By Tanner Hood
Red, white and blue adorn the top of a flagpole overlooking pastures at Leavelle Farms in Tuscaloosa County. That flag represents more to Clyde Leavelle, a retired colonel in the Army Reserves, than most who gaze upon it driving down Foxfire Road.
Clyde grew up on that same farmland, roaming the countryside and “playing Army” at every opportunity.
“I started meeting with my congressman’s representative when I was in the sixth grade,” Clyde said. “I was seeking an appointment to West Point. Sen. John Sparkman nominated me, and I got in.”
Clyde spent the next four years honing skills at the rigorous U.S. military academy in New York. While at West Point, Clyde’s roommate invited him to New Jersey, where the small-town Alabamian met Sally, his now-wife.
Following graduation, the Leavelles spent eight years bouncing around the globe while Clyde was on active duty with the 82nd Airborne Division. After four winters in Alaska and a year in Korea, the Leavelles were drawn south.
“While we were in Korea, we felt like the Lord was leading us to leave the Army and raise our family on the farm,” Clyde said. “We had our first child right before we left active duty and came home in 1982.”
Coming home began with farming cotton, as well as working with Clyde’s father to raise cattle. Clyde enlisted in the Army Reserve to continue his service and eventually transitioned the farm to corn and soybeans. He and Sally also opened a U-pick blueberry patch for their three girls to work and raise money for college tuition. Today, the Leavelles primarily raise beef cattle.
Farming and serving in the military had its challenges for the Leavelles. Time away from family and the farm was a struggle, but thankfully, they had a strong support system in place.
“He got deployed for the first time during Desert Storm, and I had a lot of help,” Sally said. “We had friends who did a lot to help us through the difficult times.”
Clyde always strove to be back by harvest. Good friends like fellow Tuscaloosa County Farmers Federation board member Floyd Hughes and his sons helped on the farm, too, with anything from field prep to fertilizing.
“We have a wonderful group of farmers in our area,” Clyde said.
Though Clyde retired from the Army Reserve in ‘03, he and Sally stay connected to their military roots by traveling to solemn spots around the world on trips coordinated by the National World War II Museum. They stay busy on the farm, too. It’s a tangible privilege of Americans’ right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
“The reason I had the thought to farm was the idea of freedom and liberty to own a piece of land, produce something from it, make decisions, be the steward and pass it to the next generation,” Clyde said. “I wanted my kids to have that same freedom. It’s a special privilege to serve your country and to serve mankind by raising crops and animals and things that feed and clothe us.”