July 4, 2013

Mark Millican : ‘Mountain man’ Dan Fowler — what the Fourth is all about

— A former colleague of Gilmer County native Dan Fowler — whose journal of fighting across the European theater of World War II was featured in The Daily Citizen a couple of years ago  — remembered him as a man of character who was forged in the backwoods of north Georgia.

“We always used to say of Dan, ‘You can take the man out of the mountains, but you can’t take the mountains out of the man,’” said Geneva Trammell, who taught with Fowler in the 1950s and ‘60s at the old North Whitfield High School.

The path is unclear how Fowler, who is said to have grown up in the Tails Creek community along modern-day Highway 282, got his teaching degree and ended up pursuing his calling two counties away. But Trammell said she and Fowler and another teacher attended the University of Chattanooga (now the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga) during the summers and sometimes at night to earn their masters degrees.

It was on those trips that Trammell learned more about Fowler.

“I sat in the front row in class and Dan sat behind me,” she said. “One day Dan wrote a note and passed it to me, and when I read it, it was all I could do to keep from breaking up with the teacher right there in front of me. He liked to do stuff like that.”

Trammell and her husband, Jimmy — who taught agriculture at North Whitfield — also sat with Fowler as he was dying from malignant melanoma (they rotated sitting duties with other teachers), and were with him on the night he passed away. By then, Fowler had already given Geneva Trammell his wartime journal. And also a special gift — a “shot glass” for drinking whiskey, schnapps or some other distilled spirit best consumed in small measures.

“Dan told me he stuck it in his pocket when they were in Hitler’s country estate while he was in the army of occupation,” she said.

Research indicates there was some taking of items when the U.S. Army made it to Hitler’s “Berchtesgaden” estate in the Bavarian Alps. Fowler wrote of being in Bavaria in his journal but doesn’t mention the country estate or shot glass in his memoirs, perhaps fearing he might get into trouble.

A couple of weeks ago my mother took her friend Geneva out to lunch, then called me a day or two later. She tried to keep it a surprise but couldn’t. Mrs. Trammell wanted me to have the shot glass.

It’s unusual as the miniature liquor glasses go. Most you see at tourist attractions have the heavy bottom and are flared wider at the top. In between the bottom and the top is the usual hokey reference to the place you’re visiting. This shot glass is different. The bottom is heavy, but there is a concave form to the glass before it flares at the top. I’m not an expert on glassware, but it seems this one is unique.

And then there’s the small chip out of the rim, perhaps decreasing its value but making one wonder how it got there.

Did the Fuhrer himself drink from it? Or one of his feared SS officers? How much might such a valuable item bring on the historical relics market — assuming, of course, that a history teacher from the north Georgia mountains is telling the truth. Research could probably reveal a potential price if enough time were devoted, or veracity could be determined, but I prefer not to do that.

It’s unlikely I’ll ever use it for its intended purpose, and would certainly never run it through a dishwasher to try and make it sparkle. I’ll probably carry it around on the long Fourth of July weekend, though, pulling it out to show and tell the story of Dan Fowler, one of our native sons who went overseas to fight for his country — and left behind an account of the deadly sacrifice that undergirds our freedom.

Mark Millican is a former Daily Citizen staff writer. You can follow him on Twitter,  @ExtraByMark.