First one went down smooth…way too smooth…and before I could say that’ll do it Michael had already done it again for us all.
And then Marlboro and DR swiveled around and asked me to stand for the Presentation. I said what presentation, and even Michael asked me to stand for the Presentation. So I stood up and Michael pretty much came to attention behind the bar as he’d been in on it from earlier that day.
Marlboro pulled out a piece of Delta Airlines stationary on which he’d printed block letters by scratching the lines over and over, DR placed a paper bag on the bar, and Marlboro read from the sheet:
It is with the highest honor that we hereby present
General Spicer Medal
With that, DR pulled a 10” Buck Knife in its leather sheath from the bag and they both presented it to me. The “certificate” is long gone, but the Buck Knife has been with me for 35 years or so and is in my briefcase as I’m writing this. It is and always has been…since that evening at the Bahamian…the most valuable thing I own.
And in case you haven’t figured it out: SOA stood for Saving Our Ass, and the letters below meant: “wherein we would have been dead ducks without Millard Gregory”.
I’d had the opportunity a few weeks before and luckily it had gone OK. Those Angels again.
Getting to that evening on Key Biscayne was impossible for a kid from rural southern Indiana…except it happened.
It began at 6 years old in a giant State Park managed by my Granddad, to Scouting, to sports, to college, to being paid to skydive, to volunteering for the Army in ’66 after my Junior year. And then those Angels took over.
Purely by the luck of the draw I met a Master Sergeant and a Captain involved in recruiting 18 men for intensive training aimed at Special Missions, and after spending most of 2 days with them they invited me to “consider a different path”.
Along the way cherry bombs rolled down the aisle of a beatnik joint, a boulder was placed in the top of a tree, indelible impression was made by both Spud and Squid Marlow, and a 63’ Wheeler motor yacht was kept together by “the worms holding hands”.
And after all the training and the formation of our Teams and a good number of Missions we learned how, if you were so inclined, to turn a Dove into a Hawk: Show them pictures of what we saw being done in rooms where screams could not be heard, and in rooms where those in power wanted the screams to be heard by others for effect, all around the globe. They’ll get it…I’ve seen it happen…and they’ll never really sleep again.
Ever have the rain end exactly half way back your motorcoach? Or watch a home slide into the Pacific for what seemed to be a good reason in those days? Or break a Team Member out of a jail in Piedras Negras? No? How about having that same Team Member save your life in a dirt alley bar a year or 2 later?
Then you may not have learned to ignore most any injury until you get back to secure care. You might not even have had to set your own arm with a rope and a tree…and then complete a Mission.
If it all sounds dramatic, it wasn’t. It was just what we did to have some fun and to keep going back. The focus, for 24 years, was simply the next Mission, and there was always a next one.
After hiking so many nights off of the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Grandfather Mountain area, and spending February weeks up in the Beartooth Wilderness with a horse and a pack horse, and logging 182 jumps with 114 of them at night, the toughest thing I’ve done is to be the last of our 18 to be alive.
Good news is that there’s a Plan: no grey rooms, no tubes and 24 hour beeps, but instead a fast trip to the Yellowstone Country, and a horse that will find his way back to the barn.
A cat caused me to write Single Harness, to surprise my Colonel with some of what we did between Missions (it didn’t surprise him), and it is dedicated to the 17 and to all who have served.
In case this all sounds too somber or too weird it’s just because I seemed to have picked those parts for this synopsis. For some balance, you need to know a bit about my father…the most honorable man I ever knew:
Back in the 30’s one of the main forms of entertainment on a hot early fall night was to grab a couple watermelons and share them with your buddies. The “grab” part was the challenge.
Everyone in the county knew that one particular farmer grew the very best melons, and that the best of the best would always be the ones closest to the farm house.
There was one good place to park reasonably hidden from the house and the barn, and that’s where, at midnight or so, dad would park the old A model, climb the fence, and hike quietly across the field up to those good ones.
He’d pick a couple, get back across the field and the fence, and they’d drive off to a good place to do the carving.
The farmer finally figured out where the kids were parking, and came up with a fool-proof, absolute certain way to end the game: he painted a sign that read “One of the melons in this patch has been POISONED!”, and hung it on the fence where it couldn’t be missed.
My dad…late one night after the appearance of the sign, pulled up to it, read it, climbed over the fence, hiked through the field, picked the best he could find right up by the house, and carried them back to the car.
Reached into the glove box and pulled out a carpenter’s marker, stepped back to the sign and wrote: “Now there’s 2”. And drove off.
The complete title is “Single Harness, Your neighbor’s memoir…you just never know”. and we really don’t. We see people as they are when we meet them, and if they are in their 60s or 70s or 80s we can easily miss what they did at an earlier time. They may have proved the same thing as Single Harness themselves: that anything is possible.