During the Korean War, C.J. Masters found himself on the front line while serving as a corporal with the U.S. Army. He was drafted at 19, following in the footsteps of two of his brothers — one who was in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II and the other one who served for 14 years.
While he didn’t have a choice but to serve, the now 86-year-old looks back on that time with pride.
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“I knew they were going to get me sooner or later, and they got me,” he said, smiling.
“I’m not a bit sorry I got drafted into the service,” he said. “I enjoyed it. Once I went there and got home, I enjoyed it more. Now, that’s something any kid could do.”
Each year, the Crothersville Red, White & Blue Festival committee chooses a local veteran who served his or her country and the community to honor during the opening ceremonies.
Masters was the veteran honored this year, receiving a plaque from festival organizer Sherry Bridges and a round of applause from the people gathered Thursday night.
“It made me feel good. I enjoyed it,” he said. “I hadn’t been coming up here (to the festival) a lot until they had me come tonight. I didn’t know they were going to do this.”
Born Feb. 10, 1931, in Lancaster, Kentucky, Masters grew up as one of 10 children and attended Buckeye School.
After he was drafted, he took boot camp at Camp Gordon in Georgia. Then in October 1951, he was sent straight to the front line in Korea.
“Mostly lying in the bunker of the night. You weren’t allowed out,” Masters said. “We had no heat the whole winter. You slept in your sleeping bag in what clothes you had on. You took your helmet off and your boots, and the rest of the clothes stayed on.”
At one point, Masters was on a rotation of driving a Jeep for the company commander, who was from Louisville, Kentucky.
He also said he served in the same outfit as Audie Murphy, one of the most decorated American combat soldiers who later became an actor.
Masters was discharged in October 1953 with perfect attendance.
“I just took it day by day and went on,” he said.
He then moved to Crothersville and met Mary Morgan, and they dated for a couple of years before getting married. They were together 61 years until she died Oct. 8, 2015.
Masters made deliveries for the United Parcel Service before operating a Sunoco gas station in Crothersville from 1962 to 1988.
He also ran an arcade in town.
“If you were there too long, he would say, ‘Does your mother know you’re here? You need to call your mother. You’ve been here long enough,’” Bridges said. “He watched over us just like we were his own.”
Masters was involved with racing for more than 15 years, serving as a chief mechanic and entering cars in area tracks, including Brownstown Speedway.
He also helped his two sons start MasterSbilt Race Cars in Crothersville.
“In fact, I still draw a paycheck from MasterSbilt,” Masters said, smiling.
For all he has done for his country and community, Bridges said it was an honor to recognize Masters.
“If you’ve been in Crothersville long enough, C.J. was a dad to all of us,” she said. “He’s a hardworking man, and even though he was born in Lancaster, he has made Crothersville his home.”
Masters said he would encourage others interested in joining the military to do so.
“They can get anything they want,” he said.
“They can go through ROTC. That’s college education plum free. All they have to do is go along with what they want.”
42nd annual Crothersville Red, White & Blue Festival
7 a.m.: FFA breakfast
8 a.m.: Coed volleyball tournament; $20 per player; maximum of eight players per team (school gymnasium)
9 a.m.: Booths open
9 a.m.: Waterball contest registration; $50 for a team of five
10 a.m. Waterball contest
10 a.m.: Pedal tractor pull registration (South Preston Street)
10 a.m.: Cake and pie contest registration (town hall on Howard Street)
10 a.m.: Bubble gum blowing contest; ages 5 and up (stage)
10 a.m. to 3 p.m.: Historical display (Hamacher Hall on Howard Street)
10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.: Fish fry (Crothersville-Vernon Township Volunteer Fire Department on Moore Street)
10:30 a.m.: Parade registration (corner of East and Bard streets)
10:30 a.m.: Pedal tractor pull
11 a.m.: Porkburger eating contest (stage)
11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.: Inflatable amusements; wristbands $10, single tickets $1
11:15 a.m.: Cake and pie contest judging
Noon: Pet and bike parade; preschool to fourth grade (stage)
12:30 p.m.: Long Family Singers
1:30 p.m.: Parade
3 p.m.: Stars and Stripes cloggers
4 p.m.: Adam Schill of Big Top Productions LLC
4:30 p.m.: Brian Fink
5:15 p.m.: Cake and pie auction (stage)
5:30 p.m.: Ko’s Martial Arts
6 p.m.: Matthew Williams
7:15 p.m.: Monday Night Special
8:15 to 10:30 p.m.: Alley Katz
9 p.m.: Vendor raffles (stage)
10 p.m.: Zambelli Fireworks show (Bard Street Park)
10:30 p.m.: Festival closes