October 1967: Armed soldier threatens to take his own life on courthouse square

Posted 10/26/18

There was only one local headline in the Oct. 26, 1967, Daily Mountain Eagle, but it was the most dramatic one on the page — "Discharge Seeking G.I. Finally Gives Up Gun."Fredrick Gossage, 22, of …

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October 1967: Armed soldier threatens to take his own life on courthouse square


There was only one local headline in the Oct. 26, 1967, Daily Mountain Eagle, but it was the most dramatic one on the page — "Discharge Seeking G.I. Finally Gives Up Gun."

Fredrick Gossage, 22, of Jasper, parked his car at the courthouse square on Oct. 25 and refused to get out until he got a military discharge. According to the Eagle, Gossage, an Army sergeant stationed at Fort Knox, had a .22 caliber automatic rifle pointed at his midsection. 

"Clad in civilian clothes, the 'clean cut' soldier told police he would shoot himself if anyone tried to get in the car," the Eagle reported.

Gossage's mother had reported him AWOL to Army officials after he reportedly threatened her. Walker County Sheriff Howard Turner said an arrest order had been issued for Gossage after his department was notified by the Army. 

Two county deputies spotted Gossage driving a '65 yellow Ford Mustang near Parkland Shopping Center. He drove the car to the courthouse, where he told officers who first approached him that he would shoot himself if they touched the door.

District Attorney Gerald Colvin recessed grand jury hearings in order to go out and talk to Gossage. Colvin confirmed that Gossage did have the rifle pointed at his stomach and had one finger on the trigger. 

While officials tried to calm him down, Gossage kept referring to the people standing around looking at him and said he did not want to hurt anyone. Mindful of public safety, Colvin convinced Gossage to go to the airport, where his commander was scheduled to arrive.

A chaplain tried unsuccessfully to get Gossage to exit the vehicle. He eventually did get out of the car and handed the rifle off to his commanding colonel.

Gossage was taken to the county jail and then taken back to Fort Knox.

Though the war is not mentioned in the article, the Eagle was filled with updates from Vietnam in October 1967.

According to an Oct. 27 editorial, eight Walker County servicemen had already given their lives in Vietnam and more than 100 were stationed there.

"No matter what we think about the war over there — and we feel sure that many have mixed emotions — we cannot have but one feeling for the young men who're doing a dangerous and difficult job in the jungle. We must stand behind them 100 percent," Eagle editors wrote.

The Eagle dedicated much of the Oct. 27 edition to a special "Salute to Our Men in Vietnam." 

One full page was dedicated to a map showing where 21 major units and the headquarters of the United States and its allies were located in Vietnam. Another page listed the names and addresses of local servicemen so that Eagle readers could write them letters of encouragement.

The Eagle also published photos and short bios of dozens of local soldiers. 

It's clear that the families or perhaps the soldiers themselves submitted the information because the articles are much more personal than the standard press releases we receive from the military these days.

For example, here is an excerpt from the bio of Airman First Class Johnny W. Harper, a 1964 graduate of Walker County High School — "There he was taught such things as science, math and English. Today, he is in another school. One which teaches how to kill and injure."

From SP4 George L. "Bill" Swindle Jr.'s bio, we learn that he and Lacy D. Dobbins, both of Carbon Hill, had found each other in Vietnam.

"Vietnam is no vacation spot and a familiar face can sometimes be better than a good meal. At least that's the way these two soliders found out when they saw each other in a mess hall in Vang Tau. For the two, who had been friends while attending Carbon Hill High School, it was like old homeweek," the bio read.

We know that the soldiers were keeping up with local events via the Eagle thanks to a letter from Jim Cunningham, who wrote in to say that he had been promoted to the rank of S5 and he hoped that the paper would be able to update his information for the special section.

"The Daily Mountain (Eagle) has been keeping me well informed on local ballgames. I can't rely on letters from my hometown every day, but my newspaper is always there. Keep up the good work, especially the pictures of all those Walker County girls. They just can't be beat. I'll be seeing you in about 2 and 1/2 months," Cunningham wrote.

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle's features editor.