Memorial Day – Remembering “Uncle Norm”

If we have learned anything through this Covid-19 experience, it is that we never know what tomorrow brings. The phrase “you only live once” trivializes the importance of “taking care of business” while we still have time. I realized that I haven’t done proper estate planning (made a will, looked at all contingincies or “what ifs”, etc). Those I will take care of later this weekend. But first, I have decided to write this tribute to my favorite war hero, US Army PFC Norman Davies, or known to all of us as “Uncle Norm”. Uncle Norm passed away in late June 2019 at the age of 98 years old, less than 2 weeks before a huge birthday celebration had been planned by the Detroit Tigers honoring our hero.

I would like to start this tribute by posting the contents of an email that I wrote to the Detroit Tigers organization in February of 2019 about Uncle Norm. The email was entitled “Subject: Introducing PFC Norman Davies WWII Hero on July 7, 2019”. It was written to Brandon Scherzer (yes a relative former Tiger great pitcher, Matt Scherzer). The email went like this:

“Dear Brandon,

Thank you for encouraging me to write to you in hopes of recognizing my “Uncle Norm” at the Tigers/Red Sox game on Sunday, July 7, 2019. I just got off the phone with him and he was ecstatic at the thought of 1) even going to a Tigers game, and 2) being recognized BY the Detroit Tigers and fans for his service. I am also thankful that you and I talked this afternoon as it prompted my phone call to Uncle Norm where I gained insights that were new to me!
Norman Davies (Private First Class (PFC) Davies), was born on May 21, 1921,  PFC Davies joined the US army at the age of 18 and became trained as an infantry rifleman (today he would be classified as an 11B or “Eleven Bravo”). After his basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky he was assigned to an infantry company in the famed 4th Armor Division led by General George S Patton. While training stateside prior to his overseas deployment he personally remembers General Patton observing training  and remembers him as a “hard ass”. Nonetheless, he told me that he has a picture of General Patton hanging on a wall in his house in Livonia, Michigan to this day. He commented on the phone to me this evening that General Patton was the kind of person that you have a “love/hate” relationship with. He also remarked candidly that “that General owed those boys who died a lot as we took a lot of casualties”.
PFC Davies deployed to Europe (England) on New Years Eve 1942. He and his fellow soldiers trained in England for almost 17 months until the fateful Normandy Invasion of June 1944. PFC Davies survived the initial invasion and was part of the force which began advancing only to be confronted with the challenges of fighting in the “hedgerow region” of Normandy.  About three weeks after D-Day (June 6, 1944), PFC Davies found himself in a close range gunfight  with several German soldiers. He was an excellent shooter and managed to “take care of” a few Nazi soldiers, but during his fateful hour, his rifle jammed, costing him several seconds of time. He attempted to clear the chamber of his rifle and reload, but he hadn’t enough time.  Not wanting to stand up and run to a fall back position (standing up would have exposed his entire body to the enemy), he attempted to low crawl back to the hedgerows and pass through to the other side.  He found an opening and started to go through, leaving his lower body exposed perpendicular to the hedgerow. He ran out of time and was hit by a spray of German bullets just above his right knee. 
In those days, soldiers rarely survived such a wound. Fortunately, his fellow soldiers dragged this now 21 year old soldier to safety where the medics stopped the bleeding and he was sent back to England where they amputated his right leg just above the knee.
PFC Davies was later discharged from the US Army and soon thereafter obtained full time employment at Ford Motor Company as a calligraphist. Before computers were available, Uncle Norm was called upon during his career with Ford to hand draw signs and important invitations for the “brass” at Ford. He loved his days at Ford, and to this day is thankful for having had the opportunity to fight for our nation’s freedom.
My Uncle Norm is also quite a comedian.  He is the life of every party, and loves people. He is currently part owner of the North Center Brewing Company in Northville, Michigan. 
I feel obliged to tell one of the funniest stories ever about Uncle Norm which just happens to intersect with my own army career.
I’ll digress for a moment to bring us to the funny moment…I graduated from Southfield High School in 1972 and was the first Southfield High alum to actually graduate from West Point which I did in 1976.  After attending artillery officer training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma I was assigned to an artillery unit in, guess where, West Germany.
Thirty four years after being wounded in France, Uncle Norm plus many more relatives flew to Europe from Detroit to join me on a three week vacation in Europe. Uncle Norm had only been to Europe once before, and it had been no vacation. I will never forget seeing Uncle Norm after he got off the plane in Frankfurt, West Germany.  As he approached me in the airport, he said (in a very comical tone of voice), “Where’s that Nazi bastard, I’ll get him now!!!” We all cracked up laughing and that began a great vacation for us all.
I was fortunate that my 23 year career in the army did not require me to sacrifice like my Uncle Norm. I’ll end on a slightly humorous note and tell you that I am a real live “Colonel Sanders”.  I retired from the US Army in 2001 as a lieutenant colonel and my last name is Sanders, so there you have it.!
So, why July 7?. I now live with my wife near Philadelphia and will be driving to Detroit to spend one week with Uncle Norm from July 6 – July 12, 2019. He is wheel chair bound, will soon be 98 years old, and that is the only date that we can actually come to a game together.
I would like to recreate a memory of a day in 1968, September 1 to be exact, when Uncle Norm, his son Jeff Davies, me, and my dad (now deceased) watched the Tigers beat the Baltimore Orioles in the rubber game of a three game series at Tiger Stadium.  We will never forget the moment in the top of the third when Oriole Boog Powell laced a bullet of a line drive straight back to pitcher Denny McLain who turned and fired back to shortstop for a double play, and then a bullet throw to Norm Cash at first base for a TRIPLE PLAY. We all screamed so loud and we could not hear anything!  I personally will never forget watching Norm Cash jumping up and down with fists clenched after catching the throw completing the triple play!
I want to thank you for reading this message and I hope that we can do something to recognize my “Uncle Norm” at the Tigers/Red Sox game on Sunday, July 7, 2019. I know that three of the four who attended the Sep 1, 1968 game will be present, with my dad watching from above) and can’t wait to enjoy a home Tigers game one more time with my hero, my Uncle Norm. I have a feeling that this will be my last chance.
Thank you, 
And GO TIGERS GO!!! “

Later in the Spring we decided that the best tribute would be a stadium scoreboard announcement. Prior to Uncle Norm’s passing, the Tigers were going to post the following in the scoreboard (paper copy of my original message):

Originally Planned Scoreboard Announcement

Uncle Norm wasn’t totally comfortable with being called a hero. As a matter of fact, through the later days of Spring I remember him consistently asking me about the July 7 date and that he wasn’t sure he would be able to go. I showed him the words that we had planned on posting on the scoreboard and he specifically had reservations about being singled out as a hero. “I was only doing my job, like everyone else” he would state over and over. He also said words to the effect of “those kids in the stadium don’t have a clue that I was just a normal guy, not a hero.” I finally had to “pull rank” (in a joking manner of course) by saying, “Listen to me PFC Davies, I am a colonel giving you a direct verbal order. When that announcement goes up on the scoreboard, you will wave to the thousands of adoring fans out there. They all need something and someone to believe in. This will be your final patriotic act, do you understand me Private Davies?”. From the greatest generation, there was no way he could disobey a direct verbal order of an officer! He responded with an exagerated salute and comment “YES SIR!!!”

I guess that both Uncle Norm and I knew that his days on earth were winding down. My February email to the Tigers citing the thought that this would be our last chance to see the Tigers live along with Uncle Norms doubts about the July 7th date had me concerned. Thankfully, in April 2019, just two months before Uncle Norm passed, I drove out to visit him at his assisted living facility. It was the BEST day of my life with Uncle Norm by far and I want to share it with you.

After speaking on the phone with my Cousin Vanessa (Uncle Norm’s daughter) in mid-April, I decided that this old almost 98 year old army private was looking to get out of his last patriotic duty. (that’s a sarcastic statement that Uncle Norm would have approved of). Seriously, Vanessa’s concerns about her father’s health had me worried and I decided to pull the trigger on a visit to Motown. I arrived in Livonia atound 10am on Wednesday, April 24. Uncle Norm was happy to see me, as I was him!

Colonel Sanders and PFC Davies – April 24, 2019

Vanessa, who worked in the area, arrived shortly after me for a “care conference”. She had some concerns and specifically asked about when her father had last been bathed. The crew told her that they would ensure Uncle Norm had a bath after lunch. (It was almost lunch time by the end of the care conference). Vanessa had to go back to work, so I walked her out and purchased a guest meal ticket so I could eat with Uncle Norm. It was at this point that the magic of this day began….

I was surprised to learn that Uncle Norm was accostomed to eating lunch in his room, alone. But, since I had purchased a meal ticket for the lunch buffet, I wheeled him out into the dining room area so that we could share a table together. Also to my surprise was the fact that there were no spare tables left! We canvassed the dining room twice and no vacancies were to be found. And then, out of nowhere, an elderly man sitting at a table with his wife waved us over. There were two vacant seats and he was inviting us to sit with him. I wheeled Uncle Norm to the table and thanked the man for his generousity. His wife was incapacitated and every day he would visit her for lunch. She couldn’t talk or move much, but he, at 90 years old, visited her every day.

This gentleman happened to be from France, the Normandy region. His name was Pierre (no kidding). Pierre was 8 years younger than Uncle Norm which meant he was a French teenager (13) on D-Day when the Allies invaded Normandy. Pierre, upon learning of Uncle Norm’s “visit to Normandy” in 1944, insisted that Uncle Norm join him and his wife for lunch every day going forward! He later joined Uncle Norm and me outside for some fresh air.

Uncle Norm and Pierre, Perfect Together!

You recall that after lunch Uncle Norm was supposed to get his bath. It was the most beautiful day of the year outside and I mentioned that maybe he and I could take a little detour instead of heading back to his room after lunch. Also not one to follow all of the rules all of the time, he agreed so I wheeled him out to the front of the facility to catch a few rays together. After all, “after lunch” was subject to interpretation, and we would be able to gaurantee that his next bath would, in fact, be “after lunch!”.

Uncle Norm Catching Rays “After Lunch”

What a great time we had talking about things we had never discussed before (which I will take to my grave). Another veteran, this time a Vietnam Vet, also came outside with his grandson. We quickly engaged in an army conversation and before you know it, we had made more friends. For the Vietnam Vet, meeting Uncle Norm made his day.

WWII and Vietnam Vet Bonding

Uncle Norm, a lifetime Ford Motor employee, loved cars. One gentleman drove up in a beautiful car that really caught Uncle Norm’s eye. Uncle Norm struck up a conversation with the gentleman as did I. He called himself “Motown Mike”. I gave Mike my phone number and told him that if he ever came to Philadelphia to call me and I (as an Uber and Lyft driver) would pick him up at the airport and give him a free ride. He and I talked while Uncle Norm took advantge of the beautiful sunshine.

Motown Mike and his nice car (Uncle Norm catching rays in background)

Several other nice people passed by us as Uncle Norm and I sat outside together, and he greeted them all. At about 3:30pm, one of the health care staff came outside in a panic and said, “Mr. Davies, we have been looking all over for you! We promised your daughter that we would be giving you a bath after lunch!” I pulled the lady aside, mentioned that I was leaving to go back to Philadelphia the next morning, and that this might be my last chance to see my Uncle Norm. I gave her a wink and said something like, “It will still be “after lunch” when I leave, so are we good 😉 ?” . She gave me an understanding smile and retreated back into the building.

Vanessa came by after work and I told her about the afternoon. I told her that I had usurped the bath plans, and she understood. I told her that this was the best day I had ever spent with my hero, my Uncle Norm. We bade Uncle Norm farewell for the day and headed out. I felt completely satisfied with life, feeling that I had gotten closer to my hero than ever before. I love that man.

Less than two months after my visit with Uncle Norm I got “the call” from Vanessa. My hero had passed from this earth. I was heartbroken, yet still feeling that God had given us our day, April 24, 2019, that nobody could take away from us. We had purchased tickets to the Tigers game and decided that we would still honor our hero. I contacted The Tigers and modified the scoreboard message.

So the lesson today is this: Do not wait to act on your instincts. We actually DO only live once and you need to take advantage of opportunities when they arise! When I look back on my life there are a few things that I regret, but as Frank Sinatra sang in “My Way”, they are too few to mention. Go out and LIVE LIFE, we do not know what tomorrow brings!

My Uncle Norm was a very wise and funny man. Words cannot express how much we all miss him. I have literally hundreds of pictures and stories about Uncle Norm, but we will end this in a dignified way. On this Memorial Day weekend, I thank God for my Uncle Norm, along with all the other patriots who fought for our country.

Farewell Old Soldier, with love, your loving nephew, Joey

The Final Wave on the Best Day Together Ever

The Best Job in the US Army (for me) – Rutgers Army ROTC!

Last week I dabbled in my magic world of RUNet 2000 at Rutgers University (remember Mike Fox) and mentioned I would talk more about that great project and the great people I met working at Rutgers in a later post. This post is not that post.

There will be quite a few posts highlighting my days at Rutgers. We will talk about RUNet 2000, my friend Joe Percoco and his great “Midnight Confession” story which enabled me to be seen on camera with Jay Leno, my personal experiences with a great leader (and past and now current Rutgers head football coach) Greg Schiano, the great “secret fiber on the NJ Turpike” story, a personal story about a friendship I made with a great former midshipman and retired admiral, Joe Sestak, and much more.

However, today’s topic is the US Army ROTC Rutgers University Scarlet Knight Battalion. Say what you say? That’s right, Army ROTC. That’s where my 36 year affiliation with Rutgers University began, starting in 1984 through today as a retired Rutgers University employee. Not only that, today, May 19, 2020 is the commissioning ceremony for the current graduating class of army second lieuteneants from the Scarlet Knight Battalion. GO SCARLET KNIGHTS!!!

Unit Crest worn by cadre and cadets of the Rutgers University Army ROTC Battalion

Before I talk about my escapades as an Army ROTC instructor, it is important to understand how important the “team concept” is for those of us in the armed forces. At West Point, Army football is a BIG DEAL! And the Army/Navy football game is the BIGGEST DEAL!!! So, as a lead-in to my Army/Rutgers days, I just have to share a photo which I absolutely love because I was at this particular game when Army beat Navy a couple of years ago. In the army we train cadets and soldiers how important proper cameflouge techniques are, and Army certainly nailed it on this occasion!

So, I reported to Rutgers Army ROTC duty in New Brunswick, NJ for the first time in the summer of 1984. Most of the officers assigned to Army ROTC at Rutgers were down at Ft. Bragg, NC serving at the “advanced camp”. Advanced camp was a six week training program that brought cadets from the entire East Coast Army ROTC programs together where they took turns fulfilling field training leadership positions. For a cadet, doing well at advanced camp made a difference in the future assignment the cadet/future army officer would get upon commissioning and graduation. Cadets attended advanced camp during their final summer in college, just ten months before most of them either went into the army reserves or active duty.

How Rutgers cadets performed at advanced camp was also a reflection on how well the officers and non-commissioned assigned to Rutgers Army ROTC were doing their jobs. In other words, our report card as officers, or officer efficiency rating (OER) was tied to our cadets’ performances at advanced camp! Risky business! As Rutgers cadre, our challenge was to send all of our cadets down to Ft Bragg in hopes of them all gaining top leadership scores. Grading was done on a 5 point scale, with “5” being the best. There were very few scores of 5 or 4, while most cadets earned a “3” rating. Below a “3” meant you had serious leadership challenges. As a large university from the Northeast, Rutgers cadets were actually competing with cadets from the likes of Virginia Military Academy, the Citadel, along with all of the other East Coast schools from the South, where the weather was more conducive for summer training preparation and military was more encouraged by the local populace then it was in New Jersey. Recruiting and training, the two areas that officers assigned to Army ROTC battalions were evaluated by, was a tough road to hoe for us at Rutgers.

My first year at Rutgers Army ROTC was a challenging but rewarding one. I taught the MS IV class (seniors). These cadets had just returned from advanced camp and each had done their best. As the instructor for the senior class, my job wasn’t tied directly to what each of us officers were actually evaluated on….. making our recruiting numbers and school ranking vis-s-vis other schools at advanced camp. My biggest accomplishment my first year was becoming faculty advisor of one of Rutgers University’s premier “clubs”, the Rutgers University Queens Guard Precision Rifle Drill Team.

Rutgers University Queens Guard Presenting Arms in Edinburg, Scotland

As faculty advisor of the Queens Guard, I got to travel with the team, the best in the world, to their overseas performances at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo in 1985 and at the 150th celebration of the State of South Australia in 1986. I am pictured with the team photo at the Tattoo in 1985 (back row far right).

Travelling with the Queens Guard was exciting and challenging and will be the subject of another post. Back to me and Army ROTC.

Army ROTC “Patch”

After one year (and two advanced camps) at Rutgers Army ROTC, the Scarlet Knight was ranked in the bottom 10% in both “quality and quantity”. Quality referred to the composite average leadership scores of the advanced camp cadets and quantity referred to the number of new cadets we brought into the program. Having been there a full year it appeared to me that we needed to make some changes. We were about to receive a new Professor of Military Science (the lead officer of Rutgers Army ROTC) in August of 1985. I approached the new boss, a 1966 West Point graduate named LTC Michael V. McKay with a bold recommendation. Having never met LTC McKay, I was a little reticent to make a major recommendation right off the bat, but I felt we didn’t have time to lose as the students (who we needed to recruit into the ROTC program) would be back on campus in a week or so.

I loved teaching Army ROTC, but I also felt that we as a unit were not putting enough focus on recruiting and training. No one person had accountability for either very important effort, other than the boss himself. The first time I met LTC McKay I recommended that we change the structure of the Rutgers Army ROTC cadre assignments. I asked him to put me personally in charge of both recruiting and training, but in order to give those important areas my focused attention, I would need to be pulled out of my teaching duties in the classroom. Without hesitation, our new leader made the change and my new job was to get more and better students in the door and train them better than we were able to do previously.

Prior to LTC McKay’s arrival, I had worked tirelessly with Professor of Military Science LTC Bob Fazen (now mayor of Boundbrook, NJ) to increase Rutgers administration support of Army ROTC. A most significant event, the approval of the ROTC Advisory Council, occurred in 1985, which helped lay the groundwork for continued Rutgers support for the ROTC program. In April of that year, Rutgers University approved the awarding of $1700 per year to those 4-year ROTC scholarship winners who attended Rutgers. Additionally, Dean James Reed of Rutgers College (who once personally signed over 500 letters to top Rutgers students in support of Army ROTC) authorized $500 scholarships per year to a maximum of three exceptional prospects. The influence of the ROTC Advisory Board was also a great factor in the approval of six credits to those students who complete Basic Camp.

Armed with the knowledge that Rutgers University was supporting our efforts, we did a full court press finding and bringing in the best prospects for Rutgers and our Army ROTC program. We asked for our existing cadets to volunteer to team up with prospective cadets, both in high school and current Rutgers students and give them a personal tour of the campus and of our program.

Adding focus to our recruiting and training efforts was what we needed. And the results proved it!

In just two years, the Rutgers Army ROTC program went from the BOTTOM 10% in training and BOTTOM 10% in recruiting out of over 100 schools on the East Coast to TOP 10% in BOTH RECRUITING AND TRAINING! MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!!!

All of this is great stuff, but I must tell you what Paul Harvey used to call …THE REST OF THE STORY…

Rutgers Army ROTC was technically an active duty military assignment, controlled by the Department of the Army. Our “Army ROTC Building” at 157 College Ave in New Brunswick, NJ was owned by Rutgers, but we ran our own operation. We were attached to the Faculty of Professional Sciences (FPS) for some things, but by and large we were left alone.

That independence enabled us (me) to do some creative things to raise support funds for our program. One huge opportunity came when I took over recruiting. Rutgers, in 1985 signed a new contract with Pepsi Cola, replacing Coca Cola every where on campus. Like I said, we were pretty much left alone and when the university replaced all of the hundreds of Coke machines with brand new Pepsi machines, they left ours alone. So there we were, with the only Coke machine for miles around right there on the front porch of our ROTC home at 157 College Ave.

Where “Old Coke” machine stood an the front porch of 157 College Ave.

Of course, you know what happened next….we started selling Coke like crazy…we couldn’t keep up with the demand. It was a cash cow for us. An astute Pepsi sales director paid me a visit, knowing he couldn’t force me to take his product (we weren’t really Rutgers, we were Army), and made me an offer I really couldn’t refuse…

I remember this sharp dressed man coming up our stairs and coming inside the building looking for who was “in charge”. I told him that I was (I really wasn’t, but nobody gets to waste the colonel’s time without me vetting them first). It turns out he was the “Pepsi” guy. He offered me an impossibly ridiculous low price for his Pepsi product that his folks would keep stocked, and we would just keep the profit. He assured me we were getting a better deal than the university as a whole. The only caveat was that he would have to take our Coke machine away.

Location, location, location….our real estate, right accoss the street from the College Avenue Gym (knicknamed “The Barn”) where students stood in add-drop lines for hours in the hot September days was the perfect place for a Pepsi or Coke machine. But when you have the ONLY Coke machine, the law of supply and demand make it a Coke sellers market!

I thought about the Pepsi man’s offer, and made him a deal. I told him, “you don’t have to cart that old rusty Coke machine out of here, just bring it to the back of the building, it’s all junky back there anyway.” He was happy to save the labor cost and gladly accepted my offer and within a week we had a brand new Pepsi maching on the front porch at 157 College Ave. We were making money to support our recruiting efforts HOORAY! After the dust cleared a little, we made a make-shift sign and placed it next to the Pepsi machine. The sign read “COKE MACHINE OUT BACK!!”. We ran an extension cord out the back door and plugged in the Coke machine, not far from the old horizontal ladder where cadets would train. We started making more quarters than the federal mint! We were definately supporting our cadets!

Back of 157 College Ave where old Coke machine flourished

We made so much money (how much money you ask?)(keep reading) that we even had enough for one of our senior cadets (who had a private pilot’s license) to rent an airplane and fly over West Point the week of the Army Rutgers football game. (Remember, football was a big deal). He dropped hundreds of professionally made red and black flyers which had a Scarlet Knight pictured spearing a Black Knight and a quote saying Rutgers ARMY ROTC says “Go Rutgers Beat Army!”. The flyers were dropped all over the West Point cadet corps during their lunchtime formation and our hero pilot, on his second pass, noticed cadets everywhere bending down to pick up the flyers!.

The second half of the mission was to also drop thousands of flyers over the Rutgers College Avenue campus (getting the local students excited about Rutgers Army ROTC). Unfortunately, part two wasn’t quite as successful as the beautiful red flyers ended up missing their target and reportedly landed in the Raritan River. Sadly, no Rutgers students (our target audiance) knew anything about our recruiting flyers :-(. So I would say that then Cadet Kauza, got a “3” or maybe a “4” that day (remember effort doesn’t count, only results count).

The final chapter of our recruiting story set the groundwork for helping today’s Rutgers Scarlet Knight Battalion and Queens Guard in raising money. Please stay with me, this is important…

Back to LTC McKay…after our boss got acclamated to his surroundings, he got to know each of us closely. As a servant leader, he made a habit of coming to us as opposed to us reporting to his office. In my office stood (sat) a huge five foot tall, four foot wide vault with this huge handle and combination dial. It was an imposing structure. When the boss asked what the safe was for, I told him it stored our money from the Coke and Pepsi machines. Then came the zinger question. He said, But Joe, “How do you account for those funds?” I opened the safe and showed him several cardboard boxes filled with quarters, several hundred dollars worth. I said, ” Sir, I don’t have time to count those quarters”. He got very serious very fast and said, ” Oh, yes you do, and you will!” After counting all the money and getting all of the quarters wrapped in quarter rolls, I went to the Rutgers administration and we decided to start a group know as the “Friends of Army ROTC”. The money would be accounted for through the university. We made the initial deposit and then took over rolled quarters every week from that point on!

So, fast forward to today…The current Rutgers Army ROTC program is supported through the Rutgers University Foundations accounting. They are producing tomorrow’s army officers, along with other ROTC programs and West Point.

Rutgers Army ROTC Today

I hope you will consider supporting Rutgers Army ROTC or the Queens Guard Precision Drill Team by:

 DONATING HERE 

or by sending a check to:

Accounting Department
Rutgers University Foundation
120 Albany Street Plaza
Tower 1/Suite 201
New Brunswick, NJ 08901

You can choose to support any one of four affiliated organizations now:

  1. Army ROTC Memorial Award
  2. Army ROTC Program Support,
  3. Queens Guard Support Fund, or
  4. Queens Guard Alumni Support Special Projects Fund

So, congratulations to the brand new US Army lieutenants who are being commissioned through the Rutgers Army ROTC program! I am proud of you, and proud to be a part of the history of the Rutgers Army ROTC program and the Queens Guard Prisision Drill Team! Go Scarlet Knights!

Sincerely,

Joseph R. Sanders, LTC(R), US Army, formerly Captain Sanders Rutgers Army ROTC and Queens Guard Advisor, 1984 – 1987

Space – My Final Post about the Final Frontier (Probably)

Why is space sometimes referred to as “the Final Frontier”. I do not know, except that 1) it is far away, and 2) there is no air out there! I can’t help but share with you a photo of a gift from a co-worker, Mike Fox of Tishman Technologies. Mike worked with me back in my earlier Rutgers days as we were building the Rutgers telecommunications network. Our project was a $98.3 million, four year project known as RUNet 2000. I’ll probably write about RUNet 2000, but that will be in a future post. 1

Back to Mike Fox…..Mike is an excellent project/contruction manager and a real stand-up guy. We share an unfortunate background of both having lost a son. Mike’s son passed away while working with me and I knew that I wanted to support Mike emotionally. I remembered Woody Hayes’ advice that “You don’t win with technology, you win with people.” So as project director of RUNet 2000 (a technology project), I commandeered a “Rutgers” bus, asked for volunteers to go with me to Mike’s son’s wake, and 43 people headed for Union, NJ from New Brunswick. Mike, a “man’s man” as we used to say, saw each one of us dismount the bus and walk into the funeral home. Mike broke down. I knew he felt our love…………more about Mike. Mike was a great artist as well, which is why he made this post. Back to space, Mike drew the below picture highlighting why space travel isn’t that easy, take a look:

Artist Mike Fox, donated to Joe Sanders in 2001

So, back to space…I mentioned that space is far away, past the birds and airplanes and Wizard of Oz balloons…. everything that exists within the earth’s atmosphere. Of course , there is a story before the story here…..

The Spring of 1972 was a very unusual time for me. A high school senior, I had been accepted into West Point’s Class of 1976 while our country was still involved in Vietnam. After being assured of this full-ride scholarship, (later, as cadets we used to compare a full ride scholarship to West Point to getting $50,000 jammed up your butt a nickel at a time!), I blew off academics and high school baseball (I had lettered the year before and chose not to play my senior year) and I spent from March 1972 till the day I left for West Point (end of May 1972) going to Red Wings hockey games and rock concerts (Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, Sly and the Family Stone, Black Sabbath, Yes, the Moody Blues, to name a few). That was a long sentence. I do not regret blowing things off one bit, I knew I was heading for a rough summer at West Point’s “Beast barracks”. I celebrated my high school accomplishments and prepared for the next, very serious, phase of my life. I knew I was going to be seriously tested in the summer of 1972, and friends and loved ones did everything they could to encourage me to “reach for the sky and keep my feet on the ground” as Casey Kasum would say as he signed off the air of the America’s Top Forty show. One friend, and I do not remember who, gave me a signed copy of the inspiring Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a story:

Time for the main attraction…outer space…

We are all familiar with the story of Apollo 13. Now THOSE guys were (are) heros. Jim Lovell (Class of 1952, US Naval Academy), Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise braved almost certain death as they piloted their spacecraft safely back to earth after an explosion had seriously diminished their air supply. You certainly remember Tom Hanks playing the part of James Lovell in the movie “Apollo 13”.

I was fortunate enough to attend a Cisco Networkers conference in Vancouver in 1999 while working for Rutgers. James Lovell and Fred Haise were both there as the keynote speakers as the closing event of the conference. The two of them tag teamed with each other as they discussed much of what we saw in the movie.

Apollo 13 astronauts Commander James Lovell and Fred Haise

You may recall in the movie, when the spacecraft was on the far side of the moon, Tom Hanks telling one of the other astronauts that he “might want to put that camera away so we can get back home”. Of that scene, James Lovell told our conference attendees, “Those weren’t my exact words.” I can only imagine what this “Old Corps” 1952 Naval Academy grad might have ACTUALLY have said to get the other astronaut’s attention during that stressful moment!

The conference ended and I caught the cab to the Vancouver airport to catch my flight back to Newark, NJ (changing planes in Chicago). As I settled in at the gate waiting to board the plane, I glanced over and saw our American hero, James Lovell, just arriving in the gate area to board the same flight as me! As shy as I am, (NOT), I walked up to Mr Lovell and introduced myself. “Mr. Lovell, I am Joe Sanders, a West Point grad and I hope you won’t hold that against me! But, I was at the Cosco conference where you just spoke. May I have your autograph?”. He chuckled, and replied,” Sure Joe, and thank you for your service.” Imagine that, this national hero thanking ME for MY service!!!!! You can’t make this stuff up. He signed the only book I had with me from the conference and we bade each other good luck. It suddenly dawned on me that if our plane crashed, I would die on the same flight as James Lovell, who could get a wounded bird back out of space, but couldn’t save us on a plane here on earth! Thank God we arrived safely in Chicago!

So friends, that ends my story of the final frontier. In a previous post I sarcastically mentioned that no Naval Academy grad story was worthy of being in the same story as a West Point story. But whether you are Woody Hayes of Ohio State or James Lovell of the Naval Academy origin, this born-in-Michigan and trained at West Point man has the utmost respect for both of you, and all of you! We are Americans and each serve to make this country and world a better place.

Stay tuned for more stories about great Americans that I have met including Joe Paterno, Gordie Howe (Canadian by birth), Joe Sestak, and comedian Jay Leno. See you soon!

All the best my friends,

Joe

French, Drinking, and Space – Tallman, Borman, and Beyond!

OK folks, I must say I have been bouyed by your responses to my earlier blog posts. Much of the feedback is coming from Facebook and from Linked-In. Which reminds me of a story (DUH)…. and today’s topic is NOT Linked-In. However, my first paragraph is about when I retired from my last permanent job as an IT director at Rutgers University. After I retired, my lovely wife Helen was a little concerned for me as I wasn’t mentally ready to look for full time work. That, plus some medical issues at the time was making life difficult. I remember her trying to keep my mind in the game when she said one day, “Joe you really should update your Linked-In profile”. I replied, “Linked-In! Hell, I’ve Checked OUT!!!”….Even in the worst of times, I’ve been able to find some humor in every situation in my life.

I remember one day one of my distant relatives asked me on Facebook, “Joey, why do you still look like a teenager?” I replied, “Cuz, because I still ACT like a teenager!”

Joe Sanders on his 60th birthday (give or take a few or more decades)

OK, time to get real….starting with this photo of me marching punishment tours for getting caught drinking alcohol at West Point (that was a no-no).

West Point Cadet Century Man

So, what is the title of this post all about? Believe it or not, there is a link between it all, so stay tuned.

You may recall my last post “Hockey, French, and Space – I almost became an astronaut!” (If you haven’t, read it now and then come back).

So the above picture represents a portion of the punishment that West Point cadets undergo when they act like criminals (like taking a sip of alcohol). I mentioned in earlier posts that I was unlucky in that I was 2-2 when it came to drinking at West Point (see previous post entitled “Silver linings often turn gold! or “Charlie 234 where are you?”)(Again, if you haven’t read it yet, read it now and come back) (Are you getting the idea cadet? Read ALL of my posts).

Well, my first episode of drinking at West Point was actually during the last month of my plebe year, in May 1973. I had made a strategic decision to barricade myself in my room for most of April working on a huge paper for my French class (This is the only tie in to French, no pretty girls this time). I skipped socializing (going to the plebe “hops” four weekends in a row working on this damn French paper (I should have listened to Mr. Carinci), and by the time I was finished my French assignment it was already May! I could not wait to go to my first “plebe hop” in months! At West Point, “plebes” or freshman do not socialize with upper classmen (sophomores, juniors, and seniors), so there were two dances or “hops” each Saturday night (Remember, “Let’s go to the Hop!”?). One hop was for plebes with ladies bussed in from local colleges or high schools and one hop was for upperclassmen and smarter ladies bussed in from local colleges. (I said “smarter” ladies because they had figured out that meeting a plebe wasn’t as much fun as meeting someone closer to graduating).

SO finally the rest of the story…. I went to the plebe hop a little late in the evening, looking as Toby Keith would say for “A little less talk and a lot more action”. (Don’t worry, there isn’t much action at a plebe hop) I walked in and immediately felt elated. The music was playing “I’m your Captain” by Grand Funk Railroad, plebe year would soon be over, and I was ready to party! I asked a girl to dance and she said yes!!!. We danced for a good amount of time until it was time for a break. She was acting pretty friendly (which was fine with me). During the break, I met her girlfriend who appeared equally friendly, and a classmate I had not met before, Chuck Leyman. We chatted and it was obvious that THEY were having a GREAT time. I had to ask, “Have you been drinking?” Chuck said, Yes, do you want some?” Of course, I was game, so the four of us left the hop at Cullum Hall, turned right onto the sidewalk, and headed towards the Hudson River. Actually, we transcended down this little path know as Flirtation Walk, or “Flirtie”. That is where they had their alcohol stashed. (By the way, Flirtie is OFF LIMITS to plebes, so we were already taking a chance just being there!).

We got to the drinking site and Chuck handed me the bottle of vodka and said “you first, we’ve already had some.” I raised the bottle to my lips and nothing came out until I raised it to the sky. I got ONE lousy sip, while the other three had polished off 99%(maybe 98%) of the bottle earlier in the evening! I was pissed! This was what I call a “long run for a short slide!”

What happened next changed my life for ever (or at least for two years). The four of us proceeded back to the sidewalk and headed back to Cullum Hall to rejoin the hop. I walked with my “date” about 20 feet ahead of Chuck and his date. I was escorting the lady properly, my left forearm extended for her to grasp, leaving the right arm free for saluting if an offficer approached. The cadet hostess (who taught our cadetiquette classes) would have been proud of me!

Then, out of nowhere, the unthinkable happened! I needed eyeglasses, but was to vain to wear them on a Saturday night at the hop, so my vision wasn’t the best. But even blurred vision couldn’t mask the fact that two big “striper dogs” (cadets from the senior class with a lot of rank) where walking towards us. I knew enough to greet them with the obligatory “Good Evening Sir”. As the two striper dogs passed me and my lady, I recognized them…First Captain Joe Tallman and his room mate, Mr. Newsom. After the two of them passed by us, I instructed my date to keep walking and not to look back. Behind us was a very drunk Fourth Class Cadet Chuck Lehman who had his arms all over and around his date, alone which would get him written up for PDA (Public Display of Affection). I knew that Tallman would stop him and smell the vodka and I didn’t want any part of what was to about to take place. Sure enough, Tallman and Newsom stopped Lehman and his date, and my date couldn’t help but turn around to see what was going on with the girlfriend who had accompanied her to the hop. I told her again to keep moving and not to look back, but it was too late. Newson said “Mister, Halt”. I ignored him till he tapped me on the shoulder and said in a louder voice, MISTER HALT!!”. I stopped in my tracks, turned around, stood at rigid attention, and he said to me “How about you?” I knew exactly what he meant, but the stakes were too high to assume. This was before Braking Bad, so there was no hope. I said, “Sir, I do not understand”. (A plebe has only four authorized responses when an upperclassman asks a question – 1)Yes Sir, 2)No Sir, 3)No excuse sir, and 4) Sir, I do not understand.) Newsom retorted, “Have you been drinking?” I knew that the test for .08% wasn’t the definition of “drinking West Point style”, it was more like .00000000001%” So, knowing that the consequences for not telling the truth was expulsion, I stated “Yes, sir”. He promptly told me to “Report to Central Guard Room at Taps.” I said “Yes Sir!”

It was about 10:30pm at this point and taps wasn’t untill 1:00am. I had a plan….I politely bade my date farewell, and headed back to my room to shine my shoes, begin drinking Listerine, and prepare to impress whoever I would be seeing at 1:00am.

At 12:50 I headed to Central Guard room and stood at attention awaiting my fate. At 1:00am, Chuck Lehman stumbled in, still stinking of alcohol. He must have had another bottle somewhere as he couldn’t even stand up straight when the OC (Officer in Charge) approached us. I felt like I was going to “beat this” charge as Chuck, unfortunately for him, was being questioned by the OC, who just happened to be his cadet company’s TAC officer. I stood at attention the whole time while Chuck took some TAC officer harassment. We were both released and I returned to my barrackes, hopeful that the OC was impressed by my shined shoes, close shave, and non-alcohol smelling breath.

I also thought that my case was a solid example of the misuse of the honor code against me, something known as an “improper question”, something akin to conducting a search without having probable cause. I brought my case to our Company H-2 Commander, Reddy Hobby, whose roommate, Mr. Wineland was on the Brigade Honor committee. After hearing my story, they both agreed that I was subject to an “improper question” and forwarded my case to the Brigade Honor Board. After all, I exhibited no signs of having had had any alcohol. (and I really had only one swig) until my date looked back and caught Newsom’s eye.

So, a brigade honor board, led by Joe Tallman (alone) investigated in Joe Tallman’s room. Newsom, Tallman’s roommate, was the Brigade honor rep and was also the sole “witness” to the event. Tallman had me tell my story, and then he had Newsom tell his story. I will never forget the heat in my left ear when Newsome ended his story with a loud, threatening (this was before the term bullying was popular) statement ” AND THERE WAS NO IMPROPER QUESTION!!!!”. Tallman sided with his roomate and the result was that Chuck and I both got the same penalty…66 punishment tours (known as walking the area), three months of room confinement, and 25 demerits. As today’s cadets like to say, it was my turn to “embrace the suck”, because this situation REALLY SUCKED!!”. But, I’m over it now, really.

So we’ve talked about french class, and drinking, how is this jaun (that’s a Philly word for thing, just sayin’) related to space? Stay tuned, now the rest of the rest of the story!

Punishment tours at West Point are reserved for the academic year. Normally there are two tours (or hours) after classes on Friday plus three hours after classes and parade on Saturday for a total of 5 per week/weekend. So, the 66 tours roughly equates to the three months of concurrent room confinement.

I told you earlier that my enfraction of the sacred cadet rules occured towards the end of my plebe year. As of June 6, 1973, our class was released for a month of leave (PARTY!!! and DRINKING!!!) before returning to West Point for two months of field training at Camp Buckner, about tem miles from the academic area. Instead of walking punishment tours, we were assigned to “work details” in our field uniforms.

The mini-story that follows is a description of what happened during my summer “punishment tours” and was written by classmate Mark Nelson, whose memory is better than mine.

Mark states,” It was a miserable summer. Having received a Commandant’s Board and slug for 44 punishment hours just before before the Recognition Parade (the recognition parade meant we were officially part of the upperclasses as another lot of plebes would be reporting in within the month), I spent every free hour at Summer Camp (Buckner)  either on confinement to my tent (2d Co) or on weekend work detail.  Picking up the trash (beer cans, used condoms, etc) on B Squad Flirty was getting pretty old.  

Then one Saturday, we few, we band of punished brothers (of which Sanders was one), were told to report to the motor pool to get on some deuce and a halfs, bound for West Point proper.  The job: Dismantle and stack the bleachers surrounding the parade field (The Plain).    Two guys from ’74 – also on punishment  tours – were in charge of the detail.   They were Bumpy Borman (son of the astronaut) and Mike Tixier.   

We 10-20 guys spent one hot sweaty Saturday moving the stands into piles of planks and parts.  When the task was over, we got back on the trucks, looking forward to confinement back at Buckner in our barracks, while our unpunished classmates water skied and basked at the beach on Lake Popolopen.  

Halfway back to camp, the truck pulled into a convenience store in Ft Montgomery.  Tixier came to the back of the truck and gave us his helmet liner, told us to throw some bucks in it. Some (most) (Sanders definately) did; soon the liner was full of greenbacks.  Tixier disappeared with the bills. Shortly,  he returned with a case or two of cold Schaefer beer, and shoved them on the floor of the truck bed at our feet.  Eyes opened.  Most of us knew the price to pay if caught  “bringing discredit upon the Corps of Cadets, i.e., consuming alcohol , etc etc….”   Perhaps even, caught again. The truck took off.  

Up into the training area we drove, on the way back to camp. Except we swerved off the dirt road onto  a training area for some obscure weapon, like flame throwers. Tixier and Borman came to the rear of the truck and said, “Drink up, boys!”.   Most of us popped those beers open and downed them, very welcome after the hot sweaty day of work.  Some of the weenies, doing a mere couple of hours punishment declined, afraid of the serious consequences if caught.  Most of us were repeat offenders, and could care less.  The beer was welcome, but we chugged them down, because the longer we stayed, the more likely some TAC in a jeep would drive by.  Beer downed, we finished the ride to Buckner.  

To this day, I admire the balls and initiative  shown by those two guys from ’74.  My morale surged, and my spirit of rebellion was reinforced. It was great to stick it to THE MAN. .

Best, Mark”

So there it is folks, French, Drinking, and Astronauts…and, let’s not forget what I said about my win-loss record of drinking at West Point….I drank four times and got caught only twice for a final record of 2 – 2. The interesting thing is that before I had even set foot in an academic classroom my sophopore (yearling) year, I had broken my losing streak and upped my win/loss record to 1-1, and celebrated with a big summertime victory party along with other classmates Mark Nelson, Reamer Argo, and our feerleass leaders from the class of 1974, including Astronaut Frank Borman’s son.

Closing note: I know I promised you in my previous post that I had more than one encounter with astronaut families. I have decided to hold off on my meeting with James Lovell of Apollo 13 fame for two reaons. First, he is a very dignified gentleman, one of those guys from the “Greatest Generation”. I cannot in good conscience include that hero in the same story with the rest of us degenerates. And secondly, he went to Annapoplis (the Naval Academy) and all of his heroics could never rise to hights of a good West Point drinking story!

GO ARMY! BEAT Navy!

Hockey, French, and Space – I almost became an Astronaut!

Ok, I’ll admit that the title of this post is misleading. As a matter of fact, it can’t even be passed off as “social honor”, it’s just a lie! (See earlier post entitled “Leadership – You Gotta Believe!!!” for an explanation of “social honor”) All I know is that my dad told me from a very young age that he thought I would become an astronaut because he said I was “taking up space in school”. He had a typical “dad” way of telling jokes (like I do) that sends everyone heading for the door.

However, I do have some tangentially related stories about astronauts or their families that I have personally experienced (see my next post) in addition to a high school story that proves that I wasn’t cut out to be an academician (or an astronaut).

Let’s start with Southfield High School and with Mr. Carinci, my French teacher and the offer he made me that I couldn’t refuse.

But first, some history of why I was interested in taking French…It all started when I was a young kid living near Detroit, Michigan, just a short ride to Windsor, Ontario, Canada. I was a big Detroit Red Wing hockey fan and loved to listen to them on 760 AM WJR radio. (pictured is Gordie Howe, known to the NHL world as “Mr. Hockey” and Red Wing goalie Roger Crozier). (A later post will cover my personal interview with Mr. Hockey conducted when I was a writer for the local hometown newspaper, the Southfield Eccentric, on “Mark Howe Day” in January 1972).

I’ll never forget legendary Red Wings radio announcer Bud Lynch calling the play-by-play….. “Howe shoots, he SCORES!” and “Crozier made a BIG save!”

Gordie Howe and Roger Crozer on front cover of 1963 Red Wings Yearbook

They didn’t show hockey on TV in those days, EXCEPT for Hockey Night in Canada on Channel 9, CKLW from Windsor! Every Saturday night there would be a televised game from either Toronto or Montreal. I’ll never forget the announcers, Foster Hewitt and Danny Gallivan broadcasting and those Molson Canadien beer commercials! No wonder I drank as a cadet! I digress…..

I LOVED hearing the home town Montreal Forum stadium announcer majestically say to the Montreal crowd “Le but des Canadiens par numero quatre, Jean Beliveau!” (the French speaking crowd would roar) “Assiste par numero seize, Henri Richard” (they roar again), “et numero deux, Jacques Laperriere” (final roar). “Temps du but quinze minutes, cinquant-cinq seconds”. The announcer would then immediately make the same announcement in English (in a decidedly lower tone, as if he didn’t want to offend the crowd who could care less about the English version), ” Canadien goal scored by number 4 Jean Beliveau assisted by number 16 Henri Richard and number 2, Jacques Laperriere time of the goal 15 minutes 55 seconds.” (commas removed for emphasis as I swear that the English announcement was less than half as long as the French version!) You could hear a pin drop in the Montreal Forum, NOBODY made a noise after the English version of the goal announcement was made! From those days on, I made up my mind that I would learn French!

Number 4, Jean Beliveau, “Mr. Canadien” Montreal Canadiens team captain

So, I started taking French as early as I could as a 7th grader at Levey Junior High School in Southfield, Michigan. (Go Jaguars!) French was fun and easy! I took it in 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, and 11th grades. Of course, I was one of the few guys that took that much French. What started from a strong desire to learn the language turned into an arduous task of reading (or not) French novels like “L’Etranger”. The only thing I liked about French by the time I got to High School (10th Grade) was the fact that there were lots of girls in the classes. Pretty ones too! I guess I wanted to study French kissing? (I won’t name names, but you know who you are and I’m a married man).

Our French teacher was Mr. Art Carinci. He was also the stadium announcer for our home football games at Southfield High School (We’re gonna fight, fight for Southfield High! Hit ’em, once, hit ’em twice, and hit ’em again,…) (Go Blue Jays!). I made the varsity football team my first year in high school so you could say that I was one of his teacher’s pets (there were others, remember I mentioned we had pretty girls in the class!). Mr. Carinci also did analyst work for the Detroit Red Wings at Olympia Stadium. He actually got me access to seeing the previously mentioned Montreal Canadien, #4, Jean Beliveau and got me a signed picture from “Mr. Canadien!”

The point of all of this is that I was able to coast by in French class through tenth grade as “Mr. C” just held his nose and let me pass. But, the charade was getting to be pretty pathetic in 11th grade as it was obvious I wasn’t studying as much as the others, or more accurately stated, I wasn’t studying at all. I just didn’t care to read French novels, sorry, I only liked the hockey (and girls) aspect. So, Mr. Carinci made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. One day in the Spring of 1971, with several months left in the school year, Mr. C. asked me to stay after class. I dutifully did so and, when it was just the two of us in the classroom he said, ” Joe, I will give you a “C” grade this year IF you do NOT take French next year”. Since it was February with a lot of tortous French novel reading ahead of me till June, I immediately responded “DEAL!”. We shook hands and I didn’t do an ounce of French homework from that point on and “earned” my final grade of a “C” that year.

So I guess my dad was right after all, I really was “taking up space in school”. It certainly was true for my French classes at Southfield High!

I’ll just say one more thing VIVE LES CANADIENS and GO WINGS GO!

Stay tuned friends, the next post actually does talk about face-to-face encounters with a member of astronaut Frank Borman’s family at West Point in 1973 and with Apolo 13 astronaut James Lovell in 1999! I’m not kidding, no social honor this time, it’s the truth! And stay tuned for that 1972 personal interview with Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe!

Silver linings often turn gold! or “Charlie 234 where are you?”

OK, if you read my last post about meeting legendary Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes you know that the only reason that this very exciting event happened for me was that I had endured a very bad event that had a silver lining! Remember, I, as a West Point cadet who had been in trouble, was “confined to quarters” for three months. This enabled me to read some books owned by my Ohio room mate, which triggered me writing Woody Hayes a letter, which he responded to, which led me to call his office to set up an appointment, which occured after I graduated from West Point.

Well, I happen to be a believer in silver linings. (See my earlier post entitled “Leadership – You Gotta BELIEVE!) To survive West Point, you need to believe that there are better days ahead as the system is designed to make you break, just to see how you perform under pressure. The mental pressure is constant. One mental challenge was the requirement to recite “The Days” from your first week as a plebe (freshman). The Days changed daily, and it is the plebe’s job to know, every day, the mess hall breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu for that day, the dates and times of motion pictures the upperclassmen could see that week, the number of days till each home sporting event that week, followed by the number of days till each home football game, ending with “There are 121 and a butt (a “butt” was a partial day, like a cigarette butt was a partial cigarette) days until Army beats the hell out of Navy at John Fitzterald Kennedy Memorial Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in Football!” If you made it that far you were in pretty good shape as all that remained in “The Days” was the number of days till Christmas break, ring weekend for the junior class, spring break for the upperclassmen, and finally, graduation day for the senior class. And, every day that number was decreased by one, making memorization a challenge for any plebe. A side note, I’ll never forget popping off with “Sir, there are “insert correct number” of days until Army beats Nebraska at Michie Stadium in football!” We said that line every day for 82 days from July 3, 1972 till September 23, 1972 when Nebraska squeaked by us 77-7. The silver lining with the Nebraska game was that 1) we scored a touchdown against the previous year’s National Champs, and 2) we didn’t have to play Nebraska again! (we went on to beat Texas A @ M the next week IN Texas!).

Back to the bigger silver lining story here..and Charlie two-thirty-four…you may recall from my Woody Hayes story (go back and read my previous post entitled “Leadership Rivalries – Woody Hayes and the State Up North”) is that I stated I drank alcohol 4 times as a cadet, and got caught twice. In other words, if you equate “winning” with “getting away with drinking and not getting caught” and ” losing” with “getting caught”, my win-loss record was 2-2. However, the penalty for losing was great, lasted many months, where the reward for winning lasted a few hours (till the buzz was gone), So, in essence, going 2-2 wasn’t worth it, except for the opportunity for a silver lining that would turn gold!

So, while the Woody Hayes silver lining story actually was enabled by my getting caught drinking as a firstie (senior) as a West Point cadet, an earlier significant silver lining turned gold story was actually triggered three years earlier when I got caught drinking alcohol as a plebe at West Point. BTW, I never do things half-assed, I got caught plebe year by the senior ranking cadet in the Corps, a Mr. Joe Tallman. He was the big striper dog! (I am convinced to this day that I was entrapped by an “improper question” (same as not having probable cause), but that’s the topic of another post). Without elaborating, my punishment for this offense (one swallow of vodka) (are you reading this Chuck Lehman!?) was 66 hours of walking the area (punishment tours), 25 demerits, and 3 months of “room confinement”. Since my offense occured near the end of my plebe year, my room confinement was served by having to stay in the Camp Buckner training barracks during the summer training months after serving on “work details” picking up trash in the area while other cadets could go swimming with their girlfriends at the nearby lake. I remember taking other guys’ “guard shifts” just to get out of the barracks on Saturday nights. The barracks were very hot, and the lights remained on at all times till 1am on Saturday nights. Since I was on the top bunk, my life was torture with that hot, bright light not allowing me any sleep until my classmates came back all refreshed and happy after seeing their babes. HOWEVER…the summer of 1973 prepared me for a silver lining turned gold in 1974! Read on…

After completing my sophomore year (called “yearling” year), I had a great summer to look forward to. My summer began by attending the US Army Infantry School for three weeks of airborne training. I was looking forward to getting my “wings” (meaning I could successfully jump out of a perfectly good airplane and land using a parachute without killing myself). I then had four weeks of leave and had big plans back at my home in Michigan, and then 5 weeks in Europe (a week of vacation in Paris, followed by 4 weeks in Vicenza, Italy, serving as the equivalent of an officer in a real US army unit).

So, first stop, Fort Benning, Georgia for “C-130 rolling down the strip, airborne daddy gonna take a little trip. My new name was “Charlie 234” the “charlie actually standing for the letter “C” in “Cadet”. Ft Benning training was similar to the previous summer’s training (when I was required to stay in the barracks when other could leave for fun time) in that it was as hot as hell, most people could leave the barrackes at night, and we were doing great “army training sir”. There was one exception, which actually created another silver lining for me!

At Fort Benning, we would get up VERY early for our morning PT (physical training). The bulk of the 519 students in my airborne class 45 were my classmates from West Point. The difference between most of them and me was that, the previous summer, I had become accustomed to staying in the barracks in the evenings/nights when they were out having fun. This summer, I had the authority to leave the barracks in the evenings, but CHOSE to stay inside and get my rest before the early training that would be beginning at “OH dark thirty” (we used that term before any movie was produced, just say’in). So, in those days, I was one of the few who had had a good night’s rest and was ready to go while many others showed up for morning PT in various stages of intoxication. Mind you, everyone toughed it out, but I was one of the very few trainees that actually repeated the cadences VERY LOUDLY that were led by the “black cap” airborne sergeants. Cadences like:

“C-130 ROLLING DOWN THE STRIP,

AIRBORNE DADDY’S GONNA TAKE A LITTLE TRIP,

STAND UP KOOK UP SHUFFLE TO THE DOOR,

JUMP RIGHT OUT AND COUNT TO FOUR,

IF MY MAIN DON’T OPEN WIDE,

I GOT ANOTHER ONE BY MY SIDE,

IF THAT ONE SHOULD FAIL ME TOO,

LOOK OUT GROUND I’M A COMING THROUGH!”

This chant along with the one that started “UP JUMPED THE MONKEY FROM THE COCONUT GROVE” were two of my favorites, especially at Oh dark thirty!

Some of my hung over classmates didn’t appreciate my volume level, but I didn’t care, I was going back home soon either way!!!!

For a West Point cadet, airborne training was like a walk in the park. The training was condensed from the conventional 4 weeks to just three weeks, with the first week usually designed just for physical training to get trainees in shape. We were already in shape, so running PT after drinking the night before was actually doable, I just chose not to partake.

So, after two weeks of training comes the big test, “Jump Week”. The week prior to jump week is called “tower week” where they would rig your fully opened up parachute up onto this huge metal circle that was attached to a cable that would hoist you up very slowly 250 feet into the air, release the chute, and then the black cap sergeants evaluate you on how well you completed your PLF (parchute landing fall) when you hit the ground. If you didn’t perform well during tower week, you recycled back and were not allowed to jump the next week (This meant losing precious leave time, a dasterdly fate).

At the beginning of jump week, the sergeants gave me a white helmet. They said, “Charlie 234, this is your helmet for the rest of training” It turns out, six of us were given white helmets the first day of jump week. They told us they would be watching us closely as one of us would be crowned “honor graduate”. I didn’t care about making any honor graduate, I wanted to get the hell out of Dodge (Ft Benning). Nobody said a word to me the rest of the week, so I assumed that I wasn’t in the running at the end for this coveted honor.

Jump school graduation was scheduled for a Thursday, June 27, 1974 afternoon at 1:00pm. After that, I had plans on catching the first flight out of Atlanta to Detroit and then it would be Katie bar the doors! I couldn’t wait to see my buddies back home! (My best friend, Bill Sage and I called ourselves “Ranger Joe and Six Pack Bill”)

On Wednesday, the day before the graduation ceremony, after the final bit of traing/jumping was complete, the cadre put out an announcement asking if their were any of us that wanted to catch a “space available” flight to Norfolk, VA THAT DAY!!! HELL YES, I said, and I rapidly packed up and proceeded to catch the army bus to the military aircraft that awaited me and others anxious to head home on leave. As I was about to step on the plane, an officer said “what is your name cadet?” I stated, “Cadet Joseph Sanders, Sir!” He said “Joseph Sanders, were you Charlie 234?” I said “Yes sir!” He said, “You aren’t going anywhere, you are one of our two honor graduates, you have to be at the graduation ceremony tomorrow!” I was totally bummed. The last thing I wanted was to spend another night in Georgia. I wanted the cadre, the next day, to be calling “Charlie 234 where are you?” I wasn’t going to be that lucky! So, I got back on the bus, and went back to the barracks. I immediately put in a collect pay phone call to my parents and told them about my being annointed as honor graduate. THEY were all excited and told me they were “on their way”. They picked up Six Pack Bill, and promptly departed Southfield, Michigan by car for the 20 your straight drive to Ft Benning, Georgia.

At 12:55pm the next day while seated in the auditorium, I saw my weary dad, mom, and my buddy enter the auditorium. They were escorted to their seats and saw me collect my “Iron Mike” trophy as one of the two honor graduates (Truthfully, I was the second best, behind the distinguished honor graduate, but hell, let’s not let perfect be the enemy of good!)

Remember, this was about silver linings, and this silver lining was the punishment I received as a cadet conditioned me to stay in the barracks which enabled be to yell real loud during morning training which impressed the airborne cadre which won me the Iron Mike trophy!

Silver lining turns GOLD! (or actually, Iron Mike looks more like copper, but lets not let perfect be….)

So, Charlie 234 where are you? I’m right here, hoping you will continue to read my stories.

Stay safe everybody! All the best,

LTC(R) Joseph R. Sanders, AKA C234

Leadership Rivalries – Woody Hayes and the “State Up North”

Back by popular demand! Many of my personal friends from Michigan, Ohio, and West Point have asked me to tell them my “Woody Hayes Story”… So, here it is….

Of course, with the Colonel, there is never just one or a simple story…so we will get to Mr. Wayne Woodrow Hayes and why he spent 3 and 1/2 hours mentoring me, a then new West Point graduate from THE Great State of Michigan. (For those of you who wonder why I wrote THE in all caps, blame it on all Ohioans from Ohio State, they make an obnoxious point of saying that theirs is THE Ohio State University, a claim that prior to a legal judgement in a battle between OSU and Ohio University was a real issue. OSU won the legal fight and they forever rub it in!)….Do I go running around bragging that I am THE Colonel Sanders? No, I let Harlan take all of the credit and even keep the name. There is room for both (all) of us. Just sayin’ !

Back to the story before the main story……I first initiated contact with Woody Hayes, not out of any admiration for the man, but as a challenge to test a theory that he really wouldn’t live up to his reputation of loving the military and always returning every letter sent to him. I didn’t like Woody Hayes at all in the early Spring of 1976, his teams (and it is even worse these days) handled Michigan in many of the UofM/OSU battles, usually by a field goal by their Swedish soccer style kicker when Michigan’s Vietnam vet field goal kicker would fail. It wasn’t fair I tell you, I HATED Woody Hayes, but still respected him (a little) in the early Spring of 1976.

I was a “firstie” (a senior) West Point Cadet in the Winter/Spring of 1976. I had been highly rated by my peers and was destined to be a “striper dog” (cadet captain in the internal cadet chain of command). Unfortunately (or I feel fortunately looking back), I didn’t necessarily follow all of the rules as a cadet. Back then cadets were not allowed to drink alcohol on the military post, even though the legal drinking age was 18. Lucky me, of the 4 times in 4 years that I broke the alcoholic prohibition, I got caught twice and became a “Century Man” by walking over 100 punishment hours on the “area”. It was a senseless punishment, but it effectively took time away from thoses cadets like me who needed to be punished. It took away our “bag time”, free time where we could sleep (a very scarce commodity for all cadets).

So, in February 1976, after having served my 5th punishment hour for that weekend, I returned to my room after freezing my…..”toes” off in the cold New York cement-pavement-area-walking-winter. After the punishment tours were done for the weekend, I had to stay in my room 24 hours a day (with the exception of visiting the mess hall, latrine, and did I say the bathroom?) Oh yes, and the barber shop was on limits too. I remember going there twice in one day to get two haircuts within hours of each other of sheer boredom. I digress…

On “room confinement”, there was little to do but sleep, read, write, and spit shine shoes. So, after thawing out, sleeping and shining shoes, I broke down and started reading books that my roommate, an Ohio resident, had sitting on his bookshelf. There were a couple about Ohio State and, of course, Woody Hayes. With nothing better to do, I read about Woody Hayes. I was impressed, but really interested in the fact that each source said that he loved the military and military history, and, even more impressive was that these books stated that he “personally responds to every letter ever sent to him”. Hmm, that seemed like a temptation that I couldn’t resist! So, I wrote Mr. Wayne Woodrow Hayes a short letter …

TO: Mr. Wayne Woodrow Hayes, Head Football Coach, Ohio State State University, Colombus, Ohio

Dear Mr. Hayes,

My name is Joe Sanders. I am a West Point cadet and will be graduating this June 2. I live in Michigan, will have two months of leave between June 2 and August and will be spending my leave time less than a 4 hour drive from Colombus. I’ll admit I haven’t exactly been an Ohio State fan, but as a person from Michigan, I have great respect for you and would be honored to have the opportunity to meet you personally this summer.

Thank you in advance and continued wishes for good health.

Respectfully,

Joseph R. Sanders, USMA Cadet

My real thought was that I would not get a return from Mr. Hayes. After all I was from Michigan, and he reportedly wouldn’t even say the word “Michigan”…It was the “State up North!”

To my surprise, less than ten days later I received an envelope in the mail from the office of Ohio State Football. I quickly opened it and, sure eneough, I received a letter inviting me to call him (ok, his secretary) and make an appointment to meet! I was thrilled. I made an appointment for Tuesday, June 6, 1976 at one of his offices on the campus, on the second floor of Ohio States’ basketball arena, St. Johns arena.

Fast forward till June 2, 1976…….I graduate from West Point, attend two local classmate weddings and then head to Colombus (for a third classmate wedding in four days!) .

THE day at THE Ohio State University – June 8, 1976

I made sure I was early, arriving at Mr. Haye’s office about 10:30am for our 11:00am appoinmtment. His secretary greeted me….I was dressed to the nines..well shaven and wearing my best three piece polyester suit with open neck shirt (ala John Travolta). At 11:00am sharp Mr. Hayes came down the hall and called out “Cadet Sanders!, Welcome!”… I replied “Thank you sir!” ( I was actually a second lieutenant, but didn’t feel offended by THE MAN calling me cadet). My first impression was that he was shorter than me…he always looked so big on TV!

He invited me into his office and I sat in front of his desk. Surprisingly to me, his office was quite small and very messy. The first thing he said to me was “So, how do you like my office?” I wasn’t sure what to say about this rat hole, but I remembered my “social honor” (see my previous blog post) training and said, “It is very nice sir”….He responded, ” If you like this one, you’ll love my other office, it is half this size!” I saw a slight glimmer of a smile coming from behind his legendary Woody Hayes glasses, which gave me permission to laugh after realizing that he was busting my chops right out of the box!

He then asked me why I wanted to meet him. I told him that I had read a couple of books about Ohio State and that I appreciated the fact that he was a successful leader and that he loved military history. ( I decided not to share with him that I would never have read those books hadn’t I been forced to stay in my room as a “bad cadet” LOL!). He responded by asking me if I had any questions for him. I thought this was my best shot at putting to rest the “never-say-Michigan” rumor. I thanked him for inviting me to ask questions, and then I popped the big one. I said, ” Mr. Hayes, I’ve been folllowing the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry for a long time and all I hear and read is that you never say the actual word “MICHIGAN”. Is that true?” His response deserves its own paragraph…

He laughed out loud and responded, “That is not true! As a matter of fact, I even voted for a man from your state!” He was referring to President Gerald Ford, a Michigan graduate and former UofM football player. The point is, he still did not utter the word MICHIGAN! I laughed, saw that glimmer in his eye, and said, “Thank you Mr. Hayes for clearing that up for me!”

Twelve o’clock noon came fast and I figured my allotted time was up. To my surprise, Woody then asked me if I had lunch plans. I had none and so stated. He added, “Great, let me treat you to lunch at the faculty lounge, I’ve rounded up a couple of military history buffs and we can have lunch together”. I graciously accepted and we soon were heading out to take a little campus walk.

As we began walking across the campus, I was astounded by the number of students who greeted him. Everywhere we walked students said ” Good afternoon, or hello Mr. Hayes!” I remember stopping when we are about to pass three college girls that were studying for a test on the steps of their dorm. They greeted Mr. Hayes and he asked them what topic they were studying. They replied “We have a history test in an hour”. His eyes lit up! He asked, “What period of history?” I don’t remember their response, but I do remember Mr. Hayes giving them pointers on what was important to know about the history of that era!

I also remember watching people eyeballing me, this 5′ 9″ 187lb, short haired (relatively) person walking with Woody Hayes. I kept thinking that they must be thinking I was a football recruit. They must have thought that i was REAL fast because I surely wasn’t big LOL!

Fast forward again…the lunch was great and the walk back similar to the walk there, admiring fans greeting “Mr. Hayes”

I had purchased a picture of Mr. Hayes which he gladly signed with the inscription “To Lieutenant Joseph Sanders, I am sure you will serve your country in an outstanding manner, Your Friend, Woody Hayes, June 8, 1976”

He was so right, he was a friend. Our visit ended with a very prophetic comment by Mr. Hayes that guided my actions the rest of my army and civilian career. As I prepared to say farewell, at 2:30pm (3 and a half hours after we had begun), Mr Hayes said, “Joe, you are going to serve in an army that is going to become much more technology based. But remember, you don’t win with technology, you win with people. Take care of your people.”

So, that was my visit to the non-Michigan saying great friend and Ohio State football coach, Mr. Wayne Woodrow Hayes. That day ws a big one for me. I still cheer for Michigan State and Michigan when they play Ohio State, but when I hear of bad events that occasionally occur at Ohio State (just like every school), I remember the generousity I reveived on June 6, 1976 and I thank God for getting caught drinking as a not so stellar West Point Cadet.