THE GI BILL AND SOLITUDE by Perry Mann

THE GI BILL AND SOLITUDE

A former farmer and retired economist writes that the “intellectuals of ancient Greece claimed that ‘the great men of Greece were bred in the bedrooms of the rural regions, uncorrupted.’” He goes on to point out that for over two hundred years this nation’s people have migrated to the cities, leaving a rural population so minuscule that it is not even counted. But, that fortunately West Virginia has over half its people “bred in the rural bedrooms, uncorrupted.” He believes that these rural “uncorrupted” have the potential to do what those “uncorrupted” veterans of WWII did with the help of the GI Bill of Rights: that is, the potential to educate themselves, gain good-paying jobs and enter into the middle class.

In a column beside the economist’s is one by an associate editor of Wonderful West Virginia magazine. Her introductory paragraph touched my nature-loving self: “The last hiding place in my neighborhood is gone forever now. This place was never mine to begin with, so perhaps I have no right to protest. Still, when the trucks and earth-moving machines descended, like an alien force, and in a flash chopped down trees, slashed thickets, and carted them all away, it felt to me like a trespass of the soul.”

I won’t class myself as having come to this world uncorrupted; but I will claim that I was bred in the bedroom of rural America, that I was the beneficiary of the GI bill and that I was lucky enough to take advantage of it, earning therefrom three degrees. The GI Bill made all the difference in my life, giving me self-employment, financial independence, philosophical orientation, time to myself and access to nature, the last gift certainly being no less in value than all the others. Thus, I was so taken with both the words of the economist and the associate editor that I wish to expand on them.

My great grandparents, grandparents and parents were bred in rural West Virginia and were all farmers except my parents, who migrated, young and little educated, to the city after WWI. But at the age of two, I migrated back to the farm in the arms of my aunt and she and my father’s parent bonded with me with such loving cohesion that I spent almost as much of my youth on the farm as I did in the city; and had I had a choice, I would have spent all my time with my grandparents and aunt: And with the horses, cows, sheep, chickens, pigs, dogs and cats and all the wildlife, the woods and fields and creeks and rivers; for I found there not only love, loyalty, duty and honor but also what the associate editor lost to development: a haven for the soul.

When Pearl Harbor was bombed and the great nations of the world took sides, it was clear to me that the struggle between the Western Allies and the Axis Powers would not be a weekend affair but a conflict that would endure for years, so I marched off to the enlistment office and became a member of the Army Air Corps on December 16, 1941. I picked up cigarette butts, faced mutely snarling sergeants, traveled, became a radio mechanic, crossed the Atlantic, saw much of North Africa and southern Europe, rejoiced when Berlin fell, had solid hopes for a future when Japan surrendered. And left Fort Meade, MD, on December 18, 1945, with a light foot and giddy head, a civilian with a few hundred dollars in his pocket and rights to four years of college tuition, books, pencils and keep. I had heretofore in a world of daydreams let opportunities pass, but not this time.

After a successful semester at Morris Harvey College, where I had failed out in a pre-war try, I entered as a probationer at Washington and Lee University in the summer of 1945. I graduated with honors in June, 1949. I taught in public schools, then went to the University of Virginia where I eventually graduated with a MEd. After teaching a few more years, I applied for and received a full scholarship to attend the W&L University Law School and eventually received an LLB. I passed the bar exam in 1971 and have since practiced law in Hinton, Summers Co., the county of my ancestors on both sides. And nearly all of my education was paid for by the GI Bill or by scholarships awarded as a result of work done under the Bill. Without the Bill, I probably would have educated myself in some way but I would have had a rocky row to hoe; for my parents had little left after supporting themselves.
So I have been able to live where I grew up as a child and in a place that I love and have my roots, but a place in which no one would settle if he did not carry with him his means of employment, because with the decline of the railroads this town is a ghost of its former self. I have succeeded in earning a living, building a moderate estate, buying a farm near the one I grew up on, having time to garden every summer and to walk in fields and woods in every season and often to walk to the high point of my farm and have a compass view of miles of meadows and forests and distant horizons, to look into the heavens at the infinite blue dappled with clouds of every attitude and disposition. To watch the changing of the seasons and the drama of the weather. All of this on land pristine and uncluttered and unpolluted with the detritus of progress and development.

Further, I have done, as did the associate editor in her lost Eden: bird-watch and watch all life. In summer there used to be in midday the call of the quail or bob white and in the evenings always the whippoorwill. But they are gone. Yet, the barn swallows, bluebirds, killdeers, mockingbirds, yellow finches, scarlet tanagers, brown thrashers, summer sparrows and dozens of other birds come and go with the seasons. And then there are all the flowers, etc., etc.

The economist writes: “These migrating rural young people were solid citizens who knew how to work and mostly set the standards wherever they went. They were honest, ‘uncorrupted’ individuals with high moral standards, who came from large families where cooperation, thinking and working together came naturally.”

Jacques Ellul in his The Meaning of the City has this to say about those who migrate to the city: “The city is dead, made of dead things for dead people. She can herself neither produce nor maintain anything whatever. Anything living must come from outside. In the case of food, this is clear. But in the case of men also. We cannot repeat too often that the city is an enormous man-eater. She does not renew herself from within, but by a constant supply of fresh blood from outside.” That is, a constant supply of “men bred in the bedrooms of the rural regions, uncorrupted.”

What happens when there are no more men bred in rural regions to supply fresh blood to the cities? Perhaps, one can see what will happen by observing the modern city and taking notice of the condition of this nation generally. Decadence and decay pervade this nation of cities. The rural regions are gone or neglected. The aged, the retired, the stagnant and the dregs make up most of its people. The youth have been lured to the great cities where in time they will use them up.

Man beset with hubris and arrogance has replaced nature’s environment with his own, much to his detriment. The few wrapped in wealth expropriated from the labor of the many become fastidious, effete, sickly, and they sequester themselves from the rabble; and the great mass zooed in concrete canyons, denied honest, needful work and divorced from nature, the mother of all, live drugged and desperate lives.

The GI Bill saved me. For some reason I studied liberal arts and learned from those prescient ones —Plato, Socrates, Hardy, Tolstoy, Marx and Christ—who went before me what pitfalls to avoid and what opportunities to grasp. Now, nearing the end of my days in the land of my memories, I can count many blessings not the least of which is that I stand steady on a philosophy hewed out from my own study, thinking and living; and I am still nurtured by nature, still have at my doorstep the opportunity for “a daily immersion in the natural world.”

About Sam's Branch

I joined the Peace Corps in 1961 as West Virginia’s first volunteer. Go to Amazon.com to order my book Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories. I am the eighth generation of my family born in the Big Coal River Valley of West Virginia. My father and grandfather were underground coal miners. I have a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University (WVU). After training to make sidewinder missiles, I joined the Peace Corps and taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria. Since that time, I was WVU’s first full time foreign student advisor and worked in urban outreach, organic farming, construction labor, and high school teaching. I recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (wvhighlands.org), and recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Kanawha State Forest Foundation (ksff.org). I am still on the board of the Labor History Association and the West Virginia Environmental Education Association and recently joined the board of the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union. I am active in the campaign to stop the destructive practice of mountain top removal strip mining in the Appalachian Mountains. You may contact me at martinjul@aol.com or my blog samsbranch.wordpress.
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