By Ann Cipperly
This article ran in a 2010 edition of the Observer. It chronicles Albert Killian’s military career and civilian life. Killian passed away last Wednesday.
As a veteran of the Korean War, Albert Killian was among the 13 Opelikans who took the honor flight last Friday to Washington, D.C. to visit the World War II Memorial and other sites.
Killian served in the U.S. military with 10 years active duty and 32 years with the National Guard. He served in Korea and was twice deployed to Germany with his primary staff in the Guard.
The honor flight left Opelika early Friday morning for the Columbus Airport. The WWII veterans wore blue shirts and sported WWII caps. While visiting the memorials, they were thanked for their service by many visitors.
When the flight returned to Columbus Friday night, they were welcomed and cheered by Ft. Benning soldiers and many others who expressed their thanks for their sacrifices and service.
“It was a wonderful day,” says Killian. “We were welcomed and thanked everywhere we went during the day. Rayford Furlow of Opelika celebrated his 95th birthday.”
Coming home to the cheering crowd was heartwarming. It was a day Killian will never forget.
At his home on North 8th Street in Opelika, Killian is just a couple of blocks from where he graduated from high school in 1947. Although Clift High School has long been gone, the memories remain clear and sharp of good times playing football with classmates. One of those friends, Herschel Bass, lives at the end of the street.
Over the years, Killian has worked to preserve memories of the high school and other sites in Opelika by recording their history in 60 booklets.
When he was on the board for the Museum of East Alabama, Killian discovered old newspapers from 1880s through 1970. He went through the volumes discovering interesting stories. This sparked an interest in gathering material and photos from various sources to preserve in booklets with proceeds going to the museum.
The first booklet he assembled was on the prisoner-of-war camp ‘Camp Opelika’ from 1942-1945, which is now in its sixth printing. Several homes in Opelika, including his own, were divided into small apartments in the rear as residents for married soldiers. His father rented out a couple of rooms in their home. They stayed in contact with one soldier from New York for several years.
Other booklets include Pepperell Mill and village and football write-ups of Clift High School from 1935-55.
Along with the booklets, he was instrumental in establishing historic markers for the site of the Prisoner of War Camp and the Lt. Col. Dallas B. Smith Armory, The Opelika Historic Preservation Society paid for the markers.
While serving as president of the Museum of East Alabama for three years, he assembled the military display. While he is currently serving as a volunteer for the museum, he continues to have an interest in preserving local history.
Killian lived his early years in Salem while his father was operating a farm, country store and dairy for the W.C. Bradley Company. During the Depression, his family fared better than many as they had a garden, two cows and chickens. Friends shared a hog in the winter.
In the early 1930s, his father opened his own business, Jim Killian Motor Company in Opelika, a Dodge and Plymouth truck dealership. The site is where Alpen Café on South Railroad is located today.
In 1938 his father lost the business like many others during the Depression. He sold cars for another dealership before opening the Opelika Truck and Tractor Company in 1940.
Albert attended the first three grades of school in Salem. When his father started his business in Opelika, he took Albert and his sister to school at Northside Elementary and his brothers to Clift High.
In 1941 the Killian family moved to Opelika on Fourth Avenue.
Albert had an interest in athletics and wanted to be a physical education teacher and coach. After graduation from high school, he joined the Army and was stationed in Maryland for a year and half. While there, he played semi-pro football.
When he returned home, he joined the National Guard in 1949 with John Melson as his commander.
He attended Auburn University (API) for six quarters before his unit was activated for the Korean War in January 1951. While serving, his father died. He returned home in the spring of 1952 and was shortly discharged.
Killian returned to Auburn and graduated in 1953.
He went to work at Opelika Junior High School, which was called Alma S. Martin, as a teacher and coach, for three years.
Albert did not know Nancy until 1956 when he was attending a Lion’s Club variety show that was held in Opelika. Nancy came out in “shorts and high heels” announcing acts with a sign. They began dating and married a few months later.
Albert had already accepted a position in England teaching dependent children of Air Force personnel. They lived in Oxford for a year, which was an adjustment but enjoyable as well.
When they returned, Albert taught and coached in Lanett and later in Opelika for his former coach, Coach Sam Mason. One of Albert’s students was Col. Robert Howard, who is the only Medal of Honor recipient from Opelika. He recently visited the colonel in Ft. Benning.
After four years as a high school principal in Eufaula, he accepted a position at Auburn University. They moved to Auburn with their children, Jane Ann, Al Jr., James and Molly.
From 1964 to 1984 Killian held positions at Auburn as High School Relations Director, Registrar and associate director of Cooperative Education.
Eight years ago, they returned to Opelika and became active in the community again. Killian was a member of the Lion’s Club in the 1950s. He has been in Kiwanis for 42 years serving as president and Lt. Governor for the division.
He has been a deacon at First Baptist in Opelika. He and Nancy are teaching Sunday school and singing in the Sunshine Choir.
“The best thing I ever did was marry Nancy,” he says. “She has been a great companion through the years.
“It is said you can’t go home,” says Killian. “We have proven you can go home. Opelika has always been our spiritual home regardless of where we were living, whether it was in England or anywhere else.”