William Travis Ivey was born in Piedmont, Alabama on July 18, 1920 to James (Jim) and Roxie Ivey. His father was employed by the young and expanding Standard-Coosa-Thatcher yarn mill which was established in Piedmont in 1891. They subsequently had two more sons, Hobert and Adrian.
Piedmont is a small town east of Birmingham, Alabama where our subject, Travis Ivey, has been a loyal member of the Piedmont First Baptist Church for many years
Travis and Hobert served in the U.S. military services during World War 2 and Adrian, the youngest, also served in the Korean War. Hobert joined the Army Air Corp shortly after Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1942. Travis had become employed by the SCT yarn mill by this time but was drafted into the Army on August 4, 1943.
After 18 weeks of basic training in the U.S., his unit shipped out for the European theater. In an interview with him, Travis said he attended worship services aboard the troop ship in their chapel and that he was saved during one those services. It was this fact and his sincere devotion to God that was to be of vital importance to him in the coming years ahead.
He served in France and Germany, and his outfit began a push through Germany, had taken Heidelberg and advanced on into Nuremberg on April 19, 1945. Travis had mentioned that the daybreak was beautiful and the weather pleasant, a lovely sight to see, not realizing it would be the last dawn he would ever see. As the day was drawing to a close and starting to grow dark, he and several other foot soldiers were hanging on to the outside of a tank as they moved cautiously through the streets.
As the light began to fade, a German fighter plane came over and spotted them, it circled back quickly and fired a missile which hit the tank, exploded and killed two of Travis’ buddies and injured several more including himself. One boy’s right arm was severed completely, above the elbow. Travis suffered severe injures to his head and face. His right eye was totally destroyed and the left one severely damaged with shrapnel particles embedded in it. The upper portion of the nose cartilage was also destroyed. His right arm was almost severed as was the other man’s. But they were able to save the arm which still bears a deep diagonal scar around it
The injured men were taken quickly back into France where they were treated. Travis spent several months under intensive care and underwent several surgeries removing the shrapnel bits from his left eye in the hope of saving at least some portion of sight, but all their efforts failed and Travis was left totally blind.
He was returned to the United States in October 1945 but remained hospitalized for more treatment and rehabilitation for some time. Travis reports that his entire time in the army was 4 years, 3 months and 29 days.
Before entering the military service, Travis was married to the former Gladys Stewart.
She was the epitome of a loyal and faithful wife. When he returned home she was undaunted by his handicap and assumed the duty of a loving wife as if nothing had changed. Her courage undoubtedly assisted Travis in his unusually swift adjustment to the life of darkness that he faced. It was in those early months after his return that this writer first met the man. Travis was walking down the sidewalk with his cane moving back and forth in front of him. He stepped lively and unhesitatingly, upright and head held erect. He walked to the corner and turned left as accurately as anyone with sight could do.
I learned later that he had studied the few blocks downtown by first being assisted and counting his normal steps from one spot to another. He learned to turn accurately into the doorway of each store where he cared to go. The only problem he had was if he came to an intersection with a stoplight. He knew when he was there but could not tell if it was red or green for him. So, if traffic stopped and cross traffic started , he could know when to go, but if there were no vehicles at the time, he had to stop and wait. But, the merchants, businessmen and many of the town residents all knew Travis. If anyone saw him standing waiting to hear some traffic, they would step out and say, “You can go now, Travis.” He would then reply with a hearty “Thank you” and step quickly across the street.
In 1954, Travis determined that he would gain some further education and applied for admission to the Jacksonville State College in nearby Jacksonville, Alabama. He asked for no favoritism. He had someone read his assignments to him and also recorded some of the professors lectures in his classes. He was graduated with a degree in Secondary Education in May, 1958. The school had no provisions for schooling the blind, and Travis was the first of such to be graduated there. His name became a household word in the area for his determination to be self sufficient.
Travis was an inspiration to all, even to those with 20/20 vision. He learned peoples voices and when they greeted him, he would reply calling them by their first names. During the Korean War, another young Piedmont man returned from that war blinded also. He was an awfully fine young man as was Travis. Yet at first, he had real difficulty in adapting to his disability and had some severe depression problems. Travis, who could understand that this was an easy condition to fall into, met and talked to the young fellow and encouraged him to try and overcome his concerns. Whether or not it was all due to Travis, he did start to improve and began to deal with it quite well.
After graduation, Travis secured employment as an instructor at the E.H. Gentry Trade School in Talladega, Alabama where he worked for 25 years until retirement in1984. This school is a part of the Talladega School For The Blind. Two major efforts for this great man has been to work with, encourage and help those who are blind, or otherwise disabled and/or veterans. His patriotism has never waned and his own debilitations have given him added drive to try and help others with similar problems to be reconciled with the facts and to gain pleasure and contentment regardless of their state.
Upon his release from the military service, he became a member of the Piedmont First Baptist church where he remains to this day. His faith has not faltered either in his earthly life nor spiritual life and he knows that God has been on his side. He has been an inspiration to Christians and non-Christians alike, especially to those who are depressed.
Early on, the Masonic Lodges in Alabama had a rule excluding those who were blind. However, they abolished that rule in 1972 while Travis was teaching at Talladega and he became a member of the lodge there. Then, upon retirement he moved his membership to the Lozahatchee Masonic Lodge # 97 here in Piedmont, he has served in every level including that of Worshipful Master in 1992.
A number of years ago, his wife Gladys was diagnosed with incurable cancer. It was said that Travis offered her any further form of treatment or help that she might wish to try, but she told him no, she just wanted to go home and live as happily as possible together until she passed away. Needless to say, Travis was faced with a serious dilemma. He could not manage a household alone with safety. But he had such a multitude of friends who offered any help or assistance he might want.
After some time, he met another fine lady whose husband had passed away and they were soon married and are still together until this writing. She is the former Jo Holmes, now Jo Ivey. Again God’s providential watch care has afforded him a helper with which to finish his life.
It has been my privilege to be acquainted with this man for 60 years. And I can truthfully say that I have never heard one word of criticism of, or about him. I am sure there are others, like me who actually wish we could be of the kind and helpful nature of this man. Travis is 91 years and 4 months old, now. His mind is clear, his hearing has diminished, and of course he has spent 66 of those years without being able to see those people of whom he has tried to help, or the beauty of the dawn and the autumn colors surrounding him.
But he still offers to God, his sincere gratitude that his life was spared on that fateful evening where two of his buddies were not so fortunate, so very far away from their home and loved ones. On the day after our interview, Travis was driven by his wife to a park where he participated in a memorial service honoring our fallen veterans. Those of us who have known this kind and charitable man, have been blessed.