Alton Cadenhead

Born into a family of sharecroppers in Chipley, Georgia, in 1924, Alton Cadenhead developed an early interest in engineering. He even attempted to harness energy from a creek that flowed near his home by installing a homemade paddle wheel. When the local school system went bankrupt during the Great Depression, Cadenhead and his siblings drove to the neighboring county to attend school. After graduating from high school, Cadenhead attended a satellite school of the University of Georgia on a work scholarship sponsored by the Callaway Foundation. He was pursuing an engineering degree when the Empire of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

Cadenhead wanted to enlist in the Marine Corps because of its small, well-trained units, but he was deferred for one year because of a weak leg. He continued to attend college and exercised daily to build his strength. He married Ila Walls, the daughter of the manager of the mill where he worked, in 1942. The following year Cadenhead reenlisted in the Marine Corps and completed his training at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

As a corporal in the Third Marine Division, Cadenhead served in the Battle of Guam, where he helped take the capital city of Agana from the Japanese in the summer of 1944. During the battle Cadenhead suffered head injuries and temporarily lost his hearing. In the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945, he was injured when shrapnel pierced his left arm. After the war Cadenhead worked in the Marine Engineer Corps before returning to the United States. Reintegrating into civilian life was difficult for Cadenhead, but he eventually completed his engineering degree and designed carpet manufacturing plants in North Georgia. The owner of ten patents, Cadenhead lives in Calhoun, Georgia today.

Harnessing Power

"I had all kinds of quick get-rich schemes, but because I was so interested in civil engineering and in the energy that was in all the little streams that was going across the farms, I built a paddle wheel. That paddle wheel had five blades on…

New School

"The school system in Troup County went broke. And when it went broke, there was nothing to flow to the teachers, to compensate them, so they all retired, resigned. School shut down. We went to Harris County to see if it was possible for us to…

President Roosevelt

"I was studying Civics in high school, and the word came out that President Roosevelt was at Warm Springs, and he was coming across Pine Mountain to Highway 27 and was going to Fort Bennett. So we turned our school bus up to the top of the…

Work Scholarship

"I received a scholarship from the Callaway Foundation. We called them work scholarships. If you qualified for the scholarship and received the scholarship, you would also receive a job so that when you were not in school, you could work three…

The Marine Corps

"When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the world stood still for a moment. What are we going to do? And I thought, well, everybody is supposed to be doing something. So I decided I'm going to analyze the major armed forces. Army, Navy, Air…

Meeting Ila

"On my work scholarship, I would be assigned to certain areas that I was to work in. And mechanical drawing was one of the big things that I had trouble with, but I finally mastered it and I became good at that, so that's where I would…

Training for the Marine Corps

"Your primary rifle was what we called an M-1. And you had to qualify with all of these, and the M-1 was a real major factor. You had to qualify 500 yards, 300 yards, 200 yards. Prone position, kneeling position, and standing. And the last day…

The Battle of Guam

"You go in by waves and you land. Bear in mind, this is the first landing with your friends. Ten of us were from Georgia, okay? One did not hardly make it out of the water. When the ramp came down on the landing craft and the machine guns opened…

The Battle of Iwo Jima

"You couldn’t stop for anything. You had to keep moving. And I know that some of those men that, maybe we could’ve helped, but we couldn’t. We were so thin that night because the losses had been so great. Sometime during the night I began…

San Francisco Bay

"We finally made it to San Francisco. They pulled us into the harbor...For over two years I’d seen nothing but Marine green in the Pacific. The most beautiful colors I’d ever seen in my life. We went under the Golden Gate. It was hanging…

Civilian Life

"I came home after all the reunions. I opened the door to my real world and I saw a tremendous mountain. I had no money. My education and my life had been put on a shelf. I had to reclaim all of that. And when I looked at that mountain, it’d…

A Career in Engineering

"I did not make it through civil engineering. The company that I started with came to me and said, 'We started your education. We want to finish it. But we want to get you to change from civil engineering.' I said, 'What do you…
Watch Alton Cadenhead's Legacy Series videos here.