The Soldiers’ Love

The following poem was in part delivered  in my presentation before the West University Rotary Club on November 11, 2010. I modified parts of this but the central theme remains intact. It is my wish that you understand the sincerity with which this piece was written.

Harry

The Soldiers’ Love

By Harry Shaw

 

More than kisses, letters mingle souls.” John Donne

Soldiers’ Love:

The soft tender embrace of a beloved,

The first wail of their newborn child,

Home and family.

Soldiers’ Love:

Angels on our shoulders,

The silent prayers of wives and mothers,

Coming home.

Soldiers Love:

The passing of the colors,

The singing of anthems sweet,

Duty to God and country.

Soldiers Love:

Marching to the sound of the guns,

The sergeant barking orders,

Chaplains on the line.

This Soldier Loves:

The shining copper pans left on the counter,

Remembering my mother’s kitchen,

The book of Love Poems by John Donne that sits on the shelf.

Farewell to a Soldier Loved:

The last words uttered by the fallen,.

Not wanting to say goodbye,

The crack of the rifles at the playing of taps.

The Soldier Loved:

Loyalty,

Service above self,

Honor.

The Soldier Loved and Remembered:

The hallowed green grass of Arlington,

Rows of white marble

An emptiness in my heart.

Sergeant Sean Luketina

Some days are indelibly burned into your memory. For me, one of those days is June 30th. Today is the day that Sergeant Sean Luketina died. I did not know Sean before Operation Urgent Fury; but, there has not been a day that has passed that I have not thought of him.

I live near the ocean. I find that the massive expanse of the sea helps me to put everything in perspective. Today Hurricane Alex is bearing down on the Gulf Coast south of where me and my family have made our home. In a strange way I find the immense power of a hurricane calmly reassuring. It helps me to feel small. I know too well what it is like to get caught up in the whirlwinds of life and the storms that churn in the Gulf of Mexico offer an affirmation of proportion in all things.

James Taylor sings the song “Walking Man” that I have never been able to get out of my head for many, many years. It is only now that I am beginning just now to add meaning to the last part of the opening refrain:

 Moving in silent desperation

Keeping an eye on the holy land

A hypothetical destination

Say, Who is this walking man?

 Who is this walking man? I am: a husband; the father who dotes on his daughter; always the paratrooper; eyes on the sky wishing to fly…again; a college graduate; a font of trivial knowledge; a teacher, sometimes the muse; always the seeker of truth; and I am the survivor of tragedy unspeakable.

Sean and I were wounded side by side in the misdirected air strike that took my legs. Sean was evacuated immediately as it was determined that he had the best chance of surviving. Me? If you ask Jean-luc Nash he will tell you that they really didn’t know where to start. I was a perfect mess.

It was a month later that Sean went into the coma. He was suffering from uremic poisoning and it was during the operation that the doctors at Walter Reed removed his legs that he went into the coma from which he would never awake. It was shortly after that that I got a letter from his mother. She told me about her son who had also lost his legs. She was looking for answers. She did not know that Sean and I had been shot in the same incident. I am not sure she found comfort in the truth that I wrote her. I can only hope that she did.

I visited Sean’s grave in Arlington in 1994 on the tenth anniversary of his death. I did not know that his mother had chosen to be buried with her son. It was a touching display of motherly devotion and this sight on the green fields of Arlington haunts me to this day:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He died one day shy of his 24th birthday.

Who is this walking man?

I am the keeper of memories of fallen heroes.

Rest in peace my brother.

Hardcore Harry

Notes To My Daughter

I wrote the following piece when my daughter Lucie was three years old. My wife and I had been out that night attending a minor league baseball game. The game had gone into extra innings and we had arrived home late that night. I was particularly taken with the sight of my daughter asleep on our bed. It was obvious that she had tried to wait up for us.

I have been particularly blessed by being retired from the military that I have been able to be the “stay-at-home-dad” and number one playmate for our youngest. As a parent, I have also been our daughter’s first teacher—a role I do not take lightly in the least as Lucie, on top of being incredibly imaginative and creative, is also insanely smart! It can be tough sometimes keeping up with a child genius. I try always to be honest in my answers and offer on the spot comments on her insights and observations. I figure by the time she is twelve or so she will reverse our roles and be teaching me!

I wrote this four years ago. I have kept the hand written notes safe for inclusion in an anthology I had planned. I like referring to it now and then as a sort of “time capsule” of how things were in that time in our lives. I figure this is as good a place as any to put this down officially as today is Father’s Day! Enjoy!

 

 

NOTES TO MY DAUGHTER

You were asleep when I came home.

A brown plastic cow, a story book, and a hairbrush were there hidden under my pillow to remind me of your intentions. I was not there tonight to brush your wispy blond hair before bed and read you your bed time story.

The muse visits me in the echo of your infectious laughter. It speaks to me in you tiny voice and invites me to write down these simple truths.

I remember the giant mulberry tree where I used to sit and count the clouds in the sky and the multi-colored cattle in the fields and wonder what my life would be like when I was older.

While sometimes it seems you have always been in the world, your three year old wondrous playful visions remind me that your dreams are being made by you with your cracktoothed games that never cease to amaze me.

Today I’ll be the lion and you will be the lion catcher daddy.”

A brief chase, a blanket net, a defiant roar, muffled giggles and the ever-fearsome lion has been captured!

A hug and gallons of tickles, followed by breathless laughter as we both stare up at the ceiling and pick out imaginary shapes in the applied textures.

Here dad, hold my bear. He will keep you company while I set the table for our very special tea party.”

The tea is served and now we must be: Two spotted frogs, sitting on a log, catching tasty flies. YUM! YUM!”

I laugh at the crazy tyranny as I am forced to eat a raisin which really is a “tasty fly.” My play director has insisted this is so!

Giant soapy bubbles borne on a south wind, and a vision of you as you shriek and chase them across the front yard.

Next, we have a bucket of chalk and a, “Let’s see how many shapes we can make!”

A game of hopscotch.

The sun is really hot in the afternoon sky. Red-faced and dripping with sweat you inform me how good a glass of chocolate milk tastes—especially after a game of hopscotch!

But wait!

First we must play cowboys on the lowest hanging branch of the biggest mesquite tree in the neighborhood that just so happens to live in our front yard!

Afterwards we count the clouds in the sky. A jet takes off from the nearby naval air station and we watch it dreamily.

I cannot remember ever being so free as I am right here, right now.

A dog-eared cloud reminds you of your big black Briard sheepdog who waits patiently inside the house. We know she waits ready to lick the sweet-salty joyous perspiration from our faces with a wet-nosed doggie exuberance!

It is no accident why children and puppies are among the most special of God’s gifts. With both, everything happens as if for the first time you do a thing!!

A cow, a cloud, a tea party, jumping, laughing, playing: You are here to remind us that some things remain and that it is only when we get older do we tire of a thing.

You sleep.

I count your breaths. Yes, there seems to be a little bit of a cold coming on for you wee one.

I fall asleep and I dream again.

I dream of a field of the greenest grasses. It is covered by a heard of brown plastic cows.

The cows are chasing giant soapy bubbles.

I remember these! They were borne on that South wind.

We chase the bubbles again.

Your golden hair shines in the sun as we run. We laugh.

When I wake, there you are!

Good morning honey.”

Good morning Daddy”

Are you hungry?”

She nods.

I carry my daughter to the kitchen to make waffles.

What adventures will we have today my little munchkin?”

She giggles and buries her head into my shoulder.

Slowly…

Slowly, she peeks out from under her blanket where she is hiding and smiles tenderly. It is then that you know that you could never tire of this!

Published in: on June 20, 2010 at 5:42 am  Leave a Comment  
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How’s Your Ischial Tuberosity?

My darling wife has brought it to my attention on numerous occasions these last couple weeks that I have not been writing as much as I should in my blog. Incidentally, I was not aware that the word nag was of Scandinavian origin. Think about it. It was the persistent action of the womenfolk back in Scandinavia that led to one of the greatest invasions in all of history!! What probably started out with a blond, vivacious, buxom, Scandinavian goddess, we’ll call her Helga, complaining that her man, Thor, had left his chain mail and sword on the kitchen table again and why is it he could never pick the lid up on the slit trench??? So it was with the shrill echo of the lovely Helga still ringing in his ears reminding poor Thor that the thatch roof needed repairing, and that they were about to run out of moose burgers, that the Vikings set off to engage in an all out war of conquest. (The Viking’s must have looked to the sanctuary of the longship much like Homer Simpson eyes a box of glazed donuts!) Helga was to eventually be bought off with a few shiny trinkets of booty from far away lands and Thor was able to get a group of monks in a monastery write a revisionist history—in exchange for their lives–that covered up Thor’s shortcomings as a husband!

This last week marked my first full week of physical therapy. Slowly along the way I am being re-introduced to the peculiar language of the physical therapist. One of my favorite questions is: “How is your is your ischial tuberosity?” Or, “Is your prosthesis bearing weight on your tuberosity?” No doubt some of my more curious readers were sent scampering away toward yonder bookshelf upon reading that—we’ll call this category reader the more distinguished scholars amongst us: that being the reader who has books that they actually read; books that do more than prop up the shorter leg of the kitchen table that the darling wife with her persistent ministrations caused the reader to “fix” himself rather than call a skilled tradesman. Never underestimate the value of a feeling of self-sufficiency however sad or misplaced!!

Now, that the rest of you lazy bastages have finished looking up the words on Google we can continue!

The ischial tuberosity is quite a common set of protrusions that will be instantly familiar with anyone who has ridden a horse for any length of time. Being “saddle sore” and having a pain in your ischial tuberosity are the same thing! Now there are a great many feelings and sensations that accompany a person such as myself who has not walked in 26+ years that are pretty dang cool: shopping for shoes, standing, and, taking first steps. Trust me when I tell you that remembering that you have an ischial tuberosity IS NOT ONE OF THESE SUPER-DOOPER COOL BEANS (RE)DISCOVERIES!!!

So there I was a saddle sore trooper and nary a horse in sight! It was then that I remembered that I had just turned 48 and thought that this kind of physical endeavor would have been easier 20 some years ago had only the technology been available. It was then that I remind myself that if it were easy then everybody would do it and dang if I can’t help the challenge!!

After all of this, a funny thing happened Thursday afternoon. It was while standing up on my C Legs that I knew right then and there that this was actually going to happen! It was then that balance didn’t seem all that hard a thing to achieve and for the first time I was able to stand without powering through with my upper body. Up until then walking again was something I had imagined in my mind. It was then something I knew with the rest of my body.

My wife Ginny was there too, smiling. For now she didn’t care that my underwear drawer was full of assorted books, half finished journals, and the odd box or ten of ammunition. “Stand up straight! Look straight ahead! Quit looking at your shoes! One more!”

I love her!

 

Hardcore Harry

You’re In the Army Now!

I imagine that being married to a teacher is a lot like being drafted into the Army. Since I volunteered for every post I ever served at, those of you not married to a teacher are just going to have to take my word for it! My job description reads like a modern day, “Jack of All Trades!” I have served as a guest lecturer on many occasions—my favorite duty is teaching pre-kindergarten kids on board airplane procedures and jump commands of the Airborne. Nothing is quite so entertaining as seeing a bunch of four year olds doing the “Airborne Shuffle” and hearing them count to four while waiting for their chute to open! Teaching them how to properly shout a “Hooah” and stomp their feet in a military fashion is quite a lot of fun too!!

I have other duties as well. I am the class carpenter. I don’t believe there has ever been a summer vacation that has ever passed that I have not been called up from my “Inactive Reserve” status and brought in to make something or other for my wife’s classroom. Since this usually requires the judicious application of power tools and the production of massive piles of sawdust I find this duty to be a great deal of fun. If the project requires the purchase of yet more power tools it is even better!! You would be amazed how often you can misplace something as necessary as a chuck key for a drill. It seems every time I go to a hardware store I have to buy another one. Perhaps they hide with all the socks that everyone in the family loses??!! I don’t know. Even power tools can be “misplaced” from time to time. I know I have at least three routers and three jig saws—just in case! And since summer vacation is fast approaching I am ever hopeful that any new project will require a trip to the hardware store. I have been trying to figure out how I can work in the purchase of a thickness planer, band saw and stationary drill press but alas my fair spouse has resisted my best entreaties for these items. The fact that I could also use these to build the boat I have been wanting to build all these years could have something to do with her un-natural reluctance to green light these items. I remain ever optimistic however!!

Another of my classroom duties is class pumpkin carver for Halloween. Now, this rates high up there as far as a “Guy” chore. Where else can you use sharp knives and stab things,be a hero in the process and not get arrested!!!??? In fact it is darn near the perfect Man-skill! Here I am carving a “Ghost Cat” jack-o-lantern this past Halloween.

There is one activity that is thrust on us poor defenseless spouses of teachers and that is anything involving cutting things out with scissors.

“Oh Lord please help the poor husbands of teachers we humbly pray!”

Cutting stuff out for your espousa is pretty much the equivalent of peeling potatoes for KP in the Army. It is not a place you want to find yourself! Now, since my loving wife took off all of this last week—the week before the end of school mind you—to be there for me in Houston for my first steps I am now paying for my sins. My penance is cutting stuff out with scissors—lots and lots of stuff. Oh my! To think that there could possibly be so many items of interest to cut out and laminate for a Pre-K class!!! Now, I have heard some folks bandy about words like “hero” and “inspirational” but really I am just a lowly “Draftee” with a pair of scissors helping my wife make sure that everything is in order for graduation day! It is times like these that I long for the relative calm of the battlefield. Give me a clear field of fire and an advancing enemy any day over a pile of pictures, artwork, and a pair of scissors!!!!

Hardcore Harry

MAKE IT HAPPEN–MAKE IT REAL

There is a sign that hangs in my house that has a great deal of significance. It reads, “MAKE IT HAPPEN.” My wife and I bought the sign at the Buc-ees just outside of Houston on Highway 59 on May 10th after the initial assessment at the Amputee and Prosthetic Center. It has become the mantra which drives me forward in my goal to walk again. The phrase is also engraved on the back of a Saint Michael’s Medallion I wear, a gift from my wife Ginny. Saint Michael is the patron saint of paratroopers for those of you who are not in the know!

During the events of the last week, the phrase “Make it Happen” has served me well. The attention the event generated in the television media was exiting but it is important to keep everything in perspective and in proportion. Even now, it is hard to comprehend just where everything fits. I had an idea beforehand of the level of commitment that the folks at TMC Orthopedics and the Amputee and Prosthetic Center had to the amputee community. What I had not realized until later in the week was the degree that they had mobilized on my behalf. It was extremely humbling to find out that the turn around on my new legs had never before been achieved. It was only seventy-two hours from first fitting to final product. In order for this to happen it took a great many unnamed dedicated and professional individuals giving their all to see that my legs were ready on time. I am deeply moved by the level of effort that everyone put forward on my behalf. From Joe Sansone the CEO of TMC Orthopedic to the technicians at the Amputee and Prosthetic Center, you all simply rock! It was with a heavy heart that we left Houston this week for our journey home, we have made new friends and acquired a new branch of our family so to speak!

Getting the legs was the easy part, learning to use them is where the real work for me begins. This is where the sense of perspective and proportion will come in handy. It occurred to me that the catchwords, “Make It Happen” that have carried me thus far on this journey need a re-clarification of sorts to bring them up to date. Now it is time for me to make real on my dreams to walk again. Cameras and reporters do not make things like this happen. These happen because of what is in your heart. The path before me is clear and my success or failure is all up to me from here on.

MAKE IT HAPPEN—MAKE IT REAL!

Hardcore Harry

“Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition!”

The great comedy troupe Monty Python is wildly famous for its zany off-beat British humor.  One of the zaniest spoofs was a series  sketches titled “The Spanish Inquisition.”  Who could ever forget the high-pitched shrill phrase, “Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition!”  once they have heard it at least once. If you are a true Monty Python fan you don’t just experience the Monty Python sketches just once! No, you take them and adopt them as part of your daily life.

Case in point: I remember one Christmas holiday some years back while visiting my sister Robin in Southern California. It was during this particular Christmas holiday that my brother-in-law Chris and I took to  (re)watching (and reciting in the process) all of the Monty Python classics. It just so happened that my young niece Nicole who had just turned six was also particularly smitten with many of the comedy skits and movies that we were viewing during this post Christmas Monty Python Marathon. She was so smitten in fact that she began reciting many of her favorite lines. It was all fun and laughs, that is until the angelic Nicole returned to school after the Christmas break and she promptly began reciting one liners from Monty Python and the The Holy Grail. In no time her teacher called my sister horrified and requested a family conference immediately. Apparently repeating such classics like: “I unplug my nose in your general direction!”  and, “I wave my private parts at your aunties!” were not received with universal acclaim that one would expect in a classroom of six year olds!!! Go figure!

(Grin)
So, where was I? Oh yes! “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!” One would think that for such a momentous occasion as taking one’s first steps after twenty-seven years that the Spanish Inquisition would take a holiday? Apparently not! No, the Spanish Inquisition is alive and well and its Inquisitor General is none other than Prosthetist Ben Falls of the Amputee and Prosthetic Center in Houston, Texas!!! What proof do I have you ask? Lets compare the photographic evidence. Here is a picture of the most infamous Inquisitor General of all, Tomás de Torquemada, the fifteenth century Dominican friar and original leader of the Spanish Inquisition

Inquisitor General, Tomás de Torquemada (Wikipedia)

Now, here is a Top Secret-For Your Eyes Only photograph of Ben Falls taken by one of our covert operatives at Grand Inquisitor Falls’ top secret hideout. (Note of the latest high technology torture devices in the foreground–the very latest in up-to-date devices used by the New Spanish Inquisition!):

Is it a coincidence that both men–even though these pictures were obtained centuries apart–have receeding hair lines? I think not!!!!

Moreover, what is even more sinsiter is the previosly unknown fact that Ben Falls was in his youth was a Dang Hippie!!! And, what is even worse is that Ben is a Reformed Danged Hippie!!

Here I am attempting to run for my life at the blistering pace of 1 meter per minute upon learning that the Spanish Inquisition has chosen me as its next victim:

Try as I might, I can never get more than an arms reach from the leader of the Spanish Inquisition! Exhausted and dejected I take a seat to rest and come up with a new plan to combat the Inquisitors.

Lastly, here is Inquisitor Ben’s toady, Nick, to adminsiter the last rites of the damned! “Shoulders straight!” they say. “Hips back!” “Stand up!” “Initiate Swing Phase!” Moreover, they have programmed my wife and kids to recite their entreaties and prayerful chants!

“Nobody Expects the Spanish Iquisition!”

Bugger!!!

Hardcore Harry

First Sergeants I Have Known

You can ask anyone who has served at least one term of enlistment in the United States Army who it is they remember most and invariably they will name one person: their First Sergeant. I don’t care who you are,. I don’t care where or when you served. The First Sergeant IS the core of the United States Army. Call him “TOP, “ “Top Sergeant,” Top Soldier,” “Smoke,” “Top Asskicker,” “Top Kick,” or “Top Hat;” it does not matter. They are all just names for PERFECTION. The First Sergeant is your mommy, daddy and God Incarnate all rolled into one. Yes, they may give “command” of a line company or battery to an officer wearing Captain’s bars, but before we go any further lets get this straight: An officer may command but THE FIRST SERGEANT IS THE COMPANY! How he or she goes, so goeth the rest of the unit!!!

I look back now and I can honestly say that God has truly blessed me. I never had a bad First Sergeant. In fact, I am sure that there is probably no such thing as a BAD one. I am sure they must exist briefly from time to time but only for the time it takes for the Hand of God to reach down smite such a vile abomination from the face of this great and green earth!! God adores perfection and his most perfect mortal creation is the First Sergeant!

My very first “Top” Sergeant I remember quite fondly. I was seventeen years old when I began basic training and First Sergeant Hadden had probably spent more time in Army green than I had been alive—I kid you not!!! I still remember quite vividly the day we were introduced to First Sergeant Hadden. There were were, Alpha-Four-Three standing in formation in front of our barracks at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri during that morning in early May, 1980. Up strolls this most awesomely starched and creased sergeant who’s uniform was so stiff and perfect that you would swear it would deflect bullets and assorted projectiles up to and including all known species of artillery and probably a tactical nuclear missile or two! Up strolls First Sergeant Hadden. His very presence commanded the air of respect. His first words were: “Hello. My Name is First Sergeant Hadden, as in You-hadden-ought-to-do-it!” Do what you ask? It didn’t matter. If there was ever a question of whether you ought-to or ought-not-to be doing something you “hadden” ought to be doing whatever that was!! And, trust me when I tell you that he well and truly meant just that—as some in the basic training company were to find out to their deep and everlasting regret!

Top Hadden’s one pet peeve above all others was that no one–especially a lowly spec of human evolution like us trainees–were to step on his immaculately manicured grass. We trainees were not schooled properly in the virtues of paying attention to details enough to truly appreciate the quality lawn care–the velvet smooth grass was aligned in a most military dress-right-dress precision. Top Hadden was placed on this earth to teach us the why of lawn care we were to find out.

It was not long before one of us trainees were caught in First Sergeant Hadden’s lawn “Kill Zone” taking a “shortcut” across Top’s grass to make formation in time. Big mistake! BIG, BIG, BIG, MISTAKE! It was the First Sergeant’s response that was most peculiar many of us thought. Matter of fact-like, he summons the offending life form to the front of the company and announces that he has won the privilege to mow and maintain the company lawn that weekend. What? No yelling? No screaming a half-an-inch from your face? No push ups? What was this blasphemy??? Many of us would come to fear this quiet, calm, and casual disarming approach;because, as we were to discover, a storm was brewing and none of us had any idea of the magnitude of destruction. I know now that Mother Nature Weeps at the insane fury of a storm of this kind that a First Sergeant can summon. Hurricane’s and tornado’s are mere child’s play to what awaited this young private that Saturday morning.

There we were the following Saturday morning and the condemned is called before the company. The First Sergeant informs the guilty private that he wants his grass mowed ASAP and to get started. Sure enough, the private snaps to and rushes about looking for the lawn mower. Come to think of it, none of us had seen the lawn mower either!

Did I mention that First Sergeant’s could also be insanely diabolical? Well, it turns out this is one of their “higher order” OLD TESTAMENT type skills that are personally taught by the Lord Jehovah himself at the First Sergeant’s Academy.

So, there we have the company in formation, the First Sergeant standing there at its head having given the order to have the grass mowed. I don’t remember how long it took but I do remember it was not very long before the offending private reported back to TOP to find out where the lawn mower and gas can were. When First Sergeant Hadden reached into his pocket and pulled out a pair of scissors no one, I mean no one was expecting this! You could hear a collective groan come from the assembled company followed by sighs of relief that it was not one of us who were going to have to cut Top’s grass with a pair of scissors!

Did it get done? You bet it did! And, the spectacle of that poor private on his hands and knees cutting the grass with a pair of scissors served as a more than ample warning that you did not EVER want to get caught on the wrong end of a conflict with a First Sergeant!

As I said before, I never served under a bad First Sergeant. They just did not exist in the 82nd Airborne. Even though my first experience with a Top Sergeant when I was fresh out of jump school at Fort Benning involved a great many push ups, I still loved him for it! First Sergeant Crawford would go on to become the Division Inspector’s General Sergeant Major but while he was still our Top Sergeant he performed with perfection his role as the soul of our unit and the guiding force behind our junior non-commissioned officers.

One of the more colorful First Sergeant’s we ever had was Top Johnson. Top Johnson was fond of two things, soul food and lecturing the battery (company). He used to talk in his slow Southern drawl and you can bet he meant every damned word he uttered. I remember one lecture in particular. The night before a couple troopers had watched some marshal arts movies and had a beer drinking-fest in the day room. They then decided to practice their Kung Fu moves on the latrine stall doors. Top Johnson stood up there in front of the unit and his lecture went something like this:

Headquarters Battery, now I know that sum you all like goin drinkin dat IGNORALL. You drink dat Ignorall den watch dem Kung fu movies den tink you Bruce Lee and s**t and go practicin dem Karate moves on my latrine stall doors (pause) I got sumtin for joo! When I catch joo Kung Fu heros Jo are gonna be on S**thouse partol for a month. (pause) Maybe longer. I ain’t quite decided myself yet. Don’t joo dare doubt me. I will catch joo heroes and joo will suffer!”

Do I make myself understood?!!”

Yes, First Sergeant!” The Battery responded.

Top Johnson caught the Kung Fu culprits and they did perform “S**thouse Partol” for a solid month. This duty consisted of having to wear an equipment belt with scouring pads, brushes, and comet cleanser and whatnot and carry around a toilet plunger at right shoulder arms!! Their duty was to maintain their duty post in a pristine environment. If someone used the urinals, they had to be there Johnny on the Spot right afterwards scrubbing up. If the toilets were clogged—as they often were in the barracks several times a day—our Kung-Fu heroes had to unclog them! You know, I sincerely doubt the mess hall was as clean as those latrines were for that month that these two were pulling this duty!!

Of all the Top Sergeants I ever served under, the best was by far First Sergeant Gordon Graves. (The following pictures of Top Graves appear in the 82nd Airborne Division 40th Anniversary Yearbook that was published in 1982).

Top Graves was the First Sergeant for A Battery, 1/320th Airborne Field Artillery of the 82nd Airborne Division. He was from Mule Shoe, Texas and he loved everything about the the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys—I do mean everything! Top Graves was a veteran of Vietnam and had served with multiple units there including the 4th Infantry Division and the famed 173rd Airborne Brigade. He only stood about five foot six or so inches tall and you would swear that his shoulders were double that. He was built like a tank. It was impossible to mistake him approaching with his bulldog like build. Us troopers had a secret nickname for him because of this. We called him “Spike.” I don’t think there was anyone who was ever so foolish as to let him hear them calling him this though! He was TOP and we loved him more than a father.

As a First Sergeant, Top Graves was in his element as an administrator (as are all 1st Sgts) as anything. Paperwork was and still as much a part of the duties of a First Sergeant. Here is a picture of TOP at his desk. Top Graves was famous for his innovative displays of manifesting his temper. More than once a phone like you see in this picture would be sent crashing into the brick wall. I recall one such incident after Top getting a call from the Division IG (Inspector General) that some weeniefied trooper had issued some kind of formal complaint at Division HQ. Top Graves hung up, picked the phone up, while speaking a great many unmentionable words and sent the phone crashing against the wall of his office. Then, he calmly goes next door to the Supply Sergeant notifies him that he needs a new phone issued right away and a Statement of Charges for the now defunct former phone! We thought the world of Top, but, you DID NOT want to get on his bad side! Ever!

As I mentioned before, the First Sergeant was a huge fan of the Dallas Cowboys. Did I say huge? I meant HUGE!!! During football season we knew that if the Dallas Cowboys had won their game that week that PT (Physical Training) would be a breeze. It meant that Top was in a good mood and would take it easy on us. Now, if the Cowboys had lost the previous Sunday, Heaven help us! Top would make it his mission to take it out on us! I would like to point out that we troopers were not passive victims in this punishment by any means.! If anything we would make Top push us even harder. So there we would be knocking out push-ups and someone would yell out, “How bout them Redskins Top?”

Extra Push-ups!

Danny White wears pantyhose!” was a favorite put down.

More pushups!

The Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders are Lesbians!”

Top Graves would growl in defiance and then yet more PT would be administered!

We loved it and we loved him.

When the battalion was called out to support the Second Brigade’s deployment to the Island of Grenada on October 25, 1983. I followed Top Graves to Charlie Battery of our battalion to fill some manpower shortages. Top Graves was sent to fill in for the Charlie Battery First Sgt who had a broken foot from a parachute jump a short while earlier. I could think of no better man to lead us into battle. Top Graves was everything an NCO should be and then some. I cant tell you how proud I was when I was asked to be part of the security team that rode with Top Graves on his jeep on the second day of the fighting.

The most special memory I have of First Sergeant Graves was about ten minutes before I was shot and nearly lost my life. I remember Top coming around and just visiting with the troops and I remember him coming up to me as I was kneeling down working a field radio and he reached out and patted me on the helmet and told me that I was a good trooper.

That kind of an affirmation coming from that man nearly became the last memory I would have on this earth. As it is now, it is one of my most treasured memories. This was made even more special when seven months later when I had my retirement ceremony in front of the battery that Top Graves still led. Top and I talked about that moment then and I found out that he too remembered it is as well and how much it meant to him that I had survived the attack. Great leaders like First Sergeant Graves are what makes the Airborne so special and such a dominating force on the field of battle. All the Way, First Sergeant Airborne!

Hardcore Harry

The Eight of Us

There were eight of us.

This is the last time that all of my brothers and sisters were together in the same place. You ask why? So did I, once, long ago.

Top: L–>R My sister Robin, Me, Dawn, Matthew

Bottom: L–>R Melody, Melisa, April, Parker

A couple of years before our parents had abandoned all eight of us kids. The youngest, our little brother Parker, was only six months old at the time–he is the little guy on the bottom right. We were on our own for two weeks or so before the authorities took us away. I remember that day quite well. We were washing the family dog in the backyard and tending the garden we had planted that summer. The garden was coming along quite well. The corn was taller than me I remember. We were kids who didn’t know any better.

Some might call it an American tragedy. I do not know. I do know that over the next nine years and nine foster homes I quit asking why and I made the resolution to be better than the circumstances that placed me where I was.

I also know that each of us kids fought our own battles–oftentimes these battles were in silent desperation. I am sure we all sought the answer to that question and perhaps some of my siblings still do.

As for me, I  began asking how I can make my life better. If not now, when? A person could go mad  and literally waste a life searching for the whys of  suffering and evil in this world–it won’t make them a better person either.

By focusing instead on how to make the best of things  in the now it made me a stronger person; and, I believe it helped me immensely in the trials that I could not see yet that were just beyond the far horizon of existence for me.

I was eleven years old.

Hardcore Harry