- Featured Stories
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- City of Ava
- General Interest
By Sue Curry Jones
The world was different in the 1960s –– so was Ava.
Our community was quiet, serene and fundamentally relaxed. The town was filled with children of all ages playing together in the streets or neighborhoods.
For kids, cycling from one side of town to another was the norm, and it wasn’t out-of-the-ordinary for kids to leave home right after breakfast, play outside all day and return home just in time for dinner. And, after dinner was the perfect time to return outside to chase lightening bugs, or play a game of tag or hide-n-seek with friends.
The memories are picturesque and idyllic as life in the Ozarks and Ava were very much like a Norman Rockwell print. It offered youthful innocence and small town flavor.
And, for many of us, those years were the “good old days.”
In the world, however, the ’60s were less attractive. Cold war threats continued with the USSR testing large bombs, and the East Germans building the Berlin Wall.
In the United States, there was a guarded level of uncertainty and many built backyard fallout shelters in case of nuclear war. And, to make matters worse, the American government financed an anti-Castro revolt, an invasion at the Bay of Pigs. President John F. Kennedy was in office, and times were changing.
Nonetheless, in Douglas County, youths were being raised by a generation of parents that believed hard work, grit and determination would prevail. The ’60s was an era when small town boys and girls grew up to make something of themselves. People still believed in the American Dream. People wanted to excel in life and accomplish great things –– and Ava native Hamlin Tallent is no exception to the rule.
It all started in the summer of 1961 when Hamlin and his family moved to Ava. He was 11 years old. Hamlin’s father, Ora T. Tallent had served as superintendent of schools at Steelville, Mo., for 11 years, and now Mr. Tallent was employed as superintendent of Ava R-1 schools. Tallent was hired to succeed C.D. Brewer.
The Tallent family took residence in a two-story home three blocks from school on the west side of town, in a neighborhood filled with kids. Before long, the four Tallent boys –– Jeff, Hamlin, Grayson and Steve were an integral part of the fun and mischief. Jenny, the only girl in the family, was a little bit more reserved.
During high school years, Hamlin played football, basketball, ran track and was a member of Key Club and Beta Club. Hamlin, and twin brother Grayson, spent summers hauling hay with Lendell and Steve King for two cents a bale, and back then, that was good money.
The Tallent boys hung around with the likes of Jim Williams, Ron Curry, Tommy Potts, Lyle Kivett and Paul Hart, and according to Hamlin, it was amazing the group didn’t get into trouble or end up in jail.
But, when asked to share stories from those “good old days,” no one would say a word. In fact, Paul Hart laughed heartily when asked the question, and his answer was just a good-natured chuckle.
Fond memories, indeed.
Ron Curry, a 1968 classmate, describes Hamlin as articulate and always ahead of the game. He said Tallent was a great athlete, incredibly adaptable, and no matter what the task, he did it well.
Curry also recalls Ora T. Tallent, Ham’s father, always saying, “I consider it a privilege to pay taxes,” and as a youth, it baffled him. But as an adult, he now understands the significance to freedom, and society.
Ava High School was a shaping foundation for Hamlin. He not only has enjoyed lifelong friendships and good memories from his years at Ava, but he credits great teachers like Mona Decker, who inspired an appreciation for history and drama. Interests still enjoyed today.
He acknowledges Coach Charles (Hoss) McAllister who helped him mature as a youth. He remembers the values taught and skills imparted to a student athlete.
Today, as an adult, Tallent values the public school system for the wonderful people it produced during his childhood, and later, during his career. He not only appreciates his parents, but the teachers who helped form good character traits. And, for Hamlin, that is the compelling part of the story –– those relationships.
But alas, the family’s time in Ava wasn’t always filled with happiness and joy. Grayson, Hamlin’s twin brother, was killed in an automobile accident on Hwy. 76 west of town. He was 19-years-old.
Hamlin graduated from SMS (Southwest Missouri State College) in 1972 with a teaching degree, and soon thereafter, moved to St. Louis to live with his brother Jeff where he hoped to find his niche. He tried his skills at selling vacuum cleaners and encyclopedias for a short time, and then one day as he passed a military recruiting station, their sign captured his attention. He had been searching for an honorable job to fill the desire in his heart, and without hesitation, he joined the U.S. Navy.
Two weeks later he was in boot camp in Pensacola, Florida, and according to Hamlin’s recollection, the drill sergeant’s greeting was very much like the scene from the movie, An Officer and A Gentleman. It was tough.
He had wanted a change, a crisp new edge to life, and this was it.
Tallent graduated from Aviation Officer Candidate School and was commissioned in June 1973, and at that moment, a great career had just begun for a small-town boy from Ava, Mo.
With imperfect vision in one eye (20/25), Hamlin didn’t qualify as a pilot. He did, however, meet requirements for naval flight officer and the responsibility to operate weapons systems in the F4 Phantom, and that’s just what he did. His first assignment was Fighter Squadron Twenty-One (VF-21) in San Diego, California.
During his career, he served as an instructor at TOPGUN Navy Fighter Weapons School; and Catapult and Arresting Gear Officer on USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63), and various fighter squadrons.
In 1990, Hamlin held the rank of Commander of the Fighter Squadron One Forty-Two (VF-142), an F14 Tomcat squadron based in Virginia Beach, Virginia. They deployed in Carrier Air Wing Seven on the U.S.S. Eisenhower. Saddam Hussein had just invaded Kuwait and the Ike was sent through the Red Sea to protect the oil fields of Saudi Arabia from Iraqi attack. Tallent had the task of developing a plan to protect the carrier based bombers.
Tallent recalls the Iraqi situation came out of the blue, and the squad was uninformed as they didn’t have charts or target information. They did know, however, that Saddam had about 400 enemy fighters in the vicinity of their flight pattern. But, prior to reaching their designated position in the Red Sea, the plan fell apart, and the opportunity to quell Saddam and his fighters didn’t occur as predicted. The initiative was lost.
Tallent also served as an action officer on the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the J-5 Directorate at the Pentagon, where one of his duties included writing letters for General Colin Powell. The general had a rule that every letter deserved an answer.
Hamlin recalls on one occasion he received a tasking folder from Powell that contained a basic napkin with the words Iraq, why? written in ink. With so little information it was a challenge to write a response, but nonetheless, Tallent wrote a polite reply with three paragraphs thanking the man for his interest in national security. General Powell signed the letter.
While serving in D.C., Hamlin graduated from the Industrial (War) College of the Armed Forces at Fort McNair, and he earned a master’s degree in public administration from George Washington University.
He was selected for his first star as Rear Admiral in 2000, and later received a second star while in command of Carrier Battle Group One in San Diego.
One day while at sea off the coast of California, he received a call from Vice Chief of Naval Operations who asked if he was interested in a job as operations officer for United States European Command in Stuttgart, Germany. Tallent said ‘yes’ to the task, and with only two days to prepare, he left for Germany.
As Director of Operations for the European Command, Tallent was an advisor on all operational issues affecting U.S. European Command, including command and control of U.S. forces from Norway to South Africa; it was also his duty to know the capabilities of the command and be operational in support of NATO; and when directed, to support other regional Commanders in Chiefs.
Rear Admiral Tallent led counter terrorism efforts in Africa, and with his team, they developed the Trans Sahara Counter Terrorism Initiative, a blueprint for developing coalitions. He was responsible for training US-European Command headquarters staff, and the joint training of U.S. commands in Europe.
Rear Admiral Tallent’s personal decorations include the Legion of Merit (three awards), Defense Meritorious Service medal, Meritorious Service, Flight medal, and Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal.
Hamlin retired from the Navy in 2005, and is now a vice president for SENTEK Global, a defense consulting firm in San Diego, Calif.
Deeply influenced by his parents, siblings and upbringing, Tallent is grateful for his small town heritage of decent character and honesty, and lessons learned during his ‘growing up years’ in Ava.
He recalls a simple lifestyle –– when front doors were never locked, kids played unattended outside, and a person’s word and handshake were a binding contract.
It was a time of freewheeling fun, dirt roads, hay bales, creeks, dairy cows, cruising the square, and a life filled with outstanding individuals, friends, educators and mentors, who impacted his life. He remembers ‘all kinds of good and wonderful people, and a home in the Ozarks that set him on his way to sea.’
And, for the record, throughout his illustrious career and 32 years in the U. S. Navy … Hamlin always listed Ava as his official home.
It’s a special place for small town beginnings. Just ask Hamlin.
Editor’s Note: A heartfelt thanks to Deb and Jim Williams for their help with the story. Your time was appreciated.