As a book of reflections and commentaries concerning one's earlier life as a child, a teenager, and a young adult; and which is furnished for children now of the same age; it must by necessity move forward as well as backward in time. The events that transpired, and lessons inscribed on a young intellect, happened at different times. There were intervals when it took years for the message on morality, on living, or on whatever, lodged on the outer periphery of the brain, to sink down through the cerebral cortex to the cerebrum or telencephalon where rationale decisions are made. This may have been because of the number of times I was hit on the head as a youngster.
Since the timing of this writing coincides with our daughters ages, the earlier chapters begin with their ages and progress forward or backward in time depending on events remembered and on my frame of mind at the moment.
The last year of high school is neither the last important year of life (although it seemed like it at the time) nor the best year ever, but it is one of intense growth and excitement. As a senior in high school the very worst and best can and will happen. These fleeting moments are captured in time and space where youthful exuberance dominates and is forgiven. Mistakes made, if not too costly or permanent in nature, are overlooked (that means parents and teachers suffer quietly); and successes are held high by parents, cheered by friends for friendship sake, and maligned by jealous peers because only a few get to be acclaimed for deeds done.
As long as one remembers no one is president forever and no one wins every race, life is simpler. Of course there's Edwin Moses who did win every race he ran for years and years. As a high hurdler in high school I was always amazed at the success he enjoyed in a sport where I won and lost with equal regularity, and even in winning sometimes suffering humiliation.
It was one of those balmy spring days in western Kansas, the sun was hot as always, but the breeze was fresh and not too strong. If the wind was over a couple of miles an hour in intensity the judges would disqualify any meet record, not that there was any possibility of that happening where I was concerned. The stands were full (there isn't any surf, Disneyland, or other distraction competing with the annual relays) and I'd won my 120 yard high hurdle heat to make the finals. They raked the cinder track before the finals and I was concentrating mentally on form, form, form. For a week before the race I'd been practicing by placing a coin on each hurdle, the object being to knock off each coin without disturbing the hurdle. I had to have perfect form over the hurdle because I was a tad slow on the ground in-between hurdles.
Then the starter said "take your marks, get set", and we waited for the gun. I jumped offside first, later telling everyone that I was psyching out some of the opposition, after three more false starts the field was off, and I ran one of the better races finishing first with a new record time for me, a slow 15.2 seconds. While I made it to the state meet later that year, the top guns from Wichita were running close a full second faster than my best time.
Back to the 1960 Garden City Relays -- Unfortunately disaster struck as I broke the tape. The fellow to my left hit the last hurdle and he veered into my lane falling and catching my heel as I finished. It was, on hindsight, probably a classic ballet maneuver, I rolled in midair landing on my back on the track, sliding backward to a stop. A few sympathetic fans helped dig out most of the cinders in time for my next race; the way the lye burned (a memory etched forever on the brain) probably helped me finish my leg of the mile relay without any comments from Wayne Dickerson, the couch, to the effect I was dogging it.
My interest in track and field started the summer before my sophomore year in '56 when great Kansas miler visited Garden City and spoke to our youth group at the First Methodist Church on North Main Street one evening. It was an informal meeting held down in front of the sanctuary and this tall, rangy looking fellow talked to us about not giving up no matter what anyone said. He spoke of a boy being caught in a fire as a young lad of eight. The boy and his brother had gone to their one room school house early so they could start the fire and warm-up the school. This was around 1913 and the kerosine caught fire, got out of control, and the boy was severely burned. The doctors wanted to amputate both legs. Dozens of operations and skin grafts later the boy began to walk again. The boy from Ashton, Kansas grew up, went to Kansas University and became a famous track star known as the Kansas Miler, A Legend for almost a decade -- Glenn Cunningham.
He held every American record for the mile, half mile, and 1500 meters. he finished second at the 1932 Olympics, and in the next few years lowered the mile standard to 4:06:7. For a few years Glenn Cunningham had three of the five fastest mile times every recorded.
The gentleman who spoke to our youth group that evening was Wes Santee. Wes provided a very poignant lesson to remember about overcoming adversity and what it sometimes takes to triumph over a real crisis. Wes Santee was the son of poor farmers in Elkhart, Kansas. He worked on his parents' farm and never had the time for organized sports. Wes compensated by running to and from school every day. He set a goal for himself and was soon known as the Kansas Flash, beating everyone from the half mile to two mile. Wes went on to Kansas University and by the time he was through he had accomplished his goal of breaking every record that Glenn Cunningham had every set, including the mile mark which had stood for almost 20 years.
Wes was not allowed to run the mile in the 1952 Olympics because of an arbitrary decision by the Olympic Committee, which decided he would run the 2 mile race, in which he had qualified, even though he was the fastest miler in the world. He tried again to go to 1956 Olympics with a world record time of 4:00:5 but was not allowed to compete because the National AAU said he had taken too much in expense money as a participant in track meets. Wes sued The AAU, and he lost the suit, but before it was over the reasons he was disqualified from the Olympics, became accepted practice.
The Kansas tradition of dominance in the mile by Glenn and Wes Santee was continued by San Romano who represented my era in track and he was followed by the greatest miler of the 20th century, Jim Ryun, who broke the four minute mile barrier while at East High School in Wichita and by the time he was through competing, Jim Ryun had lowered the world mark to 3:51:3
Going back to Edwin Moses, it's not necessarily wining every race that matters; although it beats coming in second a lot, and if you're being paid as Moses was, it means eating steak rather than beans. But in terms of the larger picture, did you do the very best you were capable of doing?
The following story is about a guy who always did his very best and served as a role model for me even though he was a year younger. In 1961 I was in my first year of college at Wichita State University (WSU), where someone had decided I was a fair-to-middling football player and gave me a free ride (explanation-- a four year football scholarship and when you're halfway between Fairview, Texas and Middling, Oklahoma you're fair-to- middling).
It was the spring of 1961 at WSU and I'd joined the track team for something to do besides study. The team was small, just a half dozen or so of us. The miler, an Indian from Haskell Indian Institute, ran the mile, two miles, and a half mile on the medley relay team. I did the weights (shot and discus), both hurdles, and a leg on the mile relay team.
The state track meet was held that spring at WSU and Fritz Snoggrass our coach asked our help in officiating the meet that year. I remember a senior from Southeast High in Wichita named Jim Ryun. This team wore light blue uniforms if I remember correctly, which reminded one of the color of the sky. Jim had already run the mile, and won; he was the first high school miler in history to run the mile under 4 minutes. Jim's team was in the running to win the class A state championship and Jim had been asked to anchor the last 220, a half lap around the oval. His team was tired, everyone was beat, after-all it was a typical, hot, Kansas day in late spring.
As the third leg of the relay team handed off to Ryun in last place with five other runners out in front, Jim was in the fourth or fifth lane. All the runners were staggered and the inside runners had made up most of the distance between their positions and Southeast's by the time they were going into the last turn, in-other-words they were ahead. The front runners looked uncatchable, but at that moment, in the center of the track, there was an explosion of energy. Today you'd think of "Quantum Leap" the T.V. series, and it was as if the rest of the world had gone into slow motion. A roar began in the stands and built to a thundering crescendo as it dawned on everyone present what was happening.
I was in mid-field, my stop watch was on Jim Ryun, getting the split time; and as Ryun entered the far turn at 100 yards my mouth was open; and I was screaming along with the thousands of other athletes and spectators. I yelled to Fritz nearby "he's at a world record pace!" As we continued to watch the blue diamond surge around the far turn, one after another of the other runners was passed. Coming off the far turn into the straight-away it became a race between Jim and a sprinter for East High on the outside. As they approached the tape, it seemed to me that in that last dash to the finish, Jim Ryun was still accelerating as he blew past the last runner wining the relay.
Talking to Jim later I told him my split time showed him at an unbelievable pace for 100 meters (especially for someone in high school) and what was so amazing was he had already run the mile in about 4.05 to win. His 220 from a running start was almost 20 seconds, and as we spoke he was coming down off an adrenaline high and just said it was something he had to do for his team to win the state meet; he never thought of the time, how fast he would have to run to win, only of coming in first.
Generally everyone remembers Jim Ryun, the Kansas miler, who made it to the Olympic finals only to finish second in the fifteen hundred meters because of the high altitude of Mexico City, and in one race he was remembered most for being tripped up while running. I'll always remember the high school senior who did the impossible because it had to be done. I was talking about winning every race; and as you can see, it doesn't always happen even if you're the very best in the world at the time. What's important is you tried your best. Defining that best is an individual thing, but what Jim's effort and what Edwin Moses' repeated race successes demonstrate is that one's best is always a little more than they've ever given before, not what they've done in the past.
Life's contests may not all be just about winning and losing, even though it seem like that's how everyone keeps score. A note of uncertainty, yes, but it's not meant that way. The problem is that we live in a very competitive society and certain elements of our society keep score. How many A's on your report card, were you the class president, why did you lose that ball game, and on and on. And to some degree a scorecard of pluses and minuses is relevant to the extent it helps us improve and become better people.
However, it may take a lifetime to come to grips with the reality that you also have to please yourself at some level. I'm the best writer, I'm the best teacher, I'm the best artist, I'm the best ball player, I'm the best speaker, the best banker, or I'm the best person for the job at hand.
A lot of people may not think so, a heck of a situation if the coach thinks you're not the most qualified person for the job or position; but if you can live with yourself after the game is over, the last test taken, and know -- I did my best: Then that's what matters, and there's no reason to worry about all the what ifs.
My senior year began; I was taking a few subjects in high school and several at the local junior college. You got college credit for learning how to do tricks with Post Versalog slide rule. All the engineers in college use to walk around with Post attached to their belt. A modern version of Jesse James, who can draw and calculate the log of cosine to the nth power the fastest. Today it's an HP with more memory and computing power than a room full of engineers with Post slide rules. Anyway, school had begun, I was captain of the football team, and was on my way to the annual school assembly where everyone was meeting to nominate the "leaders" for the student council (you call it ASB today).
Well, it was only two weeks into the school year so I should be forgiven for being asleep while my competition, Dennis Smith -- the school brain (a nerd today), was campaigning for senior class president. Regardless of my comments here, Dennis was okay, if bookish, bow- tie and all, and he later got his Ph.D. in comparative literature. The last I heard he was teaching at KU. But, boy howdy, was I ticked. A girl I know and dated, Judith, was band president, all my "group" was on the Council as head of some organization and here I was, out in the cold. No matter that I hadn't been involved for two years, other than as vice president of the sophomore class, all of a sudden it was important.
A football buddy, Guy Martin, was helpful when asked and given a minute's notice, he stood up and nominated me as senior class president. With five days until the election the school was plastered with posters for Dennis, he really wanted to be president in the worst way. I had a few signs up, but for some reason I don't think the latrine was a good place to promote my candidacy.
Why go on with this memory, I lost! ME! I was out in the cold, hurt, and just a little mad. Not that angry hurt, but mad a myself because I didn't have my act together early on (I only lost the election by a few votes) and began to feel like vindicating myself. What to do was simple enough, become the head of some organization and I'd be "in", at least on the Council.
Well, after two years on the yearbook staff, the easiest avenue was the school yearbook. Bernadine Sittes, head of the yearbook staff, had been my Latin teacher for two years, was a friend, so I went to see her since she appointed the editors. Lo and behold she had already appointed two of my friends as co-editors since she know I had so any other things to do. I was crushed!
The local Kiwanis group visited the school principal at the start of the year and wanted to know if the school was interested in a Key Club. A group including me, of high school ner- do-wells thinking we could cut some classes, signed up as volunteers. A light went on because I saw my chance to vindicate my loss to Dennis. While I was planning, Guy found me first and asked me to join in supporting him for president of Key Club. What could I say? He'd put me up for class president so I became VP of the Key Club. Now it was time to get creative.
The Council had just held its first meeting and I was not included. The strategy was fairly simple; all I had to do was form a new organization, so I formed a group called the Science Club. There was a Latin Club (you've probably never heard of Latin, it's what killed the Romans and almost killed me in high school), so why not a club to promote science. I drew up a charter with myself as President and Rod Rogers as VP. I also talked Dennis into joining the club, which he had to do or be against science and the furthering of knowledge.
From that time forward I was able to attend the Council meetings. I never remember one of them except the time we got out of class for a group picture. What mattered to me at the time was that I was "in" and, remarkably for reasons you will soon learn, the science club exists to this day. How it survived is a mystery given that first rudderless year of captaincy which ended in total, unmitigated disaster.
What happened was not my fault altogether, regardless of what you might hear otherwise. The principal, Bill Jellison, later to become Dean of Men at Ft. Hays State, never threw me out of school or anything traumatic, although there were a few moments of anxiety on my part. On the part of Bill Jellison, there was certainly regret that he'd ever heard of a science club or yours truly.
If there's a science club there should be a science fair. held in conjunction with the annual school open house in the spring, it was a spectacular affaire. To set the scene I'll take you back to a small rural Midwestern town of 10,500. There was one junior high, one high school, and a local junior college. The high school played its football and basketball games on Friday nights and the junior college had its game on Saturday night. Other than that there was fishing and hunting, the "plunge" or local swimming hole (see chapter two), and major school events.
With a high school of 469 students (167 seniors) the school functioned as the focal point for local entertainment. Plays, band concerts, and the annual school open house made up a lot of the year's activities. That's taking for granted the annual summer buffalo BBQ in the park, summer pop concerts at the band shell, and various church activities.
Everyone turns out for the spring open house; there are the Latin projects; the English term papers; the wood working projects; and of course the science projects. It was magnificent the first year, and already a science club event was part of the annual open house. One small missing factor was the requirement for a science project. As the axiom says "necessity is the motherhood of invention," so it was time to be inventive.
I'd been reading about shale oil and wrote away to Rifle, Colorado for some samples and the U. S. Government, bless its heart, sent me some rock chips from the Mahogany Ledge area, which had been assessed to hold 40 bbl of oil per ton of rock. This alternative to petroleum production never materialized because of cost (official version), but in reality the carcinogenic compounds and toxic residual waste from production are 100 more times likely to cause cancer than anything man has produced to date, except perhaps nuclear radiation. The test of benzopyrene on laboratory rats in the 50's found that x parts per million caused cancer. The concentration of benzopyrene in shale waste was 1000 times greater (in x parts per million) than used in the tests on laboratory rats. There are 8 or 9 other carcinogenic compounds found in shale waste. Further, the waste becomes water soluble to a great degree and one of the original plans was to flush the waste down the rivers, hello Kansas here comes the big "C". (I did read up on the topic.)
This alternative to petroleum production never materialized because of cost (official version), but in reality the carcinogenic compounds and toxic residual waste from production are 100 more times likely to cause cancer than anything man has produced to date, except perhaps nuclear radiation. The test of benzopyrene on laboratory rats in the 50's found that x parts per million caused cancer. The concentration of benzopyrene in shale waste was 1000 times greater (in x parts per million) than used in the tests on laboratory rats. There are 8 or 9 other carcinogenic compounds found in shale waste. Further, the waste becomes water soluble to a great degree and one of the original plans was to flush the waste down the rivers, hello Kansas here comes the big "C". (I did read up on the topic.)
In addition to the rock chips , the government sent me a cast iron retort to conduct my own experiments. By putting the chips in the retort with water and heating them with a Bunsen burner, all carefully weighed and measured, the rock could be broken down into its natural elements, the oil and by-products would be liquefied or gasified, and through a series of tubes, beakers, condensers and the like, the quantities of different elements would be captured and measured.
My Dad wore a coat and tie (that's church time or serious stuff), my mother being on the school board was of course there. Had I forgotten to mention the school board connection? Without that inside edge I might have been expelled a few times instead of being beaten half to death with a wooden paddle, but that's in Chapter II. I was walking my parents through the first floor classrooms (there were two floors), while my experiment cooked away in the science lab on the second floor. It had taken several days to set up all the tubes, beakers, condensers, etc. and the rock chips had to cook for hours.
The school was filling up and people were oohing and aahing over the year's endeavors when people upstairs began to yell. I dashed to the stairs and started up as swarms of bodies were trying to get down. I heard things like "go back; it stinks!" The first thought was someone had set off a stink bomb, but I had this premonition, which hit me about mid solar plexus, and I carried on to the lab where the science teacher was frantically trying to end the shale oil experiment.
You see, one of the by products of oil production is sulfur; and the discharge tube at the end of the experiment was hung out the window, but with the prevailing breeze blowing toward the school, and the fact that all the windows were open, created a situation where the second floor was uninhabitable. The noxious sulfur fumes were pouring into the school, the hallways were permeated, the classrooms vacated, and the lavatories, where a few stalwart types were getting sick, were unpleasant places to be.
In short, it was an interesting ending to the annual school fair as everyone made a hasty exit and headed for their cars and home. There was a lot of left over cookies and cakes in the school cafeteria where people normally went afterward to talk as only small town populations can gossip. At least the left over desserts made me popular with the students (those that knew), and I was quick to agree with my Mother that the unfortunate stink bomb was a terribly mean act and should be punished. I promised I'd be sure to turn in the culprit if I ever found out who did the evil deed. Why the principal let me off and let me graduate I'll never know, perhaps the science teacher liked the stink bomb scenario (he wasn't culpable), or perhaps the principal reflected on my mother's 18 years on the school board and his job.
The story within a story, at least for me, is a question of focus. It was never that hard to get an "A", but to work at something (make it a life's work) because it's important and has value, and to understand the problem or opportunity presented is a thought transference that didn't happen for me until later in life. I knew at 16 that shale oil wouldn't work; but my focus should have been on petroleum engineering not a science project. The importance of oil to our country, to industry, to the world, and how I might fit into the equation were matters of focus that slipped by me about as fast as the sulfur fumes dissipated after the annual open house.
Just so you don't think the only guy who ever got in trouble was me, there was a secondary story during that open house. Bernie Wasinger was a trouble maker and a half in high school who went on to become head of software development for Xerox Corporation, not bad for a kid who almost didn't graduate.
That school fair night Bernie was showing off his crossbow made in wood-working shop. Proving it could work, he loaded and shot an arrow. The arrow went through the shop wall into the storeroom next door. There was someone in the storeroom getting supplies and the arrow passed under his nose; he was so frightened that he passed out. Everyone heard the crash and rushed next door to see what had caused it.
The teacher was in the hall and got there first. The immediate reaction, which was vocalized with a yell, was "he's dead, Bernie you killed someone!" Fortunately, that wasn't the case, but unfortunately for Bernie, he'd been told never to demonstrate his class project, and had crossed the line, scared one poor soul into unconsciousness, and incurred the wrath of the Administration. I think he was suspended for a week.
My high school friendships were great and in some ways all consuming. There was football, then basketball, and track, heading up the church youth group (MYF), and 4 or 5 other organizations from a participation point of view, which all in all made things a little busy. Dates were generally short, maybe a coke after a game, because by the time I got to cleaning up and made it to the Rec Center the dance was about over and everyone was going home.
A lot of the friendships evolved from the playing field. I was always on the football team and enjoyed the camaraderie, we won a few games and lost a few. The only game we pointed for that last year was against our arch enemy, Dodge City. I made eight points that game playing defense; more importantly, we won. Some of the class had gotten arrested on the night before for dumping buffalo chips on Dodge City's main street. Things really hadn't changed all that much since the days of Wyatt Earp, always a showdown on Main street.
Homecoming, a few weeks later, was memorable as I was to kiss the Queen, Carol Stirling (see Fights below), but instead spent the evening getting fitted with six stainless steel teeth -- two uppers and four lower. They had gotten broken during the game, and it took two hours to grind everything down and be fitted with temporary steel caps until real caps could be made. Drinking milk and eating ice cream for the next month were real chilling experiences. Hence the nickname "stainless" which lasted several months too long.
Since everyone worked and had to get up around 6 AM on Saturdays, there wasn't a lot of running around. Given the college courses my senior year I had to study harder than in previous years, which also concentrated the social activities into specific time frames. Weekends were for work, study, hunting, fishing, and junior college papers (not necessarily in that order). Saturday night there was generally a high school or junior college game being played, and on Sunday there was church and MYF, which was another on-going event that brought mental stimulation and pleasure. (Notice please, I never stayed out late nor ran around.)
That senior year we (the MYF) had a big car wash just before school was out and used the proceeds to pay for food for our religious study group that met every Sunday night at someone's house. We discussed what were for the time and our group, important subjects in the context of Christian faith. The subjects probably haven't changed but with advent of T.V.; computers; AIDS; and other communicable diseases, and coupled with media bombardment of the senses, today's discussions have to be more complicated than ours were during the late 1950's.
Everyone remembers their graduation and senior dance, that last night as a senior. Our group was pretty tame, no one smoked or drank or carried on, which makes it surprising how that night ended up.
There was the dance, which was okay for a warm-up, and we used five different houses for a roving five course supper. It was around midnight when we were serenading one of the teachers, I think it was probably Beth Greathouse, when things began to pick up. After dragging Main Street for the hundredth time, there were several cars of kids with eight or so in each car (you better not get caught doing that today), we wound up in Finnup Park. The police informed us the zoo was off limits at night, how were we to know -- we just lived there, right? Wrong!
I began to fade in the back seat, someone was driving my car (if it was my car), when we decided to cross over the Arkansas River. That was right outside of the Park and on the other side you're in the sand hills, and if you turn right, off the highway, you're also heading for the buffalo pasture where Kansas' largest buffalo herd resides. The gate to the buffalo pasture was somehow opened, and we went looking for some buffs, after all they didn't call our school the Buffalos for nothing. Why we didn't get stuck out in those hills I'll never know, thankfully the buffalo didn't want to run, so after a few attempts to honk up a stampede we all decided to head home. Buffalo Bill Jones must have had a real influence on me in those early years, so I paid my respects to his memory and said good-bye to Garden City.
The period following high school was a real awakening for me, as my friends in high school generally didn't return the letters I wrote during that year. I was trying to maintain contact with friends who had once seemed important factors in my life. I think when you have a small group and the members of that peer group are all on the top rung of the ladder, they will, given the right opportunity, break away and form their own point of reference or focus.
Les became a Ph.D. in physics; Jerry an architect; and Dennis you know about, Alice I think became a Chiropractor; Guy went to IBM after college and eventually retired from IBM; Bernie Wasinger became head of Xerox Research; Mike went into finance; Judith made her name in business; Jim became a preacher and so on. Studying and training for these vocations takes total commitment and unfortunately I had never pointed myself toward a specific goal so wasted time and energy trying to maintain communication with "friends" who had gone on to another level in their lives.
Later in life new friends evolved at different stages and some entered life long friendships built on a mature adult outlook and the common sense that comes through experience. Had I maintained contact with a few of the high school friends on a basis of understanding their goals in life, perhaps we might still be in touch today instead of saying hello every 25 years at some reunion. Because my immediate friends in college, years 2 through 4, generally died in Vietnam (all but 3 of us out of a group of 24), the making of close personal friends has always been a slow and careful process. This should be explained in more detail.
Jumping ahead to Vietnam in 1967, we arrived in-country around two in the morning, found a temporary bunk, and unable to sleep, I was walking around Tan San Knute Airbase my first day there while waiting to report for duty. I took what turned out to be a wrong turn between two buildings and came across dozens of body bags each with a tag attached. I'd never seen corpses laid out, in bags no less, and looked at a tag before the realization set in of - where I was and what was going on.
It was a sobering first impression of the war. During the first two months I saw a half dozen pilots I knew from college, most with whom I shared a drink or meal before they moved on to some forward air base. In every case, the pilots I met were shot down shortly after meeting me which I knew about because our four man intelligence group gave daily briefings to the general staff. You have to be prepared to lose friends in life because that's part of living.
I did finally learn not to feel responsible for a friend's actions or what happened to him or her, especially if the action was terminal in nature. It took a while, to separate a part of myself from what was happening in the war and in the air and to my friends; suffice it to say, that my first few months in Vietnam didn't help the "process of disassociation" very much.