Carolina Roots - From Whence I Came
Author: Thomas Shytle
Publisher: BookSurge Publishing (2008)
Binding: Paperback, 536 pages
The author was a product of a hard hit area during the depression years. He was barely a year old and the great depression was at its peak when his family moved from the cotton mill village where he was born to relocate near Bryson City in the heart of the Western North Carolina mountains. The economy there was worse than it had been on the mill village; and after struggling to survive on a dollar a day his Father made working for FDR's Works Project Administration (WPA), his family held on for six years living in the most poverty stricken area of the country. He was seven when they moved back to the same cotton mill village and to much better conditions than when they left, thanks to the most part for Hitler's war that was raging in Europe. His story is about his experiences while growing up near Kings Mountain, NC followed by twenty-five years in the USAF. The years spent in the military are related in detail from the viewpoint of an Air Force non-com; from the Korean War to an assignment to a covert unit whose cold war mission was to "Develop an unconventional warfare capability that included inserting, supplying, and extracting indigenous partisans, to provide them with refitted small arms, and to design, produce, and airdrop psychological warfare materials into Eastern European countries, and to support U-2 over-flights of Eastern Europe and Russia." Throughout the book you will feel his reverence for his convictions, his devotion to family and an unquestionable commitment to duty, honor, and country.
The year 1932 was an important one. Hitler's star was rising in Germany, and the great depression peaked as America struggled to regain its footing. Average annual income in the U.S. was $1,900, but in the poor counties of western North Carolina, many farm families survived on annual incomes as low as $100. Tom Shytle was born to a poor family in the cotton mill town of Kings Mountain, NC. His parents worked in the local cotton mill, Park Yarn, lived in company housing, and bought their necessities at the company store. Together, his mother and father made $25 per week when the mill was at peak production. In 1932, the mill operated three days per week and they earned a maximum of $7.20 each. A year after Tom was born, the Shytle family moved back to the heart of the Western North Carolina mountains near Bryson City. His farther worked for the WPA at a dollar a day and farmed. Six years later they returned to Kings Mountain and worked for Park Yarn until they retired. Tom and his two sisters grew to up in Kings Mountain.
The first part of Tom's memoirs is the story of life in a western Carolina mill town. A slice of American history. A history that is not being taught to our children, thus depriving them of understanding their roots. While Carolina Roots is the journal of Tom Shytle and his family, it is also a page of America's journal. My wife's farther was born in a Carolina mill town in 1913 and lived through the depression much as Tom's father did. When our grandchildren are old enough to understand, I want them to read Carolina Roots, and other similar books in order to understand where they came from--where today's America came from.
Tom enlisted in the Army in 1949 at the age of seventeen, and was assigned to the Army Signal Corps. The next chapters are devoted to his experiences as a young enlisted man in the Army assigned to posts in the continental U.S. His descriptions of his travels and off duty activities provide interesting pictures of various parts of America and what life was like in the early 1950s. Tom returned to Kings Hill in December 1951 on leave before being assigned to Japan and then Korea. Tom continues his enjoyable observations and descriptions of these countries, as seen through the eyes of a young sergeant.
His enlistment up, Tom returned to Kings Mountain in February, 1953, and married Mildred, whom he refers to as "Mil" throughout the book. By July, Tom and Mil decided to make a career in the Air Force. He reenlisted in July, 1953 and retired in 1974. The last half of Carolina Roots is devoted to Tom's and Mil's various postings and their growing family. A great American story, and an easy read.
Sergeant Tom Shytle served as radio operator in many interesting locations and ended his career in Management Engineering. Carolina Roots is the story of an Air Force family, its joys, sorrows, trials, tribulations, and triumphs. An inspiring story of how to make the best of any situation, enjoy life as it comes at you, and most of all, a story of family, family values, and devotion to country. There are many enjoyable anecdotes, my favorite is "the biggest rabbit in Tennessee."
Carolina Roots is more than a memoir, it is a insightful peek into American history. Another excellent, similar book, written by a sailor, is Brotherhood of Doom: Memoirs of a Navy Nuclear Weaponsman. I am saving both books for my grandsons.
Reviewed by: Lee Boyland (2009)