Well as you can guess leaving home to go overseas for 18 months was very difficult, even though I knew I would be coming back in November 6 months still seemed like a long time. Remember back then there were no internet or cell phones so communicating with home was mainly done by letter writing. Of course, there was a lot of crying at the airport but we made it through the best we could. My flight was not direct, the first stop was California for a long layover where I was able to call June to see how she was doing., Those times in the airports at times were long and boring. We always had to be in full uniform so we were often targets of religious groups especially Hare Krishna. They would surround me at times and bug the heck out of me, some were very pushy and not very pleasant so I had to keep moving through the airport. I’ll never forget getting on the plane that would take me over to Okinawa, it was huge with 3 rows of seats (3 seats on each side and 5 in the middle). The plane seemed only half full (many empty seats), so after we took off the stewardess seeing me in my uniform asked if I wanted to move to the center row that was completely empty, so I had 5 seats to myself for the entire trip to mainland Japan. We had stopovers in Hawaii and Guam before we reached Japan. I remember landing in Hawaii in the middle of the night, it was raining and we couldn’t leave the terminal, that was my only experience ever in Hawaii.
It has been an interesting day to say the least. 3/29/20 I went to Tori’s house at 10:30 am. My fear was, “How am I going to comfort these kids at 6 feet away?” But, what I found was that they comforted me at just 6 feet away. Here is my story. As I pulled in the kids were out riding their bikes and having a great time. Beautiful smiles and shouts of Hello welcomed me as I proceeded out of my car. I sat myself down on a large rock by the driveway and watched the kids go. Thalia ended up coming and sitting on the driveway just 6 feet away from me. We had the best chat, Tori and Jake left for the hospital and as Thalia and I continued our chat ate an orange and a few fig bars while the boys played Corn Hole. Thalia picked a bouquet of beautiful yellow and purple weeds, I took a picture of her holding them and we sent it to her mom. Next was a trip to the back yard. Thalia disappears into the house and returns with a big plate of Chipotle left overs. She began eating and said this is cold I need to heat it up. I told her the “I think 60 seconds will be plenty of time” and she shouts back “what does that number look like?” I said 6 0 and she said “ok 6 0 6 0 6 0” as she headed into the house. All three kids eating leftovers on the basketball court just 6 feet in front of me as I am sitting in a lawn chair watching how strong they seem. There doesn’t seem to be any fear, or worry. I am thinking that Jake and Tori have done a great job preparing them for her departure. Jake has let me know that he has dropped Tori off at the ER and that they have taken her into the hospital mask on and in a wheelchair and is headed to get Firehouse Subs for all of us for lunch. I can’t even imagine the feelings, thoughts and fears that must have been going through Jake and Tori’s minds as they had to part from one another not knowing if this was going to be the last time that they were going to physically see one another. Such a terrible thing for loved ones and those sick, to go into the hospital alone, and stay alone and talk to the Dr’s alone. But Tori is about the strongest person I know. If anyone can do this and help her family through it, it would be Tori.
Well, now Jake is back and I need to head back home. Saying goodbye to the kids from our 6 foot distance was hard for Thalia, I was talking with Jake and the next thing I knew Thalia had snuck up behind me and hugged my waist about as tight as she should hug. As I began walking to my car Thalia said, “why does my mommy have to stay in the hospital?” I told her that this is the best place to help her get better. That the doctors and nurse will take very good care of her and she will be back at home when she is better. And then she said “Nana, please pray for my mommy.” Oh, my, goodness did my heart just break and oh, how did I want to just run up that driveway and scoop her into my arms. But all I could say and do was, “I am praying and will keep praying until your mommy is better. I love you Thalia.“
I felt a prompting to add this to my history. Chronologically, it belongs in the chapter of Levels 20 to 30. But, as I went to put it in there, I felt that the flow for reading in that chapter was already good, so I decided to add it as a last chapter.
The First Kiss. My first kiss with Marya Durtschi. It was truly and honestly captivating.
It was a late summer Sunday evening in Provo, Utah. We were still in our church-type clothes, I do not remember why. The sun was dipping below the horizon when we decided to go for a drive to the Provo, Temple. As we walked onto the grounds it appeared many other couples had the same thoughts, there were several other couples peacefully walking around the temple grounds. We walked from the west entrance to the east side to sit on the grass and talk. I don’t recall any specific subjects we chatted about, but we were probably there for about a half hour. It was there, in the glow of the temple lights, and the dark blue, nearly black sky, with stars beginning to multiply, that we kissed…soft and sweet, and more than once. It was pleasant and nice, peaceful not passionate.
Then, I became curiously aware that no one was around. No one witnessed this first kiss. Which didn’t matter. We didn’t need or want witnesses to that wonderful first in our lives. But, I realized no one had walked by for a long time. We got up, strolled back to the west side of the temple. There was absolutely no one anywhere. We walked down to the main entrance gate in the ornamental fence that surrounded the grounds. Locked. Next to it was a guard house…empty. Had we not been so nicely dressed we would have just found a place to scale the fence and climb out. But, it was a tall fence, and neither our clothes nor foot wear was very conducive to climbing.
What do we do? Surely the security guard must be somewhere! We went the the front doors of temple….locked. Baptistry doors …locked. We made our way to the service entrance where they bring food for the cafeteria…locked. We knocked…..and knocked again. A gentleman opened the door. He looked at us with perplexed annoyance, and asked what we wanted. We told him we were locked in. He didn’t seem convinced, and asked more questions. After some discussion we realized what had happened. Upon our arrival earlier, as we walked around the north side of the temple he had been several yards in front of of us telling visitors that it was time to leave. He had dutifully made his rounds. He waited an appropriate amount of time, and locked the gate, and then went inside. Being a Sunday, the temple itself was not in use, so no one was inside that needed to exit. He was probably settling in for a another uneventful, peaceful night of security watch, and would make his rounds outside at regular intervals, and also spend time in the guard shack up front. Of course he was shocked to see us standing there. His demeanor softened, and he escorted us to the gate and let us out. (By the way, as we communicated with “Brother Guard” to discover the sequence that led to us being locked in, I didn’t share with him any details about our first kiss.)
And….with this story of my first kiss with Marya….it seems like a very appropriate way to conclude this history of the first fifty levels of my life.
I was Born in a time of great turbulence world wide, World War II had begun in 1939 and lasted until 1945. I was born during this time,on November 4, 1943 in the Moab hospital. I like Nephi could say I was born of goodly parents Aroe Guymon Brown and Ellen Palmer Brown were my parents and came from good pioneer stock. I was the fourth child to be born, but the first child to be born in the hospital. Aunt Barbara Certonio took mom because dad was out deer hunting which was a necessity for food to feed our family at this period of time. Not too long after I was born dad was drafted into the army and stationed in Texas. From there he was sent to the Phillipines; however, on the way there the war ended. The first men that got to come home were those who had two or more children so dad got to be one of the first soldiers to come home. Because dad had been drafted into the army part of the Homestead Act granted soldiers to have a parcel of land from the government. Dad was able to get land in Mustang, another part of this act stated you had to live on the land so dad had got water on the land in order to prepare for the move but before we were able to make the move, this rule changed. Luckily we did not have to move out to Mustang. Wheat was a good cash crop so dad decided to plant wheat on the land to provide money for the family. Dad was also able to go back to school and learn how to weld as part of the GI bill from serving in the millitary. With this knowledge he was able to build a large rake to remove the sage brush from the land. The land had to be cleared in order to plant wheat this took a lot of hard work and time. On one occasion while dad was out clearing the land he accidentally raked up a human skull, this he supposed was from an ancient Indian tribe who had lived on the land centuries earlier. Once the land was cleared dad planted wheat this was a very good cash crop until too much wheat was being planted, so the government allowed only a certain amount of wheat to be sold each year. This made it so some years we could sale our crop and other years we would store the wheat for the next year.
One of my earliest memories was of Uncle Woodrow and Aunt Beth and there daughter named Josephine. This was dad’s brother and sister in law, they had moved north of where we lived and would often come to visit. They had a daughter named Josephine who I loved to tease and torment. I was a typical mischievous young boy. We also lived not too far from Uncle Willie and Aunt Barbara Certonio they visited often and during one of their visits I was playing house with my older sister Helen. Uncle Willie saw me playing with one of her dolls and told me if I didn’t stop playing with dolls he would sale me to the Indians. He didn’t always day the nicest things! However, one of my fondest memories was being able to go out to Mustang and ride on the tractor with dad. These were good times! One day while we were out at the field on our property just out of town we ran out of water so dad asked me to feel up his water bag which was by the windmill so he could keep working. I went over to the water pump which was by the windmill, the wind was not blowing that day so the windmill had not pumped any water, that meant I would have to pump the water by hand. I went over and used the pump and went back to feel the bag up with water but no water was coming out so I went back and used the pump again after a few times of doing this and getting no water I felt discouraged and not wanting to disappoint my dad I decided to get some water from the cow trough. As I looked in to the trough there was green moss floating on top of the water, I moved the moss and because I knew there would be cow germs I blew them away and then filled that bag up with water. I returned with a full bag feeling so proud of myself but as dad drank from the bag he immediately spit out the water and asked me where I had gotten it. I told him from the cow trough but reassured him I blew all the germs away!!!! Another memory of riding on the tractor that wasn’t so fond was on this one occasion I was sitting on the seat and dad was standing driving the tractor. I had my hands on the back of the seat holding on, we went up a little hill which pushed the steel part of the rake against my seat and squished my fingers and tore some skin away. This was very painful and upsetting to me at this time in my life. These were great memories growing up and loved the time I was able to spend with dad in the first years of my life.
Before too long I was of age to go to school. Elementary school started at 9 am, we would get out for lunch at noon, walk home to eat and then return at 1 pm and go until 2:30 pm. We had chores to do in the morning before we started school. Paul would milk the cow since he was the oldest boy and I would chop wood and bring it in. Then we would head off to school. The old Elementary school was across the street from where Blanding Elementary is right now in the Baseball field. It was a brick building with 4 class rooms and 2 class rooms in the basement. I remember walking to school in the morning and being afraid of the dogs I would pass on the way to school. I was a shy and timid boy in school and an average student. My favorite subject was Science. I never learned to enjoy reading in my younger years. My favorite teacher growing up was my 5th grade teacher named Lynda Lyman. She was a very nice teacher. By the time I was in the 5th grade the town of Blanding had grown enough that we had to open up the classrooms in the basement this is where I spent my 5ht and 6th grade years.
After I graduated high school, my friend Bonnie Bentley and I decided to take a couple of classes at Santa Monica City College (now Santa Monica College.) As I remember, I was most excited about being able to wear pants! I didn’t do too well that first semester, but then got serious and graduated with an Associates degree in Early Childhood Education. I really enjoyed working with kids.
After I completed my AA degree, I decided I might as well transfer to San Fernando State College, now California State University at Northridge, or CSUN. My major was Childhood Education. My friend Beryl was going to school there, so it was nice to have a friend there. CSUN was considered a “commuter” school because most people lived off campus and drove to school. After my first semester, Beryl and I and her friend Debbie Nessett, got an apartment together in Northridge. My first time living away from my mom. It was a good way to learn to take care of myself and manage my money! I paid for all my expenses myself!
After I graduated high school, I got a job at Blue Chip Stamps in Westchester. Grocery stores, gas stations, and some other stores would give you “Blue stamps” that you could take home and glue in a small book. The more you spent the more stamps you got. Then when you got enough books you could take them to the Blue Chip Stamp store and redeem them for a variety of things, like a lamp, towels, sheets, clock, toaster, mixer, etc. So my job was to show the customers the products or to work at the counter counting and collecting the “books of stamps” and then giving the item to the customer. I really liked the job and worked there most of my college years. I worked part time and went to school part time. It took me 6 years to graduate college because I had to work to pay my way. No help from my mom or dad. But I didn’t think anything of it. Most of my friends were doing the same and we all managed and had a good time together!
During these college years, I took a lot of trips with my friend Beryl. Our first trip was to Hawaii. I always dreamed of going to Hawaii. I wanted to live on the beach and swim every day! So this was a dream trim for me. And my first plane ride. Debbie, Beryl and I went. We went with backpacks and stayed for a month! And if I remember correctly, the whole trip only cost me $300! Most of the time we were able to camp on beaches. However, when we first arrived we stayed in a small, one room “apartment” a couple of blocks from Waikiki beach. We loved going to the beach every day! We found small, local “cafe’s” or sometimes food trucks to buy food from. Delicious!
After a week or so, we flew to Maui. It was against the law to “hitchhike” but if you stood on the side of the road, people would know you wanted a ride and would stop and pick you up. One time a doctor vacationing in Maui picked us up and let us use his hotel room shower. Luxury! (I know this is not safe, so if you are reading this, DO NOT HITCHHIKE!). But remember, this was in the 1970’s. In fact, 1971. I was 21 years old. We visited all the sites on Oahu and at that time they were all free!
Our next trip was to Mexico! We took the bus, yes, bus, from Tijuana to Mexico City. The bus was nothing special. People with chickens and other animals would get on and off. There were two drivers; one would drive while the other slept in the luggage compartment on the side of the bus. We stopped in small, out of the way towns to eat and use the bathroom. Not a fun experience. It took two days to get to Mexico City. We stayed in a hotel and explored the city and some of the ruins. We even picked up some Spanish while we were there! After about a week, we took a bus to Acapulco. We stayed in a hotel there and had fun in the sun. One day we decided to swim from the beach to a little island that wasn’t too far off, or so it seemed. As we were swimming a boat passed us. The men on the boat were yelling at us, “Tiburon” which means “Shark”. Of course we didn’t understand, so we kept swimming. We made it to the island, but we were exhausted! Fortunately, a man with a small boat offered us a ride back to our beach.
When it was time to go home, we decided to take the train as the bus had been such a bad experience. The train was a bit better; cleaner, but still stopped for people with chickens! Another fun trip!
I’ve got a little easier after that first fire fight we went on bridge security highway four ran from Homecare to play to play cool is just a fireplace and we will sleep in Barker‘s lawn care he was very skimpy I have Barge transfer seriously Pam our job is to secure the highway during the day and the ridges at night if the bridges work you are doing ride the vehicle would blow them up and the sinner
It was the spring of 1952. I was 5 years old and looking forward to starting school in the fall We didn’t have kindergarten so this would my first year of school. We lived on the farm north east of Wells. I begin having trouble with my left knee and developed a limp. My parents took me to the doctor in Bennington and he examined me and x-rayed my knee and couldn’t find anything wrong with it. My patents decided that I was faking to draw attention to myself. One afternoon my mom was hosting her women’s club. All of the women would bring their children and we would play outside in the yard while the moms had club in the house. That day my knee hurt so bad that I wasn’t able to run and play so I stayed on the front porch. I sat on the porch and played the sheriff. When dad came home from work mom told him there was definitely something wrong because I had stayed on the porch all afternoon with all of those kids there.
So mom & dad took me to Minneapolis to see Dr. Foutz. As I was walking back to the exam room Dr, Foutz said “why that boy has Pertheis disease. As we learned this is a disease that affects young children, mostly boys age 4 to 10. It’s a rare disease affecting only 1 -3 in 20,000. With Pertheis the ball of the hip joint dissolves causing a limp and pain in the knee.
Treatment involves traction and a brace. I spent 30 days in Asbury Hospital in the children’s ward flat on my back with my left leg in traction. For some reason Ray & Fred weren’t allowed to come into the children’s ward to visit me. The ward was on the ground floor so we were able to open the window by my bed and talk that way.
When I got out of the hospital I had to wear a brace on my left leg and an elevated shoe on my right foot.
On October 13, 1975 my new Navy adventure began with a short train ride to Newark with two friends from High School, Dave Akromas and Scott McGill. Little did I know what the future held but I had a mixture of emotions: excitement and trepidation wondering what lies ahead along with happiness and sadness. Happiness to start a new life and sadness of leaving home especially the girl I had just spent the last 6 months with, June. The three of us arrived in Newark and grabbed a quick breakfast together. Then Dave and I said goodbye to Scott ( it was the last time I would ever saw Scott) as we headed for the Federal Building in Newark where we would raise our hands with a group of men and women and swear the Oath of Enlistment. We all then formed 2 columns and marched down to the Newark train station located a few blocks away. We took the Amtrak train down to Orlando, Dave and I roomed together. I pretty much spent most of my time in our cabin as I was not in the mood for socializing. Dave, on the other hand, was out partying with everyone else from our group heading for Bootcamp. Remember that letter I mentioned June had handed me, well it was more like a book. I can’t remember how many pages but it was thick and long. As I sat reading the letter alone in my cabin the tears flowed as I read the words from June’s heart. Reminiscing about all the things we did together that summer, and writing about the hopes and dreams about our future together. We both were determined to make our relationship last and spend the rest of our lives together. I did make it out to the dinner train for a while but mostly spent time in the cabin reading and sleeping. I remember when the train arrived in Florida the next morning, looking out at the Palm trees which I had never seen before and sunshine the excitement started to build. We arrived in Orlando, I remember how warm and sunny it was as I got off the train. We soon boarded a bus that would take us to the RTC – Orlando Naval Training Center where we would spend the next 9 weeks of our lives totally cut off from the world as they transformed us from civilians to Navy Sailors.
Navy Bootcamp was like nothing I had ever experienced. The first thing they did was place us in companies of about 70 guys from all different parts of the country. Since a good portion of the guys were from the south many had southern drawls that I had never heard before. One thing that stands out about that first day was getting haircuts. Since it was the 70’s many guys had long hair, some guys even had beards (not me, at 17 I still had peach fuzz on my face). Everyone went into the Navy barbershop with different styles and lengths of hair but everyone came out clean-shaven and with buzz cuts. I remember one guy who had a big red afro sitting there crying about his hair being gone. I thought to myself, what was he expecting I looked at Dave and we both had to hold in our laugh. We all then got our Navy issue uniforms which were everything we would need for every aspect of Navy life, underwear, socks, shoes and all. We had to stencil our social security number on everything we owned. We then were placed in our barracks and assigned a bunk. I remember the first guy who bunked above me was from the deep south and could hardly read or write. A few weeks into the Bootcamp he showed me a letter he wrote to his dad. The writing looked like a small child in large letters and he wrote “Hey Old Man, I here in Bootcamp and it sucks” (he had another word in there I won’t repeat). That was the extent of his letter. He was a screw-up and didn’t last long and was demoted to a company that was formed for washouts. We saw him marching with the company a few days after that, he waved to us and said: “Hey guys I’m getting out of the Navy”, we envied him as most guys were wishing the same thing at that point. Most guys were pretty normal but in a group of 70 guys, you always had your borderline psycho’s. One was a small guy from Georgia who also was dumb as a tack, who had already washed out of the Marines. One night our Company Commander (CC) made us all do jumping jacks for punishment. One every 5th jumping jack you had to count by 1 (5=1, 1o=2 and so on). Well for some reason this guy could not get it. The CC kept getting in his face yelling at him. The guy cracked and jumped onto the CC in a fit of rage. He had to be dragged out of the barracks. We never saw him again, I have a feeling he washed out of the Navy also. Another guy warned us that if he was woken suddenly he had a habit of jumping out of bed and attacking the person. I don’t know if he was telling the truth but he seemed crazy so if he had to be woken someone would throw a washcloth on his face from a distance. He never attacked anyone that I remember. The main idea of Bootcamp was changing you from a civilian to a military person. To do that it was mostly mental, so they played a lot of mind games with you. Everything was about following small details like how you folded your clothes, made your beds things that were tedious. Since new clothes were easy to fold, they made you rotate your uniforms (underwear and t-shirts included). They would have these routine cloths inspections every so often. If they discovered you weren’t rotating your cloths (new cloths are easy to spot), as punishment they would have you place your clothes in a bucket of soapy water and walk around the room saying ” I am a magtag washing machine”. You also had to pull all the tags out of your clothes, if you missed one, they would rip it out and place it on the floor and make you blow the tag around the room saying “out of my life little tag”. During these inspections, you had to stand at attention the whole time with a straight face. Of course, many guys would fail ( I think mostly from the south, hah), so picture a room full of guys all walking around doing those things at once, it was hard to keep a straight face. I remember once when we went out to chow (dinner) they did a complete barracks inspection. We all worked hard trying to get everything perfect, we were sure we would pass with flying colors. To our surprise, when we came back our entire barracks was turned upside down, clothes were thrown all over the place, even pillows, sheets and beds all over. You had to find all your own clothes and bed linen and put everything back together again, it took hours. Of course, we were told later they did it all on purpose to create a teamwork atmosphere. They broke us up into squads with a squad leader. Showers and toilet breaks were done in squads. I remember the toilet stalls all had open fronts (no doors). Even though they had about 5 or 6 toilets they would often only allow 2 to be used. Imagine trying to take a poop with a line of guys looking at you yelling at you to hurry up. It wasn’t easy. Besides mind games, Bootcamp had its’ physical elements, marching, obstacle courses, and lots of pushups. Being in the Navy you had to not only know how to swim but learn to float for long periods of time. This was needed if you were ever on a ship that was sinking and needed to float in the ocean for a long period of time. They taught you how to use different pieces of cloths as floating devices. I remember sitting with my company waiting for our turn and seeing across the pool a group of guys who had flunked the swim test. They were nicked named the “rock company” and was made of 99% black guys who didn’t know how to swim. In order to graduate Navy Bootcamp you had to be able to swim (makes sense – Navy). The instructors would practically torture these guys making them jump into the water then push them with a pole to the deep part of the pool and tell them to start kicking. These guys (in the pool) would be screaming, some calling for their mothers, while the instructors would curse them out. I felt bad for those guys but also wonder why they would join the Navy if they couldn’t swim. I passed the swim test with ease. We also learned how to fight fires in close quarters, this was needed if you were ever on a ship that caught fire. We also had to endure the gas chambers. They broke up our company in small groups and made us go into a small chamber that was then locked behind us. We all had gas masks on but as the chamber started filling with gas we were told to take them off. We then had to repeat some Navy terminology together in unison as a group and were told if anyone cries out, panics or puts on there mask will cause the entire group to have to stay in the chamber longer. As the gas started to get into our eyes, nose, and throats we all started coughing and choking. Our eyes began to water and snot came down our nose into our mouths. You couldn’t wipe your face or it would make it worse. One guy started to scream and cry “let us out, please I can’t take it” we all yelled at him to shut up – he was starting to freak out. He kept screaming and we had to stay in there longer. When they finally let us out I think every guy wanted to beat the crap out of him, but we couldn’t’. During Bootcamp, we all had to get multiple inoculations since many were most likely going overseas. We would stand in line and two doctors would be on each side of the line. When we got to them they had this air gun they would zap us at the same time in both arms. You had to stand perfectly still because if you moved it would create a cut in your arm and bleed. which happened to some guys. The shots made some guys sick but they were not given any mercy as sick or not, you still had to participate in the training (luckily the shots didn’t affect me). We often did marching drills with rifles out on the grinder (which was like a big concrete parking lot) often in the heat. We would have to learn to stand at attention for long periods of time. You were told to bend our knees a little to keep from passing out. Well, some guys didn’t listen and down they would go face-first on the concrete.
The hardest thing about Bootcamp was missing home. For many of us, it was the first time ever being away from home and every guy experienced some sort of homesickness. I would spend my 18th birthday and Thanksgiving while in Bootcamp which was hard. For the first two weeks, they completely cut us off from any news from the world, especially letters from home. I remember wondering if I was missed? What was June doing? Was she missing me? How is my Mom doing? It was 1975 the World Series had just begun and my Red Sox were in it against the Cinncinati Reds. When I left for Bootcamp the series was tied 1-1 and game 3 was the next day. What happened? Did the Sox win the series? Since we were isolated from all current events I could only guess. Not knowing what was going on in the outside world was hard and increased our homesickness. I was lucky that I had Dave Akromas there going through it with me, but it still was hard. Somehow Dave and I found out that another friend of ours from High School, Paul Kelly had joined the Navy and was also in Bootcamp in Orlando. We were able to meet up with him at chow time and sit for 15 minutes and talk about home. It was the last time I ever saw Paul alive as years later he was killed in a training accident at Navy Seal training school. Apparently he was doing a skydive routine with another guy and they collided in mid-air and both fell to their death. A bunch of us went to his funeral, Dave went with me. We found out Paul had just gotten married and left behind a pregnant wife.
In Bootcamp, each guy was assigned a duty he would perform the entire 9 weeks. I was lucky enough to get mail-duty. This allowed me to leave the barracks alone each evening to either bring out letters to the mailboxes or retrieve them. Each evening I went out, I often took my time and just enjoyed my 15 minutes of freedom alone apart from 70 other guys. I would think about June and how much I missed her. I remember I would look up at the moon and think maybe she was looking at the moon at the same time. I felt a connection with her through those quiet moments, missing her more. Well finally after 2 weeks they released our mail to us. Since I was the company mail-man I was the one who was able to retrieve the mail that night and hand it out to everyone. There were a few boxes of mail (2 weeks – 70 guys – lots of mail). As I started reading the names on the letters, I pulled out one with my name, then another, then another (the guys were starting to tease me), finally after it was all over I think I had almost 20 letters to read – 14 from June. She had written to me every day and mailed the letter each day. I was on cloud nine. Every envelope smelled like perfume and in each, not only was there a long letter but in a few were clippings from the Daily Record newspaper with results from each World Series game. I sat on my bunk the rest of the evening reading those letters and the newspaper clipping. Letters were our lifeline to home and were a welcome break from all the other Navy stuff. Letters would be special all throughout time away for the 4 years I was in the Navy. Remember, back in the ’70s there was no internet or mobile phone. Everywhere I went, for the next 4 years, Pensacola, Japan, and Scotland I didn’t even have regular access to any phone, so letters from home were precious and vital. June was a great letter writer whenever I was away and she was starting off with flying colors. In Bootcamp, we were even allowed to get boxes of food from home, but the rule was if a guy got a box of food they had to share with the other guys. Many guys including myself would get homemade cookies from home and we would all enjoy them together. I also started smoking cigars while in Bootcamp. We didn’t get much free time but when we did they would say “the smoking lamp is lit”. At that, the guys who smoked were allowed to go into a smoking room, to smoke and chat. Since it was a break from just sitting on your bed, I bought some cigars so I could join the guys and smoke. I hated cigarettes. I had made June quit smoking when we were dating, though when I was away she started up again. Once we got married she quit for good.
FAMILY DAY AND GRADUATION
Well, Bootcamp was coming to an end, Graduation day was right around the corner but first family day. For the first time in 8 1/2 weeks, guys would see their families who came down for graduation. My Mom, Steve, June, Bernice, and Scott all came down for my graduation ceremony. I remember how excited I was to see everyone. The night before graduation we were able to meet our families at the family center. We had to wait for our name to be called before we could leave the barracks. The walk seemed like forever but walking through those doors and seeing everyone (especially June) was great. My mom said as I was walking toward the center she knew it was me even from a distance as I walked just like my father. The next day was graduation where each company would march in front of a review stand to the tune “anchors aweigh”. We were given a couple of day’s leave before processing out. We had to return each night to the base, I remember guys throwing up all night from too much drinking while out during the day. My family and I spent a couple of days going to Seaworld and Disney World which was a blast. The only thing left to do was get our orders and process out so we could be home for Christmas, which was only a week away. I remember feeling sorry for some guys who had to stay through Christmas to continue some special training for future ship duty. Me, I was headed home for 2 1/2 weeks, to spend time with my family, friends and mostly June and celebrate Christmas. Being home again was great as June and I continued where we left off. I loved being in the Navy and wanted to wear my uniform when I could so when June’s company Suburban Propane had their Christmas Party I remember wearing it that night. It was during that time home I realized how much we were in love and couldn’t see my life without her. I told my parents before I left for school I wanted to propose to June, I didn’t want to lose her. A couple of guys during Bootcamp received “Dear John” letters from their girlfriends and I didn’t want to go through that. They helped me pick out an engagement ring up at Catano’s Jewelers, it was small but what do you want I was an 18-year-old Navy Seaman, we didn’t make much money. So on New Year’s Eve December 1975 at a party at our friend Sam’s house I remember asking June to marry me and she said yes. I had taken a night that I lost someone dear to me years earlier – my father – and made it a night I would gain someone who I would spend the rest of my life with, I wasn’t going to lose her. We had no immediate plans of when the wedding would be as I had no idea where I would be after graduating school. I could possibly spend time out at sea on a ship, the future was unknown but I at least knew June would be part of my future. After spending 2+ weeks home it was time to leave again. So on January 2, 1976, I boarded a plane in Newark NJ and headed for my next duty Station – back to Florida for Cryptology School a place called Corry Station Naval Technical Training Center, Pensacola Florida.
PENSACOLA FLORIDA – NTTC CORRY STATION
Naval Technical Training Center Corry Station, was a sub-installation of nearby Naval Air Station Pensacola where the world-known Blue Angels were stationed and flew out of. The base hosted several of the Navy’s Information Warfare Corps training commands and is the headquarters for its Center for Information Warfare Training. This was a place where I would be learning my job rating as a CT (Communications Technician – changed a year later to Cryptologic Technician). I would be learning how to operate various radio collection equipment used to eavesdrop on other countries’ military communications. Since we were in the middle of the Cold War – our main focus would be Russia and China. That was the reason my recruiter use the word “Spy” as that was basically what we were doing. We were also given the nickname “Spooks” I guess because we would be operating on small bases situated around the world. These were places no one knew anything about where we would be hidden from the world and out of sight from our enemy surveillance targets. I later had a jacket made up with a large decal on the back depicting an Eagle wearing headphones with the saying “In God we trust, all others… we “bugged” the world!!” (see picture on this chapter).
I left for school on January 2, 1976 back to Florida and the warm sunny weather. I was surprised when I got there how chilly it was. Pensacola was located on what is called the pan-handle of Florida more north and close to Alabama, so it did get chilly in January. I was assigned a room and had one roommate (don’t remember his name or where he was from). The airline lost my luggage so I had to buy some navy cloths at the base commissary to last a few days before my luggage arrived. At first, you were assigned to a work party until your security clearance arrived. As a “CT” and e would be working with Top Secret material which needed a Top Secret Security clearance). I was told the FBI would be doing a background check on everyone which would include interviewing people who knew me back home, like former employers, school officials, and neighbors. Since I pretty much kept my nose clean most of my life and never got into any big trouble I wasn’t worried, my clearance came in about a week and I started school.
The first thing we learned to do was copy morse code as a “T” brancher (Technical) it would not be our primary job, but we still had to learn it. I found this very easy and quickly blew threw this portion of my training, even winning an award “The Samuel B Morse” award for speed and accuracy in copying morse code. Funny because the morse code was invented right down in Morristown down the street from my house, I guess I was meant for code copying. From there we would begin to learn how to use a variety of cryptology collection equipment used in radio communications intercept. I would learn to use things like; Radio signal receivers and transmitters, teletypewriters, single-sideband converters, Audio Spectrum analyzers and much more. I was learning things I never knew anything about and was loving my new field as a CT, thinking I would never learn anything like this in college. I went through school faster than anticipated and ended up graduating in just over 4 months.
Besides attending school we also had plenty of free time. I was lucky enough to be going through school with a guy who was in my company at bootcamp, John Convery. John became my closest friend and seemed to be stationed wherever I went. I remember he was from Long Island so we had some things in common (more on John in the next two chapters – Okinawa and Scotland). We would spend a lot of time at the EM Club (Enlisted men) which was the base bar and at the pool hall also on the base. Since neither of us had a car, we ended up making friend with some other guys a couple who had cars. A bunch of us would often go into town to the club’s drinking and to the beach. The beaches down there were like nothing I ever saw, beautiful white sandy beaches located on the Gulf of Mexico. The only problem was Pensacola was known for its Gay community who would often clashed with Navy men. In the 70’s being Gay was pretty much hidden. So I didn’t know anyone growing up who was, or at least I thought. At that time the US Government even forbid people who were Gay to join the military. A bunch of us were on the beach one time and a few guys who were dressed in very tight small bikini-like suits sat near us. We pretty much ignored them except one guy who was with us. He seemed to like the attention they were giving us. Looking back at pictures of that day I can now see why, the guy with us was dressed just like them, I think he probably was also Gay but wouldn’t expose that for fear of being kicked out of the service. I remember another guy who hung out with us who also was from the NY area. One day he gets a knock on the door that his girlfriend and another girl were there to visit him. To his surprise they had hitchhiked all the way down to Florida from NY, he was both happy and ticked off. Once while down there I was able to fly home for a long weekend for Junes birthday. I remember we spent every minute with each other. When I got back I was sick for a few days and missed some school time. The base was run by the Airforce which meant besides Navy personnel there were a lot of Air Force. Fights would occasionally break out between Navy and Airforce guys, but I guess that was normal. The good thing was the Chow Hall was also Air Force they were known for their good food, which proved true. We also had a softball league that I go involved with while there, I was starting to become a better athlete and often did well. The Mardi Gras was happening in New Orleans at that time. A bunch of guys were going but I decided not to go, for some reason. I did go with some guys to Mobile Alabama one day just to see something different. We ended up touring the USS Alabama that was in drydock at the time.
Well with school winding down and my anticipated graduation, I had to start thinking of the next step – duty stations, where would I end up. Since I was in the Navy you would assume I would spend time on a ship. That is why June and I even though we were engaged had not set a wedding date, because of the unknown. We then started to hear about all our options where we could end up. Places overseas like; Japan, Hawaii, Guam, Spain, Iceland and more. Even places stateside like Winter Harbor Maine, Adak Alaska, Homestead Fla and Fort Meade Maryland. Actually we were told that most of us would be land-based for our entire time in the Navy as only a small percentage of CTs would actually go any type of ship duty at that time. The reason was just 7 years earlier in 1968 a US Navy Spy ship called the USS Pueblo was captured by the North Koreans. Onboard the ship were mostly CTs conducting surveillance of the area, “spying”. The crew was held captive for 11 months ( 1 died during the capture) and a lot of Top Secret material was compromised. For that reason, the Navy had most CTs pulled off ships and instead stationed them on these small secret military communications bases built around the world to conduct intelligence intercept operations. I was told that I could write down 3 choices of duty stations I wanted. Most likely the first one would be overseas then maybe I would return to the US. I was also told that if I choose a place like Adak Alaska which was a one-year hazardous duty place, I would not only get it but from there you could then ask for any duty station you wanted. Alaska because it was deemed hazardous duty (desolate location and extreme weather conditions) you couldn’t take any spouse which is why it was only one-year duty. This was perfect I would put in for Adak go away for just one year, then select a place stateside where June and I could be married and she could be with me. So Adak was top of my list along with Hawaii (hey why not) then Winter Harbor Maine. I figured I would live in Alaska, hunt and do lots of outdoor activities, it wouldn’t be so bad. Well, my orders came in and to my surprise, not one of my choices would be my first duty station. Instead, I was being sent to Okinawa Japan for an 18-month tour of duty. What?? Where?? I had never heard of Okinawa Japan, never knew it existed. Okinawa is a tiny island off the coast of China. June had heard of it because her dad was on a ship during WWII that bombed the crap out of the island. The battle of Okinawa was one of the bloodiest battles of of WWII and now it would be where I would spend the next 18 months of my life. The thought of spending 18 months away from June was something I could not even think about. So with that our plans started to change. I asked June if she would consider getting married and coming with me. I knew it would be a big sacrifice for her. She was going to school at the time and going away from home especially that far would be difficult, but she agreed. We agreed to get married, but I would have to go over to Okinawa first, come back, get married and bring her back with me. We both liked the idea and figured we could get married sometime in November. But first I had to tell her Dad. So while I was home on leave I went to tell him. I remember he was in the backyard sitting with his next-door neighbor Mr. Principal talking. I walked out there and asked if I could talk to him about June and I and our future. I remember Mr. Principal sorting expecting what was coming next said “oh-oh I think I will excuse myself” and left. So, there we were just June’s dad and I, a man I really hadn’t gotten to know very well to that point, sitting in her backyard. I then began to share our plans about June and I getting married and taking her to Okinawa with me. I remember he sat and listened to everything I had to say. I think he asked me some questions but for the most part, he was very quiet and respectful. I think back at that and feel it must have been tough for him to listen to me. I gave him the hardest news he would probably ever had to hear at that point in his life. He and June were very close. June was sort of a tomboy growing up and did a lot with her dad. Now here was the prospect of his daughter only 20 years old, to marry a sailor only 18 years old, someone he really didn’t know well and then leaving home for the first time ever to live overseas. She was about to go off for one year to live on a small island in the Pacific, a place that he last saw probably smoldering in the distance from all the bombs his ship had just blasted it with. Then just a few days later on May 15, 1976 (my sister Carolyns birthday) I got on a plane that would take me halfway around the world to live for 18 months, leaving all the wedding details to June. I was about to begin the next chapter of my life, overseas in Okinawa Japan and would be gone for the next 6 months, until our wedding day on November 13, 1976. A new experience was about to begin.
Needless to say, moving away from Niantic was very difficult. Not only were we going to a place I knew nothing about (even though it was only a few miles from Morristown where my grandparents lived), but it would be a new chapter without a father in the house. Randolph almost started as tragic as Niantic ended. As I mentioned in chapter 2, (Niantic Years), I came a couple of days earlier than my mom, sisters, and brother. I came with the moving truck which was driven by my fathers’ closest friend from Niantic, Mr. Don Hadaway. Don was affected the most outside of the family by my father’s death as they were close friends. The other man in the cab was Mr. Johns and I was in the middle. The ride to Randolph was smooth. We got to our new house where we were met by my grandfather (Pop-Pop) and a good friend of my mother, Ann Gantert, and her son Doug. Ann grew up with my mom in Morristown and came to see us. As the men worked I remember helping some and hanging with Doug who was my age. As the men were about to leave and head back to Connecticut, Doug turned to me and asked if I wanted to stay with them for a few days and wait for my mom and siblings to arrive. I asked my grandfather and he said no. He thought I should go back. Disappointed, I got in the truck and as we were about to back out – he held up his hand for the truck to stop. Apparently, he saw the disappointment in my eyes and if you know my grandfather, (more about him in a later chapter), he hated to disappoint us. He changed his mind but told me I could stay only if I could contact my mom and ask her. Doug quickly pointed out the house next door had a “red hand” in the window which designated the home as a “helping hand” home. I knocked on the door and introduced myself and asked if I could call my mom in Connecticut which they allowed, (remember no cell phones back then). Well, my Mom said yes and that answer prevented a possible tragedy. That night on the way back the truck got into a serious accident as it went under a low bridge that ripped the top of the truck nearly off. Both Mr. Hadaway and Mr. Johns got hurt but survived. I was told that if I was in the truck I may have gotten badly hurt or killed as the force of the accident probably would have thrown me through the windshield as we didn’t wear seatbelts in those days. I want to think my father was looking out for me from heaven and didn’t want my Mom to go through another tragedy so soon. It would not be the last time I escaped a tragedy as we will learn later in this chapter. Apparently, God was looking out for me and had plans for me in my later years as we will learn in the “Jesus Years” chapter.
Life in Randolph Begins
I don’t remember much about the beginning but I do know the adjustment was difficult. I dreaded making new friends. Nobody would match the friends I had in Niantic. We lived in another development that had plenty of kids around my age, mostly boys again. The neighborhood was split between 3 groups of kids that I remember but at first, I mostly hung out with Doug in Mendham and his friends. Doug lived with his brother, a step-father who was abusive and a Mom that let them do whatever they wanted. My mom was pretty much the same. She had her hands full with her new life, plus watching my 2 younger siblings Carolyn, (8yrs old) and Scott, (1 yrs old) I pretty much was on my own. Doug was a drummer and we would hang out listening to rock music and pretending to emulate rock bands. We even tried to start our own band called “Crystal Farm” but never did much with our rock and roll aspirations. I was lead singer so I guess that was probably why we never made it big. Doug introduced me to his friends which were made up of 2 girls which I ended up dating (whatever you can call dating at age of 13-14) – Cheryl Bell and a blonde girl whose name I can’t remember. Doug’s friends were a bit wild like him, free to do whatever they wanted, mostly rich kids whose parents let them run wild. I’m surprised I stayed out of trouble but besides your normal teen mischief no big stories to write about. Doug’s step-father was mean and was abusive to Doug, his brother, and Mom. They ended up moving out and at one time hid from his step-father at our house when he threatened to kill everyone. Our friendship ended soon after that when we were down the shore. My mom invited Doug and his Mom to join us. Doug brought a friend who I ended up getting into a fistfight with over a girl. My Mom kicked them all out and that was the last time I ever saw them.
New Friends and Adventure
My days of going to Mendham were over and I started hanging out with the kids in my neighborhood. At first, I hung out with a group of kids from one part of the neighborhood but after a couple of altercations with a couple of kids, I found new friends on the other side of the neighborhood who would remain my friends through my high school years: Greg & Gary Mezzacapo, Tim Aloia, Mark Villerosi, Terry and Ryan Straub who were my main friends. Life began to resemble my Niantic days of playing sports, sleeping outside, and hanging out in each other’s homes. Besides just playing sports among ourselves we would often challenge kids in the upper part of our neighborhood to football or baseball games which were always fun. Greg became my closest friend. He was the best athlete and everyone wanted to be on his team all the time. We mostly played baseball or football but in the winter we played a lot of hockey on ice ponds. We often played on a pond down the street. One time we were playing and it started to get warm outside. The ice was starting to melt, but we kept playing, like idiots. Suddenly the ice gave way as Greg and another kid went for a puck. Everyone jumped off the ice, but me. I laid on my stomach and tried to pull Greg up out of the water. The ice beneath me gave way and I went into the water. Greg and the other kid made it to safety but I had trouble at first getting out, as every time I went to push myself up, the ice broke. I finally made it to the side to safety. The police came and took the 3 of us home. I was lucky that I didn’t drown, but again, God came to my rescue because he had a plan. Why did I stay on the ice and try to save Greg? Well, deep down I viewed him as my best friend. He was a bit selfish and hotheaded but I overlooked those things. Though I often thought of that incident and wondered why he didn’t do the same for me that day as I was struggling to get out. Years later, we would get into another jam that would show his true colors. Me, him and Mark went to the movies in Randolph with 3 girls. After the movie, we were hanging outside waiting for our ride when a group of guys from a local neighborhood surrounded us. For some reason, they focused on me. The group leader, a tough kid from Dover, pinned me against the brick building, as 4 other kids surrounded me. By that time, Mark, Greg, and the girls had moved to safety. The kid went to throw a punch at me but I blocked it. He then slammed my head against the wall. His buddies told me to run because they said he was going to kill me. I pushed him away and ran toward the theater door when he jumped on top of me from behind. As I was struggling, I saw blood coming down onto my back. I thought he stabbed me and I started to yell for help. He and his buddies all ran as the manager of the movie came out to help. He called the ambulance and I was taken to Dover General where I got my head bandaged due to a deep cut. The police caught the kid and my mom and I had to go down to the police station to identify him. I don’t know whatever happened to him after that but I survived with only a cut in my head. As I look back, again Greg stood by and did nothing to help. But maybe it was better as who knows what the outcome would have been as there were about 12 of them to 3 of us. I again overlooked that and Greg remained a close friend, years later serving as my best man at my wedding.
Besides sports, just like Niantic, we had other outside adventures, like sleeping outside under the stars. Our sleep outs were always fun as we would walk around our neighborhood late at night and jump into neighborhood pools, usually in our underwear or naked. That all ended when a father who heard us came running out of the house. We all went running and I collided with Gary and he fell on the street in only his underwear and got caught, so our skinny dipping days were over. We often would sleep under the stars in backyards. Onetime it started to rain in the middle of the night so a kid named Steve Cote who was with us said let’s go and sleep in the enclosed porch at his house which was on the other side of these woods. I somehow ended up first in line and had a black sleeping bag over my head to protect me from the rain. I saw a house with the enclosed porch and opened the door to walk in. All of a sudden a woman who apparently had woke up because she heard our commotion and came out to her porch, started to scream and I mean scream. I ran back to all my friends and said: “Steve, why is your sister screaming?”. He said, “You idiot that is not my house, it’s my neighbors”. Her husband came out with a bat and was going to probably beat us. We yelled we were sorry, told him the mistake then went to my friend’s house. I couldn’t sleep the rest of the night as I kept hearing her scream in my mind, like a horror show. Life was pretty much normal, playing sports, little league and doing what normal teens do. My one friend’s father, Mark Villerosi, had season tickets to the Mets and often took all of us to home games. I was even able to go to a World Series game in 1973 between the Mets and Oakland. They also owned a second home in Pennsylvania with a lot of land. We would go there and ride his dirt bike and shoot guns, even did some hunting. Greg Mezzacapo was also from a family that had some money. They owned a home down the shore and his family invited me to stay with them one summer for 2 weeks. I remember on the first night there by the time we got to the beach it was early evening and the beach was empty with no lifeguards. We decided to still go out on our rafts which was risky since it was high tide and the water was rough, but hey at 14 years old nothing can hurt us. Well, as I was out in the water I looked and saw my friend Greg on the beach waving to me and pointing at the jetty. Apparently the waves had pushed me too close to the rocks, so I started to paddle as hard as I could. My efforts were not getting me anywhere and the waves were about to throw me into the rocks. Luckily, a lifeguard who came back to the beach because he left his jacket saw my struggles and jumped in and pulled me to safety. He told me he got there just in time, as a few more waves and I would have been in the rocks. After catching my breath, I went to thank him, but he was gone. As I look back, I again believe God rescued me because he had a plan. Who knows, maybe the lifeguard was an angel, as he was gone as fast as he arrived.
JR. High and High School Years
In Jr. High not much happened besides normal stuff. My social life started to expand beyond the neighborhood. I wasn’t in the real popular crowd, but I was invited to some parties that consisted of us hanging in basements with girls and playing spin the bottle and other kissing games. We experimented with alcohol. Someone would somehow get a hold of some beer, usually from an older sibling and we would try to be cool and share a bottle of beer with a small group of us, usually forcing it down and then saying, ” that was great!! I guess that was the beginning of a life of drinking which hit its peak in the Navy years, (more on that later). In 8th grade, I was a class clown. Me and a kid, Robert Shephis would perform 2 person funny skits in front of classes for laughs. I tried my hand at football again and played for the Randolph Bulldogs in 8th grade. I was not a big kid and had only played one other year, which was in Niantic in 6th grade. They had no tryouts but had all the new kids who signed up come down to the field and they would split us between JV and Varsity. I was sure I would be on JV, since most of my friends were playing JV, but to my surprise, I was the 2nd kid announced for the Varsity team. We went 6-0-2 that year. I was a second-string player, which meant at most practices we held the dummies so the first string could beat up on us. Right before the season began, I was walking down the street in my neighborhood and some girl on a bike ran into my leg, ripping open my calf. I looked down, saw no blood but a piece of my muscle hanging out all ripped up. I yelled at her, walked home where my mom freaked out and took me to the hospital where I needed stitches. I ended up missing the first game. I played in all but 2 games, as a sub mostly on defense. The most memorable game was against Wharton. We were well ahead by halftime so they let the subs play the entire second half. I played both offensive and defensive guard. On one play I was a pulling guard and had the key block for Gary Gorman on a TD run around the end. I remember hurting my hand and having it wrapped up and going back in. I played the rest of the game with a hand wrapped up. I loved it. My football career ended when I realized in High School I was just too skinny to keep playing and I quit the freshman team.
High school was not full of many big highlights, until my Sr. year. I had a hard time, especially during my freshman and Sophmore years. I was not that big and sort of went into a shell and became very quiet. As a freshman, I remember being picked on by the bigger kids in the upper classes. I still loved sports so I went out for track because they didn’t have cuts. I was an average runner so I tried pole vaulting which was a mistake. I wasn’t strong enough to pull myself up. I ran track through my junior year, not because I loved it, but because I wanted to do a least one high school sport. I quit my senior year because I wanted to work and make money. The only other sport I did during those years was skiing. I actually started in 8th grade by joining the ski club. I remember one time when I was learning to ski, I was on a ski chair lift and my ski got caught on a snowbank. The force pulled me right off the lift and I fell in the snow. The lift operator stopped the lift and cursed at me, and my friends laughed at me. It didn’t deter me from continuing and skiing became a nice outlet even into my adult years.
During my High School years, the focus of my social life was mostly my neighborhood friends, with one exception, my friend Joe Taraska who lived in Lake Hopatcong. His mom and my Mom were friends when they were young. I was introduced to Joe around my 8th grade year, and stayed friends throughout high school and still are friends today, though he lives in Tennessee. When I think about it, the most memorable times in my teen years were with Joe. His Mom went to a big church in Randolph called Bethlehem church. Though we did not go to church at all, I got involved with the Boys Brigade program which was similar to Boy Scouts. Joe and I would go every Friday night for a few years. They would play games, learn life skills, and teach about the Bible (more on this in my chapter “Finding Jesus”.) I have fond memories of those times. Not having a Father it gave me a chance to hang out with men who would guide us and teach us good godly principles. We would go on day hikes and sometimes weekend camp-outs. I remember one weekend in the winter, we stayed in a cabin up in NY State. There was snow all over the place and it was cold. We went sledding and cross country skiing through the woods. The leader was Bob Wood, who was a great guy and a father figure to all the boys. He would make us each eat a prune each morning. I hated them and could barely swallow one. I always wondered why he had us do that. Years later when I saw him I asked him that question. He said it was to keep us regular -he didn’t want to deal with any boys who were constipated on the camp-out – haha. Those times would be the foundation of what would happen to me later in life, but I was about to begin another darker chapter in my life. At about 16 both Joe and I apparently outgrew those outings and stopped going. We started to fool a bit more with drinking, parties, and girls. I loved to go to Hopatcong and visit Joe. His Mom like my mom would let us do what we wanted. He lived by the lake and his one friend had a boat. He would take us out on the boat and we would go over to Bertrands Island which was an amusement park, where we would hang out. Though Joe and I didn’t get into any big trouble we did press the boundaries a bit. There are 2 incidences I can remember that stand out. We once went into a restaurant where they advertised all you could eat, (I think it was pancakes). After the first couple of helpings, we asked for more and the owner said no because we had enough. We both got ticked off and decided when we had the chance we would run out without paying, which we did. The other incident was one I still to this day think about, as it could have ended tragically. We went to one of Joe’s friend’s house whose parents were away for the weekend. His friend had some marijuana. I stayed away from that stuff to that point. Marijuana was popular among teens back then but I had never tried it. For some reason that night I gave in and we spent the next few hours smoking pot. At one point in the evening, Joe comes downstairs with a shotgun and points the gun at both me and his friend and says “bang, bang” and started to laugh (you laugh a lot when you’re high, also eat a lot too). His friend yells at Joe to put the gun back. Joe goes back upstairs and within a minute we both hear “BOOM”. We both run upstairs, there is Joe sitting with a surprised look on his face. The gun had been loaded, and Joe blew a hole right through his friend’s wall. You could see through to the outside. The kid told us both to leave and I never saw the kid again. Apparently, he had to call his brother-in-law to come to fix the hole and hide it from his parents. To this day you can still see from the outside of that house the patched up hole. When I go by that house I am reminded how God again came to my rescue and saved me from tragedy, because he had a plan.
My senior year of high school was the best of my school years. It all started a bit strange and unsure of where I would spend my last year in high school. In 1974, my Mom met a man she would soon marry. After being a widow for almost 5 years, she met Steve France who was the Fire Chief of Morristown. I was happy for her and liked Steve. They quickly got married in February of 1974 when I was a junior. The only problem was we lived in Randolph and he and his kids (4 of them – Teddy, Victor, Yvonne, Bernice) lived in Morristown. My mom would spend weekends in Morristown while Joanne and I would stay in Randolph. My Mom tells us that she was going to sell her home that summer (1974), and we were all moving in with them in Morristown. One problem, I was going into my senior year and didn’t want to go to Morristown High School. Morristown for us Randolph kids was a scary place. It was big and had a lot of black kids, which to this point in my life was still something I was not used to. Even my friends said to me in concern”you are moving to Morristown?” I didn’t deem myself prejudice, but at this point in my life I had been around mostly white kids (we had one black kid in our high school). That school year 1974, they even had race riots at Morristown High School, and we heard all about them. Not only were we going to move to Morristown, but Steve and his kids lived right across the street from the high school. I asked my Mom if there was any way I could continue to go to Randolph High School to finish my senior year but live in Morristown. It seemed impossible since I didn’t have my license (turned 17 in November 1974) and she couldn’t run me back in forth every day from Morristown. It seemed like I was going to have to go through another life change, another big move in my senior year. Well, to my surprise it all worked out. My friend’s parents, (Terry & Kelly Straub), came through. They told my Mom I could live with them for the first 3 months until I got my license and then I could drive myself back and forth to school from Morristown. The Randolph school board allowed it and that September I moved in with the Straubs. I am forever grateful to them as taken on another teen boy (they had 3 boys, Terry, Kelly and Barry – all in high school) wasn’t easy but those 3 months living with them was a blessing and fun. I moved back to Morristown to live that December when I got my license. The house was crowded with Steve, my mom and 7 kids (Teddy moved out when we all moved in). It was fun living there, but not without its challenges – we were nothing like the Brady Bunch – but I got along with everyone (can’t say the same about my sister Joanne). Since Steve was a fireman – it meant an active house full of people and lots of drinking. I feel I adjusted well to my new surroundings I guess because I spent most of my time in Randolph.
My senior year was great because I had a shortened schedule. I knew I was not going to college so went on the work-study program – I only needed 3 classes, Math, English, and Gym to graduate, (I also took a photography class). I went to school 1/2 day and worked at a Gas station in Randolph 3 days a week. Since I had no car ( first 3 months of school) and got out of school at 12:00 noon – I hitchhiked home to the Straub’s house every day and to work through December when I moved back to Morristown for the remainder of the school year. Hitch-hiking back in those days was no big deal as I had been doing it for years with my friends before we got cars. We would often hitchhike with a few of us. One of us would stand out in the road and hitchhike and the others would hide behind a bush. When the car stopped, we would jump out. Sometimes the driver would laugh and let us all in and other times drivers would get ticked and speed off. It was a way many young people would get around back then and I never felt threatened or afraid.
With my new found freedom ( a car) I pretty much was on my own and spent most my time hanging out in Randolph. That year I started to hang out with a few new friends: John Dufus, Gary Resnick, and Dave Akromas. Myself, John and Gary spent a lot of time together, mostly drinking and going to parties. I look back and can’t believe how many times we drove while drinking. I was only 17 but John was 18 (drinking age back then) and would often get us the alcohol we needed. We would often drive up to Hopatcong to party with Joe and his friends as well as go to parties in Randolph. Once during a snowstorm, we took off for Pennsylvania with a case of beer in our car to go skiing. I had a great car, a Ford 8 cylinder I nicknamed “Bessy”, but it was not good in the snow. We couldn’t get up the hill close to the ski resort because of the snow. We didn’t want to go home but didn’t know what to do. I remembered that Mark’s parents farmhouse was only a few miles away so we headed for it, snow and all. Of course, it was empty but we got in through a window. We sat for a couple hours, drinking beer and going out in the snow shooting some shotguns we found in the house. I started to feel bad about being there and we left. On the way home for some reason, we stopped at a bowling alley in Pennsylvania. The place was open but completely empty, I guess because of the snow. The only ones in the alley were us three and three other teen girls. We started talking with them and we bowled a few games with them. We talked about getting together with them later back at Mark’s house again but we suddenly realized we did not have enough money to pay for the games. So we devised a plan: I would go out and get the car and John and Gary would run out and we would speed off. John and Gary came running out and jumped in the car and we sped away with the bowling alley manager running through the parking lot trying to chase us. On the way home because of the snow coming down hard and I guess a few beers in me, we crashed into a snowbank. I couldn’t get the car out and we were stuck. I was expecting the police to come by and arrest us not only for underage drinking but also for running out of the bowling alley without paying. All of a sudden a tow truck heading for another call came by and helped us out and somehow we all made it home safely.
Dave Akromas was another close friend of mine. I had known Dave for a few years. He played on the Randolph Bulldogs together and was part of the neighborhood gang that we competed against in sports. I didn’t hang with Dave much to that point but we started to hang out during my Senior year. Dave was a drummer and also what we called back then a”pot-head”. I had a drum set, though I had stopped playing and because of that, we had a common interest. Dave mostly hung with the “pot-heads” in school and was really into that scene. I started to get more into that “pot” scene during that time going with Dave to “pot” parties with a kid named Scott McGill. One night after smoking, we were driving back to Morristown and his car tire became flat. We pulled over to change the tire and all of a sudden a police car pulled over with his lights on. I was scared to death and thought for sure he would arrest us. Luckily, he didn’t get to close to us but just stood there with his flashlight on us and Dave’s car as Dave changed the tire. We then got in Dave’s car and drove away. I think after that I stopped going to those types of parties. Dave and I remained friends but didn’t hang out as much. He would later be part of two key events in my life – “Navy and Finding Jesus” which I cover in two later chapters. I look back on those incidences and it’s amazing nothing bad happened. We were often foolish and drove drunk or high. Back then nobody wore seat belts. Some kids lost their lives because of it, a few from Randolph High School. God surely was good to me and spared me (and my Mom) from those tragic events that affected other teens and their families.
LIFE TAKES ANOTHER UNEXPECTED TURN
Well, my senior year was moving quickly. The year was 1975, the last part of my senior year. Kids were starting to look ahead to colleges. I knew I wasn’t going that route for two reasons: I didn’t like school, and my Mom had very little money. For me to try the college route was only a waste of my time and her money. I liked photography as I took a course in my senior year and enjoyed it. My grandfather, (Pop-Pop), even built me a darkroom in his basement. I thought maybe I would try some sort of photography school. Then at the beginning of 1975, our High School had a career day that would change my life. I remember most kids signed up for 2 seminars: Mortician and Secret Service, and I did the same. I think for most of us we just wanted to see what a Mortician would say – hey maybe he would show us pictures of dead bodies but the seminar was a waste. I remember loving the Secret Service seminar, thinking it would be exciting to do something like that and travel around the world. I was ready to get out of NJ and see more of the world. Growing up not many families traveled a lot and my whole life was spent in one area, the Northeast, (NJ and Connecticut). Seeing the world captured my interest. So when I walked down the hall and saw the Navy table I sat down and started to listen to the recruiter talk. He talked about traveling around the world and showed pictures of far off places I only read about. Within 5 minutes I was convinced that was the direction I was going. I went home and told my mother (she wasn’t happy) and within a few days headed up to the Navy recruiting office in Morristown. I was hoping to do something with photography in the Navy which he agreed was a good possibility. He scheduled me to take a test that I took that would help place me in a career. I did well on the test, but didn’t get a high enough score for photography school as he said due to its popularity was hard to get into, (don’t know if he was telling the truth). He then told me about a job called “Communication Technician”. He said it was a top-secret field and sort of described it as a James Bond type of job. Traveling around, wearing plain clothes. I would be like a “spy” listening in to other countries’ communications for top-secret information to share with our government. Sounded cool to me so I asked, ” Where do I sign up?” I signed up for the 6-month delayed enlistment program that would guarantee me everything I wanted, a job, school, and where I would do my boot camp, Orlando, Fla. Since I was only 17 at the time, I had to have my mother come and sign a waiver for me which she reluctantly did, at my Step-father Steve’s urging. Right after that Dave Akromas found out what I did and he did the same thing. We signed up for the buddy program and would be going off to boot camp together in 6 months – October 1975. With my future intact, not having to go away for another 6 months, all I had to do was finish high school and hang out and party for the summer with my buddies since none of us had a girlfriend to tie us down. The rest of my senior year was set – or I thought. All that was about to change.
MEETING THE MOST IMPORTANT PERSON IN MY LIFE
For my entire high school years, I never went steady with any girl. There was plenty I liked and hung out with but never to the point where we dated. With the Navy only 6 months away, I didn’t expect that to change, but it did. At the end of May, they always had a senior cut day. It was a day that seniors would traditionally head for the shore and hang out for the day. I went with Gary and John to meet a few of Gary’s friends. In that group of friends was a girl named June Poulos. She had already graduated and was in her first year of college – she was in my sister’s class of 1974. She took the day off to join this group of friends Gary hung out with: Sam, Glenn, Janice, Chuck, and a few others, all who were in my grade. I knew who they were but didn’t hang with them much to that point. I quickly became attracted to June, she was pretty and seemed like a fun outgoing person. I don’t remember much about that day besides all hanging at the beach, going in the water and playing football, (June played also), on the beach. Soon after that Gary’s friends became my new friends and June was part of that group. I started to have feelings for June which didn’t sit well with Gary as he also had a crush on her. Soon, June shared those same feelings and we started dating. For the entire summer of 1975 – we spent every day together. We hung out together, we did everything together – it was the best summer of our lives. Our many activities were drive-in movies, going to the shore, and just hanging out with friends. One of our favorite hangouts that summer seemed to be at a dance bar called Smiles in Parsippany. Disco was beginning to become the rage and we all got caught up in it. Since the drinking age was only 18, everyone we knew was going out to these dance bars, drinking and disco dancing. I was only 17 but since June and all my friends were 18 I never got carded. My sister Joanne and step-sister Bernice would often come with us, heck even at times my Mom (Mom-Mom) would join us. June and I got pretty good at disco dancing, doing dances like the bump and the hustle. During those disco days, Leisure suits and platform shoes became the style and yes I even started to dress that way, hah.
It was the best summer and June would actually keep an album recording everything we did together. She recorded each event with the date and event name. She pasted in items to remind us of each event, like movie and concert and event tickets, cards, restaurant business cards, anything she could find as a reminder of what we did together that summer. My family loved her and she loved being around them. I’m not sure how her mom and dad felt about me at first as we were out most of the time. I remember taking her to an all-day concert by my favorite rock and roll artist, Alice Cooper. The concert featured many bands with Alice Cooper as the main performer. The concert was named “Welcome to My Nightmare”. We stood in line all day drinking (many were smoking pot, June hated pot). Just as the concert was about to start it started to rain, really hard. The concert was postponed to the next day and we all went back. June told me her dad was not too happy with me. I think he thought I was a bad influence on June. Little did he know it was June that was becoming the grounding influence I needed. Her dad and I would become very close later in life, (see chapter “Most Influential Men in My Life”). Life was great and for the first time in my life, I was falling in love. I didn’t see it coming, didn’t expect it – heck the Navy was right around the corner and I couldn’t get out of that commitment as I already signed on the dotted line. So with that reality just ahead of us we wanted to spend every moment together – because who knew what was in store in the future as I would be gone for 4 years. The summer ended and there were many sad goodbyes as we were graduating and all going off to start new chapters in our lives. Many going on to college and life would change for us all. The hit song that summer that sort of captured what we were all going through was by Seals and Crofts “We May Never Pass This Way Again”, as many of us have lost touch throughout the years.
Well, summer turned into fall and the reality of me going away was starting to hit both June and I. We even started talking about the future, marriage, spending our lives together (hard to believe just 6 months earlier I didn’t even know June). We were determined to make the whole thing work, despite distance and time, (4 years is a long time). She would go to school and work, I would do the Navy thing, get out and we would continue where we left off. Finally, time was getting close to me leaving. I remember sitting up at nights watching every movie I could find that had a Navy theme. I was excited but sad to be leaving June and my family. Everyone gave me a going-away party and presented me with a plaque with a Navy emblem and the date 1975 – (to be determined). I remember the day I left. June slept over at my house downstairs on the couch. I got up and showered, crying in the shower. I went downstairs, June and my Mom both had red eyes from crying. It was a short trip to the train station in Morristown that would take me to Newark where I would be sworn in then get on another train to Orlando, Fla. As the train was approaching I hugged my Mom who was crying, shook Steve’s hand then turned to June. As she was crying she hands me a letter she wrote to me to read on the train. We kissed goodbye. The train stops and out jumps Dave Akromas,(he had gotten on in Dover), all excited and he yells “All Aboard for the Navy – yahoo!!” We all laughed. He was a goofy kid and often made people laugh – it was a good moment that broke the tension. I waved goodbye and off I went. Our friend Scott McGill, came along for the ride to Newark with us just to see us off. Funny, but years later all three of us would have the same life-changing experience – SEE FINDING JESUS. With my High School years now behind it was off to a new chapter – THE NAVY YEARS.
Joyce and I found an apartment in Brown’s Addition and I started looking for a job, again. That Thanksgiving Mom came down with Pancreatic Cancer, so I was spending a lot of time in Sequim helping Pop until she passed away in January of 1990. In a short time we also lost Oscar and Uncle Alva. I returned to Spokane and a position in Customer Service with Northwest Telecommunications became available. Really thought that this was going to be my next retirement job. Shortly after starting work, our lease on the apartment was coming up for renewal with a substantial increase in rent. We had been complaining about a noisy young man that had won an insurance case and was loaded, living above us. Management wouldn’t do anything about him, so we decided to look for another place and found a duplex on 15th. While there I was a part time maintenance man for the complex, three duplexes together. Joyce and I had discussed the possibility of purchasing the complex but decided to look around. That’s when we bought the house on 29 E. 39th. Shortly after, my dream of Northwest Telco being my last job, took a turn. LDDS purchased NWT and they started letting people go. I stayed on a while as a customer service representative but their service wasn’t the same as before and I quit. It didn’t take long, Sprint was opening a Cell Phone Store. I interviewed and was hired. During the interview they actually encouraged me to apply for manager but I didn’t feel comfortable, not knowing anything about retail. Sprint sounded like an ideal company. They promised to be very employee and customer oriented. For nine weeks we were flown to Dallas Texas for classes during the week at the Delta Airlines campus and home on weekends. One weekend, I transferred my round trip ticket to Joyce and she flew down for the weekend. Spokane had an ice storm while I was home from training and we lost power. The neighbors tree actually lost a limb that pulled the cable from our house. We ended up getting a room at Inn at the Park. I had to fly back to school and Joe stayed with Joyce until electricity was restored to his house. I came home later and arranged to have power reconnected to the house. When school was completed, we returned home and got our store opened. It was the first Sprint store to open. The only problem working at a retail store was not getting our work schedule for the week until the Friday before. I made a number of suggestions to improve that but they got turned down and the promises they made in the beginning went by the wayside. Sprint needed money, so the employee support and customer service got lost. The store had been opened about a year and Sprint sold the building. A number of us, the higher paid ones, were let go. I was still in contact with some of the employees working there and one of the women told me of an incident that happened when she was on a business trip with the District Manager and one of the commercial salesmen. I recommended she take it to HR and make a complaint. I was contacted by an investigator and she won her sexual harassment suit. I did send out more resumes. After most of the interviews I went on, I was usually told I was overqualified for the position. I pretty much gave up.
Mike’s family moved in with us and lived in the basement for a while. It was actually pretty fun, we had the kids visiting upstairs quite often. I started getting into meditation and a group I was with, the leader was a Native American. It was an interesting group, one of the participants claimed to be able to read past lives and it turned out I had been an Indian horse trader and she had been my daughter. Another interesting episode that took place was when our leader brought her Peruvian Whistles to a gathering. They were placed in the middle of a circle we formed, and if you got the urge, you picked one up and blew into it. Soon you could hear music and singing and weird things and visions started happening. Our leader taught Reiki and I eventually took classes and got my certificate. Thinking about opening a Reiki business, I learned you have to be a nurse, a licensed massage therapist or a minister to touch someone. Taking the weekend, on line test to be a minister didn’t appeal to me so I decided to become a massage therapist and signed up at Noetic School of Massage. To start classes you had to have a massage and I got my first at age 63. I really enjoyed the classes and working with the other students. One of our classes was a trip to WSU, where we studied cadavers. Another was to EWU, offering free massages to students. On the way back from Cheney, one of the massage tables blew out of the back of our instructors pickup. Another car of student and I stopped, it was dark, and one of the students was going to go out into the middle of the road to get the table and I pulled her back, just as an eighteen wheeler came along and hit it. There was nothing to pick up after that. Close to graduation we went out to a local ranch for a weekend. One of the students was an Iroquois Indian from Canada. We had a ceremony out by a bon fire and she gave everyone an Indian name. Mine was Brave Buffalo, Ohitika-Tantanka. After graduation I set up an office at home, Stone Shadow Massage, and at a local tanning salon. I wanted to have more available for mu clients. A woman I had met, Jenny Ray, was giving a class on hot stone massage up in Canada and I signed up. She is Native American, Sioux, and started each day with ceremony of stone pipe outside to the four directions and sagging and drumming indoors. The class lasted two weekends and at the end she had a naming ceremony and gave me Sacred Buffalo, Wakan-Tantanka. Since I was given two names I can combine them, Brave-Sacred-Buffalo, or, Ohitika-a’-Wakan-Tantanka. I had been doing massages a few months and injured by rotator cuff and had to have surgery. Somehow during the surgery nerves were injured in my right arm and I ended up shutting down my massage office.
Around 2004, Mike and the kids moved back in to the basement. It was fun having the kids in the house again. Then around 2006, I ended up in the hospital with walking pneumonia and a bleeding ulcer. Pop had found a girl friend, Thelma, when he was attending an annual BBQ in Anacortes, the trucking he had worked had. She was from Houston Texas and Pop drove down to be with her in his motorhome. She didn’t like motorhomes so Pop sold it down there. A few weeks later, there is a knock on our front and there is Pop. He had had an argument with Thelma and moved out. We set him up in the front bedroom. A couple of months later, took off back to Houston. He spent a couple of months there and came back to Spokane. We shifted things around again. After a few calls, back down he goes. A couple times, I tried to get him to just get a motel for a few days. His excuse, “You can’t argue with those damn Texans!” I’m not sure how many times he disrupted our lives moving in and out. But the last time we said no. When he came back we told him he had to find another place to live. He and I found a retirement home about a mile from where we lived. He wanted a motorized two wheel scooter that you stand on for going around the retirement home but they said know. So I went on line and found him a three wheeler that he really liked. He lived there for about three months or so and asked if he could come live with us and we relented. Life slowed down. Pop didn’t like to travel very far because he wasn’t sure we would be close enough for him to find a bathroom when he needed one. Joyce and I were able to take some trips but didn’t make any extended ones. Pop wanted to take a cruise and we had actually purchased an Alaska cruise but for some reason Pop changed his mind. It was a good thing I had got the insurance. Another time, Pop and I were going to take a trip down to California, Nevada, and circle on up back to Washington and he back out. Around June or July of 2011, Mike and Nadine purchased the hotel in Kendrick and it gave us a place to go away from Spokane. It was after Halloween that year we set up a bedroom in, what we called, the white room. Later when the apartment they had been renting out emptied, we bought it.