Chapter I of The Way It Was, Kentucky Edition by Nelson Weaver
By Nelson Weaver

Posted on September 27, 2016 4:05 PM

“The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.”


—Bob Marley

The late afternoon Birmingham, Alabama sun was starting to cast long shadows along the pool deck. It was a lovely spring day in 1970. Normally, a constant belching of red ash, from a score of Birmingham steel mills, gave the air a rusty glow.  On that day, the sky had been cleared by a steady southern breeze.

The temperature was still hotter than hot. Sweat was a constant companion. Women call it a “glow.” People who don't sweat much call it damp. Nathan came from a long family history of people who sweat. The day had cooled a bit from the hottest part but any exertion was going to show as plain as rain.

There were four, sweaty white college boys sitting at a table on the deck near the pool. Not a one of them was from Birmingham. Heck, none of them were from Alabama. They had pulled up a table and were playing cards. It was Spades, or maybe Hearts. No mind, it was just a way to pass the time. No real work could be done until the Birmingham Park and Recreation Department and the county commissioners made up their minds about whether the city pools would open at all that year.

Emotions ran high in the southern city. Only a few short years before, in 1963, four young Negro girls had been killed in a bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Church. The 16th Street Baptist Church was only a few blocks away from where the four boys were playing cards. Now, this mostly white neighborhood swimming pool, in Norwood Park, was being forced to allow black children admission to the pool. The whole idea of black folks in the same waters with white folks was not going to happen. Not if some local white leaders had any say in the matter.

Armed police guards had been replaced by a continuous circle of patrol cars in procession around the city block that housed the park. Every few minutes, a police car would slowly roll by. Several times a day they would stop and check on the pool employees. Everyone became well acquainted. The Birmingham Police Department was all white in those days. The only time there was an interruption in the patrol was during shift changes, early morning, at lunch, and at supper time (dinner time up north).

It was at about supper time when trouble showed its ugly face. The sound of screeching tires rang out through the still, muggy, afternoon air. A car was making the sharp turn from the side street, 15th Avenue onto 28th Street in front of the park. The community pool sat close to the sidewalks that bordered the streets of this old working class Birmingham neighborhood. The sharp noise immediately caught everyone's attention.

Nathan Weaver was one of the boys playing cards. He looked up briefly at first. The sound of screaming tires is not unusual in the South. Hot tires are prone to this behavior. Events, however, evolved quickly and there was an increasing awareness of danger. Mental alarms were sounding, along with the sound of a man shouting.

The source of the shouting was riding “shotgun” in the front seat of the sedan. The car window was down. There was also someone in the back seat, or maybe two men. The man riding shotgun had his head stuck out the window. He was, in fact, halfway out of the car and he was shouting “Nigger Lover” mixed with a full buffet of common curse words. The whole commotion was loud and fast. The man had something in his hand. He threw the object towards the pool in the direction of where the card playing quartet was assembled. Eight eyes locked immediately on what appeared to be a stick of dynamite. It came flying through the air in a slow tumbling motion. A fuse clearly burned at one end. There were no screams nor was there any discussion of what move would be most wise. The only sight and sounds on deck were of chairs, Coke bottles, table and cards going airborne as four young men dove in all directions.



On the other side of the world, it was early morning. Rub Wells was crouched as low as he could get. Viet Cong regulars were zeroing in on his position with mortar fire. It was only a matter of time before his squad was hit and possibly overrun. Covered in mud, sweat, blood, and the stink of all that is war, Rub tried to stay calm and look like a man in command. 1st. Lt. Danford was dead for sure. Rub was too busy to go looking for him. He had seen the blast and heard the cries. Gunny had probably died in the same attack. If they weren't dead, they were hurt too badly to lead.

The rainy season would start soon. Both sides of the war were trying to gain as much real estate as possible before the whole world became one, big swamp. Rub didn't care why he was there. What did it matter? Some general, somewhere, was always saying how it was important to “go here” or “take that” or “hold some hill or road or whatever.” If he wasn't there, he would be in some other crap-hole, somewhere else.

Rub had figured out a long time ago that his chances of getting out of that war alive were slim to none. He was black and poor and, therefore, expendable. No, Rub fought for his buddies. The men on that line had his back and he had theirs. That's the way it had always been and that's the way it was on that hellish early spring morning in 1970. He fought for the man next to him more than he fought for Uncle Sam. Hell, in Rub's view, Uncle Sam was trying to kill him, too!

The platoon was spread out across the ridge in a defensive position. They had earlier held the ridge in a bloody battle. Rub's squad was dug into the center and was flanked on the right and left by the two other squads that made up what was left of the platoon under the command of Lt. Danford. Sergeant Rub was squad leader.  With Lt. Danford out of commission and no sign of Gunny, Rub had taken charge and had regrouped the troops after the initial engagement.

The enemy had attacked with mortar fire and small arms. That first push was designed to test the strength of the defensive line. The VC had pulled back and were now pelting the American line with mortars and small arms. Rub had assessed the strength of the assault and believed he was up against a force of maybe 200 or more VC Regulars. The enemy was spread out, so it was difficult to direct effective counter-fire. Rub had ordered rounds of 60mm mortars fired in hopes of pushing the VC back far enough to give some space from small arms fire and the air assault that was on the way.

All forward positions had been overrun in the first assault. Survivors had retreated and dug in atop the ridge.

Thump, thump, thump. Bullets were hitting the sandbags just above Rub's head. His fatigue was held at bay by the adrenaline pulsing through every cell in his body. Dirt and sweat covered his face in natural camouflage. Holding the radio close to his face, Staff Sergeant Victor (Rub) Wells, listened in as two F-4 Phantoms sped to his position. Rub knew he didn't have much time. The enemy knew it, too. He thought about his family and his home in Kentucky. He prayed a prayer without words. In less than five minutes, this battle would be over one way or the other. Only one side was going to survive, maybe. Rub had called in support so close that the rain of fire could easily wipe out both sides. He figured his chance of survival with an air strike was 50/50. His chances without an air strike were close to zero.

Two minutes until fire. Rub signaled his men to light all their flares before he pulled his helmet tight and buried himself as best he could in his shallow foxhole. He closed his eyes and prayed that his current shallow piece of a hole would not be his grave.

Suddenly, waves of thunder rolled across the ridge. The ground shook so hard that Rub's teeth rattled in his head.  Forty-five thousand pounds of liquid hell and cluster bombs rained out of the sky.

It was a singular moment in time. Two very young men on opposite sides of the world. Two friends who had always been in different worlds, even while growing up in the same small southern town. It was a friendship that should never have been, but was. It had endured in spite of the odds.

But, dead is dead. At that particular moment, both young men were in a tough spot. How were the two situations connected? How did two old friends since grade school; one a white boy and the other one black, come to be friends in the first place?



The Way it Was is available on Amazon Books as a paperback and as an ebook.

In Russellville, the book can be purchased at:

The Shoppe on the Square

Contact Nelson Weaver at

 Nelson Weaver, who grew up in Russellville, has written a book about the integration of Southern schools half a century ago. It's all based on what he experienced in Logan County, as a student at the University of Alabama, his historical research and his vivid imagination. Entitled The Way It Was, Kentucky Edition, the book is newly available on Amazon and at some locations in Russellville, including Riley-White Drugs and the Shoppe on the Square. Weaver will be here throughout the Logan County Tobacco & Heritage Festival in a couple of weeks. He has graciously shared the opening pages of the book with readers of The Logan Journal. The following is Chapter 1. Preliminary material, including the Introduction and Prologue, has already been published on The LoJo at


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