Decatur Daily News
By Evan Belanger Staff Writer
October 16, 2016
Retired Lt. Col. James Walker didn’t know his military heritage when he was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.
But Walker, an Austin High School teacher who has a passion for history and has written six books, knows how to look back in time and find the stories that matter.
"If you don't know where you're going, you don't know where you've been," he said in a recent interview at Austin, where he is the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps instructor.
Walker served 11 months and 28 days in Vietnam and was well into his 24-year career with the Army before he ever heard the name Thomas Lane.
In fact, he was 39 when his elderly aunt casually mentioned an ancestor of his fought in “the war.” Unsure of which war she meant, he quickly ran through the list: the Korean War, World War II, World I, the Spanish-American War.
“Now I’m getting interested,” Walker recalled when his aunt confirmed it was the Civil War.
On Christmas Eve, Lane ran away from the plantation and walked the 25 miles to Pulaski, Tennessee, where he joined the 111th U.S. Colored Infantry for the Union Army.
Walker speculates today that his ancestor’s sale to a man named Green accounts for the name change in military records.
“When he joined the Union, his last name was Green,” he said. “After the war, you could pick your own name, so he went back to Lane, which was probably also a slave name, but it was his first.”
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