Thursday, February 8, 2018

Archie Gammon

Archer Thomas Gammon was born near Chatham, Virginia, on September 11, 1918.  A son of Walter and Cordie Evans Gammon, Archer was one of fifteen siblings.  The Gammons were a farming family living on Route 29.  The sons, on completing the seventh grade, worked with their father in the field and the daughters helped their mother keep house.

Life changed for Archie in 1942 when he enlisted in the U. S. Army at Roanoke.  He was assigned to Camp Lee in Price George County for basic training.  But he was not the only Gammon sibling to serve.  Brother Robert was also in the army serving as an anti-aircraft gunner in Fredericksburg.  Brother Walter joined the Navy and was slightly wounded in the Pacific theater in 1944.  Brother James was a fireman in the Coast Guard.  And sister Mildred was a member of the Women’s Army Corps.

By January 11, 1945, Archie was a Staff Sergeant serving in Company A, 9th Armored Infantry Battalion, 6th Armored Division. On that day, near Bastogne, Belgium, he destroyed a German machine gun position before beginning a one-man assault on a German tank. He killed nine Nazis before he was silenced by a shot from the tank. For these actions, he was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.  His full citation reads:

He charged 30 yards through hip-deep snow to knock out a machinegun and its 3-man crew with grenades, saving his platoon from being decimated and allowing it to continue its advance from an open field into some nearby woods. The platoon's advance through the woods had only begun when a machinegun supported by riflemen opened fire and a Tiger Royal tank sent 88mm shells screaming at the unit from the left flank. S/Sgt. Gammon, disregarding all thoughts of personal safety, rushed forward, then cut to the left, crossing the width of the platoon's skirmish line in an attempt to get within grenade range of the tank and its protecting foot troops. Intense fire was concentrated on him by riflemen and the machinegun emplaced near the tank. He charged the automatic weapon, wiped out its crew of 4 with grenades, and, with supreme daring, advanced to within 25 yards of the armored vehicle, killing 2 hostile infantrymen with rifle fire as he moved forward. The tank had started to withdraw, backing a short distance, then firing, backing some more, and then stopping to blast out another round, when the man whose single-handed relentless attack had put the ponderous machine on the defensive was struck and instantly killed by a direct hit from the Tiger Royal's heavy gun. By his intrepidity and extreme devotion to the task of driving the enemy back no matter what the odds, S/Sgt. Gammon cleared the woods of German forces, for the tank continued to withdraw, leaving open the path for the gallant squad leader's platoon.

But that was not the last of Archie Gammon.  He was among 29 Congressional medal of Honor winners to be honored with the renaming of a Navy support ship, the USNS Sgt. Archer T. Gammon.  She was a Boulder Victory-class cargo ship built at the end of the war and named for Archie in 1947.  After serving in the demilitarization after World War II, the Gammon also delivered cargo for the Korean Conflict.  She was decommissioned in 1973.

By the end of the war, the Gammon family was living at 120 Broad Street in Danville (now part of a parking lot).  Father, mother, Archie, and many of his siblings are interred at the nearby Mountain View Cemetery across the drive from the memorial to Danville’s World War II soldiers and sailors.

The Bee:  13 Jan 1943, 8 Dec 1944, 14 Feb 1946, 21 Feb 1946, 19 Nov 1947
Wikipedia (photo)

Monday, January 1, 2018

Disneyland in Danville?

Actually, the story begins in nearby Salem, Virginia.  A 49-acre amusement park there called Lakeside was named after a million-gallon swimming pool opened in 1920.  The pool was surrounded by a beach and was a favorite summer retreat. Amusement park rides were added within a few years.  The park also included a pavilion, which hosted performers such as country artists Tom T. Hall and Conway Twitty and teen idol Ricky Nelson.

By the late 1960s, Lakeside had competition from new large parks such as Six Flags Over Georgia.  Even larger parks such as Walt Disney World, Kings Dominion, and Busch Gardens were in various stages of development.  With no land for expansion, Lakeside’s owners announced a new park in June 1971.  The 947-acre Sugartree entertainment complex was to be built in Axton, 15 miles west of Danville – spanning U.S. 58 and adjacent to Route 855 (Martin Road).

“Sugartree” came from the Sugartree Creek running through the property – so named by our area’s explorer, William Byrd.  The property was once owned by Patrick Henry.  Beginning in 1904, there was a one-room Sugartree school that also served as the community’s church.  The school was closed with the completion of the nearby Brosville school in 1920.

The proposed recreation complex was to include a convention center, an 800-room hotel, camp sites, an 18-hole golf course, and a shopping center in addition to entertainment attractions.  The first of those was to be a 1.4 mile miniature steam railroad modeled after the old Danville and Western (Dick ‘n Willie) line.  The engine was already under construction and was displayed at Lakeside by June 1972.

Needless to say, an undertaking this large encountered many problems.  Perhaps largest was the lack of water and sewer connections – a bone of contention with Pittsylvania County.  As a result, the developers considered relocating to municipally-owned land in Danville, adjacent to the City Farm, in 1972.  Council was cautious because that land was the city’s last available major industrial tract – close to the airport and the proposed Danville Expressway.  It may be the developers proposed the Danville site to prod the Pittsylvania supervisors into a sewer agreement.

Various opening dates for Sugartree were scheduled – first for 1973 and then for 1975.  By that time, the future was in doubt.  The only visible structure was a metal maintenance building erected by Danville contractor Hughes and Dalton Construction in 1973.  And the Kings Dominion complex opened less than 200 miles away in 1975.

Nothing remains of Sugartree today – the community or the entertainment complex.  Most of the acreage remains wooded nearly 47 years after the ambitious plan was announced.

As the result of increasing competition, Salem’s Lakeside park closed after 66 years  at the end of 1986 season.  Missed by the older residents of Roanoke and Salem, that land is now the Lakeside Plaza shopping center.