Author’s Note: If you are likely to be offended by what today would be considered masculist language, this story from some forty-five years past is not for you. Thanks for reading but, skip this chapter. Disclaimer: With the challenges I’d faced to this point, (Think: Vietnam, Crohn’s disease) I believe I have license to extol the good times too. Here’s what I missed: The free love period (was in VN), last three year’s of marriage and my age 15-17 celibate years. That’s six years plus.
WARNING: Egotistical Rodomontade Ahead:
I had the privilege to meet and date scores of smart and beautiful women in my five and one-half years in Colorado. A few asked me out, and some sent me flowers. After the twins were with me, I had more than one very attractive marriage offer. Seems women thought it was a great thing for a father to do, taking on the responsibility and caring for his children alone, girls especially. I was appreciative and fortunate, but never seriously considered marriage at the time with the special needs the twin’s required. A permanent relationship, matrimony, I thought, would put an unnecessary burden on my preteen children and a new wife. It was perfectly fine for the twins to see me with different women, coming and going, though? I didn’t say it was a perfect plan. Hold on, the children aren’t even here yet.
In the late-70s in Denver, a 6’ 3” “good-looking” tanned-single-man with an afro and full beard who was a popular DJ and Master of Ceremonies for touring Rock and Country bands, on the practice squad of the University of Denver NCAA Division II basketball program and knew how to treat a lady — could get a date. Now imagine that man with a vasectomy. With those attributes, owning a Porsche was not only unnecessary, but superfluous. With so many opportunities, tough choices had to be made.
To understate it dramatically: Life was so good. It could have ended right there.
I would never be so crass as to estimate the number of women I dated, but if I were forced to, I would need to count with all my fingers, okay, toes too. And there were periods; several months at a time, I was in love, dating just one woman. I know, I know, what a sacrifice. Despite explicit scenes of war and peril that I unequivocally depict elsewhere on these pages, any sexual escapades that may have emanated from my interaction with the fairer sex — will not be. However, if you let your imagination flourish ne plus ultra, you will have a good idea of the responsibility and delight that came with me dating so many.
I promised the women in my life who were especially good to me that I would treat them kindly in my book. Now with My Life At The Limit finally a reality. Here is my promise kept.
I’ll stop here, lest I am accused of boasting. For those inadvertently left off, you’re just lucky, I guess.
Paul Simon sang in Kodachrome, “If you took all the girls I knew when I was single and brought them all together for just one night, I know they’d never match my sweet imagination.” What if I did the same? Well, let’s see. Here are a few of the special women who, long ago, touched my life.
Life was good, everything was going great, but one thing was lurking below the surface — the twins. I was here in the Mile High, having a wonderful time, and my Momma in her mid-sixties and Daddy at seventy were taking care of two six-year-olds in Mississippi without modern conveniences. The twins had been with her since Marty sent them there in late 1974, almost three years ago. I needed to make a decision. Would I leave them with Momma indefinitely, have them stay until they turned eighteen? I knew the right thing to do, even with me in college full-time, working full time, and dating full-time. Bringing them to live with me in Colorado would be a major adjustment for all of us. An understatement, indeed.
Do I presently have the most amazing wife (readers too) who are not bothered by me, including in my life story, such nonsense as featuring these women in my book? That would be a yes, (excuse my language) hell yes!
Sun had set on another hot August day in the Mile High, and with heat rising into cooler air, city lights were flickering as far as I could see when I crested an elevated stretch of the 6th Avenue freeway, headed east toward home in Littleton. Already nostalgic from my last shift at KLAK, a DJ on KBPI casually made the announcement: Elvis was dead in Memphis. Between radio jobs, I had no immediate outlet to talk about Elvis, to honor his legacy or play his music.
Now more than ever, I had to continue with my own dreams. After more than two years at KLAK, I had an opportunity with a relatively new station, broadcasting in FM stereo, and it was playing Top 40, my favorite music. I would have plenty of time, I thought, to show my appreciation for the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Boundless words have been written about Elvis, so I won’t try to compete with them or the nearly 100 books. Below, however, are a few tidbits that are pretty much common knowledge to any casual fan, intertwined with some that even a dedicated follower might not know.
Visitors to his birthplace in Tupelo, Mississippi are more than 100,000 annually, just two miles away 20,000 of them also visit Tupelo Hardware where his mother Gladys, bought him his first guitar at age 11.
Visitors can and do stand on the floor (the actual worn floor) where Elvis stood while his mother handed him his first musical instrument. It cost $7.75. “Many people who stop by here become very emotional,” said Howard Hite, the store’s official host.
“A couple came all the way from Brazil. After I told the story, I saw tears in their eyes and the man asked. ‘You don’t mind if I give you a hug, do you?’ ” Hite complied. (Quote from TomBigbee Country Magazine). As for Graceland, it attracts more than 3/4 million, the second most visited home in US, behind only the Whitehouse.
Early on Elvis, Scotty, and Bill, failed an audition for the TV program “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts.”
His first Las Vegas engagement in 1956 was unsuccessful and cut short.
LBJ visited Elvis on the set during the shooting of Spinout. During the late 1960s,
Pat Boone often joined Elvis and other stars in touch football. Elvis showed promise for football in HS, but his mother forbade it for fear he would be injured.
Elvis wore a size 11 shoe.
Elvis appeared in a public service announcement asking young people to get vaccinated for Polio. It was a huge success.
Elvis bought FDR’s former Yacht and later donated it to the St. Jude’s Hospital for Children.
Elvis had heard the Jordanaires on the Grand Ole Opry and was able to meet them later backstage after a show in Memphis and told them, “If I ever get a recording contract with a major company, I want you guys to back me up.” They wished him well, but never expected to hear from him or of him again. We know what happened later, Elvis used the Jordanaires for the next 14 years.
The day after Elvis’ first RCA session Jan 10, 1956, a producer called Chet Adkins (renown guitarist) wanting him to do a session with a new “probably wouldn’t be around-long-kid named Elvis Presley” with oily hair, pink shirt … black trousers. Three months later Heartbreak Hotel was the #1 song in the U.S.A.
He was burned in effigy in Nashville and St. Louis after his second appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1956.
Elvis’ first Grammy was awarded for Gospel music.
Aloha From Hawaii, a live satellite broadcast around the world, Jan. 1973 was the most-watched TV program ever, with an estimated audience of 1.5 billion!
Quotes by Elvis from Esquire Magazine: “ I never tasted alcohol.”
“My mother goes to town and she buys anything she wants, which makes me feel real good.”
“When I’m pushed to a certain point, I have a very bad temper.”
“I’ve had a pretty good lesson in human nature. It’s more important to try to surround yourself with people who can give you a little happiness because you pass through this life once. You don’t come back for an encore.”
Caroline Kennedy and James Brown saw Elvis’ body in his casket including about 30,000 others. At Forrest Hill Cemetery it was wheeled to corridor Z of the mausoleum and placed into the crypt. It took 100 vans about five hours to take the flowers from Graceland to the interment site according the TomBigbee Country Magazine.
Elvis’ last night was not unusual according to friend Jim Browder, “Elvis stayed up all night. He entertained friends, played the piano and sang, and even played racquetball in the early morning, just before retiring around 8 a.m. His fiancée Ginger Alden, was staying with him, but sleeping in a different room. She was the last person to see him alive and she was the person who found him on his bathroom floor at 2 p.m.”
Only a few hours before his death, according to TomBigbee Magazine, step-brother Rick Stanley heard Elvis recite a Christian prayer, “Dear Lord, please show me the way, I’m tired and confused and I need your help.”
Some of my all-time favorite Elvis songs include Follow That Dream; Wild In The Country; I'll Remember You; Can't Help Falling In Love; Are You Lonesome Tonight; Woodenheart;Don't Be Cruel; Love Me Tender; Kentucky Rain; The Wonder Of You;Please Don't Stop Loving Me and on and on.
As for my new job, moving to KBPI was a minor gamble for me; and even though she was one of the top pop stations in the market, everybody at the other rock stations was anxious to move up in this very competitive format. I would be on-air just ten hours a week, 10am to 3pm, Saturday and Sunday. But I wanted to be a rock jock in Denver like, seemingly, everybody else.
Modeling with a tamed afro for Benson-Hedges, not an endorsement of smoking. (Swan archives)
With a short break between jobs, I was anxious to and did more exploring of scenic Colorado in my new 1977 gold VW® Scirocco with ski racks, sunroof, FM Stereo, and cassette player. Eventually, I had a turbocharger installed. It was a great ride and after the forced induction, fast. I surprised lots of Datsun® Z cars who tried to keep up with me. I began wearing seat belts when I got the little Scirocco, and have been using them in all my vehicles ever since. It became mandatory in the state ten years later.
It was a great time to be in Colorado. The Denver Broncos were emerging as a powerhouse in the NFL and were immensely popular in a vast region. The Denver Nuggets professional basketball team had just entered the NBA and attracted major talent.
An NHL Hockey team — the only major league franchise within a thousand miles — the Colorado Rockies (now Avalanche) were winning and gaining large audiences.
The capital city had its own major league rodeo franchise — The world champion Denver Stars.* The University of Denver Pioneers Hockey team, winner of several NCAA Division I titles, was a perennial contender with reasonable ticket prices. The DU ski team were winners of a record 24 National Championships since its inception in 1954.
It was no secret the Rocky Mountains around Denver were renowned around the world as a hip locale with a dozen ski resorts, many of them word-class like Aspen and Vail. In the Rockies, the sun shone more than most places with similar climates. It was great for people who loved the outdoors. In the fall, the Aspen leaves were captivating. Colorado was truly beautiful.
I learned to ski in Colorado at the best resorts in the country. I wasn’t a natural and I did a lot of “snowplowing” before I got my balance and the confidence to ski the black diamond runs.
Then it was just me, thousands of feet above the pedestrian earth, closer to heaven floating on virgin white powder, gliding like an eagle — soaring in freedom. Rocky Mountain high, indeed.
*Transporting the livestock to and from cities like San Antonio, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Kansas City, and other venues proved too costly. I was their promotions and advertising manager and was owed lots of dollars when the Stars went into bankruptcy after just a few seasons.
It was time for me to Rock ‘n’ Roll — literally — Denver’s Don Swan Rocks the Rockies on 107.9 KBPI playing Beast of Burden; Do ‘Ya Think I’m Sexy;Roxanne; Werewolves of London and other great hits. Denver radio was a cutthroat enterprise. There were at least 50 or more DJs here and around the country vying for every position that might become available.
DENVER’S DON SWAN 🎧 NOW ON
I was the deep-voiced rock jock on KBPI every Sat and Sun, 10 am to 3 pm in one of the most competitive and coveted markets in the Country. I became popular on-air and well-received at KBPI spinning You Light Up My Life; Hot Blooded; Life’s Been Go To Me So Far; Too Much Heaven; Tragedy;Bad Girls and all the hottest hits of 1978-9.
Results from below show how DJs (like me) can make a difference:
Oct/Nov 1977 ABR Survey results from KLAK memo forDon Swan Show:
Before Swan leaves KLAK:
Both surveys for 10am-3pm
Oct/Nov 1978 ABR Survey results from KBPI memo forDon Swan Show:
After Swan arrives at KBPI
As a personality on The Rock of the Rockies, I was involved with popular bands, introducing some at concerts or somehow connected.
They included Jimmy Buffett, The Eagles; Neil Diamond; Michael Murphy; Doc Severson with the Denver Symphony; Seals & Crofts; America; and Carol King. Then there were the Four Tops; Johnny Rivers; Tina Turner and Dionne Warrick at the Complex, Denver Cow Palace, Red Rocks, and other venues. Also included was The Captain & Tennille with Muskrat Love; one of the worst songs of 1976? Guess I don’t know my audience very well, it went Gold.
As of me mugging with celebrities, I didn’t think you needed to see that many pictures of yours truly. I may appreciate their music or acting, but after congregating with plenty of luminaries or famous people, they are just not a big deal to me. There could also be issues with publishing celebrity photos (in a book potentially for sale) even though they are public figures, I would probably need a release. I don’t have such pictures hanging on the wall of my study either.
There were lots of fans who were loyal to “Denver’s Don Swan on 107.9-KBPI.” But how long could it last?
You probably remember the test of the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS) on the radio in the 70s and later. Here’s how it worked: The announcer inserts a cart that begins with twenty seconds of a very distinctive tone of beeps and chirps, a sine wave of 960Hz. Then the prerecorded voice announces, “This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. This is only a test. If this had been an actual emergency, you would receive instructions from this or other stations. KBPI serves the Denver area. This concludes the test of the Emergency Broadcast System.”
By now you know me as one who wants more excitement than the average guy, or at least one to do something a bit different, to get people laughing or thinking.
I wasn’t afraid of a little controversy and had considered taking a dig at law enforcement in Aspen and Glenwood Springs, Colorado, where Ted Bundy had escaped from each jail just a year ago in 1977. After that last break out, Bundy escaped to Florida, where he killed two more women and a 12-year-old girl. But I thought better of it out of respect for the families of a Colorado victim, Bundy confessed to killing just before he was executed.
Instead, I decided one sunny Sunday afternoon to broach a subject less offensive than murder; although about possible deaths.
I inserted the EBS tape and allowed the tone to play, then I turned off the prerecorded message and did my own version of the announcement. I said in a solemn voice: “This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System . . . If this had been an actual emergency, you would be told to kiss your ass goodbye, likely because of the facility that lies just 16 miles north of us.” (That facility was the Rocky Flats nuclear plant.) Then I played Knock on Wood.
OK, isn’t that a little funny? Not with the FCC, they called the station manager less than 24 hours after my comment and said something to the effect: “Fire this person or be fined $5,000, plus a notation in your file that could be detrimental to the renewal of your operating license.” Ouch!
Guess which option the station chose?
Joke or not, the FCC wasn’t laughing, especially since the Rocky Flats facility near Denver was a nuclear weapons production plant — to the chagrin of many living in the area and beyond — and considered by many to be a very dangerous installation. Also, the FCC required the station to sign a non-disclosure agreement about the incident. Unbelievably, there was no promulgation, no news stories.
Did that make me an early Shock Jock? Why my joke was not free speech; one cannot yell “Fire” in a crowded theater and claim free speech. My statements were not in the context of a DJ saying, “Boy, if that plant ever blows, we can kiss our asses goodbye.” That’s free speech. My comment, however, was made during an FCC required EBS announcement — an official notification.
I’m pretty sure a competitor called the FCC. I can practically hear the person saying something like: “I was so frightened that I began breaking out in hives and, I had trouble sleeping after that bad man made a joke of something that’s no laughing matter — Nuclear Weapons.”
Oh well, I needed more time to concentrate on my studies at DU and for my small ad agency. Soon I would have the hardest job of all — parenthood for two — the twins.
Having not played DJ for several years, around 1992, my enjoyment of popular music was on the decline. Was it an age thing, like the generation before us? I don’t believe so, my love for music was so enduring, I was surprised that it was happening to me.
There were songs I still enjoyed like Tears In Heaven–Eric Clapton; Bohemian Rhapsody– Queen; Have I Told You Lately That I Love You–Rod Stewart; Hero–Mariah Carey; Endless Love–Luther Vandross; Circle Of Life & Candle In The Wind Elton John; I’ll Stand By You–The Pretenders and Un-Break My Heart–Toni Braxton.
The Greatest Hits from my generation begin in Book II, Chapters I & II.
A heat wave blanketed the Denver area, but I was not on the radio doing a Johnny Carson bit on “how hot was it.” It was crazy, I was no longer a DJ in Denver, yet I wasn’t sitting and staring at the walls. In fact, I wondered how I had been able to pull it off as long as I had; Full time DJ-college-dating and some ad work. With this break, I knew what I needed to do.
So, just a few days after my unceremonious departure from Denver radio, I flew to Memphis, rented a car, drove an hour south into Mississippi to pick up Lisa and Laura for their journey to live with me in Colorado.
I was surprised and concerned when I saw Momma. She stood with a slight hunch, looked tired and older than her age of 66. She appeared to have aged 10 years in the four years since I last saw her.
Laura said if she were allowed to stay, and she wanted to, could help take care of her Grandmother. There were tears all around as we helped them pack for yet another move. Momma’s reaction — appalled at my full beard and Afro — momentarily lifted us from an otherwise forlorn affair.
A short time before I left Colorado to pick up the twins, I bought a house in an upscale neighborhood in the Denver suburb of Littleton with a VA loan. The split-level, 1,700 sq. ft. 3 bedroom, 3 bath, featured a wet bar in the basement, and a moss rock fireplace surround in the family room. Lewis Ames Elementary school was within walking distance.
The Twins at the start of 1st grade. (Bonnie Parham)
Having left Tacoma, Washington for Germany, then moving to North Carolina, Kansas City, and the journey to Memphis, the twins could have qualified for frequent flyer miles. Now they were moving once more, from Mississippi to Colorado, so flying into Stapleton was no big deal, although Laura was still sad at having left her Grandmother.
We had an uneventful flight on a United 727, unlike a recently hijacked United 737 that landed at Stapleton, where it remained for 90 minutes before the malefactor surrendered.
We grabbed our luggage from the carousel, loaded it on a shuttle to long-term parking, threw it in the car, and commenced the 45-minute drive southeast to our new home. As for the big cities they remembered, (Kansas City and Memphis) Denver was surely different, with the Rocky Mountains framing the skyline to the west.
Similar to our house (below) in the same neighborhood of Littleton, 1978-80. (ReMax™ Realty)
Now they would finally get their separate bedrooms in our big house in suburbia with a fenced backyard. It was a world away from Mississippi.
The children in our neighborhood laughed at their southern accent and the types of clothing they wore, which they brought with them from Mississippi. I took them to nearby Southglenn Mall for new wardrobes. I had no luck. Frustrated, I asked a single mom who lived next door to accompany us. It still wasn’t easy, but together we made it work. Then I enrolled them in elementary school for the fifth grade.
There were lots of women, and people in general, who found my single-dad-ship of two girls quite virtuous. They gave me even more respect as they spent some time with the twins and saw how difficult they actually were.
We went to counseling a few times, and I determined it wasn’t helping; besides, the twins hated it. The girls promised — if they could stop counseling — to be more attentive and less difficult at home and school. Then I enrolled them in a Calvinettes group at a local church, along with an after-school recreational program in swimming, horseback riding, gymnastics, and the like.
I had a platonic live-in young lady, a fellow student who stayed at our house rent-free in exchange for some help with the twins. Thanks, Jan. I also had a girlfriend in particular, who was especially supportive and was a taxi for the girls on many occasions. Thanks, Marilyn.
Now that the twins were occupied with school and the other activities, I needed to concentrate on my studies. I had long ago realized I needed a profession more secure than radio, especially now with my daughters depending on me.
How about something like a government job? That would be about as far from radio that I could imagine. But any job would be more secure than the radio broadcasting profession. Another One Bites The Dust played on KBPI.
Graduates of the Communication Department at DU (where I studied) had among it alum, members of the Hollywood film industry, and a graduate who started The Hard Rock Café, and one was credited with the music video concept.
Professors in the department created a work-study program with an adventure that would take us to the studios in SoCal. (That meant, shortly after the twins came to live with me, I had to find a sitter for a week.)
In Hollywood, we got an up-close look at the motion picture and TV industry. Boring. The setups for a scene and the takes is a very slow process. There was plenty of standing around between takes, then more time for setups, and actors back and forth to their trailers.
We watched an early taping of Dukes Of Hazard, (a few months before it made its debut), a live taping of Alice, and The Tonight Show where (surprise) Letterman was the guest host. Most interesting to me was an early screening of The Deer Hunter.
Despite that fun trip, sometimes I thought college would never end, I needed credits here, credits there. I was carrying a heavy academic workload. My VA counselor kept me on a tight schedule to ensure that I graduated within the time allowed for my Vocational Rehabilitation training program, paid for by the VA.
DU was (and continues to be) a private, intense, and very expensive school. Professors took their jobs seriously and were quick to discern mediocre work in any assignment. Going to class unprepared could be especially embarrassing. I never made less than a C, but I worked harder for some of those as I did for an A.
One such challenge was an astronomy course taught by Professor Everhart — who naturally had a comet named after him. Class was occasionally held at his house, high in the Rockies, where he had his own telescope to view the heavens. A professor of that stature has high expectations. There was a surprising amount of math, science, and photography. I studied hard and barely squeaked by with a C. Then, there were other especially challenging courses like quantitative analysis, statistics, and mass communications law.
I graduated in three years with a double major, a BA in Speech Communication, and a BA in Public Communication with a final GPA of 3.2. The twins were ecstatic — very proud of me. At graduation, I was given the venerated University of Denver Community Service Award.
The next logical step, for my education, was a Master’s degree. Having finished my undergraduate degree a year early, my VA counselor determined I still had another year of benefits, which I would use for graduate school.
The good news about DU’s Master’s program; it’s possible to get one in less than the usual two-years. Bad news; it comes with a tremendous workload, a mini-thesis every quarter. I chose the fast-track program and was a Graduate Teaching Assistant while studying for my advanced degree. I completed my Master’s in 18-months. My final thesis was “Cybernetic News,” and I was awarded an MA in Public Communication.
Single parent with two children and no child support, sounds like what many women were struggling with. Yet, it was me in that predicament — financially supporting and parenting twin nine-year-old girls.
After two years of juggling graduate school, work and parenting, I had an epiphany: I needed a real job. After sitting in seemingly endless classrooms and writing enough papers to please a platoon of professors in the army of academia, I’d obtained a couple of college degrees. Now I was ready for corporate America or something like it, Denver however, was as competitive in the business sector as it had becoming a DJ in the Capitol city. A well paying relative secure job in the Mile High, I would learn, seemed to be even more elusive.
Of all the resumes I sent, and I sent a lot, the most promising response came from Utah. Just one state west, but a world away, I sensed.
I left the great state of Colorado to apply for a Public Affairs Officer (PAO) position at Defense Depot Ogden, Utah (DDOU). I was interviewed by the Vice Commander with the Commander sitting in; it went very well, and I was hired on the spot.
Although it was not official, because of my pending security probe and going through the motions of government hiring. The good news, you’re hired. Bad news, the Depot may be closing. On the radio, Hit Me With Your Best Shot by Pat Beneatar rang out.
I had worried about the new job, Mormons and the state of Utah unnecessarily, I liked them all very much. I had also worried about ever getting another date being in the conservative state of Utah.
Then I met Lucinda (pseudonym) at the nearby Hill AFB public affairs office. I was the envy of many who had tried unsuccessfully to go out with her and just men in general.
Utah, for me, was a great state for dating and skiing. There was a good run, just a fifteen-minute drive from our house in North Ogden.
As for my new job, I had one employee at my disposal. She was a lady in her mod-50s who had “Public Affairs Assistant” in her job description, but the previous PA used her as a secretary and general flunky.
Imageher surprise and consternation when I told Betty (pseudonym) she was expected to assist me in PA activities. Fast-forward: In less than a year, she was writing good articles for our monthly newspaper. She didn’t exactly tell me how grateful she was for me making her do her job, but her attitude changed for the better. She was proud of her work, especially her photography.
The worst part of my job was the workday that began at 0730 on mahogany row, where the Commander and his Deputy, Legal, PA, and other senior staff had offices. The workday ended at 1630, but I was rarely out by then.
DDOU provided items to all branches of the U.S. military units worldwide. Some of the supplies we shipped were mundane, others were sophisticated and critical. Our parent command was the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) located in Alexandria, VA. DDOU was one of several depots located throughout the U.S.
In staff meetings, I sat at the “big table” with the Commander and other principles within the command. Other members of staff occupied chairs farther back. I’m telling this because a lieutenant colonel who sat in one of the seats behind me became my best friend. He provided me with invaluable advice on how to work within the bureaucracy that included both civilian and military members.
Col. Tom Kirkham was a practicing Mormon (and continues to be) who fathered 9 children with his wife, Mary. Tom is a Vietnam veteran of the U.S. Air Force and had some interesting assignments in Southeast Asian countries. At the time I met him, some of his clandestine operations were less than 10 years old and were still classified but downgraded from Top Secret SCI/SAR to Secret.
All I can say about his missions (now fifty years past) is that they were extremely dangerous and daring. Don’t feel left out — you might be better off not knowing any details of those operations.
He had other jobs in the Air Force that might seem boring after his Southeast Asia adventures, but no less critical. Tom was a Battle Staff officer on Looking Glass (so nicknamed by the crew) an airborne EC-135C that would provide command and control of U.S. Nuclear forces if ground-based control of those weapons were destroyed or otherwise rendered inoperable.
The general officer on board Looking Glass would assume the role of (the) National Command Authority and have direct control of and capacity to launch nuclear weapons. You read that right; pretty heady stuff. One of these EC-135Cs (Boeing 707) Looking Glass jets was always in the skies over the U.S. from 1961 to 1992.
Tom made full colonel (less than 50% of the qualified lieutenant colonels do) before he left DDOU. He held command positions within DLA before his retirement in 1987.
I’m convinced Tom would have made an exceptional Brigadier General (the next grade above Colonel). Competition is fierce; records indicate less than five percent of eligible colonels make the grade of brigadier-general, and only then when an assignment is available for their rank. All general officer promotions require approval by the Senate and the President.
Tom and I have remained friends over the years, despite our assignments that didn’t coincide. We stayed in touch because our friendship is fervent, and we took pride in having served in the U. S. military before it became popular.
Tom is a great American to be commemorated for what he was: a guardian of our freedom and for what he is: a genuine patriot. In retirement, he continues his service as a leader in his church and community. I hope that in some small sense, I am remembered that way as well.
HOW DO YOU SOLVE A PROBLEM LIKE MARIA’S?
Back to the reality of my new position at DDOU. The Commander, my boss, told me I had free rein on how to structure my job; good news, indeed. There were also some mandatory requirements I was responsible for publishing the monthly newspaper for our workers, keeping the media informed of our mission, and answering their queries. I also met and stayed in touch with community leaders, local and elected officials, which became more important than ever since DDOU was on the hit list for closure and the loss of 2,500 jobs, including mine.
On my way to visit the editor of Ogden’s Standard-Examiner, Kim Carnes’s Betty Davis Eyes reverberated from the small speaker on my staff car. On my annual year-end countdown, Hungry Heart by Bruce Springsteen was my #1 song of 1980.
Even with my responsibilities at DDOU, I managed to make time for teaching Public Speaking and other communication courses two nights a week at Ogden’s Weber State College (now University).
Just out of graduate school, I made a good impression on Senator Hatch when I was briefing him about DDOU. Keeping him and other Congressional delegates apprised of our specialized workforce, the unique service we provided the Department of Defense, and why we should remain open.
When the White House job didn’t come to fruition (see above), I was offered political appointment jobs in agencies like EPA and Agriculture at three grades above my present rank. But moving again so soon with the twins already in a good school with friends there and in the community, I choose not to accept. Had it been the White House, I would have made an exception.
U. S. Congressman Gunn McKay, (Ogden native) came to DDOU about two years after the announcement of the possible closure (and me becoming the Public Affairs Officer) with good news: DDO would remain open for the foreseeable future. In our depot newspaper, I ran at 72pt headline DDO TO REMAIN OPEN for the accompanying story.
I was given some credit for the success of DDOU not closing because of my community involvement and my reports to the Utah Congressional delegation. Although I received top performance reviews, there was no promotion potential in my job. So after two years as PAO, I began looking for a job with advancement possibilities.
I had enough connections at nearby Hill AFB to get a seat on a USAF T-39 (executive jet) flying to Wright-Patterson AFB near Dayton, Ohio, where I had a job prospect. After my interview with the lieutenant colonel, who was the Chief of PA for the 2750th Air Base Wing, I was offered the job as his deputy, GS-12, one step above my grade at DDOU. I accepted.
This would be the second move for the twins since they came to live with me in Colorado four years ago.
Hulking F-4 Phantom IIs streaked low overhead, went wet with afterburners and quickly disappeared in the sky, leaving their usual trail of smoke from their two turbo jet GE engines. Then, tiny by comparison, lethal single-engine F-16 Fighting Falcons gracefully executed touch-and-goes, returned minutes later smoking their tires as they landed just 50 yards in front of me as I toured base operations. That was impressive.
But after Utah, I found the flatlands in Southeastern Ohio and the dismal weather a big letdown. But to advance within the government, I went where the jobs were, where the action was.
When I became Deputy Chief of Public Affairs at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (WPAFB) near Dayton, Ohio, in 1982, it was the largest and one of the most important bases in all the U.S. Air Force (USAF). WPAFB was by far the largest employer (at 32,000) in Montgomery County with Dayton as its most populous city. No one had bothered to properly brief me on the Little Green Men (gray actually) that were supposedly brought to Patterson Field (still part of WPAFB) after the UFO crash at Roswell N.M. in 1947. (The year of my birth.)
After I familiarized myself with the subject, the speculation, and so forth, I would answer five or six calls a month from the public concerning alien’s rumored to be in Hangar 18 or Hangar 13 and deny that any were here or had ever been.
I took my job with the U.S. Air Force seriously, wore expensive suits, shoes, and a Rolex®. My physical condition was also important, adhering to a vigorous workout schedule three times a week, alternating between the two fully outfitted gyms on base. Whether in my civilian attire or flight suit, I was representing the USAF and looked good doing it; serving with confidence, some might say smugly. My shoes were shined too.
You Were Always On My Mind–Willie Nelson, Empty Garden–Elton John, were popular on local radio.
Always cognizant of the USAF mission and well-informed about a subject that I’d likely be asked to comment, and I was forthright when I didn’t know or couldn’t answer. As a Public Affairs Officer (PIO), I frequently represented the USAF with the media, community leaders, and perhaps a farmer when one of our planes crashed onto his property, scaring him and his livestock, or worse.
To advance within civil service, I took on extra activities; I did voice-overs for public service announcements for the Hipple Cancer Research Center, gave an occasional speech to community groups, was an elected member of the Dayton Priority Board, and active in the Air Force Association.
I attended and excelled at Senior Public Affairs Courses during my tenure as PAO. I was also Chair of the annual Festival of Flight, provided some peripheral support for the USAF Museum, was a member of the Officers’ Club at Wright-Patt, generous to the Combined Federal Campaign, and supported my alma mater as a member of the University of Denver Alumni Association, representing DU, at college fairs in Dayton and Cincinnati.
Up Where We Belong– Joe Cocker was getting lots of airplay on WTUE.
To prepare myself for more responsibility within civil service. I volunteered and applied for upper management positions. The USAF sponsored advanced training at Stanford, Rensselaer Polytechnic, and others. In the one opportunity that I had to apply for a special and limited program, my packet was endorsed by a three-star general and appeared to very strong, but I didn’t make the cut. That (in my humble opinion) confirms the quality of the competition. The DOD, in general, benefited from a high caliber and capable workforce.
My first four years at Wright-Patt was occupied with the usual public affairs duties; media relations, community relations, and command information. Our weekly newspaper, the Skywrighter (Note spelling of writer, as in Wright Bros). was awarded best publication in the Air Force many times and once, the best in DOD. I narrated the multimedia Wright-Patt story for VIPs and was the primary briefer representing the 2750th Air Base Wing. I was acting Chief (Position was a military billet) a few times while PAOs were reassigned or replaced.
The chief and I had a staff of sixteen well-qualified and competent workers, except one. Isn’t there always one? We also answered noise complaints concerning our aircraft and responded to USAF plane crashes, usually within a hundred-mile radius.
On one such occasion, I was on the scene of an A7-D Corsair II crash that belonged to a reserve unit from Rickenbacker, AFB Ohio. The pilot ejected safely. When I arrived, the attack jet was half-buried in the earth and still smoldering near a farmer’s house in an isolated area of Indiana. There were no injuries on the ground either, just a lot of curious cows.
Then came Indianapolis and the tragic crash of a USAF A7-D-4-CV into a Ramada Inn® in Indianapolis in 1987, killing 10 people. Trying to make an emergency landing, the jet crashed into the hotel near the airport, creating a fireball that burned much of the structure.
The pilot’s visibility was hampered by heavy cloud cover and fog on the morning he was trying to land at Indianapolis International (IAA.) He radioed the tower that he was coming in “Dead Stick” (when an aircraft loses all propulsion) and looking for a runway. His only engine had flamed out, and asked Indianapolis control if they could guide him to the least populated area should he have to ditch his crippled plane. He never received a response and overshot the runway. The pilot survived by bailing from the single-seat jet without serious injuries.
It was not the typical pilot flying that day. The USAF major was testing one of the 20 A7-Ds used as a surrogate for the super-secret stealth that he was to fly. Both the attack and stealth jets were single-seat and carried the same payload requirements. His plane that crashed was from the 4450th Tactical Training Group in the isolated Tonopah Test range in the Nevada desert. These A-7Ds were used for currency training for pilots destined to fly — out of the Skunk Works® — the revolutionary F-117. The cover story for these aging Vietnam era attack planes suddenly filling the skies, to and from the Nevada desert, was radar calibration.
The A7-D Corsair II that crashed in Indianapolis in 1987. It was on a test flight for the forthcoming super secret Stealth and had a similar paint pattern, purposely making it difficult to read tail numbers and two letter designations. Look closely on the tail for the “LV” letters. (USAF photo)
The official cause of the crash, reported by the USAF, was engine failure while on a routine training flight. I believe it was more complicated. The repeated testing, perhaps beyond the limits of the A7-D, may have comprised the airframe. Instrument failure was also a possibility; it was a prototype for the upcoming stealth.
Much of the Research and Development was conducted at Wright-Patterson labs, in advance of the operation and testing at the super-secret Area-51 and the Tonopah range.
I served as Public Affairs Officer at WPAFB for more than eight years. It was never boring. In addition to the constant aliens stored at WPAFB question, there were many others as well. As the largest employer in the county, the media were hungry for stories about the base.
One of our base housing units was built on a former landfill that included hazardous waste. It was a significant story and generated lots of news and complaints from the residents. Naturally, I was the lead spokesman for the debacle. During this period there was a radon scare that was in the news across the country, and of interest for a long while. Our residents were naturally concerned and the media wanted to know about our testing procedures, and about any discoveries of the radioactive chemicals in our numerous housing units. There were also a couple of hydrazine spills (potentially toxic) from some of the F-16 stationed at the base, that attracted media attention.
But we were just getting warmed up. I was about to be challenged with an incident that public affairs officers always have in the back of their minds, but never think it’s going to happen on their watch. Worse than the Indianapolis crash where 10 were killed? Probably not, but people expect our jets to occasionally crash, and I was not a PAO for that event. Our incident lasted almost two years, and eventually involved the Secretary of Defense. That momentous event unfolds in the next chapter.
This is an ideal time to talk about those Brothers who, by learning to keep a (not lighter than air) object airborne for twelve seconds, created possibly the greatest (non-medical) invention of the Twentieth-Century. And there was a lot of competition.
The Greatest of Inventions Still Flourishing
Most people know the Wright-Brother sold and repaired bicycles from a small shop in Dayton, Ohio, before the development of the Wright Flyer that first flew at Kill Devils Hill, NC, on December 17th, 1903.
Eight Things You Might Not Know About The Wright-Brothers:
1) Thanks to a coin toss, Orville was the first brother airborne.
2) Neither brother received a High School diploma.
3) Neither brother ever married.
4) The Wright Bros. flew together just one time.
5) After the first day airborne, the 1903 Wright-Flier never flew again.
6) Orville was onboard the flight that caused the first fatal aviation accident.
7) Neil Armstrong carried a piece of fabric from the Wright Flyer to the moon.
8) The Wright-Bros said they really learned to fly at Huffman Prairie now a part of WPAFB. (List partially compiled from The History Net)
Wright Patterson AFB honors the Wright Brothers in an annual ceremony on the anniversary of their first flight, at the monument to the Brothers, overlooking Huffman Prairie.
DAYTON INTERNATIONAL AIRSHOW
For the annual Dayton International Airshow (DIA), there were hundreds of aircraft civilian and military from North America and some foreign countries. Our Public Affairs Office was heavily involved.
Lt Col Kunkle was the Air Force man in charge of the military portion of the DIA, which covered pretty much all of it. He had been a guest at the Hanoi Hilton for a mind-boggling and unimaginable six years!
Not without good reason did the colonel seem to be one of the happiest people alive — enjoying every moment of his freedom. Who then would-could possibly exasperate this bonafide hero? It was believed that I was the first and only person known to have pissed him off since he was repatriated and began serving at Wright-Patt several years ago.
There were a couple of golf carts assigned to PA for activities like buzzing around the grounds of the airshow with media. Mostly, however, the carts were reserved for VIPs and the disabled. His anger possibly had something to do with me riding in one of his golf carts, perhaps hooligan style, with a certain Ms. Dayton International Airshow. I don’t think he was mad at me for more than a couple of years, though.
Wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then. ~Toby Keith
After boasting for several years that I had the best job at Wright-Patterson; There came a Spill, a Leak. (Spill & Leak capitalized by author)
MISSING AF NUKE FOUND SMOLDERING NEAR SCHOOLYARD
‘SCOUTS AT RADIATION RISK’ FROM W-P SPILL; AIR FORCE COVERUP ALLEGED
The headline on the bottom doesn’t sound so bad when compared to the fake one on top. Still, it’s the kind of stuff Public Affairs Officers lose sleep over.
Don’t Worry Be Happy–Bobby McFerrin, Don’t Mean Nothing–Richard Marx, Only In My Dreams–Debbie Gibson were filling the airwaves.
As the Senior Public Affairs Officer for Wright-Patterson’s Americium 241 Spill (a radioactive isotope with a half-life of 432.2 years, most prevalent in nuclear waste). I was in the media center or on call 24hrs for weeks at a time answering questions or preparing Air Force members who spoke to the media. No hyperbole necessary; this was a major story covered by dozens of newspapers, radio, and TV across the country.
Sample headlines followed by a condensed version of the Spill.
Our Spill was a significant news event covered by dozens of newspapers, radio, and TV across the United States. Newspapers covering Spill included: New York Times; LA Times; The Plain Dealer (Cleveland);Columbus Dispatch; Cincinnati Inquirer; Pacific Stars & Stripes;MaconJournal (Michigan); Dayton Daily News (Ohio) and about thirty others.
Then came the Congressional Hearings in Dayton.
As the Senior Public Affairs Officer for the Spill, I prepared members of the Air Force who were to testify during the Congressional Hearings.
Internally, Project 4060 was the code name for the Spills. (Building 4060 is where the Spills occurred).
Newspapers had a little fun with our Spill.
Dayton Daily Newscopyright Mike Peters (above & below) Reprinted with permission.
Springfield News-Sun(above) Cattrow. Reprinted with permission.
My advice and counsel to the base commander, it was believed, kept him from losing his job. Officials at Wright-Patt and other entities thought the fallout from the Spill could have been even worse. A case study of my performance (in the Spill incident) was included in the curriculum of the Senior Public Affairs Officer course. I was rewarded with a promotion to GM-13 for my “performance and professionalism.”
My extracurricular activities that resulted in goodwill for the USAF and the community at large (expressed in the previous chapter) and a spotless record was certainly another plus favoring my promotion.
True Colors–Cindi Lauper, Two Of Hearts–Stacey Q, Danger Zone–Kenny Loggins played on the radio.
I include the letter below (not related to Spill) because, as a major, this man piloted a helicopter deep into North Vietnam on the Son Tay raid. Col Strayer received a Silver Star, the third-highest honor for valor. And it was an honor to have served with Col Strayer. He should have been promoted to brigadier-general.
There, comrades, is the answer to all our problems. It is summed up in a single word — man. George Orwell
Historic Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio (Think: Wright Brothers) is one of the largest and most important bases in the USAF. It’s a leader for research and development and a major base for flight operations. Despite its importance to the mission of the Department of Defense, it is also known to many for just one thing: storing, well, ETs.
Consequently, I would be remiss without addressing the aliens (sorry, undocumented beings) rumor. I believe most of my readers want to know what I know about the Little Gray Men, as no doubt tens of millions or more do too. I was, after all, the Public Affairs Officer with a TOP SECRET clearance, where they were said to have been stored.
“Over the past thirty-eight years, it has, from time to time, been rumored, that the remains of extraterrestrial bodies are (or have been) stored at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. There are not now, nor have there ever been, any extraterrestrial beings or any material related to the same at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. All records of United States Air Force investigations “Project Blue Book” into Extra-Terrestrial studies are contained in the National Archives.”
Pretty specific, huh? When I prepared that explicit proclamation in 1985 for the media and answering queries from the public, I believed it to be true. Less than two years after I made that declaration, I discovered it not to be true. Hint; It has something to do with the Spill of 1986-7.
There’s just one thing that gives me pause: TOP SECRET/SCI/SAP-R* (and sworn to secrecy for eternity) that the Department of Defense had entrusted me with.
People in background (reflection) looking at "Alien," note wounds. (Reader's Digest)
With a Presidential Executive order to the USAF (as commander in chief) for a search of WPAFB, Ohio for any evidence of extraterrestrial, where would they look? Wright-Patt sits on 8,000 acres, with thousands of buildings, and an estimated 200 labs.
Would they search a nondescript building with warnings of hazardous chemicals, contamination from radioactive substances, including bone-seeking (Americium-241) with a 432.2-year half-life?
Perhaps in an isolated building with no markings at all, but underneath a bomb-resistant vault and tunnel, maybe containing a barrel or two? Something inside those containers — with the best-known chemical cocktails, when pickled, or in a cryogenic chamber — to preserve body parts indefinitely? Too delicate to move to Area 51?
With advances in technology, not available in 1947, 1967, 1987, or anytime in the twentieth century, microbiological innovation and contemporary scientific protocols would permit a more definitive examination and less degeneration of cells.
The super-secret USAF Foreign Technology Division (FTD) was, maybe still, near the site, coincidently, I suppose. In 2018, the now named Air and Space Intelligence Center (ASIC) was doubled in size to 58,000 square feet, adding more labs at a cost of 29 million dollars. ASIC investigates and scrutinizes technical intelligence of air and space forces and scientific exploration. Separately, Wright-Patt is a major research and development center.
Are those priceless, fragile, mysterious, amazing, and otherworldly ETs, under study as I write, employing more precise instrumentation, sophisticated scientific innovations whose names we don’t yet know?
What would forensic pathologists, histologists, experts in micro astrobiology, fluorescence microscopy, and discovery-based scientists find? Have the researchers found or examined basal ganglia (contained in human brains) with transmission electron microscopes?
If these hypothetical researchers find that genome, pluripotent cell, or any evidence previously unknown about Extra Terrestrial life forms, the scientists would have a Nobel Prize in Physiology for the taking; if only the judges knew. Would the Nobel Committee create a special category just for those men and women? Might the United States Government establish a form of knighting, similar to the UK, for these scientists?
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. We Are The World–U.S.A. for Africa: Money For Nothing–Dire Straights; Separate Lives–Phil Collins; Suspicion–by Elvis played on 104.7 WTUE.
What I found almost by accident — should I reveal the irrefutable evidence — would be a virtual tsunami of near biblical proportions, probably for the entire planet. What proof do I have? Should agents, producers, or publishers be reading my book — an advance of $10 million, with a money-back decree naturally, would be a good start.
Though I might be a cause ce′l′ebre to many, who judged my actions courageous, there’s still Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas; the infamous federal prison with its most secure facility now the innocent-sounding U.S. Disciplinary Barracks (USDB).
Chelsea Manning (though not in max security) was confined at the Barracks, the same facility where Nidal Hasan awaits execution for the mass murders at Ft. Hood, Texas. As of this writing, there were four DCI (death cell inmates), including the despicable Hasan, on death row at the USDB. Just heard on the news, the Federal death penalty was reinstated.
These Barracks, once a facility for prisoners sentenced to a life of hard labor, remain a maximum-security prison. Although in ill health, such an institution (rarely allowing visitors) would probably not be the ideal sanatorium for me to live out my golden years, even in the medical ward. As long as I could maneuver by any means, I would surely be emptying bedpans and, when unable, restrained to my bed, in solitary, until death.
As for my family, the Government would undoubtedly harass them more than CNN would badger Sarah Sanders at an editorial meeting.
Any monies or assets gained from my story would probably end up in the U.S. Treasury and finance a grant for Progressives to study the prospects of legalizing NAMBLA. After all, its just sex, and it’s their sexual preference.
There is currently a “Search [for] Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI)” organization operated by prominent scientists active at a location in Northern Calif.
In 2019, a group known as “Storm Area 51” encouraged festival goers to raid the classified Air Force Installation to “see them aliens,” according to a Facebook post.
Last-Minute update: Just recently, after a FOIA request revealed footage from a US Navy fighter showing UFOs, the U. S. Government began an official study of Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon, UAP.
*SCI, special compartmentalized information authorized. SAP-R, special access programs eligible.
After earning that Spill Promotion (Chapter 36), I rewarded myself in a Big Way. This leased ’88 BMW®325is was my track car and eventually, my race car. (Swan Collection)
Lisa & Laura
You don’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might just find, you get what you need. From the Rolling Stones.
Our family was one that showed emotion by hugging and verbally communicating our love for each other and Lisa and Laura were doing well in Dayton, despite me frequently working late (or because of it).
Lisa was on the varsity HS basketball team, and when she graduated in 1987, held the school record for the most rebounds. Laura played basketball as well, but was more interested in dating and hanging out with friends.
Both got braces at my expense, of course. Lisa had bad acne, and I found a good dermatologist that was successful in treating her. Each had part-time jobs when they didn’t interfere with sports or school. I bought both a car, mostly with the proceeds from the sale of my seven-year-old 18k Rolex® Datejust.
We went on vacation to see their Grandparents every June and to other places like the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans. Great trip. We went to movies, plays, amusement parks like King’s Island Cincinnati, Magic Mountain Columbus, and Cedar Point Sandusky (All great when we were there in the 80s).
We visited cities like Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Louisville, Lexington, Kentucky, and Columbus, Ohio, all within a hundred or so miles. Parks in the Dayton area, like Carillon, our favorite, included early technology displays, historic buildings, and lots of Wright-Brothers Memorabilia. We also visited campuses of universities like Purdue, Ohio, Indiana, Xavier, and others to pique their interest in going to college.
Because of some lucky planning and a few connections, I had tickets well in advance of the second week in Sept. 1985 where the Cincinnati Reds were playing a stretch of home games. It was believed that Pete Rose might break Ty Cobb’s record at Riverfront Stadium, and the twins and I were there to see him play on Sept. 10. Luckily, I had tickets for the next evening as well.
However, I had a prior out of state engagement for temporary duty for the next several days. I decided to trust the girls (just shy of 17) to go by themselves to Riverfront the next evening. The twins were two of the 50 thousand screaming fans, on Sept. 11, 1985, to witness in person Pete Rose crack a single to left-center (number 4,192) breaking the record Ty Cobb held for almost sixty years.
We were also fortunate to attend a couple of Cincinnati Bengals football games, less than an hour south, also at Riverfront stadium. They played in the Super Bowl the last year were in Ohio. We were regulars at University of Dayton Flyers basketball games who played in a first-class arena. They were an NCAA Division I basketball team who went to the sweet 16 during the period we saw them in action.
Lisa and Laura both graduated high school with GPAs good enough for university admission. They qualified for a VA program for their undergraduate studies that paid most of their fees because of my war record and disability. I sent them money for misc. expenses that were not covered by the VA.
Lisa chose the Ohio State University, where she graduated with a BA in the Social Sciences. Laura studied at Bowling Green State University, Ohio, and graduated with a BA in Criminal Justice. Both received their bachelor’s in four years. Lisa went on to earn a Masters at OSU, also in the Social sciences.
In addition to all the fun events the twins and I attended in Ohio, one was practically in our backyard.
Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio
Largest display of military aircraft in the world.
Admission is Free.
Don's Ego Shots
Does anyone remember the Rantex™ wipes shortage in the mid-80s, that I got caught up in? Probably not, unless you were in need of those as I was; the only thing that brought any relief to anus and rectum — inflamed from nineteen years of frequent and mushy stools. In my world, my anus felt like the nerve center of my existence.
For some reason, Air Force Rx wasn’t able to get enough of the wipes for me; then, they couldn’t get them at all. I was unsuccessful in finding any (no Google™). I began going to labs with restrooms that sometimes provided Rantex wipes for patients to clean their private parts, before peeing in a cup. (Insert joke here). When I found some, I would procure a handful. (I am not making this up.)
When DovesCry–Prince, What’s Love Got To Do With It–Tina Turner, Like a Virgin–Madonna played on the Dayton stations.
Back in Mississippi in 1988, Dale had been caring for Momma and Daddy for several months, as best he could, while holding down a full-time job. Finally, he was able to get Momma into a nursing home nearby. Dale continued to care for Daddy and was spending all of his time off work doing so.
At the end of Dale’s work shift, he’d rush to relive the people (who had been sitting with Daddy eight hours) and remain throughout the night until his wife came the next morning with food for the day and relive Dale to go to work.
The next day; all the same. And it continued for almost a year! My wonderful brother was holding out as long as possible for keeping Daddy out of a nursing home, especially one in a different location from Momma. (There were no vacancies at the facility where she was a patient.)
The twins and I went to Mississippi in June 1988, on our usual vacation, but this time, I was looking for and trying to find a nursing home for Daddy. The twins and I wanted to get relief for Dale, from what had become a burden that he couldn’t continue indefinitely.
Here I was on the scene, the world traveler-educated all-knowing younger brother in my new BMW® who had never done a thing in caring for either parent telling my brother what he should do — take Daddy away from the only home that had ever known — no matter the location.
I spent a week visiting every nursing facility within a hundred miles of Dale’s home and I found one about 40 miles away with an opening. Naturally, I encouraged Dale to place Daddy there before the vacancy was filled. My motivation, my reasoning, was to provide some relief for my brother, and Daddy would still have 24-hour care.
The girls and I sat at Momma’s bedside in the nursing home for a long and sad farewell, although we shared some light-hearted moments of the four years she had so faithfully cared for them.
As for Daddy, we tried to convince him that Dale was running out of options and if Momma could tolerate a care facility, so could he. We should have treated it more of a farewell as this was the last time we would see Daddy alive.
I was confident that I had provided some help and that I’d done the right thing; it was still up to Dale to make it all work.
The twins and I left for home trying to put the stress of seeing Dale and my parents in this mess, and the 95-degree heat and humidity all in our review mirror. Heading north through Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky we listened to I Want Your Sex–George Michael, Tell It To The Heart–Taylor Dane, Roll With It–Steve Windwood; each mile — bringing us closer to our comfortable lives in Ohio.
Several months later, Dale was able to get Daddy into the same nursing home as Momma. He visited them every day to ensure they were adequately cared for.
Losing My Ass & My Job
Daddy died in Jan. 1989 in Mississippi, a few miles from where he grew up, at the age of 83 (complications from a stroke). Soon after I returned to Wright-Patt from his funeral, I began having serious issues with Crohn’s.
Within a week, I was lying on a single white sheet, that scarcely covered a cold slab of shiny steel. Nurses lifted me onto the warm padding of a surgical table in what felt like a 58-degree Operating Room.
The anesthesiologist sat on a stool just inches to the right of my head. I counted backward from 100. Whoa! Propofol surged into my vein — warm-serene, celestial-heavenly — 3.5 seconds of bliss, and I was under.
Advisory: Some paragraphs below contain graphic discussions of human anatomy, disease, and pragmatic surgical procedures. Those paragraphs are marked: >
>The surgeon held a #22 scalpel, at an angle similar to a pencil just below my sternum and pressed the blade to a depth of about two inches into my upper abdominal wall and continued puncturing, slicing and lacerating, straight down through my rectus abdominus, obliques, and umbilical to just above my pelvis; about nine vertical inches.
>Then, with a seven-inch Balfour spreader, the surgeons opened my belly to their satisfaction. Trading for a #15 scalpel, the doctors began the more meticulous and time-consuming operation of extricating my anus and rectum.*
Next, the surgeons permanently closed my anal and rectal cavity with mesh and sutures, then cut about a foot from my sigmoid colon.
>The doctors continued by incising two holes, both about two inches in diameter into the wall of my abdomen (an enterostomy). One was for a mucus fistula, and with the other hole, the surgeon pulled about an inch of my sigmoid colon up through the opening and sutured it into the wall of my gut. That’s called a stoma. It would serve to discharge waste my erstwhile anus and rectum did. (So much for modeling underwear for Calvin Klein®.)
After 6 hours inside my abdominal cavity — slowly methodically, cutting-removing, rearranging-revising and changing my life forever — the doctors sutured my nine-inch wound. My proctectomy was complete.
A nurse pinched the doctors soiled surgical gloves at the top of their palms and gently pulled them away and deposited them in the same red “medical waste” container where my decaying anus, rectum and part of my colon had been trashed.
For the tired surgeons, their work was done. For me, it was just beginning.
I came out of anesthesia sporting a new appendage, an irreversible colostomy! I would suffer from the effects of major-invasive surgery for a few more days before I would see or worry about my new stoma.
I had been wheeled into a narrow hallway, just outside the surgical suite, strapped to a gurney feeling hallowed out and in significant pain.
I spotted a nurse or somebody, and in a voice weakened by six hours of surgery and general anesthesia, declared, “Hey, I thought I was supposed to be on a pain pump,” I pleaded. “You’re on one,” she shouted and kept walking.
With my right hand, I fumbled for the button on the pump, and clicked it two or three times** with my thumb.
Lying there in front of a large clock (The Chicago Lighthouse) time seemed to have stopped. What seemed like an hour, was actually less than five minutes. “Somebody, please get me away from this clock,” I said to no one there. I tried to calculate how long the worst of the pain would last, five or six hours, I reckoned.
During the worst of it, I was in and out of sleep, yet each time I awoke, I was distressed to see that only a minute or so has passed. I closed my eyes for a moment, but this clock was haunting me, and I kept staring, hoping, waiting, wanting that clock to speed up — just for me.
OK, I’ve never actually had a bowling ball fall dead center onto my belly from five feet up. But now I’m sure how it would feel, exactly how I’m feeling right now! And it would not diminish anytime soon.
Finally, I was rolled into intensive care (IC). There was no clock in front of me, but I was still in pain, then I got hiccups.
After a day or so an ostomy nurse visited me in IC, and explained how this all worked; what would now be my daily routine. She patiently instructed me and demonstrated how it would function. The nurse placed an adhesive wafer on the skin around my exposed stoma and attached to the wafer a bag, that would now collect my bowel movements; remove and empty bag as necessary. This “appliance” (no kidding, that’s what the wafer is called) requires replacement, care, and cleaning about twice per week.
Thank goodness for sick leave, stamina, a strong heart and lungs going into the first surgery.
Every Breath You Take–The Police, Total Eclipse Of The Heart–Bonnie Tyler, Straight From The Heart–Bryan Adams played on WTUE.
I continued in my job as Deputy Chief of Public Affairs after a long recuperation, and I got some good assignments.
In the succeeding two years, I would be in and out of the hospital for three more surgeries, one to close the mucus fistula, one for a hernia around the stoma, and one for revision of the colostomy itself! Two of the subsequent surgeries required slicing open the original nine-inch incisions. It never got any easier or less painful.
Love Shack–B-52s, Like A Prayer–Madonna, From A Distance–Bette Midler filled the airwaves in Dayton.
I’d had a stressful job. But it was my job, my dream job; the best of the 32,000 at Wright-Patt, I believed. Now it was no more. I was medically retired, once again, because of Crohn’s disease in early 1991, leaving behind seniority and an annual salary of $95,670 in 2019 dollars.
*(Unsurprisingly, several risks are involved in proctectomy surgery including impotence, bladder incontinence, or both.)
**(It’s a time-release pump, so pressing the button more than once doesn’t increase the dosage.)
Just to make sure California remained as I remembered her years ago, I flew to the Golden State before my retirement from Wright-Patterson. It was even better than I recalled with the amazing redwoods, beautiful beaches, deserts, mountains, mild climate, abundance of cultural and outdoor activities and, uh, California girls. The Golden stare really had it all. Savvy people usually retiree to less expensive regions, not me I moved from one of the most affordable cities — Dayton, that is a close to several major metro areas — to one of the most expensive states: California.
After several days of searching, I found a house in the coastal village of Shelter Cove, and bought it. I choose this location because it was the last and only place left to live on the Calif. Coast without a multi-million dollar entry fee. I had not landed here by happenstance; remember from Chapter 25 when I first saw the mountains met the Pacific?
On my 2,504-mile trek across the country to Shelter Cove, in my BMW, I listened to cassettes on my super stereo, that I’d recorded, and scanned radio stations during my adventure west mostly on I-70.
Nothing Compares 2U–Sinead O’Connor, Blaze Of Glory–Jon Bon Jovi, Indiana. Justify My Love–Madonna, Unbelievable–EMF, through Illinois and Missouri. I Touched Myself, Cradle Of Love, Nebraska.
Not much to see until Wyoming, from there on, the scenery is pretty spectacular.
The First Time, More Than Words Can Say, through Cheyenne, LoveTakes Time, I’ve Been Thinking About You, Utah.
I stopped to see my friend Tom Kirkham in Provo, where I drove his million-dollar-plus 1965 Cobra 427 S/C (pic in Chapter 41).
Ice Baby Ice rang out in Nevada, Power Of Love as I entered Calif. I inserted a cassette with my favorite 45s, as I carefully snaked over Donner Pass covered by a late spring snow. I had several energy bars in my sizeable glove box, just in case.
I wasn’t aware of a major but illegal industry in Humboldt County before I bought here. The realtor didn’t mention that about 30,000 residents of the county, more than a fifth, were engaged in growing pot.
Hundreds of pot plants to be chopped down and later burned by the multi-agency law enforcement Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP, circa 1991). Task force established in 1983 and remained active until 2016, when pot was legalized in Calif. (Emily Brady photo)
If you’ve heard of Humboldt County Calif. it’s probably because of the prolific pot-growing, which began in earnest with the “back to the landers” in the mid-60s to early 70s. Pot accounted for about one-quarter of the county’s economy. One popular definition of Humboldt: “Weed haven in northern CA with some of the best buds in the world.” (Pot info and statistics from Travel, by Max Daly.)
Despite the County’s repute, Shelter Cove is an ideal spot on the Pacific’s Lost Coast surrounded by the Sinkyone National Wilderness area. It is a great place for me to live, read, write, and relax. There’s just one road in and out of Shelter Cove.
I seriously considered becoming a misanthrope after being in PR for many years; living here, I easily could have. I believe Charles Schultz said it best: “I love mankind; its people I can’t stand.”
With tall mountains above and the shores of the Pacific below, Shelter Cove has mild Mediterranean type weather, the coolest and most stable climate — remaining anywhere — with just a ten-degree variance year-round.
Fog is common at the shores and farther inland. With 70 inches of rain annually, sometimes much more, it’s about 30 more than the Continental U.S. average. The downside; there is virtually no precipitation in the summer months.
Wildlife includes bear, elk, deer, skunks, raccoon, porcupine, mountain lions, and bobcat. Lots of fowl including hummingbirds, Owls specific to the area, Bald Eagles and the more common birds. There are fewer pesky insects here than anyplace I lived. The Pacific Ocean, our imposing neighbor to the west, contains sharks, whales, seals, sea lions, and a wide variety of fish.
To the east, over Paradise Ridge (2,010 feet) and down into the valley at Thorn Junction, the temperature can rise to the mid- 90s, with lows near freezing. About fifteen miles farther inland are good wine-growing areas with hot days and cool nights. There are a couple of good vineyards and a great one, Briceland winery.
Besides having a house waiting, I also had a job ready when I moved here in May 1991. I was a lecturer at Humboldt State University (HSU) in Arcata, Calif. 180 miles round trip from my house in Shelter Cove.
Arcata was vying with Eugene, Oregon, and Berkley, Calif. for the most liberal city in the Western United States. The Professor who hired me was going on sabbatical and needed someone to fill in for some teachers who were on admin leave for something or another. So, right off, I was not a welcome sight to most of the faculty. I would teach Public Speaking, which had just become mandatory for graduating.
I also taught communication courses at College of the Redwoods (CR) in Eureka, and HSU, three days a week. Not until I interacted with some university administrators and a few students, did I realize that academia had become a little too liberal for my tastes. And once it was obvious that I wasn’t touting a progressive agenda, I became a suspected conservative on a college faculty; I felt persona non grata very quickly.
The amazing Redwoods near us. (Calif. visitors convention below)
For those reasons and the long-distance, I taught just one semester. What I really wanted was to drive a race-car.
That’s why I gave my students an extra-long Thanksgiving weekend while I attended a Porsche® Club driving school at Laguna Seca. Running on slicks, I was faster than many of the Porsches. Slicks allow for much better handling and thus a quicker way around the track. It was my first event at the famed raceway near Monterey, Calif, and about an eight-hour drive, one way from Shelter Cove.
Now for the downside of slicks; when you’re about to lose traction, there is a millisecond to make a correction; if you don’t make a quick and precise move — sometimes an immediate counter steer works — you’re likely out of control, spinning, and soon off the track or into another driver.
It was Thanksgiving Day and windy. Sand had blown onto the track. I was driving at 9/10ths and clipped the apex in turn 4, slid in the sand, spun and went backward into the Armco® at about 40 mph crushing the trunk like it was aluminum. My sweet BMW was drivable, but it was the end of my track-day at Laguna Seca.
Shortly after I was removed from the track — the Porsche guys shedding no tears — a beautiful white-almost new 911 Carrera crashed in the same spot, but he took the wall head-on. Even though he had saved his engine, he threw his helmet hard onto the ground. A corner worker took it, removed the Snell® rating, and disqualified it for future track events. My racing begins in the next Chapter, 40.
I met him at the candy store (I met her at the Body Shop) Is she really going out with him? You get the picture, now we see. (Partially from Leader of the Pack by the Shangri-las, 1964).
She was working at her dad’s collision shop, where I took my BMW for repair. She was overweight, had a three-and-a-half-month-old infant, without a father in the picture, and was seventeen years my junior.
When I met her son, a short time later, I wanted Robert to have a Dad, the only Dad he would ever know. He was a great child, loving and considerate, and is a wonderful Son; now a mature and altruistic adult. A year after meeting Cheri, we were married in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. Talk about a twofer. What could possibly go wrong?
On the evening of April 25, 1992, as we were preparing for bed, we heard something that sounded like a runaway freight train; immediately, the earth began shaking our house with a crunching noise, rattling dishes, moving chairs, swinging chandeliers and everything around us. It was a 6.5 magnitude earthquake quickly followed by an aftershock of 6.6. OK, we got it, a medium-high quake. Cheri, a native Californian, said not to worry.
But half-an-hour later, just after midnight came another freight-train-sound louder than before, followed by natures illimitable ferocity, shaking the earth incessantly for nine long seconds; plenty of time to think of your mortality and your house falling down around you. Finally, as the shaking began to subside came a scary cracking sound, like huge rocks breaking. The 7.2 took down our stovepipe, moved tables, broke glasses, picture frames, moved Robert’s crib by two feet.
We had experienced a trifecta of quakes that would become known as the Cape Mendocino earthquake. We had sustained a 7.2 with minimal damage and no injuries. Thirty nautical miles north of us was a different story; 376 people were injured and damage, upwards of 75 million dollars. Uh oh, this is Calif, and I worried that quakes would be frequent and serious.
Then came another type of quake.
A year into our marriage, my wife was found to have been embezzling money from her dad’s body shop and would later buy herself a new car using falsified documents. Then there was the matter of her kiting some checks.
When her misdeeds became patently obvious to me, I figuratively kicked her out of the house. She left with Robert, who was eventually kept, for a period, by her mom.
Obtaining a car under false pretenses is stealing. In Calif., there is a low bar for Grand Theft Auto, about $1,000. She was about 30 times over the limit, and the dealership was none too happy when the car was found, a few months later, abandoned in another state. No payments had been made.
Both her dad and the auto dealership filed charges. I wasn’t in on it, of course, but law enforcement at first thought I was.
All offenses were easily proven, and she was convicted of 3 felonies, fined $5,000, and sentenced to 4 years at Central California Women’s Facility — prison!
On the bright side, she got to see Susan Atkins in a different part of the facility, during the year she was incarcerated.
Sometimes they call prisons rehabilitation centers. At Chowchilla, it was actually true. Women are more likely to take advantage of the professional counseling programs, and when faithfully followed, recidivism rates drop drastically. My wife was in the front row, not wanting to lose her child or even me.
Why am I reliving this sad and unfortunate event in my book? My wife was not a diamond in the rough; she was just rough, a broken-scared-scarred-felon. I took a huge risk taking her back, and now I’m enjoying the fruits for having believed in her — giving her a second chance.
How else could I, an unwealthy commoner wearing a colostomy bag, have scored such a beautiful, sexy, nurturing, and intelligent wife 17 years younger who is taking care of me as my health is failing? And in the deal was Robert, a loving son, who needed a full-time dad.
Now that I have accepted her past, worked through it together, she is forgiven. Her thievery is over, but my problems are still here. I’m a pain in the ass to live with (think: Vietnam PTSD and Crohn’s disease). Yet, we have been happily married since. Now 28 years (seriously).
Now she’s reluctant to take change from our sofa cushions and goes out of her way to ensure free samples really are.
Someone else believed in my wife with a job shortly after her release. She has been gainfully employed since, as a graphic artist, and in just a few years became a lead artist for a book publisher — professions she always dreamed of.
My wife sat in the front row at Chowchilla, determined to make rehabilitation a reality. With my trust and her commitment, we are again a family; Stronger than ever, I believe.
We’ve had great fun together, traveled a lot, gone on many cruises. We are very respectful with one another, never mean spirited, and realize that no one else would likely have either of us. We know we’re lucky to be together. We know a great deal when we’re in one, and we are living it every day.
It was never a dream like playing music on the radio. Even though I’ve always loved cars and had a few fast ones over the years; it was the BMW that really got me interested in racing. Remember when I said in Chapter 32 how exhilarating skiing was? Racing is better. It’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on. Drive at 9/10s you lose, drive at 11/10s you crash. My theory of road racing. A little luck is beneficial, too.
Racing is all about risk. But it’s more than just life and limb. Road racing can exact a toll on your finances and family. Careers are launched and in the blink of an eye; years, decades, a lifetime of preparation can come apart in one split second decision. (partially from Road & Track.)
It’s much more than going fast around a track, having fun. You are in a fight as soon as the green flag drops. If you’re not competitive or fast enough, you will be Black Flagged and disqualified.
Pictures worth how many words?
I didn’t have a radio in my racecar for playing music, but Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg–TLC, I Will Always Love You-Whitney Houston was getting plenty of airplay in Northern Calif. Achy Breaky Heart–Billy Ray Cyrus, not one of my favorites.