Lanny Bledsoe writes new Shoal Creek novel

Published 9:00 am Tuesday, February 28, 2023

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VALLEY — Lanny Bledsoe has written a new novel. It’s the eighth one he’s written since the Covid outbreak, and the kind of story he has always wanted to have in print. Copies of “Officer Candidate From Shoal Creek” are available at the Fairfax Village Antique Market.

The new novel is set in the late 1950s-early 1960s and tells the story of a 20-year-old man from River Bluff named Hobb Gill. He’s a senior at Auburn University and is facing a choice of joining the military following graduation or being drafted into the Army. If he joins on his own, he can select a different branch of service with the chance of being an officer in the near future. If he waits until he drafted, he goes in as a private and will have to work his way up over time. Young Hobb joins the Marines and goes to Quantico, Virgina for Officer Candidate School (OCS). It’s grueling 12-week period, and most of those who attempt it don’t make it through. Hobb does and is commissioned as a second lieutenant.

Hobb is the son of Storm and May Hobb, characters that have been in the previous Shoal Creek novels that were set in the 1930s. Hobb is engaged to a young girl named Susie Doe at the time. She lives across the river at Shoal Creek and is the daughter of the original character of the Shoal Creek saga, Rep Doe. When Hobb breaks the news to her that he’s joined the Marines and will soon be leaving to Virginia, she pitches a fit for him not having talked to her about it before making a decision. She had never wanted to leave the River Bluff-Shoal Creek area. She takes off her engagement ring, throws it at him and tells Hobb they are through.

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As a second lieutenant, Hobb meets a girl named Rachel. He’s attracted to her, but she’s a hard sell because she’s been burned by relationships with soldiers who she’s fallen in love with. It was great when they were based nearby but heartbreaking when they were shipped out. It happens to her again when Hobb was ordered to serve with the First Marine Brigade in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. In the far-distant Pacific, Hobb and his men soon learn the they are heading for a war zone. It’s in 1961 and North Viet Nam has invaded neighboring Laos. The U.S. is planning a military response. 

In Laos, Hobb is wounded twice but survives. On a trip back home meets a young girl named Dove Shoal on the Georgia side of the river. They would eventually get married.

Before he heads back to Laos he learned that the River Bluff mill is facing a hostile takeover. A man named Richard Dray schemes to take over the mill to profit by a product being made there known as the Dry-Me-Dry towel.

The first person seeing him drive into town was a man named Lon Milner, who instantly recognized him as a ‘damn yankee.”

The photo on the front cover of the book is Bledsoe when he was a 20-year-old Marine who had just finished the Marine Corps’ OCS program.

“That was 66 years ago,” he told The Valley Times-News. “I was 20 years old then; I’m 86 now.”

Bledsoe went though 12 weeks of OCS training and eight months of basic training before becoming a second lieutenant. He was in the Marines for five-and-a-half years at places like Camp Lejeune, Camp Pendleton and Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.

He said that it was a privilege to be around the officers who trained him. Almost all of them were men who are served in World War II or the Korean War. “They were serious people,” he said. “They didn’t fool around. They were great at what they did. My platoon sergeant had been wounded in Korea. He was involved in the Inchon landing and was wounded in a rice paddy. A friend of his was a helicopter pilot in Air America and was in Vietnam in the early 1960s. He was killed in only three weeks of action. I heard so many memorable war stories from the officers I served under.”

Being in the Marines was a sobering experience for Bledsoe. “When I first got there I had always been around people who were nice,” he’s said. “There aren’t many nice people when you are being trained as a Marine, but it was an important part of my life, and I learned a lot.”

When he was based in Hawaii, his unit was involved in the defense of the entire Pacific region. At one point, it looked like they were going to war. The North Vietnamese had invaded Laos, and the First Marine Brigade he served with  was ordered to go to southeast Asia and move them out. The North Vietnamese withdrew on their own before they could arrive. 

Bledsoe said he could remember the young soldiers who had never faced combat being excited about it, but the officers – the ones who had been in World War II and the Korean War – were deadly serious about what they were about to get into. All of them were relieved when they got word that no intervention was needed.

Bledsoe got his first job at Riverdale Mill when he was 16 years old. In 1973, he was the mill superintendent at Riverdale. He also held other executive positions with WestPoint Pepperell and was with the company during the disastrous Farley period. The Richard Dray character in his new book is remindful of someone like Bill Farley.

The Dry-Me-Dry towel is a product that was actually made in the mill. It was a hand towel that sold for $1 and was highly valued both then and now. It’s a collector’s item now and sells on E-Bay for $40 and more.

A woman named Sara Horowitz wrote a book about this towel. She talks about its popularity with housewives, many of whom loved its colorful appearance, the fact it could stay lint free and dried easily. In the 1950s, Dry-Me-Dry towels that were made in River View were on display in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Officer Candidate is the eighth book written by Bledsoe in less than three years. He started during the Covid outbreak just to stay busy with something. “My wife Karen and I stayed at home for a year-and-a-half,” he said.

His first book, Shoal Creek, was well reviewed by many people all over the U.S. It led to four other books in the Shoal Creek saga: Rep’s Return, Storm Rising, Rocky Shoals and Huntin’ Shoal Creek. Another book, The Injun, is based on a character in the Shoal Creek saga. Bledsoe has also written South of Appomattox, a story about the end of the Civil War, a soldier’s return home and the start of textile mills along the Chattahoochee in the post-war period.

Bledsoe said he has really enjoyed writing and getting comments about his books. “What has always amazed me is that I make it clear they are works of fiction,” he said, “but people are always asking me questions about the people in the book about what’s going to happen to them. They seem like real people to them.”

Bledsoe said that one man bought several copies of his books to send to his relatives in Vermont. “I know they’d never even heard of the Chattahoochee River,” he said.

Bledsoe is going to take a sabbatical from writing for a while. “I’ve been doing it almost non-stop since 2020,” he said. “I’m going to take a break for a time. I may get back into it later.”

A man who spends half of the year in Wyoming and half in Argentina has been very helpful to Bledsoe in his writing. That would be his editor, Edmond Pickett. 

“Early on, I showed him a manuscript of what I had been doing with the Marine story from the 1960s,” Bledsoe said. “He told me I needed to rewrite it and encouraged me to keep writing the Shoal Creek stories. I’m glad I was able to do the Shoal Creek series and then finish the book about a young man’s experience in the Marines.”

Officer Candidate parallels Bledsoe’s experience in the U.S. Marine Corps. There are some significant differences. The main thing is that it’s a work of fiction.

“People are always telling me they know the people I am writing about,” he said. “I’m glad they like my books. It’s okay if the characters remind them of people they have known, just as long as they realize I haven’t been writing about actual people.”