Part of me loves being from West Virginia. I love being from a state with such beauty and grandeur. I love the people I grew up around and their values. I love the maze of rivers that crisscross the state and the tree covered mountains in which they are born. I love the clear air, the abundance of beautiful plants, and the wide array of wildlife. I can’t think of anything about the West Virginia that I grew up in that I don’t love.
It is only when I come up against others’ opinions of West Virginians that I love being from there a little less. I hate the jokes. I hate people assuming that my slight southern accent somehow equates to a lack of intelligence. I hate people assuming that being from West Virginia makes me uneducated or unrefined, inbred or backward. I am none of those things, and the majority of people that I know from West Virginia are none of those things.
Nor was Chuck Yeager.
Yeager, who died Monday at the age of 97, was an excellent example of how people don’t always fit into the cliché pigeonholes in which they are sometimes placed.
A graduate of Hamlin High School in southern West Virginia, Yeager enlisted in the Air Force in 1941 at the age of 18. He began his pilot training at the age of 19. On his eighth mission in WW II he was shot down, and he finished the war credited with 11.5 enemy aircrafts, including shooting down four German aircrafts on two different days.
For his years of service and many notable accomplishments, Yeager was awarded the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal, the Bronze Star, and the Purple Heart. Certainly not least among his accolades was the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which Ronald Reagan presented him with in 1985.
Many people know that Yeager was the first human to travel at the speed of sound and to fly a craft at the speed of sound. What most people don’t know is that he did it with two broken ribs. He also repeated the feat on the 65th anniversary of his accomplishment. Yes, he was a passenger then, but he was still an 89 year-old man traveling at the speed of sound.
In short, Chuck Yeager was a legend and a badass, and he was the first human to do something that no other human before him had done. Not bad for an uneducated inbred redneck from West Virginia, eh?
Rest well, General Yeager. You’ve earned it.