As a new law enforcement correspondent for The Columbia Record in 1980 and 1981 the present writer was required to work with the men and women who served the people who were readers and subscribers to the metropolitan daily newspaper. This entailed morning briefings that required the reporter to make calls to the police chiefs, fire chiefs, sheriffs, and spokespersons for SLED and the FBI. With the cities of West Columbia, Cayce, Leesburg, Batesville, and Lexington County on the beat, assigned by City Editor Robert Hitt III, the working relationship with law enforcement officers was essential to the task of being a newspaperman for one of South Carolina's oldest and most respected newspapers.
Although City Editor Hitt, a third generation newspaperman, made it clear that a newspaper reporter was sent to cover a story, get the facts, and to report the news without malice or favor, the working relationship with FBI agents, police chiefs, and fire chiefs, and sheriffs required that the reporter establish a relationship based on trust and civility.
Chief Barry Anderson loved stock car racing and the memory of going to the races as a small child created a common interest that fostered a relationship as journalist and chief that lasted after The Columbia Record closed its doors for the final time on April 1, 1988. Sheriff James Metts’ who shared the same name with a different spelling as the father of the journalist, provided valuable information whenever a major story broke and kept the reporter one step ahead of his chief reporting rival Peter O'Boyle.
And nothing happened at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport without a call to the newsroom for the journalist who covered the airport as part of the Lexington County beat. Especially the tip that a certain President was arriving in the state via the Columbia Metropolitan Airport. When the writer's only brother, James Metze, Jr., arrived from San Francisco to attend the funeral of his father and namesake it was the decade long trusting relationship with Columbia Metropolitan Airport Captain Charles Taylor who avoided turning a funeral for a father into a disaster.
Captain Taylor called the present writer to report that the Airport Police had a man in custody for carrying a concealed weapon on a United States flight. The FAA violation was a serious crime. Captain Taylor was very serious. "Professor Metze, I am calling to inform you that we have a man in custody who was caught with a gun in his luggage aboard a United States flight. This is a felony. The reason agents have not taken him away is that he claims that he is your brother," Taylor said.
The writer had just received a letter from Congressman Floyd Spence who had been his Congressman and friend since he was the President of the Representative Council and a newspaper reporter and editor for The Blue Print Newspaper at Dreher High School in 1974. Congressman Spence was the first person to call after the death of James Earl Metze, Sr. "Captain Taylor I am responsible. I paid for his flight. I sent for him the night my father died. Please don't send him to jail. My father only had two sons and he had not seen James since I sent for him in December of 1989. He moved to San Francisco in 1972. I sent for him to come home. Please don’t put him in jail. His father died this week,” the writer said.
With the death of the writer's father on January 23, 1990, from cancer the call from Chief Charles Taylor of the Columbia Metropolitan Airport Police was another shock. As his words "This is a felony rang through the writer's mind and created the image of his father's first born son and namesake going to prison days after the tragic death of James Earl Metze, Sr., it was a horrifying thought. The criminal penalty for carrying a gun on a United States flight was 20 years in prison.
But here is where building trust counts. Captain Taylor was an extraordinary law enforcement officer. Having met the writer's father on February 14, 1986, as he assisted his son and carried suitcases bound for a flight to Paris, France., Taylor said that he knew of his death and he would be willing to release James Earl Metze, Jr., to the writer’s personal recognizance if there was certification that he was legally the brother and was in South Carolina to attend his father's funeral. As the executor of the estate and all the funeral arrangements the writer had been assisted by his friend and Congressman Spence with the Veteran's Administration and getting the World War II memorial grave stone. Congressman Spence was a genius for cutting through red tape. He always honored America's Armed Forces and the men and women of the United States of America services.
It is tragic that this story could not be told in the Deep South decades ago. The compassion that Congressman Floyd Spence and Columbia Metropolitan Airport Executive Director Chief Taylor showed to a confused and devastated African American man, who had committed a felony that could have landed him in prison, was resolved when the writer arrived at the police headquarters with two birth certificates that legally verified that James Earl Metze, Sr., sired two sons.
Captain Taylor said, "Professor Metze we all know that you are the late James Earl Metze, Sr., son. If the man we have in custody is his only other son, we will set him free to attend his father's funeral with your assurance that he will be on the first flight back to San Francisco after the funeral. He should not have carried a gun on a United States flight," Taylor said.
All the calls and concern shown to Captain Taylor and his officers in the decade since being assigned as the Lexington County Law Enforcement Correspondent for The Columbia Record kept the present writer's only brother from going to prison. Captain Taylor did not have to release James Earl Metze, Jr. The police report was given to the writer, like so many copied to the reporter when making the rounds to each police station years before, clearly said that carrying a gun on a United States flight was a felony.
As the people attack law enforcement officers, men and women who often sacrifice their lives to protect and serve, many true stories of compassion are never told. Chief Vernon Boatwright of the West Columbia Police Department said it would not have been right to put James Earl Metze, Jr., in prison because it was obvious that he was not in right mind to carry a gun on a plane to South Carolina. Both he and his father served in the United States Army and his service prevented the present writer from going to Vietnam as the only surviving son.
After the funeral for James Earl Metze, Sr., the Metze family escorted James Earl Metze, Jr., to the Columbia Metropolitan Airport. Congressman Floyd Spence came to express his condolences and to let James Earl Metze, Jr., know that a lot of good people in South Carolina had gone to bat for him. Congressman Spence made it clear that it was a very serious matter. As the flight took off the runway for San Francisco Congressman Spence stood with the writer and his family for a story that could never be told until now.
James Earl Metze, Jr., died in San Francisco from cancer on July 30, 2003. In his last recorded interview with the present writer he remembered the kindness of Congressman Floyd Spence and Captain Charles Taylor in January of 1990. He never returned to South Carolina again.
On this Memorial Day all Americans are asked to pause and remember men like Congressman Floyd Spence and Captain Charles Taylor. The present writer was born on Memorial Day 1956. It is a day to give thanks and to remember.
Memorial Day is on Monday May 26, 2014.
Happy Memorial Day America!
49 U.S. Code § 46505 - Carrying a weapon or explosive on an aircraft is a serious crime.