By John Rhodes Alston Trotter
Johnny Rhodes, my Daddy’s best friend while growing up in the East Highland/St. Elmo area of Columbus and all the way through high school (J. V. H. S., of course), died in the Battle of the Bulge in January of 1945. This was the last great Nazi offensive, repelled by, I think, the U. S. Third Army under General George Patton. Johnny Rhodes was quite a character, and I have his portrait in the Daniel D. Trotter Conference Room beside my father’s portrait at the MACE Office. He rode a motorcycle up and down the halls of Jordan High. He wore his leather boots and his leather jacket (he had these on in the J Club photo that I also have in my office). (The J Club was the lettermen’s club.) My mother says that the girls loved Johnny Rhodes! He was like their Fonz at Jordan High! But, of all of my father’s close friends, the United States military would not accept Johnny until he had a hernia operation.
Johnny Rhodes had the surgery and was accepted into the U. S. Army. He stayed in the brig quite a bit at Fort Benning, however. He liked to go AWOL a lot! He would show up at my Mother’s house on Lawyer’s Lane in Columbus, wanting my grandmother to fix him a breakfast. She did. She too loved Johnny Rhodes! Johnny would kid my mother by saying: “Trotter’s going to get killed and I’m gonna come home and marry you!” Of all of my father’s very close friends at Jordan High, only Johnny did not come home. Daddy told me that one of their mutual friends says that he saw Johnny get off the ship in Belgium in handcuffs. I presume that he went straight from the brig at Fort Benning to the European theatre of the war. He was killed fighting the Nazi surge in January of 1945. His remains are in the Park Hill Cemetery in Columbus. The flag that was draped over his coffin is with me, as well as his Bible given to him by his mother in 1934. I also have his $25 War Bonds certificate (composed of 25 cents stamps). His grandparents (who raised him) sent them to my parents when I was born and was named after him.
Miss Green, who taught at Jordan High for probably over 40 years (she was there when my father was a student and when I was a student) almost never forgave my father for naming me after his best buddy, Johnny Rhodes. Johnny kept up so much mess in her English class. Daddy ended up teaching/coaching and being assistant principal at Jordan in the 1950s and 1960s. My mother says that she doesn’t think that Johnny ever got out of Freshman English, but he sure did entertain the girls in the class. Miss Green would take him out into the halls, and when they came back into the room, he would be dusting off his hands, as if to say, “I took care of Miss Green.”
Johnny Rhodes, unlikely hero. We remember him. Rest in peace.
Note: The portrait of Johnny Rhodes in his U. S. Army uniform is right above my head in this photo. The large portrait is of my father, painted by one of his students in 1966. My father’s ship was blown up by a Japanese kamikaze plane toward the end of the war. Over half of his shipmates were killed. He survived and married my mother while on his mandatory furlough in February of 1945 in the living room of my mother’s home on Lawyer Lane in Columbus, Georgia. They are 87 years old and still happily married today.