Is doing the right thing, well . . . right? How far do you go in doing the right thing? Or how do we even really know what the right thing is? Read this amazing story and see if you’d see so clearly and if you’d do anything like this, for the “the right thing”.
In the 70’s when I was in my teens there was a popular movie out called, “Walking Tall”. It was like no movie anyone had seen before. It was based on a real person and a true story and had some off the chart violence, but at its foundation, what touched so many people was what a regular man and his family endured to do the right thing against crime and corruption. The movie became so popular that throughout the next several years they made two more of them and in 2004 another one was churned out staring the famous former wrestler turned actor Dwayne Johnson, otherwise known as The Rock. However, the best and most realistic movie was the first one, staring a then unknown actor, Joe Don Baker.
The movie was about Tennessee resident Bufford Pusser. Pusser was a big guy, 6 feet 6 inches and as a kid played football and basketball and as an adult, dabbled a bit in professional wrestling. He tried to get into the Marines but washed out due to having asthma. He moved to Chicago, fell in love and married his wife Pauline and started having babies. He tried his hand at some different ways to support his new family but moved back to Tennessee and became a small-town police chief. Shortly thereafter, he was elected sheriff of McNairy County.
Pusser saw deep corruption in the County and started a virtual one-man war on prostitution, gambling, moon-shining and other criminal activities occurring on the Mississippi-Tennessee state-line. Two groups led the criminal enterprises; The Dixie Mafia and the State Line Mob.
Sometimes Pusser used a big stick—like an oversized baseball bat to fend off and lay the law down against some of the rough and tough guys from the criminal side. He kicked ass and took names in the quest of cleaning out the endemic crime and corruption. At first, people were afraid to back him up because of fear of personal retribution. But soon, many good people got on his bandwagon.
Pusser survived many assassination attempts. In 1966, a female leader in the local criminal syndicate attempted to kill Pusser during an investigation of a robbery complaint at a local night club. She fired on Pusser with a concealed .38 pistol. Pusser returned fire and killed her. About a year later, Pusser was shot three times by an unidentified gunman. As sheriff, Pusser survived seven stabbings and eight shootings and would often switch cars to foil assassins from sabotaging his vehicles.
Pusser became a local hero because of his law enforcement exploits but he came to national prominence when Pusser’s wife was killed during an assassination ambush intended for him. The graphic scene was shown in the movie. Pusser suffered a bullet wound to the chin during that attempt and was left for dead by the gunmen. He spent eighteen days in the hospital before returning home and then went through several more surgeries to attempt to restore his deformed face.
Pusser vowed to bring all involved with his wife’s death to justice. He originally identified four assassins but sort of changed his story as to whom the killers were. Suffice to say, three out of the original four mentioned, were all murdered. Pusser was considered a suspect by some law enforcement officials as having a hand in the deaths. He was never charged. The one remaining person Pusser mentioned was supposedly the brains of the entire criminal enterprise and was the one Pusser believed masterminded the assassination attempt. That man was sentenced to life in prison for an unrelated crime.
Pusser became quite famous and was sought after as a guest on talk shows. I saw him on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” and was amazed at his humility and lack of ego. Carson asked him why he did all that he did even after going through the murder of his wife whom he loved so deeply. Pusser said, “I just try to do the right things in life”. When Carson asked him how he knew what the right things were in life, he simply said, “You just know what the right thing is”. Carson was taken aback, but very respectfully so. He seemed impressed by a simple man who had become a hero doing what he thought, or knew, was the right thing to do.
Pusser died shortly after he made it big. He was in discussion with a major studio to portray himself in an upcoming sequel to “Walking Tall”. A new movie was likely to put more light on local criminals; now National light. Pusser died from injuries sustained in a one-car automobile accident in his specially modified Corvette. He was driving home alone from The McNairy County Fair and struck an embankment at high speed, ejecting him from the vehicle. The car caught fire and burned to the ground.
Speculation as to the cause of the crash included rumors of sabotage to the steering mechanism and the tie-rods. However, Pusser’s blood alcohol content was said to have been very high; 0.18%, which is about twice the legal driving limit. The Tennessee State Trooper who worked the accident, later became McNairy County sheriff—Pusser’s old job.
I had an acquaintance at the time this was all happening; Emerson Batdorf. Emerson was in his 50’s and was the Entertainment Editor of The Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper. He traveled the globe interviewing people like Alfred Hitchcock and other icons and I used to pester him to tell me about them. He was kind and would indulge me. Emerson had interviewed Pusser shortly before his death. I asked him what he thought about the former lawman’s demise. Without blinking an eye, he said they killed him. He said because he was getting ready to do another movie which would have brought new publicity on local criminals, they killed him. He said there was no doubt. I believe Emerson was correct. I believe they killed a man trying to do the right thing. Pusser was 36 when he died.
Did Pusser go too far in doing the right thing? Was doing the right thing—right? Should he have just let it go and smelled the roses, instead?
Check out Steve’s latest book: http://tinyurl.com/zcbkkyy
Steve's a three-time survivor of violence in his youth and was an award winning police officer.
For several years, Steve also did radio political and current event commentary and taught college Criminal Justice. He is the former host of the long running 'The Kovacs Perspective' Internet radio talk show.
Presently, Steve is the owner and Managing Director of one of the oldest martial art schools in Ohio, 'The Mayfield Academy of Self-Defense'.
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