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Poll finds gloomy feelings in state
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By Paul B. Johnson and Guy Lucas

HIGH POINT — North Carolinians remain dissatisfied with the direction of the country and pessimistic about the economy, according to the latest High Point University Poll results released this week.

And although those sentiments have been in place since early in the COVID-19 pandemic, HPU’s Consumer Sentiment Index, which is based on five questions about how survey respondents view the U.S. economy and their own personal finances, is at its lowest point since the Great Recession.

The newest index, based on November 2021 HPU Poll data, is recorded at 65.2. The only time it has been lower since 2010 is September 2011, when it hit 59.9 as unemployment in the state was surging because of the recession, according to an HPU press release.

The index peaked at 95.3 in November 2016. Since early 2018 it has fallen sharply, hitting 74.4 last November and 71.4 in February.

The HPU Poll found that nearly two-thirds — 64% — of North Carolinians surveyed said the country is on the wrong track, while 25% said the country is headed in the right direction, with the remainder not responding.

As bad as that sounds, it’s better than the summer of 2020, when 77% said the country was on the wrong track and only 15% said the country was headed in the right direction. In October, 58% said the country was on the wrong track.

President Joe Biden’s approval rating has dropped to 34%, down from 38% in the September survey. The latest poll showed 55% disapproved of the president’s job performance, with the remainder not responding.

The first HPU survey of North Carolina residents after Biden’s inauguration found him with an approval rating of 51%.

The current approval reflects the sentiment about the overall direction of the country, said Martin Kifer, chairman of the HPU Political Science Department and director of the poll.

“The direction-of-the-country question shows general feelings that the public has about how things are going. That overall attitude is related to how the public will judge individual politicians,” Kifer said.

Gov. Roy Cooper had higher approval than Biden, not much changed from the previous HPU Poll released in September: 43% approved of his performance, with 38% disapproving and 19% not answering. In the September survey, the governor had an approval rating of 45%, a difference that’s well within the poll’s margin of error.

“Neither of their ratings in this poll is particularly high,” Kifer told The High Point Enterprise. “Part of that is general disapproval, and another part for each leader is how the public as a whole judges their individual actions and characteristics.”

The latest HPU Poll surveyed 968 state residents between Oct. 22-Nov. 4 and has a margin of error of 3.3%.

pjohnson@hpenews.com | 336-888-3528 | @HPEpaul

Motorcyclist dies after wrecking
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HIGH POINT — A motorcyclist wrecked and died of his injuries late Tuesday afternoon in southwest High Point.

Andrew Shea, 18, of High Point was riding a 2008 Yamaha YZFR6 east on Market Center Drive about 5:20 p.m. when he lost control near the Prospect Street overpass, crossed the concrete median into the westbound lanes and was thrown from the motorcycle, the High Point Police Department said.

The motorcycle then struck a 1993 Nissan pickup truck driven by Kevin Freeman, 41, of Archdale, who was not injured, police said.

Shea was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident.

Excessive speed and rider inexperience were contributing factors for this crash, police said.

The collision of the riderless motorcycle with the pickup was still being investigated, but no charges were expected to be filed, police said.

Salute to a hero
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HIGH POINT -- Four-thousand miles from High Point, in an exquisitely manicured cemetery of green grass and artfully aligned white crosses, lie the remains of a High Point serviceman who never came home.

His story may not be unique, considering nearly 8,000 American soldiers lie buried beside and around him in this same cemetery. But for one High Point couple — and for a family of complete strangers overseas, who adopted the fallen serviceman’s gravesite — it’s a story that must be preserved.

“I was only 2 years old when my uncle was killed, but he held me on his lap when I was a baby,” says Myra Gardner, now 79 and still living in High Point. “He and his wife didn’t have any children, but when he was home on leave, they sat together and passed me back and forth. I was the only child they had ever held together.”

Gardner’s uncle was 2nd Lt. Marion Akers Hutchens of the U.S. Army Air Corps. His family and friends in High Point called him Akers. His buddies in the 389th Bomb Group called him Hutch.

The rest of us can just call him a hero.

Gardner and her husband, Roy, have photos of Hutchens, who was only 23 when he was killed during World War II. They have the telegram confirming he had died when his plane was shot down on Dec. 25, 1944. They have a letter from a surviving crew member. They have letters Hutchens wrote to his parents and wife from overseas.

What they don’t have is the ability to visit Hutchens’ gravesite on days like Veterans Day and Memorial Day, to place flowers there in his memory. Thankfully, though, they have friends overseas — a family they’ve never even met — who care as much as they do about the legacy of 2nd Lt. Marion Akers Hutchens.

A bright future shatteredBy all accounts, Hutchens was an outstanding young man with a bright future. At High Point High School, Class of 1939, he was co-valedictorian and a member of the National Honor Society. He served as student body vice president and was active in several clubs.

After graduating, Hutchens worked in the advertising department at The High Point Enterprise. His goal was to become a journalist, a goal he had to defer because of World War II.

Meanwhile, he fell in love with a young High Point gal named Violet Glenn. They married and dreamed of raising a family together, but that, too, would have to wait until after the war.

When the U.S. entered the war, Hutchens enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps and became a pilot, eager to see combat and help defeat the enemy.

“He was offered a safer job in Florida, as an instructor, but he didn’t want it,” Roy Gardner says. “He wanted to go overseas.”

Hutchens’ final assignment was with the 8th Air Force based in Hethel, England. Piloting a B-24 Liberator, he and his crew participated in a Christmas Day bombing raid, but he never returned.

According to witnesses, the bomber took on heavy anti-aircraft flak, which damaged the fuselage and ultimately caught the craft on fire. The plane veered out of formation, and Hutchens ordered his men to bail out. Four crew members escaped the fiery plane but were captured and taken to a POW camp. The other five crewmen, including Hutchens, were killed.

As often happens in war, Hutchens initially was reported as missing. It wasn’t until July 20, 1945 — some seven months later — that an Army telegram notified Violet of her husband’s death.

Remembering his sacrificeHutchens’ family was devastated, of course, but none more so than Violet. The couple had been married only 18 months.

“I never dreamed he wouldn’t come back,” Violet would tell Myra Gardner years later. “I just couldn’t believe it.”

Two letters Violet received — now in the possession of the Gardners — help illuminate Hutchens’ character. The first, from a surviving crew member, described Hutchens as “a real man” and “a great guy.” According to the letter, the plane’s navigator had been injured by flak, and Hutchens left formation to fly his wounded crewman to a Brussels hospital.

The second letter came from the mother of another crewman, who had been severely burned in the attack but survived. She said her son had nothing but praise for Hutchens, especially his poise under pressure.

“There were times they all thought they would die any second that your husband talked to them and kept them from being too much afraid,” she wrote. “I think you can be proud to know that he was one of the real heroes of this miserable war.”

For decades, Violet never spoke about her husband’s death — it was too painful, she said. She was in her 70s before she began opening up to Roy and Myra, but even then she struggled to express her feelings.

Violet never remarried. She died in 2005, at age 83.

Myra, whose mother was Hutchens’ older sister, says Hutchens’ death had a profound impact on her family.

“To die on Christmas Day,” she says, shaking her head. “I think back on my childhood now, and we really didn’t celebrate Christmas as much as other families did, and I’m sure it was because it was such a sad day for my family.”

As a result, Myra believes it’s important to preserve the story of her uncle’s supreme sacrifice. Roy, himself an Air Force veteran, echoes that sentiment.

That’s why they were thrilled when, 10 years ago, they received an email from a family in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, who had adopted Hutchens’ gravesite at the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Hombourg, Belgium. They are one of the many Dutch families who adopt the gravesites to honor the U.S. soldiers who helped liberate their country during World War II.

According to the Gardners, the family drives 150 miles every Memorial Day to place flowers on the white cross marking Hutchens’ grave. This past Memorial Day, they included a photo of Akers and Violet, with the message, “We will never forget that you lost your life for our freedom.”

Myra says the family’s gesture is overwhelming.

“It just means so much to me,” she says. “I would love to be there to do it myself, but I feel so fortunate that we’ve got somebody that cares as much as we do about my uncle.”

jtomlin@hpenews.com | 336-888-3579


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