By Shannon White
The tiny town of Hamlin, West Virginia sits nestled in the Appalachian foothills, just about as far from worldwide acclaim as anyplace that’s barely a dot on the map. Yet it was here that the boy who would become a legend became a man.
Charles Elwood “Chuck” Yeager was born February 13, 1923 in Myra, West Virginia, just a few miles up the Mud River from Hamlin. The second son of Albert Hal and Susie Mae Yeager, Chuck was always a curious kid. When he wasn’t climbing trees or exploring in the woods, he could often be found by Grandpa Yeager’s side watching, listening, and learning how to become a skillful hunter and fisherman. Grandpa Yeager also kindled in young Chuck an interest and respect for nature and the outdoors that remains to this day.
The Yeager family moved to Hamlin when Chuck was five. The town’s population of about 400 made it seem to him like a big city. Soon after, it was time for Chuck to enter school.
He was an average student throughout most of his school career. Hunting and fishing interested him far more than most of his studies. Still, Chuck excelled at anything that required mathematical ability, physical coordination, or manual dexterity. These traits would serve him well many times in years to come.Chuck credits his father for another trait he displayed early on — an affinity for machines and a knack for understanding them. Albert Hal Yeager owned a natural gas drilling business and young Chuck found all the generators, pumps, and pressure regulators fascinating. He was eager to learn everything about them, wanted to know how they worked and why.
At a very early age, he was helping his Dad repair them, and troubleshooting the complicated systems. The same was true with the pickup trucks his father used. By the time he was a teenager, Chuck could disassemble the Chevrolet engines, overhaul them, and reassemble them with ease.Chuck played basketball and football for Hamlin High School, and his best grades were in geometry and typing – he could hammer out 60 words per minute. He graduated in June 1941, just six months before America entered World War II.
Charles Yeager is third from the left, in the front row. On his right is his older brother, Roy. On his left is his Uncle Richard (Charles Yeager’s mother’s much younger brother). Uncle Richard died in World War II.
The Yeager family.
Hamlin High School basketball team. Charles Yeager is second from the right, in the back row. Howard Pauley is first on the left in the second row. The fellow with the ball is Tapper Skeens. The fellow to his left (our right) is Lyle Black.
Background image: Hamlin, West Virginia, today (photo by Tim Kiser).