TUSKEGEE, Ala. (AP) — Julius Caesar “J.C.” Moye tilts back his head and closes his eyes as morning sun streams through the windows of his Tuskegee home. Wilbert Payne Jr., a representative from the Disabled American Veterans association, smoothes shaving cream on Moye’s face and gently runs a razor over his chin and cheeks.
“He’ll let me shave him,” said Mary Brown, Moye’s caretaker of five years, “but he prefers a man.”
Moye, who celebrated his 100th birthday in July, sits quietly in his living room while Brown scurries around the house. Decades-old family portraits line the walls of a room teeming with anachronisms. A yellowed lace table runner, a retro orange chair, a mess kit issued by the Navy during the Second World War.
“He’s been a widower three times. He’s outlived all of his original friends,” Brown said. “He can remember when going from Tuskegee to Montgomery was a two-lane dirt road.”
Moye has war memories, too. Four years’ worth. Memories created from 1941 to ’45 during Moye’s time as a rigger and replacement crew member in the Navy. Memories that leave him shell shocked, 70 years later. Memories he has never liked to share.
“I pushed him (about his service in World War II) once, a while back, and he was in a funk for three days,” Brown said.
Brown first met Moye in 1980 when he was a customer at the insurance company at which she worked. After living in Moye’s home for the past five years, she knows just about everything about him.
He was born in Evergreen but moved to Tuskegee in 1925 to study engineering at Tuskegee Normal Institute, now Tuskegee University. With his brothers, he built two homes, which still stand on Johnson Street.
He has two sons, Eric and Marvin, and a daughter, Katherine, who died a few years back. He loves Golden Corral because “he likes the attention and he likes the ladies,” Brown said.
But Moye is tight-lipped about his military service, even when Brown tries to entice him with a bowl of vanilla ice cream. He has always kept quiet about his experience in World War II.
“Every now and again, he’d give me a glimpse of what the war was about,” said Marvin Moye, who now lives in a Seattle suburb. “As a person of color back in those days, his job was one of those cabin-type guys that waited on the officers.”
That’s about all Moye knows about his father’s time in the Navy: his job and the shell shock it left behind.
When Brown welcomes guests into J.C. Moye’s home, she advises them not to clap their hands. She’s learned the hard way.
“His nerves are shot,” Brown explained. “There was so much noise and so much shooting that it just really messed his nerves.”
“I like to bust bags,” she said. “If I get a brown paper bag, it’s like an automatic thing. … That old man nearly hit the ceiling. I’ve never seen anybody jump like that. It really messed with him. It’s like when you scare a little kid. … He had seen so many people, you know, guys get shot.”
The term “shell shock” originated during World War I, according to the Disabled American Veterans association. Terms like “battle fatigue” and “Post-Vietnam syndrome” emerged later. By 1980, the American Psychiatric Association’s “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” had given the disorder an official diagnosis: posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
“The DAV was one of the first organizations to identify that disorder and treat it,” Payne said.
Although PTSD is most frequently associated with Vietnam veterans, evidence of soldiers affected by PTSD was present long before the official diagnosis, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. After World War I, symptoms of present-day PTSD were identified as shell shock, as panic, and sleep problems were thought to be the result of hidden damage to the brain caused by heavy artillery, rather than an issue of mental health.
Decades after Moye left the Navy, the mental and emotional toll still weigh heavily on him.
“After all this time,” Brown said, “to still respond to loud noises that way.”
It’s unclear what exactly Moye experienced during the war. He struggles to speak, but he mentioned a ship sunk while docked in Okinawa and a creek on the island of Guadalcanal.
“The creek ran blood for a week,” he managed to say. “They named it ‘Bloody Creek.'”
He did not want to elaborate on either story and didn’t say if they were from his own memories or those of his comrades.
But Brown said when the two visit the Central Alabama V.A. Hospital in Tuskegee, Moye is one of the few World War II veterans left who saw combat. She told the story of Moye meeting another World War II veteran who served as a cook in Alaska.
“(He) was 99 and in a wheelchair,” she said. “He checked his brakes, stood up and saluted him.”
Information from: Opelika-Auburn News, http://www.oanow.com/