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Heroes Among Us: Doug Hawthorne

Published: Oct. 29, 2021 at 6:34 PM EDT
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WHIGHAM, Ga. (WALB) - Doug Hawthorne was born in Whigham in the 1920s.

“I even remember driving to Cairo with a mule in a wagon,” he explained.

He was dedicated to the military from a young age.

“I was 16 years old. I went to a military college up in Dahlonega, Georgia,” Hawthorne said.

At 17, he enlisted in the Army reserves, until his 18th birthday in 1945.

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“Since my birthday is January 29th, February the 7th they called me to active duty,” he said. “They didn’t waste any time getting me.”

During World War II, he went overseas, but the war in Europe had already ended.

“We shipped out of the states supposedly for reinforcements for the invasion of Japan,” Hawthorne explained. “But, we got out in the far East, and would you believe it, they heard I was coming and they gave up, too.”

Over the next 30 years, he went from being an enlisted soldier to a commissioned officer.

He married his wife Emily in 1949.

She supported his military service over the next few decades, including during his deployment to Vietnam.

“I was assigned to an evaluation unit testing different things the Army was doing in a combat environment like they had in Vietnam,” he said, describing his work evaluating medical evacuation flights.

Eventually, he and his wife came back to his hometown of Whigham.

They never had any children of their own, but there was a loved one with whom they had a special connection: their niece, Emily.

Hawthorne's adopted daughter Emily Shutes nominated him for "Heroes Among Us."
Hawthorne's adopted daughter Emily Shutes nominated him for "Heroes Among Us."(WALB)

“Taught her how to swim,” Hawthorne said. “Later on, she didn’t live with us but she stayed with us every chance she could get. We considered her almost to be ours. We just didn’t have birthright.”

“Every time school was out, I was down there,” Emily Shutes explained.

The Hawthornes didn’t raise her, but they took on parental roles in her life.

“He’s always been that dad for me, that father figure. Any advice I needed, he was my go to person,” Shutes said.

Later came Emily’s son, Kolby, in 1999.

“I didn’t deliver the baby but I was there, to make sure she did do that thing,” Hawthorne said.

Doug’s fatherly role transitioned into a grandfatherly one.

Now, Hawthorne serves in both a father and grandfather role.
Now, Hawthorne serves in both a father and grandfather role.(Emily Shutes)

“We put him through all this training: baseball training, soccer training,” he said. “We’d go to all these little outpost towns where the kids had soccer games.”

“He was at every game,” Shutes said of Hawthorne.

Doug’s wife Emily passed away in 2012.

In 2013, when he was in his 80s, he and his niece took a step to ensure their relationship legally represented how they felt it had always been.

“Yeah, it was getting a little late, but I did ask her,” Hawthorne said. “I felt like I should have been her parent anyway. I asked her would she want to be adopted. I didn’t force anything on her. She agreed that she would like to be adopted, so that’s when I became a proud father of a daughter.”

In 2013, Hawthorne adopted his niece Emily, gaining a daughter and a grandson, Emily's son Kolby.
In 2013, Hawthorne adopted his niece Emily, gaining a daughter and a grandson, Emily's son Kolby.(WALB/Doug Hawthorne)

“The lawyer that did the adoption in Thomasville, she’s like, ‘I’ve never done an adoption where the parent was 88 years old,’” Shutes said.

Now, she’s grateful to not only have him in her life but for his military service as well.

“The older I get, I’ve realized what he sacrificed with the stories he’s told,” she said.

“It was a pleasure to be a part of the military,” Hawthorne said. “If I had to do it, I would do it all over again.”

If you know a current military member or veteran you want to nominate for “Heroes Among Us,” click here.

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