Wednesday, Jul 23, 2014
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Brooksville resident intertwined in Hernando's history

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BROOKSVILLE - Lifelong Brooksville resident Frasier Mountain has spent much of the past 50 years archiving Hernando County history in detail.

The 90-year-old World War II veteran has also made a bit of that history himself.

As the runner up for this year's Great Brooksvillian award, Mountain was recognized for collecting and sharing with city and county officials more than a terabyte of historical documents and photos.

His most recent project with Brooksville is to build a on-room school house, replicating the first schools that appeared in a county that once encompassed what is now all of Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties.

The schoolhouse would serve as a center for local history.

Mountain started his incessant collecting with a search of his own genealogy - the "Mountain" name - and the generations that settled in the relatively flat lands of Florida.

"My family has been here in Hernando County since 1883," said Mountain. "My dad was born here, and they were big families. My mother's family was (in Florida) in the 1860s, before the Civil War."

His ancestors were part of a migration west from the Georgia mountains into Alabama as Native American tribes were forced further into the Great Plains states.

"And then Florida opened up, and they came to Brooksville in the 1880s around the same time as the railroads," Mountain said. "My family has lived it. I'm as deep south as you can get."

Some of the images Mountain preserved were taken by his father, like the one of he and his brother standing beside a 1927 Chevrolet. But his dad didn't take photos with the same historical emphasis that drives Mountain's work.

"He was in a working generation," Mountain said. "He never had a hobby."

At 15, Mountain's father went to work mining phosphate near the old Brooksville mine by Interstate 75 and he worked for the same company all his life.

"Later on he got into the hard rock mines," he said. "He dug the first rock at Camp Castle (Road) out here, but when that gave out they went across town to where CEMEX is now, and he dug the first rock out there."

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Mountain graduated from Hernando High School in 1940, one year before the start of World War II. He was 18 and working in Tampa when he enlisted as an aviation cadet.

"I went through what was then called Army Air Corp and flight training, and graduated and commissioned in 1943," he said.

He was soon flying B-26 bombers, training in Kansas, Texas, South Dakota, and then Syracuse, N.Y., where he met his wife Nancy, who was a student at Syracuse University. The two were together 67 years before she passed in 2011.

A new special operations unit was formed in New York called "Combat Cargo," which was headed by Col. Philip Cochran, who was later the inspiration for the character, "Flip Corkin" of the comic strip "Terry and the Pirates," Mountain said.

The famous Flying Tigers trained Mountain's unit for campaigns in India, Burma, and China in the first part of the war, which earned him 800 hours of combat flying experience and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

"That's the highest award you can get with flying combat," he said, pointing to a medal case on his wall where there are also four Air Medals and three separate types of Battle Stars. "I have two of them."

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At war's end, Mountain worked briefly with an electric company in Syracuse, where Nancy gave birth to their son, Duane, in 1947 before heading back home to Brooksville.

Duane would follow in his father's footsteps, joining the Air Force and went on to serve in special operations for 26 years.

"He was in Panama, Iraq, Southeast Asia," Mountain said. "He was in every campaign. He has more medals than I have over there, and over 30,000 hours of flying."

Mountain's daughter, Diane Dannemiller, was born in 1951, and went on to become a teacher and federal programs administrator for Hernando Schools for 37 years.

His son died four years ago from a brain hemorrhage at the age of 61.

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Mountain and his wife incorporated a successful heating and air conditioning company, which they ran their entire working lives.

Throughout that time, Mountain served five years active duty with the Air Force, and 35 years active reserve duty, including 10 years as a liaison officer to the Air Force Academy.

When Hernando took over the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport Mountain was a major in the Air Force.

"We were able to equip the airport again, and put lights on it, and put the operation center off Spring Hill Drive onto U.S. 41," he said. "I was the treasurer of the first Aviation Authority in Hernando County, and we built the building for the first Southwest Florida Water Management District when it was created."

The area is the most active industrial center in Hernando County now, he said, and the planning they did then is still working today.

"On that 2,400 acres, they're not allowed to sell any of that, so they lease the properties," he said. "Accuform is about to spend $35 million out there and double their operations. That's big for Hernando County."

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As his children grew up Mountain chronicled his family's activities in the community: baby pictures, sports, Kiwanis, American Legion, Junior Service League, and others.

In his efforts with Brooksville and Hernando authorities to preserve the county's past, Mountain's long and journeyed life is intertwined throughout its history, with 12,000 individuals related to his family in his genealogy database, Mountain said.

A collection of local newspaper columns he published bears an original quote of his on the cover, and best summarizes the philosophy behind his work: "History is written for us, we only have to find the writings and the past is revealed."

mreinig@hernandotoday.com

(352) 544-5271

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