Army veteran and native Nashvillian Larry Talley shares how overcoming real-world challenges including alcohol dependence and a wild animal encounter in Vietnam have made him stronger.
Larry Talley grew up with music in his heart. Now he uses his love for playing music, especially the clarinet, as therapy for himself and others. He discovered that sharing music – especially with seniors in the community – could be a transformative gift to others. Talley has been called an icon, an inspiration, and a living miracle. Learn more about the courageous battles he has fought and the lessons he has learned in life and while serving in Vietnam. Don’t miss this podcast with stories that will have you gripping your seat.
Q: Larry, you’re a native of Nashville and grew up close to downtown in an area that has changed so much. Tell us a bit about those changes.
A: Well, few neighborhoods remain the same forever. And currently in my old neighborhood there’s a large amount of real estate development going on. Numerous homes and vacant lots have been purchased and replaced with construction, apartments, and condos. In fact, the original neighborhood is practically unrecognizable. The amphitheater that’s located at general and Meharry Medical College is where my home was. The Meharry Medical College purchased our home and that’s where they hold their graduation ceremonies.
Q: You are a graduate of Tennessee State University. What role did music play in those early years of your life?
A: Well, I started in music in the fifth grade, and I’ve continually been involved since then. Music has always been a part of my life in some form. At Tennessee State and, also in high school, it exposed me to many other people that were preparing their careers in music. And this got me to thinking about becoming professionally involved in music. And I ended up not being professionally involved but playing socially.
Q: After graduating from TSU, you enrolled in the military and served in the US Army for 33 years, including as a commanding officer. I’m curious, what made you join the army?
A: Well in fact, I did not join the military. I was drafted. After attending basic courses in the military, basic training, I decided to volunteer for guided missile training in the guided missile unit. Most of the people, well my classmates and associates, were in music and volunteered for the band. And I was one of the few that didn’t initially enroll and play in the military band. In fact, Fort Campbell was home to several Tennessee State University musicians, and Pearl High School musicians.
Larry continues to share about working with chemical warfare, in the military police as well as the air cavalry and in the band as well as his career with Bell South and then later serving in the Army Reserve and the National Guard.
Q: Will you share a bit about your military service with us?
A: I had nothing but favorable experiences in the military. I had one unfavorable experience. We’ll talk about in a little bit in Vietnam. [Don’t miss this story about serving night watch and his encounter with a most unusual enemy – a python]. Out of my 33 years in the military, half of those were as an enlisted member and the other half as a commissioned officer. And I had just enjoyable experiences in it with tanks, armed vehicles and flying on helicopters. That was very enjoyable and relaxing in a sense, looking at the countryside and being a part of the countryside, getting away from city life. And that’s probably, other than the band, that was my favorite part of the military, the armored part with the big tanks and tracks.
Life is not without its ups and downs. Larry speaks to these challenges including the back pain he now has resulting from his close encounter in Vietnam, his divorce, and the death of his parents. All of this led to alcohol dependence, an avoidance technique to escape his physical and emotional trials.
Q: Did you have any counseling, or do you just stay busy and keep a focus outside of yourself?
A: Everyone’s personality is different. I have two things that will help. One thing’s to stay busy. Never sit around idle. Get involved in the community, community activity, FiftyForward, the YMCA, social clubs, neighborhood association, just anything to stay busy. Little league baseball, soccer, whatever, but have something to do if not every day, every weekend. And talk it out, but you can only talk it out with people who’ve had your own experiences.
“Talley” as he is known to his closest friends, is a lifelong learner, and a man of conviction who has blazed a trail unlike any other. He is stronger, despite the obstacles he has faced. Although COVID-19 and his own health issues pose challenges, he has found purpose and the most unique ways to give back and to Squeeze the Day.