He was my High School English teacher and the varsity basketball coach the first year I played on the J.V. team. From his obituary-
Robert Eugene “Amigo” DeWitt
A retired teacher, coach and poet, he died peacefully in his home in Baton Rouge at 4:25 p.m. Monday, June 25, 2007. He was 82 and a native of Tipton, Ind. He was a U.S. Army veteran of World War II, having fought in the Normandy invasion of Omaha Beach with the 117th Infantry, 30th Division, and suffering two wounds. He was the recipient of several medals, including the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Normandy Campaign Badge and European Theater Ribbon. He was a poet who created more than 2,700 poems and 11 chapbooks; president of the Jacksonville, Florida, Poetry Society and president of LSPS; received Laureate Man of Letters UPLI 1985; Medaille Argent Academy (FR) of Arts, Sciences, Lettres (1986); International Eminent Poet, India 1987.
If there is any appreciation for literature to be found in me it was planted there by the man I (and many others) called ‘Coach’. In my case the seed stayed dormant for decades after I finished High School but started growing several years ago and shows no sign of stopping. Coach DeWitt had many layers to him that he didn’t openly expose. I still remember after one typically hot Florida summer league basketball session led by Coach, held in our old non-air conditioned school gym. While we were showering afterward I noticed a rather nasty looking scar across his abdomen. Many years later, sometime in my mid-forties, he told me the story of his experience during World War II. Having come ashore onto Omaha Beach later in the day on June 6th, 1944 as part of the backup troops rushed over to reinforce the Divisions that originally landed and suffered high casualties, Coach’s unit fought thru the hedgerows until July 7th when a German ’88’ artillery shell exploded among his squad during an attack leaving him and one other soldier as the only survivors. Seriously wounded Coach was hospitalized for 15 months before being released. One of the chapbooks mentioned above is called ‘Battle Stains’ of which I have several copies. Included in its 85 pages are observations about soldiering, glory, death, loss, patriotism and questions about who will remember after they (he and his comrades) are all gone. Inside the front cover he finished his inscription to me with this thought – “All wars are a waste of lives.” Coach frequently questions why he lived while better men died. In my 50 years here, he is among the best men I’ve known.
I just learned of his death today. Coincidentally I also read these words by Jim Dodge in his novel ‘Not Fade Away’ today which made me think about what happened in France exactly sixty-three years ago-
Death laughed and sent me back.”
Another of Coach’s chapbooks (he used the pen name ‘Amigo’) was his take on our small town’s population using the same form found in Edgar Lee Master’s
‘Spoon River Anthology’. In my copy Coach pointed out in the inscription that unlike Masters he remembered to bury himself. Here is the epitaph he wrote for himself-
DeWitt, Rob’t. E.
My children settled on DAV on the stone.
Half of them were proud of their father;
Half of them hoped I would be forgotten.
I fought for my country in Normandy,
Returned to college to earn a degree,
More degrees as I taught for forty years,
Coached teams who took me to State,
Wrote a play that made television,
A textbook about vocabulary development
And over two thousand poems, some published.
The priest at Burnt River Chapel asked me
To be Lay Reader and Chapel gardener.
Half the congregation gave me respect;
Half wished I would find another church.
Half the town remembered I taught well;
Half cursed me for treating Blacks equal.
How you remember me doesn’t really matter.
God and I have settled all differences.
(from ‘Burnt River Chapel – An Anthology Of Ghost Writers and Their Medium’ by Amigo/Robert E. DeWitt 1995)