving the problems of poverty in the rural Black Belt areas. That’s nonsense.”
“What do you mean?”
“Every community along the Waterway is now thrown on their own, out for themselves. Our argument down through the years is that this ought to be a coordinated effort. The Corps should have the same fervor to see that the development is done as they did in seeing that the physical construction of the Waterway was completed.
“The Minority Peoples Council has been very much concerned about the industries that are actually coming in. We have seen the arrival of the Chemwaste toxic waste dump site at Emelle in Sumter County, Alabama, which is one of the first industries to locate on the Waterway. Bringing the most deadly wastes from the eastern half of the whole country. And if that’s the type of industrial development that’s coming in, needless to say we don’t need it.
“We’re standing in the middle of some of the most impoverished counties in America. What people here need–black and white–are decent houses, plumbing, health care facilities, development that benefits all the community. Instead we have the Corps of Engineers digging this big ditch for coal companies in Kentucky and wood products companies in Mississippi and Alabama to float their barges. The benefits, the profits here, go to a very few people.”
“Thank you, Wendell Paris for the views of the Minority Peoples Council, casting a bit of a cloud over this otherwise historic day. The greatness of our country is that everybody is entitled to a view. We’re going to go back now to the ceremonial barge where Alabama Senator Howell Heflin is speaking.”
Senator Heflin: . . . There is one other I want to mention here. Governor James Folsom of Alabama (applause). Big Jim was the governor when the first funds were appropriated for the Tennessee-Tomigbee Waterway Development Authority way back in 1946.
There are those that say this is a boondoggle. We have faced that battle in the Congress. We see it still in the media today. I look back in history and I see that the Louisiana Purchase was called a boondoggle. That when the Alaska was acquired, they called it a folly. There were those in the media who criticized the purchase price of the isle of Manhattan, saying that twenty-four dollars was too much. History proved them wrong. And I think that history will prove the cynics and the scoffers and the pseudo-sophisticates wrong today. But I want contemporary history to prove them wrong. That means that we must have a promotional and sales effort in regards to the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.
We’re going to have to sell it. I think that contemporary history will prove that this is a miracle, an economic miracle for this section of the country and also an economic miracle for those who use the Tennessee-Tombigbee. This is a day of dedication and let us reforge our efforts to sell the great Tenn-Tom. Thank you.
Congressman Bevill: Our next speaker has served with devotion and great skills in the Senate. He is a retired admiral, a former prisoner of war for seven and a half years, an American patriot, an authentic American war hero. It is with great pleasure that I introduce to you my good friend, Senator Jeremiah Denton.
Denton: Bright . . . and hot! Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests from great states, we are indeed fortunate to be here on this bright day sharing in the celebration of brighter days ahead. Today, by marking the dedication of this great public works project, we are marking new and hot economic opportunities for the nation and for the entire region lighted up on that big board over there.
As a Senator from Alabama I joyfully see the door opening to expansive export of the bountiful blessings God has bestowed and man has developed in our state of Alabama. Our wood products, farm products, coal, chemicals among others. The beneficial trade products are accompanied by enhancement to our national security and we are fortunate that the distinguished Secretary of the Army, Jack Marsh is our fortuitous choice as our principal speaker on
Ladies and gentlemen, Tenn-Tom means more trade, more security. We’re ready and grateful for both. God bless you.
Congressman Bevill: The people of Mississippi are fortunate to have our next speaker representing the first district of this state in the Congress. He is one of the most respected individuals ever to have served in that body. As dean of the House, Jamie Whitten has an enormous understanding of our government. He has been a part of it for nearly forty-four years. As Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Jamie is recognized as one of the most powerful members of Congress. He has been directly involved in the Tenn-Tom since before its authorization in 1946. His influence, dedication and determination helped insure this project’s completion. He and I have worked closely together to bring the funding legislation for this project to the floor of the House and to get it passed. Without Jamie Whitten, there would be no Tenn-Tom.
Congressman Whitten: The dedication of the Tenn-Tom marks perhaps the greatest man-made development of our nation, or any other nation in the world. May I say that we had all sorts of problems. We had to take an old authorization and bring it up to date, we had to change the Highway Act, we had to give instructions to start on both ends and meet in the middle. There have been hundreds, thousands at the local, state and national level who have helped get this thing through.
May I say that this brings the Southeastern part of the United States up to the rest of the country. And contrary to what I read now and then we didn’t whip anybody to get this. Thank you.
“This is Jim Bob Bugles again for WLQC radio. I’m out at the water’s edge with Alabama National Guardsman Jerry Psenka, one of the Tenn-Tom footsoldiers who’s been on summer camp duty here for the last three weeks. Jerry, what’s doing?”
“We just finished up the temporary footbridge this morning. So visitors can walk for today only from the east bank to the west bank.”
“Do you get to go home tonight?”
“No sir, we get to go over to Anniston on Monday, Ft. McClellan, for the last week of our summer camp. I’ll be glad when this is over. We lost a boy and there wadn’t no sense in it .
“Yessir. He got crushed while we were pushing the pieces of the bridge in place. That happened Monday. I’ll just be glad when we pull out of here. There’s been a mess of it. That’s all I want to say.”
“I understand. Thank you. Guardsman Jerry Psenka. Let’s go back to the barge where I believe Bob Dawson of Alabama, the Assistant Secretary of the Army, is introducing Army Secretary Jack Marsh.”
Dawson: …. this nation’s vital defense and the respect accorded our country all around the world. His emphasis on
physical fitness, the Army family, leadership and victory have instilled a new pride, a new optimism and a new effectiveness throughout the Army. He is an example of the impact of one man, properly seasoned and inspired, can have in public service. So it is most fitting that he is here to dedicate the Tenn-Tom, the achievement of a dream.
Ladies and gentlemen, I invite you to welcome a great leader, a great public servant, representing the President of the United States, the Secretary of this nation’s Army, the Honorable Jack Marsh.
Secretary Marsh Please sit down, please. Thank you very much Bob.
You know as we assemble here today to honor a great achievement, we should also take a moment to pause and recognize the sacrifices that have been made by some. I would like to pay tribute to a young Alabama national guardsman in the Corps of Engineers, Dewayne Hayes who gave his life in the last several days in the line of duty in the completion of this project. To mark that sacrifice and to insure his memory, the temporary footbridge nearby will be designated in his name.
From time to time there are events that happen that change the pattern and the course of this great nation. This is such an event. The American poet James Russell Lowell wrote, “Life is but a leaf of paper white, whereon each of us must write.” Well, these two rivers–the Tennessee and the Tombigbee–and the Appalachian foothills that once lay between them are our paper. The Corps’ pens are bulldozers and dredging derricks, and our ink is concrete. Enough concrete was used in the building of the Tenn-Tom to make a highway four inches thick that would run from Mobile to Atlanta.
The dedication today gives reality to a dream that began in another century. It shows us the primary importance to our country of the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, the Panama Canal. The health, vigor, and freedom of these places are of vital importance to us all. Almost fifty percent of our water-borne commerce transits the Panama Canal or the Caribbean, and over a half of our imported products travel these vital sea lanes.
Central America, on the coast of the Caribbean, is a troubled world. It is not a world that is half a world away. Although there has been marked progress in combating the insurgency in El Salvador, Nicaragua is building the largest army in Central America, having received arms and equipment from the Soviet Union, Cuba and other Soviet surrogates. Surely, it must be perceived that there is a growing threat to the collective security of this hemisphere.
In a troubled world, the Tenn-Tom Waterway is a demonstration of American strength and the achievements of the American people. It shows the resourcefulness, the vitality, of the American System and the American people. And it sends a message.
Now, Congressman Bevill, if you will join me here at the replica of the Waterway, we will release water from the twenty-three states which will directly benefit from this great project. As we turn the valve releasing the water, those of you in the audience can see on the giant billboard to my right the economic benefits flowing from this new link in our nation’s waterway system.
Applause. The Army Band strikes up “As the Caissons Go Rolling Along.” Hundreds of helium-filled red, white and blue balloons lose their fight to rise in the hot, saturated air. They drop into the water and drift away from the barge.
“This is Linda Comfort. Congressman “Tootle” Tutwiler has been with us here throughout the ceremonies. Congressman, some final thoughts about what this day has meant to Mississippi and the South.”
“Linda, this Waterway will be a tremendous shot in the arm no matter what color your personal flotation device. We’ve seen that reinforced here today. You know, I think recreation is the real sleeper here. So many opportunities are unfolding that are recreational in nature. Already this year, the first pleasurecraft, the 112 foot Viking Explorer with some thirty passengers, made its way down the Tenn-Tom.”
“Congressman, what exactly is a pleasurecraft?”
“Linda, it’s kinda like a drawing board out of water.
“And Linda, let’s talk jobs. I heard what Wendell Paris said earlier about how only the big landowners and corporations were going to benefit from the Tenn-Tom. Frankly, we don’t need that kind of talk. In Amory, Mississippi, Weyerhauser is building a ten million dollar plant to produce wood chips for making paper. That plant will employ twenty-five people. Now that may not sound like much to the Minority Peoples Council, but it’s twenty-five more jobs than we have now. And don’t think there won’t be some black workers in those woodpiles.”
“Congressman, how much land does Weyerhauser own
in the Tennessee-Tombigbee region?”
“Well, Linda, it’s over 700,000 acres. Last year they planted nearly seventeen million pine seedlings in their forests in Alabama and Mississippi.”
“Incredible. That means, if the Army Corps of Engineers estimates are correct and three million expected visitors use the Tenn-Tom for recreation next year, that figures out to 4.28, which must be the highest seedling-to-tourist ratio in the country.”
“Yep. Even more than Alaska or Maine. And Linda–and I see you signaling that we are out of time–but let me say this as a way of summing up. Some people just don’t want to salute the ingenuity of man. But, and the Corps recognizes that-and you know we tend to forget that the Corps has environmental scientists of its own, good ones too–you have to tinker a little with nature anytime you join a powerful north-flowing river system like the Tennessee with a major southbound river, the Tombigbee–bodies of water that haven’t met in at least forty million years, perhaps never. Some fine tuning is inevitable in this. But the main thing is to get the bucks flowing in the right direction.”