was the touch of cold metal against my left wrist and the
harsh voice in my ear: "This is the FBI. You are under
I'd been relaxing in the back seat of the car with
my left arm hanging out the window. The car was stolen and I was AWOL from the
Being AWOL didn't bother
me. It was the getting caught that hurt my pride.
I'd always considered myself capable of doing my own
thing and getting away with it. Now I had to suffer
the humiliation of the jail cell, stand in line for
lousy cold chow, go back to the lonely cell and the
hard bunk with nothing to do but stare at the wall.
How could I have been stupid enough to get into a
mess like this?
I'd been a pretty
independent fellow from the time I was twelve. That's
when my father died suddenly, leaving my mother alone
with three boys to raise. My brothers were seven and
one, and Mother started taking in washings and went
on relief to keep us alive. She always talked about
Dad being in heaven and how God would take care of
us, but with the intensity of a twelve-year-old I
turned in fury against a God who could treat us that
I delivered papers after school until long after
dark each night, determined to make my way in life. I was going to make the most
of it. Somehow I felt I had it coming. I had a right to grab for all I could
When Mother remarried, I went to live with some
of Dad's old friends. I went to high school, but never quit working. After school,
and all summer I worked. As a food packer, shipping clerk, linotype operator,
and one summer as a lumberjack in Pennsylvania.
I started college, but ran out of money and had
to go to work. This time I got a job with B&W Steel as a steel chipper and grinder.
Not a very pleasant job, but it kept me in top physical condition. Part of staying
ahead in the rat race of the world was being in top shape physically, and I didn't
intend to lose out on any count.
I never did want
to join the Army. I wanted to go off to sea with the
Merchant Marines. I couldn't think of a more glamorous
way to get into action in World War II.
To join the Merchant
Marines I had to get reclassified 1-A with the draft
board that had given me a deferment to go to college.
Before I could make it back to the Merchant Marines,
the Army inducted me. They told me I could volunteer
for the Navy, which I did, but a freak incident kept
me out. I failed the eye test simply because I'd been
reading the wrong line on the chart by mistake! So
there, against all my efforts, I landed in basic training
at Ft. McClellan, Alabama.
I was bored to death. The training was a breeze,
and looking for excitement, I volunteered for airborne training at Fort Benning,
A rebel at heart, my
biggest problem always was in getting along with my
superiors. Somehow they picked on me in spite of all
my efforts to remain in the background. Once, during
physical training in a sawdust pit, I spat on the
ground without thinking. The Sergeant saw me, and
descended like a storm cloud. "Pick that up in
your mouth and carry it out of the area!" he
You've got to be kidding, I thought, but his
red glowering face indicated he was not. So, humiliated and seething with resentment
carefully hidden, I picked up the spit - and a mouthful of sawdust - and carried
it "out of the area."
came when we got our first chance to jump from an
airplane in flight. This was living! The kind of excitement
I was hungering for. Over the roar of the plane engines
came the shouted command: "Get ready...stand
up...hook up...stand in the door...GO!"
The blast of air makes you feel like a leaf in
a gale - and then, as the rope attached to your parachute reaches its end, a
bone-jarring jolt. You feel like you've been hit by a ten-ton truck.
Then, as your brain clears, you're in a beautiful
silent world; billowing above is the parachute - a giant white arc of silk.
I was a paratrooper, and earned the honor of wearing
the glistening jump boots.
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