Roy Exum: My Friends Who Teach Me

Sunday, August 27, 2017 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

On Monday, after I admitted the ”haters” had really gotten to me after a poorly-written column, I began to get hundreds and hundreds of emails of support, encouragement, and friendship in a massive blessing I would have never suspected. I am used to those with different views; I have said for years they teach me so much. But the “new mean,” where the haters want to destroy, is altogether different and by golly, I want to do my part in being a better listener, and a better person, in standing up for what I believe.

The cruelest blow was when I learned some who were so vehement were, in fact, “good people.” These are people who in my wide range of acquaintance I have respected and admired. I was crushed by that and, to be quite candid, my America has got to stop this. I have thousands of friends who are liberals, all who like and respect me despite my warts.

Liberals are wonderful people and with so many of us with just as many opinions, As more of a conservative, I’m begging we will never compromise the true value of each other. We are all Americans and should treat one another like it. As one who wrote noted, “Don’t you know ISIS and the Taliban love the way our radicals on both sides are behaving?”

It is impossible, for all practical purposes, for me to grace everyone who wrote to me – both good and bad – with a personal and most deserved reply so, in repose, allow me to share some of the lessons I have learned this week.

* * *

There is a surgeon at Erlanger Hospital who is truly “my surgeon.” He watches over me. He cares about me and his is one of my warmest emails this week because in it he taught me a lesson I will cherish for the rest of my life:

“I read your column of a week or so ago, when you were accused of racism. And knowing you, I know this to be a complete falsehood. It is unbelievable that anyone that knows you would think that.

“However, I must point out something you said it your column today concerning the Medal of Honor Museum. You first sentence described the speaker as "A handsome black guy…" I could find nothing after that phrase to have any reason to know the guy's particular race. You didn't describe the other character's colors or races.

“And, I need to be perfectly clear here, I do NOT think this is racism or discrimination either on the part of the phrase itself, nor on your part. But it does make a point that I have thought and said for years. Who cares about color or race? If we would just stop referring to it that would be the greatest step we could take. Not toward equality, because we already are, but to eliminating the thought process that is so prevalent.

“So many articles that try to accuse of racism and discrimination are peppered with "black". How about we use "Man", "Woman", "Human", "Boy", "Girl", etc. You get my point. If we never pointed out the color, it might cease to exist.

“That being said, I hope you are well. Keep up the good fight, or at least the fight.”

Bingo! He’s right! I used “handsome black guy” to be descriptive without realizing it. If I ever do this ever again, I beg any reader to call me out. Don’t you see – I swear I am coachable. What a lesson that will make me better!

* * *


When I went to the Chattanooga Confederate Cemetery this week, I had no guide nor map. Here’s another mistake I enjoyed understanding:

“I was glad to spot John Pomfret Long, who was my gr-gr-gr-granduncle, in your column this morning. Might I clarify that Captain Long is actually buried in the Chattanooga Citizens Cemetery, not the Confederate Cemetery, which is right next door. The two cemeteries can be hard to tell apart since they also share an old stone wall.

“When I was a child, my father used to take us to all three historic cemeteries along Fifth Street (including the Mizpah Jewish Cemetery, also next door to the Confederate Cemetery) about once a year and would share colorful stories of folks buried in all three. Wish I could remember more of those stories. The Citizens Cemetery at one time was padlocked, but somehow he always found a way in.”

This email came from a friend whose family I have loved all my life. Man, I would stand in 90-degree heat for a day to hear his Pop tell those stories. Incidentally, looking back on my visit, it is important that we figure out a way to clean up the fallen trees and the brush in all three cemeteries. This is a place where workhouse labor would benefit everybody involved.

* * *


I read a law – U.S. Public Law 85-423 (Section 410) – that assured me Confederate troops, in the reconciliation, were made “U.S. Veterans” but I am taught by a very patient friend that is not the case according to the way the law was written. (It took him four emails before I could comprehend his point!)

Here is how Item 3-e in the law reads: “For the purpose of this section, and section 433, the term 'veteran' includes a person who served in the military or naval forces of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War, and the term 'active, military or naval service' includes active service in such forces.”

But wait! The law was to obtain the same pensions for the widows and children of Confederates as the Union solders. The sticky-wicket, as he described it, is the law does not say Confederates are U.S. Veterans because the key wording to discount the belief is at the very beginning of the sentence … “For the purpose of this section …” In other words, this was just the benefits, not to make Confederates U.S. Veterans.

If anyone can find a law where Confederates are U.S. Veterans, please share it because there is a lot of confusion in the emails I received. There are state laws protecting Confederate cemeteries and monuments but no federal laws that my “teachers” can locate.

Another friend in Franklin, Tn., adds this: “There is federal law against vandalism in federal national cemeteries.  I just found it.  H.R. 1532 -- Veterans Cemetery Protection Act of 1997.  Haven’t read it closely but it does not appear to apply to Confederate cemeteries but I guess would apply to the few Confederates, like at Arlington, in national facilities.  The way things are going, those cemeteries will be needing protection as well.   Hope this helps.”

* * *


This one brought a rash of emails and they are fun. Some believe the only woman ever so honored had her medal taken away – a blunder that did not prevail if you saw her dress and her medal on display at the Convention Center on Tuesday … but – wait! – there is another Sticky Wicket!

Those who wear the Medal of Honor are never to be called “Medal Winners” by Congressional decree. Not one person can win it. They are “recipients.” Further, you don’t “win” the nation’s highest honor – every hero “earns” the medal. It is never “given,” instead earned. Thus the lesson.

Yes, it is true Dr. Walker’s Medal was deleted from the Army Medal of Honor Roll in 1917. It is also true that when the crusty combat surgeon and women’s rights advocate was informed her name was removed (just eight civilians have ever been awarded “The Medal,”) Dr. Walker rather historically hissed, “Try to come get it!”

It was rumored she carried a loaded Colt Dragoon underneath her frock and that there was a pepperbox (pistol) in her medical bag. Her medal was restored by Congress in 1977 and she remains the only woman recipient. And this side note: Before she died in 1919, no man, civilian nor soldier, ever approached Dr. Walker in an effort to retrieve the medal, which she wore proudly every day until her death.

* * *


An obituary on one of Chattanooga’s most lovely women yesterday included this sentence: “She was a member of First Presbyterian Church and was active in its Lee Anderson Sunday School, Wonderful Life, Women in the Church, and Changed Lives Ministries. She was an active member of the Embroidery Guild of America, Quilters Guild, Chattanooga Music Club, Southern Railroad Women’s Club, Missionary Ridge Chapter of United Daughters of the Confederacy, and the Valmont Women’s Club.”

It is utterly despicable and heart rendering that within just the last three weeks there are today millions across our nation who will immediately mis-characterize an entire life because to be a Daughter of the Confederacy was so noble and grand as late as August 10, 2017 across our South.

* * *


* -- A reader suggests Chattanooga eliminate the annual “Cotton Ball,” since originally one requirement for young ladies to make their social debut was they were required to have Confederate lineage. (I know this to be true but that’s long been struck from its rules).

* --- A purported news release said the state of Mississippi was forbidding Tylenol to be sold in stores, the reason given that picking the ball of cotton from the bottle had racial overtones and could be demeaning to those who already have a headache.

* * *

I am told that today - not the 31st - is the last day to get the $10 senior National Park passes.

* * *

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