I decided last year that I was giving up annual New Year’s resolutions.
That’s why last week’s column shied completely away from such folly.
For years, I’d voice things that I wanted to accomplish, but would forget my vows almost before I’d fallen asleep that same day.
Things have a way of coming back at you. Sometimes they come back at you with a force like being smacked in the head with a baseball bat.
I’ve written before about an old Army buddy of mine. I wrote that I considered him the most unusual person I’d ever met – he’d often sit at his desk, legs intertwined behind his neck, while typing a story for our 4th Armored Division bi-weekly newspaper “The Rolling Review,” which was distributed to thousands of soldiers in Germany.
We were a small group, tight-knit when it came to soldiers of the 1960s. We lived together – moved as a unit a few times because we were “misfits” when it came right down to it. We were part of a “sub-division” headquarters unit. You see, the division was perhaps the largest, size-wise, of all Army divisions in Germany, spread out from a place called Goppingen then eastward to the Czechoslovakian border and north along the East German border to a small town called Bamberg.
Division headquarters were in Goppingen, so a ”sub-division” headquarters was established at a place called Monteith Barracks at Furth, Germany, a suburb of Nuremburg. Those of us based in Furth were the Army’s “misfits” in the 4th Armored Division. We were housed wherever space could be found and we were assigned to a Mess Hall of one of the large divisions based there.
And, we weren’t liked much.
When we went through the mess line, food was pretty much thrown on our plates (sometimes missing), and we were given unusually small portions. The reason was simple: we didn’t help pay for the civilian folks who worked there.
So, we decided we’d eat our meals every day at the PX – Post Exchange. We’d simply take our small wages and use part of them to eat. It was better than having food tossed at us every mealtime.
I was part of the division’s PIO unit – the Public Information Office. Also based there was a Finance Office and a Judge Advocate General office. Soldiers in those units were just as out-cast as were we in the PIO office.
Through the years, I’ve been able to reconnect with some of the soldiers I knew a half-century ago.
We were the last generation of Americans who faced the draft. With the war in Southeast Asia waged for whatever reason, we all dreaded the weekly levies that were posted on company bulletin boards around the world. If your name was posted on one of those levies it meant only one thing – the Army needed you in Southeast Asia.
During my service, from 1965 until 1968, I met many young men who became friends. During basic training it was Bobby Henderson of Shawnee Mission, Kansas. I have no idea what happened to Bobby after he got out of the service, but I sure leaned on him during the tough times and I hope I gave him comfort, too.
At Fort Gordon, Ga., my best friend was Richard “Rich” Lindenmuth of Philadelphia, the son of a Methodist minister. Rich and I have once again become internet friends and we’ve also made plans to visit once again in the near future. He lives in a New Jersey suburb of Philadelphia today.
In Germany, as I said, I was part of a small “sub-division” headquarters unit. We printed our newspaper at the local daily paper, the “Abendzeitung”, in downtown Nurnberg. That’s where I met some great German friends with whom I’ve stayed in contact for the past half century.
But, those Army friends – all of us cast in Army roles that none of us really wanted – have also become an integral part of my adult life. There was editor John Moon of Minneapolis, writers Ben Doddema of Michigan, Doug Nesbitt of Indianapolis, Rick Staubach of New Jersey (yes, a second cousin of Roger Staubach), and Gardner Dozois, a native of Salem, Mass. I was the sports editor and also drew the bi-weekly cartoons.
I’ve kept in contact with several of them through the years, Recently, I’ve become friends on Facebook with several others. There was the late Pete Maestre, Wally Sinclair (who replaced me as the newspaper cartoonist) from Maine and Sal Romano, who worked in the division finance office.
Earlier, I mentioned Gardner. He’s the most prolific writer I’ve ever known. He authored more than a hundred books and many, many more short stories. One of his short stories was published in Playboy magazine – it was as weird as Gardner. Basically, it told of two men running for cover and hiding under a safe roof as it poured some small animal from the sky (was it goats? Sheep?). The punch line was that when it stopped dropping small animals from the sky, the two friends emerged and one of them said, “Well, at least it’s not pouring cats and dogs.”
That was Gardner. His mind was as weird as he was. He spent years as the editor of Asimov’s “Worlds of If” magazine before retiring to Philadelphia.
For some time now, my wife Judy and I have planned to travel east, How wonderful it would be to re-unite with two old Army pals living there. I’d like my wife to meet them, too – Rich Lindenmuth and Gardner Dozois.
I noticed some time ago that Gardner had not posted anything on Facebook. But, the same day I planned to write him and ask why, I got a message from Sal Romano. He wanted to know if I’d heard that Gardner Dozois had passed away – he saw it in an east coast publication.
I’m 75 years old now, certainly in my final years. My old friends are the same age, give or take a few birthdays.
We’re now a whole generation of American men, once young, who answered the call of duty when the nation called. I didn’t like those days when I lived them. I cherish those memories now.
It’s time to stop dreaming of reuniting with them; it’s time to start doing it.
Bill Haglund is a retired writer for the Boone News Republican and Dallas County News. He can be reached at Bhaglund13@msn.com.