The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
He’s at home in Dahlgren
By CATHY DYSON
Bunny Jackson has spent almost his whole life either on the naval base in Dahlgren or across the road from it.
The second of 10 children, he was born in 1926 on land the base claimed when it expanded on the eve of World War II.
His family loaded the house on a sleigh, then watched a team of mules pull it across the road to a new location.
“I can get up every morning and look over where I was born,” he said.
The home in which Clarence P. “Bunny” Jackson entered the world is long gone—destroyed by fire—but Jackson’s ties to the base have lasted his lifetime.
He spent more than 44 years as a civil servant, starting in the Navy mess hall and eventually working in the machine shop. He cut out pieces of metal for fins on Navy missiles.
Four of the five male children in his family found work on the base, as well.
“All you had to do here was farm, and farming wasn’t paying enough,” Jackson said about limited opportunities in King George County. “I didn’t have no education. If it hadn’t been for the base, I wouldn’t have made the money I made and been where I was.”
Not only did the base help Jackson and others in the African–American community along the “B” Gate side of Potomac Drive, it also introduced Jackson to some of the finer things in life.
He was a teenager—his memory is fuzzy on his exact age—when he started working in the mess hall. The Navy was teaching classes on bombsights to hundreds of students.
“They had food I’d never seen before. They had T–bone steak. I didn’t know nothing about T–bone steak,” he said.
He soon learned—because he got to eat there as well.
“I really enjoyed that, probably more than any job I had,” Jackson said.
‘JUST A NICE GUY’
Jackson, who turns 86 in late July, walked three miles from Dahlgren to school at Little Ark Baptist Church. It offered classes through sixth grade, which was all the education black students in King George got at the time, he said.
In his early years, his class had a book about a character called Bunny Squirrel, and someone called him Bunny on the walk to school one morning.
Jackson started the sixth grade but didn’t finish. Soon after he began at the mess hall, he was asked to work seven days a week, which he gladly did for the $7-a-week pay.
He gave $3 to his mother, and he often rode the train to Fredericksburg on the line the Navy put in to get supplies to Dahlgren. There, he spent the other $4 on hot dogs or “maybe a hat.”
After he married Ida Tyler, whose father built many of the homes in the area, Jackson eventually bought a house that was in her family. He paid $300 for it and has added on to it three times.
It’s a stone’s throw away from the site where his family moved its original home. His family later built another house on the site, after the fire, but it’s empty. Jackson still cuts the grass around it.
He and his wife will celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary in August. They have six children, 12 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
He’s known for his love of family and for helping those in need throughout the community, said James Johnson, a fellow member of American Legion Post 329.
“He’s just a nice guy,” Johnson said about Jackson. “He makes himself available to other people, and he goes out of his way to speak to you, to make you feel important.
“His wife’s the same way,” Johnson said. “She’s a real nice lady.”
‘A DIFFERENT TIME
Jackson was drafted into the Army near the end of World War II. The day he finished his advanced training, America dropped the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima.
He later was sent to Japan as part of occupation troops, then joined the reserves and was called back during the Korean War. He might have stayed in the Army longer, but he needed to make more money.
He went to work at the Navy base again, this time as a machine helper making missiles. Some of the fins on the missiles had 32 different parts, and Jackson spent all day in Building 113, cutting up pieces.
In those days, blacks and whites worked in the same shop, but in different sections, he said. He and his wife remember restaurants where blacks could order from a side window, but not go inside.
Their memories of segregation fascinated Supervisor Ruby Brabo, who recently interviewed him as part of the Dahlgren Heritage Foundation’s effort to document the history of the community around the base.
“What a different time,” she said.
Brabo sat with Jackson at the polls on Election Day in November, and the two spent several hours talking.
“I just knew his story needed to be recorded,” she said. “Every time I talk to Bunny I learn something new.”
‘HE’S ONE OF THE DOERS’
Jackson belongs to several organizations: the American Legion, Mason Lodge 314, the King George chapter of the AARP and Little Ark Baptist Church.
No matter what the event, he’s involved—setting up tables, cooking, or loading baskets for Thanksgiving meals or boxes of toys for needy children at Christmas.
“He’s always one of the doers,” said Dreda Newman, who lives nearby. “He doesn’t sit down. I lose track of everything he does because he’s always like a little whirlwind.”
At the American Legion, Jackson is the officer who looks out for the sick. He regularly visits people or takes them to doctors’ appointments, Johnson said.
Jackson didn’t bother much with driving when he was younger, but he enjoyed it as he got older. He traveled a lot through the Masons and quickly discovered there’s no place like his home across from the naval base.
“I like going to different places, but most of the time I want to go back to Dahlgren,” Jackson said.
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425