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I've been privileged

I've been privileged

By ROBERT W. THRASHER, L/395


     For a kid born and raised at the end of a long mud road, I've been to a lot of places and done a lot of things. When you were raised during the Depression, you had a lot of dreams, but your expectations weren't very high.

     We had a battery radio, but the battery was usually dead. Also, we had no television, newspapers, magazines, and usually no phone. My contact with the world was through the library truck that came by once a month at the end of the mud road. You walked out with all your books and waited until it came along. It was just a pickup truck with a few shelves of books. I always got the limit, whatever it was; and read everything worth reading on the truck over time. I complained to the library lady once that I had read all her books. She replied, "Oh, surely not!"

     We never went anywhere. I was never close to being out of the state. And then I was in the Army. I immediately left the state for Little Rock AR, where I took medical basic training. Then the Army sent me to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. Then the Army put me in the infantry and sent me to Europe.

     For someone who had never been anywhere, I was now a world traveler. The first time I saw the ocean I got in a boat and crossed it. I then backpacked Europe — England, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany, and Austria.

     I didn't spend any money, ate what I could find in cellars, robbed chicken nests, shot cattle, and ate the crap the Army gave me — mainly K-rations. I slept everywhere — in beds, hotels, barn lofts, basements, but mainly woods and fields.

     That's the only way to learn about a country. You can't learn anything just going from airports to the Days Inn Motel. I didn't like beds and pillows for a long time after — I'd just sleep on the floor.

     I had some tremendous experiences — crossing the ocean in a huge convoy with submarine alerts keeping you on your toes, seeing London in black-outs, wading ashore in France in the middle of the night.

     The world's leaders were really something then also — Roosevelt and Truman in the U.S. and Churchill in England. I was in Germany for seven months while Hitler was in charge. I used to get drunk with the Russians when Stalin was the dictator and several years later I was in China while Mao was the great Helmsman.

     I got to see airplane fights up close, and was just across the Rhine one night when the RAF firebombed Dusseldorf. Once I was up on a high hill when a big infantry, tank, artillery, and dive-bomber battle went on below me. It was better than the drive-in theater, but it did kind of ruin going to the Fourth of July fireworks.

     Once we took a town that was holding up the war — all the roads ran through it. After we took it, I was sitting in the mayor's office looking out the window while two divisions (20,000 men) went by on the street outside to attack the Germans. Now the mayor wouldn't let me in his office.

     It was a great privilege to have done all these things. But the biggest privilege is being 77 years old when I know I should have been dead at 20.

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