Following in history's footsteps

(Left to right) Olin Pickens, World War II veteran and former POW, father of Larry Pickens, a Vietnam-to-Iraq veteran and wife Brenda Pickens recently visited the Genealogical Society of DeSoto County as the group's speaker during their November meeting. 

Like father, like son.

Larry Pickens grew up in the shadow of his father Olin Pickens, a World War II POW.

But the younger Pickens also admirably served his country, first in Vietnam and later in military intelligence.

In honor of Veterans Day, the November meeting of the Genealogical Society of DeSoto County featured the younger Pickens as its featured speaker.

Larry Pickens, a Vietnam veteran who after being drafted into the military in 1969, continued to serve in the reserves until Iraq in 2009.

He recounted his remarkable career from active duty as a door gunner on a light helicopter in Vietnam through calls to action as a military reservist for Desert Storm, Kosovo, and the War in Macedonia in 2001, working for the Defense Intelligence Agency, in Washington D.C.

Pickens was at his desk in Washington on 9/11 when word came that a plane was headed for Washington, its target unknown, although all planes had been grounded.

"There was nothing to do but keep working, so I kept working," Pickens said.

Pickens went on to remark that skyjacked airliner was the plane that went down in Pennsylvania, killing all aboard.

Genealogical Society member Bonnie Reid said the event and others gave his audience a deeper appreciation for Pickens and all veterans of America.

In addition to his military service, Pickens has taught science to junior high school students and served as Curator of Lichterman Nature Center and Operations Manager of Shelby Farm.

Larry Pickens said his father Olin served as the major inspiration of his life.

“My dad was a POW for 26 months during World War II,” Pickens said. “He was basically a country kid who got wrapped up in the war. He spent most of the war as a POW. He didn't talk a lot about his stories until I was out of college. When I was growing up, I always knew he was a POW but that was all I knew. As a draftee from Vietnam, there wasn't a lot of pride. I wanted to serve my country. All of my uncles and my father had served in the military. I came back and got a job with the Reserves. Then, I was recruited into military intelligence. To be able to help people and do something to make a huge impact on people is the greatest job I could ever have.”

Robert Lee Long is Community Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at rlong@desototimestribune.com or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252.

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