Legendary football coach Robert Pool still wonders about the fate of the young men he coached at Hernando High School in the late 1960s, mere boys who went off to fight in the jungles of Vietnam.
Pool is the brother of another retired high school football coach, the equally legendary Olive Branch High School head coach Leslie Pool, one half of the celebrated duo in Mid-South athletics.
Robert Pool never actually served in the service himself.
But the eyes of the gruff-sounding but kind-hearted coaching icon grow misty when he thinks about all the men and women in uniform who served their country. Pool’s voice cracks when he talks about those who died in service to their nation.
“There are just kaboodles of veterans that we need to remember,” Pool said. “I didn’t serve. It’s one of the few regrets that I have.”
The 79-year-old came of age in between the epic conflicts of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.
Pool said he was inspired by another patriot who never fought in a battle or war but who in the years since has waged a crusade to honor veterans. Pool said the efforts of R.G. Moore and his wife Diane at the Veterans Park in Southaven and at Goodrum Cemetery gave him an idea.
Eudora needed a monument to veterans, Pool and others decided. In the past several months, Pool has helped coordinate efforts to begin fundraising for a future veterans’ marker in the front of the Outfitters store in Eudora where three flagpoles stand. Pool said the flagpoles honor all American vets, including POWs and MIA personnel, and were originally erected by store owner Lee Stallings.
“I think we need something there like a soldier standing guard or maybe a cross,” Pool said.
Pool, a Eudora resident whose roots run deep in DeSoto County, joined together with a real-life band of brothers, Simon Dean, a Purple Heart recipient and his brother Lowry Dean, to pursue fundraising for the monument, which is still to be designed.
During the exploratory process, Pool was advised on how to proceed by DeSoto County Supervisor Lee Caldwell and a committee that also included Director of Environmental Services Ray Laughter, DeSoto County Administrator Vanessa Lynchard, grants writer Brian Riley and others.
Since then, Pool has forged ahead on his own to spearhead the effort with a small group of interested individuals and coffee drinking buddies like the Dean brothers.
“We just need to establish a memorial for all our Eudora veterans,” Pool said. “All gave some and some gave all.”
One veteran who Pool coached stands out in his mind.
“I coached many players who would go on to play in the NFL and some would be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame,” Pool said. “One of my favorite players who would be inducted into the Holmes Community College Hall of Fame was Reggie Tiller, from Athens, Georgia, a retired Army Ranger. Reggie wasn’t a boisterous kid, but he was a good guy.”
Pool also wishes to honor family members who served their country, several from Eudora and other places.
Men like Glen Doyle, a veteran who served his nation for more than 30 years and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Elton Jordan, born in Memphis and killed on Okinawa during World War II. Red Latham, a cousin of Pool’s who was involved in the Normandy invasion and who suffered frostbite on his feet and lingering pain and numbness to his dying day. Mac Dees, Jr., killed in Italy during WWII, along with the uncle of Pool’s wife Billie Joyce, Gip Earnhart, blind and 100 percent disabled from a land mine during that epic conflict.
“These are boys from the community who served their country and it’s worth recording their story for the sake of history,” Pool said.
Simon Dean agrees. The U.S. Marine Corps Lance Corporal (Retired) from Eudora received the Purple Heart after suffering shrapnel wounds from a booby trap in Vietnam.
One soldier he will never forget was fellow Marine Jeff Norvell of Memphis who died while trying to rescue buddies in his platoon who were swept away in a river during a monsoon. Norvell drowned trying to save them.
“His mama and his sister came to my house and I gave them some pictures of us while we were over in Vietnam,” Dean said. “I never saw them again.”
The painful memories now give away to wistful reflection and remembrance during Memorial Day services, scattered this year due to the coronavirus.
Dean and Pool both say they are hoping to raise enough money to erect a fitting memorial in the not-too-distant future.
“We’ve got to come up with a name for the organization,” Dean said. “We’re just a group of guys who will never forget them.”