(Editor’s note: Following are the biographies of some of the individuals included on the Fayette County Wall of Honor, unveiled last week at the Courthouse in Fayetteville. The honorees were chosen by the Fayette County Sesquicentennial Committee, chaired by Danny Wright, the county historian, from those who have significantly impacted the state, nation and world. Biographies of the remaining honorees will appear in a future issue.)
Mount Hope native Ethel Caffie-Austin is known as West Virginia’s First Lady of Gospel Music. She earned this title after years of teaching, playing and performing gospel music in settings that range from prisons to the Smithsonian. Immersed in music as her father worked as pastor of the Pentecostal Church of God in Christ, she began playing piano at age 6 and directed her first choir at age 11. She has performed at numerous festivals in the United States and Europe. She founded the Black Sacred Music Festival at West Virginia State University, and she was appointed the Minister of Music for the State of West Virginia. She has recorded at least three CDs of her music, as well as being the subject of two documentary films and numerous magazines and newspaper articles. She recorded music for a Smithsonian Folkways project that was also featured on television. She regularly performs at the Augusta Festival in West Virginia and the Black Cultural Heritage Festival in Georgia.
Drivers along the West Virginia Turnpike might remember seeing the Bender Bridge, but they may not know what this Fayetteville resident did to earn this recognition. He earned a Medal of Honor for his bravery during World War II. In France in 1944, Bender risked his life as he sought out the source point for German machine gun fire. For his Medal of Honor, officials wrote that Bender managed to stand in full view of the enemy while bullets ricocheted around him for more than two minutes until he located the machine guns about 200 yards away. He ordered two squads to cover him and led his men as machine gun fire blazed away, wounding four of his men. German soldiers also hurled hand grenades at them, but he stood his ground until the squad caught up. Alone, he advanced and “walked deliberately a distance of 40 yards without cover in the full view of the Germans, and under a hail of both enemy and friendly fire.” He knocked out the first machine gun and continued to the second one, despite bursting hand grenades. The machine gunners fired directly at him, “but he walked calmly through the fire….His audacity so inspired the remainder of the assault company that the men charged out of their positions, shouting and yelling, to overpower the enemy roadblock and sweep into town, knocking out two anti-tank guns, killing 37 Germans, and capturing 26 others. He had sparked and led the assault company in an attack the overwhelmed the enemy, destroying a roadblock, taking a town, seizing intact three bridges over the Maravenna River and capturing commanding terrain which dominated the area.”