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Tag Archives: Navy

Sailors, soldiers, airmen and conundrums

Conundrum: a question or problem having only a conjectural answer.

Over the span of my lifetime—not the complete span, because I’m still adding to that lifetime—I have heard a certain conundrum repeated an astonishing number of times, and I’ve always wondered why it refers only to a certain branch of our military services, namely the United States Navy.

The term that is always used is on the order of spending money like a drunken sailor or like drunken sailors. I have never heard anyone say spending money like a drunken soldier, or airman, or coast guardsman or marine—not even spending money like a National Guardsman. I consider the term a conundrum because any answer given would be purely conjectural.

What particular feature, what aberration, whether physical or mental, can we attribute to sailors to explain why we hang that peculiar phrase only on sailors and not on other uniformed personnel? Is it predilection on our part, or in it animosity toward them? Why not on members of the other services? Other military service members—not all, but some—are prone to imbibe strong drink in generous amounts under certain conditions, namely being off-duty at the time, but invariably we toss that bomb at sailors.

I will at this junction attest that I have seen members of the other services in conditions that would rival—nay, perhaps surpass—the conduct of any drunken sailor in any situation and I am prepared to sign an official document to that effect. As a retired member of a military service other than the US Navy I have a right to speak, particularly because I have seen non-sailors spending money like—well, like a drunken sailor.

Why sailors? Perhaps there is something about naval personnel that causes them to over-imbibe and recklessly, generously, blindly spend money like—well, like a drunken sailor. It may be the fact that after spending weeks without touching port, their pay accumulates because they have nowhere to spend it, so when they manage to land in port, regardless of the location, they spread the money around faced with the full knowledge that soon they will again be at sea.

I considered the US Navy for a career before I enlisted, but was daunted by the thirteen buttons—one for each of the original thirteen American colonies. I was also advised by my brother, a salty seagoing sailor veteran of World War II, that the tibia of my right leg, shattered in a baseball game but nicely repaired, would preclude me from sea duty assignments because volleys fired from a ship could aggravate my injury. He told me that sailors on deck when the big guns were fired were told to put most of their weight on their heels or their toes to avoid damage to the lower extremities, that if one stood flat-footed the vibration could possibly cause damage to one’s lower extremities, particularly to lower extremities with previous damages.

I had a problem imagining sailors in wartime standing and walking around either on their heels or on their toes, and I had serious doubts as to the veracity of that advice. The real reason I did not join the navy was the 13-button trousers worn by enlisted men. Had the trousers been opened and closed with a zipper I probably would have joined the navy and seen the world through a porthole, as the old saying goes.

Sailor’s joke: Have you heard the one about the young sailor that was told by a well-seasoned old salt that if he stuck his head through a porthole he would see a submarine. He complied, and a moment later exclaimed to the old salt, I don’t see no su-UB-marine!

If you’ve already heard that one, just skip the previous paragraph.

I enlisted in the United States Air Force and I have never regretted my decision. I spent 22 years in that service and not once did I spend money like a drunken sailor, primarily because I was never paid enough to enjoy such actions. I joined the United States federal civil service and made more money in wages the first year than I did in my twenty-second year in the US Air Force, including overseas pay, separate rations, and housing and clothing allowances. Today the lowest enlisted rank with two years in service is paid $17,616 in base pay plus all the other benefits. My total pay for my twenty-second year of service, with a wife and three children, including all benefits totaled $14,400 per annum—before taxes.

I may bring all sorts of condemnation on myself, but I’m going to say it anyway. Our military people are paid well—extremely well. Let the barrage begin—fire at will!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Listen up, Toyota—relocate the brake pedal!

Listen up, Toyota—relocate the brake pedal to save lives!

This is my suggestion to Toyota and to all the world’s automakers. The first company that accepts my concept and converts its models in accordance with that concept has a unique opportunity to make a quantum leap ahead of every other automaker in the world. There should be no more sticking accelerators, and claims that the accelerator malfunctioned and contributed to an accident should be reduced or completely eliminated. Also it is my sincere belief that my suggestion, if adopted by all the automakers, would significantly reduce the number of rear-end collisions.

Move the brake pedal to the left side of the steering post, just as the gas pedal is to the right side of the steering post, then institute the go, no-no concept for controlling automobiles. Color the pedals red and green, with dashboard lights prominently reflecting the use of each—the brake pedal red for stop and the gas pedal green for go, just as traffic is controlled as directed by red and green traffic light signals.

Simple, huh? Make those dashboard lights prominent enough to alert any driver that the wrong pedal is being used. If you want to stop or slow down an auto and the green light is on, you are using the wrong pedal, and conversely if the red light is on and you want to go, you are using the wrong pedal. And car makers perhaps should consider adding a warning horn system and voice announcements similar to those used on commercial planes to alert the pilots in situations such as landing gear not down and locked, or airspeed is too high for landing.

And on the subject of airplanes, in the absence of an autopilot system the pilots of those conveyances use their hands on the controls to manipulate the ailerons left or right to tilt the plane to one side or the other. They also use their hands on the controls to manipulate the elevators, pushing forward to push the nose of the plane down and pulling back to put the nose of the plane up—can you guess what they use to manipulate the rudder to make a turn, either to the left or the right?

If you guessed that they use their feet to manipulate the plane’s rudder, you win the stuffed teddy bear. Yep, they push in with the left foot to turn left, and push in with the right foot to turn right. I feel that we can equate the functions of foot pedals on a plane to an automobile’s brake and accelerator pedals.

Our government apparently believes at least some of such accidents were caused because the driver confused the accelerator with the brake, and accelerated the car’s forward motion instead of slowing it, a conclusion that in my opinion appears valid.

One needs only to observe the proximity of the accelerator and the brake pedal. In a case of a runaway automobile, the first instinct is to get off the accelerator and hit the brake. In such cases the driver gets off the gas and goes for the brake, but because of the proximity of the brake pedal to the gas pedal, the driver simply hits the accelerator again and thinking that the foot is on the brake, holds it firmly on the accelerator up to the point of impact.

The error is caused by the fact that the right foot is used both for slowing and stopping and for achieving, maintaining and reducing the vehicle’s speed. In a case of a runaway auto, the driver takes the right foot off the gas pedal to change to the brake pedal then, under extreme stress, simply returns the right foot to the accelerator instead of the brake.

And at this point I must note that throughout all this action, the left foot is available but doing nothing to help out—oh, if an accident is imminent the left foot is probably exerting tons of frantic foot-pounds (get it?) of energy against the floorboard but it’s energy wasted, and that pressure will probably result in major damage to that stiffened left foot, leg and hip of the driver if a major accident occurs, plus extra stress on various related internal organs if a major accident occurs.

I am passing my suggestion on to the automakers in an effort to bring the auto industry into the twenty-first century—yes, it’s still in the early twentieth century.

Before I continue let me establish my right to speak on this subject. I began driving at the age of 12 and have been driving motor vehicles of every size, weight, color, horsepower and style including personal cars and trucks, US military and US Civil Service government vehicles for the past 66 years. For the first eight years of that 66 years I used my right foot to accelerate, maintain and reduce speed and to slow and stop vehicles with manual transmissions—the left foot was reserved exclusively for the clutch operation.

For the past 58 years I have used my right foot for go and my left foot for no-go, and I intend to use my feet in like manner for whatever number of years I retain the privilege of driving before being curtailed by old age—or otherwise.

In those 58 years I have never had an accident involving an attempt to occupy the same space as another object, whether the object was mobile or immobile. Conversely, in the first 20 years and in my first automobile, I had a head-on collision with an immovable object, namely the corner of a concrete retaining wall on a beach in Jacksonville, Florida.

I was alone and the hour was late and the night was dark and I was in strange surroundings, and I missed a turn and found myself on the beach. And on that dark night and at that late hour on a beach I learned an immutable truth of physics, namely that no two objects can occupy the same space at the same time. I had a head-on collision with the corner of a concrete retaining wall on a beach in Jacksonville, Florida.

Traveling along beside the high concrete retaining wall that overlooked the beach, I saw a break in the wall ahead and I started a right turn in order to leave the beach and return to the highway. In retrospect, I don’t believe I reduced my speed before beginning the turn, and I saw the 10-foot high wall rushing toward me at a high rate of speed. As I went into the turn my lightweight high-center-of gravity 1948 Chevrolet coupe raised up on its two left wheels, so I spun the wheel left to get all four tires on the ground, intending to stay on the beach instead of turning over or hitting the wall. Yes, spun—my steering wheel boasted a suicide knob, an add-on that enabled young punks such as I to spin the wheel swiftly with one hand. Read on, and you’ll learn why it was labeled a suicide knob.

I was partially successful with my spinning the wheel to the left. I managed to avoid rolling over, but I hit that wall right at the 90-degree point. Whatever my right foot did, whether it hit the brake, stayed on the accelerator, or left the brake and returned to the accelerator was not enough to avert significant structural damage to the auto and to me—the  retaining wall suffered only minor scratches.

I struck the wall at the corner point where it came down to the beach from the highway, and there the wall made a 90-degree turn to the right. I would have been satisfied—nay, happy even—with side-scraping it, either to the left or to the right but preferably to the left, so the contact with the wall would be on the opposite side from where I sat.

The only other part of my anatomy that could possibly have been instrumental in preventing the accident or reducing the damage wrought was my left foot, and I have no recollection of any helpful action taken by that worthy. I had a habit of resting my left foot on the clutch pedal and may have been doing that just before I hit the wall, so the only action the left foot could have taken would have been to push the clutch pedal to the floor, thereby disengaging the gears, decreasing the drag of the transmission and thus increasing the speed of the car en route to the retaining wall.

My 1948 Chevrolet business coupe with a vacuum-shift manual transmission survived the collision. Both the coupe and I suffered front-end damage, major damage to the coupe but relatively minor to me. I unwittingly— and unwillingly—used the bridge of my nose against the steering wheel to slow my forward motion, and managed to break both the wheel and my nose on impact. I suspect that chest impalement and other significant—perhaps fatal—injuries were prevented by my habit of leaning to the left while driving—when everything stopped moving my body was wedged between the left door and the steering column with its broken steering wheel.

A few weeks after eliminating my paltry accumulated savings to recover the Chevrolet coupe from the body shop, I immediately traded it for a sky-blue 1951 Ford convertible with an automatic transmission, and a whole new world opened up for me. I quickly learned that rather than using the time-honored and time-wasting two-part action of lifting the right foot off the accelerator and placing the same foot on the brake to slow or stop the car, I could use my left foot on the brake and needed only to reduce the weight of my right foot on the gas.

Yep, that’s my suggestion. Simply move the brake pedal to the left and teach drivers to use the left foot for braking and the right foot to control speed. As Sophia of Golden Girls fame would say, picture this:

When an accident is apparently imminent the driver must lift the right foot off the gas, move it over to the brake pedal and push hard, and perhaps avoid an accident. But what if the foot when lifted is not lifted high enough and moved far enough to the left, and the sole of the shoe hooks on the side of the accelerator, or the sole of the shoe is not placed squarely on the brake pedal and slips off to the right and back on the accelerator? Disaster is imminent, and even milliseconds saved could mean the difference between life and death.

In summary the crux of my suggestion, and this rambling post in support of it, is that the left leg and foot do nothing to assist a driver in operating a motor vehicle. It remains idle while the right foot is constantly at work, moving from gas pedal to brake, and from brake to gas pedal, ad nauseam.

If the left legs and feet of drivers could speak, they would probably say that they would like to be involved in the vehicle’s operation, and would probably claim that they could do a better job than the right, much as the political left in our nation feels about the political right.

And furthermore, I’ll bet that an atrophy study of the legs and feet of drivers would show that the left is far more susceptible to the disease than the right caused by lack of use, simply because it is allowed to stagnate while the right does all the work—and there again it appears that a parallel can be seen in our political parties.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Postscript: There’s more to the story, including my involvement with a sheriff’s deputy, the US Navy’s Shore Patrol, the people that returned my 1948 Chevrolet coupe to service, and what happened in Jacksonville the night I recovered my car and entered the city over a high bridge and lost my brakes on the way down to street level, and I’m even less proud of that than I am of my bout with the retaining wall. However, I’ve rambled on too long already, so I’ll save the rest of the story for a later post—stay tuned.

 

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Revisit—11th Street South and a rabbit . . .

I recently visited this posting and found it to be a fascinating and exceptional piece of literature, so I decided to re-post it for the benefit of the throngs that have been fortunate enough to have found my blog in the interim. It is my humble and modest opinion, with all seriousness set aside, that any reading or re-reading of this classic tale will enchant and delight everyone that passes this way. It’s a long read, but it’s highly educational, entertaining and well worth your time and effort—honest!

11th Street South and a rabbit . . .

When I left Plato’s realm of spirits—mind you, I was and I remain one of Plato’s ideal philosophical souls—and entered this world, I became part of a family that included my mother, one brother and five sisters, three living sisters and two dead, and no father—well, of course I had a father, but my parents were divorced a few months before I was born, a situation that technically makes me a little bastard. That technicality doesn’t bother me, even though it has been verbally confirmed many times by many people over the course of my life. Those verbal confirmations have decreased significantly since I retired from the workforce and relinquished my responsibilities and duties as a manager and supervisor of federal employees.

The Great Depression was in full swing when I left the world of souls and appeared on this planet. My brother Larry was away from home, gainfully occupied in building roads in Utah and other western states, roads that in his words started nowhere and ended nowhere. Early in the 1930s he joined the CCC—Civilian Conservation Corps—one of the alphabet organizations created by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, and helped build highways and tunnels in the western part of the United States, systems that would attract many millions of people in the future to our national parks. Following his stint with the CCC, he joined the U.S. Navy at the start of World War II and remained overseas through most of that conflict and never returned to the family except for short visits.

I have only retained two events over the first six years of my life that included my brother. The first memory is one of us fishing in a creek that meandered along near the house my family lived in at the time, a rental house owned by a local doctor named Box, the doctor that delivered me. Located on the outskirts of Vernon, Alabama, it was referred to as the old Box place—my family moved there from my place of birth, the old home place located some five miles south of town—I was little more than a toddler at the time. If you like, you can click here to read about the monumental event of my birth, Unto you this day a child was born. It’s a well-told tale with tons of family history and well worth your time—trust me!

The other memory involves a washtub in the front yard, filled with ice and beer, and my family enjoying and celebrating my brother’s visit. It also involves a partially filled beer left on a table within reach of a small night-shirted boy, and a set of high steps leading up to the front door of our house. The steps were necessary because the house was built on brick piers in an area prone to flooding. I have a vivid memory of standing on the top step in full view of the family gathered around the tub of ice and beer in the front yard and tossing the contents of my stomach—whatever food I had ingested along with the warm beer I had consumed—all over the steps.

Bummer!

I lived at the old Box place with my mother and three sisters. My mother and the two older sisters worked at a garment factory in Columbus, Mississippi, a city thirty miles west of Vernon, just across the Alabama-Mississippi state line. The women walked a short distance to and from town Monday through Friday and traveled to and from their work site on a county school bus set aside for that purpose. They necessarily left at an early hour and arrived home at a late hour every evening.

I and my youngest sister, a child just 18 months older than I, were left in the care of a lady that lived within walking distance. She came to our house early each morning and waited until the women left for work before escorting my sister and me to her house—she returned us home just before the women were due to arrive from work. With her husband and a passel of kids—my mother’s term—ranging from toddlers to young adults, she lived, loved, maintained her family and helped perform the many tasks involved in farming.

Whether they were the owners or were sharecroppers will never be known, but my guess is that they farmed on shares with the owners. Today the family would be called African-American, but at that time they were called everything except that hyphenated politically correct term—my family referred to them as black folks, or blacks, or that black family—other terms were available and quite popular at the time, but none were used by my family. This was a black family that included two white children five days every week, a boy and a girl, both preschoolers, two children that shared playtime and mealtime and after-dinner naps on the front porch with the family and loved every minute of every day.

My family left Vernon and moved to Columbus, Mississippi when I was five years old. My sister entered the first grade on our arrival there, and I entered the first grade the following year. That year is so filled with memories that I must reserve it for a separate posting, and I will include in this posting a third memory of my brother Larry.

He came home for a Christmas visit from his labors under the auspices of Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps. That winter Columbus, Mississippi had an unusually heavy snowfall, and my brother took me on a rabbit hunt, armed only with a broomstick—just the stick, no broom. The broom part was badly worn and my brother sawed off that part. We walked a short distance from our house to a snow-covered field that served as a dumping ground for discarded items such as broken furniture, mattresses, wire-coil bed springs, old stoves and other such refuse. Yes, we lived on the south side of the city, the part that was known as the wrong side of town, an area subjected to such dumping.

This is how one hunts rabbits after a heavy snowfall—one takes a broomstick and pounds on any pile of junk where a rabbit might choose to hide, and chases the rabbit when it leaves its cover. In a heavy snowfall rabbits can’t run, so they tend to flee by burrowing under the snow rather than jumping in and out of it. Ergo, the mighty hunter simply follows the unseen rabbit as it ripples the surface of the snow by burrowing under it, estimates the location of the rabbit’s head—not a difficult task, not even for a southerner, and strikes with the broomstick a number of times, enough time sufficient to render the animal ready for skinning, cleaning and cooking.

My brother only found one rabbit with all his pounding, and that one did exactly as expected, and brother did exactly as narrated above, but landed just one blow with the stick. The rabbit’s forward motion was stopped, and on examination was found to be very much alive, only stunned by the blow but no more blows were struck. I pleaded with my brother to not kill it, and let me take it home as a pet.

And so it was. I carried a new-found pet rabbit home—I never knew whether it was male or female, but just for discussion I’ll say it was a female—perhaps I hoped for some baby rabbits. I had no way to secure her, neither inside the house nor outside, and one of my older sisters suggested I make a leash and tie her to a bedpost, and using a six-year old boy’s imagination, I did as suggested.

At this point the reader should probably keep a hankie or a box of Kleenex handy.

I fashioned a leash from a discarded pair of nylon stockings, those with the black seams running the length of the stockings, seams that ladies of the day were constantly adjusting to keep them straight on the backs of their legs. I knotted the stockings together, then secured one end of the leash to the cottontail’s neck and the other to a bedpost. My new-found pet could move around no farther than the length of nylon, so whatever deposits he made during the night would be restricted to a small area.

Okay, folks, here’s where you’ll need the hankie or the Kleenex. When I went to sleep my pet was warm and cuddly and full of life, but the next morning she was cold and stiff and dead, choked by the nylon that had tightened during the night with her circling around and around the bedpost.

I know, I know—I know just how you feel, but just blow your nose and wipe away your tears. It happened some 71 years ago, and I will say to you exactly what Lloyd Bridges said in the made-for-television movie Cold Sassy Tree. This is what he said in answer to his children when they learned he intended to marry his long-time office manager although his wife—their mother—had been dead less than a year. What he said was,

Well, she ain’t gonna get any deader!

And that rabbit ain’t gonna get any deader either, so dry your tears. I assure you that never again—not in all those years, not even once—have I strangled another rabbit by leaving it tied to a bedpost with a knotted pair of ladies’ nylons, nor have I ever strangled another rabbit by any other method, nor have I ever advised my children or the children of others to do such—in fact, largely because of that sad event I have strongly stressed that all should respect the value of life, both for humans and for the so-called lower orders of life.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
1 Comment

Posted by on October 2, 2010 in Childhood, Family, Humor, neighbors, race, Uncategorized

 

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A father and daughter story . . .

A special introduction to this posting:

I have multiple reasons for making this posting. As with almost every posting that I make, my intention is to record significant moments in my life for the benefit of my daughters. Many of those moments occurred before my girls were born, and I consider this the ideal vehicle in which to store those moments to make them available at the touch of a computer key. In this instance it is also an effort to educate others. The human female’s reproductive system with its various apparatuses is literally the source of life—it is mankind’s future, and its various components are probably some of the most complex and most misunderstood areas that exist in our society. I can state unequivocally and unashamedly that I learned from researching the remarkable subject of this posting, and I trust that what I have learned will benefit others that are as uneducated in this area as I was—in many respects I remain uneducated—but I’m learning!

I introduced Betty, a fellow teenager friend from long ago, on my blog in my last posting. Click here to read about that introduction, our first and only date to see a movie, and about me being slapped off her porch and into the yard—it’s worth the visit.

Betty’s father was a commander in the United States Navy, stationed in Washington, D.C. He was almost bald, of short stature and in retrospect he reminds me of Lt. Commander Queeg, the part played by Humphrey Bogart in The Caine Mutiny. The commander’s wife and my sister-in-law spent a lot of time in my sister-in-law’s kitchen drinking coffee, smoking and talking about the various things women talk about while drinking coffee and smoking.

Our duplex was small, with no closed dividers between the living room and the kitchen, and people in one area could clearly hear conversations in the other area if normal volumes were used. Low whispers would not be detected, however. Betty’s mother was not whispering when she told my sister-in-law about the monthly physical exam her husband made of their daughter, then twelve years old. She either had forgotten that I was in the living room reading, or else did not care that I might be listening to the two women conversing over coffee and cigarettes. There is a slight possibility that she may have wanted me to hear her, feeling that I would thus refrain from any thoughts I might have in mind that, if converted into action, would affect the findings of the next monthly exam—you’ll understand that comment in a moment.

What I heard the mother tell is this: She told my sister-in-law that her husband gave their daughter a tub bath at least once a month, and as part of that action determined whether she was still a virgin. I know, I know—the only proof of virginity is an intact hymen, but the hymen can be breached and destroyed without intercourse having taken place. An intact hymen may indicate that vaginal intercourse has not taken place, but its absence does not prove that such intercourse has in fact taken place.

Now for the sensitive part of this discussion of a father playing doctor with his twelve year old daughter—how does one determine the presence of, or the absence of, a girl’s hymen? If not through questioning, it would have to be through one or more of the five physical senses, and through a process of elimination we should be able to determine the manner in which this remarkable father followed his daughter’s progress towards adulthood.

If one were inclined to do so, as was Betty’s father, the intact hymen can be easily examined through a combination of our physical senses. Betty was probably treated to a warm bath shortly after we returned home from the movies, and I hasten to add that had the examination produced unsatisfactory results I might have been suspect, but I was in no way involved in the above mentioned area, nowhere even close. It could well be, of course, that I lusted in my heart, just as former president Jimmy Carter, in his interview with Playboy magazine, said that he was inclined to do. Incidentally, Jimmy and Rosalyn have been married for 64 years—I congratulate and salute them!

In our search for the hymen we can eliminate the auditory sense, that of hearing—contrary to The Vagina Monologues, history holds no record of a talking vagina. We can also eliminate the gustatory and olfactory senses—neither would in any way confirm the presence, absence or condition of the hymen.

Through our scientific elimination of three of our five physical senses, we are left with the visual and tactile sense, our senses of sight and touch. The only sensible way to confirm the presence or the absence of the hymen is by combining the human senses of seeing and touching. If the hymen is there it can be seen and touched, and that combination will detect and confirm its existence and its condition, or its absence.

The story told in this posting is true. If Betty’s mother and father are still alive, both are well past the century mark in age and if still living, Betty would be in her seventh decade of life, far beyond any fear of her father failing to find an intact hymen. I wish them all well, whatever their condition or location.

Postscript: I posted this story in an effort to educate and perhaps, with a smattering of humor to entertain, and I make no apology to anyone that may be troubled by this posting in regards to their standards of decency. If you are offended by the subject matter, I offer the world of WordPress for your consideration. Use the search feature—Search WordPress.com—you’ll find every sexual act known to mankind, discussed in street language, not once, not twice but thousands of times. Wade through that compendium of filth, then compare my work to those entries—in comparison my efforts should earn, at the very least, honorable mention in the annual quest for a Nobel prize.

That’s my story, and in the words of Steve McQueen in his masterful performance in the movie Tom Horn, I’ll have nothing further to say about that.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
 

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Mistaken identification—no gold tooth . . .

Long, long ago in 1951 in Japan, a far off land across the sea, a young American corporal, 18 years old, arrived late in the evening to the Transient Quarters at Itazuki, an American air base near the city of Fukuoka on Kyushu, Japan’s most southern island. That young corporal was on an authorized three-day pass for the purpose of resting, relaxing and recuperating from the rigors of singlehandedly fighting a war from Taegue Air Base at Taegue, South Korea, a war that raged between South Korea and North Korea and lasted four years, but was never won by either side—a truce was declared, and that truce exists to this day.

I was assisted in my efforts by the South Korean army and the US Army, Navy, Marines and National Guard units. That assistance was warranted because Communist China’s vast army was assisting North Korea in its effort to take over the entire Korean peninsula.

The hour was late and the lights were already out in the Transient Quarters. I found my way to an empty lower bunk, stuffed my stuff under the bunk, undressed, slipped under the covers and went to sleep. I awoke early the next morning and headed straight for the showers. When my ablutions were completed I returned to my bunk, donned my uniform and prepared to depart for the city for that aforementioned rest, relaxation and recuperation, activities that were considerably more available than in Korea or on the air base.

And then fate crossed me up—I took a cursory glance at the sleeping figure on the top bunk and recognized him immediately. His name was Ord Dunham, a friend I made in basic training, and we completed technical training together at Chanute Air Force Base, Illinois. We both shipped out of San Francisco on the same Army troop ship early in 1950, a few months before the Korean War began and I hadn’t seen him since that time.

I waited around for awhile for him to awaken, and passed the time by reading a comic book that was lying at the foot of bunk—well, at least I was looking at the pictures. I believe it was titled “Wings” or something similar, and its cover featured a beautiful girl drifting to earth under a parachute, one of the older type chutes, one of those with the straps between the legs of the parachutist—I will neither bore nor arouse my viewers by describing the girl’s dress or the lack thereof—suffice it to say that the cover was interesting, memorable and to a certain extent, stimulating. I sincerely hope that she made a safe landing.

I grew tired of waiting, knowing that the waiting was cutting into my time for rest, relaxation and recuperation, so I rolled up the comic book and smartly tapped Ord’s nose with it. His eyes snapped open, he raised up and glared at me, and I said, “Hey, boy, aren’t you a long way from home? He said, “Yeah, I guess I am, so what about it?” As he spoke I was treated to a good look at his front teeth, probably because he was smiling—well, actually he wasn’t smiling—it was more like he was snarling. The Ord Dunham I knew had one gold upper front tooth—the man I swatted across the face with a comic book did not have a gold tooth.

I said, in a very low and probably trembling voice, “You’re not Ord Dunham, are you?’ He replied, “No, I’m not, and that’s a hell of a way to wake a man up in the morning!” I did what any sane, intelligent and reasonable person would do and should do in such a situation—I said, “I made a mistake, and I’m sorry, really sorry, please forgive me,” and I grabbed my ditty bag and tried to restrain my feet to a casual walk towards the exit door. To others I would probably seem to be skipping, or perhaps speed walking.

I survived my faux pas and extended my three-day pass from three to seven days—why and how that was possible, and why I was never given a second three-day pass while in Korea is explained in an earlier posting—click here for the pertinent detailsI can say truthfully and modestly say that the posting is worth a visit.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

PeeEss:

To Ord Dunham, the Ord with the gold tooth: If you should happen to read this, please know that I forgive you for having a remarkable look-alike, one that almost got me in a heap of trouble!

And to Ord Dunham, the Ord with no gold tooth, the Ord on the top bunk: If you should happen to read this and remember the incident, please know that I appreciate the fact that you kept your temper in check that day—thanks—I needed that!

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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11th Street South and a rabbit . . .

When I left Plato’s realm of spirits—mind you, I was and I remain one of Plato’s ideal philosophical souls—and entered this world, I became part of a family that included my mother, one brother and five sisters, three living and two dead, and no father—well, of course I had a father, but my parents were divorced a few months after I was born, a situation that, technically at least, makes me a little b – – – – – d. That technicality doesn’t bother me, even though it has been verbally confirmed many times by many people over the course of my life. Those verbal confirmations have decreased significantly since I retired from the workforce and relinquished my responsibilities and duties as a manager and supervisor of federal employees.

The Great Depression was in full swing when I left the world of souls and appeared on this planet. My brother  Larry was away from home, gainfully occupied in building roads in Utah and other western states, roads that in his words started nowhere and ended nowhere. Early in the 1930s he joined the CCC—Civilian Conservation Corps—one of the alphabet organizations created by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, and helped build highways and tunnels in the western part of the United States, systems that would attract many millions of people in the future to our national parks. Following his stint with the CCC, he joined the U.S. Navy at the start of World War II and remained overseas through most of that conflict and never returned to the family except for short visits.

I have only retained two events over the first six years of my life that included my brother. The first memory is one of us fishing in a creek that meandered along near the house my family lived in at the time, a rental house owned by a local doctor named Box, the doctor that delivered me. Located on the outskirts of Vernon, Alabama, it was referred to as the old Box place—my family moved there from my place of birth, the old home place located some five miles south of town—I was little more than a toddler at the time. If you like, you can click here to read about the monumental event of my birth, Unto you this day a child was born. It’s a well-told tale with tons of family history and well worth your time—trust me!

The other memory involves a washtub in the front yard, filled with ice and cans of beer, and my family enjoying and celebrating my brother’s visit and celebrating. It also involves a partially filled beer can left on a table within reach of a small night-shirted boy, and a set of high steps leading up to the front door of our house. The steps were necessary because the house was built on brick piers in an area prone to flooding. I have a vivid memory of standing on the top step in full view of the family gathered around the tub of beer in the front yard and tossing the contents of my stomach—whatever food I had ingested along with the warm beer I had consumed—all over the steps.

Bummer!

I lived at the old Box place with my mother and three sisters. My mother and the two older sisters worked at a garment factory in Columbus, Mississippi, a city thirty miles west of Vernon, just across the Alabama-Mississippi state line. The women walked a short distance to and from town Monday through Friday and traveled to and from their work site on a county school bus set aside for that purpose. They necessarily left at an early hour and arrived home at a late hour every evening.

I and my youngest sister, a child just 18 months older than I, were left in the care of a lady that lived within walking distance. She came to our house early each morning and waited until the women left for work before escorting my sister and me to her house—she returned us home just before the women were due to arrive from work. With her husband and a passel of kids—my mother’s term—ranging from toddlers to young adults, she lived, loved, maintained her family and helped perform the many tasks involved in farming.

Whether they were the owners or were sharecroppers will never be known, but my guess is that they farmed on shares with the owners. Today the family would be called African-American, but at that time they were called everything except that hyphenated politically correct term—my family referred to them as black folks, or blacks, or that black family—other terms were available and quite popular at the time, but none were used by my family. This was a black family that included two white children five days every week, a boy and a girl, both preschoolers, two children that shared playtime and mealtime and after-dinner naps on the front porch with the family and loved every minute of every day there.

My family left Vernon and moved to Columbus when I was five years old. My sister entered the first grade on our arrival there, and I entered the first grade the following year. That year is so filled with memories that I must reserve it for a separate posting, and I will include in this posting a third early memory of my brother Larry.

He came home for a Christmas visit from his labors under the auspices of Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corp. That winter Columbus, Mississippi had an unusually heavy snowfall, and my brother took me on a rabbit hunt, armed only with a broomstick—just the stick, no broom. The broom part was badly worn and my brother sawed off that part. We walked a short distance from our house to a snow-covered field that served as a dumping ground for discarded items such as broken furniture, mattresses, wire-coil bed springs, old stoves and other such refuse. Yes, we lived on the south side of the city, the part that was known as the wrong side of town, an area subjected to such dumping.

This is how one hunts rabbits after a heavy snowfall. One takes a broomstick and pounds on any pile of junk where a rabbit might choose to hide, and chases the rabbit when it leaves its cover. In a heavy snowfall rabbits can’t run, so they tend to flee by burrowing under the snow rather than jumping in and out of it. Ergo, the mighty hunter simply follows the unseen rabbit as it ripples the surface of the snow by burrowing under it, estimates the location of the rabbit’s head—not a difficult task, not even for a southerner, and strikes with the broomstick a number of times, enough time sufficient to render the animal ready for skinning, cleaning and cooking.

My brother only found one rabbit with all his pounding, and that one did exactly as expected, and brother did exactly as narrated above, but landed just one blow with the stick. The rabbit’s forward motion was stopped, and on examination was found to be very much alive, only stunned by the blow but no more blows were struck. I pleaded with my brother to not kill it, and let me take it home as a pet.

And so it was. I carried a full-grown cottontail rabbit home—I never knew whether it was male or female, but just for discussion I’ll say it was a female—perhaps I hoped for some baby rabbits. I had no way to secure her, neither inside the house or outside, and one of my older sisters suggested I make a leash and tie her to a bedpost, and using a six-year old boy’s imagination, I did as suggested.

At this point the reader should probably keep a hankie or a box of Kleenex handy.

I fashioned a leash from discarded pair of nylon stockings, those with the black seams running the length of the stockings, seams that ladies of the day were constantly adjusting to keep them straight on the backs of their legs. I knotted the stocking together, then secured one end of the leash to the cottontail’s neck and the other to a bedpost. My new-found pet could move around no farther than the length of nylon, so whatever deposits he made during the night would be restricted to a small area.

Okay, folks, here’s where you’ll need the hankie or the Kleenex. When I went to sleep my pet was warm and cuddly and full of life, but the next morning she was cold and stiff and dead, choked by the nylon that had tightened during the night with her circling around and around the bedpost.

I know, I know—I know just how you feel, but just blow your nose and wipe away your tears. It happened some 71 years ago, and I will say to you exactly what Lloyd Bridges said in the made-for-television movie Cold Sassy Tree. This is what he said in answer to his children when they learned he intended to marry his long-time office manager although his wife—their mother—had been dead less than a year. What he said was,

Well, she ain’t gonna get any deader!

And that rabbit ain’t gonna get any deader either, so dry your tears. I assure you that never again—not in all those years, not even once—have I strangled another rabbit by leaving it tied to a bedpost with a knotted pair of ladies’ nylons, nor have I ever strangled another rabbit by any other method, nor have I ever advised my children or the children of others to do such—if fact, largely because of that sad event I have strongly stressed that all should respect the value of life, both for humans and for the so-called lower orders of life.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on May 7, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Rogue cops and rubber hoses . . .

Picture this:

A lad of 16 years jailed on suspicion of being involved in auto theft, kidnapping and murder—completely innocent, of course—being bullied by burly bulky bastardly bastions of the law—I do really love alliteration-–and threatened with a rubber hose. Click here to learn how such an unsatisfactory situation developed.

In mid-afternoon of that Sunday following our arrest and incarceration, two very large men came into the room that held the two strap-iron cells occupied by me and my brother. They introduced themselves as plain-clothes detectives and started asking questions. After a series of questions relating to our lack of identification, our hot-wired car and the rifle bullets they found in my pocket, one of the men—the larger one–unlocked the door to my cell, entered and locked the door behind him—yeah, like I was going to flee and fly out to freedom and become one of the FBI’s Most Wanted Fugitives, with my mug shot featured prominently in every post office in the nation.

I was standing while he was outside, but when he entered I sat down on my bare metal bunk. That was a defensive measure. I believe I felt that should he decide to hit me, I would at least have only a short way to fall before hitting the steel wall behind me or the concrete floor. I could be wrong, of course—I may have sat down because of the sudden weakness my knees developed, and I mean that in all seriousness.

He held a piece of black rubber hose in his right hand. The hose was short in length, thick in diameter and long in menace, and he kept slapping it into the palm of his other hand, staring at me intently all the while.

If anyone reading this thinks I wasn’t scared, think again—I was scared witless, filled with fear that approached the point of something that rhymes with witless. I was a 110 pound 16-year old and he was a really big man, six feet tall and counting, weighing well over 200 pounds—a goodly portion of that weight was centered in his overhanging stomach, but his weight distribution detracted in no way from the fear that I felt, fear generated by his size and by the menacing length of rubber hose he wielded.

Believe me, reader, had I been guilty of any one or all of the several wrong doings of which we were accused, I would have promptly admitted that guilt. Had it been possible I would have cheerfully laid it all off on my brother—yep, I would have squealed like a pig and perhaps made a deal with the cops, or at least plea bargained my way out of what I considered to be a really bad situation. Frankly, I figured that my brother had gotten me into a big mess and I owed him zilch—none of this was my fault—I mean, like, hey, brotherly love has its limits.

The detective finally stopped slapping his hand with the hose, probably because it was beginning to hurt. He knew that he had my undivided attention, and then he held the business end of the hose close to my face and asked some really stupid questions, to all of which I gave some really brilliant answers:

Do you know what this is?

Yes, sir.

Do you know what I can do with this if you lie to me?

Yes, sir.

Did you boys steal that car?

No, sir.

Did you boys kidnap someone?

No, sir.

Did you boys kill someone and dispose of the body?

No, sir.

Have you answered all our questions truthfully?

Yes, sir.

See, I told you his questions were stupid and my answers were brilliant!

The detective ended the conversation, and taking his rubber hose with him he stepped out of my cell, locked the door and started questioning my brother, but he did not enter my brother’s cell. Evidently my brother, a World War II veteran almost twice my age, had been around the block before—he told our inquisitors in firm tones to not bother threatening him with the rubber hose, that he had been threatened with far more than that in World War II combat and survived, that he had told the truth about everything and that all they had to do was make a few phone calls to prove it and finally, that they could delay our release but could not prevent it.

In his telling my brother used some really salty language, some of which was related to the detectives’ parentage, including the legality of their births and their relationships with their mothers, and lots of other language that brought their sexual proclivities and practices into question.

Hey, my brother spent six years in the U.S. Navy, the last four of which were spent overseas in combat zones during the big war—that’s the way sailors talk. I expected the two detectives to beat him senseless, even to the point of his not recovering and spending the rest of his life as a tomato or a cabbage or a stalk of celery perhaps, but no, they listened to his tirade without responding. After he wound down with his remarks, they left the area without comments, and we never saw them again.

I find it difficult to believe that they were intimidated by my brother—I believe that they were amused and perhaps even respectful of his actions. My brother was much older than I but he was not much bigger, and I must admit that while I was shocked by his remarks, I really admired his stance in the face of bigger men with all the power of law at their disposal.

We were held incommunicado for 23 hours, just one hour short of the 24 hours the law allowed before formal charges and booking were mandated. The so-called authorities either made enough phone calls on Monday morning to prove our innocence, or perhaps had simply tired of the cat-and-mouse game they had played with us for 23 hours.

Whatever the reason, they released us, offered nothing that remotely resembled an apology and told us to get out of town and not come back. Other than the handful of rifle shells there was no need to return any possessions to us—the only things we possessed were the clothes we wore. The few dollars we had went for the burgers, and they kept any amount that remained, and I wisely refrained from demanding the return of my rifle cartridges. There was no need to return the keys to our car—we never had any—the starting lock was gone and the starter was hot-wired to the fog lights, and were soon on our way.

After a brief stop in St. Louis in a futile attempt to borrow gas money from my stepfather’s sister—click here for that story—we continued to New York City and stayed there for several weeks, then traveled to Mississipi where I was promptly shipped off to a farm in Alabama to live with a first-cousin and her family—a life very similar to that of an indentured servant. Click here for that posting.

More on my life on the farm and why I left it can be found here.

This story is all true, embellished a bit perhaps in the telling, but it’s all true and there’s nobody around either to disprove it or substantiate it—by now all the participants have departed for other realms. My fervent hope is that my brother and the cops involved in our short stay in Valley Park, Missouri traveled in opposite directions when they departed their lives on earth. I readily acknowledge that there in no way to confirm their paths, but I would like to believe that my brother ascended to his next life and the cops descended to theirs.

That’s my wish and that’s my story, and I’m sticking to both!

PeeEss: We were never told that we could ask for an attorney and were not Mirandized, but that is understandable—the year was 1949 and the Miranda law did not exist—it was still seventeen years into the future, 1966. Click here for information on the Miranda warning.

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Why I joined the U.S. Air Force . . .

The immediate reason I joined the U.S. Air Force rather than the Army was because the U.S. Army recruiting office in my town had reached its quota for March, 1949. The Army recruiting sergeant said his quota was filled for the month, so he offered me a position in the Air Force—yes, Virginia, the armed forces had fixed quotas in those days.

There were openings in the U.S. Navy for March, but that service held no attractions for me. I’m not a strong swimmer, and I also feared that the Navy’s uniform whites with the thirteen trouser buttons might be a bit unwieldy. I know, I know—I can swim far better than I can fly, but I joined the Air Force anyway—I liked the khaki uniforms and the Air Force was immediately available. Added to that was the fact that I needed to get out of town quickly.

The events leading up to my enlistment in the active duty military were numerous and varied. Some of those events were pleasant, but others were harrowing. I was enlisted in the Mississippi National Guard at the time, purely in order to get the $10 per month I was paid for training on one Saturday of each month—big money! I lied about my age in order to join—either the Guard recruiter believed me or really didn’t care whether I was old enough to join. I also lied about my age in order to join the Air Force—click here for a brief autobiographical dissertation that includes my underage enlistment. It’s a long read but I can unblushingly assure you, with no hint of personal bias or prejudice, that the read is worth your time and effort.

Now on to the real reason I joined the U.S. Air Force:

Picture this: A billiard hall on the second floor of a building that also housed a market, located a five-minute walk from the city’s combination high school and junior high school. The pool room was a favorite with young men and boys, particularly at noon during school hours, in the evenings (it closed at six pm), and on Saturdays. The proprietor served no alcoholic beverages and had strict rules for conduct in his establishment. Our local police officers came in occasionally for a free Coke and hot dog, and military recruiters made frequent visits to the pool room to discuss the benefits of military enlistments. Many students, including my mother’s youngest son, spend their lunch hour there every day during school terms—shooting pool, eating hot dogs and drinking cokes.

Special notes: A hot dog with all the trimmings cost a whopping ten cents, and the Mae West-shaped Coke was five cents, with no sales tax involved. Pool games cost ten cents each, paid by the players before the balls were racked by a rack boy. Most games were Eight Ball, played between two players and the loser paid for the rack before the next game began. One only needed to approach a table with two shooters and say, “I’ll play the winner.”

And so it was—the loser paid for the new rack, and the next shooter took on the winner. That process was normally honored, and if any shooter balked at giving up the table, the proprietor was called into action to arbitrate—the loser always lost in the arbitration. At least in theory, a proficient shooter could hold sway over a table for the full hour and never have to pay for a game.

I was a proficient shooter. On many school days I arrived at the poolroom with twenty-five cents, no more and no less. I bought a coke and a hot dog with fifteen cents and pocketed the other dime in the somewhat unlikely chance that I lost a game—it happened, of course, but not very often. If I still had the dime when it was time to return to school, I picked up a second hot dog and coke and finished them off on the way back to school. Ah, those were the days!

My encounter with the Army recruiter took place as I was shooting pool with two friends—the three of us were high-school dropouts, and the recruiter painted such a rosy picture of life in the Army that two of us accepted his invitation to appear at his office the following Monday for testing.

The third person at the pool table was physically unfit for military service—while sound in mind and body in most respects, his back was severely hunched, or humped—I’m unsure of the proper term to use. His deformity was so severe that he resembled a fiddler crab in his forward progress—he wore a sports jacket year-round, regardless of the weather. Before feeling too much pity, one needs to know that he was very much favored by the girls—we were never told what made him so attractive but we had our suspicions, and it sure wasn’t his intellect, his good looks or his conversational charm!

With all necessary apologies to our soldiers, both active duty and veterans, whether discharged or retired, I must state that the U.S. Army’s written test was ridiculously easy for me, but my friend made such a low score that the recruiting sergeant suggested that he not bother asking for a retest—statistics showed that he would never be able to pass the test, no matter how many times he tried. I have long harbored a suspicion that he deliberately failed the exam, but at this late date it is a matter of no importance—at that time he was out and I was in, and that’s all that counted.

Aside from the fact that I was at loose ends, bobbing about on a sea of endless days and nights with no particular feelings or expectations concerning the future, I admit that I was involved in some activities that did not bode well for my future. I passed the written exam and the physical, and I accepted the Army recruiter’s offer of allowing me to enlist in the Air Force rather than waiting for the following month to go into the U.S. Army. Mine was a wise choice, and I have never looked back—well, perhaps a few times during my 15 months in Korea at the height of the Korean War. In my looking back, I am thankful that I did not enlist in the army—had I waited another month I would probably have been in Korea anyway, but fighting on the front lines instead of maintaining aircraft in the rear echelon of troops in country.

I managed to hang on to my sanity through 13 weeks of basic training—click here for some thoughts on that period. Following graduation from basic training, I was treated to a two-week excursion on a U.S. Army troop ship bound for Japan, all expenses paid. I was fine until the third day out, but on that day I was so seasick I seriously considered jumping ship, right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. However, being fully aware of my swimming capabilities and the lack thereof, I turned myself inside out over a 24-hour period and survived my bout with seasickness—a monumental turnaround, especially considering the quality of food served by the Army cooks.

 

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My brief stint as a cocktail waiter . . .

I returned to the United States in February of 1952 following a twenty-two month tour of the Far East. I enjoyed the first nine months in Japan—the other 13 months were spent, with far less enjoyment, in South Korea at the height of the Korean conflict. At the conclusion of a two-week boat ride on a US Navy troop transport ship that finally docked in San Francisco (click here for a description of that landing and numerous other fascinating vignettes), I traveled to Midland, Texas to visit my mother and my stepfather now residing in that city—my mother was employed as a nurse and my stepfather hawked commercial advertisement items such as matchbooks, calendars and other items imprinted with the names of various businesses. He did a very small amount of that, and a large amount of poker playing at a local establishment—he viewed himself as a high-roller, but I doubt that any others viewed him in that light.

Papa John, my stepfather, was a dues-paying member of the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Eagles (F.O.E). He was a rather committed poker player, and the F.O.E. made it possible for him to indulge in such activities regularly—nightly, and often till well past the witching hour. According to my mother, he spent almost as much time there as he spent at home. I did not linger in Midland long enough to either doubt or refute that, but I have reason to believe her.

I had just returned from a combat tour in Korea. My stepfather was inordinately proud of me for having contributed to our efforts in the war against communism and the invasion of South Korea by North Korean army regulars and elements of communist China’s enormous armies. He discussed my return with an F.O.E. personage, one that sported the title of Grand PooBah, or something on that order. They agreed, in my absence, mind you, that it would be beneficial to the organization and its members for me to bring them up to date on the progress of the Korean war.

I reluctantly accepted the invitation to speak, and Papa John insisted that I appear on stage in uniform. I appeared in uniform on stage and addressed a large banquet hall filled with comfortably seated people. I struggled through an impromptu no-notes speech, a speech that I will not attempt to recreate here. Suffice it to say that I received a warm welcome and a warmer round of applause. Texans, and Midlanders especially, possess and display many different characteristics, not the least of which is patriotism—it’s embedded in their characters and they give voice to it proudly and openly. I probably would have received the same applause had I stood and recited Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as . . . etc., etc.

Now on to my brief—very brief—stint as a cocktail waiter:

On the same evening shortly after I gave the club  members my version of the Korean War, Papa John retired to the back room to play poker. I went with him and stood around kibitzing—however, I did not attempt to give unwanted advice, something that kibitzers usually do—no, and not just no, but hell no—I knew better than to even contemplate it. As the game progressed, its seven players quickly drained their various bottles and glasses of various types of spirits, and the house called for another round of drinks for the players. Note: the house is the non-player that runs the game and takes a percentage of each pot for the organization—hey, they have to pay rent!

When the house started to send for a waiter, Papa John volunteered me for the job. The house said sure, and I silently said—well, what I said matched what the house said, but only in the number of letters—its pronunciation was different. I will try to finish this quickly because to linger will just bring up more unhappy memories of that evening.

I took the written list of drinks to the bar. The bartender obligingly filled the order, placed numerous containers on a very large tray and said There you go. The tray held more than seven containers, because some players had ordered such drinks as boiler-makers—that’s a shot of whiskey with a beer chaser—or is it a shot of beer with a whiskey chaser? I can never remember which.

As I threaded my way between tables and booths en route to the back room, with the tray held firmly in both hands at waist level, I noticed that other waiters held their trays well above their heads, with just one hand supporting the tray at that height with its expensive cargo.

Yep, you’re way ahead of me. That posed a challenge for me, one that my character could not resist—I splayed my right hand and placed it palm up beneath my tray and elevated it, just as the others were doing. I found it quite easy to do, and actually danced around and twitched my hips a bit while transiting the room full of diners and drinkers, and arrived at the poker table with out incident. However, at the exact moment I began to lower the tray, things went awry—something slipped and caused a complete dump of the trays’ load—I managed to hold on to the tray, but everything on it hit the floor with a combined sound of liquid sloshing and glass breaking. Bummer!

I was not allowed to pay for the lost lubricants, nor was I allowed to fill a second order. I rendered my I’m sorries, my thank yous and my good nights shortly after the incident and managed to exit the building without running into anything or tripping over something.

That’s it. That’s my version of The Night That a Teenage War Veteran Dropped the Drinks, a tale of tragedy comparable to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a notable work by Samuel Taylor Coleridge that also involved a tremendous amount of liquid. The main event of that night is a tale that is probably still being told to younger generations of Midlanders, especially those that may be groomed for employment as a waiter at the local Fraternal Order of Eagles. I can’t vouch for that, because I put Midland in my rear view mirror several days later and have never returned.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

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Third time is charm—but not always . . .

In March of 1969, I had the privilege of taking a 13-month tour of South Vietnam with all expenses paid—my tour began in the the capital city of Saigon and ended at Da Nang Air Base in April of 1970. While at Da Nang I made two week-end visits to Hong Kong. The first was rather harrowing, but turned out okay. To read my posting on the first flight click here.

The second week-end trip was even more harrowing, and I wisely declined  all invitations for additional trips. Had another aircraft been available—another model a bit less vintage, I perhaps would have returned—no, belay that—the only circumstance that would have gotten me on a third flight to Hong Kong would be the imminent fall of Da Nang to North Vietnamese regulars. In that case I would have made a third flight to Hong Kong on any conveyance that could get me off the ground, whether on the Gooney Bird, in a lawn-mower-powered ultra-light or under a parasail towed by a child in a rowboat.

This posting will reveals the details of the second flight, details that would cause anyone, particularly my mother’s youngest son, to forego a third flight to Hong Kong.

Saturday dawned bright and clear at Da Nang, South Korea on a day in 1969,  and we lifted off for our flight to Hong Kong, the star of the Orient. We were ensconced in a C-47 transport plane affectionately nicknamed Gooney Bird. Powered by two reciprocating engines, our Gooney Bird was assembled in the late 1930s or the early 1940s—a durable bird, but not exactly a state-of-the-art conveyance. However, its age and its continued use by the United States Air Force were testaments to its reliability.

Our flight from DaNang to Hong Kong was routine, uneventful, with nothing to portend the nature of our return flight to South Vietnam. We arrives at Hong Kong in mid-morning and passed the the day shopping—I purchased a a reel-to-reel tape recorder, one of the finest units available at the time, along with a plentiful supply of tape, some jewelry for my wife, and a wooden model of a Chinese junk—the recorder was junked, the jewelry is part my wife’s heritage to our three daughters, and I’m still stuck with the Chinese junk—it’s still accumulating dust and it’s still an eyesore. I can’t decide what to do with it—I’ve offered it as a present to several people—all expressed their appreciation of the offer, but none accepted it. I hate to give it up, and I hate to keep it—bummer!

But I have digressed—back to our return flight:

We left Kong Kong in mid-morning on Sunday. Our flight was routine until a short while after passing the point-of-no-return to Hong Kong—regardless of circumstances we were required to press on to Da Nang—if an inflight emegency should 0ccur, our options would be to ditch into the ocean, land somewhere in China, either on an island or on the mainland, or land somewhere in North Vietnam.

An emergency did in fact occur, and a mayday call—a call for assistance—was made to DaNang. Our #2 engine—that’s the engine on the left if one is facing the nose of the aircraft—began coughing, a series of sounds indicating a problem with fuel intake or ignition problems. The coughs were infrequent and minor at first, but soon  became more frequent and longer in duration. I was privileged to be seated at the window closest to that engine, and each time it coughed the propellers would stop, only for a tiny instant at first, but the stop  was clearly visible.

Our loadmaster told us that a mayday message had been sent to DaNang and that a Navy PBY, an aircraft with the ability to land on water as well as land, had been dispatched to meet us in the event that our aircraft had to be ditched in the ocean. The loadmaster began moving all our luggage and our Hong Kong goodies to the cargo door. I asked him why, and he said our load had to be lightened to help the Gooney Bird remain aloft in case we were reduced to only one engine. I protested—mildly, of course—and was told something to the effect that the load had to be lightened, one way or another, and that it was either my new reel-to-reel tape recorder or me. Naturally I chose to remain on board and sacrifice the recorder.

However—and that’s a really important however—I, my tape recorder, the passengers, the crew and the aircraft landed safely at DaNang. The ailing engine stopped completely several times–all three prop blades became clearly visible for a few seconds—but the engine recovered enough each time to contribute to the other engine’s efforts.

Following the loadmaster’s explanation of our current situation and his description of possible changes to that situation, the passenger section became eerily silent, with each of us enveloped in our own thoughts. I venture that my thoughts were identical to the thoughts of others.

Yep, I prayed. I prayed to my god and to the gods of others, regardless of the nature of their gods. I prayed that the engine would recover, that the PBY would arrive soon, that ditching would not be necessary, and that we would land safely in South Vietnam. If their prayers were anything like mine, then they made promises they knew the would not—or possibly could not—keep.

I have no doubt that our combined prayers were answered, all except my prayer that the engine would recover—it was still coughing mightily when we landed at DaNang. The PBY soon arrived—its pilot made a 180 degree turn and placed his aircraft near our starboard wingtip—a position taken in order to observe the ailing engine—and escorted us to a safe landing. Made all the gods bless PBYs and their pilots!

A quick aside at this point, just in case a viewer is unsure of the difference between left and right in nautical terms—port is left, starboard is right. Running lights on vessels are red and green—red is for left side, green is for right side. Here’s a memory aid that may help one remember which is which—memory aids seem to be items for which I have an ever-increasing need as I advance in years!

Just remember that port, left and red are short words with fewer letters than starboard, right and green, so port and red are on the left side—starboard and green are on the right side.

Got it?

Below is an image of today’s Da Nang—it did not look like that when I was there!

Speaking of inflight aircraft malfunctions, Brother Dave Gardner (1926-1983), an old-time stand-up comic, created a skit to use in his comedy routines, a skit dealing with an inflight emergency on a commercial flight in the United States. An engine caught fire inflight, and a little old man seated near the burning engine prayed long and loudly for his god to rectify the situation, saying “Please get me on the ground safely and I’ll give half of everything I own to the church.”

The fire was instantly extinguished and the plane landed safely.

When the little old man deplaned he was met by his minister and the minister said, “Brother, I heard what you said up there! I heard you tell God that if he got you on the ground safely you would give half of everything you own to the church, and I know you’re going to start right now!”

The little man said, “Nope, I made a better deal—I just now told God that if I ever get back on another one of those things, I’ll give Him everything I own!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

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Second marriages, stepfathers, travel and travail . . .

Before beginning this post I offer the following quote in defense of my babbling on interminably about myself—it’s by a writer that, for many years, has been one of my favorites:

“I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well.” Walden—Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

This posting is extracted from the plethora of memories I’ve retained of my mother’s second marriage and of the stepfather she allowed to enter my life. I relive those events frequently in my memories, and I feel that many, or at least some, may strike a chord in the memories of any viewers who might stumble upon my blog. Some of the memories are pleasant but others are painful—whether pleasant or painful, they’re my memories and I’m stuck with them. By relating and passing them on to others, perhaps I can enhance some of the pleasant memories and diminish some of the hurtful ones.

I must say, as always in the interests of full disclosure, that viewers will need to accept the accuracy of my memories as I relate them—in some instances none remain to support or deny them, and none is left who can, with any certainty, diminish or embellish them.

All are gone.

They exist only in my memories.

I am the last one standing.

When I was born, “I came into this world cold, naked, wet and hungry, and things have been downhill ever since.” I would cheerfully attribute that lament to the comic who said it, but I don’t remember who it was.

My birth occurred soon after my mother (Mama) divorced my father—at any rate that’s how the story goes. I accept that because I have no way of disputing it. I have documentary proof of my birth-date, when and where and to whom I was born, but I have no way of knowing when, or even if, the marriage was officially dissolved.

I suppose that since I was born out of wedlock, I came into the world, at least technically, as a little bastard (according to the accounts of some, I still am). In fact, during the early years there were various times when I disobeyed Mama and engaged (and got caught) in some forbidden enterprise, and she would sometimes exclaim in exasperation, “Oh, you little bastard—even if I must say such a word!” The exclamation was forcibly voiced, but always stemmed from pure love and was voiced with pure love, with humor lurking in the background.

Hester&JohnMama was 44 when she married her second husband. He was 48, a big man with a big stomach which significantly preceded him. He usually dressed in khaki pants and long-sleeved khaki shirts, with a black or brown tie held in place with a western-motif tie clip. The ensemble was grounded by western-style boots and topped with a broad-brimmed Stetson hat. He was 6-feet tall without the boots and Stetson—with them he presented a formidable appearance and took up a lot of space. He was born and grew up in Alabama, so his affinity for western garb probably stemmed from having lived and worked for several years in Texas, a state to which he would return a few years later with his new family.

A special note: The photo above shows Mama and my stepfather in later life, shortly before his death in 1970. I took this picture in 1969 during a visit I made prior to starting a combat tour in Viet Nam. Their on-and-off marriage spanned 28 years, from 1942 until 1970. That 28-year span included several lengthy separations, plus one divorce and one remarriage, all of which are excellent subjects for more postings. Apparently their relationship was one of “can’t live with and can’t live without.” In 1980 Mama died, having lived “without” for another 10 years.

My stepfather had bushy eyebrows, piercing dark eyes, almost black, and an ample nose under which, in permanent residence, was a broad black mustache. He always carried a heavy knob-handled wooden cane—not for support but to use as a pointer, to give directions to someone, for example. If necessary it could be used as a weapon, either for defense or offense. I witnessed its various uses as the years passed, and I noticed early-on that people tended to step aside as he neared them on sidewalks or in hallways, regardless of width.

When Mama’s second husband entered our lives I was nine years old and living in Columbus, Mississippi with my mother and two older sisters. The younger sister was just 18 months older than I—another sister (the eldest of three living sisters) was older and worked outside the home. The third sister was married and living with her husband in south Alabama. Mama’s first marriage yielded a total of seven children—five girls and two boys. One of the girls died at birth or shortly after she was born, and another died under the wheels of an auto driven by a drunk—I have no memories of either child, nor of the auto incident. And finally, there was a brother who would figure prominently in my life at a later date. He was little more than a shadowy figure at the time—I hardly knew him. When Mama remarried, my brother was overseas on duty with the US Navy, continuing a six-year enlistment which began in 1940.

My stepfather’s name was John, but during his brief courtship of my mother he insisted that my sisters and I call him “Uncle” John. My younger sister and I readily acquiesced to the name (there had been other “uncles”), but the elder sisters called him “Mister” (not Mister John, just Mister). They had numerous other names for him which they frequently used in the presence of others, but never in his. After the marriage he told everyone to call him “Papa John,” or “Papa.” I had no problem with the terms but my sisters, except for the youngest one, never used them—they continued to use the term “Mister.” The youngest sister resisted strongly, initially refusing to use any title, but finally became resigned to using “Papa.”

The couple married in summer, at the end of the school term. Soon after the brief civil ceremony, with the required minimum number of people present, the newlywed couple departed on what was, ostensibly, a honeymoon. If I ever knew where they went and how long they stayed I must have forgotten it, but I clearly remember where I went. I was shipped off to a sister who lived with her husband in Pritchard, Alabama, a small town near Mobile. I was told that the visit was my “summer vacation” and I believed it, although I wondered at the time why it was necessary for me to take all my clothing.

I would learn years later that my sister had agreed to accept me in her family in order to relieve my mother’s new husband of that responsibility. He had insisted on disposal of the two minor children, in one fashion or another, as a provision of the marriage—a prenuptial, so to speak, and one to which my mother apparently agreed.

Bummer.

So I was off to Pritchard and my sister, the other minor child to be disposed of, was similarly banished but not quite as far away—her “vacation” trip was to Vernon, Alabama, a small town 30 miles east of Columbus, to live with an aunt, one of my mother’s sisters who had made the same agreement with the newly-weds. Neither my sister nor I had any inkling that we had just been cast away, discarded, left on the side of the road like a couple of unwanted pets.

Our bogus vacations began when our school terms ended, but that status was reversed three months later. Shortly before the next school term began, we traveled to Long Beach, Mississippi, a small town near Gulfport, to join our mother and our new step-father. We thought the move was simply the end of our vacation, but we learned many years later that our mother had violated her “prenuptial agreement” to have us reared by relatives. She insisted that she had to have her children with her—I never knew what promises or threats she used, but they were successful. Her new husband relented and allowed us into the family.

Our travels and travails began in 1942 and would continue until 1949, the year that my youngest sister married and I enlisted in the military.

I’ll get back to you later with more details.

 

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