In the space of a few months in 1951, Nelson Daughtry went from tree-trimmer to U.S. Army soldier.
During a year that seemed a kinder, gentler time, Harry S. Truman was president, the first NBA All-Star Game was played and the “Dennis the Menace” comic strip was hitting papers across the country. But 7,200 miles away, fierce fighting erupted throughout the Korea Peninsula. Daughtry was called to serve in the Korean War, as were 1.5 million young Americans.
Daughtry was 20 years old. He grew up in Shellhorn northwest of Troy. At the time, the tiny community consisted of a general store, a cotton gin and a grist mill.
He began working at Alabama Power in December 1948, after graduating from Troy High School. Life seemed to be lining up just right: The day after Christmas 1949, he married his high school sweetheart, Nell, during his first week of company vacation. Nelson was 19 and Nell was 16.
“We married young and we’re happy,” Nell said of their nearly 70 years together, with Daughtry adding “she is the greatest earthly blessing God has bestowed on me.”
The couple experienced “a little bump in the road of life” when Daughtry was drafted for war in March 1951, after working at Alabama Power for three years. He was inducted into the Army at Fort Jackson, in Columbia, South Carolina, and was sent to Camp Gordon in Augusta, Georgia, for two months. Daughtry went to Camp Cooke, now called Vandenberg Air Force Base, in California for more training.
Daughtry said he was fortunate to never see combat.
“I was assigned to the Army of occupation in Germany, in Company A 317 Signal Battalion,” he said. “Our mission was to build and maintain a three-circuit telephone line from our Army base in Pirmasens to the Air Force base about 20 miles west in Kaiserslautern.
“That was my first experience with a winter of nothing but ice and snow,” he said. “I was proud to serve.”
Daughtry left the service in March 1953, after being awarded a Good Conduct Medal. The war ended on July 27, 1953, when an armistice was signed, creating the Korean Demilitarized Zone that separates North Korea and South Korea.
Daughtry returned to work at Alabama Power, where he was promoted to groundman and head tree trimmer. He became an apprentice lineman, moving to roles of greater responsibility, including apprentice service installer, lineman and sub-foreman. In June 1965, Daughtry became the line crew foreman in Greenville. He retired Feb. 1, 1993.
The Daughtrys have attended Walnut Street Church of Christ in Greenville for 55 years. The couple’s daughter, Marcia Jean, earned a bachelor’s degree at UAB. She is married to Dr. Clifford Game and lives in Huntsville.
The Daughtry’s son, Freddie, earned his bachelor’s in engineering from Auburn University. Freddie and his wife, Linda, live in Greenville, where he owns Daughtry Engineering and DaFor Heavy Timber Fabricators.
“We’ve led a very blessed life, and there are no regrets,” Daughtry said. “It’s been terrific. I loved my work and the people I worked with.”