World War II hero is gone

Ivey with his wife Jo.

William Travis Ivey became worshipful master of the Lozahatchee Mason Lodge in the ‘70s. It wasn’t easy. Because he was blind, the laws had to be changed statewide. When that happened, he became the first blind man to head a Masonic lodge in Alabama.

Ivey was faithful to the lodge as long as he could attend meetings and be a part of the activities. He died at the age of 97 on Jan. 9 at Piedmont Healthcare Center. Services with Masonic rites were at 7 p.m. Thursday at Thompson Funeral Home with Rev. Michael Ingram officiating. Burial with military honors were Friday at Highland Cemetery.

Ivey was a member of several organizations, including the Disabled Veterans of America. Rick Freeman, a DAV member, visited with Ivey on Christmas Day. He said that Ivey was in good spirits and “looked great to be 97.” Ivey is the next to last founding member of the local chapter and he was the oldest DAV member in Alabama. One year, Freeman can’t recall the year, Ivey was named Veteran of the Year.

At Piedmont High Ivey played halfback on the football team from 1938-40 and was captain his senior year. After high school he worked at Standard-Coosa-Thatcher Co. That was in the summer of 1943. He entered the Army and served in France, Belgium and Germany. He received a Purple Heart for his injury in the Battle of the Bulge. He recalled “fighting like anything” against the Germans in France on July 4, 1944.

He was shot in the leg during the Battle of the Bulge. That injury was mild compared to what would happen to him later.

His unit had pulled out of Ansboch, Germany, early on the morning of April 19, 1945. It was still dark. Ivey, 24, at the time, was a machine gunner with the 1st Battalion, 8th Regiment of the Ivy 4th Infantry Division. The men were riding through the open country on tanks. Travis was one of four riding on the rear of the tank. Three others were in front of them. A shell from a Nazi airplane landed beneath the seat they were on.

“My buddies were blown to bits,” he said during an interview with an Anniston Star reporter in 1949. “It had been a beautiful day. The sun had been shining all day and the countryside was colorful. Only one doesn’t think of nature much at such times.”

Ivey said it was late in the afternoon when he looked, for the last time, at a scene that he will never forget. He was hit as the sun was setting.

“The last pretty thing I saw was that sunset,” he said.

A soldier from Saks, L. V. Barker, is credited with saving Ivey’s life. Barker was a medic riding several vehicles behind Ivey. The two men were in the same outfit but didn’t know each other. Barker passed Ivey, thinking he was deceased. He thought he’d take a second look and that’s when he realized Ivey was alive. When they came home, they reconnected and were friends until Barker’s death years later. Ivey attended his funeral.

Ivey woke up at an Army hospital in Valley Forge, Pa., after a month of unconsciousness. He spent the next two and a half years in Army hospitals. In addition to being blind his nose had to be rebuilt and a metal plate was placed in his skull. Initially, he resisted rehabilitation because it reminded him that he’d never see again. He had a change of heart, which he attributed to his stable personality.

“It was like a curtain opening on a play,” he told someone later. “Suddenly, I said, ‘Here I am. I’m blind. But I have nothing to be ashamed of. Now get out of the bed and be a blessing instead of a burden.’ ”

When Ivey came home, he operated a newsstand and florist shop. In 1954, he entered Jacksonville State University and received a degree in secondary education. Shortly afterward, he went to Gainesville, where he received his master’s in rehabilitation counseling from the University of Florida. Later, he moved to Talladega where, from 1959-83, he taught Braille, math and independent living skills at the E. H. Gentry Trade School of the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind. He also taught the physics of sounds for piano tuners.

One time he had a small boy who was having trouble with arithmetic. Ivey told him to use his fingers. Each time, the child came up with one or two more than Ivey did. He couldn’t understand it until someone told him that the boy had six fingers on each hand.

Ivey’s fellow Lozahatchee Masonic member Art Lyle, said that Ivey was someone all of the Masons looked up to.

“You’re talking about a gentleman who had a major handicap who never let it get in the way of doing what he wanted to do,” Lyle said. “He was blind but he knew every station in the Masonic lodge.”

For many years, Ivey was chaplain of the Masonic lodge.

“He attended meetings as long as his health would let him,” Lyle said. “He didn’t let things get in his way.”

Another member of the Masonic Lodge, Jerry Mobley, said that Ivey taught him his Masonic lessons in the late ‘80s.

“He was very caring and very patient,” Mobley said. “To teach me what he taught me required a lot of patience, believe me. When he came back to Piedmont after the war, he was not only blinded, he was carrying a lot of shrapnel with him.”

Mobley recalls how Ivey would count his steps as he walked around town. Mobley said he never interrupted him as he was walking.

Ivey’s parents are Jim and Roxie Ivey. He was born in 1920. Soon after his graduation from Piedmont High, he married his first wife, Gladys Stewart. His brothers, Hobert and Adrian, also served in the military.

Survivors include his wife, Jo Ivey; two step daughters and their husbands, Malinda and Jerry Smith and Dawn and Wesley Weaver of Piedmont; two step grandchildren, Emily Hammett and Maggie Smith; two step great-grandsons, Bentley Hammett and Eli Hammett; one niece and her husband, Cathy and Ron Young; two nephews and their wives, David and Kim Ivey and Barry and Lora Ivey, and several great-nieces and -nephews. Pallbearers were Master Masons of the Lozahatchee Masonic Lodge No. 97 F&AM.

Ivey was a member of the First Baptist Church. Memorial contributions can be made to the DAV, 411 N. Center Ave., Piedmont 36272.

In addition to two Purple Hearts, Ivey received the Bronze Star and numerous other medals.

In a conversation Ivey had in 1991, he said it was important living up to his commitments and doing his part.

“How good a person I was or could have been, that is the only thing I will think of as I leave this world,” he said.

Contact Margaret at pollya922@gmail.com