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Talking with Ira and Clyde Harkins, Suches, GA


Ira and Clyde Harkins

Suches Men's Group meet at Wolf Pen Gap Store in Suches, Georgia.


July 16, 2012 -- Wolf Pen Gap Country Store, a room full of country gentlemen, hot sausage biscuits, fresh coffee, and two Harkins’ brothers – what more could one ask for on a Monday morning?

Clyde Harkins says, “We get together to socialize, that’s what this group is all about.”

The Suches Men’s Group proves that Mondays can be fun. The guys have been getting together for over 15 years to catch up on what’s happening in the world. There’s no telling what you might hear if you eavesdrop on one of the conversations – everything from serious issues to lots of good natured ribbing.

Everyone has an opinion and a story to tell, especially life long residents Clyde and Ira Harkins. They come from an impressive family (all six siblings served in the U.S. military). In the 1940’s Ira and his brother Eldo were drafted into the Army, with Clyde, Harley and Ralph Harkins joining the Navy later on. Three brothers saw combat and they all made it through the war (Eldo, seriously wounded in the Philippines, earned a Purple Heart). Their sister, Stella Mae enlisted in the Air Force in 1956. The Harkins’ siblings have been featured in regional newspapers, honored with plaques, and acknowledged with surprise ceremonies.

The Harkins’ family goes way back in Union County. Their ancestors settled in Suches during the mid 1820’s and have been there ever since (except when working out of town or serving in the military). Parents James H. (Jim) Harkins and Lola Abercrombie Harkins raised 5 sons and 1 daughter in the Valley above the Clouds (Suches, Georgia).

Clyde says, “There have been a lot of changes since we were kids. Back then if an airplane flew over, you dropped your hoe and stared in amazement until it was out of site. We have seen people go from using a horse and buggy to driving cars and riding in jet planes.”

Ira adds, “Now we have paved roads instead of dirt and gravel. Sometimes we would spend a half a day just getting a stuck car out of the mud. Those old dirt roads were sure hard on a vehicle. In 1945 I had a 1937 Hudson Terraplane and tried my best to keep it out of the ruts.” (If you wonder what a Hudson Terraplane looks like, think of the long, elegant cars owned by Al Capone and The Great Gatsby.)

Ira tells about meeting his wife, “My first cousin and I had a foot tub filled with ice and beer. Being young men and looking for something to do, we decided to ride through Young Harris College. I had my eye on a college girl named Josephine and figured I’d introduce my cousin to her girlfriend. We asked them to ride to Hiawassee to get a hamburger (double date) but Pauline (the girlfriend) wouldn’t get in the back seat of the Hudson with my cousin. I finally asked her what it would take to get her to go with us. She answered, ‘I want to ride up front with you!’ That’s how I ended up with Pauline instead of Josephine!”

Ira continues, “Pauline and I were married just 15 days when I shipped out for Panama. I got a tattoo while there and when Pauline heard about it, she didn’t like the idea one bit. I teased and told her it wasn’t the name ‘Pauline’ that was permanently inked on my arm. I hinted it was another woman’s name. When she finally came to Panama, the first thing she did was look at my arm. The tattoo said Chubby (which was her lifelong nickname). We still laugh about that.”

Clyde Harkins, like many overseas soldiers during those days, got to know his wife Virginia by writing letters back home. He says, “Mail call was a big deal back then. It was a way to keep in touch with what was happening back in the states.”

Clyde continues, “So far we have 6 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren. They are something – these kids mean the world to me!”

Ira Harkins is proud of his family, too. Ira and Pauline have 2 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren. He says, “Looks like there will plenty of Harkins’s to carry on the family traditions!”

Clyde, being a Navy man, and Ira, an Army man for 31 years, have lots of military stories to share. From patrolling the U.S. coast (Florida to Maine), to Okinawa, from being stationed at the Panama Canal to riding cattle car trains in Casablanca, Clyde and Ira Harkins make history come alive.

Ira says, “You could see the Panama Canal from the mess hall. It was like watching a ship move through the air as they lifted it up to the next level.”

Clyde adds, “In 1945 I visited I.T. in Panama. It took all day to find him, but I finally tracked him down once I found someone that could speak English. I didn’t know a word of Spanish.”

They both tell interesting stories about growing up in the mountains. Fishing, coon hunting, and day to day survival was a lot different in the old days. Back in their childhood, babies were born at home! When Clyde was fixing to come into the world, Ira was sent to get help because Dad was off hunting. At six years old, Ira was scared of the dark but his mom gave him a lantern to light the way. “The moon was shining bright so it wasn’t such a bad of a trip after all. Can you imagine sending a six year old off in the middle of the night nowadays?”

Later on there was Doc Edge, Doc Wilburn, and Old Doc Rogers but still many babies were born with the help of a midwife. Clyde explains, “By the time you got a doctor, the baby would already be here.”

Yes, Mondays are a good day in Suches, Georgia. If you are ever in the area, stop by Wolf Pen Gap Country Store and say hello. Everyone is welcome!

Becky and Stephen Gooch, along with owners Nancy and Doug Gooch host the men’s group every Monday morning at Wolf Pen Gap Country Store. It’s a good place to be any day of the week!

Becky says, “We’re here for the local people. They’re the ones that keep us open.” The family owned and operated business sells groceries, gas, breakfast sandwiches, hotdogs, tornados, boiled peanuts, pizza, cold drinks, beer & wine, fishing gear, camping supplies, and other assorted goods. There is also a hiker hostel upstairs where hikers can get a shower and a good night’s sleep for $15 (the store is just 2.5 miles from the Appalachian Trail).

Read more about Ira, Clyde and their siblings at



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