The Tennessee Maneuvers – A Temporary Interruption

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Soldiers from the 2nd Army invaded Jerry McFarland’s family farm during the The Tennessee Maneuvers. The infantrymen dug fox-holes from where they practiced their defensive fighting positions and they transformed a long, level and narrow stretch of pasture into an airport. Oh my --- if his land could talk the stories it would tell!

A day doesn’t go by that Jerry and his wife, Jennifer, don’t think about the young soldiers and how they prepared for World War II in "their back yard". To this day, you can see some of the fox-holes, often times, the couple finds themselves stopping in the middle of their farm duties to reflect on the training that took place here and the sacrifices the McFarlands proudly endured to aid the war effort.

As a young boy, Jerry heard his parents and grandparents talk about the The Tennessee Maneuvers which ignited his interest for the military and history .

Many folks in Middle Tennessee address the Wilson County native as "Colonel Mac" because he retired as a colonel in 1999 from the U.S. Army and U.S. National Guard after 33 years of service.

He graduated from the Command and General Staff College of the U.S. Army and the U.S. Army Amour School, received a B.A. from David Lipscomb University, and pursued graduate studies at Middle Tennessee State University.

During his military career, he also served as the Director of Civil Defense and Emergency Preparedness which is now called the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA).

After retiring from the military, Col. McFarland served 8 years as the Director of the Wilson County Emergency Management Agency (WEMA), which consisted of the county’s fire, medical, and homeland security services.

In 2008, Colonel McFarland was appointed to the Wilson County Commission and currently serves as the county’s District 5 elected representative. He has served on the Budget, Education, Law Enforcement, Agricultural Management and currently chairs the Planning & Zoning Board and has served as the Wilson County Historian for the past 7 years.

Colonel McFarland is a past President and Member of the Alvin C. York Foundation, past President and Member of the Raise the Gunboats Foundation and is currently a Member and past-Chair of the Wilson County Veterans’ Museum, and a member of the Fallen Soldiers March Foundation.

He founded Possomtown Outreach, a community business and neighbor supported charity to feed and clothe the people in Appalachia, specifically Hancock County, Tennessee. This year, the Outreach provided boxes of food to 278 families in the area in addition to warm coats, hygiene items and children’s toys and clothing.

Colonel McFarland lives, farms, and raises cattle with his wife, Jennifer, on land that has been in his family for over 200 years. And the same place that played host to the The Tennessee Maneuvers.



Jack Cato had a front row seat to the military training exercises called the The Tennessee Maneuvers. The soldiers of the 2nd Army camped out and trained on and around his family’s farm that was situated along the Cumberland River in Smith County, TN.

Jack was fascinated by what he saw and quickly made friends with the soldiers. During one of those visits, he found out they were not allowed leave the field and go to the store, so he decided to go for them!

The trek to the grocery store was quite the adventure for young Jack. With some change his parents gave him, he hopped on his bicycle, traveled along a dirt road to the river where he crossed the pontoon bridge the soldiers had built for their training and finally, walked his bicycle along the shoulder of the highway to the grocery store. There, he bought 2 candy bars for a nickel and sold them to the soldiers for 15 cents, but most of the time they paid him a quarter!

Following graduation from Smith County High, Jack started his own trucking business. Most of the time he hauled crushed stone to build roads, subdivisions and airports in neighboring counties. That all came to a screeching halt on June 6, 1951 when Uncle Sam called him to the Korean War.

After basic training, the Army sent him to a special school in Japan where he learned about mines, booby traps, explosives and how to cut railroad tracks, steel girders and I-Beams with dynamite. After that, he went to Korea where he served 13 months in the 151 Combat Engineer battalion. His Company B built and maintained bridges, roads and air strips.

One of Jack’s scariest jobs was clearing mine fields. He worked with another soldier who walked in front of him with a metal detector. When the warning bell sounded, Jack, who was crawling on his belly, would dig around the grass and dirt until he found the trip wire. The duo would dismantle it and move on to the next one.

Because he had to sell his truck after being drafted, Jack didn’t have a job when he came home in March of 1953. He decided to take advantage of what’s called the GI Bill and go to the Tennessee School of Broadcasting to learn how to repair radios and televisions.

In 1956 Jack and his wife, Ruth, opened a television sales and service business in Lebanon. They did very well because televisions were new. They soon expanded and added appliances, furniture, wood burning stoves and lawn and garden equipment.

Jack was the first Weed Eater dealer in Tennessee, a product that brought him fame and fortune! That same entrepreneurial mind Jack had as a teen, selling those candy bars to the soldiers, gave him another idea! While making tv repair calls in the home, he’d show folks how to "cut grass with a string". And it worked --- in just six weeks, Jack sold 144 weed eaters! And it wasn’t even grass cutting season! He also put ads in the local newspaper with the headline "Come see Jack Cato Cut Grass With a String". This caught the inventor’s attention who paid Jack to allow him to use his image and slogan for national advertising!

In 1970, businessman Danny Evins approached Jack and asked if he’d like to invest in his venture of adding a restaurant to his gas station on Highway 109 in Lebanon. Evins said he was looking for 12 people to give him $10,000 each to do this and he was going to call the restaurant Cracker Barrel. Jack readily admits, he thought it was the craziest idea ever, but again, his entrepreneurial spirit took over and he wrote the check and has never regretted the decision! Jack served on the board for 15 years and helped the group choose locations – always near interstates! After all these years, Jack still loves to dine at Cracker Barrel!

Jack is also proud of his philanthropic work which includes: helping raise money and awareness for organ transplants, sponsoring and hosting annual Korean War reunions for 8 years, being part of a group that created, designed and raised money for the City of Lebanon Museum and History Center located at city hall, membership at the Chamber of Commerce and allowing various organizations to meet in his office --- for free.

Today, Jack is the president of Cato Industrial Development, LLC. The group owns warehouses and retail space constructed on land he had previously purchased.

Jack and Ruth have been married for 63 year and live in the home they built in 1985. Together they have one son, one daughter, one grandson and one granddaughter.


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