History and Heritage

It seems I've always had a gun or a fishing rod in my hands. In the late sixties, while in college, my birthday was chosen as number 11 in the military draft and I remember setting there in stunned silence trying to contemplate the consequences. Within a couple of weeks after graduation; and, in the middle of the winter, Uncle Sam had me on a short leash! Surprisingly, I took to it like a duck to water. Hour upon hour of marching, PT (physical training), being called everything degrading imaginable and absolute discipline were all considered reasonable exercises for the army. Basic training was at Fort Lost-in-the-Woods (Leonardwood) Missouri. Many of the recruits WERE lost. They didn't know about the outdoors, nor had they spent much time working outside in the cold. Whereas, I had grown up on an Ozark farm feeding livestock in all conditions, breaking pond ice for cattle, picking corn still standing in the fields with snow on the ground, cutting firewood and wearing near nothing for gloves had conditioned me better then I understood. I did have to do about a thousand pushups though for continually referring to my rifle as "my gun". Drill Sargent's excelled in passing out punishment, "drop and give me fifty $#!%Head, that's your WEAPON in your hands, you're gun is in your pants"! Looking back forty years, the discipline now makes since. It helped me to survive. The day I stepped off the plane in Vietnam's Cam Ranh Bay, it hit me between the eyes............FOLKS HERE ARE TRYING TO KILL ME! It was a chronic burden that did not leave until lift-off out of Danang a year later . Every American should have witnessed a plane load of GI's leaving Vietnam! A cargo of $#!%Heads screaming from their guts for 30 minutes is better then any movie you can view or any novel you can read.................We were on our way HOME! Each of us had arrived as kids, few of us were over 20; but, each one left as a man. Men, grateful to be alive because we knew many, personally, that weren't going to be boarding a "freedom bird" for the United States. We were men that were thankful to be returning to an America where it was safe. Where we could be with girl friends, wives and family that were waiting with smiles, hugs, and homemade food. And, for me at least, the wonderful Ozarks. A place where I could carry my gun and it was no longer a "weapon". Where I could load my John Boat and a fishing pole and think about Squirrels or Goggle eye instead of incoming mortars and rockets. In 60 plus years, I've been around some, and I've seen some wonderful places around the world; but, I've come to one over-riding conclusion: No matter which way you go, when you leave the Ozarks, you've gone the wrong direction! I'm older now, and a hundred pushups after running a mile with a forty pound pack on my back is history. On the upside, I know where a few hundred turkeys roosted last night and where a handful of 20 inch Smallmouth are swimming as you read this. Plus, the lord has blessed me so far with the time and health to chase them both. Not least, I now know what all the hoopla is about regarding grandkids. I've got two granddaughters and I'll swear that their favorite toys for Christmas last year were "Barbie Doll" tackle boxes loaded with plastic fishing lures. (Grandpa knew enough not to include lead weights and fish hooks; but, mommy insisted upon excluding garlic flavored lures, as well.) When Ava, now four, crawled up on my lap to inspect her lures she asked me, "grandpa can I come live with you for a long time when I grow up so that we can go fishing". I thought my shirt buttons would pop and I believe you could have poured me on pancakes! I've got two sons any father would be proud of, too, and for the first time in about four generations I think a Whiteside in my family could miss fighting in a war. I think about that one a lot. My dad was in the Philippines and has been gone a few years now. I can still see him standing on the airport pavement looking at my plane as it left, headed in the direction of Vietnam. He had told me more then once that he wished he could take my place! I know now what he must have been feeling. He showed me many times over the years exactly where he was standing when his dad had told him "the Japs have bombed Pearl Harbor" Dad said that he had waited until they were down at the barnlot, "so grandma wouldn't hear it". Grandpa must have felt it, too, as he had been in the trenches in France fighting the Germans in the first World War. His grandfather, James Beaty Whiteside, who came from east Tennessee and settled in Northwest Arkansas had told him many tales while growing up of his serving in the Confederate Calvary. Intuition tells me that this ancestor of mine would have been told many tales, too, as his grandfather and many of his great uncles had fought and died at the battle of King's Mountain during the Revolutionary War. I tell you these things because, well, as I said, I'm older now. I've come to realize more as I age. My grandma was wise beyond her time in many ways. She used to say often, "you live and learn and yet die in ignorance". I'm beginning to understand what she meant. I look around and the world seems to be passing by, going in the wrong direction. It's one of the reasons I treasure the Ozarks, we're so far behind, we're still ahead on the real good stuff that matters. If you read from the Journals of Henry Schoolcraft or Thomas Nuttall as they traveled these hills of Missouri and Arkansas 200 years ago, and see what's been lost, its enough to make you sick at your stomach. But, then again, you can read "Ozark Pioneers-Their trials and triumphs" by Bob Hinds and you begin to understand the Ozarks and it's heritage more deeply. You begin to understand that living here in the 19th century was little more than a matter of basic survival. If you want to get a firm grasp of "terrorism" in this country, then read what it was like to live here from 1860 to 1870! Are you suffering some during these "tough economic times", or getting sick of hearing about the war on terrorism? Then, spend a few hours pouring through Larry Dablemont's book "RidgeRunner" as told to him by his Uncle Norten. Grasp what it was like to grow up in the Ozarks during the Great Depression, "feel" what it was like to be in the trenches of Bastone at the "Battle of the Bulge". As for me, I've got the chance to live and learn and to die a little less ignorant. Largely, I'm learning that it's BECAUSE of my heritage, and the sacrifices and hard work that they went through for "family" that I have this privilege. Did my parents, grandparents, great grandparents make mistakes with their "stewardship" of the land and waters here. For sure they did; but, in the process of trying to scratch out a living here, they passed along in me a respect and a love for the Ozarks. They taught me how to live in the woods, how to squirrel hunt, how to catch a goggle eye and how to not catch or kill more then I need. So, if you see me throwing a fit about the way things are around the world and wishing for a better place....................just remind me that I'm going in the wrong direction.