Way back, between the Korean War and Vietnam, I was in the U.S. Air Force and stationed at Sewart (only one "t") Air Force Base at Smyrna, Tn., southeast of Nashville. Sewart AFB was a Troop Carrier Wing, and our Air Traffic Control unit did not belong directly to the Wing. We were there in a "service capacity" and worked very closely with the Wing. I was a Control Tower Operator.
About twice a year Sewart AFB played host to the Army's101st Airborne Division, stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky., not too far away. Sewart's brand new C-130 (Hercules) aircraft would go for the paratroopers and bring them to Sewart where they practiced their jumps on a long expanse of flat terrain at least a quarter mile straight out from our control tower.
It was fun to watch the drops, and there was always an observer from the 101st who watched everything from our tower. These observers kept us (the controllers) apprised of what to look for, and would describe every tiny detail for us. These jumps were not from high altitude, but were from a sufficiently high altitude as to impress any observer. It was amazing how many of them landed on their feet! I came to appreciate what it took to be one of those brave paratroopers, and realized that these jumps were under ideal circumstances - in nice weather and friendly terrain. Circumstances in actual warfare could be quite different. General Westmoreland, 101st Airborne Commander, was not afraid to jump with his men.
Little did I ever realize that my daughter - not even born yet - would some day be married to one of these men, only of a later generation. Douglass McLain early-on acquired the nickname, "Sparky", and that is how I shall refer to him in the rest of this article. We are most proud to have him in the family!
Sparky is an "ALPHA MALE" from the Sequatchie Valley. He claims kin to the Powells of Powell's Crossroads, the well-known highway crossing near the foot of Suck Creek Mountain which continues on to Whitwell. His mother is Pat McLain, who is retired from South Pittsburg Hospital where she was a long-time X-Ray technician. Sparky knows all the good places that I learned about when I used to visit the Hoge family over there: Ketner's Mill, Castle Rock, the Sam Houston Academy, etc., etc.
BUT, for all the good I have written so far, Sparky had a rough upbringing. There were those who thought he would be doomed to a life of unworthiness and worthlessness. Only HE would be able to pull himself out of the apparent downward spiral, yet he WAS able to do it. Some would call this trait "Character", but it goes far beyond the general definition of that word. Because to grab yourself by the scruff of your neck, lift yourself up, and turn yourself in the right direction is an almost impossible thing to do. Today's Millenial kids would need "counseling" and probably several weeks in rehab to be able to do it. Sparky did it all alone - and perhaps with some guidance from his mom. (Sparky indeed gives her much of the credit).
He early-on cut the path out for himself - and followed a slogan he devised to suit his personal needs: "It's not WHO you are, but WHAT you do" that defines you. Repeating that belief to himself over and over he was able to find his way. First, he became a Boy Scout, eventually achieving the status of Eagle Scout. He spent much time alone in the Cumberland Mountains which doubtless prepared him for later Survival training in the US Army. In the Civil Air Patrol he became a cadet captain, and at age 18 became a 1st lieutenant in that organization. From here he continues in his own words:
“I graduated from basic training and joined the Reserves on 23rd Street. It was too boring for me so I went active and went to (Fort) Benning to become an Infantry soldier. Since I had just graduated a year before, I knew what to expect but had to wait eight weeks until I could join a unit starting Infantry training. I was taken to the Rangers to be a ‘gofer’. They decided that I had to be Airborne and they drove me over and three weeks later I was back with the Rangers and five weeks later I walked in to my Infantry training unit. I graduated as honor graduate, the top scorer in every aspect of the unit. Instead of marching with my unit, I came in by helicopter and ran across the parade ground, firing blanks at the spectators.”
This gutsy act of internal fortitude caught the eyes some of the Army brass and he was asked to join a secret unit which cannot be discussed even to this day. But it was this forthright attitude that both advanced his Army career, and has served him well in civilian life.
“I have 13 jumps,” he says. “My two most exciting were into Berlin and Vincenza with the 173rd. My highest award is the Purple Heart, which I turned down and an ARCOM or Army Commendation Medal with the V device for valor. I earned two awards for volunteer of the year of Ft. Carson two years in a row. I once drove a four star General named Wesley Clark. I had the honor of driving the Army’s Command Sergeant Major Murrell. I was well known in every unit for volunteering for every mission and/or detail. I was a prankster all of my career. I was on six out of seven continents and collected money from almost every one. After the Army I graduated from the police academy and am certified as a cop in Colorado.”
After retirement from the army, Sparky also worked for the USPS as a postman, and is now retired from that organization. He has two lovely daughters, Kay and Jenna, with whom he remains in close contact. He is a natural born biker/cyclist and likes to participate in such events as the Trail of Tears marathon each year. Devoted to self betterment and community service, he is a 32nd degree Mason who volunteers one day each month at our local Medal of Honor museum. He and my daughter, the former Sharon Elizabeth Martin, participate in many Veterans’ events and enjoy frequent weekend biking getaways.
It was very difficult to get Sparky to talk about himself – a trait I have noticed about many soldiers who have seen combat and have been wounded. He, just as my friend Harry Fancher, liked his tour in Germany best of all, and we enjoy communicating by using a comic version of German all our own. Besides Germany, Sparky saw tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq – telling me about visiting some of Saddam Hussein’s old palaces while in the latter country.