By Wendy Hood, Staff Correspondent
“I’ve had an exciting life, but I’ve also had some rough times,” said Betty Mize.
The widow of Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Colonel Ola Lee Mize, Betty resides in Etowah County. She was born on a farm on South 11th Street in Gadsden to Andrew and Geneva Jackson. Don’t bother to ask her the year, because she won’t tell you.
Colonel Mize, a U.S. Army veteran, earned his medal for his courage during combat in the Korean War. Colonel Mize passed away in March 2014.
As a child, Betty lived on Forrest Avenue next door to the curb market.
“When I was 10 years old, Daddy taught me to drive in a dump truck. I’d drive that dump truck in a circle around and around the curb market,” Betty said with a laugh.
At the time, Betty had two friends that she played with often – Lavolia Stovall and Betty Jo Mize, sister of Ola Lee Mize, or Lee, as he was known to his family and friends.
Betty recalls Lee as a boy as being wiry and tough, and at five years her senior, he had little regard for his sister’s playmate.
Betty describes herself as an outgoing child. She recalls taking trips every summer to Michigan to visit her cousin.
“The first year I went to Michigan, I was 11 years old. Mother and Daddy thought I was too young to go alone by bus, so they took me to Atlanta and put me on a plane. I flew to Detroit, where my aunt picked me up.”
Every year after that, Betty would take an 18-hour bus ride alone from Alabama to Michigan.
“Mother would always ask the bus driver to look after me. Back then, kids could do things like that.”
As Betty was finishing high school at age 16, Lee Mize was returning from Korea after being cited for the Medal of Honor. Betty and Lee were reintroduced by a mutual friend. Lee quickly took note that Betty was no longer the little girl with pigtails and horn-rimmed glasses but rather a charming young lady who was quite accomplished on the beauty pageant circuit.
Betty recalled how they had only been dating a short time when Lee ask her to travel with him and his family to Denver, Colorado, to meet President Dwight Eisenhower and receive the Medal of Honor.
There was only one problem.
“The military had a rule that said we had to be engaged in order for me to accompany Lee to receive the medal,” said Betty.
Lee persuaded Betty to pretend that they were engaged so she could go on the trip, and Betty reluctantly agreed.
Once in Denver at what was then known as the “Little White House,” the young couple sat and talked with President Eisenhower. Under the assumption that the couple was engaged, the President discussed Lee’s future assignments. Betty remembered that Lee looked at her with a strange expression.
A short time later, Lee genuinely proposed. The couple returned to Alabama and was married within a few weeks.
Betty recalled Lee’s unwavering commitment to his country throughout his life.
“He was a true warrior. His dedication as a soldier and patriot was greater than any man I’ve ever known or read about. He loved his country.”
Lee and Betty enjoyed many adventures together, such as sightseeing in Europe, attending presidential inaugurations and meeting U.S. Presidents John Kennedy and George W. Bush.
Although the military service provided exciting times, there was also much sacrifice.
“Lee and I were separated more than we were together for many years while he was in active duty,” said Betty.
Betty remembered how difficult it was when she would have to travel alone with their two small daughters. One particularly harrowing trip occurred when the family moved to Germany.
“We had to go on a small troop carrier boat,” said Betty.
Unfortunately, severe storms caused rough seas, and Betty suffered motion sickness during the entire 13-day trip. Her youngest daughter, Teresa, only one year old at the time, became ill with a high fever. Betty recalled how frightening it was during a time when they were crowded with several others in a small area waiting to get off the boat.
“It was stifling hot and Teresa’s fever was going higher,” said Betty.
Suddenly, the child began to convulse. Betty recalled begging a sailor to help get Teresa outside in the cool air. Although Betty did not know the sailor, she relinquished the little girl to him so he could take her outside. Once Teresa was in the cold air, the convulsions stopped.
“I was crying and scared death,” recalled Betty.
During the years that Lee was in service, Betty was busy teaching school.
“I taught four year-olds in Germany, then when we came home, I taught at the Episcopal Day School for 10 years, and then at Coosa Christian School for 12 years.”
After Lee retired from the military as a full colonel, Lee and Betty focused on serving the Lord. They faithfully attended Southside Baptist Church.
Betty and Lee have two children, four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Betty continues to take care of her family and is active in her church.