By Jody Fuller
James Camp Mayfield, better known as J.C., was born in Concord, Ga., on Sept. 14, 1914. He was the oldest of 12 children born to Homer and Allie Mayfield. This week, he will turn 100 years old.
As with most people, his memory isn’t what it used to be, but he recalls moving to Opelika when he was 19 years old. At 20 he was in the U.S. Army and stationed at Ft. Benning. He served in the Army from 1934-37 before transferring over to the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR), where he would remain until the US was pulled into World War II.
While at Ft. Benning, he was a member of a hitched artillery unit and learned to shoe horses. After being recalled to active duty, he was assigned to Ft. Bliss, Texas. There, he shoed just one horse before the Jeeps were brought in.
In September of 1942 he received orders to go to San Francisco. “I was there just long enough to be shipped out,” he recalls. From San Francisco, he sailed to Australia aboard the USS Washington. Although a member of the Army’s First Cavalry Division, Mayfield, along with a handful of other soldiers, was assigned to the Navy during the voyage. Because of the temporary transfer, he became a member of the Neptune Club when the ship crossed the equator, and he still has the citation to prove it.
Mayfield, now a communications specialist, spent approximately nine months in Australia before seeing combat in the Solomon Islands, where he contracted jungle rot and caught malaria. Upon evacuation from the South Pacific, he spent 11 months at a hospital in Oklahoma. His wounds had to be cleaned and his bandages had to be replaced several times throughout the day.
After leaving Oklahoma, he came home to Opelika for a brief stay with his family on East Street. He wasn’t in Opelika very long before being transferred to a field hospital in Miami Beach. When asked what he did there, he smiled and said, “I went to the beach.”
In 1940, before the war, he married Iris Mann, who served as a switchboard operator at Opelika’s Prisoner of War camp. He has a fond memory of standing in a long line with hundreds of other GI’s to talk on a phone when Iris cut into the line and asked to speak to J.C. Mayfield, who was somewhere in the middle of the pack. He made his way to the front of the line and was able to speak to his bride.
He would stay in Miami for about six months before being released from the Army and coming back to Opelika. Although released from active duty, Mayfield chose to continue to serve in the Alabama National Guard and would do so until retirement.
He spent the bulk of his career working at West Point Pepperell, where he served as the supervisor of the carpentry department. He retired from the mill in 1979.
He and Iris had four children; however, Iris passed away in 1969.
Although he loved his departed wife dearly, he did find a new love and married Noreen Freeman a short time later. Her husband had passed away as well, and, coincidentally, his name was J.C. They enjoyed traveling and spent many happy years together before her passing in 2000.
Mayfield has touched a lot of lives throughout his life, but perhaps none more so than the life of his brother-in-law, friend, and longtime Opelikian George “Red” Marlett. “He’s been a wonderful friend to me and such an inspiration. He’s responsible for getting me into the Masons,” said an emotional Marlett.
Mayfield lived by himself until the age of 98 but moved to Athens to live with his daughter Judy about a year and half ago.
They have a big surprise birthday party planned for him at church. They had one last year, too. The preacher jokingly said then, ‘We’re making a big deal out of J.C.’s 99th birthday this year because some of you might not be here next year, but we’re sure J.C. will be.” Sure enough, some of those in attendance that day will not be there, but Mayfield will certainly be there, surrounded by his family and the friends that he’s been blessed with throughout his century on Earth.
Some of them may not be around for his 101st birthday, but everyone seems to think he will be.