Cal Ripken, jr , and I streaked together in th 1990s!

An historic streak began on May 30, 1982. Does anyone remember what streak that was? Yup, you are right, it was the date that Cal Ripken, Jr., an All Star professional baseball player for the Baltimore Orioles started his 2632 consecutive game streak. He was/is called “Iron Man” for the stamina, courage, and strength he demonstrated throughout his baseball career. To this day, Ripken is a hero in many people’s eyes. Cal Ripken’s streak ended in 1995.

Many other events, mostly disturbing ones, also occurred in 1995. They included, but were not limited to the Oklahoma City car bombing, OJ’s trial, and the Detroit Red Wings being swept four games to none by the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup Finals☹.

For me personally. I was happy that I was going to finally give up one of my two paper routes. Financially, things were getting better, and I decided in October 1995 that I would drop my Star Ledger route at the end of January 1996.  

So why would I wait till January to drop the route? Holiday tips, most people feel generous around the holiday and I wanted to provide for my family the best I could.

It was my normal procedure the first Sunday of every month to leave a self-addressed envelope (notice I did not say self-addressed stamped envelope) with the monthly invoice. I asked my customers to pay by the end of the month.  Probably half of my customers would leave a buck or two tip each month, which was always welcome.

The first Sunday in December each year I included a short note with the invoice thanking my customers for their loyalty and letting them know how much my family of five appreciated their support. The holiday spirit usually netted me a several hundred dollars extra as a “holiday gift” from many of my customers.

I decided to go for broke in 1995, taking advantage of the national mood. I knew it would be a stretch, but I had nothing to lose.

Cal Ripken, jr “stretching”

By the end of December, my normal holiday tip earnings went from around $500 the year before to over $2000 in 1995! It appears Cal Ripken’s streak DID resonate, and my customers showed their appreciation for my streak!

I liked serving my customers, but business is business. I wasn’t getting any younger, and I needed to move on. In the first Sunday in January 1996 I put another note with the invoice for January letting them all know that, after seven years, I would be giving up my Star Ledger route. I wasn’t sure how that would go over with my customers, especially since they had been very generous the previous month.

To my surprise, over half of my customers sent their payment with a nice note wishing me and my family well, with another very nice tip. I was very appreciative of the fact that they understood and appreciated that my multi-hundred thousand newspaper delivery streak took a lot of courage, drive, devotion, and stamina. It was my honor and privilege to serve! Thank You Cal Ripken, jr, you are my hero!

My Hero

Friends, next up: “Saying Goodbye to Bell, Atlantic that is”

Almost Made it on Seinfeld!

Ok friends, I’ll admit that I love attention, especially positive attention. I’ve been getting a lot of it lately which fuels my passion to “keep on going”. Thanks to all of you for encouraging me to write more often….it is a calling that I had forgotten about many years ago, but it is back now and I’m lovin’ it! By the way, very few of you know me well enough to know that, before I was accepted at West Point I was heading either to Albion College or Michigan State University and I had intended on majoring in Journalism.I wrote for the local town paper in high school, covering high school sports.

I received an award from the National Quill and Scroll Society for my writing and recognition from the Detroit News and was fortunate enough to obtain live, one-on-one interviews with Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe, and his son, Mark who is also now in the NHL Hall of Fame. That’s another story for another day.

Thank you Detroit!

Today we are going to revisit my paper delivering years with The New York Times and the Newark Star Ledger newspapers. Those were very challenging years for me, but one silver lining (yup, here I go again with those silver linings again) associated with delivering newspapers is that you have easy access to a spare one every now and then (like every day).

The following story was submitted to the producers of “Seinfeld” for consideration back in 1995.  It is one of those “you can’t make this stuff up” stories that also has an element of “No good deed goes unpunished” in it. This story required some time and effort, but I’ve had plenty of time, so here we go.

Back on August 17, 1995, my wife and father-in-law took a trip to the County Offices of Essex County, NJ to apply for a business permit.  She was starting her own small business and had to register. Her experience was not a good one.  As a matter of fact, she was so upset that she wrote a letter to the publisher of the Newark Star Ledger complaining about her experience. The editors decided to publish her story on Sunday, September 17, 1995.  After some digging, I found the article in the online archives and am including it here for your reading enjoyment. Article follows:

“ESSEX BUREAUCRACY DOESN’T CUT MUSTARD”
I need to bring a situation to the attention of Essex residents that would be amusing if it were featured as an episode on “Seinfeld” but is patently pathetic as an illustration of how business is conducted in Newark.

On Aug. 17, I went to the Hall of Records to obtain a business license. After entering the building and submitting to the security checkpoint, I went upstairs to Room 240 to fill out the necessary paperwork. I was handed four identical long forms to complete. Wouldn’t it have been smarter to insert carbon between the copies to expedite this procedure? No, that would make too much sense. After the paperwork was completed, I was told that my signature would have to be witnessed by a notary public. Fine. Where may I find a notary public? Without hesitation and devoid of any humor, a county employee instructed me to look for the hot dog truck parked outside of the building to obtain a notary seal. I repeat, in the Essex County Hall of Records, where deeds, divorce decrees, passports, business permits and marriage certificates are filed daily, one must go outside of the building to a hot dog cart to obtain the services of a notary public.

Once I realized the clerk wasn’t kidding, I went downstairs, out into the heat and waited in a long line behind people ordering chili dogs, souvlaki and sandwiches to get my permit notarized. The man with the notary seal was quite adept at (simultaneously) mincing onions and witnessing signatures, and the papers were taken care of with nary a dab of mustard to besmirch them.

Now, up the stairs, through the security rigamarole again and up to Room 240 to finish the job. There was a $33 fee to be paid. Put away your checkbook – cash only, please. A simple 15-minute task had taken close to an hour to complete. My companion and I were washed out, grimy and thoroughly disgusted with Essex government.

Maureen Sanders,West Orange”

The article only covered a part of her frustration for the day.  What she didn’t say is that she had to walk several blocks, in the hot August heat to find an ATM machine to get cash to pay for her permit.  The whole day cost her and her dad a whole day of frustration. The night of August 17, 1995 was not a good one in the Sanders household!

But, life goes on and newspapers must get delivered, so back to the real world we all went.

Two weeks later, on Sunday, October 1, 1995 I remember coming home after delivering both the Sunday Star Ledger and New York times, ready to relax. Sundays were a real bear for newspaper delivery as they were filled with advertisement sections and NY Times Magazine sections, Metro sections, comics, yada, yada, yada.

Then, while walking into the kitchen, my 10-year-old daughter screeched, “DAD, I think this article is about mom!” She was reading the New York Times Sunday edition (QUESTION: What 10-year olds read the New York Times other than the comic section? ANSWER: Those that go on to business school and become successful in the business world).

My daughter showed me an article in the NY Times, which I have found online and have printed for your enjoyment below:

JERSEY;Signed and Sealed. And Hold the Mustard.

By Joe Sharkey

  • Oct. 1, 1995

CURBSIDE in front of the Essex County Hall of Records in Newark, two customers waited idly under the striped canvas awning at the hot dog truck. Besides hot dogs, the menu offered coffee, soda, cigarettes, meatball and sausage sandwiches, western omelets, egg with Taylor Pork Roll and, in big letters, NOTARY PUBLIC .

Notary public?

Sam Kanan, the proprietor, pushed a pile of onions to the edge of the grill with his spatula. “Today you got to do everything to make a living,” he explained.

“People used to come up with the papers and ask, where do I get the notary?” he went on. “We always sent them down to the bank, a pretty good walk.” He tapped his temple with a finger. “Then I think, O.K., Sam, how come you’re not doing that here with the hot dogs?”

So he and his helper, John Ali, working out of an old blue Chevy panel hot dog truck with two ventilators twirling like toy tops on the roof, obtained their certifications and seals, and took on a sideline as notaries.

Do not, incidentally, ask them how business is. “Terrible!” cried Mr. Kanan, who immigrated here from Jerusalem.

He dug into a cardboard box above the freezer and pulled out a recent, but very creased, clipping — an outraged letter to the editor in The Star-Ledger. The writer was a West Orange woman, fuming that when she went to the Hall of Records recently for a business application, a clerk “instructed me to look for the hot dog truck parked outside of the building to obtain a notary seal.” There, she wrote, “the man with the notary seal was quite adept at simultaneously mincing onions and witnessing signatures, and the papers were taken care of with nary a dab of mustard to besmirch them.”

Sarcasm aside, Mr. Kanan had no problem with that part. He never gets mustard on your papers. What caused trouble was that the letter writer complained about having to wait in a “long line” behind people ordering hot dogs to get her papers notarized.

The hot dog business is extremely competitive. “Everybody sees ‘long lines for the hot dogs’!” Mr. Kanan wailed.

” ‘Long lines’ in the paper!” Mr. Ali said.

“You know what happened?” Mr. Kanan said. “The next day, a new hot dog truck, he reads ‘long lines,’ he comes in across the street!” Mr. Kanan turned to glare at the competitor’s truck. He also scowled down the block at another hot dog man who showed up with a pushcart.

“You see long lines now?” Mr. Kanan demanded.

Mr. Kanan bought the truck 10 years ago. On a good week, he said, it clears $300. (The men charge $1 to $1.25 a page to notarize documents.) Weekdays, they arrive at 6 A.M. and stay till after 4. Mr. Kanan works nights as a security guard. Some weekends, he drives a cab.

Mr. Kanan and Mr. Ali, who both live in Jersey City, arrived in America with the great wave of legal immigration that started in 1965, when a new Federal law opened the gates to millions of non-Europeans.

“First, I wash dishes six days a week,” Mr. Kanan recalled. “Twelve hours a day. The pay for a week was $85. But step by step, I saved a few bucks.”

As he got on his feet, Mr. Kanan sponsored relatives, including his cousin Mr. Ali.

“I found a job for him in a Greek diner. Hoboken,” Mr. Kanan said.

Laughing, Mr. Ali recalled, “I thought I was going to come to America, work hard and get rich in one month.”

Nobody got rich. In old urban areas that no longer have the good industrial jobs that gave previous generations of immigrants a leg up into the middle class, you were lucky just to stay off welfare. For immigrants in a post-industrial service economy, there are not many Horatio Alger stories.

“You work for enough money to pay the bills,” said Mr. Kanan.

“College someday for the kids,” added Mr. Ali.

And somewhere along the line, the American Dream acquired a tinge of irony for the working stiffs.

“One day, maybe next year, we’re going to rip out the roof of the truck, put in second floor for a lawyer’s office,” Mr. Kanan joked. “Raise the rent on a lawyer,” Mr. Ali suggested gleefully. “Maybe add an office for selling Lotto.”

Mr. Kanan had a better idea. “No! We make a motor vehicles office up there.”

But the chatter ended abruptly when a customer appeared at the window. The lunch crowd was on its way.

“Could I have a sausage, no sauce?” the young woman asked.

Mr. Kanan dashed for the grill. “Yes!” he said. “Right away! Pepsi?”” 

You really can’t make this stuff up! That poor man  had the double whammy of losing his hot dog profits to other vendors and his notary profits as the County made sure that they had adequate notaries in the County Building after my wife’s story hit the Star Ledger the month prior.

I mentioned earlier that I submitted this story to the producers of Seinfield. They did respond but said they would not be using the material as they had two years’ worth of material on hand already and that they were starting to wind down.  The last show was three years later in 1998.

Almost Made Seinfeld!

But, Seinfeld or no Seinfeld, it’s a funny story. But more importantly, underneath it all, was the opportunity given to me to bring home free newspapers which helped my children educate themselves. I would say that this is one of those silver linings turned gold, wouldn’t you?

See ya later, time to go to the beach!

Always Be the One they are Asking For

If you have ever seen the program “Breaking Bad”, you know that sometimes people make difficult decisions, and not all of them good ones. In that show Walter White, a chemistry teacher, “broke bad” and began producing illegal drugs in order to make a lot of money to cover his future medical bills and provide for his family after his death.

It isn’t a stretch, especially these days, to say that people do some extraordinary things to try to make ends meet. I, as a father of three young children, was in that position back in the late 1980’s. However, even in the worst of times, I remembered what my father-in-law told me one day. He said,” Son, always be the one that people are asking for.” I took that thought and ran with it, and I believe it actually saved my job once. First, some background…

In July of 1987, I left the active duty army after 11 years of service to become a stockbroker at the investment firm of Smith Barney. Our family had significant debt at the time, and I saw a job as a broker as the ticket to providing financial security for my family. My initial assignment was to study and pass the Series 7 exam, which would legally allow me to sell stocks and bonds. Failure to pass that exam, which was scheduled for mid-September 1987, would mean my dismissal from the firm.  Like those singers in the Broadway musical “A Chorus Line” would sing, “I really need this job!”

My only son was born in August 1987, the month after I left the army. To our shock at the time, he was born with Down’s Syndrome with many health issues. My wife and I were emotional wrecks having been expecting a “healthy” baby, but your baby is your baby, you love them.

Baby Ian 1987

We loved Ian, but my “job one” till mid-September was to focus on preparation for the Series 7 Exam. And focus I did, and passed, ensuring an opportunity to sell stocks and bonds for the investment firm of Smith Barney where their motto was , “They make money the old-fashioned way, they earn it.” Passing that exam seemed like a cause for celebration and felt like the break I needed to launch my new career in financial services!

The next month I headed to New York City for a month of “sales training”.  My first day of training was Monday, October 19, 1987. Thirty-two other brokers, all recent college graduates who lived at their home with their parents,  and I (33 years old) were members of what was referred to as Smith Barney’s  “Crash Class of 1987”.  Our first day was “Black Monday” a day in which the stock market tanked. The crash of 1987 triggered today’s mechanisms which are in place to stop trading when a crash appears to be happening. Over half of the Crash Class of 1987 left the business within the first four months. I was not one of them. Even though my son required open heart surgery (successful) in February 1988, I was able to focus enough to stay in the business despite the bear stock market. Cold calling six days a week, 200 calls a day, I faced rejection I hadn’t experienced before. I credit plebe year experience at West Point for getting me through those long days.   

I survived at Smith Barney for nine months before realizing that I wasn’t making enough for my family to survive. I gave it my best but had to find stable work. I was fortunate to land an engineering job at NJ Bell in May of 1988.

NJ Bell became Bell Atlantic-NJ, and finally Verizon

Within a few months at NJ Bell, I realized that our “income vs outgo” was still requiring me to find additional employment. Luckily, my job at Bell began at 8:30am and went to 4:30pm, giving me time before and after work to earn additional income. I started a job delivering newspapers for the Newark Star Ledger which got me up at 4:30am and took on some contract work as an instructor teaching basic skills to AT&T employees in the evening.

My days were full, but the stress was much less than the stockbroker job where I felt like I was drowning.

The Newark Star Ledger

The secure job at Bell, along with the daily (7 days a week) newspaper delivery paid most of the bills, but it wasn’t enough. That is when I “broke bad” (nothing illegal). I went over to the New York Times depot and signed up to be a daily newspaper delivery person for the New York Times. Both the Times and the Ledger made me sign papers stating that I would not deliver for any other carrier while working for them. That was understandable given that each paper required their papers be delivered by 6:00am, which is a challenge even just doing one route, let alone both. I quickly realized that to pull this off, I would need to be extremely focused and organized. Accurately delivering almost three hundred papers in the morning by 6:00am was a serious challenge.  I needed to be perfect. Oh, and yes, if either company found out that I was delivering for their competitor, I was subject to immediate dismissal. “here we go again, “I really need these jobs!!!”

I delivered over 800,000 newspapers over seven years for both companies combined. But, there was a day in the fourth year when my luck almost ran out. And now, the rest of the story….

I was out on a routine weekday, had completed my NY Times route and was in the middle of delivering to my Star Ledger customers. A buddy of mine usually delivered the Times in the same neighborhoods where I delivered the Ledger. On this one morning, I noticed ahead of me an unusual car that was delivering the Times. The person was going slower than me and it was obvious to me that he didn’t know the route well. As I passed his car, I realized that the person delivering the Times was my depot supervisor from the Times, the man who had made me sign a contract stating that I understood that working for a competitor (like the Star Ledger) would mean immediate dismissal. I drove on by quickly, but knew I was a dead duck. I expected to be fired the next day when I showed up at the NY Times depot.

And show up I did, and the boss man approached me and asked me to come into his office, which I did. He asked me point blank, “Did I see you delivering the Star Ledger yesterday morning?” I would never lie, but I didn’t have to answer his question directly either. Thinking about what my father-in-law had told me about being the one that everybody asked for, I responded, “Boss, have you EVER had any complaints about my service?”…..He paused, and said, “No, and I better not get any, do you understand?”. I replied in the affirmative and marched out quickly to begin that morning’s delivery.

It’s not that rules are made to be broken, but they are there to help the business succeed. Luckily, I had become the person that both the NY Times and Star Ledger had asked for, and I was able to keep my employment with both companies.

Still dressed like a broker years later

I was able to drop both paper routes when Rutgers University decided that I was the one they wanted to run their Telecommunications department.

Thanks Bob Wild for some great advice!

Even “Greatest Generation” Big Boys DO Cry

Friends, this is the 20th story that I am posting on “ColonelsKernals” and through this experience I am seeing a thread that I hadn’t thought about before. Although it should be “intuitively obvious to the casual observer”, this thread didn’t present itself to me until recently. (By the way the phrase “intuitively obvious to the casual observer” appeared in our West Point plebe year calculus textbook, usually at a time when it was assumed that we understood the concept, but rarely did!). Similar to then, it took me a while to grasp this thread.

What I am learning through all of this is that life is a series of choices and that those choices matter.  More specifically, I have found that volunteering, or even the simple act of getting involved, reaching out, sharing, you name it, INTERACTING and COMMUNICATING with other people can make all the difference in the world to others and yourself.

Which brings me to the first part of today’s story. The setting is West Orange, NJ back in the Spring of 1999. I was working full time as the Rutgers University Director of Telecommunications and as a reserve officer for the West Point Office of Admissions. I had plenty to do to keep myself busy, especially as project director of the then-largest capital project in Rutgers history, the $98.3 million telecommunications infrastructure project known as RUNet2000. One evening, I received a call from a neighbor and Vietnam vet, Gary Englert, asking to meet with me to discuss a possible role for me with the Office of the Mayor of the Township of West Orange. He said on the phone that it would be honoring West Orange veterans, so I felt I had to listen. I met with Gary and before I knew it I was one of a select few volunteers on the “West Orange Veterans’ Recognition Committee”.

I was very happy to hear Gary tell me about our young up and coming mayor, John F. McKeon, who had been inspired by his recent visit to Normandy, France.

Former West Orange, NJ Mayor McKeon at his desk “back in the day”

Mayor McKeon was looking for volunteers to call on our military war vets, interview them, and write up a one-page summary about each veteran’s service time. The summaries would be combined into a short book that would be displayed at the West Orange Public Library along with other service artifacts. I, in fact, donated my West Point cadet uniform for the display. West Orange was going to have a Memorial Day Parade and each veteran would be awarded the New Jersey Distinguished Service Medal.

New Jersey Distinguished Service Medal

After the awards ceremony and parade, all were to be treated to an exquisite lunch at the West Orange Manor, a top-notch restaurant.

Manor Restaurant, West Orange New Jersey

It seemed like a no brainer to me, I was excited to be involved in such a noble cause!

There were 30+ veterans to be interviewed of which I was responsible for 10. That was the easy part (being assigned the 10).

One thing about those who are/were a part of the Greatest Generation is that they are humble. They are/were often heard saying “we were all just doing our job”. They didn’t like to talk about what they did, partially because they were just humble, and partially because of the horrific experiences they endured. So, it should have been no surprise to me (even though it was) that getting a live, one-on-one interview with these war heroes was not going to be easy. It often took three or more phone calls to get through and be allowed to visit each veteran in their home. Let’s face it, they didn’t know me personally and didn’t want to share info with strangers. So, I finally resorted to telling them that I was a lieutenant colonel who had served on active duty, had graduated from West Point, and that it would be an honor for me to be able to shake their hand. That was the game changer. The tone of the conversation changed immediately and before you know it I was hearing words like, “Sir, I would be honored to have you over to my home, we can have a beer together!” (I swear that having a beer was not part of the thread to my other stories (many of them talk about alcohol), although I can see that you might interpret it that way LOL!)

So, I met my first WWII veteran interviewee at his home at 7 pm one weekday evening. I was welcomed by this crusty veteran, 30 years my senior, with a sharp salute and a “Welcome to my home, sir!.” I returned the salute to Specialist Fasulo with my own “Thank YOU, Sir”.

He invited me in, the beer began to flow, and my pen and paper were ready…..

Like many young men of the “Greatest Generation”, Richard Fasulo wanted to serve in the US army before he was legally old enough to do so. It was common for the US army to turn away eager volunteers because of their age during World War II.

One afternoon in the Spring of 1943 the industrious Fasulo and his altar boy buddy found a way to obtain a blank copy of a baptism certificate. Fasulo falsified a new baptism certificate for himself, representing that his baptism occurred in 1925 (which was before he was born)!  Confident that the army would let him enlist, Fasulo marched proudly into the army enlistment station. However, the army did not buy his story.  Richard was told to bring a birth certificate or bring his mother with him next time for verification. Fasulo knew his mother wanted no part of sending her son to war, let alone prematurely, so he had to find another way to serve the army and his country.

A month or so later, after learning that one of his high school buddies had been killed in action, a desperate Fasulo told his friends that he was going to the army enlistment station to enlist one way or another! Fasulo, still 17 years old, marched into the enlistment officestation was accepted without proof of birth! Overjoyed, he was scheduled for a medical exam before he realized that the toughest entry hurdle lied ahead: obtaining the approval of his mother! The decision of how to tell his mom about his actions soon became a moot point as a neighbor reading about Richard’s enlistment in the newspaper quickly reported to Mrs Fasulo while Richard was sitting in his high school classroom. Mrs. Fasulo quickly went into action, reprimanding the army and her elected officials for allowing her baby to enlist prior to his 18th birthday!  However, to avoid criminal charges for falsifying an official document (his enlistment papers had a false birthday), Mrs. Fasulo reluctantly agreed to drop her pursuit and her son was “in the army now”.

On July 23rd, 1943, Richard joined the army and later saw fierce combat action as a member of the 91st infantry division. He served as a combat medic and was awarded the bronze star for heroic achievement in combat action on October 4th, 1944 in Italy. Proud of his service (and after sharing a few beers with me), Richard excused himself and returned with his divisional yearbook. It was bound in green, was about an inch thick, and it memorialized the Division’s action in WWII. He went through that yearbook, page by page with me. After three hours of sharing, it was time for me to say farewell for that evening. I am thankful to this day that Specialist Fasullo shared those memories with me.

And now, the rest of the story…..

About a week after interviewing Richard Fasulo, I was able to crack the invitation code with another American hero, Private First-Class Vincent J. Andriola. Once again, I went straight to the line that got me access to Richard Fasulo’s home, (former active duty, West Point grad). I was welcomed into PFC Andriola’s home with similar courtesy as I had received from Fasulo.

Vincent J Andriola first saw combat as a machine gunner in Company A, 143rd BN, 36th infantry division. He fought throughout Italy and was wounded in the leg while crossing the Rapido River. After 45 days in the hospital he rejoined his unit and fought northward toward Rome. During tough fighting, Vincent was wounded again, this time in the chin. After a short nine-day recuperation, Andriola rejoined his company again on the front lines where he was placed in charge of a machine gun section. When the unit entered Germany, Vincent contracted frozen feet which forced him to a hospital in England for two months. After recuperating, Vincent was assigned to the 9th Air Force before being discharged in November of 1945.

After hearing PFC Andriola’s story, I spotted what looked like the same “yearbook” that I had seen at Specialist Fasulo’s home!  I asked him about the book, and he showed it to me.  It was the same book. Not only that, PFC Andriola had been wounded in Italy in the same area where Fasulo had served as a medic. I asked him if he knew Fasulo, but he said that he did not. (remember, it had been over 50 years wince WWII at this point). I made a mental note and said good evening to the gracious PFC Andriola (after one more beer).

In preparation for the West Orange Memorial Day 1999 Observance, our committee met several times to ensure a flawless celebration. (see May 4, 1999 meeting agenda below)

Memorial Day was May 31, 1999. It could not have been a more beautiful day for a celebration. The day was quite warm as the sun shone brightly. There was an inspiring welcome by Mayor McKeon, a beautiful parade, and awards ceremony. We all then proceeded to drive to the two or so miles to the West Orange Manor.

I was looking forward to a great meal, but more importantly, to introducing PFC Andriola and Specialist Fasulo to each other. I thought it my duty and honor to bring the two together after over fifty years of their “quiet suffering” after the war. It was then that I witnessed a scene that I never thought that I would ever see…

I spotted PFC Andriola and walked up to him in the reception area at the Manor. True to form, he came to attention and greeted me with a “good afternoon Colonel”. I replied with a big sheepish smile, “Good afternoon Private Andriola!”.   It had been over a month since I had met him, and we gave each other a firm handshake. I escorted PFC Andriola towards the area where Specialist Fasulo stood. As I began to introduce the two of them to each other, they both “broke ranks” and hobbled towards each other and began hugging each other and crying!  They obviously remembered each other from the war in Italy and hadn’t known that, for over 50 years, that they had lived within 5 miles of each other! Years of solitude with few people remaining that understood what is was to be a part of the Greatest Generation. And yes, I repeat, Big Boys DO Cry. The heroes sat together at the luncheon and you could say “a good time was had by all”.

I did not stay in touch with either war hero after that day, but I have no doubt that they did stay in touch with each other. My mission had been accomplished. Thanks to the vision of Mayor McKeon, giving me the opportunity to volunteer on his team, these two old soldiers were recognized for their heroism, and they each got a new lease on life. They had time to “drink that beer!’. I left the Manor that day feeling proud, thankful, and patriotic.

EPILOG:

I did some research and have learned that Vincent J. (Chico) Andriola died on Saturday, April 20, 2013, at his home while Richard Fasulo passed away peacefully surrounded by his family, on Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014. Both men were 87 years old when they passed which means that they had well over 10 years of time to chat with each other over a beer and reminisce as Toby Keith sings in “I Love This Bar”, “And the veterans talk about their battle scars”. Both men loved God and their country. “And we know that in all things God works for those who love him, who have been called to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). And I thank God for giving me the honor of meeting these two American heroes.

Finally, I am pleased to say that former West Orange Mayor John F. McKeon moved on to bigger and greater service soon after the 1999 Memorial Day event. He has served in the New Jersey General Assembly since 2002, where he represents the 27th Legislative District. When I logged into his website yesterday, I went to the “Contact Me” portion of his site.  I wrote him a note telling him of this blog posting and was very happy to see on his site a check block which stated, “I want to volunteer”. Thank you John F. McKeon for YOUR honorable service to West Orange, New Jersey, and the United States of America!

Still serving, after all these years, NJ Assemblyman John F. McKeon

Expectations vs. Reality – Communications is the Key!

Greetings to all!

If this is the first time you are reading one of my blog posts I am going to stop you right now and ask you to first read my March 25, 2020 post entitled “Keeping it all in perspective!” As a matter of fact, even if you have already read it, please read it again right now. There is no such thing as over-communicating! In “Keeping it all in perspective!” I talk about the birth, life, and death of my only biological son, Ian Joseph Sanders.

Ian Joseph Sanders, Fall 1989

The focus of today’s post is reconciling the oft times differences between expectations versus reality. I’ll get right to the topic…First, don’t lie to me now, did you read/reread “Keeping it all in perspective!”? I am trusting you! I’ll give you a minute to think about your answer. 60, 59, 58…OK, time’s up, we need to move on.

Speaking of “moving on”, let’s talk about the unpopular topic of death for a moment. As you know, I was the father of a beautiful red-headed baby boy with Down’s Syndrome named Ian. We chose the name Ian as it meant “warrior” and we thought it fitting for the son of a West Point graduate and grandson of a navy veteran. It is easy to see by the picture below which service Ian preferred, just sayin’ Mr. Wild.

My son Ian, adoring my ARMY shirt 1988 Christmas Present. Also shown with me is Ian’s grandpa, Robert Wild

As it turned out, Ian was appropriately named as he had five surgeries in his 29-month lifetime, the first being open heart surgery at the age of 6 months and a weight of just 11 pounds. He was a warrior all right as he successfully recovered from those five surgeries only to succumb to pneumonia.

To say Ian’s death was a shock is a gross understatement. The doctor had told us that Ian was recovering well from his pneumonia and that he would be most likely be well enough to come home by the next weekend (January 6-7, 1990). I stayed with him on Friday, January 5 till he fell asleep around 10:30pm. I had high hopes of coming back the next day after finishing my New York Times and Newark Star Ledger paper routes and bringing Ian home. Ian’s three sisters, his mother, and I had left all our Christmas presents unopened under the Christmas tree waiting for this reunion as Ian had been in the hospital since before Christmas 1989. Our excitement level and expectations were sky high!

But the reality was that our reunion would not be a happy one that weekend. While I was “out on the route” Saturday morning my wife took a call from the hospital. She was excited as she expected to hear that Ian was ready to come home! Instead, she heard “Ian has expired”. In shock, she said “WHAT?!!!” The doctor repeated “Ian has expired” and hung up the phone. (as a side note, I do not believe in revenge, but I do believe in karma. That very doctor was a New York Times customer of mine who was one of those constant complainers. That is, until his own son passed away three years after Ian died. Suddenly, the small, petty things didn’t matter to the doctor anymore. Karma?)

Expectations versus reality. I first learned about the relationship between those two concepts from the funeral director who hosted Ian’s viewings. He was also a trained psychologist. About a month after Ian’s passing, our funeral director invited Ian’s mother and me to join a handful of other couples who had recently lost a child to a “grief seminar.”

The counselor began by welcoming all of us to the seminar with the statement,” We all expect to bury our parents. We sometimes expect to bury a spouse or sibling. We NEVER expect to bury our child. And that is why each of you were invited here today.” He started his session by drawing a circle on a blank flip chart that was mounted on an easel.  Inside the circle he wrote the word “EXPECTATIONS

EXPECTATIONS

He then flipped the page to a blank sheet and drew another circle. In this second circle he wrote the word “REALITY

He then flipped to the third blank chart and this time drew two blank circles far apart from each other. He wrote the word “Expectations” in one circle and “Reality” in the other. He drew a straight line connecting the two circles and told us that the line between the two circles represented grief, stress, depression, anxiety or any emotion that exists when expectations and reality are not in alignment.

That made a lot of sense to all of us in the room.  What the counselor described next was the most insightful point I have learned in my entire life.

He stated that every day our mind records a snapshot of that day’s experiences and files it away in our memory bank. He likened our mind to a filing cabinet with an infinite number of potential files. He then mentioned that up until the day when our loved one passed away, our loved one appeared in that day’s snapshot. The day after our loved one’s funeral, the new snapshot no longer has our loved one in it. And the next day, and the next day, and the next. He stated that after hundreds of snapshots without our departed loved ones in it, our expectations slowly change. While we still grieve, we slowly become accustomed to the fact that we will not see our loved one (on this earth) anymore. In our flip chart scenario, this can be represented by the two circles coming slowly closer together until, eventually, they are almost concentric circles.

Grieving over time begins to align reality and expectations

Eventually (and experts say that this timeframe is three years for death of a loved one), the two circles converge to the point where one feels that expectations and reality are in harmony. This thought was both comforting and terrifying at the same time. Intellectually, knowing what was happening (and more importantly, going to happen) inside my mind and heart was enlightening, but the thought of it taking three years to get back to “normal” again was very depressing. However, once I processed that bit of information, I knew to expect a bumpy road, that it was normal to feel sad, normal to cry at the drop of a hat. But, knowing I would smile again SOMEDAY was encouraging.  Mind you, the grief is never 100% over. To this day I cannot make it through several songs without shedding tears. (“I Know You’re Out There Somewhere” by the Moody Blues, as well as “How Great Thou Art”).

O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder
Thy power throughout the universe displayed

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art

And when I think of God, His Son not sparing
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing
He bled and died to take away my sin

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art

I can’t finish that song; I’m tearing up as I am writing right now. I’ll be right back……

It is good to cry. Whoever wrote the Four Seasons’ song, “Big Boys Don’t Cry” wrote a great song, but they were also dead wrong.

I mentioned earlier that the example of the two circles was the most important lesson I learned my entire life. I learned that the two circles, representing expectations vs. reality apply universally, not only to grief situations.  It applies in life relationships, both business and private. I took that concept and applied it with great success long after Ian passed away.

Those of you I have had the privilege of working with over the years remember my touting the story as it applies to customers…whether they be students, staff, or faculty who call into our IT help desk at Rutgers University or to large pharma customers with stratospheric expectations whose IT projects I was managing as a project manager at Bell Atlantic.

 The great thing about using the circles in describing customer relations is that it doesn’t have to be a drawn out three-year, one snapshot a day process. As a matter of fact, your customers won’t hang around that long!

The key to ensuring that customers’ expectations are in line with reality is that famous catch-all word “COMMUNICATIONS

COMMUNICATIONS is the KEY!

I used to tell my direct reports (and my bosses on occasion) and my help desk staff that there is no such thing as over-communicating, especially when one is serving in a project management role. I would much rather communicate more than people like than to drop the ball thus widening the gap between customer expectations versus reality. Remember, the goal in all relationships is to create a world where expectations EQUALS reality!

The GOAL is to ensure EXPECTATIONS = REALITY!

And one other thing, remember that “bad news does not get better with time” Communicate clearly, truthfully, compassionately, and often.

So here we are, another silver lining moment. (If you don’t know what I am talking about, please read my May 6, 2020 post which begins with “Silver Linings Often Turn Gold…”). What started with the darkest memory in my life, losing my only son before his third birthday, led to counselling where I learned a life lesson that helped me guide all my relationships to this day. Remember, you can never over communicate. You can never over-communicate. And finally, there is no such thing as over-communication!

Please stay safe, healthy, and COMMUNICATE!

And most of all, ENJOY EVERY DAY!

Elvis Has Left the Building!

For those of you who have been reading my posts, you will see a familiar pattern. I have described “silver linings” often which usually indicates an unfortunate experience that leads to a good experience later. This is a story which starts good and gets better. The downside is that the bulk of the story occurred at the same time that I got caught drinking as a firstie at West Point.  (See post entitled, “They Still Call me SIR!”).  But remember, I didn’t let bad luck get me down. You can’t change the past, so get on with it.

My circuitous journey that ended up at The Pontiac Silverdome on New Year’s Eve 1975 watching Elvis LIVE was actually made possible by a West Point cadet named Wes Walters. Wes was also in Company H-2 along with me. Wes was a plebe when I was a yearling (sophomore) and we were in the same squad. A yearling is an “upper class cadet” along with the juniors (cows), and seniors (firsties). OK, I know your next question so let’s deal with it…. why are juniors called cows? Right? OK, juniors were called cows because “back in the day” (way before my time) cadets were not allowed to take their first vacation until their junior year. In other words, cadets had to wait two years for their first home vacation, which is a LOOOOOONG time. Hence, they were told that they couldn’t go ome till “the cows came home”. So, the emembers of West Point’s junior class were deemed to be “cows”. Get it? Good, now get over it over it.

Back to Mr. Walters. Wes and I had a special relationship, as did many yearlings and plebes. Often we yearlings were assigned a plebe that we were to mentor. It was a professional relationship, but since yearlings were only plebes the previous year, it was thought that we yearlings would be more compassionate with the oft time stressed out plebes. Wes was my plebe, so to say.

West Point H-2 Class of 1977 plebes (Wes Walters is second row, second from left)

Wes Walters was an exceptional plebe. Sharp as a tack and smart.  He handled the pressures of plebe year well, so our conversations became a little less formal.  It was common for a plebe to have a picture of their girlfriend on their desk (plebes were allowed 3 knick-knacks on their desk). It was also common for a yearling to kiddingly ask their plebe if their girlfriend had any friends. I didn’t break tradition, and Wes Walters’ girlfriend made it easy for me.  The picture that Wes (I mean Mr. Walters) had on his desk had two women in it. Both were quite attractive, so I felt it my duty to ask. (TRADITION). His “girlfriend’s girlfriend” was a beautiful looking woman wearing an all American (stars and stripes) bikini bathing suit. I asked Mr. Walters to ask his girlfriend if her friend wanted a pen pal. (they were from the West Coast and there was no possibility of my ever meeting this Miss America). Wes said he would check.

Joe Sanders yearling year

To my surprise, about a week later I received a letter from someone in Arizona named Karen Smith. (By the way, cadets and soldiers in general LOVE to get mail.  There was no internet or cell phones then, and we could only use the limited number of pay phones on a very infrequent basis. Letters were definite morale boosters, except those of the “Dear John” variety!

Karen was a very nice young lady, a senior in high school at the time.  We began very innocently writing letters to each other, approximately once every couple of months just talking about what was going on in our lives. Somewhere in our communications we talked about music. I remember telling her that I loved Rock n’ Roll (today we call it Classic Rock) and I remember telling me that she loved Elvis.

After a year or so, our communications slowed down to every six months. As a matter of fact, I thought we had just totally faded away from each other until Monday, December 22, 1975. Recall in my aforementioned post that I was a member of the Cadet Public Relations Council (CPRC) and got to go home earlier than other cadets to visit local high schools in the Detroit area. On December 22, I was scheduled to catch a bus to LaGuardia Airport to fly home in the late afternoon. I was required to go to lunch formation, and then baby it was off to Motown I would go!

Mail call was at noon, right before the lunch formation. I almost missed mail call as I didn’t care, I was going to be home in less than 8 hours. I had just gotten caught drinking two days before, so I was planning on letting loose during my winter break as I knew that coming back to West Point was going to suck big time walking punishment tours on the cold cement (called the “area” ) in the middle of winter. I managed to grab the one piece of mail on my way to the bus. It was from Karen Smith, my long-lost pen pal. I hadn’t heard from her in over a year!

Then, I was astonished to noticed that the return address was from an address in Royal Oak, Michigan, the town right next to my hometown of Southfield, Michigan!!!!! I ripped open the envelope and read Miss America’s letter.  SHE HAD MOVED PERMANENTLY to Royal Oak and I would actually be less than 5 miles from her in the next 6 hours!!!

You know where this is heading don’t you?

When my parents picked me up from the airport I told them I needed to borrow their car THAT NIGHT, and I told them the Miss America story. (remember, I had just sold my car to another cadet, the car that had the Southern Comfort in the trunk, never mind) My mom didn’t want me taking her car out to hunt down Miss America, but she agreed to drive me their that night. I simply HAD to visit Karen at her Royal Oak home THAT NIGHT, probably less than two days after she had mailed me her letter!

With mom driving, I went to the address, climbed the stairs, and knocked on her door at about 8pm. She said, “who is it?” I replied, “Cadet Joe Sanders from West Point”. She replied “WHO?” and I said, “Joe Sanders, the guy you have been writing to from West Point”. She excitedly said, “Oh My God, is it really you?” and she opened the door. I said, “Karen Smith from Arizona?” and she said “yes!, please come in!”. I had already made up my mind that I would not enter her apartment if she asked as it was already inappropriate to just show up unannounced, plus Alberta Blanche Sanders (mom) had the timer on me (mom knew me pretty well). I replied,” No thank you Karen, I just wanted to let you know that I live very close to you, and maybe we can go out to dinner while I am in town?” She agreed and she gave me her phone number. We politely hugged and I departed for the car.

The next day I was doing some late Christmas shopping at Hudsons Northland and happened to walk by a ticket office. I saw that the The King was going to be playing at the Pontiac Silverdome in just one week! I bought two tickets immediately, hoping that Kathy would go to the concert with me (remember, I mentioned earlier that she had told me she loved Elvis). When I got home, I called her immediately and our date was set!

I wanted to make it a great New Year’s Eve, as it was the eve of our nation’s bi-centennial year. I would be graduating from West Point soon and I wanted to go into 1976 in style! I picked Karen up for our pre-show dinner date and took her to a fine steak house. I ordered filet mignon and it was then that I learned (actually, I was reminded) that she was a vegetarian. I apologized profusely and told her we would go to a different restaurant, but she insisted we stay and that she would order a salad. (I am sure that in some previous letter she had told me that she was a vegetarian, but it wasn’t information I needed to know, or so I had thought). We finished our dinner and polite conversation and headed for Pontiac.

We got to the Silverdome late as traffic was horrendous.  I was concerned that we might miss a portion of the show. We got to our floor seats around 10pm and were relieved that Elvis had not taken the stage at that point. Finally, well after 11pm, all the lights in the stadium were dimmed. It was time for ELVIS to enter the stage.

Elvis backstage in Pontiac Michigan

The 60,000+ person crown got relatively quiet as everyone strained to get a look at Elvis’ entrance. Suddenly, thousands of women began screaming and thousands of flashcubes lit up the stadium as Elvis Presley waked out of a long tunnel and onto the stage. No stadium lights were on, yet the whole arena was lit up because of the flashcubes from spectator’s polaroid cameras! Of all of the pageantry of seeing Elvis, it was that flashcube-lit Silverdome moment that is what I remember most! Who’d have thunk it?!

Elvis began with “C.C. Rider” and then addressed the crowd. He threw in a few signature “Thank you very much” comments and then confided that he was nervous. He said he was very nervous as this was the largest crowd he had ever performed before! The never-saw-their-team- in-the-Super Bowl Lions fans went crazy for the King! (sadly, 44 years later, the Lions still haven’t been to the Super Bowl☹).

The Down side of being from Motown

Elvis then followed with a confession that he had “ripped his pants” in front of the largest crowd ever! Nobody cared, we all just wanted to be a part of the magic night!

At midnight, we all joined Elvis and sang Auld-Lang-Syne together as the huge screen flashed “1976”.

All was good with the world, 1976 was finally here! The stadium announcer made the announcement that “Elvis has left the building” and we all headed out

I took Miss America back to her place in Royal Oak, gave her a polite good night kiss, and I never saw her again. But thanks to Wes Walters, I got to see Elvis Presley live, and I am happy for that to this very day!

I SAW ELVIS LIVE!

Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear…is fear itself.” These were the opening words spoken by President Franklin D. Roosevelt at his first inaugural address after winning the 1932 presidential election against Herbert Hoover.  It was the peak of the great Depression, and people were scared. America needed a leader to take charge, and FDR did.

President Franklin D Roosevelt on Inauguration Day – Nothing to Fear

This is not a political story, quite the contrary. The theme here is combatting fear and having the courage to take on battles when logic would tell you that you cannot win. Friends, EVERYTHING we do in life begins with a thought. Our mind, and controlling our thoughts, is absolutely the difference between success and failure in most things that we do in life. For those of you who want a biblical reference, I refer you to Joshua 1:9 which states “Have not I commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Today I will share some stories which exemplify what it takes to overcome fear.

As is often the case, I will share with you some of my experiences as a West Point cadet. We begin with my first year, known as plebe year, and my great friendship with the Department of Physical Education (NOT). Back in 1972, after completing New Cadet Training (known as Beast Barracks) from July through August, New Cadets officially become Cadets (a promotion from New Cadet) and the academic year begins. Cadets are split up into one of the then 36 companies (I was in Company H, Second regiment (known as H-2). Back in those days, cadets remained in their companies for the entire four years until they graduated.  You sank or swam with your classmates within your company. You might say that your company classmates ae like a fraternity on steroids, with out the fun and games.

Company H-2, Class of 1976 during Plebe Year

West Point’s physical training program is extremely rigorous. Every plebe enrolls in and must successfully pass boxing, survival swimming, wrestling, and gymnastics. Like the quote in Apollo 13, “Failure was NOT an option”. A cadet who cannot pass all of the requirements by DPE did not graduate, plain and simple.  

Plebes were assigned to one of the four courses randomly as each would last half a semester. As fate would have it, my first Phys ed class was boxing (you fellow grads know where this is going) …stay with me. Boxing, whether you like the sport or not, certainly puts a cadet under stress, creates a level of fear, and helps a cadet develop courage.

Physical education classes were just one component of physical training at West Point. We also had mandatory intramural sports for most of our cadet careers.  I’ll never forget in the Spring of my senior (firstie) year our tactical officer, MAJ Campbell, calling the 30+ firsties into a large meeting room (referred to as a day room) and saying, “Gentlemen, as you know, participation in intramural sports is voluntary during Spring of your final year.  I am here to find out which sport each of you volunteer for.” So much for being voluntary!

I regress, back to plebe year. I survived the eight weeks or so of boxing class, only having to go to the hospital once with a migraine when a classmate sucker-punched me when we were not supposed to be going at full strength. For most plebes, finishing boxing was a huge relief. I was no exception.

However, my relief was short-lived. About a week after I had finished boxing class, I heard the traditional “BANG BANG” on my cadet room door. For a plebe, that knock was the signal to jump to attention as an upperclassman was about to enter the room. The entrant was a firstie, Joe Marvil, from H-2 class of 1973. He said to me,” Mr. Sanders, have you had boxing yet?”. I responded, “Yes, sir”. He then said, “How much do you weigh?’ I responded, “180 pounds, sir”.  He then said “Great, here’s your jersey, boxing practice tomorrow afternoon.” I had just inherited the one-step-below heavyweight slot on our intermural boxing team. YAY (NOT). Once again, I beat the odds. There had been only a one in four chance that I would have boxing as my first of four Phys ed courses my plebe year, and of course, I won. (you cannot box on the intramural boxing team unless you have already passed plebe boxing)

Before I go into my stellar boxing career with H-2, I’d like to go back to the topic of fear (in a funny way).  At West Point, the Commandant of Cadets, a one-star general officer, is responsible for all the cadet training and discipline. His was the job of ensuring that we “built character” every day.  He and his staff were certainly to be respected, and yes, even feared. Oddly enough, we as cadets took FDR’s quote and adopted it for our own cause.  We used to say, “We have nothing to fear but Feir HIMSELF” It turns out that our Commandant of Cadets was Brigadier General Feir.

Nothing to fear but FEIR HIMSELF!

In close competition with Commandant, the Department of Mathematics also struck fear in the hearts of many plebes. Six days a week, 80 minutes each day, we had calculus class and were forced to “defend our boards” by doing calculus problems on the chalkboard and present our solutions verbally if called upon.

Defending my board during the Spring of 1973

Is there any wonder that the head of the Department of Mathletics in 1972 was none other than Colonel Dick?

Math Faculty, headed up by Colonel Dick (center front)

Back to intramural boxing.  Our first bout was scheduled against our arch-rival, company I-2, the week after we got back from winter break. Nobody was in shape (thank God). I was scheduled to fight a very good fighter and classmate by the name of “Rolf Herbstler”. As the second-to-last fight of the company match (there were a total of 7 fights, each three rounds of two minutes each), I remember nervously shadow boxing while the other fights progressed.  I watched the other fights and will never forget watching one of my classmates from H-2, Carl Menyhert, destroy his opponent. Carl was so fast you could not even see his fists move. Just like Feir and Dick, Carl’s name described him…he was the man who applied “Many Hurts”! He could land a series of five to ten blows to an opponent before anyone know what was going on. Carl was really pumped up, earning respect as a plebe, winning his first fight.

H-2 Boxing Sensation Carl “Many Hurts” Menyhert

Seeing me in the corner of the gym warming up, he came over to encourage me. He said, “Joe you are going to do great! As long as you’re not boxing against Herbstler. Who are you fighting?”. I replied “Herbstler”. Thanks Carl. Thankfully, Herbstler was also out of shape after having just returned from Winter break and he didn’t put me in the hospital. I lost the fight but didn’t lose my dignity!

Rolf Herbstler, Company I-2

For some reason, I only remember one additional match plebe year, and this was against another rival company, D-2.  They were good, and their heavyweight boxer was one of the best around. Without saying it, we all thought our heavyweight fighter would lose to D-2.  That meant that we had to win 4 fights BEFORE the heavyweight match in order to beat D-2 overall. As my luck would have it, we had only won three fights leading into my bout against a much taller (with much longer arms) fighter from the class of 1974. I realized that I had to win my fight, or it was likely that H-2 would lose the entire match that day.

This is what my D-2 , Class of 1974 opponent looked like to me

The moment of truth had arrived. I thought about those brave soldiers on D-Day (one of which was my Uncle Norm) assaulting the cliffs of Normandy and figured that all I had to do was conduct an all-out frontal assault for six minutes! I knew I was going to get hit, many times, because there was no way I would be able to out-reach my opponent. I made the decision (AND OVERCAME FEAR) that I would have to survive a flurry of my opponent’s punches before I could get one of my own in. 

And so, it began, when the first round started, I began my assault. I got bloodied pretty badly trying to get inside, but he didn’t knock me down. We went at it for two and a half rounds (one-minute left in the final round) when my opponent threw his arms up and started to walk away.  I was trying to Many Hurt him, and he was tired of my flurries. I then delivered a round house punch to his face which further pissed him off. We went toe-to-toe for the last 50 seconds. There is no doubt that technically, he won the fight as he certainly landed more punches than I did. But, with my bloodied face and all, the referee raised my hand in the center of the ring as the winner. Apparently, the judges didn’t like that my opponent had actually quit in the third round and they awarded me the fight based upon the courage I displayed.

My bout clinched the fourth match for H-2 and, after our heavyweight lost his fight, we still won 4-3.  That moment was a turning point for me in my plebe year. I had “made the grade” in the eyes of the H-2 upper class. Suddenly, upper classmen cut me some slack when they would normally have harassed me.  I felt great “taking one for the team” and having the team appreciate it. So, I ended my boxing career at an even .500 with one win and one loss.

However, that wasn’t end of my association with boxing at West Point. My senior year I served as the intramural boxing coach for H-2. (See the post entitled “They Still Called me SIR!”). It was now 1975 and much had happened in the boxing world in the previous year.

In 1974, Muhammad Ali beat heavyweight champ Joe Frazier in Zaire in what was known as the “Rumble in the Jungle”.

He was a heavy underdog against Foreman but beat him using a technique known as the “rope-a-dope”.

Roe-a-dope defined by Wikipedia

The rope-a-dope wasn’t invented when I fought in 1972, so I had had to fight my way in to my reach my opponent.  But, three years later, when I coached our team, the rope-a-dope was a tactic that just might work in the right situation.

I always remembered the phase “Fatigue makes cowards of us all”.  I also remembered my days back at Levey Junior High School with Mr. (Mike) Halstead as my basketball coach. Like Vince Lombardi, Mr. Halstead believed that physical conditioning, and lots of it, made a team and individuals more competitive. I used that logic as the H-2 boxing coach in 1975-6.

It all came together when we were fighting one of our fiercest rivals, Company G-2. We all knew it was going to be a day of close, hard fights. We were hoping to get to the heavyweight fight leading 4-2 as their heavyweight was a great boxer. Our heavyweight, Bob Manion from H-2 class of ’77 was good, but the G-2 guy was about a foot taller than Bob and much heavier.

All season I had been making the team do wind sprints and other conditioning drills. I wanted our team to be in the best shape possible, because, as I said, “fatigue makes cowards of us all”.

So, there we were, tied 3-3, heading into Manion’s fight. I told Bob that he was going to do the rope-a-dope. (hopefully the big G-2 heavyweight would throw a lot of punches early and get tired. I told Bob to protect himself, but not to return any punches until he heard me yell “GO! GO! GO!”

The G-2 guy was in pretty good shape, but not good enough to beat H-2’s conditioning.  Midway through the final round, I saw the G-2 boxer’s arms drop as he was getting tired. I then yelled at the top of my lungs “GO! GO! GO! MANION, GO, GO, GO!!!!!’. I yelled for the last thirty seconds while Manion employed Meny Hurt punches on the opponent. His last-minute flurry brought the bigger guy down and we all jumped in the ring to celebrate Bob Manion’s rope-a-dope upset.

H-2 walked away as winners that day, but why? We didn’t necessarily have the better fighters, just like I certainly wasn’t better than either of the opponents I faced plebe year. But we were WINNERS because we BELIEVED in ourselves and faced fear head on.

Facing fear, like life in general, is a series of choices. If you fall, get up, never quit, and realize that you really do have nothing to fear but fear itself!

They still called me SIR!

Today (June 2) is a big day for me.  It was 44 years ago today that I graduated from West Point, along with well over 800 other classmates who comprised the “Spirit of ‘76”. Every West Point graduate knows that he or she graduated from the best class ever to come out of the Academy, except that the Class of ’76 actually is the best class!

Truth be told, the Spirit of ’76 produced over 33 generals last I checked. Just sayin’. Oh, and I was roommate with two of them (Helmick and Swan) …I like to say I “mentored” these men…. just sayin’ again!

Those of you who know me well know that there is never just one story in these blog posts.  Today’s stories all deal with my West Point experience, and mostly about my senior (called firstie) year.

If you have been following me here you will recall a common theme amongst a few of my posts. One of my stories, entitled “Silver Linings often turn gold! Or “Charlie 234 where are you?” talks about good things that happen to me after falling upon bad luck. Another post was entitled, “Leadership Rivalries – Woody Hayes and the “State Up North”. It was another example of getting lucky after being unlucky. So, I start today’s story with something embarrassing.

Flash back to firstie year at the Academy…I was in Company H2, then one of 36 cadet companies ranging from A-1 through I-4 (do the math… A1 through I1 =9, A2 through I2 =9, etc. (hey eye, you look like shit!) (we used to yell at the I2 cadets who passed in front of us at parades, a good rivalry). 

Doing the Math!

We were called the “Happy Company”, a general reference to being a civilized group of men (the ladies weren’t at West Point till a month after we graduated) as opposed to the poor (but very tough) guys that survived life in First Regiment (A1 through I1).

Check out our mug:

Clearly SATCH, not SNATCH!

It is time to clear my name right now for those of you who think I was a troublemaker or a lady’s man. I was neither! I was just unlucky.  As a matter of fact, my senior photo, which appears in the Class of ’76 yearbook even refers to my lack of luck. By the way, see that I am referred to as “Satch” on my H2 mug, a name I got playing basketball in high school.  It was a reference to Satch Sanders, a great former Boston Celtics star. Back to the yearbook…every firstie has a friend write his tribute which eventually appears in our yearbook.  I entrusted my roommate, Mike Kelley, one of the straightest, smartest, stay-out-of-troublist cadets EVER to write my “tribute”. Well, that was a HUGE mistake. I have taken a photo of what Mike wrote in the yearbook copy that I had given to my Grandma Stella Sanders as a gift. You will see that I whited out the second letter in what was written as “Snatch”, and obvious misspelling on Mike’s part. SOB. Touché Mike…Well done!

Mike Kelley’s Mistake

Now that you know that I was a good cadet and a great leader that mentored two future general officers, let me whine a little bit with some facts about my lack of luck. Again, drinking was involved. You recall my Woody Hayes story which started while I sat room confinement my plebe (freshman) year. Well, here is the “rest of the story…

As a cadet, I signed up for what is called “Cadet Public Relations Council (CPRC). In short, I would be allowed to leave the Academy a few days before the rest of the cadet corps to go and recruit, in uniform, at high schools in the Detroit area.  For example, if the Corps was released on December 22 for winter break, I would get to leave on the 19th or 20th. It was a great deal, as was any opportunity to get off of the academy grounds.

In December of 1975 (another future post will tell the “saw Elvis life on Dec 31, 1975” story), I was scheduled to depart West Point on the afternoon of Monday, December 22 for Detroit. I basically had to forfeit my prior weekend to study as I had to make-up work that I would be missing in class on Dec 22-23.

In addition to studying, I had to deliver the keys to a car I was selling to another cadet. The car was being stored in Highland Falls as it was against the rules for me to own a car at that point. It was a decent car (it started), a yellow Opel 1900. (picture is not the exact car, but you get the picture)

Opel 1900, with trunk large enough for a bottle of Southern Comfort

My problems began when I realized that in the trunk of my car, the keys of which were about to be turned over to its new owner, had an unopened bottle of Southern Comfort whiskey in the back. This bottle clearly added to the value of the car and I had no intention of letting it go!. So, I confiscated the bottle out of the car and brought it back to my cadet room for storage until I left for CPRC. I figured I would tuck it neatly away in the bottom drawer for a few days under our clothes closet and then take it with me home for winter break. The best (or worst) laid plans.

There is alcohol in this bottle 😦

Two days before going home for Christmas my firstie year I had no intention of studying too hard.  I was feeling all excited about getting the hell out of Dodge! It was then, on Saturday night, December 19, 1975 that fate struck.  Here is where I PROVE that I was just UNLUCKY, just like when Tallman caught me drinking as a plebe! And now, the rest of the story…

I was studying along with my roommate, Lance Locklear (see photo of Lance marching in a parade below:

Lance Locklear, H2, ’76 marching in parade

Lance was (is) a great guy and roommate, He was smart and helped me out a lot.  I was a bad influence on him, though.  On this Saturday night, we were in the room studying and drinking RC Cola:

RC Cola (not illegal by itself)

We started getting bored, so we cranked up the music a little and I asked Lance if he wanted to “really drink” He did not know about the Southern Comfort hidden in my bottom drawer. I didn’t tell anybody about that bottle so they wouldn’t be put in an ethical dilemma if they were asked about it (remember the improper question story of my first time getting caught drinking plebe year (See my post entitled “French, Drinking, and Space (Tallman, Borman, and Beyond!)). I pulled the bottle out, opened it, and poured some Southern Comfort into the clear glass that had here-to-fore contained only RC Cola. It looked great, same color as the RC Cola alone.  I was in like Flynn! Lance was a little nervous but joined me. Three other classmates from H-2…Steve Daniel (now a minister), Steve Vernon, and recently departed Bob Cox. Two of those three joined in, with Steve Vernon refraining.

Now, the bad luck fact, and the rest of the rest of the story…remember earlier me saying that there were 36 cadet companies and I was in H2? Well, I was the intramural boxing coach for H2, and our next matches were against our rivals in F2. This was right about the time that Ali had beaten Joe Frazer in the “Thrilla in Manilla”. As a matter of fact, the Sports Illustrated cover from that month appears below:

“I WANT F2 AGAIN”

I had taken that cover, cut out the “ALI” and replaced it with “F2”, and taped it to the outside of our door which faced the hallway. So, as luck would have it, on that Saturday night, within minutes of 4 out of 5 of us in the room taking our sips of alcohol, the OC (officer-in-charge) decided to knock on our door. We all stood at attention when the officer entered the room.  The Southern Comfort bottle had just been secured back into the drawer, but my never-got-in-trouble roommate Lance panicked. I was standing over by the drawer and Lance slowly pivoted as his eyes were focused on me. The OC walked up to me and said, “Mr. Sanders, Mr. Locklear’s eyes are giving you away, what are you drinking?” (I immediately had flashbacks from plebe year with Tallman).  I said, “RC Cola and something else, sir”.  Of course, he then asked, “What else Cadet Sanders?” I replied, “Southern Comfort, SIR”.  He then asked, “Does that have alcohol in it?” I said,” YES, SIR”. He then turned to Lance and asked if he had been drinking? Lance replied “Yes, Sir”. He then turned to Fanny (Steve Daniels), Steve Vernon, and Bob Coxe. He said, “how about you guys?” Bob and Fanny remained silent while Steve Vernon said quite loudly “NO SIR!” I guess the OC thought they all had replied in the negative, but Fanny and Bob got lucky. Only Lance and I would have to pay the price for this crime. As the OC departed, he laughingly stated that it was very unfortunate for me that I had posted the “I want F2 Again” copy of SI on by door because he was the tactical officer for Company F2!!! In other words, there was a 1 in 36 chance that the F2 TAC would be on duty that night and my sign drew his attention, so he decided to pay us a visit.  This action made me an official “Century Man” (over 100 punishment hours walking the area).

Working my way up to becoming a “Century Man”

So, I went home for my CPRC a few days later, enjoyed my couple of weeks off, and got mentally prepared to face the music when I got back.

Thankfully, I was about to graduate from West Point and figured I could do anything for 5 months! Along with my punishment tours, months of room confinement, and many demerits, I was also busted to the lowest rank possible for a cadet in the senior class (a cadet sergeant).

My parents were so disappointed when I arrived home for Christmas break, they always wanted me to be a cadet captain, or “striper dog” as we used to call them.

Stiper Dog Statue

But it wasn’t going to happen for Satch. I graduated from West Point on June 2, 1976, wearing the two measly stripes as a cadet Sergeant.

2LT Joseph R. Sanders, June 2, 1976, YES SIR!

But, guess what, there is a silver lining to this story as well…we as cadets that were in the bottom portion of our class academically had a saying. Our question to anybody that would listen was, “What do they call a West Point graduate that finished near the bottom of the class?”

We very proudly say, “They call us SIR!” We all start over as second lieutenants in the United States army! I have no regrets, for as Frank Sinatra and then Elvis sang, “I did it MY way!!

Proud ’76 Classmates tossing our hats after being given the graduation command “Class of 1976, DISMISSED!”

And, best of all, My Grandma Stella Sanders was very proud of her angelic grandson West Point graduate!, despite Mike Kelley’s efforts to bring discredit upon my stellar reputation!

From left to right: H2 classmates Floyd Bowles, Mike Kelley, Johnny Angell, and me.

God Bless America!

I did it MY WAY!

Stay tuned folks, next week we will delve into my illustrious boxing career as a cadet, you won’t want to miss this one! Remember, “fatigue makes cowards of us all”!

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