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Read an Excerpt
Your neighbor's memoir ... you just never know.
By Millard Avon Gregory
AuthorHouse LLCCopyright © 2014 MCT, Inc.
All rights reserved.
You know how summer mornings are damp and hot with the darkness still hanging around the woods. Inside his old log cabin my Granddad and I would finish an early breakfast and he'd give my hair a tussle, tell me to "Be back by dark", and head to the outhouse.
It was 1951. I was 6.
And that whole State Park he managed was my playground. The lake and the woods and the valleys and the hills and the squirrels and rabbits and raccoons and deer and turtles and birds and bugs of all kinds.
I could take off down the shore through the pines and around the marsh that seemed to go on forever. I've been back and it didn't, but it was scary fun in those early mornings. Deep throated bullfrogs, whippoorwills calling, and crickets chirping.
In some places you had to hold on to a limb or a root to keep from slipping in cause wet jeans were noisy and wouldn't dry till noon.
It was a luxury I didn't recapture till the Beartooth Wilderness some 40 years later.
Sure there were trails, but the few city folks who came for a picnic or to see the woods would walk a ways down a trail, pat themselves on the back for their bravery, and head back to their cars. You could watch them from up in the bushes, and the game was for them never to know you were there.
Forget what's crawling on your leg and toss a rock or break a little twig. Anything to startle the quiet. Incredible how people who thought nothing of the traffic and crime where they lived could be so nervous in the country.
It was a good game that may even have served a purpose.
At 5 I'd followed him all those summer days, and at 6 I could be on my own. At that age, when you're out by yourself and kill a copperhead that's 2 or 3 feet longer than you are tall with a pocket knife and a rock you begin to think you can handle most anything.
The confusing part is feeling bad about it later, and it becomes the first of many things you don't tell anyone about. You live with it.CHAPTER 2
Getting Ready to Go
Order of the Arrow
Maybe because of The Park, Scouting became important to me. Didn't know it would be ... didn't know anything about Scouting. But at 7 or so, at a PTA meeting, my mother volunteered my father to establish the first Cub Scout Pack in our little town of 800. He did it with great willingness and humor and before long there was a very active group.
He set up the first Boy Scout Troop in our town as well, and then the first Explorer Post. Each one happened just as I reached the age they required.
Merit Badges, a God and Country award, and some great times camping and at summer camp all seemed to lead up to being elected by our Explorers to the Order of the Arrow.
The "Tap Out" for the OA is a solemn and impressive night time ceremony, and the final part is being blindfolded and taken to a spot way out in the woods and left by yourself with a match and a blanket and told to build a fire and at some point the next morning find your way back. Fun all around.
I built a fire, rolled up my blanket to keep out the critters, and found my way back to the building the leaders were staying in within a couple hours. Spooked them good with a notched roll of thread on one of the back windows.
Went back out into the woods and watched them try to find what'd caused the ruckus. When they finally came to my site I was curled up in the blanket and had let the fire go out. I could hear them coming through the woods ... trying not to use their flashlights to create the surprise ... for a hundred yards or so as a head or an arm would catch a limb. They were hiding their glee particularly well.
Next morning I asked the OA Leader for a minute, and followed him out onto the porch of the mess hall. I told him I'd tic tacked them last night, and that I meant no disrespect to the OA or to the ceremony. He thanked me for telling him, gave me a shot on the arm, and then started laughing. Asked me how I found my way back so easy in that big woods and I told him about the Park and that the tough part was finding my blanket again in the dark.
We saw each other at Scout/Explorer events for the next year or two, and he always had some special situation or demonstration he'd ask me to volunteer for.
Last thing he asked me to lead was the "Owa, Tagu, Siam" ceremony. It's chanted repeatedly late at night by a hundred or so very serious Scouts, with a bon fire raging and with proper bowing and reverence by all.
As each Scout finally, miraculously, spiritually, individually receives the true meaning of the ceremony, he walks down front to whisper it to an assistant and he can go back to his tent.
Then we were all back to High School or College, and moving on.
Not much happened in high school ... some baseball, dating, sock hops, "going steady", and a record setting score on the SATs that shocked everyone on the planet ... until late in my senior year when my best friend, who'd graduated the year before, died in a car wreck coming back from seeing his girlfriend the night before he was leaving for Air Force basic training.
I was accepted by Indiana University for a very good reason: in 1963 the rule was they had to accept in-State residents and at least give them a chance. I found three great things there:
1. two part time jobs ... 1 in a traditional men's clothing store where I learned about up-market apparel (went to the interview in jeans and a t-shirt, and in the 3 years I worked there the manager never explained why he hired me over all the Fraternity types applying), and the other as a night watchman at a four-apartment-building construction site walking around in the dark protecting tools and equipment carrying a shotgun they furnished;
2. a terrific young woman who was a Buyer at the best women's store in town, and who introduced me to her brother-in-law back from the Marine Corps ... more in a minute; and
3. Four Wall Handball.
Having decided baseball was not my future ... that curve ball thing was just not fair to a kid who'd grown up in a small town and had never seen one before ... a coach suggested I try Handball. He thought I'd love the "kill shot". Had something to do with the conversation I'd had with two opposing baseball players when they decided to take out their frustration in the parking lot after a game we'd won by a rather large margin.
Other players, some coaches, and some officials showed up when it was mostly all over to stop what I thought at the time was a proper discussion. I remember hearing things like "boys will be boys", because jocks back then had to do something particularly awful to actually get in trouble, and besides, only the one who started it needed a bit of medical attention. His buddy had run around behind a car when the debate had turned more serious.
So I moved on to Handball.
It is a great sport, we were undefeated for most of the year, and needless to say we were proud of our accomplishments. Some others may have characterized our "pride" as cockiness, and one of the people providing that particular definition was our coach. He was not much older than us but he'd absorbed quite enough of our attitude in fairly short order. His adjustment program was how we met Doc Counsilman.
Even then Doctor Counsilman was a revered figure at IU. His swim teams had already won Big Ten and National Championships, but what he didn't know was that NO one was in better shape than our undefeated Handball Team members. So when we came to practice one afternoon and Coach introduced us to Doc with the explanation that he would be leading a two hour work-out that day we were not impressed in the least.
Big mistake. Big.
Not one of us made it to an hour, and the next morning things like getting out of bed and walking were true challenges. Doc had invented Isometrics, and he seemed capable of taking any muscle, tendon, or ligament right up to the point where it would decide to abandon its job of holding things together, and then he'd move immediately to another area and repeat the process.
From that afternoon on we addressed Swim Team members as Sir and Ma'am.
$50 per person, $50 for the plane
Edward M. Young was the Buyer's brother-in-law back from the Marine Corps I mentioned before, and no: we did not call him Emy. One of the all-time good guys, and up for most anything.
Sitting around one evening he mentioned that his best friend Roger Johnson ... a Ranger ... yes I know: Roger the Ranger, and we did call him Double R ... had been offered $50 per person and $50 for the plane each time they would jump in to County Fairs or car races or other such events.
Said it needed to be 3 guys (2 for smoke packs and one for the Flag) and there was only the 2 of them so far. So I asked "When's our first job?", and Ed said "This weekend".
Chutes had come home with Double R from Ft Bragg after they moved jump to Ft Benning, and my first jump was a free fall with them the day before a race at the Action Track in Terre Haute (no static line or tandem for this gang), and I was hooked. Good money too ... for '65. It let me give up the night watchman job.
Ed did all the rigging, and we'd hire a plane and pilot closest to the drop zone.
We'd jump, give the announcer and the spectators time to find us by squinting up into the heavens ... well, at least up ... do a quick Superman and throw a hard arch, pull the ripcords, and as soon as the parachutes were set we'd pop the smoke packs and unfurl the Flag. Swing around a few times and land in the infield or as close to some target as possible and it was all very impressive. And over in what's always seemed like seconds.
Then, while everyone was standing and cheering and we were pulling in the lines, we'd hear someone on the loud speaker say "Gentlemen Start Your Engines!", or "Aren't they something! Now, Ladies and Gentlemen, turn your attention to the north end of the arena and the Clydesdales are here!!" or some such thing, and we'd be gone.
Beatniks and the Hedge
They were Beatniks. Not Hippies. Beatniks. Before Hippies. And they would hang out all night at the Wreck ... a grimy dark coffee house just off campus. If you looked in there you'd see someone sitting on a stool down in front reciting some poetry they'd written on a napkin on a coffee-nerves-high, so it had to have great social significance and deep meaning for the human race.
And adhering to Henry Ford's directive, everyone had to be in Black. Pants, Sweaters, shirts, shoes, socks if they were wearing them, berets if they had them ... all black. Sunglasses, inside, at night, all black.
No laughing. All very serious. With some kind of recorded jazz playing in the background, or someone plunking away on a bass fiddle off to the side.
Ed, Double R, and I may not have totally understood the premise. So it was that one night Double R remembered his stash of Cherry Bombs.
One of the many good things about Cherry Bombs is that they will roll, so when you stand at the back of a room and light them you can roll them down the aisle, under the chairs and tables, and some will make it all the way. And they are loud.
That's another good thing. They can wake people up from a coma.
So we were lighting and rolling and introducing laughter to a starved audience and at first didn't notice that some patrons were taking exception to our premise of "Lighten the hell up".
We'd parked just half a block up the street in a lot surrounded by a hedge, walked through the entry and down the sidewalk. On our return we were a bit rushed ... being kind of pursued ... an action that would have gotten the Beatniks unceremoniously banned from their Cult.
And we couldn't stop laughing. We meant no insult. It was just plain funny.
Now Double R had sustained one of the very few injuries to our team: he'd broken both arms landing in a tree a bit off course in a wind that came up from nowhere. The casts, from his shoulders to his wrists, placed his arms at 90 degree angles at the elbows. No problem for holding lighters or for running.
So Ed and I jumped over the hedge, and Double R, not having the proper leverage for a jump, decided to run through it.
You remember how the Coyote in the Roadrunner cartoons could run through something up to a point, and then it would spring him back from whence he came? Substitute a Ranger, still with a high and tight haircut, and you've got the picture.
Double R got most of the way into the hedge, and into a fence we hadn't noticed, and it popped him right back on his butt. Ed and I were in the lot and we looked around to see that the casts and his howling laughter were keeping him on the sidewalk, and the Beatniks were just coming out of the Wreck.
So we jumped back over the hedge, got him up, and tossed him over. The Beatniks had decided they were getting a bit too close and had stopped to recite something profound ... but we could only hear certain words.
And we already knew them.
We quit laughing in a few days, except for special occasions over the years.
Like now.CHAPTER 3
The Right Direction
Viet Nam cranking up:
My Dad's Dad (from the Park) fought in the trenches in France in WWI; I was named for my Mother's Brother who died on Omaha Beach on D-Day ... he was the youngest of 12 farm kids and my mother's closest friend; and my step Granddad survived the Bataan Death March and never quite came back ... everyone called it "shell shocked" back then.
The rest of his life may not have turned out the way he would have planned, but at his funeral many years later a man and his wife, their 4 children, and their 11 grand children showed up from Tennessee. None of us had seen any of them before. They were there because my step Granddad had saved the man's life on Bataan before he'd even met his wife there with him. They all cried.
In '66 Viet Nam was the hot spot.
So one morning I drove up to the City to visit a recruiter. He'd been an early visitor to Viet Nam when we first sent in advisors, and I remember how very glad he was to be back.
You could tell he still hadn't found his life's work by the number of "Yea, but ... "s he produced to every reason I had for leaving college to join the Army. There was the deferment thing, the fact that I'd probably be sent to Nam, the thing about most specialties being filled by the Draft so choices might be limited, the timing thing ... like leaving within a month or so, and on and on.
Being finally convinced I was serious, he made a call and set up an Assessment (physical, interview, and mental and coordination tests) for 2 days hence, with the advice that since I'd signed nothing I could change my mind. With a few going to Canada, and some faking all sorts of stuff, the volunteer thing just didn't compute.
Back at 7 that morning, and was part of a large group for the day. Everything was well organized to move guys through the process ... and the pictures you've seen of the physical don't do the scene justice at all. 40 or so freezing young men standing in a line in their skivvies would go viral now days.
The rest of the process was easy: eyes, ears, square peg in a square hole, stand on one leg then the other while catching a medicine ball, and other such activities designed to show you could go properly represent your Country.
And then the private interview, which I obviously flunked because the Captain asking the questions kept looking up at me from his notes, and asking things clearly not on his crib sheet. I'd noticed the guys before me had each taken all of 3 or 4 minutes, so when I topped 20 I started thinking the straight jacket team was waiting just outside.
He asked about my experience outdoors, with guns, on my own, military background in the family, and when I told him about how we made a few bucks jumping he excused himself, left the room, and came back with a Master Sergeant who asked if I could come back at 9 the next morning and report directly to him. I could.
Couldn't wait to see what this Soldier with the uniform covered in ribbons and other such insignia had in mind. He was the most incredible mix of friendly, tough, respectful, tough, serious, and tough I'd ever experienced.
Guess the overall impression was that he was one tough Sergeant, but in the best possible way. You knew in your bones you could depend on him in any situation before you even knew there was a situation. He had found his life's work, had survived it, and was there to guide others.
Obviously made an impression that's lasted almost 50 years.
Excerpted from Single Harness& by Millard Avon Gregory. Copyright © 2014 MCT, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1: The Park, 1,
Chapter 2: Getting Ready to Go, 3,
Chapter 3: The Right Direction, 11,
Chapter 4: Getting Serious, 15,
Chapter 5: Florida's nice this time of year, 23,
Chapter 6: Organization, 42,
Chapter 7: Back from the Garden Spots, 47,
Chapter 8: Celebrations, 61,
Chapter 9: Paying the Tab, 80,
Chapter 10: Nights, 87,
Chapter 11: A long life not expected, 93,
Chapter 12: Not quite the end, 97,
Post Script ... It all goes in there, 99,
About the Author, 119,