Growing up in a rather large family where we had a rather Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest perspective, our father used to gently admonish us with the phrase “To hell with you Mac, I’m aboard, pull up the ladder.”

As dad was trying to teach us a valuable lesson, my mind worked overtime picturing hobos trying to board a moving train, and one hobo pulling up the ladder before the rest could board. I thought that Dad has been listening to too many Woody Guthrie songs about riding the rails.

My older brother disagreed, pointing out that Dad was a Marine during WWII, fighting his way up the island chain towards Japan. He pictured Dad and a bunch of Marines have just returned from losing half of their company on some nameless, steamy tropical island. What is left of the company is climbing up the nets over the side of a troop ship; exhausted, tired and angry. Shells are still exploding around the ship and there is the constant worry of an errant Kate or Val bomber that could make a bad day even worse. As an exhausted Marine drops over the gunwale onto the deck, he says, “The heck with everyone else, pull up the ladder.”

My brother is probably right. Dad was a Marine where cooperation and looking out of others were essential for survival. Marines were weighted down with 80 pounds of guns, gear and ammo as they tried to climb up and down cargo nets in heaving seas and could have used an extra boost climbing in and out of those landing crafts.

Dad once told us a story of grabbing an overloaded, exhausted Marine who had lost his grip as he was crawling up a cargo net and pulled him aboard before he was crushed between the Higgins boat and the troop carrier. As a Marine he learned a valuable lesson of cooperation and looking out for others.

Collaborating and thinking of others paid off for Dad in the South Pacific during WWII and later when he moved to Wallowa County and bought a ranch. He became a schoolteacher, 4-H leader, school board member, helped start and build the Day Camp and Ferguson Ridge ski run. He was a member of the ditch company where he ironed out differences, settled disputes and made sure everyone got their share of irrigation water. Upon retiring he spent three years in Ecuador as a Peace Corps volunteer. Similar to others like Jack McClaran, Bob Anderson and Harold Klagas, to name just a few, they were always thinking of how their individual actions affected people in their community. They were always giving, and reminding us that as a community we had to think less of our individual liberties and more about the health and well-being of the community.

So how does Martin Niemöller’s missive on collaboration and looking out for others apply to Wallowa County? It doesn’t. The communists want to take our guns and tell us when to cut the alfalfa and when we can take our cows out to the hills. The socialists want to tax us and take our money and spend it by giving away free stuff. Wallowa County doesn’t have any trade unionists (thank goodness) and besides that, they are kind of like socialists; we don’t need them either. Not sure about the Jewish community but they have Israel to worry about and certainly don’t need to get worked up over Wallowa County.

So that just leaves us … The hell with you Mac, I’m aboard, pull up the ladder?


Steven Locke is a retired professor of education who has worked and lived extensively in Latin America and China. He grew up and currently lives on his family ranch outside of Joseph.

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