Life’s Lessons Learned #42: My Cars Part 4

My recent blog entries have chronicled the various cars that I have owned. This entry brings us up to date.

2006 Honda CRV

2006 Honda CRV

I was hesitant about buying this car. I, however, looked, and liked. The model we bought was a top of the line CRV with all sorts of goodies. It was good on gas mileage. It was comfortable. It also had the driver sitting up fairly high. This was actually a type of car that Vanessa wanted (a small suv). The only thing that I did not like about the car was that there was a good deal of road noise at highway speeds, and we did take many long trips in our cars. It was also nice to get a car that could haul a lot of stuff around. I eventually gave this car to Emma when she became a mommy and needed to learn how to drive and get around on her own. Before that I put about 75,000 miles on the car with few problems. So, once again I needed a car. This time it was a slightly used BMW.

2004 BMW 528i

2004 BMW 528i

The BMW was a very nice car. It was luxury on wheels, and actually fast luxury on wheels. Everything was well designed and ergonomically placed. It had a great sound system, and very comfortable seats. And, did I say, it was fast? The brakes, speed, and handling, got us out of at least two accidents that would have otherwise happened. I bought the car as a preferred vehicle. That meant that I got an extended bumper-to-bumper warranty for up to 100,000 miles or three years, whichever came first. This was my car until the 100,000 miles was approaching. I was pretty certain that I could not afford maintaining the car after that point. It was time to enter the world of hybrid transportation.

2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid

2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid

We ventured out to the Toyota dealership in New Holland, PA, to look at the Camry Hybrid. I was quite surprised to find that the car, in the top of the line model, was every bit as comfortable as my 5-series BMW. It also ran on regular (87 octane) gas as opposed to the more expensive gas recommended for the BMW. Finally, the Camry got in the neighborhood of 40 miles per gallon on the highway and about 36 miles per gallon in city driving. At the time we were making numerous road trips, both to our house in Maine, and to visit with Emma in Lynchburg, VA. Being a new vehicle it came with a new car warranty, and free regular maintenance for the first two years, or 25,000 miles, whichever came first. As I put miles on the car, I discovered a few flaws. First, the front end has a plastic bumper that hangs so low that it catches the curb with some frequency when you are pulling in front first. This has led to a set of cracks on both sides. Second, after about 40,000 miles I noticed that the, at first, very comfortable front seat has now lost some of its support. Otherwise, this car is a keeper, even though I tend to get bored with my cars after a while. New it cost somewhere around $32,000, and I still don’t own the car, but rather share it with the bank.

To settle down my automobile wanderlust I, once again, bought myself a toy. Since I liked my first Miata so much, I decided to take some of my retirement bonus and buy a second car for my “fun” usage. This time, however, I was careful to seek out one with an automatic transmission. This was in response to the “request” from Vanessa that she have the ability to drive the car in the advent of an emergency.

2001 Miata

2001 Miata

 Emma & I in the 2001 Miata (Note: The CRV Emma inherited in the picture)

Emma & I in the 2001 Miata
(Note: The CRV Emma inherited in the picture)

In May of 2013, I took advantage of a Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education system wide buyout offer for retirement. I was 67 years old, and had noticed that I was losing the ability to remember the names of all of my students. In addition the Administration kept bumping class sizes, so that we were now often up to 50 students per class. I had in excess of 100 student advisees, and was by this time Chair of the Management-Marketing Department with over 500 majors. The offer was a generous one that included accrued sick days (I was rarely sick during my 25 year tenure), a fixed price healthcare continuation, and an additional payout in excess of $30,000. I searched on line for a Miata with low mileage and an automatic transmission. I found the car in Maine, not that far from our house up there. It was everything that I wanted. We had purchased a new old house in Lancaster, and I created a parking pad in the back yard accessed through the alley that ran behind the house. Vanessa did drive the car from time to time, but never really when by herself. Once again, I did not put many miles on the car. In 2015, Emma was engaged to marry Phil Campbell, and he had taken a job as a rural mail carrier in Lynchburg. He was borrowing her car for his work, and this was not a good situation. It is for this reason that I went car shopping for Phil for a used Honda CRV or Element. Both of these cars had the automatic gear shift on the dash, and this enable the car to be driven from the passenger side (necessary for access to mailboxes along the road). I found a decent 2005 CRV with low mileage and traded the Miata for the CRV that I gave as a gift to Phil. Shortly thereafter they broke up (after six years and three kids). No Miata… No future son-in-law. The parking pad in the rear yard has since been reclaimed for a garden and new fence.

So, that brings to a close the listing of cars that I have owned to date for my personal use.

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Life’s Lessons Learned #41: My Cars Part 3

As a digression from the time-line approach that I have been following, my next two blog entries will continue my chronicling of the various cars that I have owned. Most pictures in this blog are duplicates of my former cars taken from the Internet.

1971 Volkswagen Beetle

1971 Volkswagen Beetle

About the time we moved to Millersville we traded the Nova in for a Volvo Wagon for Vanessa, and I bought a cute little VW bug. Once again I was driving a standard transmission. This little 1971 gem required a bit of work, but it only cost $1,000, I had a good VW mechanic, and the car could climb trees in the snow. Emma and I drove all around the place in this bug, with her in her car seat in the back. We sang a lot of nursery rhymes together in this car. There were some great memories with Emma made in this car. I spent more time with her than most Dads get to do with their young children, and this car is front and center in those times. Probably the main reason for selling this car was my concern for Emma’s safety in the event of an accident. I parted with it by selling it to a Millersville University colleague who lived down the street. He and his wife then moved with it to Michigan. There was another connection with his family. They were also adoptive parents of a child from Chile, and had brought us our first picture of Emma when then returned from picking up their son, John. This was, however, a sad day in my car ownership. I really liked this little car, but I needed something a bit more substantial. I then bought my first General Motors’ Saturn.

1993 Saturn Wagon

1993 Saturn Wagon

This was an experiment for General Motors, and it failed. The early cars were great, and the new approach to dealerships and marketing were like a breath of fresh air (look it up on line). Most of the body panels were a tough plastic that didn’t dent or rust. The engine was sweet, and you could haul all sorts of junk in the back. Saturn had “no-haggle pricing.” The price tag was what you paid. They also gave you the NADA book price on your trade-in. Every accessory was clearly priced. They also offered a money back guarantee if you were unhappy – no questions asked. The wagon that I bought was one that was returned because the buyer wanted a different color. It had 700 miles on the odometer, and they took $700 off of the price. There had also been a recent price increase, and they sold the car to me for an additional $700 off of the new price. Finally, it came with an “A” title (new not used). This was a very good car. It ran and drove well, was comfortable, and kind of cute. When we moved to Quarry Lane, however, we had a giant oak tree over the driveway. The only two metal body parts on the car were the hood and the roof. Both became quite pockmarked from the downpour of acorns. It was as if Chicken Little was right, and the sky had fallen. I was sorry to see this car go, when I did trade it in/up for another Saturn.

1990 Miata

1990 Miata

Prior to the sale of the 1993 Saturn, however, I bought myself a toy. It was just sitting there at the Saturn dealership lot one day. I was driving by the dealership, spotted the Miata, turned around, and went back and bought it. Now this was a fun little car. It was also a favorite of my daughter, Emma, as I would pick her up after school. Now, we only lived a block and a half from the school, but she just loved to be picked up (top down of course). We also drove together to Delaware (top down of course) one weekend to buy a lottery ticket. The only problem was that it was a second car for me, and especially in the winter it saw little of the road. At the time we had a one-car garage, and Vanessa was not pleased to see the Miata firmly ensconced therein. In addition, it had a stick shift transmission, and Vanessa only drove automatics. After a few attempts at my driving lessons in a large and empty parking lot, we moved on. Over an almost two year period I put fewer than 1,500 miles on the odometer, and the car just made no sense. It appeared that my first mid-life crisis had run its course, and I easily sold it for what I paid for it.

2000 Saturn L200

2000 Saturn L200

I am not sure of the year on this car, but I believe that it was a 2000. It was essentially an Opel design (German). The car was added to the Saturn lineup to provide an option for those who had bought one of the original Saturn cars, but now wanted to move “up” to a bit more of a car. Saturn had done well with it’s initial car model, however, apparently the profit margins were quite low on those models, and their satisfied customers had no where to go when they wanted a bit more of an upscale vehicle. Saturn made these cars in a more traditional factory, and they turned out to be rather boring. I had added a secondary market option of full leather seats to make the car a bit more interesting. This was done in a shop in Philadelphia, and it had to be done twice. The optional heating unit in the driver’s seat (a bun warmer) started to burn its way through the leather. We got that fixed and the car lived on. I never felt like this was the right car for me. The Saturn service was great, and it ran quite well, but the car was soooo boring. Finally, after a few too many years in this car, I traded it in on a new 2006 Honda CRV. Actually, Vanessa wanted me to move on in the automotive world, and I followed her suggestion with the replacement. She had spotted a new white CRV at a dealership and suggested that I trade my car for it.

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Life’s Lessons Learned #40: My Cars Part 2

As a digression from the time-line approach that I have been following, my next three blog entries will continue my chronicling of the various cars that I have owned. Most pictures in this blog are duplicates of my former cars taken from the Internet.

1971 BMW 2800

1971 BMW 2800

This car was my first BMW. It was a fancier version of the BMW Bavaria. The Bavaria was the equivalent of today’s 5-series, while the 2800 was what might today be the 7-series. This car had a special suspension system, and thus was a very comfortable road car. It lasted me from the end of my graduate studies days in Pittsburgh through my first three years teaching in Boston. At one point the driver’s side door was smashed, while parked in Bay Village (Boston), by a hit and run driver. I replaced it with a black door, but never got it painted. I used to take this car to a group of BMW mechanics in New Market, New Hampshire, for service. These guys all had shirts with names over their breast pockets like, Otto, Fritz and Karl. Of course they were all fake joke names, as none of the mechanics was German.

1981 VW GTI

1981 VW GTI

My family has had a long history of owning Volkswagen products. When I read a review that referred to this car as a “pocket rocket”. I figured that it was time to say goodbye to the blue BMW with the black door. I visited the local VW dealer and asked if there was a black GTI with blue seats available. He said that the black ones seemed to all come through with red seats, but agreed to do a computer search of dealers for one with blue seats. He found two of them in New England and arranged for a dealer-to-dealer swap. I had my next car. It was truly a fun car. I remember that I was carpooling with a colleague from the Computer Science department to work each day, and Easter was upon us, and she made a giant cottontail to go on the back of my VW “rabbit. Ok, it was silly. I kept the GTI until I met my wife of now 30+ years, Vanessa. She, by the way, can not drive a stick. The GTI bit the dust in favor of my next vehicle.

1982 Peugeot Turbo Diesel

1982 Peugeot Turbo Diesel

The Peugeot was extremely comfortable and was built like a tank. It also had an automatic transmission. It was the transmission that would be it’s eventual downfall. But first, about the “built like a tank” story; Vanessa and I were traveling across upstate New York on our way to Chicago to visit family. It was there that we ran into a fierce, lake-affect, snowstorm that curtailed all but the most adventurous drivers (like me). We got behind a Semi and went along slowly at a safe distance. There was only one lane open, and it was somewhat snow covered. We hit a patch of ice, did a complete 360-degree spin, and began our second spin when we slammed into the guardrail. I was certain that the rear end of the car was badly damaged, but when we got out to look, there was nothing but the tiniest scratch (that would later come off with “soft-scrub”). It was a tank! However, one evening while on the way home from Boston to Providence, the car suddenly began to rapidly accelerate! It was as if I had pressed the gas pedal to the floor, but I had done no such thing. I turned the ignition off and pulled to the side of the road. The next day I sought out a used transmission to replace the faulty one ($2,000). We parked the car in the garage, and went shopping for a replacement.

1986 Chevrolet Nova II

1986 Chevrolet Nova II

Vanessa and I were married and living in Providence when we bought the Nova. This was the first car that we jointly owned. This car was a cooperative project between General Motors and Toyota, and the car had been made in the newly reorganized Fremont California factory where I had worked in the 1960s. This was to be our commuter car for the Boston-Providence trips. However, we discovered, after completing the purchase, and getting it warmed up at highway speeds, that there was a very loud whistle (after you hit 60 mph). We complained to the dealership, and drove other automatics, only to find the same problem. The dealer said, “tough luck” or something to that effect. We then learned that there had been a warning sent to dealers about a defective throwout bearing in a shipment of these cars. We threatened a small claims court suit, and action under the state’s lemon law. They gave us a rental car to drive until they could solve the problem. Since we were driving about 120 miles per day, they moved quickly. The dealer said to find another dealership with the same car, and an automatic, and they would trade another car with them, and then switch out the transmissions. Problem solved! But, I wonder who bought that other car from them?
After this car, Vanessa and I would each of us have our own car.

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Life’s Lessons Learned #39: My Cars Part 1

As a digression from the time-line approach that I have been following, my next four blog entries will chronicle the various cars that I have owned. Most pictures in this blog are duplicates of my former cars taken from the Internet.

1959 Mercedes Benz 190SL

1959 Mercedes Benz 190SL

I closed the last blog with a few short words about the purchase of my first car. It was also one of my favorite cars of all time. I bought it in the spring of 1968, and sold it two years later, after I froze the engine on the PA Turnpike. This car made trips to Virginia Beach, upstate New York and Chicago. The Virginia Beach trip was as a POV (privately owned vehicle) while I was at Fort Eustis for National Guard training. I was also able to drive it to an NG encampment at Camp Drum. The Chicago trip was a visit to see my parents, and it began with a car break-in. The car was parked in a lot behind my apartment, and left unlocked. I regularly left it unlocked to protect the canvas top from being cut. In order to get an early start, before going to bed, I had put my luggage for the trip in the trunk. On the front passenger seat were a large package of Cope’s Dried Corn, and a large tin of Hammonds Pretzels. These were special gifts for Virginia Halas (she was married to my Dad’s cousin, Ed McCaskey). This trip was for the Thanksgiving holiday, and she wanted these two items for her family celebration. All that was taken was the food, and I felt less violated when something like food was all that I lost. On the way back from Chicago, while outside Elkhart, Indiana, the engine temperature began to climb. I got off the highway and learned that there was no dealership anywhere nearby. I was directed to a salvage yard where the owner said, “Marsaydees, I thin I have one of them in the back of the yard.” He had a rusted out early 190 sedan, and quite nicely removed the water pump, and replaced mine. I would later lose the car to a sudden oil pump failure on the Pennsylvania Turnpike that destroyed the engine before I could get off of the highway. A 190sl, in the condition of my former car (prior to the engine freeze) would bring a minimum of $75,000. I got $700 for mine as she sat in 1969.

1969 Mercury Cougar Coupe

1969 Mercury Cougar Coupe

My second car looked like the one pictured above. It had retracting headlights and sequential rear turn signals. I sold my 190SL to a mechanic in King of Prussia, and was without a personal car for a while. I gotten married and my wife had a car that we planned on using. We also had signed a lease for an apartment at Valleybrook, a complex just north of Lancaster. The disaster that followed will be chronicled in a later blog. Suffice it to say that, after a short few months, I found myself once again living alone in a small apartment in downtown Lancaster. Shortly thereafter I spotted, and bought, the Cougar. That next summer my sister, Cathy, came for a couple of weeks visit. She was 16, had her driver’s license, and borrowed the car to go somewhere with a friend. That day I was using a bank car to visit with a loan client who was a road contractor. He invited me to join several others at the “Delaware Road Contractor’s Crab Feast”. I was a bit concerned about the ethics of this, and called my mentor at the bank. He said that both he, and the Executive VP of lending had already gone, and to enjoy myself. (More about that “Feast” in a later bog) That night, I returned home quite late, and while looking forward to the next day’s hangover, learned that Cathy had dented the right rear of my car. I kept the car for about a year or so. But then, as I was driving to meet with another bank client, while driving through Strasburg, PA, I saw a beautiful yellow car that just yelled out, “you need to buy me”!

1967 Jaguar XKE 2+2

1967 Jaguar XKE 2+2

My heavens, this was a very fast car. I did some very stupid things driving this car. There was the late night when I blew away of a bright red Pantera on Orange Street in downtown Lancaster. There were the runs from drinking at a rowdy bar in Pequea to Lancaster as I tried to “better my previous time”. And then, there was the night showing off to a girl I had just met, by getting up to 105 mph on a Lancaster to Columbia run on Route 30. I took my foot off of the gas that night while the car still had a lot more to go. I remember flooring it while at 65 mph only to be pushed back into my seat as it took off. This was the car that I was driving to New York City to date Charlene Dallas, and then later Pat Fisk. While I owned this car I lived first at 222 East Marion Street, and then at 213 East King Street, and finally at 220 East Grant Street. All three apartments were within one block of each other, and each offered an off-street parking space. On Marion Street I had the upstairs apartment. As a coincidence, the fellow in the first floor apartment also owned a yellow Jaguar XKE. While mine was a 2+2, his was a Coupe. We used to end up at the same clubs on weekends, and would park next to each other. I claimed, “First pick of the litter.” I don’t remember my neighbor’s name, but I do remember that he worked at R. R. Donnelley & Sons, which just happens to be where Vanessa now works. I never wanted to sell the Jaguar, but after a couple of years, my mechanic suggested that it would soon need rear brakes, and they were inboard brakes, and they were VERY expensive. He was a thoughtful mechanic. I was also about to leave Lancaster to pursue my MBA at the University of Pittsburgh. It was time to “automobile downsize”.

1963 Volkswagen Karman Ghia Convertible

1963 Volkswagen Karman Ghia Convertible

I saw my future Karman Ghia for sale for $550 at a local gas station. I sold the Jaguar to the ex-wife of a friend for a good deal more than that – thus providing cash for Pitt. By the way, did anybody ever tell you that old Volkswagens Ghias develop holes in their floorboards? When driving in the rain, my feet got quite wet. This car was also just a tad slower than my XKE. My Dad drove Volkswagens for about 20 years, and I had some experience with paying attention to momentum, as you would drive up and down hilly roads. During my first year of graduate school I was dating a person back in Lancaster. The Ghia made frequent trips back and forth every other weekend (about 500 miles). I also had two grey cats, John and Marsha, who often made the trip with me in the small space behind the seats, each in their own closed and latched basket. The first time we did this I made the mistake of stacking the baskets (Marsha on top). We entered one of the tunnels on the PA Turnpike in full sunshine with the top down. About halfway through the tunnel I heard a horrible growl/moan, followed by the unmistakable odor of cat poop. On the other side of the tunnel we emerged into a thunderstorm. This required a quick pull over into the breakdown lane, putting the top up, and a hasty cleanup with towels (later to be discarded). That was not my best day in the Ghia, but certainly a memorable one. Later a Pittsburgh winter snowfall spelled death and doom to the car. While parked on the street during a blizzard the snow completely buried my car, and a huge snowplow backed up and over the rear of my car. I traded the crippled Ghia for a painting (priced fairly at $75) by an artist I met at a Shadyside, PA, arts & craft show. He was a leftover hippy who was driving a “flower power” VW bus and wanted my car for the frame and engine. A few years later I saw him again and learned that the Ghia had a new, happy, life tooling around the Pocono Mountains in eastern PA as a sort of back-country dune buggy.

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Life’s Lessons Learned #38: To Chicago and Lancaster before LCFNB

My travel back to Lancaster after AIT at Fort Sam Houston offered the opportunity to take a detour through Chicago. This was possible because I was under orders, and was flying “space available”. I landed at O’Hare and was met by my parents. I’m not sure if they had moved by this time to their house in Tinley Park. I think that they were still in their house in Lamont. This was an opportunity to have a short visit before beginning work with its two weeks per year of vacation. I got to meet some of my Dad’s Chicago friends that I had never met, and reconnect with Wayne Roland, who had also moved to Chicago.

Wayne had a love of flying and held a private pilot’s license. While I was in high school, I had spent time with him in the San Francisco area when he was looking for a small plane to buy. I got quite the education in those days about private planes available in the early 1960s. By 1967 Wayne had moved up to a twin-engine plane (I believe he owned a Piper Apache). The memorable flight from this visit was when we flew over Chicago, and I was given the controls. I have only been up a couple of times in a small plane, and I will never forget this flight.

I also got to meet my Dad’s attorney. Dad affectionately referred to him as “loophole”. Loophole was a member of the Chicago area SPAH (Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica), and a big fan of my Dad. Dad, being one of the world’s top harmonica players, was highly respected by this club. Indeed, when Dad died, harmonica players flew in to Chicago for a SPAH sponsored benefit concert to raise money for Mom, and to honor my Dad. I have a pastel picture presented to my family at that concert. Loophole was a wine collector. He had case lots from the top red wine regions of France stored in his cellar. Later in life, Vanessa and I would receive, and enjoy, two bottles of vintage Petrus Pomerol. Trust me, there is a difference between “Two-buck-Chuck” and a thousand dollar bottle of red.

vintage Petrus Pomerol

vintage Petrus Pomerol

I needed a banker’s wardrobe. After college I had two sports coats and several pairs of dress slacks. I had some decent shirts, ties and shoes. Although bankers needed to wear business attire, in Lancaster, sport coats would work to start. However, I did need a few suits. My Dad thus took me to, what he called, “Midnight Supply”. Chicago has always had a slightly criminal underbelly. Midnight Supply was a fine men’s dress shop, the location of which, from time to time, would move. There I bought two wool, pinstripe, banker suits. Although things were cheaper then than now, the price of $25.00 and $35.00 for two Hart, Schaffner & Marx label suits was very friendly. Dad later suggested that they might have been overstocked items “liberated” from the firm’s Chicago factory. As we paid (in cash) the gentleman invited us to return next month when, “we have our sale”! He also opened his jacket and asked if I needed a watch. Inside his jacket he had several fine watches pinned to the lining. Dad told me that he once went shopping for a leather briefcase. They took his order, and a few days later provided him with exactly the model he wanted, and it was monogrammed.

This was a tough time for my Dad. Most of the types of clubs where he had played were closed or closing, and he was struggling. He had joined the Kingston Trio (now no longer more than one of the originals) for a tour as their opening. He also toured with Jerry Murad, and the original Harmonicats, as a fourth “Cat”. He would do his comedy routines and play tunes in between the two halves of the Cats show. A few years later I would help him move into a new type of venue – cruise ships – where he would do very well to close out his career and life.

I don’t remember for certain, but I believe that I completed the trip back to Lancaster by train.

I then needed a place to live, and pretty quickly, my first car. I took a furnished one-bedroom apartment about a block from the F&M campus, on the second floor, directly above the House of Pizza. The owner of the shop, John Pappas, was a person that I had known for several years. I had been one of his first customers when he bought the Nevonia Café, a long-standing (several decades) campus hangout. He bought the Café to convert it to a Pizza shop. His approach was quite radical. He would prepare his dough in the morning, and put rolled out crusts in pans (only one size – about 12”) in his huge walk-in cooler. He then would open at about 5:00 and start baking pizzas. I think that he charged $1.50 for plain and $2.00 for a pie with toppings. He had sub sandwiches, meatball subs and spaghetti. He offered Coke products and coffee to drink. He would run out of crusts, and close his door usually before 10:00. He subsequently opened 14 House of Pizza shops, all located next to college campuses. He then sold out, bought a hotel, sold that, and retired. We remained friends for over 20 years. My apartment cost $75.00 a month, including heat, water, sewer electricity and trash.

My first car was an adventure and dream partially fulfilled. When I was about ten years old, I sort of fell in love with the Mercedes Benz 300SL Gullwing automobile. I would never be able to afford one of these, but my childhood dream was that I would demand one as part of my signing bonus as a pitcher for the San Francisco Giants – dream on, Pat. Shortly after my arrival back in Lancaster I was walking from my new apartment to the bank office in downtown Lancaster. My trek took me past Lancaster County Motors (then on North Prince Street). It was there that I spotted a 1959, Mercedes Benz, 190SL. It cost $1,250.00, and that was very much doable with a car loan from my new employer. It took a few days to get the loan since the Board had to approve all employee loans (it was a small bank, after all). A mechanic had owned my car, and he had made a few changes to the engine (Chevrolet ignition system replacement for the original Bosch system) that I reversed. I named my first car Fritz, and it looked exactly like the picture that I found online (see below). As a digression from the time-line I have been following, my next blog entry will chronicle the various cars that I have owned.

1959, Mercedes Benz, 190SL

1959 Mercedes Benz, 190SL

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Life’s Lessons Learned #37: In the Army Now – Fort Sam

I was never so happy to leave a place than I was to leave Fort Polk, Louisiana. I had made it through the eight weeks using the mantra that if millions of young men had made it through this process, including my father, I could too. It was a matter of self-confidence. I looked around at my fellow recruits, and said to myself, that I was able to do this. This meant that I was only ten weeks away from going home, or so I thought.

Fort Sam Houston 1967When we got off of the bus at Fort Sam Houston (San Antonio, Texas) we gathered our gear (duffle bags) and lined up. Then, my name was called, along with several others (all college graduates). My orders, along with the orders of the others whose names were called, were changed. We were to spend an additional two weeks in “leadership” training. I was now a “Grape”. That meant that I was given a grape colored helmet, and sergeant’s stripes for my right sleeve. Of course real sergeants had stripes on both sleeves. We spent two weeks in training, under particularly sadistic trainers, learning how to become a leader among men…

At the end of the two weeks training we would then join the next class of future medics, but now in the role of barracks leaders. Great, just what I wanted, an opportunity to have a barracks full of people going to Viet Nam, who knew that I was in the Guard, and going home, and I was supposed to lead these guys for ten weeks. At one point in time, near the end of AIT training, and after my class’s orders for Nam had come through, I felt real fear for my well being.

I learned a great deal in the training for my MOS (Military Occupation Specialty). I was being trained as a combat medic. It is a bit too complicated to list all of what I learned, but it was something like what an LPN learns in vocational education training, but our patients were to be soldiers in and out of combat. I performed: triage, life saving CPR, gave shots, drew blood, sewed and removed stitches, gave bed baths, collected vital signs, worked in a hospital ward, ran an autoclave (sterilizer), etc. My memory seems to remember that my original MOS was 91B10, or Medical Corpsman, later upgraded to 91B20 as a Senior Medical Corpsman. However, I may be wrong. I searched the Internet to verify the MOS only to see that the closest I could find was 91W (Health Care Specialist). A Combat Medic is now shown as a 68W? For a fuller description of a 91W MOS you might check out this web page:
(http://www.armystudyguide.com/content/Prep_For_Basic_Training/army_mos_information/health-care-specialist-91.shtml)

Just to complete this train of thought on my various MOS, several years into my six-year commitment I was sent to Fort Eustis in Virginia to train for the position of CBRN NCO for the 103rd Medical Battalion: that is a Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) Specialist (74D). For information about this MOS you might read:
(http://www.goarmy.com/careers-and-jobs/browse-career-and-job-categories/intelligence-and-combat-support/chemical-biological-radiological-and-nuclear-specialist.html)

There are several memorable stories from my time at Fort Sam. One week we were scheduled to engage in field training. We headed out in a truck convoy where we were to participate in a brief “war game”. The irony of this expedition was that our objective was to capture “McCaskey Ridge”, a promontory named after my great-great-grand uncle, General William S. McCaskey. I remember that we also practiced loading the wounded onto helicopters during this exercise.

At another time we were to experience the sensation of self-administering an atropine autoinjector (without the atropine). Atropine is an antidote for nerve gas, and it is administered to the patient, intramuscularly by aggressively banging the autoinjector against a large muscle (thigh) that releases a needle with the atropine into the muscle. In class, we were all given an autoinjector and told to, on the count of three, slam it into our right thigh. Through this process we would learn how to use the autoinjector. We did, but I didn’t feel a thing, it popped, but no needle came out. It was a test of our courage, and of obeying an order. We were all then told to bang our now spent autoinjectors on our desktops. Those who had not obeyed the first order to use it against their thigh were thus identified when their autoinjectors popped. They then got to try one with a fully functioning needle.

There was one trainee in my barracks who was scared to death of going to Viet Nam. He actually had the shakes when we were learning to give shots and to do venipunctures. We used a piece of fruit (I think it was an orange) to approximate the toughness of human skin. However, to draw blood for testing, we were required to pair off and work on our partner. Nobody would take the guy with the shakes. As the “Grape” it became my responsibility to pair up with him. I thus earned, through my bravery, a real nasty hematoma (black and blue mark).

Toward the end of AIT we were given a weekend pass. A lot of the guys went together to rent cars and took off to Nuevo Laredo (Mexico) for some fun. I went there as well, but my goal was to buy a guitar. My old guitar, left back in Lancaster, had seen its last days. When we got to Mexico the others went off to the bars in search of alcohol and companionship. I began looking in shops for the best guitar that I could find. After several shops, where I asked to see their best guitar, I finally saw the same guitar that I had seen in an earlier shop. Thus that was identified as the one I wanted to buy. We haggled over price, going through the first price asked, the ridiculous counter offer, walking out of the store being followed by the shopkeeper into the street, and finally – agreement. We shook hands, money was paid, and the shopkeeper then proceeded to remove the strings, with the claim that they were extra. We both laughed, and I paid for the strings. A few weeks later I flew home to my parent’s house in Chicago (military standby) on Braniff Airlines and discovered upon getting home that the guitar was damaged in flight beyond repair. Braniff said something like, “Sorry”. One other thing, I was the only one in my group that did not require a penicillin shot upon returning to Fort Sam.

Classes at Fort Sam were cycled through their training at a rate of one every two weeks. The class in front of ours got their deployment orders a week before graduation. For the first time in about a year the orders were for Europe and not Viet Nam. The day of their graduation, their orders were changed – all of them would now go to Viet Nam. My class got their orders instead. I was going home, but at least my classmates were going where they would be safe. That is, all of them, except the guy with the shakes – he went to Nam.

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