Eulas Sargent celebrates 87th birthday; oldest active officer in state

By Rozella Hardin
STAR STAFF
rhardin@starhq.com

   Eulas Sargent has worn a uniform most of his life -- 30 years as a soldier and almost 33 years as a deputy with the Carter County Sheriff's Department. Sargent celebrated his 87th birthday Tuesday, making him the oldest active law enforcement officer in the state of Tennessee. In fact, a computer check by the Sheriff's Department on Monday revealed that Sargent may be the oldest active law enforcement officer in the nation.
   "They say I'm the oldest. I don't know. I don't have any plans to retire. As long as I can get up, get here and do my job, I plan to hang around," he said. He can be found early each morning in the hall outside Sessions Court, where he serves as a bailiff. "I like to be on time," he noted.
   As soon as the courtroom doors open, the deputy, who strikes a likeness to the legendary Mayberry deputy Barney Fife, leaves his seat in the hallway and moves inside. Before the judge enters, he reminds those in the courtroom to discard their chewing gum and candy and to turn off their cell phones and beepers. "The judge doesn't like any of that," he explained.
   One of seven children of the late John and Eva Sargent, "Sarge," as he is known to most of his friends and acquaintances, grew up on Stoney Creek. "I went to the Army the first time when I was about 18 or 19 years old. I came home in 1940 and went to work at the rayon plant. I re-enlisted during the big war (World War II) when they began drafting people," he shared.
   He spent 30 years in the United States Army, serving in World War II, the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam Conflict. "I saw combat during World War II. I was shipped out to Ireland, went to Scotland, from there to England, to the White Cliffs of Dover, and from there landed in Normandy. I served the entire time with the Third Army, which was commanded by General John J. Pershing," the deputy reminisced.
   Often gruff with his conversation and having a military demeanor, the deputy is also witty. It is only when he talks about war and its tragedies, that Sargent allows his deepest and most emotional thoughts to surface.
   "War, if you've been in it, never leaves you. The things you see and experience are always with you. The hardest part of war is losing your buddies; seeing them killed. Some of them, you served six, seven, or eight years with, and then, saw them killed. It was like losing a brother," he shared.
   Medals? "Sure, I have several of them, but, the best medal is getting to come home alive; to see your family grow up," Sargent said. "I stayed in the Army mostly because of my daughter, Eva, who was born with an open spine. She was able to get good medical care," he explained.
   For most of his Army career, Sargent served as a mess sergeant. "I was in charge of the kitchen," he explained. The retired staff sergeant still prides himself on making a mean pot of coffee and enjoys flipping hotcakes.
   "When I first enlisted in the Army, I did so because there wasn't much work around here. The plants were laying off workers. Two other fellows -- Roscoe Edens and Clint Williams -- enlisted with me. They both are dead now," he said.
   During his first stint with the Army, Sargent said he was "dog-robber" for Gen. Patton. "That's Army slang for servant. I shined his boots, his saber, and saddled his horse. I got to know him pretty good. I liked him. He was a no-nonsense person, and a good leader. That was in 1939. I was just a private then," Sargent said.
   Sargent moved his family back to Elizabethton in 1965, but returned to Korea to serve for a year. He retired from the military in 1968, and went to work for the Carter County Sheriff's Department in 1971. He has worked for five sheriffs -- Harry Buckles, George Papantoniou, Bill Crumley, Paul Peters and John Henson. "Mike Sellers served for sheriff for a brief time when Peters resigned, so I guess you could say I've worked for six sheriffs. I've had a good working relationship with all of them," Sargent said.
   "Being a deputy is a lot like the Army. You got rules to go by. You meet a lot of people, make a lot of friends and have a lot of experiences, both good and bad. There's a lot of bad people in jail, but there's also some good people in there. Some are young, and have made some bad mistakes. Hopefully, they learn from their mistakes and with a little help make it," he exclaimed.
   His Army career took him to several locations stateside -- Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, North Carolina -- as well as several bases overseas. "I was in Germany, Italy, England, Korea and Vietnam. I traveled and saw a lot," he said.
   Sargent is the father of six children, one of whom is deceased. His wife, Jessie, died in 1995. A son, Eulas Sargent Jr., died in 1991. "You take a lot of hard hits in this life, but, you keep going. It's never the same after you lose your mate, but, you make the best of it," he said.
   Sargent admits he likes to dance. "I cut a good rug," he said with a smile.
   He is a member of the VFW, the Moose Club, the Elks Club, and for a number of years served in the Shrine Band. "That was a lot of fun," he shared.
   About aging. "I've slowed down a lot. I don't move as fast as I once did. But for an old man, I do pretty good. Don't you think so?" he asked with a hint of mischief in his eyes?