Wade Doolin: A Local Man With A Story For All Seasons
By Alexe van Beuren
Like many Water Vallians, my husband gets his hair cut by Wade Doolin on alternating Saturdays. So before I ever meet him, I know that Doolin is in his early eighties, that his old barber shop burned down, and that he gives free hair cuts at the nursing home.
When I drive out to meet Doolin at his rural home, I ‘m expecting to hear a lifetime of local stories – but that’s not what transpires.
As soon as we’re seated in his neat living room, Doolin tells me that the day before – June 6 – was the 63rd anniversary of D-Day, which marks the beginning of when Allied forces began trying to win back occupied Europe from the Nazis during World War II.
Though Doolin wasn’t on those Normandy beaches, the war is on his mind, and so I spend the next hour-and-a-half learning about Doolin’s experiences as a young soldier, over fifty years ago.
In his youth, Doolin grew up on a farm, one that “grew things we ate. We never went hungry.” He was a rural Mississippi boy, but one who knew more than others what he was doing when he registered for the draft, as his father was a World War I veteran who had been shelled and gassed.
Doolin remembers that his father couldn’t stand for anyone to be behind him; “now I understand,” says Doolin.
In 1943, at age nineteen, Doolin left with his company for England after training at Camp Shelby in South Mississippi. As a company barber, Doolin would give soldiers haircuts for ten cents apiece (five of which he was allowed to keep). He and other soldiers were billeted in a private home, where the father, wife, grown daughter, and grandchild lived upstairs, keeping to themselves and away from the soldiers – except Doolin, who went out of his way to make friends with the patriarch of the household.
“This is something that I think of often,” Doolin tells me. “They had a birthday party for me. Being English, they were very proper, with little sandwiches and all.” He pauses. “I wish I had their name and address. I could have thanked them, and they would have liked to know if I made it home.” He shakes his head. “I just didn’t know better.”
When the Third Army moved into Europe, Doolin spent most of his time in northeast France, driving jeeps, stationed away from the main action.
“There was nothing going on,” he tells me. “Our main project was watching out for American soldiers that got lost.”
In one small town, Doolin and some soldiers found a deserted house and, exhausted and freezing, took shelter.
“There was a pile of coal next to the stove with a shovel,” Doolin says. “I meant to get it started, but I was too tired, and I went to sleep in my blanket.” When the soldiers woke up and examined the coal in the light of day, they saw a mine attached to the shovel, which would have detonated if Doolin had tried to make that fire.
Doolin goes on to tell me about watching Germans signal in Morse code, the death of a comrade, and the time he almost drowned.
And then, with great intensity, Doolin recounts the closest he came to killing another man.
He and a Belgian soldier were on patrol. They ended up on top of a hill– with an enemy soldier on the hill across from them.
“I saw a German with his head sticking up, and I drew a bead on the back of his head,” says Doolin. “And then it dawned on me that I was fixing to kill a human being. I just couldn’t do it.”
Doolin handed the gun to the Belgian, but he couldn’t shoot the soldier either. So after a brief conference, the two of them took him prisoner, and handed him over to a POW camp – a decision about which Doolin has no regrets.
In April of 1945, Doolin marched through Germany to the infamous Buchenwald concentration camp, where he participated in the camp’s liberation.
“You can see pictures,” Doolin tells me, “but pictures don’t do it. You’ve got to smell it.”
Apart from the stacked bodies and starving prisoners, the thing that haunts Doolin from his time there was the nearby townspeople of Weimar, a community south of the camp. Despite the 60,000 people killed just miles north of them, the Weimar community proclaimed themselves ignorant. Famously, General George S. Patton forced the townspeople to march through the camps and witness what had gone on under their noses.
“At the time,” Doolin says, “I thought that they had to know what was going on. But as the years have passed, as I’ve gotten older – maybe they didn’t. Maybe they didn’t know.”
Doolin returned home to Water Valley in October of 1945 at age twenty-one. Despite his very adult experiences, he was a year shy of graduating high school, and his mother was determined that he finish.
“I came home on Saturday, went to church on Sunday, and caught the bus on Monday,” Doolin tells me. He received his diploma and an 87 average in Algebra that Spring.
For this Mississippi man – as well as the rest of the world – the war was over. After graduating and moving to Chicago, Doolin met and married a Georgia girl named Sue, raised two children, and came on home with his family to Water Valley – and to the very farm he’d left in 1943.
Despite recently celebrating his 83rd birthday, Doolin still cuts hair in his barber shop on Main Street. Stop in – he’ll be glad to tell you a story.