More Than Baseball and Hot Dogs
By Jack Kinsella
Tiny Melton was a truck driver from Missouri. Tiny got his nickname in boot camp after his drill instructor took one look at his 6’4″ 220lb frame and said, ”From now on, son, your name is Tiny.”
The name stuck. Tiny looked like a body-builder, but it was just the way he looked, he didn’t work at it. And as big as he was, he was as gentle as a lamb.
Tiny always put me in mind of Clint Walker’s character, “Posey” in the 60’s war movie, “The Dirty Dozen.”
Lynwood Richardson was from Alabama. Lynn was black, his skin a deep, rich ebony color. He was rechristened by his drill instructor as ‘Snowball’.
Richardson was a great runner, but a lousy athlete. It was a dirty little secret then, but I suppose it’s safe to admit it now.
In those days, it was fairly common for the drill instructor to cheat a little in order to squeeze somebody by some parts of the physical fitness test.
The tester was a drill instructor from another platoon. Snowball couldn’t do the requisite number of pull ups — my DI had me wear his sweatshirt and do them for him. (Snowball did the 3 mile run wearing my sweatshirt while I wore Pvt. Brunson’s and did his situps)
Sherman Latchaw was a little bitty guy from Pennsylvania — he didn’t weigh 95 pounds dripping wet. He wore great big, oversized glasses that made him look like the little kid ‘Sherman’ from the Mr. Peabody cartoons.
But, since his name was ALREADY Sherman, we called him ‘Poindexter.’ Poindexter looked like a stiff wind would knock him over. But he whipped every guy he was matched up with in hand-to-hand combat training. Poindexter, the little guy with the big glasses, graduated at the top of his boot camp class.
Terry Severance was from Pennsylvania, as well. For some reason, he and I didn’t hit it off that well at first. One of the duties shared by each recruit in boot camp was ‘firewatch’ duty. Each recruit in turn pulled a one-hour patrol of the barracks at night, before waking up the next man.
Terry fell asleep and when he woke me, it was halfway through my turn. Somehow, we ended up having a fight in the shower room — me barefoot in my skivvies, he in full dungaree uniform and combat boots.
I don’t remember who won, but I remember we were friends from them on.
My drill instructor was a guy named S/Sgt. J. R. James. When he found out I was Canadian, he nicknamed me ‘Wacky Jack’ — whenever another DI stopped by, Sgt. James would invite him to inspect ‘his pet Canadian’ whereupon I would race to the center of the squadbay to be ‘inspected.’
They’d look me over and say things like, “No wonder the Canadians sent him down here.” and, “they don’t grow ’em too sturdy up there, do they?” and other kind words of encouragement. (I kept part of the nickname — I dropped the ‘Wacky’ part and only had to put up with it when I ran into somebody from my old platoon)
Mike Tuscan was a decent guy, quiet, steady, and somebody you knew you could count on when the chips were down. He was a fairly nondescript looking guy, you’d pass him on the street without a second glance.
The last time I saw him, he had made it to S/Sgt in less than three years — quite an accomplishment for a Marine so bland that HIS nickname was ‘Mike’.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
Memorial Day began as “Decoration Day” shortly after the end of the Civil War. Prior to that war, veterans and their war service were most frequently honored as part of the annual Independence Day celebrations.
In the aftermath of the Civil War many cities and communities began a tradition of marking the graves of their war dead. Eventually, the observance became a national phenomenon and began to be observed nationwide on May 30.
With time, the observances came to include the dead of other wars. In 1967 the observance was officially recognized as a federal holiday — Memorial Day.
Memorial Day was recently marked with controversy as some school districts have taken Memorial Day off their school holiday calendar. In North Carolina alone, there were twenty school district that held classes on this Memorial Day.
Explained Charlie Wyant, Catawba County Schools Board of Education chairman;
“The legislators have put us in a bind,” Wyant said. “We have only so many days to get 180 instruction days in, plus teacher workdays, plus holidays. People want their Easter vacation and Christmas break, so when we did the calendar for this year, we chose to keep those and take away Memorial Day.”
The two holidays being reconsidered as ordinary school days are Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. Why not Martin Luther King Day? Why not President’s day, (since it no longer honors any particular president?)
Martin Luther King Day celebrates the murder of a great social leader. President’s Day honors the presidents who led the nation in times of war.
Memorial Day honors those ordinary men and women who volunteered to stand in harm’s way so that the rest of us wouldn’t have to. They paid the price for freedom with their blood, their sweat, their tears, and, too often, with their lives.
They did so while living on salaries below the federal poverty line, leaving their families to the tender mercies of their self-absorbed countrymen, many of whom were subjected to verbal abuse and insults as a reward for their sacrifices.
Memorial Day is arguably one of America’s most important holidays, since it celebrates the ongoing willingness of young Americans to sacrifice themselves in the name of freedom, on behalf of an increasingly ungrateful nation.
I took this Memorial Day off. I spent the day remembering.
I remembered Tiny Melton, Lynn Richardson, Terry Severence, Sherman Latchaw and all the rest. To the many veterans among our membership, I apologize on behalf of the ignorant among us. And to all the millions before and since, I add my heartfelt thanks.
There is a bumper sticker out there that sums it all up nicely;
“If you don’t stand behind our troops, feel free to stand in front of them.”
This Letter was written by Jack Kinsella on May 25, 2009.