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- Blytheville: a modern tale of two cities (9/2/17)
The airbase lives and breathes and talks
"History is not just something that happened long ago and far away. History happens to all of us all the time. Local history brings history home, it touches your life, the life of your family, your neighborhood, your community," by Thomas J. Noel, Denver author and historian.
Gathering information for the upcoming magazine on the airbase has been one of the most fun and exciting things that I have ever had the privilege to do (and actually get paid for) in my life. I have met some incredible patriotic people along the way and above all I have been reminded that everyone has a story, many have a novel within themselves and that heroes are everywhere.
As I have looked at hundreds of old photographs, scanned numerous personal letters, flipped through many old books and even perused multiple military orders, I have attempted to get still and very quiet - not imposing my own self on to those brave, wonderful men and woman, but to stop and listen to what they want to say to me. I am better for it.
I have seen first hand pictures that prove things that at one time our national government officially denied. I have seen how great average Americans can take very little and do very great things with it. I have seen that international foreign relations were played out right here in Blytheville that affected international treaties with the former Soviet Union.
I have heard deeply personal stories of love, duty, youth, patriotism, promise, optimism, honor, humility and humanity, as very young people (mostly men) stood on the wall and protected not only Americans, but also the hope of freedom for all mankind of every generation.
I have heard stories of great heroes that volunteered multiple tours to the Vietnam War (or to Desert Storm), yet were just kids...mere boys at heart, that were mischievous, playful and base in their pursuit of a good time and a pretty girl.
I have listened to multiple (now old) men, heroes that we take for granted, yet still warriors and great enough men that if I ever find myself in a foxhole fighting for my life, I'll be giving them a call, tell how their iron will and brave hearts were melted by the love, kiss, and affections of a sweet local lady...enough so that they dropped everything, moved away from their hometowns (you pick the spot) and moved to Mississippi County just to win the girl! Who said love is dead?
I have been reminded of the heartbreak as Vietnam era heroes were heartbroken upon their return home, but without blinking an eye, they did not cry about it...they are not even bitter any more...they are merely thankful to have been given the opportunity to serve.
One personal letter was sent by an ageing hero warrior of our republic that while reading his letter you can tell that he morphed into a young, romantic, naive young twenty something as he began his recollections, but then the shakiness of his handwriting becomes almost undecipherable as he poured his heart out in true pain over the condition he once found the Linebacker II monument in when he dropped in unannounced on one trip he make back here.
I have interviewed a buddy (and also a B-52 crew member for a different team) that was personal friends of the three that were killed during Desert Storm, and his soul heaved and his eyes teared as he was glad to hear that we would not forget his buddies...we will feature them in a stand alone story of their bravery.
We have had documents, pictures, memorabilia over 60-years old brought in for us, as their proud owners smiled with pride as they shared their personal treasure.
I simply must, right now, express my gratitude and sincere thanks to all the wonderful veterans that have served our country. I thank each wife that stayed behind, holding the family members and family affairs together, bravely dreading the possibility of receiving the ultimate bad news, while their brave young men went to answer their nation's call.
The air base is more than a memory. It is still very much alive. In fact, to those that were former residents, airmen and civilian employees out there, it is more alive in many ways than the world they walk in today. There are thousands of voices still talking out there. Not just the people that live there now, but also the buildings talk. The runway talks. The wall paintings of past military units still tell a story. The decommissioning of the alert pad speaks volumes. The condition of the facilities out there now tells a story of both decline and change...but also hope.
I thank each person that has brought in a part of their lives and their story, willing to allow others to peak into their hearts by viewing their treasures. I thank every volunteer and writer (even one anonymous one) that has written and contributed. I thank every advertiser that has decided to support this project.
I thank Mark for having the idea of the magazine in the first place and for letting me have the privilege of diving headlong into that which is/was/will be "the base."