A mountain boy, he grew up in a hillside community where all he had to look forward to was driving a coal truck. He spent his spare time hunting quail along a rocky creek bank with a single-barreled shotgun that would come apart every time it was fired. When he turned 17 he lied about his age and joined the Army like his brothers had done in WW II.
When he arrived art Fort Knox, Kentucky, they said his teeth were bad so they pulled them all in 2 days. About a month later he was selected to attend OCS (Officer Training School) but the Korean War broke out and he was told he was going to be an infantryman and was going to fight the communists.
He wrote his mom letters almost every day, telling her about the war and about how he wished he were home. He was sort of the platoon sharpshooter and then a squad leader. He got shot in the wrist and they gave him a Purple Heart. He stayed in the fight with a bandage on his arm and kept eating frozen C-rations without any teeth.
Then, one day during a hard push, he was on the rear deck of a tank firing the .50-caliber machine gun that was mounted on the turret. A bullet hit him in the center of his left thigh, he fell backward and his captain caught him just as another bullet entered his chest, exited under his right arm and then passed through the captain’s forearm. The war was over for this mountain boy.
Stateside, he spent 3 years in an Army hospital. He did finally get some false teeth but they told him he might never walk again. But he did, and he also met a young lady, and when he walked out of the ward in Fort Pickett, Virginia, they got married.
Dedication and the GI Bill gave him an education and hard work put him in the public school system where he became a guidance counselor. In that position he advised many a young man from the community where he grew up on the importance of having the right attitude, on working hard and about how being the first one on the bus and ready to ride meant something is this world.
Twelve years later he would begin teaching those same lessons to his son. He also taught his son how to shoot, how to hunt and about the importance of serving your country. His son learned to shoot, learned to hunt and even got his own set of combat boots. He’s also passing those same lessons on to that Korean veteran’s grandson.
How do I know all of this? That mountain boy who offered his life for his country in the 1950s was my father. He’ll tell you that he’s nothing special and he’ll mean it. “There was a lot of young boys just like me,” he’ll say. He’s right—that he’s just one of many who’s story is similar to his. But he’s wrong about not being special.
Our combat veterans are some of the most special things this country has. And, just like me, there are many sons and daughters out there who were lucky enough to have one for a father. Someone to teach them right and wrong. Someone to—by example—demonstrate what hard work can achieve. And someone to be their hunting mentor and give them the gift of the outdoors.
Payback is what’s needed and there are many ways to make a payment on the debt you owe veterans. One check you can write doesn’t require a pen or an electronic draft on your bank account. This fall, bring a veteran hunting. If they can’t physically go hunting, give them some venison. If they don’t like venison, bring them out to dinner. And, if you’re just too damn lazy or no good to do any of those things, at least tell them “Thank you.”
While you’re sitting on a deer stand this fall, holding your rifle in your hands, remember and give thanks to all the Americans who have—with a rifle in their hands—offered their lives so that you didn’t have to.