Venice, Fla. war hero dies – Everett Driggers earned Bronze Star, founded American Legion post

Left, Tim Kelly, Everett Driggers' stepson in the foreground, holds his dad's proclamation that notes he was the postmaster at Laurel beginning in 1965. Henrietta Driggers, his wife, looks at his Bronze Star commendation, and Charles Driggers, one of his three sons, holds a shadow box with all of his war medals. Sun photo by Don Moore

Left, Tim Kelly, Everett Driggers’ stepson in the foreground, holds his dad’s proclamation that notes he was the postmaster at Laurel beginning in 1965. Henrietta Driggers, his wife, looks at his Bronze Star commendation, and Charles Driggers, one of his three sons, holds a shadow box with all of his war medals. Sun photo by Don Moore

Everett W. Driggers was a quiet man whose friends and relatives say should be remembered for his devotion to God, country, family and work. He never did anything particularly important except fight in some of the major battles of World War II, help found Venice, Fla. American Legion No-Vel Post 159, be postmaster at Laurel for 20 years, raise two families, and be a pillar of the First Baptist Church of Venice, Fla.

“He never told me about the Bronze Star medal he received,” Tim Kelly, his stepson, said a few days after Driggers’ death on Feb. 15, 2002. “He was proud of it, if I know Dad. But it was something he didn’t feel he should take the spotlight for.”

The commendation reads: For “meritorious achievement in the Rhineland Campaign.” Given by executive order on Feb. 4, 1944, to Pvt. 1st Class Everett W. Driggers.

“He was a member of Company K, 271st Infantry Regiment, 69th Infantry Division,” Tim explained. “He was very proud of Company K.”

Everett should have been. He and the other members of his unit saw action at the “Battle of the Bulge,” the largest land battle involving American troops in the European Theater of War during WW II.

Charles Driggers, one of his three sons, said, “Dad told the story about he and a couple of buddies walking along during the war and a shell from a German 88 (millimeter canon) landed near them. One of the fellows next to him said, ‘That one was meant for me, but now I’m OK.’ A minute or two later a second 88 shell came in and cut the guy in two who was standing right next to Dad who had just said he was OK.”

“My dad said he knew the only reason he came home from World War II without a scratch is that he had a mother, wife and three kids praying for him,” Henrietta, his second wife said.

Although Everett was in the thick of the fighting during the war, he would rarely say anything to any of his family about the fighting. He mostly kept his mouth shut about the war.

However, Henrietta said, “I got him the video of ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and he watched it. When it was over he said, ‘It was very authentic, but one thing they can’t capture on film is the smell of war.’ ”

Something his wife said she never understood was why her husband was inducted into the Army in July 1944. At the time he was married, had three children and was working at the Tampa Shipyard painting ships for the military.

Home again

When he returned home to Venice in December 1945, Driggers continued his career as a painter. A few years later, he had to give it up because he developed an allergy to the paint he was using.

Shortly after the war, Everett and a bunch of his service buddies founded American Legion Post 159 in Venice. They purchased a Quonset hut from the Army Air Force base in Venice and moved it to the post’s present location on the island in the downtown area.

Ironically, the last meeting Everett attended three weeks ago was at the post where he and the other two surviving founders, Dick Rich and Harry Sjoblen, were recognized for their decades of support. He did not live out the month after attending that meeting.

When Everett returned from battle almost six decades ago, he began his post war career as a painter. A few years later he became the manager of Taylor Hardware and Paint on West Venice Avenue, where the Paper Pad is today.

In 1965, the Laurel Post Office became a reality. He was appointed the postmaster at Laurel, a position he would hold until his retirement in 1985. His proclamation to become postmaster was signed by President Lyndon Johnson.

“He loved this area. He fought for Laurel every way he knew how to fight,” Henrietta said. “They were going to close the post office at one point, but he and his post office customers fought the closing and the doors stayed open.”

One of the things his family is most proud of is the house he half finished before he went to war. It’s a wood frame home across the street from where Henrietta lives today.

Everett built the home by himself with nothing but unpowered hand tools because that’s all he could afford to work with back then. The home has paneled pine walls and furniture he made. It included chests of drawers that coverted into desks for his brood of school-age children, beds with storage drawers underneath and all kinds of cabinets and storage areas throughout the house.

“One of the stories he told often was many times on his way home from work he wanted to buy a good, cold Coke so bad, but a Coke cost a nickel. For a nickel he could also buy a pound of nails for his house. The pound of nails would win,” Henrietta said.

Father and sons

What Charles remembers best about his dad when he was growing up were the walks they would take.

“Just about every Sunday afternoon we’d walk down the railroad tracks for a couple of miles,” he said. “He’d talk about nature and all that. I really enjoyed those Sunday walks.”

Somewhere along the way, “He told me, ‘I don’t want you to be a ground pounder like I was in World War II.’ I took his advice and joined the Air Force.”

Charles spent six years in the service during the Vietnam War. He and his family now live in Brigham City, Utah.

Tim was Henrietta’s son by a first marriage, he was Everett’s stepson.

“I considered him dad,” Tim said the other day. “He was a great husband to my mother, a great father to me and a wonderful grandfather to my kids.”

Although Tim didn’t see combat like his stepfather, he spent 22 years in the Marine Corps and retired in 1999 as a Marine sergeant major, the highest ranking enlisted man in the Corps.

“I understand the significance of the Combat Infantry Badge my dad received,” Tim said. “He loved his country and he served it proudly. He was always very proud of Company K. It was never about what Everett Driggers did during the war, but always about what his unit did.”

Stacked with mementos from his life is a small, dark-colored plaque mounted on a shield-shaped blond board. It reads:

“Everett Driggers, Thank you for 60 years of faithful service to our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, First Baptist Church, Venice, Fla., April 11, 1999.”

“I don’t know anyone who didn’t love and respect Everett Driggers,” his wife said. “There was not a more honorable man. He didn’t do big flashy things. He was a quiet man who did what was right no matter what.”

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Saturday, March 2, 2002 and is republished with permission.

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