Saturday, July 25, 2015


We were arranged by alphabet, last name. My platoon had all the guys whose names started with P or R or S, like Phillips, Schuppan and Rooney.

Private Rooney should not have been sent to the Army, but some well-meaning numbskull thought it would "do him good." The Drill Sergeant asked me (errrr, not exactly how he said it) to teach Rooney some basic drill commands. Left face, Right face, About face. Well, Rooney didn't know his right and left and About Face was similar to the golf swing described as an octopus falling out of a tree.

Not my job, but I told the DS that Rooney was not capable of learning this stuff, and I was absolutely positive it was not faked, but genuine.

One really hot day, when every part of your body and uniform was soaked, it was time to "test our gas masks." It was founded in something a lot more sadistic than that, I am sure. Instructions: Put on your gas mask. Walk into a concrete block room. Stand in lines. When the Drill Sergeant gives you the command, remove your gas mask, state your name, rank and serial number, salute, wait for the return salute and the command, Excused, and walk outside.

By the time I got to the front of the line, my skin was burning, especially where the CS gas got into creases, like your neck or your elbows. Taking that breath after saying that stuff was awful. By the time I got outside, I thought I would drown on all the fluid coming from my eyes, mouth, and nose. Coughing, gagging, and it persists.

Meanwhile, Rooney ended up in the back of one of those lines. When the first guy was instructed to take off his mask, Rooney thought they were talking to him. And he just stood there for a while until somebody noticed that he was going to die in that enclosed room and got him out of there.

They took him off to sick call, and we never saw him again. Hope they didn't think it would be a good idea to recycle him.

Among life's little learning experiences, I learned that if they wanted me to demonstrate and tear gas was threatened, I would just cheer from the sidelines, far away from that stuff.


I guess I knew there were such things as the phonetic alphabet and tear gas, but in 1970 I became intimately acquainted.

Anyone who has known me has heard all these stories, and Rooney and Tear Gas will post later. Let’s talk about learning the phonetic alphabet, which we were supposed to know when we arrived in the class.

The drill instructor was…sharp. Creases in the uniform, proper tilt to the Smokey Bear hat, direct stare that was difficult to take, impossible to return. Tall, impossibly thin, black and apparently from Boston because some words were pronounced funny…”alpher,” “Indier” and Lima sounded like a primate from Madagascar. And he carried a big stick.

The stick was his attention-getter. When we made a mistake, the stick was whacked against the side of the podium with the result something like a rifle shot. We were already a little bit spooked, so this was effective. Plus, he would boom out, "KOOOOO REC SHUN!!"

The class was about 50 and when we came in, we counted off. Not knowing why, you promptly forgot your number, so when DI yelled, “Birdblue three niner, this is Birdblue one, over!” the guy who counted off to 39 usually just sat there. Silence. Gunshot slap of the stick…repeat the call. Pushups all around.

Now, notice, it is not “bluebird.” You had to pop up at attention, say “Birdblue one, this is Birdblue three niner, over.” And it is not “thirty-nine,” it is “three niner.” And so on. He changed up the call signs all the time, and they were always ripe for mispronunciation. And that damned stick. And yelling "Correction."

Reflecting, however, we considered our MOS—Armor Scout. We were supposed to go in front of the tanks, find something to shoot at and, before they killed us (which in Viet Nam was pretty quick), call in some coordinates. NOT YOUR OWN, SOLDIER!! The enemy’s location. When doing this, it would not be in the calm comfort of your arm chair, most likely calling in close air support, under fire in the mud, so you needed to be able to perform radio protocol second nature. Without thinking about it. Just like Staff Sergeant Rifle Stick taught you.

Wonder if they can get away with this kind of training these days—after all, it was harassment. The millennials who have always gotten a ribbon, win or lose, will surely be offended.

Thursday, July 23, 2015


Growing up in rural Nebraska in the 1950’s and 1960’s, it seemed we had very little money. But it didn’t feel like we were poor. We had two pairs of jeans, one pair of shoes for work and another for Sunday, and enough to eat. Operating the dairy allowed our family to keep the farm while our friends and neighbors went broke and moved to California.

When we sponsored the foreign military students at Ft. Leavenworth, we made some terrific friends and met some great people. One of the couples we met were educators at a small town north of Leavenworth, and they described a situation that would be defined, in my book, as “poor.”

The little girl came to the first day of third grade in shabby clothes and had only a bag of chips for lunch. Upon inquiring the teachers found out that she and her family had just moved there and the reason she had no “real” food was because they didn’t have a refrigerator.

The teachers and administrators took up a collection, bought a second hand refrigerator and delivered it to the family. They were thrilled, and the little girl started to come to school with good lunches. Then, one day, it looked like things had really changed because she showed up with a new dress and new shoes.

“Looks like you got a new dress?”

“Yep. We sold the refrigerator.”

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Who Sez...

Who says the financial markets are efficient?

Boosted by a recent stock surge, Facebook's (NASDAQ:FB) market capitalization has overtaken that of General Electric (NYSE:GE). The social network's 26% climb this year has brought its market value to $275B, compared to GE's $273B. Some are expressing concerns: GE racked up $149B in sales last year and employed more than 300,000 people. Facebook reported $12.5B in sales and employed roughly 9,200.

Something is a bit haywire.

I mentioned Apple the other day, worth more than all the auto companies in the world? Well, minus a few, but you get the idea. Is this an indicator of some sort of calamity? Hell, I don't know, but it might mean that when investing your savings, keep your eyes open and your wits about you.

Oh, and by the way, doesn't "sez" make more sense than "says"?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

South Carolina

I loved the people I grew up around. They were honest, by and large, predominantly Christian and generally just good folks. Somehow, looking at the media on a daily basis, I have lost track of how those folks went about their lives.
Now, the recent events in South Carolina have demonstrated how people are supposed to act. Not the shrill voices who make the news, but first the people of the church where the gunman murdered nine of their friends. They spoke of forgiveness. This weekend, the KKK and a bunch of rowdies on the other side demonstrated, like that makes a difference.
One older gentleman, suffering from the heat, wearing a racist shirt with a swastika was helped to safety by an officer. A black officer. The picture has gone viral because that is not what the news tends to cover. I'm inspired. These are good folks. I think I'm a fan of South Carolina.


Imagine Foghorn Leghorn saying it. “It’s …I say, Boy…it’s HOT!” The weather says it is 7:00 in the evening, 93 degrees and the “real feel” is 106. It feels like the summer of 1965 and Rich and I were BUILDING BRIDGES.
Plunk on top of the natural heat in the middle of Nebraska in July and August the fact that we were always in a hole where no breeze could reach, we worked six-to-six, 11 hours per day, six days per week—nearly bathed in creosote.
Let’s talk about creosote for a bit. The first day on the job, I wore my usual leather gloves, and in the heat I naturally was dripping sweat. Sometimes, it felt natural to wipe the sweat from my brow or cheeks. BIG MISTAKE. Creosote has been banned, but the materials we used for much of the bridges were infused with the stuff, and when driven into the earth for the back and wing walls, and for the pilings, we were the ones who sat under the hammer and guided the planks/poles. Meaning this fine spray mist of creosote soaked us.
It feels like a sunburn, but worse. When you get out of the sun, apply some soothing gels, it lets up. The chemical burn keeps on burning. Quickly we learned never to touch our faces and always wear hats, long-sleeves and rags under the hats to protect our necks. Looked like a poor-man’s version of Lawrence of Arabia.
Over the 4th of July 2015, half a century beyond the events to be described, Rich’s sons asked me to tell a couple of stories about those days. They had been so gracious as to invite us to their pool, how could I resist. And you know how reluctant I am to tell a story.
Rich was a “specialist.” He made more money than the $1.35 per hour, straight time, no over time that I made. He was the welder. On top of the poles that had been driven into the creek beds, a superstructure of steel beams was welded along with a metal pan tacked in place. As one of the last steps in the process, concrete trucks would show up, fill the concrete bucket on the crane and we would pour into the pan created. A lot of the concrete was driven out with wheelbarrows by, guess who?
Being raised on farms, we really didn’t know any better. We thought everything was done the hard way.
Early that summer, while Rich and I were putting in over 100 hours per week with the fertilizer company, there had been floods that washed out the rickety bridges on the country roads. I have no idea how long those bridges lasted, but I have driven around a few times and the bridges we put in are still there, 50 years later.
I had not heard of “water poisoning” then, but it is a wonder we didn’t experience it because we drank Igloo after Igloo. But one day, it rained us out. The creek where we were working started to come up, and they decided to call it a day. The job site was quite away from home, on the Skeedee, no that’s not right, maybe Plum Creek? maybe?? Remember, the word is pronounced, “crick.” Anyway, I rode with Rich and on the way back, on the Belgrade road, we popped over a hill and, unlike the near side that was dry, the other side was wet. They had been grading it, so it had no gravel, just dirt, and it was grease.
The car started to slide, Rich said, “Here we go,” and I just sat (no seat belts, a bench seat) and said, “Yep.” I remember distinctly that I had my legs crossed as we went into the ditch.
Again, we were farm grown, so we didn’t know that somebody else was supposed to figure out a solution for us. We walked to a nearby farm, borrowed a tractor and pulled the car out.
A moment about the car. Rich always had nice cars, but this one was pretty good—a 1957 Chevy Bel Air in the classic Tropical Turquoise and India Ivory. Not a convertible, not a V8, so not perfect. But NICE.
I’m not sure whether he had this car before or after the Chevy, but it was a classic and I think it was in the same color as this picture…and that, my friend, may be why he dated and married the coolest girl in school.
Anyway, another adventure. Take 66 hours times $1.35, remove a few social security dollars and some taxes, and we were working for right at $100 per week. Not bad. Not bad.
Stand by for a few more stories as they occur to me…for instance, I must tell you about the 104-hour work week, the only time I have ever clocked in and out and amassed over 100 hours in a week. Rich was there with me.