Jul 22, 2017

A Wedding in Hot Springs, N.C.

The Chapel of the Redeemer, the church in which Margo and I were married.
By Christmas, 1977, Margo Burge and I had decided to get married.  I was 38, she was 37, and neither of us had ever been married.  We decided we didn't want a big wedding; a modest wedding would better suit our personalities and our stage in life.  That, however, raises the question of "Whom do we invite?"  And that raises the issue of how not to offend those who are not invited.  We finally decided to elope over Easter weekend.  The couple who had introduced us would be our witnesses.  We also decided that after the wedding we would throw a celebration party somewhere on the Mississippi Gulf coast and invite all of our friends and relatives.  That eliminated the issue of offending someone who might not have been on a wedding invitation list.

Jim and Linda Schmidt had introduced Margo and me about a year earlier.  I had met the Schmidts a few years earlier through the Pass Christian Public Library, where Linda served as the head librarian.  My sister-in-law, Joan, worked there as a volunteer.  Margo, my soon-to-be bride, was the Head Librarian of the Gulfport/Harrison County Library System.

Jim Schmidt and I had backpacked together on a number of occasions over a period of several years.  Shortly after Margo and I had started dating, we and the Schmidts had gone on a backpacking adventure on the Appalachian Trail.  So our conversation at one point turned to, "Wouldn't it be cool to get married on the Appalachian Trail?"  That led to my calling an old friend, Peter Julius, who had completed hiking the entire trail two years earlier.  I asked Peter if he had encountered any interesting churches or chapels along the trail where a wedding ceremony might take place.  He suggested the Chapel of the Redeemer in Hot Springs, North Carolina.  A former church-run orphanage, it served as a hostel for hikers and was primarily a Catholic retreat center served by a couple of Jesuit priests whom Peter thought very highly of.  The priest in charge was a middle-aged man named Charles Jeffries "Jeff" Burton, who had served extensively in South American missions before being assigned to the backwaters of rural North Carolina.  His colleague at the retreat center was an elderly "retired" Jesuit named Andrew Graves, who had been serving in Western North Carolina since the 1930s.

Margo and I called Father Jeff Burton within a few days.  He was most gracious and said that although they didn't have very many weddings at the center, they'd love to perform our marriage ceremony, and we settled on Easter Sunday, April 27th, 1978.  Because I was at that time a Roman Catholic, I would have to coordinate the arrangements through my local parish in Mississippi.  There was also some paperwork that we would need to fill out to bring to North Carolina to get our Marriage license.  That had to be done in person prior to the weekend of the wedding.  The state also required a physical exam (not just a blood test) but that could be performed by a physician in Mississippi.  Father Jeff said he'd send the necessary forms and papers the next day.

From the time I had arrived on the Gulf Coast in 1972, I had spent most weekends at my brother's home in Pass Christian.  I usually attended Mass in either Pass Christian, or at some other rural Catholic church in the area.  I lived in Gautier, Mississippi, about 40 miles from Pass Christian.  I didn't even know the pastor of my so-called home parish.  As soon as I received the papers from Father Jeff, I proceeded to St. Mary's Catholic Church on de la Pointe Drive in Gautier, and introduced myself to the pastor, Father Cleery, an Irish priest.  We did not hit it off well.  He immediately wanted to know why I had never attended Mass at "his" church.  Eventually, he agreed to administer a questionnaire that was required for engaged couples.  All went well until the question, "Do you intend to honor all the privileges and obligations of the married state?"  I assured Father Cleery that I intended to enjoy the privileges of the married state as often as possible, but that we did not plan to have any children (one of the "obligations" of the married state).   I explained that Margo had been advised by her gynecologist that she should probably never get pregnant, as it was unlikely she could ever have a successful pregnancy.  Father Cleery expressed dismay.  "I don't believe that a valid Catholic marriage can be performed under these circumstances!" he declared in his thick Irish brogue.  I responded by requesting a meeting with the diocesan Chancellor, the Bishop's assistant in charge of interpreting canon law among other duties.  A few days later Margo and I met with the Chancellor in Biloxi, who had absolutely no issues with our plans to limit our family and cleared the way for us to be married in the church on Easter Sunday.

The requirement for a physical exam created an interesting problem.  I had never needed a doctor since I had arrived on the Gulf Coast.  I didn't have a "family physician."  Margo had the perfect solution.  She had worked for several years as a fund raiser for the American Cancer Society.  They often ran free Pap Smear Clinics for early detection of cervical cancer.  As a result, she knew just about every gynecologist on the coast.  She called up one her doctor friends in Biloxi.  He'd be more than happy to give me a physical.  So, during one lunch hour, I met Margo at the rear entrance to a doctor's office.  Just as we got there, a gentleman in a very sweaty tennis outfit came running up and hugged Margo.  "I'm so sorry to be late.  I forgot our appointment.  Is this the guy?" he asked.  Margo informed him that I was indeed the guy.  The doctor introduced himself and asked me how I felt.  I said I felt fine.  "Would you take him even if he was in bad shape?" he asked Margo.  "Sure," she said.  "Where do I sign the form?" he asked.  My physical exam had been completed!

Father Jeff fishing in Chile in the 1960s
On Good Friday, the Schmidts and Margo and I packed into one vehicle to head for Marshall, North Carolina, the county seat of Madison County, which encompasses Hot Springs.  As we drove through Chattanooga, we realized that in our careful planning, we had neglected to account for the time zone change.  We were now one hour behind our planned itinerary.  Jim drove like a bat out of hell and we arrived at the Marshall County (NC) Courthouse at 4:57 PM.  We ran inside hoping they'd still be open.  Two ladies greeted us with big smiles.  "We were going to wait as late as we needed to.  Your wedding is a big deal to Hot Springs and we figured you might have forgotten the time change."  I love rural America.  We signed the necessary papers, gave the ladies a big hug, and headed to Hot Springs.

Father Andrew Graves, 1971
Courtesy of the Marshall, NC
News-Record
The one motel in town had not planned to open until the following weekend, but Father Jeff had convinced them to open early to put us up.  We got checked in, cleaned up, and headed for the Chapel of the Redeemer.  We were greeted at the door of the priests' residence by an exuberant Father Jeff Burton.  He invited us in and ushered us into their comfortable living room.  It was as if we had known each other for a long time.  I asked about Father Graves and Jeff explained that he'd be in later.  He was accompanying the local Baptist pastor to a funeral service that was taking place high on the mountain at a log cabin.  The two clergy were going by jeep as far as they could and proceeding the rest of the way by mules.  Father Graves had been asked to go "because he's about the only one around who knows how to get there."   A couple came into the room and Jeff introduced them as his sister Kathy and her husband, Pete.  They inquired if we'd mind if they attended our wedding.  We told them we'd be honored by their presence.   It was getting late, so we excused ourselves and told Jeff we'd see him and Father Graves the next afternoon, as I had offered to cook a lasagna dinner for everyone on Saturday night before the wedding.  We went back to the hotel, downed some snack food, and crashed.

The priest's residence in Hot Springs, adjacent to the chapel
We rose early on Saturday and headed for Asheville to buy groceries for the Saturday night dinner and to get flowers for the girls.  We went to a florist's shop (Remember -- This is the day before Easter.) and informed them that we needed flowers for a wedding.  I thought the woman behind the counter was going to faint!  The girls explained that it would be just the two of them.  The delightful lady began to help Margo and Linda.  Meanwhile Jim and I began looking around and found a section of the place that had several samples of funeral wreaths and sprays on display.  Since great minds work alike, I immediately laid on the floor and Jim started placing various floral arrangements on me and taking pictures.  The florist and the two girls walked by and the lady was shocked to see me on the floor with my arms crossed on my chest covered with a wreath.  She did a double take.  Margo said, "This is so typical.  Can you believe I'm marrying that one?!?"  Soon we had our flowers and were on our way.  After getting the ingredients for lasagna and a salad and some dinner wine, we were on our way back to Hot Springs.


After we stopped by the motel and got freshened up, we proceeded to the residence where I began preparing our evening meal, lasagna, in a wood-burning kitchen range!  I prepared the sauce from scratch, boiled the noodles, cooked the meat, mixed the eggs and ricotta, assembled the dish and began baking it while I prepared the salad.  We also had fresh Italian bread that we had gotten in Asheville dipped in seasoned olive oil.  There was plenty of food and wine for everybody and lots of toasts were offered for a happy, healthy, prosperous marriage.  We cleaned up the dishes and left the kitchen spotless as we returned to our motel close to midnight.

On Sunday, we awoke early and got cleaned up.  The wedding was planned for one o'clock.  We all attended mass at the chapel at 9:00 AM, where Father Graves was the celebrant.  He pronounced that we had three things to be especially grateful for that day.  It was the Feast of the Risen Christ.  Bob and Margo would be pronouncing their vows of marriage in this very chapel later in the day.  And there were more Catholics present in the chapel than they had ever seen -- a total of 28!  Of course, the wedding party and Father Jeff's relatives helped boost that number by six.  After Mass, we returned to our motel to change into our wedding clothes.   After a few minutes, Jim showed up at our door with a couple of celebratory shots of Jack Daniels to share with me.  We downed them with gusto just as Margo came out to see what we were up to.

Margo must have known me well, for she immediately called the church and asked for the wedding to be moved up to noon.  There would be no time for additional toasts.  We finished getting dressed and headed back to the church.  I think she knew that if we didn't head for the church for another hour, there was a good chance I'd be three sheets to the wind before the service.

The church was small, but still seemed quite empty with only Father Jeff as celebrant, Father Andrew, Jim and Linda, Margo and I, and Pete and Kathy, who were sitting in the front pew.  We started the service, which was simple and solemn.  Soon, I couldn't help hearing Kathy, who was sobbing uncontrollably, even though she hadn't met us until a couple of days previous!  In only a few minutes, the ceremony concluded.  We were man and wife!  Father Jeff invited us back to the residence to do some final paperwork.


We were shown a large leather bound book, which was the register of baptisms, confirmations, and marriages performed over the years at the Chapel of the Redeemer.  Father Jeff had already filled in the lines describing our marriage and had drawn the lines where we were to record our signatures.  As he handed over the book, he pointed to a line a few rows above ours.  "I hope your marriage works out better than this one did," he said.  "She caught him in bed with another woman and shot him dead!"  We signed our names in the appropriate places and closed the book.

Margo looked out the window at a hiker who was removing his pack on the path outside of the residence.  "Isn't that your friend, Pugh?" she asked.  I looked up, and sure enough, it was my old hiking friend, Bill Pugh.  Margo knew his face because she had patiently sat through far too many slide shows of earlier hiking adventures, many of which included Bill Pugh.  We dashed outside to greet him.  (Several months earlier, I had confided to Bill that Margo and I had been discussing the possibility of eloping in Hot Springs at Easter.)  He had decided to walk from Petersburg, VA, to Hot Springs to see if we were serious.  He almost made it in time to witness the ceremony!  He took one look at me in my pastel green leisure suit and gold turtleneck and said, "Get out of that green outfit and let's go hiking!"  We bid our temporary farewells to the crew at the Chapel, and headed to our motel to change into more appropriate hiking attire.  And then the five of us hiked up to Lovers Leap on the Appalachian Trail.


Father Jeff had told us that the parish wanted to celebrate our wedding with a little get-together that evening.  He suggested that we might come to the residence around 5:00 PM.  After our hike, we all got cleaned up and headed to the Chapel's residence, where we were warmly greeted by Fathers Jeff and Andrew.  


After our introductions, I wandered into the kitchen to make sure I hadn't left anything amiss the night before.  I noticed a large ham hanging in a cloth bag suspended by a string attached to a ceiling rafter.  I reached up to turn it so I could see the label when I was startled by a piercing voice, "Don't you touch that ham!"  I looked at the source of the voice.  It was a diminutive black woman standing by the sink on the other side of the kitchen.  I had not noticed her when I walked in.  "Ain't no quicker way to mess up a ham than to let white people mess with it!" she declared.  I asked her who she was and quickly learned that she was Lucille, that she had been the chief cook and house mother when the place served as an orphanage, that she was the "onliest" black person in the county (and she stayed so "they won't forget what we look like"), and that she was preparing our meal that evening.  She then kindly asked me to get out of her kitchen so she could work.  Amen!

We learned over the next few minutes that a few of the former residents of the orphanage and their spouses would be joining us for dinner, that there would be a local band (mostly made up of the former residents) hosting a dance in the rec room later in the evening, and that Pete (of Kathy and Pete, Father Jeff's relatives) would be performing a magic show in honor of our marriage!  Who knew?  We couldn't have planned a celebration like this in a million years!

As we assembled for dinner, Lucille came up to me and apologized for her abrupt words earlier.  She told me that she was not a wealthy woman ("although these Priesses have been very good to me.  They takes care of me."), but she wanted to give me and Margo something as a gift for our wedding.  She handed us a quart Mason jar full of homemade moonshine, assuring us that she had made it and that she used an all-copper still, with "no lead in it."  We were deeply moved.


There were probably twenty-five or more people at dinner, which was served buffet style and included that magnificent ham I had seen earlier.  They had opened up the social hall, which had been decorated by the locals.  The arriving guests brought mountains of additional food -- salads, casseroles, appetizers and more desserts than one could imagine.  Everyone ate to their heart's content.  After the tables were cleared, Pete set up his magic show and performed for about an hour.  He had apparently hauled his magic paraphernalia all the way from Maryland in anticipation of doing a show.  Then the band set up and people just started to arrive.  Soon the dance floor was full.  People whom we had never met were coming to our table, wishing us well, and toasting us.  It was surreal,  And all too soon, it was over.  Exhausted, we returned to our hotel and collapsed.

The next day we stopped by the church to thank everyone for such an amazing outpouring of love and hospitality.  We stayed in touch with Fathers Jeff (who died in 2011) and Andrew (who passed away in 1995) for many, years, as well as Pete and Kathy.  What started out to be a quiet elopement to a small town in North Carolina had turned into a marvelous event and a myriad of great memories.

As a footnote, I have learned that the papers of Father Andrew Graves are preserved in the Georgetown University archives.  He was a treasure and wrote extensively to friends, for the press, and in his own publications.  His papers are described thusly: "Papers documenting activities of the Jesuit mission in Madison County, North Carolina, ca 1925 to 1973. The work was centered in the towns of Hot Springs and Revere, and Fr. Graves' records amply document many aspects of a small rural Catholic community, as well as giving first-hand evidence of the Jesuit missionary enterprise in the twentieth century."

Jul 15, 2017

A Round of Golf, Anyone?


My father, Dr. Harold R. Mead, was an avid golfer well into his 60's.  I had been told as a kid that he was at one time a very competitive golfer.  This article from the Journal of the American Dental Association, published in January, 1927, seems to bear that out.
"Golf Tournament: Announcement has been made of the winners of the 1926 Tournament of the American Dental Golf Association, held in Philadelphia last August.  Of the ninety-two contestants, the winners were: G.T. Gregg , Pittsburgh , Pa., champion; Robert N. L e Cron, London, England, runner up; J. J. Hillsley, New York City, handicap winner; Edward F. La Fitte, Philadelphia, Pa., runner up; Class A: low gross, A. M. Yessler, Woodstock, Ill., runner up E. W. Browning, Salt Lake City, Utah; low net, Reinhard Nell, Philadelphia, Pa., runner up, W. W. Powell, Philadelphia, Pa. Class B: low gross, A. J. Hefferman , Wilkes Barre, Pa ., runner up, Harvey Schwalm, London, England; low net, A. E. Webster, Toronto, Canada, runner up, A. L. Orr, Philadelphia, Pa. Class C: low gross, H. E. Beiser, New York City, runner up, Frank J. Erbe; low net, Harold R. Mead, Schenectady, N. Y., runner up, A. L. Mulford, Philadelphia, Pa. E. E. La Fitte, Philadelphia, turned in the best gross score for morning play; E. W. Browning, Salt Lake City, the best gross score for afternoon play. O. W. White was elected vice president; Thomas P. Hinman, Atlanta, Ga., secretary-treasurer (reelected). Frank M. Casto, Cleveland, Ohio, has concluded the second of his three-year term as president. The 1927 tournament will be played in Detroit."

Well done, Dad!

Jun 26, 2017

Introducing Mr. William Eatmon Pugh...

During the Easter season of 1971, I took my nephew David on his first hike on the Appalachian Trail.  I have previously described that adventure.  One of the more interesting outcomes of that hike was a friendship with a gentleman named Bill Pugh.  Here's how it happened.

As I described in my earlier post, on our second day hiking, "The Hawk Mountain shelter came into view around 4:00 PM.  There were already quite a few folks there, but many had pitched their tents nearby and didn't plan to sleep in the shelter.  David and I were able to claim enough floor space for our sleeping bags and we got introduced to our new friends, most of whom were planning to hike the entire AT.  They were all young, eager, and excited about their intended 2,000-mile adventure.  Soon, we were all sitting around a newly-built campfire, the sun was setting, and dinner was on the many stoves."  It was then that we first saw William Eatmon Pugh.

A gentleman approached the shelter from the south.  He was smaller than most, probably around 5' 5" in height and carrying a new clean Kelty pack of enormous proportions.  It was a pack with an extendable top section that towered over him.  Instead of coming up the trail to the shelter to "meet-and-greet," he stopped short of the shelter near a large tree.  He removed the giant pack and leaned it against the tree.  He then removed a book and a smoking pipe from one of the pack's pockets, sat on the ground leaning against the pack, lit his pipe, and started reading the book.  He uttered not a word!

David and I wandered over to introduce ourselves.  We learned that his name was Bill Pugh and that he was from Petersburg, Virginia.  (Actually, I misunderstood his Virginia Piedmont dialect that day and thought he said "B.O." Pugh.  I referred to him as B.O. for several years before he gently corrected me.  He is above all a gentleman.)  After dinner, David and I spent quite a while in conversation with this interesting fellow.  We learned that he had done an extended tour in Viet Nam, during which he had served with the Montagnard tribesmen who were underappreciated allies of the U.S.  Bill had his army paychecks sent to his mother in Virginia.  He had no need for cash in the Central Highlands of Viet Nam.  The result was that he had a fairly comfortable "nest egg" when he arrived home.  He had decided that hiking was good for the soul and that he would hike until he got sick of it.

Bill had bought state-of-the-art hiking gear, including that monster backpack.  That night in north Georgia, we exchanged addresses and phone numbers (He used his mother's phone whenever he was home in Virginia.).  For the next few years, whenever I was planning a hiking trip, I'd call or write Bill to let him know where I'd be on a certain date.  More often than not, he'd show up to hike with me and my friends.  Even though he was in remarkable physical condition (He hiked seven or eight months out of the year.), he never commented on how slowly we "city slickers" progressed during our annual outings.  We hiked and sometimes fished in North Georgia and North Carolina.  He told me that he had stayed so often at the hikers hostel in Hot Springs, North Carolina, that he had a reserved spot there.

Perhaps the funniest incident regarding Bill Pugh occurred on the day I married Margo Burge at the Chapel of the Redeemer in Hot Springs.  Several weeks earlier, I had shared with Bill that Margo and I were thinking about an Easter wedding in Hot Springs.  On the day of our wedding, as we were in the priests' residence signing the wedding ledger, Margo looked out the window and saw a diminutive figure under a mammoth backpack.  "Isn't that your friend, Pugh?," she asked (She had seen pictures in some of my interminable slide shows of earlier adventures.).  I looked out and recognized none other.  He had hiked from near Roanoke, Virginia, to Hot Springs, North Carolina, a distance of about 400 miles!

Margo and I dashed outside to see him and introduce Margo and our witnesses, Jim and Linda Schmidt to this man whom they'd only seen in pictures.  I was wearing a pastel green polyester suit with a gold-colored turtleneck (always the style pacesetter).  He asked, "What are you doing in that green outfit?  I thought we were going hiking!"

Not long after that, we were at our hotel changing into our hiking gear.  Jim and Linda Schmidt, the newly-married Meads, and Mr. William Pugh promptly hiked up to Lover's Leap on the Appalachian Trail.  Ashvilletrails.com describes the hike more accurately than I could ever remember: "North of Georgia’s Springer Mountain, the AT crosses through the first of its official trail towns at Hot Springs, North Carolina, a small mountain town nestled in a valley beside the scenic French Broad River. Hot Springs oozes small-town charm and scenic beauty, and outdoor outfitters, sandwich shops, and campgrounds pepper its sleepy streets. Routing down the town’s main thoroughfare, the Appalachian Trail’s iconic, white rectangular blazes follow Bridge Street, crossing the French Broad River before climbing a nearby summit at Lovers Leap.

This two-miler follows the Appalachian Trail’s white blazes through town and hikes the banks of the placid French Broad to a wide, spilling waterfall. The hike veers northbound to climb to the summit of Lovers Leap, a rocky precipice that overlooks the town and offers some beautiful, lofty views. The town of Hot Springs offers plenty of places for pre-hike gear shopping and post-hike refreshments. This is an ultra-scenic hike, and while it’s moderately challenging, it’s also relatively short. And the views make the workout well worth it.

The hike departs from downtown of Hot Springs, following the Appalachian Trail’s white blazes eastbound along Bridge Street (view maps and driving directions). The trail crosses a wide bridge over the French Broad River, catching beautiful upstream views of the river in the shadow of the towering Lovers Leap summit directly ahead.

The hike reaches the river’s east bank and descends stairs, continuing to follow the AT’s white blazes. The trail follows Silver Mine Road for a short stretch, crosses a wide wooden bridge over Silver Mine Creek, and trails the French Broad upriver. The hike passes the angular, towering outcrops at the base of Lovers Leap, trekking over rocky terrain on the river’s banks.  The hike passes several large campsites nestled beside the river, shaded by the pine and leafy deciduous canopy overhead. The trail reaches a tumbling, wide, whitewater-filled waterfall at .35 mile.


View of the French Broad River
The AT continues its southbound trek alongside the river, gently rolling elevation on the river’s banks. The trail veers southeast at .6 mile, following the the trail’s white blazes as the trail climbs sharply through a switchback. The trail curves northbound, beginning a 400-foot climb to Lovers Leap over the next .3 mile. The terrain quickly becomes rocky and rugged.  The trail carves through several sharp switchbacks, reaching the first of three overlooks at .85 mile. A second overlook offers sweeping views at .9 mile, the site from which, Cherokee Legend holds, a broken-hearted princess leaped to her death. The Lovers Leap outcrops drop off sharply, and the mountain’s footing is unstable in places, thanks to loose rock – so tread carefully.


The view from Lover's Leap
The hike reaches the third overlook at 1 mile after carving through tight switchbacks near the summit. Views extend west to the town of Hot Springs, and north along the wide, gentle meanders of the French Broad River. The summit’s rock outcrops make a great spot for a sunny mid-hike snack.
The hike departs the summit overlook and retraces its outbound steps on the AT, descending to the banks of the French Broad and hiking downriver to return to Hot Springs. Crossing the bridge spanning the river, the hike finishes the adventure at just over 2 miles."

Gradually my "free-lance" hiking adventures diminished and with marriage came a permanent hiking companion.  Margo and I tended to hike near home in the Cohutta Wilderness of North Georgia, or in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  I totally lost touch with Bill Pugh, sad to say.

For a few years, however, this free-spirited mountain man was a friend and valued hiking companion.  He deserves to be remembered.

May 20, 2017

A Young Friend's Appalachian Trail Hike...


In the mid-1970's, I was working at the Ingalls Shipbuilding Division of Litton Industries, in Pascagoula, Mississippi.  One of my colleagues was a gentleman named Paul Julius.  Paul was a retired Navy Warrant Officer, one of only a very few who had been selected by Admiral Hyman Rickover for the Navy's nuclear power program.  Paul and his wife Trudy had three children.  Their daughter had married and moved out of their home, so they had two sons still living with them -- Peter, a high-school junior when we first met, and a younger son, Paul, Jr.  Working with Paul Sr., I soon learned that Peter had an interest in backpacking.


A VW Thing similar to the one we drove
That Spring, I invited Peter to accompany me on my annual trek to the Appalachian Trail in north Georgia.  He accepted, and soon we were planning our trip.  Just a few days before we were to leave, the transmission on my trusty 1952 Pontiac decided to quit working and it was going to be several days before I could get the part needed to fix it.  It looked like our trip was doomed until Paul Sr. suggested that I borrow his Volkswagen "Thing" to take to our destination.  The trip was back on.  So on about the 26th of March, 1975, Peter and I headed for Dahlonega, Georgia, in his father's bright yellow Thing.  It was noisy, not very fast, and not real comfortable, but we were grateful to be going on our long-anticipated adventure.


The old Gooch Gap shelter, in which Peter and I
stayed, was torn down and replaced in 2002
We had decided to start hiking in Georgia because it was the nearest, most easily accessible portion of the trail.  We would park the car in the area around Suches, Georgia, and spend our first night in the Gooch Gap shelter.  After an all-day drive, starting in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, we stopped briefly in a general store in Suches.  We were told we could drive about three miles on Cooper Gap Road and we'd be within a couple hundred yards of the shelter.  Arriving right at dusk, we quickly made camp.  A couple of through hikers were already in the shelter.  It was chilly, so they had built a small campfire.  We sat around the fire until we were all too tired to tell any more stories and, after ensuring our gear was hung well out of reach of scavengers, we turned in for a good night's rest.

Peter and I planned to start by hiking over Blood Mountain to Neels Gap and then to return to our car.  We would then decide what to do next.  First, we had to hike from Gooch Gap to the intersection of the AT with Georgia Highway 60 at Woody Gap, a relatively pleasant hike of about 4 1/2 miles.  Then we'd begin the haul over Blood Mountain en route to Neels Gap, another 10 or so miles of rugged terrain.  We'd make camp somewhere on the approach side of Blood Mountain and crest the summit the next day, followed by the steep descent on the mountain's east side.  We had both heard of the Walasi-Yi Interpretive Center, a small stone building located along US 19/129 at Neels Gapon the eastern side of Blood Mountain., where we figured we could get a ride back to our car, if necessary.

By the end of the day, we were about halfway from Woody Gap to the crest of Blood Mountain.  We found a flat area and made camp.  It was a beautiful evening where we pitched our tents and cooked our dinner.  After a great night's rest, we packed our gear, hiked to the top of Blood Mountain and enjoyed the views, and then descended to Neels Gap, arriving around lunchtime.  There, we saw the Walasi-Yi Center for the first time.


This building was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps who started construction in 1934 and finished in 1937.  By the time Peter and I arrived in 1975, it was being operated by a wonderful couple named Jim and (I think) Nona, whose last name I cannot recall.  They operated the place as a service center for hikers, providing a selection of groceries and backpacker's supplies, as well as spiritual counseling (They were deeply committed Christians.) and just a place to rest and regenerate.  They also offered a taxi service for hikers needing transportation.  After we had a brief rest and tour of their facilities, Jim ferried us to our car, which was still on the Forest Service Road near the Gooch Gap shelter.  We had decided to proceed next to the Nantahala Outdoor Center near Bryson City, North Carolina, on the Nantahala River.  I had heard that they had a motel, the old Tote n' Tarry, where we could get a room and clean up and then do more hiking.

We got to the Outdoor Center before dark.  It was basically a gas station with a small eatery and a hikers supply store.  Across the road was a small motel that included a dorm-like hostel room for hikers.  We rented a regular room for the night, got a quick meal, enjoyed showers, and crashed.  The next morning, we repacked our gear and headed out for some more hiking.  After a couple more days of hiking in North Carolina and North Georgia, Peter had made up his mind -- He was going to hike the entire Appalachian Trail as soon as he finished high school!

We returned to the Gulf Coast and I returned Paul's car to him.  Within the next couple of days, the wrath of Paul descended on me.  He was convinced that I had somehow planted the Appalachian Trail seed in Peter's mind.  Paul, who had never had the opportunity to attend college, had one primary goal for his kids -- they would be given the educational opportunity that he had never had.  And now, his oldest son was talking about a walk in the woods that would probably end his desire to return to school.  Peter's mind would not be changed, however, so throughout the next year, as graduation day approached, Paul became resigned to "the hike."


Topographic maps helped us appreciate the kinds or terrain
that Peter was traversing each day.
By the Spring of 1976, we had topographic maps of the entire 2,000-mile AT posted on our office wall, replete with special markings indicating where the grocery "drops" would be shipped.  A schedule of overnight objectives was marked in pencil.  And Paul even began to brag a little about how hard Peter was training for his hike.  Peter's teachers let him take some of his final exams early so he could start his hike in early May, before the rest of his classmates would graduate.  So it wasn't too long before the entire Julius clan headed for North Georgia in Trudy's Oldsmobile station wagon to deliver their eldest son to the elements in which he would spend the next several months.

I had suggested to Peter that he might want to start slowly to allow his feet to toughen up and break in his new equipment.  He chose to start out aggressively and soon was stuck at a roadside picnic area with blistered feet and an infection.  Fortunately, a doctor was among those who stopped to see if he needed help.  He got some antibiotics and within a few days was headed north again.

Whether Peter knew it or not, he had a "Command Post" in the Wet Dock Building of Ingalls Shipbuilding.  Every day, we got the official update from Paul.  "We got a  phone call last night from a pay phone near the trail.  He was going to be spending the night at the so-and-so shelter."  We'd all witness the moving of the red push pin on the giant wall-covering map.  The scale of the composite topo map was too large to fit from floor to ceiling, so in our world, the Appalachian Trail ran from left to right for about thirty feet!  We monitored every weather report, Paul's updates, the food drops, letters describing new friends, trials and tribulations.  Peter never slowed down -- until he got to New Jersey.


At some point in the 72 miles of the trail that traverses northern New Jersey, Peter got into some contaminated water.  He tried to keep hiking, but between heat and diarrhea, he got badly dehydrated.  He had to leave the trail and ended up in a hospital.  Soon he transferred to a hospital in Connecticut near some family members.  I heard from him by phone at one point and his morale was devastated.  We talked about his options.  He made a decision to do what I thought was his best choice -- He would take a bus to Maine, restart his hike at Mt. Katahdin, the northern terminus of the trail, and hike south.  When he reached the point where he had left the trail, he would qualify as an end-to-ender!  The reason he couldn't simply continue the northward trek was that the Park Service closes down access to Baxter State Park's Mt. Katahdin after a certain date because of severe snow conditions.


So the next time we updated the map, the red pin was in Maine, moving south.  Several months before, I had promised Peter that if he actually did the whole trail, I'd meet him in New England and hike the last couple hundred miles northward with him.  Now that he was headed south, that plan would no longer work, but I still wanted in some way to honor his effort by hiking with him.

My brother Bill and I often went to Hershey, PA, in October to attend the giant antique car show and flea market put on by the Hershey chapter of the Antique Automobile Club of America.  In 1976, we had decided to rent a Winnebago camper for our trek.  It occurred to me that Bill could drop me off near where Peter was hiking and pick me up a few days later on down the trail.  On Sunday, 26 September, 1976 (which happened to be Bill's birthday), he dropped me off near the Beaver Brook shelter near Kinsman's Notch, New Hampshire.  Peter and I had prearranged this meeting point and he was waiting where the AT crossed the highway.  As the Winnebago lumbered up to the rendezvous point, Peter was beaming, eager to see a familiar face from home.  To make our first night in the shelter even more memorable, I had packed fresh fruits, cheese, and some big steaks for the feast!  Peter looked fantastic after over 1,500 miles of hiking -- lean, muscular, and very tanned under his enormous pack.



Beaver Brook Shelter (photo courtesy
of WhiteBlaze.net)
Bill exchanged a few words with Peter and soon he headed toward New York state where he planned to visit some friends.  Peter and I headed for the Beaver Brook shelter, which we reached in less than an hour.  I was finally getting to participate, even if briefly, in Peter Julius' great Appalachian Trail adventure!


Mt. Washington, in the distance, seen from
the crest of Mount Moosilauke
Over the next few days, we climbed Mt. Moosilauke at over 4,800 ft. elevation, passed through the town of Glencliff, where Peter retrieved a huge food cache from home, and stayed at Lonesome Lake Hut, one of the shelters maintained by the Appalachian Mountain Club.

A few days later, when my brother picked me up at a trail-highway crossing, I was tired and sore, but I had experienced one of my favorite hiking memories.  I'm still immensely grateful to Peter for letting me share a part of his hike.  And only a few weeks later, he finished his through hike in New Jersey and joined an elite cadre of hikers who have completed this inspiring adventure.

May 15, 2017

A Very Special Spring Hike...

The bronze placard at the southern terminus of the
Appalachian Trail on Springer Mountain, GA
In 1970, I found myself longing for the hiking that I had enjoyed while a member of the Boy Scouts of America in the 1950s.  I purchased the book "The Complete Walker" written by Colin Fletcher and originally published in 1968, at that time the Bible of backpacking lore.  Soon thereafter I joined the Recreational Equipment Incorporated (REI) co-op.  After consuming every page, I followed up by purchasing just about every bit of recommended equipment touted by Mr. Fletcher.  And I began hiking (with my shiny, brand-new backpacking gear) in easily accessible hiking spots in or near the Norman, Oklahoma, where I was living.  

I can still remember many of the items I acquired at that time -- my REI pack, the Svea 123 stove that burns "white gas," a Swiss Sigg nesting cooking pot set, Raichle Rotondo boots, Nalgene water bottles, Ensolite sleeping pad, long underwear, down vest, a special no-leak fuel bottle, a plastic egg holder, countless packets of freeze-dried foods (Colin Fletcher says they make you "fart like a bull."), compass, visqueen to use for a shelter (I still hadn't decided on a tent.) -- The list went on.

I had also been reading extensively the experiences of Appalachian Trail through-hikers.  I joined the Appalachian Trail Conference (ATC) and even toyed for a while with the idea of hiking the entire trail.  And, I acquired several of the sectional guide books and topographic maps of many segments of the trail.  Sometime during this period I got the idea of taking my nephew David for an AT hike.  He turned 9 years old in September and was learning to love the outdoors.  When I went to my Brother's house at Christmas, we began planning for a hike that would take place over the Easter holiday in 1971.  Easter was to occur on April 11th.  We could go up on the Thursday before.  I would fly to Chattanooga and meet David there.  He would be flying in from New Orleans where his father was a pilot for Delta Airlines.  I'd fly out of Oklahoma City.  I could rent a car in Chattanooga and we'd head for the mountains with all our gear.  Let the planning begin.



I needed to know how to drive to a point near the southern terminus of the trail on Springer Mountain near Dahlonega, Georgia.  I got the name of an Atlanta dentist who was the head of the Georgia AT Club.  He mailed me an instruction sheet which I wish I still had.  The on-line instructions to drive to a point near the southern trailhead haven't changed all that much in the last 44 years:  "From Dahlonega, travel west on Highway 52 for approximately 9 miles.  Turn right at an old store with a partial sign saying Store…this will be near mile marker 5.  There is also a sign for Nimblewill Baptist Church.

Travel for approximately 2 miles, then turn right (before church) onto Forest Service Road 28-1. (At this turn, there is a brown/cream sign saying Nimblewill Gap/Jones Creek/Camp Wahsega).  In approximately 2 miles (after you cross the bridge), the road forks.  Veer left onto Forest Service Road 77 and travel for approximately 5 miles to Windingstair Gap (intersection of Forest Service Road 77, Forest Service Road 42, and Forest Service Road 58).


At Windingstair Gap, turn left onto Forest Service Road 42. In approximately 1 mile, the Benton MacKaye Trail crosses this road at Big Stamp Gap.  Travel for another mile and you will see a parking area on your right.  The Appalachian Trail crosses Forest Service Road 42 at this point."


In the weeks leading up to this epic expedition, David and I talked on the phone about the maps and trail guides I had acquired from the ATC.  We tried to decide which direction we'd hike and how far.  We planned a four- or five-day journey.  Maybe a circular route using some side trails of paved roads might be better.  Maybe we'd just make up our minds when we got to a starting point.  And, of course, there was always the unknown of how far we might be able to hike with no mountain hiking practice and all new gear.


I practiced packing my gear to see if it would all fit.  It was a real challenge, but on the day I flew to Chattanooga, every item was safely stuffed into my large and heavy (probably 40-45 pounds) pack, which I checked as luggage.  I had even filled my egg carrier with fresh eggs so David and I could eat a really great breakfast on the trail.  When I arrived and caught up with David, we proceeded to the baggage area where, much to my dismay, eggs were oozing out of the top of my large frame pack.  We proceeded to the men's room, where for the next hour we cleaned up the mess.  The eggs had been crushed and leaked all over my clothes, sleeping bag, and other carefully-packed items.  We were not off to a good start.



I picked up our rental car, a 1970 Plymouth Valiant, got our gear safely in the trunk, and we headed for Georgia.  It was close to noon.  Within a couple of hours, we grabbed a bite of lunch in Dahlonega and headed out to find the Nimblewill Baptist Church listed on my directions.  By about 3:30 PM, after an exciting drive on Forest Service Roads 28-1, 77, and 42, we parked in a small parking area near the top of Springer Mountain and close to the Appalachian Trail.  We decided to hike to the Springer Mountain Shelter, which was only about a mile south to spend the night.  We donned our equipment and proudly took our first steps together on the trail.


Our first "home" on the AT --
the Springer Mountain Shelter
We arrived at the shelter in less than an hour, after a fairly easy hike, but both straining under our way-too-heavy backpacks.  There were already a couple of hikers in the shelter, but there was room for two more, so we unpacked our sleeping bags and pads and claimed part of the floor.  The folks we were sharing the shelter with were starting out to hike the entire trail!  We had inadvertently chosen to do our hike at the height of the season during which northbound end-to-enders would be starting out.  We encountered several during the next couple of days.

David and I lit my new stove and prepared our freeze-dried delicacies, topping the meal off with hot cocoa, drunk out of our new stainless steel Sierra cups.  We sat around a small campfire with our new hiking friends, who now numbered about a dozen including all the later arrivals, and we enjoyed the stories of how each had decided to "do the trail."  Soon, we all turned in and got a good night's rest.  We learned that the shelters are well-populated by critters.  Every time I woke up I could hear the skittering of tiny feet and chomping on crunchy something by our furry friends.  Fortunately, we had all heeded the warnings and suspended our packs from tree limbs far out of reach of these and other unwelcome scavengers.


We awoke to the reality that it can get darn cold in April in north Georgia!  We wasted no time in getting several layers of clothes on after we reluctantly exited our sleeping bags.  Soon, everyone in and around the shelter had gotten up and the hissing of our small stoves filled the air.  I had replenished our egg supply in Dahlonega, so we enjoyed some fresh eggs and other goodies we had packed in.  Our beverage of choice was Tang, "the drink of the Astronauts."  And again, we topped everything off with hot cocoa.  Soon, we had all of our gear packed up and we headed north on the Appalachian Trail!  We really had no distinct plan other than to reach our car by one route or another by Tuesday to head for Chattanooga.


The weather was perfect for hiking.  By noon, we were in our t-shirts.  The temperature was in the low 70's.  All was well with the world.  We hiked somewhat more slowly than most of the through hikers, so we got to meet quite a few during the day.  Many said they were going to spend the night at the Hawk Mountain shelter, which was about 8 miles from where we had spent the night.  Once we realized that we were making about one mile per hour, that seemed like a good objective for our first day.  We stopped along the trail near a small stream to make our lunch and I recall thinking, "This wouldn't be a bad place to pitch a tent."  We ate and drank plenty of liquids and were soon on our way again.


The Hawk Mountain shelter came into view around 4:00 PM on Friday.  There were already quite a few folks there, but many had pitched their tents nearby and didn't plan to sleep in the shelter.  David and I were able to claim enough floor space for our sleeping bags and we got introduced to our new friends, most of whom were planning to hike the entire AT.  They were all young, eager, and excited about their intended 2,000-mile adventure.  Soon, we were all sitting around a newly-built campfire, the sun was setting, and dinner was on the many stoves.   David and I sat quietly hearing the optimistic excitement of the newly-minted end-to-end aspirants.  This was in a time when only a few dozen people attempted to hike the trail in a given season.  In 1972, only 23 people completed the 2,000-mile hike; In 2015, the total was 1,000!  It may be a commentary on the improvement in lightweight backpacking equipment or on the amount of leisure time we have available.


We got a good night's sleep and soon were packed and resumed our northerly hike.  We decided we'd try to reach the shelter at Gooch Gap, a distance of about 7 miles (This shelter, which I later stayed in on many occasions, was torn down in 2001 and replaced by the present-day Gooch Mountain shelter.  The old shelter was very close to a forest service road that led to Suches, GA.  It apparently had become a favorite gathering place for party goers since it was so easily accessible.).  We had rapidly concluded that our pre-hike anticipation of covering 15-20 miles per day was really a bad assumption.  These hills were steep!  And we were not equipped physically to cope with the strenuous hiking and the 3,000-foot elevation.  We also wanted to enjoy our time and not feel like it was a marathon.  So we reached our next shelter by mid-afternoon and we were the first ones to lay claim to a space on the floor.  We hung our packs up and did a little day-hiking in the area before returning to the shelter to meet some new friends and prepare dinner.  Again, most of our shelter mates were intended end-to-enders.  The conversation during the evening tended toward physical ailments, underestimates of the trail's difficulty, and equipment issues.  Some folks were ready to shed considerable equipment to get rid of weight.  Others regretted not bringing certain items.  Lots of people already had sore knees, ankles, and feet.  And much conversation centered on the care and treatment of blisters.


David and I decided that the next day we would resume our hike by heading South in the direction from which we had come.  We would try to hike past the Hawk Mountain shelter to the site of a small stream we had seen.  We would pitch our "tent" (really a visqueen tarp suspended between trees) and sleep in the outdoors with no permanent structure around us.


The next day was another gorgeous hiking day and we had no trouble reaching our destination camping spot.   I had acquired some clever tarp tensioners that involved wrapping a small rubber ball in the part of the tarp you wanted to attach to a tensioning line.  Then you used a small keyhole-shaped ring that tightened the tarp around the ball and acted as the attachment point.  The tarp never needed to have a grommet installed but you could suspend and stretch it out to serve as a shelter.  I had a 12 ft. x 6 ft. tarp that I turned into both a ground cloth and a roof for the night, open on three sides:



Using the visqueen tarp as a lightweight shelter
We built a small campfire and cooked some more of our freeze dried food.  The trail was not more than thirty feet away where it crossed a small stream using a log flattened on its top side.  A few late hikers ambled by as we were setting up our camp, all northbound, but after dusk, David and I had the place to ourselves.  It wasn't long after the fire went out that we were sound asleep.

We woke up early on Monday to the sound of hikers walking by, got our breakfast, washed up, packed our gear, and soon were on our way to the car.  We had hatched a plan.  What if we got to our car early today, drove to Dahlonega and shopped for groceries -- hot dogs, hamburger, buns, onions, cheese, mustard, ketchup, potato salad, beverages, ice -- and drove on forest service roads to a point adjacent to the Hawk Mountain Shelter.  We could be back by mid-afternoon if we moved quickly, and we could treat a bunch of end-to-enders to an unexpected banquet!  So that's exactly what we did.  Within only a couple of hours, we had reached the car.  An hour or so later, we were buying groceries.

The Hawk Mountain Shelter (photo courtesy of AtlantaTrails)
I had figured out the layout of the fire service roads in the area, and had determined that we could drive to within about one-half mile of the Hawk Mountain shelter (This shelter is being or has been torn down due to overuse and is being replaced by a tenting site somewhere nearby.).  We drove there and started to lug our supplies to the shelter just as some hikers arrived.  In no time, with their help, we had unloaded everything at the shelter and began cooking.  As new hikers arrived, we treated them to burgers and hot dogs with all the trimmings, chips, and beverages with real ice.  We had garbage bags at the ready to ensure we would leave not a trace.  And later, to top it all off, we made s'mores around a campfire.  Needless to say, the hikers all expressed their thanks and surprise at such a wilderness feast.

Everyone got a great night's sleep after we suspended all the garbage from a nearby tree.  The next day, David and I had to get back to Chattanooga to check in to a motel, clean up, do our laundry, and repack everything for our return flights on Wednesday.  We got up early and ate another trail breakfast topped off with Tang and strong coffee.  The other hikers helped load the trash into our car, which was easily accessible.  After a few grateful goodbyes, we were headed down the winding gravel forest service road to civilization.  Not long after we hit pavement, we were on our way to Chattanooga.

We spent the night at a motel unpacking, cleaning, and repacking all our gear.  The hotel had a laundromat that we made good use of.  The next morning we headed for the airport where we returned the very dirty rental car and found David's departure gate.  After I saw him off, headed for Louisiana, I went to my gate where the flight to Oklahoma would leave a couple of hours later.

David and I took other hikes on and off the Appalachian Trail over the ensuing years.  We hiked with other people -- Jim Schmidt, Bill Clancy, Peter Julius, and others -- but I think that this foray remains my favorite, and I think his as well.

Apr 10, 2017

Major Donald "Jack" Crocker...

Captain Donald "Jack" Crocker -- 1937-1967 -- RIP
I reported for duty at the Naval ROTC unit at the University of Oklahoma on August 16, 1965.  I had just driven my 1932 Plymouth from New London, Connecticut, via Schenectady, New York and Marquette University in Milwaukee ultimately to Norman, Oklahoma.  During my stay with my parents in Schenectady, my sister Ann had died in an accident on July 9th.  I was involved in her funeral and helping my parents deal with the tragedy.  The long slow trip to Norman had been a good time to grieve and prepare for a new phase in my life.  I would be done with sea duty for a while, I thought I could get much of an engineering degree completed during my shore duty, and I looked forward to this next stage in what I hoped would become a naval career.

The night of August 15th, I had stayed in a motel in Oklahoma City.  I arose early and donned my tropical khaki uniform and called Lt. Joe Montanaro, a fellow instructor whom I had just met at the Marquette training program a couple of weeks previous.  I asked Joe for directions to the campus, and in particular to the armory building in which the NROTC was housed.  Joe suggested we meet at the Holiday Inn on west Main Street just off of I-35.  We met there and proceeded to the campus for breakfast at the Student Union.  Then we went to the armory building, where I would meet Captain Marcus L. Lowe, Jr., and the rest of the staff.

The Oklahoma armory building,
where Jack Crocker and I met and worked
Within the next few days, I got to meet the staff of the Army ROTC, who shared the building with us.  They were a terrific group of dedicated Americans, many of whom had served in Viet Nam. One of those whom I met was Captain Donald "Jack" Crocker, of Monroe, LA.  Jack and I hit it off immediately.  He was the only bachelor on the army staff and I was the token bachelor for the navy staff.  Jack was 3 years older than me and had earned a civil engineering degree and earned his commission through the ROTC program at the University of Louisiana - Monroe.  He had gone to school in his home town.  Within a few weeks, we were socially active, often double dating and taking our dates to the Tinker Air Force Base Officers Club.  We became very good friends.

Jack had purchased a brand new 1965 Buick Riviera, cream colored with every possible option.  When he and I traveled, we went in style!  I rode in that car to my first OU-Texas game in Dallas, where Jack introduced me to the chaos that is the Red River rivalry.  He and I were also active in the Tinker Aero Club.  He had his private pilot's license and I was taking flight instruction.  For the next year, we saw each other every day and probably did something together on at least 20 weekends.  About halfway through that academic year, he started dating a young lady named Star Bobys, a native of Corpus Christi who lived in Oklahoma City.  Star's brother, Bruce, had also moved to Oklahoma City and was employed by a prominent jeweler.  His path and mine would cross when I purchased an engagement ring from him in 1966.



In the Spring of 1966, Jack got orders to Viet Nam.  He would be proceeding to the 919th Engineer Company (Armor), 11th Armored Cavalry in August, serving in the Phuoc Tuy Province.  Around May or June, Jack confided in me that he and Star were going to be married before he left for Viet Nam.  He said he recognized that they hadn't been dating very long, but he knew she was "the one."  He recognized that there was the real possibility that he might not come home.  If that were to happen, he wanted Star to benefit from his estate.  They were married in a private ceremony with a couple of witnesses.

In July, Jack and Star headed for Monroe to visit his family and soon he departed for Viet Nam.  During his stay there, he and I corresponded a few times.  Mostly, I heard reports from Star, with whom I spoke every few weeks.  We can get a sense of the environment he worked in from this description on the home page of the 919th Engineer Company:
"On 5 August 1966, the first elements of the 919th Engineer Company (Armored), Regimental engineers of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, departed Fort Hood, Texas, via Bergstrom Air Force Base for the Republic of Vietnam.  By 8 August, the entire company 0f 154 combat ready engineers had arrived at LONG BINH, the temporary home of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment 20 kilometers northeast of SAIGON.

With the beginning of combat operations in the first part of October 1966, the men of the 919th "Red Devils" found themselves in the unique position of being the only armored engineers fighting in Vietnam.  In essence, they had to write the textbook for the armored engineer operations in a counterinsurgency environment.  The 919th Engineers also had the distinction of being the first element of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment to inflict casualties upon the Viet Cong.


Captain Jack Crocker in theater, April, 1967
Missions tasked to the Company are numerous: Building timber trestle bridges; searching booby-trapped tunnel complexes; destroying Viet Cong tunnel and bunker fortifications; constructing ford and culvert sites; conducting river crossing operations; clearing landing zones; constructing fighting positions; detecting, removing, and destroying Viet Cong mines on road sweeping operations; procuring and delivering barrier material for the upgrading of ARVN Regional Force and Popular Force outposts; and fabricating aircraft revetments are only a few of the missions assigned to this versatile unit.  The heavy workload has not prevented the 919th Engineers from foiling Viet Cong plans.  In the night of 16 November 1966, the Viet Cong launched a mortar and recoilless rifle attack against Blackhorse Base Camp.  The first rounds had hardly struck when the alert tank crew of the First Platoon spun their 90-mm. gun in on the flashes and returned fire.  The attack abruptly halted, and further investigation revealed that the timely, accurate counter-fire delivered by the "Red Devils" had forced the enemy to flee and abandon unexpended mortar and recoil-less rifle rounds as well as personal equipment.  The Regimental Commander personally awarded the Tank Commander of the First Platoon a Bronze Star.

In another action, the Third Platoon, 919th Engineers, was securing the Command Post of the Third Squadron,11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, in the early morning hours of 18 June 1967 on slope 30.  The Platoon had put in a long day and did not take its place on the perimeter until after darkness.  Apparently, the Viet Cong had surveyed the perimeter in daylight and thought that the space reserved for the Third Platoon would be unguarded that night.  Suddenly, at 0200 hours a ground attack supported by intense mortar and rocket fire was launched directly at the Engineer position.  Proving their combat effectiveness, the platoon viciously fought back and held their position; and, at daylight, over 35 enemy bodies were found strewn in front of the Third Platoon's position.  The 919th Engineer Company (Armored) has been much decorated for its valor and achievement while serving in the Republic of Vietnam.  Two Silver Stars, twenty-one Bronze Stars with 'V', thirty-seven Bronze Stars for Service, ten Army Commendation Medals with 'V', sixty-five Army Commendation Medals for Service, sixty-seven Purple Hearts, one Air Medal and ten Vietnamese Gallantry Crosses with Bronze Star have been awarded to the Engineers from August 1966 to September 1968."

As his tour approached completion, we planned a big homecoming.  The staff of the Army ROTC wanted to be involved, as many of them remained from Jack's time in the unit.  Then, on July 15, 1967, we heard the tragic news.  With only two weeks left in his one-year deployment, Captain Jack Crocker had stepped on a freshly-planted land mine and had died instantly.  Gone were his dreams and those of his loved ones.  I had lost a dear friend, but his role as one of my heroes had only grown.  I still think of all that might have been.

Jack was promoted to Major posthumously.  His remains were placed in Twin Cities Memorial Garden in Monroe, LA.  His name is forever engraved on The Wall at Panel 23E - Row 074.  Rest in Peace, my brave comrade.



If I should die, and leave you here awhile
Be not like others sore undone, who keep
Long vigils by the silent dust and weep.
For my sake, turn again to life, and smile,
Nerving thy heart and trembling hand to do
Something to comfort weaker hearts than thine.
Complete these dear unfinished tasks of mine,
And I, perchance, may therein comfort you!-- Mary Lee Hall