Editor’s Note: This is the second of periodic profiles of Clinton County veterans, written by Paul Butler for the News Journal.
On Sept. 10, 1926 — a few years after World War I ended — Germany joined the League of Nations.
Exactly one week earlier — in the United States — a future member of the post-World War II occupation force of Germany had been born in America.
The aforementioned, first intergovernmental world peace organization and the National Socialist German Workers Party (Nazi Party) lasted 26 and 25 years, respectively.
Conversely, the boy born just north of Wilmington — down the long lane off U.S. 68 in the small farmhouse next to the county’s old orphanage — Wendell Pagett is alive, vibrant and active at 94 years young.
Born Sept. 3, 1926 to Lewis Edward and Goldie Bobbitt Padgett, he was the baby of the family, 10 years younger than his sister and five years younger than his brother.
The Pagetts — the “d” was left out of the last name on the birth certificates of the three children — were not a wealthy family by any stretch. And with the onslaught of the Great Depression, they were thrust into poverty along with 25 percent of working families in the U.S.
Mr. Padgett took work where he could find it and eventually signed on with the WPA (Works Progress Administration). Because of this, he was unable to consistently provide a long term family home.
Consequently, growing up, Wendell attended numerous schools, including Cuba, Mt. Pleasant, Clarksville, Kingman, Smith Place and Wilmington High School.
During this time, many well-meaning individuals and groups would donate items to struggling families, including handmade blue jeans, which were easily recognizable by their “patch” pockets. Poor but proud, when the other children made fun of Wendell, he refused to wear the pants and instead opted for the worn-out jeans with hand-sewn patches in multiple places.
When the U.S. became embroiled in World War II, Wendell’s older brother joined the Army and became a paratrooper in the famed 101st Airborne, spending most of his time in gliders. Being five years younger, Wendell was not drafted until late in the war, January 1945.
After boot camp at Ft. Riley, Kansas, Pagett was transferred to Ft. Meade, Md. for deployment to Europe; however, Germany surrendered before he could board the troop transport ship that was waiting nearby. His Company instead boarded a crowded troop train for Ft. Ord on Monterey Bay in California, for deployment to the Pacific Theater.
This successful deployment took him to the Philippine Islands where Wendell and the rest of the Motor Pool set up operations. Working as a mechanic at first was an advanced learning experience that would pay off later.
Still part of the Motor Pool, he was assigned as a supply truck driver and remained as such for the balance of his time in uniform.
When the Japanese surrendered in August of 1945, Pagett was eligible to be discharged and return home, but the ever-adventurous Wendell heard that if he extended his enlistment for a year, he would be sent to Europe as part of the Occupation Force.
He extended his enlistment, boarded a troop ship for the West Coast, took a train to the East Coast, boarded another troop ship for Europe, and then drove his “Duece-and-a-half” to Germany.
His Company’s mission was to get the supplies — necessary for helping the Allies rebuild — to the hardest hit areas. The city of Heidelberg was the only major city in Germany not to be bombed, therefore it was used as the staging area.
While there, Wendell met a local family who, including their teenage daughter, took to the 19-year-old American soldier. The feeling was reciprocal and a bond developed between the uncle, mother, daughter Lelo Laurel, and Wendell that lasted until he shipped out. they would even join him at the train station to see him off.
Back home in Clinton County, things didn’t slow down for the hard-working Pagett. As promised, his job at Irwin Auger Bit was waiting and so was his buddy with a blind date, the former Helen Cooper, that would become his first wife a few weeks later.
The couple had four children — two boys and two girls — and Wendell raised a step-son as well. The couple had settled in Midland where Pagett put his military training to work, opening a garage and towing service with a used car lot on the side. It turns out that Wendell was as pragmatic about being paid for services rendered as he was about his love of country.
The vetted story goes like this: Mr. Pagett was called out late on a snowy night to retrieve a car from the ditch, into which it had slid from the slippery road. He returned the car safely to the pavement and asked the driver for the requisite fee. The possibly intoxicated driver refused to pay him. Wendell, without argument, climbed back in his wrecker and gently pushed the car back into the ditch and drove off.
Mr. Pagett’s first marriage ended after 20+ years and so did his venture into auto sales, garage and towing service.
He had always wanted a “beer joint”, so he bought the Club Cafe in Blanchester and operated it successfully for a few years, later selling it so he could go across the railroad tracks on Broadway to purchase and operate the Railroad Inn.
During this time he met and married his second wife, moved to Melvin and went to work for Mac Tools in Sabina, from which he retired at age 65.
Retiring turned out to be an unexpected challenge. Not only had the “d” been omitted from his last name on his birth certificate, his first name had been entirely omitted from his Social Security documentation. His sister was finally able to convince the Social Security Administration that he was the one paying into the fund for all those years.
Unfortunately, shortly after retiring, his beloved Georgia passed away after 22 years of marriage.
The road upon which Wendell continued led him to a lovely lady named Wilma Hodge, who remained his constant and loving companion for more than 20 years, until her death a couple years ago.
Mr. Pagett can usually be found at the VFW sitting with a pretty young woman greeting friends with his irrepressible smile. He has led a life full of adventure, ups and downs, and continues to live a full independent life, still residing in his Melvin home of 53 years.
Wendell will become a 50-year member of American Legion Post 49 in the upcoming membership yea. He is a Golden Eagle of the Blanchester Eagles and continues to be a Trustee of VFW Post 6710.
The writer, Paul Butler, is a Wilmington resident, U.S. Navy veteran, and a Class of 2020 inductee of the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame. Last September Clinton County recognized Paul for his “dedication and commitment in military service as well as his exceptional post military advocacy and volunteerism for the veteran community.”
A 2020 News Journal article called him “the voice and the fountain pen for Clinton County veterans organizations and related projects.”