Each episode of Tennessee Uncharted documents the experiences of Erick and his crew across the State of Tennessee. Below is the full text of the short story that resulted from their adventure in Halls.
There’s still only one stop light in my hometown of Halls, TN, but once again, it has led me back home. However, this time, it’s growing season in West TN. And while the heat and humidity make stepping outside a lesson in perspiration, I’m welcomed by the lush green colors and rich smell of dirt that only Summer brings. It’s these days that I can see the world is fully alive, but as before, it’s not just what’s on the ground that’s swarming with life, but what’s in the skies above as well.
It’s hard to imagine, but the laid back rolling hills of this community once moved to the chaotic march of military activity. In fact, much of the world owes this rural town and it’s almost forgotten air base a debt of gratitude, as it was a training site that readied and dispatched some of the most vital teams to the war effort of WWll…the crews of the B17 bombers. 70 years later, the mission now is to keep their stories alive.
However, it’s not just a history lesson that brings me here today. On this episode of TNU, I’ve traveled back to my hometown for the Wings Over Halls Airshow, which since 1994 has not only served up a whole lotta fun, but celebrates the men and women who’ve served us in the past, and those who are still serving today.
But before I head off to the air show, I’m catching up with TWRA to get a closer look at the mechanics of a flying machine of another feather.
Yes, we’re meandering under the cover of darkness to see how a management tool called “duck banding” ensures that both the local waterfowl, and the hunting guidelines that protect them, are performing at their best. I have to admit, at first I was not very excited about the idea of waking up at 3am to learn about duck banding…but then I heard the words “rocket net”.
After dramatic declines in the early 1900s, the TN population of wood ducks has been increasing since the 1960’s. The recovery of waterfowl band numbers played a critical role in this rebound, revealing scientifically valuable information necessary to monitor migration patterns and manage North America’s ducks and geese. Data from banding can be used to evaluate hunting pressure, estimate productivity, survival and determine how different ages and sexes may be particularly vulnerable. All of these are key components to managing game birds for sustainable harvest.
Before today, I had no idea what duck banding meant. I now see that it’s waking up when a lot of people are going to bed, fighting off spiders, snakes, and mosquitoes, trudging through the muck and the mud, and not for fame or fortune, but simply for the sake and necessity of our duck population.
I wouldn’t want to do it, but I—and I’m willing to bet my fellow duck hunters—sure are thankful that there are guys like TWRA that do.
Halls Fire Department:
When asked what we want to be when we grow up, most boys have at some point, dreamed of being a fireman. But as we grow older and the reality of what that really means sets in, most of us can’t stand the heat and our careers often veer in a different direction. Such is not the case for my cousin John, and many selfless men and women like him, who on a daily basis, volunteer and willingly put themselves in harms way for strangers.
Even down to the split seconds that count as they put on their gear, there’s a lot that fire fighters do that people don’t know about. After just a single day together, I see that There’s no way we could do justice to the level of training in these men and women undergo for every aspect of what they do. But after a day in his boots, I have new respect for John and see that being a fireman, means a lot more than just fighting fire.
Wings Over Halls Airshow:
All that’s left is one old hangar and a few grown over runways. For the longest time, it was just the place where my Dad taught me how to drive a stick in our old 1980 yellow Datsun station wagon, and as I confessed back in Season 1, it’s where I came as a teenager to do donuts. Around here, it’s simply known as “the air base”, but in the pages of history it’s known as the Dyersburg Army Air Base, and it wasn’t until recently that I learned of it’s great importance to the world, far beyond teaching a young boy how to drive.
Built in 1942 and deactivated in 1945, The Dyersburg Army Air Base, which is now Arnold Field, was a B-17 training base and final training post for B17 crews before they were sent into combat to fight in the European theatre of WWll. During it’s 4-year service, the apron of this air base would have been covered with at least 72 B-17s, also known as “The Flying Fortress”, as more than one thousand 10 man crews passed through this facility on their way to playing a vital role in winning the war.
For many years after the war, the base lay in ruins, until a few hometown heroes lead a charge to create a place that could tell the local story. That place is now called the Veterans’ Museum. And in just a few short years, the museum has grown into a 10,000 sq ft facility housing artifacts from the local B17 training base as well as artifacts from other theaters of war, after WWll.
The museum’s mission is to preserve the historic efforts, contributions, and sacrifices made by those who worked, served, and trained at DAAB, while perpetuating the memories that live in the hearts and minds of all who called the air base “home”.
But, unlike most museums, who offer visitors the chance to step back in history, this airshow flies the past right into the present. For me, The highlight of the trip was getting to go up in a B17 and then talk to the pilot about what it’s like to fly a piece of history.
The Wings Over Halls Air Show is a continuation and celebration of that history, flying to honor our veterans, educate current and future generations, and to preserve America’s aviation heritage. The pageantry, performances, and fried puffs of every variety offer visitors not only the chance to lift their heads in wonderment for a family-friendly weekend, but in honor of those heroes who fought to preserve our freedoms.
A former airman of DAAB once said, “We shall never forget…those who invited us into their homes and churches, gave parties, backed cookies, sang songs, sewed on our patches and stripes, listened to our stories, helped mend our lonely hearts, wrote letters, sent packages, shared dreams, and denied themselves the luxuries of life because they cared…To each of them we say thank you over and over again because you helped to turn the lights on again, all over the world.”
On this trip, I’ve had the opportunity to catch up with a whole variety of the civil servants who work tirelessly each day to keep the lights on inside the hearts of our communities. From protecting our resources and keeping us safe, to protecting our legacies and keeping us fed, our lives wouldn’t be the same without these selfless few. It’s so easy to go about our routines, absorbed by the tasks that make up our day to day. But, just as our lives wouldn’t be smooth sailing without the help of these humble heroes, the duty rests on our shoulders to keep their stories flying as well.