There are two types of folks whose years are mounting too quickly, at least that’s my belief.
Both my late grandfathers were early risers. I know that from the tales they told. My mother, too, was out of bed and ready to face the day with the first rays of sunshine.
I’ve become the antithesis of the early risers in my family, but it wasn’t always that way. I was known to be the first one in the office every morning and rarely did I hit the morning shower with the sun already up in the east. Often, I was on the road to work in the early-morning darkness.
Retirement, however, has changed all that. I like to sleep as long as my aching old bones will allow.
And, so it was one morning last week when the ringing telephone woke me abruptly. At first, I was a little annoyed as my wife conversed with the caller, but as I heard one side of the conversation I soon figured out that the call was for me.
My wife handed me the phone and I offered a sleepy “hello” to whomever it was on the other end.
The responding, “Hey, Bill, you’ll never guess who this is,” proved only partially true. The accent told me immediately that this call was from somewhere on the east coast of America where accents are inescapably easy to detect. The rest, though, was prophetic. I had no idea who’d be calling me from that far away.
“It’s Rich Lindenmuth,” came the quick response to my query. It took a moment for that to sink in, but I was absolutely floored in astonishment. Rich Lindenmuth was my Army buddy back in 1965 when we were both stationed at Fort Gordon, Ga., just a stone’s throw from the legendary golf course that hosts The Masters each spring. Fifty-one years had passed since Rich and I served in the Army together, although we both admittedly spent most of our time trying to figure out ways to avoid the tedium of our military service.
Briefly, we were both assigned to the headquarters company of a Civil Affairs Group at Fort Gordon. Also in the group were Company A and Company B, each of which trained soldiers for service living with the Montagnard’s – the mountain people of Vietnam. Obviously, those trainees were headed off to perilous service during America’s war in that far-away country and we didn’t want to make any friendships with soldiers we feared were headed toward possible doom.
Headquarters Company included a hodgepodge of soldiers – those who published a mimeographed company “newspaper,” a mail clerk, a “fireman” whose duty it was to stoke the furnaces with coal during the short winter months, and various other jobs that kept the company going on a day-to-day basis. I was a pitcher on the Fort Gordon baseball team and was also serving as sports editor for the mimeographed paper, the “CA Spotlight.” Rich was the company mailman; hence he was assigned a three-quarter ton truck.
We seemed to connect from the day I arrived at Fort Gordon in April of 1966. Hour after hour, we’d toss a football around behind the barracks, all the while talking about the girl we left back home, our plans after the military was behind us, the tasteless Army food served daily in the mess hall, and music.
Music was something we both loved. I told Rich about my many travels around the Midwest to see The Beach Boys. He talked of the great Philadelphia groups and American Bandstand.
The big thing about Rich and I was this: we both had an unnatural fear of snakes, and there were plenty of them in that part of the U.S. Copperheads were all over the place. Every time our company went on a bivouac – and there were plenty of those overnight camping excursions – Rich and I would dutifully pitch our pup tent (each of us carried half a tent, you see) on the ground near his three-quarter ton mail truck. As soon as it was time, we’d remove our air mattresses from the two-man tent and place them in the back of his three-quarter ton truck. We’d sleep there, away from the snakes we feared.
We talked about the many times we spent together before I was shipped to Germany in early December of that same year. We’d known each other less than a year, but we’d become close friends.
I’d found Rich more than 25 years ago by contacting the national headquarters of the Methodist Church. Rich’s dad had been a Methodist minister and I discovered him living in the Pocono Mountains; he, in turn, had told me how to find Rich. I did and we exchanged a few letters back then.
But, we lost contact until he discovered my email address through a Google search. We’d had a few contacts via computer in recent weeks, but his phone call was a total shock.
He’s retired now, too, and enjoying his grandchildren. That rings true on this end, as well.
We could have visited for several hours last week. But, we finally hung up with a vow to, one day, meet again. I hope that day comes soon.
I met thousands of young men, like me, serving in the Military in the 1960s. Few, though, left any lasting impressions. Rich is the exception — we had so much in common that it seems we created a bond that’s lasted more than half a century.
Bill Haglund is a retired writer for the Boone News-Republican and Dallas County News and can be reached at email@example.com.