My name is Harley A. Reynolds and I was born on October 2, 1924 in the suburbs of St. Charles, Virginia, a coal mining town, located in the far western tip of the state. It was five miles from the Kentucky state line and nine miles from the Tennessee state line.
I had three sisters, all younger than me. I didn’t start school until nine years old so that my oldest sister would have me to look after her. She was born a weakling. This set me back two grades in school, but the next year I started out in the third grade. The school insisted that I be allowed to progress as I was able to do.
My father owned and operated a small General Merchandise store: Groceries and meats, clothes including shoes, patent medicines, and notions. He also traded in many items: antiques, furs, firearms, and had a coal sales and delivery service and a barber shop. My mother ran a small restaurant in the building called, the ‘Dew Drop Inn’.
We weren’t rich but had enough that my father had to guard it night and day from robbers and thieves. It was a very popular gathering place in the evening and with the electric lights at night, it attracted many people. Many nights they would bring their musical instruments, and if there wasn’t work the next day, they would play hoe-down music all night long, especially on Friday and Saturday nights.
Even though work was slow the people were a happy, go lucky people, and it seemed they didn’t have a care in the world.
I grew up fast in this environment. At sixteen I was five feet eleven inches tall and weighted one hundred forty two pounds. I was in excellent physical condition as I loved the mountains and spent most of my growing up, running and climbing those mountains. I also spent a lot of time fishing and hunting.
When not climbing mountains, etc., I was reading. I couldn’t get enough reading material. I read newspapers; every word on all pages including the ads. My father was always asking; how much is this store or that store asking for this item or that item. I read the bible a lot with my mother. She had me at sixteen so her time in school was limited. I recognized this at a very early age and helped my mother as I learned. At the beginning of the new school year I would bring my school books home each night and read by the old coal oil (kerosene) lamp with the smoke sooty bulb until my Mom would drive me to bed. I would have all the books read in three or four nights and then take them back to the school room and leave them for the rest of the year. I didn’t even have to cram for test or exams, and I was a straight A student through elementary school. By Fourth grade I had read through a twenty six book long edition of the Funk and Wagnall Encyclopedia set. I missed one year of school due to illness.
By the time I had finished the seventh grade I was getting itchy feet. Nothing around to attract me and I was getting bored. No work around our part of the country but the coal banks, and I swore very early in life that I could never slave my life away in a coal mine. I had grown up in the grocery store and couldn’t see any future there with my father.
My next door neighbor had gone into the army at seventeen, and while he was home on furlough, I fell in love with the uniform. I badgered my father until he signed my enlistment papers that I was eighteen, and I was on my way. (I was only sixteen!).
It was one year before Pearl Harbor was bombed. I don’t know of anyone that could have predicted that happening and I sure couldn’t have foreseen how my life would unfold from that day on. It sure has been interesting!
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