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OPINION: I can finally admit it -- I love history

by Bennett Horne | October 13, 2021 at 5:25 a.m.

With all due respect to Morris Cooper, I finally love history.

I don't recall the specific moment I came to the realization that, yes, I do love history, and I don't know why that love waited to bloom until way after I had left the classroom, but it did and now, well, I love history.

It wasn't because Mr. Cooper didn't try.

I have a very smart friend who believes history shouldn't be taught to a person until they reach the age of 40 so they can appreciate it more, to understand its full ramifications -- and also because of the thing that says, if we don't know it, we're doomed to repeat it. Yes, that thing. I think my friend is on to something.

Mr. Cooper tried to instill that love in me. As my history teacher at dear ol' Harrison Junior High, it was part of his job. But you could tell he also loved the subject and wanted us all to love it, too. The problem was that his freshman history class coincided with the year I fell into the trap of not trying as hard in the classroom as I should have, and while I recall passing the class with a good grade, I also seem to remember the outcome could -- and should -- have been better.

While living in Fayetteville after college, I found myself bumping into the Civil War battlefields of Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove, and was later fortunate enough to make some trips with my church to a few islands in the Pacific Ocean, to locations where United States soldiers were stationed during World War II: Kiribati, Vanuatu, American Samoa and, of course, Hawaii and Pearl Harbor.

Seeing deserted war relics on these islands and, in one instance, meeting a man who served as an interpreter for American troops, only fueled my desire to know more about that time in history. One trip brought us to the county where James Michener's musical South Pacific was born, and trips to these locations always went through Hawaii, meaning side trips to Pearl Harbor.

These trips, along with countless movies and television series about that time period -- Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, to name a couple -- fueled not only my desire to know more but also my gratitude for those who experienced those events and places in person.

For seven months in 2018, I worked for a newspaper in Los Alamos, N.M., home of the Manhattan Project and the Los Alamos National Laboratory. It goes without saying what living there in the birthplace of the atomic bomb did for my desire to know more history, and becoming acquainted with a friend who was a lab historian was an added bonus. Even though there were classified topics he could not discuss, visits with him still gave me enough material and knowledge to keep the engine running at a high rate.

The history lessons rolled back to an older era when I moved to the Arkansas River Valley, and now back to Northwest Arkansas. To say these areas are rich in Civil War history is an understatement and, while scouting around Van Buren and Fort Smith, I ran into Tom Wing, an assistant professor of history at the University of Arkansas in Fort Smith.

This is the same Tom Wing who spoke at last week's meeting of the Civil War Roundtable group here in Bella Vista about his book, "A Rough Introduction to This Sunny Land: The Civil War Diary of Private Henry A. Strong, Co. K, Twelfth Kansas Infantry."

The story of how Wing came in contact with Strong's ancestors and the diary he kept during the war -- which is unusual since most of the diaries recorded then were written by officers -- is fantastic, to say the least, not to mention the story he told the group of photographs someone else had come to possess that actually showed the Twelfth Infantry on the streets of Fort Smith.

For those who love history -- especially Civil War history -- whether that love be new or old, this part of the world holds breathtaking stories of the lives intertwined with and affected by the events of that conflict. I'm glad to have discovered the Civil War Roundtable group here in Bella Vista. I'm also glad to be getting to know Tom Wing and his work. And I'm especially grateful to have been there to experience both at once last week.

I think Mr. Cooper would be happy.

-- Bennett Horne is the managing editor of The Weekly Vista. He can be reached via email at [email protected] Opinions expressed are those of the author.

Print Headline: I can finally admit it: I love history


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