It’s Bothered Me For 50 Years

Have you ever been told something, or seen something that bothered you, but either denied it bothered you, tried to put it out of your mind or even tried to forget it. Well, I’m sure there are other things that have bothered me, but none seem to have weighed on my mind as much as this one LITTLE thing (actually a couple of interactions) from 50 years ago. Call it baggage if you will.

When I joined the Navy and headed off to boot camp in Great Lakes, IL, I was thrown in with 66 other guys from all over the United States and from many different backgrounds. Some were from the north, some from the east or west and some of us from the south. In other words, it was a total mish-mash of humanity confined into a room full of bunks where we lived for 8 weeks in close quarters. During this time, you form a bond with many of these guys, but not all of them.

Like probably any other boot camp recruits, we had some characters in our company. We had a guy from Puerto Rico that could not follow directions. We had a guy that went nuts and jumped out the window because he wanted to go home. We had a guy that went to the brig, and I don’t even know why…but he bought my harmonic from me so he could play it in the brig. We had a guy from North Carolina that believed ANYTHING you told him. And then we had what I would call regular guys, just there to do their time.

As it happens with any large group, small groups form and close friendships are created. There was a group of 4 of that became fairly close because we knew that after our 8 weeks of boot camp, we would continue on to advance training at Hospital Corpsman School. We found out later that a couple more guys in our company would also be attending the same advanced school, and this story is about one of those guys.

In getting to know these guys in boot camp, this one guy from New York almost immediately looked down on anyone from the south, and I was no exception when it came to his disdain for southerners. He called us hicks, called us rednecks, called us hillbilly’s. Those names really never bothered me…I mean they are more like slang than personal insults (at least in boot camp). But for some reason he seemed to direct them towards me personally. I tried to just let slide off my back since in boot camp, insults are a way of life. LOL

But this guy never let up. We didn’t have daily encounters, but it was enough to make me feel it was more of a personal insult as opposed to just boot camp banter. At any rate, I always tried to get along with him because I knew we would be in advanced training together.

Once we were in advance training, one day after class he said to me, “Hey Arkie, you’re not as dumb as I thought you were, you asked some pretty good questions in class today”. I laughed it off, although I certainly took at as a backhanded compliment with a hint of prejudice against people from the south…regardless. I let it go. In fact, we included him in our small group from time to time because we had all went through boot camp together. Even going as far as to include him in a group photo shot we took of us guys that were close and got along great (see photo at right). At the end of the 16 week advanced training class, and after we got our grades and class standing, he came up to me again and bragged how well he had done in the class. He said his plans were to attend OCS (Officer Candidate School) at some point and become a physician.

As this guy was telling a group of us about his optimistic plans to attend officer school he looked directly at me and said, “Hey Arkie, I finished with a grade of 85 and 18th in our class of 47, where did you finish?” I know he thought he was smarter than me, and yes, he probably was smarter than me. But the look on his face when I told him that I finished with a grade of 87 and 17th in the class (one ahead of him)…I could see the surprise in his eyes that I had beaten him.

But for some reason it always bothered me, and it still does.

Over the past few years, I have reconnected with some of the old Navy buddies. Admittedly, our views and lifestyles have changed greatly over the past 50 years…after all, many of us were just kids going into the service. But reconnecting with these guys has been a very POSITIVE experience in almost every instance. Recently, I found this “gentleman” and indeed he has been very successful in life. He did go on to Officer Candidate School and became a physician in his late 30’s or early 40’s. I recently found his daughter on Facebook and she was very gracious and appreciative that I shared that old photo of her Dad with her. I told her to tell her Dad that I was an old Navy buddy and we went to Corpsman School together. When she responded several days later, she told me that her Dad didn’t really want to correspond or reconnect with anyone from back in those days. Honestly I was not disappointed, but I would be lying if I said it didn’t reinforce the same feeling I had back 50 years ago. He was an asshole back then, but I had hoped 50 years of life would have changed his attitude. Back then, I didn’t have the insights that I have today of how certain people interact with other people be it their views, race, culture, lifestyle or politics. But even without knowing what all these attributes of this guy are…I know him and I know who he is…I probably know his views on all of today’s biggest challenges to our society.

Yes, it has bothered me for 50 years. I guess it’ll bother me another 50.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s