We think we have experienced a lot throughout our lives thus far, but for some, the span of one’s lifetime far exceeds that of normal life expectancy. 97-year-old Navy veteran, war veteran and trucking veteran Roger Spooner of Iron City, GA is one of those individuals who has seen and experienced so much in his lifetime – way more than most of us can even fathom. He is a living piece of history, full of information, stories and, by definition, a time capsule.
At the end of April, I received a text message from Ben Cadle (our June 2020 cover truck owner) about a 97-year-old trucker from Georgia. There was a post on Facebook by a man who had the opportunity to meet Roger Spooner. Ben said, “If this is legit, this might be good to write about.” Over the years, I have been pretty lucky finding owners of trucks that have caught my eye and, in this case, a man rich with history who also still drives a truck. I found Roger’s son David on Facebook and had the opportunity to talk to him and begin the process of setting up a time to meet his dad and photograph his truck.
I drove to Iron City, GA, a town that was incorporated in 1900, in the middle of May, to meet Roger and his son David, along with David’s son Jake, at their shop, located on approximately 200 acres that Roger’s wife inherited. After our initial introductions and some conversation, I followed them out to the Spooner Tree for photos of Roger’s truck, along with all three of their rigs together. Following behind, I watched Roger driving his truck as he went through the gears with an ease and smoothness only years of driving will bring.
53 years my senior, Roger Spooner was born November 18, 1922 to Louis and Delia Spooner, with Roger being one of their eight children. At 18 years old, in October of 1941, Roger enlisted in the U.S. Navy as he was looking for something more than just working on the family farm as a plow boy with a mule. After completing boot camp, instead of going home on leave, he was sent to the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Yorktown with a destination of Pearl Harbor, which had just been bombed. As a First Loader on a 5”/38 gun, a common anti-aircraft gun used by the United States Navy on their larger ships, it fired a massive projectile that was five inches in diameter.
Back in those days, there was very little communication onboard and the men never really knew where they were going. After getting to Pearl Harbor and seeing the remains of the invasion, as well as the lingering smoke, the crew of 2,500 people headed to the coast of Australia and, in May of 1942, Roger saw action at the Battle of the Coral Sea. The U.S.S. Yorktown endured damage in that battle and they lost 61 men. Roger mentioned that the lives that were lost, the military gave their parents $10,000. That seems like such a minuscule amount for the loss of a child, but it was 1942. At this point, they returned to Pearl Harbor for repairs, which only took a couple days at the Navy yard there.
Once repairs were made, the carrier and crew made their way to Midway Island to join other ships in preparation for what would be called the Battle of Midway. The Battle of Midway took place in June 1942 and is considered the most important battle in the Pacific. It was a clash between the U.S. Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The Battle of Midway was a point where Japan had plans to neutralize the U.S. Navy, but the U.S. Navy found out about Japan’s plan and made a plan of their own. Japan’s focus was on an allied base on Midway Island, but what they didn’t know was our cryptanalysts had broken the Japanese communication codes earlier that year. They also did not know that the U.S.S. Yorktown was now repaired and ready to fight.
During the battle, conditions were unfathomable between both sides and the U.S.S. Yorktown had been hit. The carrier was leaning sideways, and Roger said he could barely walk on the deck as it was leaning so far over. Word came over the loudspeaker and the crew was told to prepare to abandon ship. Roger said that is something that will really shake you up. One-by-one every crew member went down a line into the water with their life preservers on. The water they went into was very oily and they were all covered in it (you could only see the whites of their eyes).
While the battle continued, Roger and his crewmates floated helplessly in the water. Roger said that floating in that water all night, wondering if a shark or whale might come up and get him, is something he will never forget, and something he still has nightmares about to this day. Thankfully, he and many others were rescued the following day. Roger spent an additional four years in the Navy, including going to submarine school and doing nine war patrols out of Perth, Australia. Later, he was discharged from the Navy after a motorcycle accident, at which time he returned home for good. Upon exiting, his rank in the Navy was Motor Machinist Mate Second Class.
After returning home to Georgia, his brother, two years his senior, went over the dates of where they were and there actually was a time period in Guam when Roger’s brother was near him, but neither of them knew it. Roger’s brother had not enlisted but was drafted after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Roger said that if he hadn’t experienced war, he probably would have stayed in the Navy and made a career out of it.
On October 10, 1947, Roger got married to his wife Eloise. I could tell memories had come back into his mind as he said she was A-1 and just a really good woman. He also said that he really lucked out finding her – a loving woman who looked after their five children and himself. Sadly, the family lost Eloise on August 13, 2016.
After being gone in the Navy, Roger came back home to resume farming and raise a family, and also decided to start trucking. He worked for a company for about 18 months, but in 1948 he decided to go into trucking for himself and started his company, Spooner Farms Trucking, LLC. His first truck was a 1940s model “gas burner” GMC, but through the years since he has owned many Kenworths and Peterbilts. Roger recalled that he didn’t even need to have a driver’s license in the early years, making trips up north to Michigan, on a regular basis.
Through the years, Roger has had as many as seven trucks running, but the current number of four, according to him, is a good number to have. The company has always hauled farm products and the trucks always remain within a 125-mile radius of the shop at all times.
According to Roger, around 20 years ago, they adjusted the company operations to stay within that 125-mile radius. Changes with the regulations and rules, and how those changes began to interfere with how drivers and trucking company owners operated their business, was the main reason for restructuring their hauling radius and staying more local. Roger also mentioned how much easier things are now that there are the modern conveniences, like cell phones, which makes driver communication and dispatch so much easier.
Spooner Farms Trucking, LLC is definitely a family operation, with Roger driving, along with David’s twin brother Dennis, and David’s son Jake. Jake can remember as far back as 10 years old riding in his daddy’s lap and driving the truck. For the past four years, Jake’s wife Hannah has been taking care of the office duties, including the bookwork. In addition, Hannah’s brother, Tyler Cox, also works for the company doing odds and ends around the shop. At the time I took the photos, Jake was driving a 1984 Peterbilt 359 which they have done a lot of work on, but more recently he has got into a 2007 Peterbilt.
David Spooner, Roger’s son who I had originally contacted, branched off on his own in February 2017 and started David L. Spooner LLC. He normally hauls dry or liquid fertilizer and peanuts, when they are in season, with his white 2015 ISX-powered International Prostar. David resides with his wife Connie the next house over from Roger’s place.
In 2017, Roger was contacted by a person from the American Australian Association and invited, along with the other remaining survivors from the United States and Australia, to meet with President Trump and Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull aboard the U.S.S. Intrepid in the Hudson Bay. It was a gala dinner to recognize those who fought in the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942, almost 75 years later to the exact date of the epic battle.
Today, Roger still gets his physical every year, and has his license renewed, allowing him to truck until it expires again. Currently, his license will expire when he is 102 years old! Surrounded by family, including eight grandchildren and eleven great grandchildren, Roger runs a 1999 Peterbilt 379 affectionately named “Miss Eloise” with a 12.7 Detroit and a 10-speed. The truck’s number (CV5) represents the U.S.S. Yorktown’s identification number. The company hauls all agricultural products, including bagged and liquid commodities.
The business clients Roger deals with work with Roger to make loading and unloading easier on him to avoid the constant getting in and out of the truck. He spoke of enjoying working with the people and customers who treat him well. On the same hand, his motto has always been to treat others as he would want to be treated – like The Golden Rule goes, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
The earlier mentioned “Spooner Tree” is the unofficial largest live oak tree in the world and is unique because of its single trunk. It is located on the old homestead where Roger’s grandparents lived, then his parents, and then where he grew up. The branches cover almost an entire acre, and the tree stands at roughly 90 feet tall. The circumference of the trunk measures 37 feet, and the Georgia Forestry Commission believes the tree is over 300 years old. Over the years, Roger has groomed this 378-acre parcel, which is now a beautiful landscape.
I was able to see and hear moments which tugged at my heartstrings. Roger, on several occasions, mentioned his wife, and even though he had sunglasses on, there was no mistaking the wave of emotions that came over him. After I was done interviewing him, he invited me to follow him to the cemetery where his wife was laid to rest. This wasn’t at all strange to me, as Roger had already shared that he visits her grave two or three times a day. As he showed me her grave site, along with the other kin buried nearby, I got a glimpse of him standing at her headstone and it made my heart ache, trying to fathom a love able to withstand the test of time, and how hard it must be for him to be here without her on this earth.
Special thanks for the time and warm welcome to Roger, David, and Jake. It was really nice to see another part of Georgia I hadn’t seen. Soft-spoken Roger was a joy to talk to, listen to some of his stories, and try to imagine all that he has seen throughout nearly ten decades. Years gone by are still very vivid in Roger’s mind, which allowed me the rare opportunity to learn about the time capsule he calls his life. Sometimes it isn’t about the truck you see on the road, but rather the person behind the steering wheel. As always, to all the drivers out there doing the deal, truck safe.