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Johnny Vardeman: A war story, and one about a poultry giant
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Hans Kiefer

In the late John Jacobs’ book, “The Longer You Live, Remembrances of John Wesley Jacobs Jr.,” he recounts an episode he experienced as a young Army lieutenant during the last year of World War II in Germany.

He was checking out a building in a town when a German Wehrmacht lieutenant came out, hands in the air. The German indicated that he and his platoon wished to surrender to the U.S. Army. So John initiated the processing to have them sent to a prisoner-of-war camp.

Hans Kiefer was a German radio operator with his platoon in Russia. In spring 1945, his unit ended up between two fronts.

“Guys,” their lieutenant said, “we can choose between being taken by the Russians — meaning we probably won’t ever be seen again — or the Americans, who might let us go after some time if we’re lucky.”

So they moved westward, through Czechoslovakia. It included a scary encounter with Czech partisans. Finally they arrived in Germany. When they spotted the first American officer from their hiding place, their lieutenant walked out, hands in the air. He told the American lieutenant that they wished to surrender. The GI started processing for the POW camp.

Rudi Kiefer is a Brenau University professor who read some of John Jacobs’ book as he was working on it. After he read the part about him capturing the German platoon and heard Jacobs coming down the hallway in the Walters House at Brenau, Kiefer called him to his office.

“John,” he said, “you may have taken my father prisoner of war.” The two then had a great time looking over Kiefer’s father’s wartime album. Kiefer’s further research convinced him that it was his father’s unit that surrendered to Jacobs.

“My biggest regret,” Kiefer said, “is that I couldn’t bring the two guys together for a chat.”

Hans Kiefer visited in Georgia and North Carolina in the 1980s, but died in 1995.

“It would have been a blast to listen to the two swapping their wartime stories,” Rudi Kiefer said.

John Jacobs died in 2011. Brenau University Press published, “The Longer You Live. The Life and Times of John Jacobs Jr.”

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A few years ago, Talmo resident Homer Myers, an insurance agent and aspiring writer, was talking to artist Anne Brodie Hill about Jesse Jewell Parkway, the busy four-lane that stretches from the east end of Gainesville to the west. He guessed that thousands of people drive that road everyday and probably wonder who Jesse Jewell was.

“Why don’t you write a book about him?” Hill suggested.

So Homer did. He interviewed dozens of people, working and writing for months. He talked to Jewell family members, friends, colleagues, civic workers and especially fellow laborers in the poultry industry.

Homer had about 1,000 books printed; those having now been sold, he is out with a second printing. In his book, “Pass the Chicken, Please. The Life and Times of Jesse Jewell,” Jewell comes off as an innovative businessman, “generous to a fault,” always nattily dressed, ideas seemingly popping out of his head almost at a frantic pace.

While Hall County has had a reputation as a poultry center for generations, it wasn’t until Jewell got involved in the 1950s that the industry really modernized, and Gainesville became “the Poultry Capital of the World.” The expanding poultry industry came at a good time because cotton and other crop farming were hurting. It provided new income for farmers and hundreds of businesses and industries that served the industry, mostly because of Jewell’s foresight.

The book is important because so many of those involved in the early days of the poultry boom are no longer with us. Indeed, many of those Myers interviewed for his book are now deceased, including poultry leader and Jewell friend Coy Skaggs, who died just a few days ago.

Myers has no illusions about his paperback book becoming a nationwide best seller. He has a simple marketing plan: placing the books for sale at three Hall County institutions — Riverside Pharmacy, Collegiate Grill and Jaemor Farms. They sell for $9.99 per copy.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.

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