By: Marlene Ratledge Buchanan | Hey Y'all | Gwinnett Citizen
By: Marlene Ratledge Buchanan | Hey Y'all | Gwinnett Citizen

My father, James E. Ratledge would be 100 years old this November 21.  After he died, Mama said he never left.  He was still sitting in his recliner, waiting for her.  I believe it.  I think Mama is sitting on my right shoulder and Daddy is on left one.  Both are whispering in my ear. 

I can still see them walking hand-in-hand.   Daddy was over 6’4” and Mama was about 5’5” in her prime.  They almost always held hands.  As Mama would shrink, she would have her arm bent even higher and Daddy would lean over a little more.

They met on a blind date at the Atlanta Water Works while working at White Provision Company in 1943.  The old Atlanta Water Works was a favorite picnic place.  Mama said he was the handsomest thing she had ever seen.  She first saw him as he was approaching where she and her friends were. He was over 6 feet 4 inches, had beautiful blue black hair and a golden olive completion. He was wearing a white suit with a black shirt and a black sling supporting his injured arm.  She said that was it. He was too beautiful to forget. They married May 1, 1944.  Daddy never forgave World War II for separating them.  I have over 700 love letters he wrote during WWII reinforcing his love.

Mama and his brothers called him Bob.  When he was young in the early 1900’s male children wore their hair long.  When it was time for James to get his big boy haircut, his two older brother teased him and called him “bobtail.”  He was Bob ever since.

Daddy was a perfectionist and could do just about anything from electricity to plumbing and wood working.  He even did a little black smithy on the old forge at my Grandparent’s place.  Daddy and his mother flipped houses before there was such a thing.  Mama’s family place didn’t have electricity or running water.  Daddy put in their first furnace, stove, running water and bathroom.  You name it, he did it.

185, later changed to 585, was Daddy’s radio code number for the City of Atlanta Police Department/Atlanta Board of Education School Detectives.  In 1947 Atlanta developed specialized detective units within the agency. In 1952, The Atlanta Board of Education and the Atlanta Police Department joined forces and created the Atlanta School Detective Unit.  In 1953, my Daddy and Julian Stephens were the second and third officer to join Sgt. J. D. Nash, Commander. There was another School Detective Department being formed about this same time in another state. The only two in the nation. The School Detective Unit was the fore-runner of what we now call School Resource Officers in Georgia.  

Daddy was good at his job.  I don’t know about now, but he held the record for the most cases solved for over 15 years. I have all of his old reports.  Someday I am going to write that book I promised him. Now he is gone and I only have his paper reports to rely on.  I regret we never found time to write his book.

He did some interesting things in his life.  During WWII he escorted military prisoners.  I have his secret identification and name that he used.  One night while hospitalized, the nurses on duty asked Mama what Daddy had done for a living.  She told them about his having been a police officer. One of the nurses was one of my former students and spent a lot of time visiting with all of us.  Ellen told Mama that Daddy was talking about having a different name. Daddy had been part of the Secret Police.  The night Ellen was checking on Daddy, he was the other military policeman taking a Nazi prisoner somewhere “special.” 

Once it was learned that his father, Luther Edward Ratledge, had been a train engineer before becoming a police officer, and Daddy could do medical core and train repair, he was reassigned. Daddy built the first hot water shower on one of the medical trains in Europe. After that when they would be in a station somewhere Daddy taught other train personnel how he had run the lines so their trains could also have hot water showers. 

One night when he was so sick and on morphine, he was back on that train.  I spent the entire night, rebuilding a train engine with him.  He would tell me what tool he wanted and I handed it to him.  In his drugged imagination, all those machines in that room were part of the engine. We did a good job, too.  By about 4:30 in the morning, he told me to “fire her up and let’s get moving.” 

When the Allied troops captured Adolf Hitler’s private train, it was damaged.  Daddy and his medical train happened to be in the same location.  One of the officers on Daddy’s train suggested they ask Daddy to look at the damage on Hitler’s train.  Rat could “jury-rig” anything.  I don’t know what was wrong with the train, but it couldn’t be moved further into Allied territory because of the problem. Daddy went over and did whatever was needed to get it moving again.  While Daddy was working on the problem, a team of US and other Allied personnel were cataloging every item in the train. 

Daddy reported the repair had been completed to the officer in charge.  That officer was part of the team cataloging Hitler’s belongings.  He was in Hitler’s private dining car.  The officer picked up a small cream pitcher from Hitler’s table and handed it to Daddy thanking him for his help.  The pitcher has the swastika emblem and Mama wrote a note about what Daddy told her and stuck it in it. The cream pitcher is marked with the Allied catalog number. 

Daddy could do anything. Daddy was the builder, Mama was the painter and designer. He built his grandson an airplane swing with a 6’ wing span and working joystick, rocking horses and any other thing he thought his namesake James could want. Daddy made a table that was James’ height and the legs could be extended to grow with him.   They did a lot of drawing and coloring on that table.  

He and Mama refurbished old houses to rent or sell.  Daddy made the entire kitchen set, stove, refrigerator, cupboards and even a sink with a turning faucet for the Kindergarten class of H.O. Burgess Elementary School (1955). That set was still in use some 10 plus years later. Our class had wooden animals to paint that he cut from scrap lumber, too. One of my classmates mentioned remembering them. I have several still.  He and Mama created the most beautiful gardens outside of Calloway Gardens you have ever seen.  He worked hard. And he adored Mama.

He and Mama taught me to be independent and self-reliant.  I learned how to lay a wooden floor, to use most any kind of tool, paint a room, fire a gun, swim, and defend myself physically and mentally.  He made sure Mama and I were loved and well taken care.  

Rat accomplished all kinds of things and best of all, Daddy was mine. And I miss him.  Mama used to say there will never be another one like Bob Ratledge.  No there won’t. I bet Mama and Daddy are holding hands right now.