These are my ribbons from the Marine Corps. Most people have never seen them, so here they are:
I like to play around with Google Earth. Geography has always fascinated me, and I enjoy “exploring” with Google Earth.
During one of my “explorations” about a year or two ago, I came across a small island off Australia: Lord Howe Island.
Located about 370 miles east of Austalia, it is considered by some to be the most beautiful island in the Pacific. It is a very small island, only about six miles long and one mile wide at its widest point. There is a local population of less than 400, and no more than 400 tourists are permitted on the island at any one time.
Twelve miles southeast of Lord Howe Island lies one of the most distinct land masses in the world: Ball’s Pyramid. It is the highest volcanic stack in the world, jutting 1844 feet into the air. It is all that remains of a massive volcano formed over seven million years ago.
I’ve been to several islands in the Caribbean, but never to one in the Pacific. I may have developed my fascination for Pacific islands from the movies:
Most people live on a lonely island, lost in the middle of a foggy sea… most people long for another island, one where they know they would like to be….
Sooooo…I’ll never get to Bali Hai, and I’ll never get to Lord Howe Island. But it’s nice to think about from time to time.
The USS Zumwalt (DD1000) was launched just the other day. It’s odd design is representative of the new stealth techology of Navy ships. The Zumwalt currently is the most sophisticated ship in the US Navy.
And so, you might reasonably ask, what? Why is this here? It’s here for one reason only. I knew Admiral Elmo (Bud) Zumwalt, for whom this ship is named.
Elmo Zumwalt, a four star admiral, was the youngest man to ever serve as Chief of Naval Operations. During Vietnam, he was Commander of Naval Forces, which included the Marine Corps, which included me.
Zumwalt authorized the ground use of the herbicide Agent Orange in Vietnam. His son served in the river patrol forces there, and later died at the age of 42. His grandson had profound birth defects.
While Admiral Zumwalt defended the use of the herbicide, he was nonethelsss personally effected by the possible effects on his son and grandson. He became an advocate for research into the effects of Agent Orange, and formed a working group to lobby and investigate the issue. I was honored to be a part of that group, which was how I met Bud Zumwalt.
“Call me Bud,” was the way he introduced himself as I shook hands with him for the first time. Generally speaking, former Marine sergeants don’t call Four-Star Navy Admirals by their first name, but he insisted. When people mentioned his career in the Navy, he always said, “I was just a sailor.”
He was easy to work with, and was a genuinely kind and caring man. Once, I missed a quarterly meeting at his office in Washington because I’d had my gall bladder out. When he learned this, he sent me a personal hand-written note wishing me a speedy recovery.
When I heard he died in 2000, I had been out of the Agent Orange business for over four years, but I went to his funeral. It was held in the chapel at the Navy Academy in Annapolis. President Bill Clinton gave the eulogy. It was quite a send off.
Over the years, I’ve had the occasion to meet a number of famous people. Bud Zumwalt was one I’ll remember fondly.
I’m sixty-eight years old. I’ve come to learn that as you age, you tend to look backward as much as forward, perhaps more. Right now I’m thinking about the things that changed my life; those events that put me on a different path than the one I was on. To be sure, many events change our lives, but most are subtle, we hardly notice them. This first one, however, was dramatic and changed everything that came later.
I was thirteen. It was a warm evening in late spring 1959. I’m guessing it was about 7pm, and a friend and I were out riding our bikes. Then we heard something….music.
It sounded like a marching band. I heard drums and (later I would learn) bugles. It wasn’t coming from far away, so we got on our bikes and rode toward the sound.
About a half mile away, on a ballfield, a drum and bugle corps was practicing. I’d never seen anything quite like it: teenagers marching around the field in military precision. There were both boys and girls, and the girls…they were beautiful. I was in the early throws of puberty, so”beautiful” was fairly generic for me, but that is how I remember it.
They had come to the field in buses. On the side of the buses was Vagabonds Junior Drum and Bugle Corps – Haddon Heights, NJ.
I was hooked. I wanted to be a part of that, but had no idea how to do so. I was too shy to go up to anyone and ask them. I went home and told my mother about it. She suggested I write them a letter. I told her it was probably only for kids from Haddon Heights, but she leaned on me to write the letter anyway, so I did. With no idea of an address, I simply wrote “Vagabonds, C/O Postmaster, Haddon Heights”. Little did I know that letter would change my life.
Several evenings later the phone rang. It was the wife of the director of the corps who told me that if I was interested in joining, I could come to their practice the following Tuesday.
My father drove me up, and I joined. As simple as that. In those days, all you had to do was want to join. It was terribly expensive; dues were ten cents a week. I told them I wanted to be a drummer and came home with a pair of drumsticks.
My abilities were not in the field of drumming, so I changed over to playing a bugle. I was a “rookie”, but week by week I learned. I made new friends and began the adventure of a lifetime.
Okay, so I said this changed my life. But how did it change it?
First of all I made all new friends. I was never the most popular kid in school, actually I was a bit of a geek. I was the “smart” kid, a bit of an ass kisser. No one ever picked on me, but I wasn’t Mr. Popularity. Thinking back on it, I was mostly a tight-assed goodie-two shoes. I was type-cast if you will, and I think it was not terribly satisfying.
Drum corps was different. First of all, no one knew me, so I could re-create myself. It turned out that the kids in corps were mainly hard-scrabble blue collar kids. They weren’t “band” kids, they were the kids who beat up the band kids. Drum corps was not a band, not in the wildest stretch.
I learned to curse, profusely, I learned to smoke. I was now hanging out with “real” kids, and I liked it – a lot.
Drum corps taught discipline. We learned to march. We learned to play an instrument, and we learned to do both at the same time. It was about parades, but mostly competitions. We competed against other corps in the region, and for the first time in my life, I got to travel.
We traveled all over the Mid Atlantic region. During the summer, we had parades and contests in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and New York. I saw places I’d never seen, and met new people all the time – drum corps people, a type of person that even to this day I cannot explain to anyone who doesn’t know what I mean.
In 1961 we got to travel to Miami, Florida for a national competition. Here I was, a kid fifteen years old, who had hardly been out of New Jersey before drum corps, taking the longest trip of my life.
So, from 1959 to 1964 I had the time of my life – a great adventure for me and one I’ll never forget. But how was this “life changing”? The answer to this is the photo below:
Eileen Warner was also in drum corps. I met her through drum corps and without being in corps, we never would have met. I met her, I married her, and everything in my life today is a result of that. My life would not be the same, my children would not exist, my grandchildren would not exist, nothing would be as it is today.
There are many events in our lives. Some of them are major, and we don’t even know it at the time. That evening in 1959 changed everything.
I’ve been thinking that the cars we own are milestones of our personal history. Over the years I’ve owned many cars, and most have a story. Here goes:
1956 Ford Fairlane – My first car. I got it at the end of the summer in 1963, just as I was going into senior year in high school. I worked all summer to save the money for a car. It cost $125. I actually wanted another car on the lot, a Pontiac, but it was too expensive at $200. I drove this car for a year, until I went into the Marine Corps in 1964 and sold it to a friend. It was a bit of a clunker. Two things I remember most about it is that the radio only worked when it wanted to. There must have been a short in the wiring, because sometimes when I’d hit a bump the radio would go on. I’d hit another bump, the radio would go off. The radio had a mind of it’s own. The other thing I remember was at one point the driver’s side door stopped working. I couldn’t afford to get it fixed, so I tied it shut with a rope and either went in and out through the passenger door or through the window. I was eighteen, and that’s how we rolled back then.
1965 Chevrolet Malibu – This was our first “real” car. We got married in 1967, and bought this car shortly thereafter. I forget how much it cost, maybe around $1500, but my father had to co-sign the loan with me, as I did not have enough credit.
We took this car to Camp Lejeune when we moved there in April, 1967. I really liked this car, and actually took pretty good care of it. I washed it and polished it, and even added tape red “pin stripes” to it. All was good until the accident.
We were going to visit friends one evening. I was stopped, making a left hand turn, waiting for oncoming traffic to pass. All of a sudden “BAM” we got ass-ended. The guy driving the other car wasn’t paying attention, and plowed into us. The whole rear of my car was smashed in. Insurance paid for repairs, but I learned later that the frame was bent and not repaired. The car never drove the same again.
1967 Pontiac Firebird – This was possibly the coolest car I’ve ever owned. I bought it when I came home from Vietnam in 1968. The Malibu was about shot, and I was flush with all that Vietnam intensity and a little mustering out cash, so in came the Firebird. I wasn’t a very practical car, it was small, and by then Frank was born, so getting the Baby seat in and out of the car was a hassle. It wasn’t air conditioned, and the ride was pretty bumpy, but it was a cool car. Kept it for a year or two, and then calmed down and became an adult.
1962 Chevrolet Bellaire – This was our first “2nd.” car. I bought it from a neighbor who was going into the Coast Guard for $75. I was working in Camden at the time, so I used this car for work. I did little to nothing to maintain this car. I called it my “crash” car, in that I really did not care so much what happened to it. I drove it for two years and then sold it for $65, so the car cost me $10 for two years of rides. Not a bad deal.
1969 Buick Skylark – As part of becoming a responsible citizen, it was time to get rid of the Firebird and get a “real” car. We bought the Skylark for one primary reason — it had air conditioning. When we got into the car for the test drive at the dealer, Eileen declared she “loved it”. With the salesman sitting the the back seat, the deal was sealed. This was actually a pretty good car. We had it for about six years, passed it on to my father-in-law who eventually passed it on, etc. Ten years after we got it, the car was still on the road.
1963 Chevrolet Stationwagon – Another “2nd” car. Bought it from a co-worker who took good care of his cars. I liked this big buggy, and the kids loved riding all the way in the back. Ahhh…the days without seatbelts!
1968 Oldsmobile Delta 88 – Bought this “2nd” car from the same guy who sold me the Chevy wagon. Another good car. Huge engine gas hog, but this car could fly!
1976 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme – Our first brand new car. This car cost $5200, which was major money back then. We loved this car. As much as I liked this car, I really wanted a Chrysler Cordoba, but it was too expensive at around $6000. Eight hundred bucks was a lot of difference in those days.
Company Cars — During the 1980’s I drove a series of company cars: 1976 Malibu, 1982 Chevy Celebrity, 1985 Olds Delta 88, and a 1987 Olds Delta 88, which I bought when I left the company. The Olds was a pretty good car, and we kept it for a number of years. It got banged up a bit in a few fender benders, and I hit a deer with it, but I was sad to see it being towed down the street when I gave it to the Salvation Army.
The Lincoln: (Actual picture) -1991 Lincoln Continental. I loved this car! Total luxury! Power everything, and it rode like floating on a cloud! Without a doubt my favorite car of all time. It had more than it’s share of mechanical problems and costly repairs, but I drove this car until it wouldn’t drive any more. I almost cried when the tow truck took it up the street for the last time.
Etc, etc, etc — There have been more cars since then; a pair of twin 1998 Buick Centurys, a 2003 Century, a 2009 Impala, a Chrysler Voyager. None of them has been more than just a car. I think the Lincoln did me in. I knew I’d never afford another one, and nothing could compare to it. So while there have been cars since, and probably will be more, I stopped caring about cars. Maybe that’s just what getting old is about.
I’ve never really gotten into the idea of blogging. I tried it once or twice, but didn’t take to the notion of constantly posting new things. Since this site is free, I’ve decided to give it another shot. I’ll post things that interest me with no schedule, no plan and no idea when I will post again. There. That works for me.