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Happiness depends on being free,
And freedom depends on being courageous.
Thucydides, 400 BC
It has been a verdant
springtime, with the most abundant bloom and the darkest rich
greens of the billowing oaks set against white cumulus clouds
towering above them.
Today is Memorial Day and I will
gather a few choice roses and several magnolia blooms to place
on my parents’ graves. We are at peace, here, but our world is
not. Our peace is a local illusion, paid for by blood spilled on
remote barren landscapes. The morning paper tells me 136 members
of the military from Tennessee have died in Iraq and Afghanistan
since 2001. We see their pictures and feel a twinge of guilt.
They were all volunteers.
Tennessee is The Volunteer
State. This year, 2012, we celebrate the 200th anniversary of
The War of 1812. It is largely forgotten, but should not be. It
was our Second War for American Independence and we might have
lost it but for Andrew Jackson and a host of Tennessee
sharpshooters. When Governor Willie Blount asked for 1,500
volunteers, 20,000 Tennesseans responded. After securing Alabama
and Florida from the Creeks and the Spanish, they went on to
turn back the British army and navy at New Orleans and save the
vital Mississippi drainage from foreign domination.
The Battle of New Orleans, Dennis Malone Carter, Historic New
Orleans Collection, used by permission
In every war since then,
Tennessee volunteers have been in the forefront.
Today we celebrate not war, but
our forbears. I have many to honor. Dozens served in the
Revolution, including Maj. William Cunningham, an Aide de Camp
to Gen. George Washington and Capt.William Alexander, whose
ancestors signed the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. In
the War of 1812 General William Hall commanded a brigade of
Jackson’s army. His father had been killed by the British-allied
Indians near Castalian Springs in the 20 years war with the
1861 our nation divided into two countries and my
great-grandfather, Will, served his with John Hunt Morgan,
C.S.A., after his two older brothers were killed at Beech
Groove, above Murfreesboro, and at Resaca, Georgia. Will’s
youngest son, Lt. George Puryear, volunteered for the Army Air
Corps in World War I, was captured in France, and became the
first American officer ever to escape a German prison. He swam
the swift Rhine River in under searchlights into Switzerland
where he was rescued by the Swiss Red Cross. He died a few
months later in the crash of his plane.
During World War II General
Patton’s army practiced crossing the Rhine below our house along
the Cumberland River, and 40 years later I was still finding
brass ordnance in old foxholes on our bluff overlooking the site
of their pontoon bridge. The sight of hundreds of parachutists
and dozens of gliders descending is a sight I shall never
forget. A few months later many of these men died in Normandy.
My father, who was too old for
WWII served as Captain of the State Guard unit mobilized to
replace the boys who had gone off to war. In that role he
trained boys who had missed the first draft until they were old
enough to go themselves. Meanwhile he served as Mayor and
organized the reception committees who furnished temporary
lodging for dependents and weekend showers, meals and dances for
those who were away from their families. I still have his letter
of commendation from J. Edgar Hoover. His first cousin, General
Rom Puryear, spent the war in Iceland keeping open the sea lanes
across the North Atlantic to beleaguered Britain.
My father-in-law served with his
two brothers when he was underage in World War I and again in
World War II. He was an officer with Joe Foss and Charles
Lindbergh in the Marine Air force in the South Pacific on Emriau
and Guadalcanal. His sons served as Marine officers in World War
II in China and in the Korean War.
Capt. Hays Owen with Maj. Joe Foss and Charles Lindbergh on
Emirau, with VMF 115. May, 1944
When I was in college we had a
draft. When I volunteered for it I soon found myself north of
the 38th parallel in Korea, a dark cold land where on my first
night on the line a shot rang out and I watched a North Korean
infiltrator bleed to death on the ground in front of my tent. It
was sobering, and my experiences there changed my life.
During the Cold War my brother
served in the Air Force, my son-in-law served as officer on a
nuclear submarine and my son was an officer on a cruiser in the
Free men have always fought
better than subjects of tyranny, since the time of the Greeks,
who overwhelmed superior numbers of Persians at Marathon and
Tennessee was born in conflict,
and as much as we love peace we must always be ready to earn our
freedom again and again. Free and democratic nations are ever in
the minority, for power and tyranny seem the natural tendencies
of fallen humanity. Our free and democratic nation is the envy
of subjected peoples worldwide. In the words of Jackson’s famous
toast on a Jefferson Birthday Celebration...
Our Federal Union: it must be preserved.
It is today the last best hope
of mankind on this earth.
The third book in our historical
series, The First Southwest, the Third Atlas goes to
the printer in June and is scheduled to be available October
1st. It is essentially a tribute to Jackson, Houston, Polk,
Crockett and those thousands of Tennesseans who tripled the size
of the United States in the first half of the 19th century. It
rounds out the mapping of the North Carolina Land Grants that
were the foundation upon which Middle Tennessee was built. 304
full color pages.
The book is now available for
pre-order at substantial discount by calling The Book Foundry at
Drifting Downriver – Cover by David Wright, 2012, Giclees
available, Call 615-452-1540