If you've been following my columns, then you know that I enjoy listening and writing about the early years of seniors. This holds an extra degree of truth if they have served in the armed forces. Today's column continues with another senior who endured those early years of farm life, went on to serve his country, received an honorable discharge, found a career, got married and retired. This story is somewhat different because it raises the bar on what families will do to survive when all they have to depend on is each other. Farm life is difficult, crops often failed because of weather. Sometimes livestock died, but the obligation of those mortgage payments remained unwavering.
Gary Hacker's life began at Mercy Hospital in Portsmouth, Ohio, in September of 1948. He had an older sister at home and would eventually have a younger brother and sister to share in the family circle.
"We lived on Goose Creek about 15 miles outside of Portsmouth," Hacker said. "The farm totaled about 60 acres with a barn and a super large chicken coup. When I turned 5, we happily moved out of the older two-story frame house into a cinderblock home with the luxury of running water. It was easier to heat and stayed warmer in winter. My father was a machinist for the N&W Railway. When he came home, supper was waiting. Then it was straight to work late into the night fixing and taking care of one thing or another - most nights I was right by his side. We did have help from Blackie, a half German Sheppard, half plain ol' mutt. He would round up cows for milking and stay with farm machinery left in the field during mowing season to keep it from being stolen."
Along with his father and brother, Eddie, they milked 18 to 20 cows every morning before dad drove to work and the boys went to school. They were milked again after school. According to Hacker, after some practice you could milk a cow in 15 minutes.
"Aside from the cows, we usually had between 16 to 20 hogs," Hacker said. "What hogs we didn't keep for ourselves were usually sold in the fall to Hermon's Meat Market in Portsmouth. Between the cows, hogs, hayfield and chickens, there was little time for Eddie and me to get into town or hang out with school friends."
And did they have the chickens - a few hundred as a rough estimate, all contained in a large chicken coup. Multiply that number of chickens by a few eggs each day, and you have enough eggs to make the world's biggest omelet.
"We had contracts with Kroger's and a grocery wholesaler in Portsmouth who bought our eggs," Hacker said. "The eggs went through a washing chute process that helped clean them before delivery. Swimming was a luxury usually enjoyed at the completion of a day's work in the hay field. With Pine Creek a short distance away, along with a bar of soap and dry clothes, it was a great place to visit before having supper."
Hacker rode a school bus to attend Powellsville Elementary in Franklin Furnace, Ohio. A two-floor brick building with water fountains in the hall and indoor bathrooms that worked 80% of the time - for the other 20%, there were outdoor facilities that never failed.
"I graduated from Green Township High School in 1966," Hacker said. "Junior high was in the same building. I did manage to play varsity basketball and raise livestock for a 4-H project. After high school, my father insisted I attend an electronics school in Louisville, Kentucky, and I hated it. After dropping out, I worked for an auto body shop in Chillicothe, Ohio. Before joining the Air Force, I worked for about six months repairing wrecked cars."
Hacker's career in the Air Force went from 1968 until 1972. It was a tour that would eventually take him to the edge of the jungles of Vietnam as a security policeman.
"After graduating from basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, I was transferred to the other side of the base for Security Police School," Hacker said. "My next assignment was an eight-month tour to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where I worked the main gate and performed night security checks on buildings in restricted areas. Both jobs were pretty routine compared to my next assignment."
That assignment was waiting for him at the completion of six weeks of jungle survival training at Lackland AFB.
"I ended up in Tuy Hoa, South Vietnam, in 1969," Hacker said. "A location that was attacked a year earlier that caused numerous casualties, property damage and destruction of aircraft. Every shift I performed as a perimeter guard brought to mind the many stories that were still circulating about that attack. Those stories kept me extra alert."
Hacker played down his job as a perimeter guard but in reality his position made him quite vulnerable at the top of a watch tower, a location that was among the earliest positions to be destroyed should another attack come.
"After Vietnam, I was assigned to Loring AFB about six miles outside of Denver, Maine," Hacker said. "Until my discharge, I patrolled the flight line perimeter where B-52 Bombers were kept. When it came time for my separation, they didn't have enough money to make me stay. I was only too happy to receive my discharge papers and go home."
And return home he did, literally. After finding a job with Ashland Oil, he bought out all family interest in the old farm place and moved in with his wife, Donna, who was his high school sweetheart.
"Donna passed away after 53 years," Hacker said. "We raised registered Hereford Cattle until she lost her life to cancer. We had one daughter. I retired after 30 years with Ashland Oil. When I turned 66, I sold the farm and moved into a retirement community, where I take a nap whenever I feel like it. There are activities and trips to keep me busy without working up a sweat."
Just before Hacker got up from his front porch rocker, he added, "The Lord God has been good to me, and I'm looking forward to what He has in store for me when I leave this life."
Clyde Beal seeks out interesting stories from folks around the Tri-State. Email email@example.com.