The Good Old Days

The Good Old Days

How many times have we heard or even uttered the words “in the good old days”?

What was so good about the time being called forth? I will tell you my answer at the end of this article, but first a little explanation to help you see why I think the answer makes sense.

Why were they the best days of our lives, was it the age we were at the time?

Was it our youth spent aimlessly seeking fantastical beings or experiences? Living our days making believe that things were different? The reality of youth was that we had nothing, could earn nothing, and had no voice in any matters of importance?

Possibly our teen years driven by newly awakened hormones writing checks that we couldn’t cash? We wanted to be seen and treated as adults, but those gangly limbs and squeaky voices made it impossible to be taken seriously.

Our eighteen to twenty-one years where we were no longer kids, but no one would call us adults, except when we did something wrong and were told to act like what they wouldn’t give us credit for being.

Maybe it was the twenty-five to thirty-five age where we were sure that we were the true driving force of the universe and the free market world revolved around what we liked and wanted.

It has to be that thirty-five to sixty-five period where we control the wealth and head the companies and the corporations… or at least the PTA and/or the Friends of Youth (insert sport here.) Surely the period of productivity contained in these years is the golden glow to be remembered.

It can’t be the so called “Golden Years” of retirement where truthfully the only thing golden is in the specimen cup you give to the lab technician. That time in your life where “the older you get, the better you were,” which is a defensive re-write of memories.

In reality you can’t remember to pull up your zipper or if you took your noon pill, but you can recall the stupid hat that Smiley McFloogle wore to that party, twenty years before the person you are telling the story to (for the tenth time) was born. And for some reason you expect the listener to know him.

So if the good old days aren’t measured by age, maybe it was the time frame in which we lived. For me that started in 1953.

Were the 1950s post war (WWII & Korea) years really the period of peace and growth? People around me had nothing, had lived with less, and had learned how to get by on air sandwiches and imaginary coffee for the last few days of the month. They worked hard and knew that things could get better if they could just catch a break.

There was a tremendous amount of prejudice and hatred of anyone different, left over from the war years. This was the time of white male dominance in both the workplace and the home. People of color, women, and children were just barely considered human and had no place in the decision making process. The country was progressing, but human and civil rights were not.

Maybe the enlightened 1960’s? Or were they really the decade of human growth that we had hoped for? The USA nearly had another “atomic bomb solution” with the Cuban crisis and numerous other posturing situations. The people’s president was assassinated before our eyes and the real details hidden from us for generations.

A war (Vietnam) that was never declared took thousands of Americans lives as well as huge numbers of the Vietnamese people. A people who like today’s citizens of Afghanistan, were already extremely weary of invading saviors.

At home we had civil rights marches and union battles over workers’ rights happening everywhere. The country was waking up to idea of protesting injustice in front of the television camera and every day of the decade we were treated to violence on the evening news. The horrific battles and destruction in southeast Asia were bracketed by riots and more assassinations at home.

The 1970s were just a repeat of the above with faster coverage by a more technologically proficient media. War for profit had become the standard we lived by in America.

Since 1980 a more insidious foe has emerged as the corporate world has perfected buying the government officials they desire, changing the laws which hamper them, and using their advertising skills to make the people think everything is their idea.

Our public schools are failing the students who need them most while our secondary education costs climb to where only the rich can afford them. Our college systems value sports and partying over academics and rape is a team sport where the victims are prosecuted for bonus points. No, I don’t think that the era constitutes the reason for the good old days either.

OK, time for the answer. The “good old days” are a memory fantasy created in our own mind to provide a safer and more personally satisfying spot to insulate us from our problems in the present. Everything is better if you just remember it “right.”

The good news is that real “Good Old Days” are right now. Today is the only day that you have control over. The past is gone forever and the future isn’t here yet so don’t waste valuable time on them.

Learn from the past, but don’t live in it. Prepare for the future, but don’t sit and wait for it to arrive.

The best days of your life are here, in your face. Live each day as if you won’t get another chance. Do what makes you smile, breathe deeply, push the envelope, reach out to others and give of yourself freely.

Some “tomorrow” you will die and it will be too late to fix the regrets about all of the love you didn’t share, the sights you didn’t see, and things that you didn’t do.

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Hate is not the answer

The Truth about the KKK 

 

Let me begin this tale by posing two true or false questions for consideration:

 

Is every Southerner a member of the Ku Klux Klan?

 

Does every Southerner believe that the KKK is really out to do good, and is simply misunderstood?

 

When I was 13 years old in 1966 I needed to know what the real story was in regards to the “Invisible Empire.” The two questions stated above were two of many that were going through my mind far too frequently for a young boy.

 

In light of the events of the 1960s with riots, abductions, and murders happening all over the country (not just in the South like some people seem to remember it) it really wasn’t strange for a young person to be trying to figure out what was true, and what was false.

 

Background

 

South Florida was not the hotbed of racial tension that other areas were at that time. Not like Montgomery, Birmingham, Cleveland, or just about any large city with sufficient media coverage to make national news.

 

I still think that political advantage and profiteering had more to do with the riots than we knew. It wasn’t just about anyone’s civil or human rights. Injustices were happening, and change was coming slowly, but there was too much violence. Violence wasn’t the way that the church going, God fearing people that I grew up with would even think of behaving. It certainly wasn’t what Martin Luther King, Jr. was preaching.

 

 

I grew up with kids of every color, nationality, religion, and income level that you could imagine. If you know South Florida, you know that is not an exaggeration of the society found there. Black, white, brown, red, yellow… only meant colors from a Crayola Crayon box to us.

 

I knew three boys named Larry, and we had to call them something slightly different to tell who we were yelling at to throw us the ball, etc. One was called “Lawrence”, one was called “Larry”, and one was called “LT”. OK, you got that?

 

Now add to the mix; one was Catholic, one was Jewish, and one was Baptist. To further confuse the issue; one was black, one was white, and one was Seminole. Can you tell by the names, which was which? Does it matter anyway? It didn’t to us; they were just three guys named Larry.

 

If curiosity is killing you; Lawrence was black and Catholic, Larry was white and Jewish, which made LT a Seminole of the Baptist persuasion… and none of this mattered, and it shouldn’t.

 

Enter Curiosity

 

Why did these people (the KKK) gather together and hold rallies; and what’s with the burning cross?

 

These questions are what prompted four of us to go out into an orange grove in Davie, Florida, one Friday night when we were supposed to be at a school dance at the Junior High School.

 

It was a foolish thing to do and a much greater risk for my three Seminole Indian “brothers” than it was for me. Seminole Indians have “mixed” with slaves at times in their history and the KKK has a special hatred for those of mixed ancestry.

 

At least that was what we had heard and that was a big part of the problem. We didn’t have any first-hand knowledge and the opposing sides were extremely opinionated in their own behalf. So who should we believe? What was the Gospel in this matter?

 

The Rally

 

“Friday night in “X’s” orange grove, ceremonies to start at 8:00 PM, sharp. Come early and bring your own supplies. The Exalted Grand Dragon will Honor us with a speech and sermon.”

 

There was more to the flier, but you get the tone of the message. That was how we found out where and when the rally was being held. We were determined to find out the “why.”

 

Larry, Ralph, Sam and I really did start out at the dance. We didn’t lie (to our parents) about going to it, we just didn’t stay long. One of their cousins had agreed to give us a ride out to the orange grove for a half-pint bottle of Vodka.

 

They had already taken care of the payment, and obtained his promise not to drink it until we were safely back at the dance and he had driven home. The “no drinking” restriction was necessary because we had to be back at the school before 11:00 PM when the dance got over and we didn’t want this cousin getting into a wreck or getting arrested (or leaving us out there with the Klan.)

 

The rally location was a big shock to me. It was in a grove owned by a prominent family of church going folks with a very good reputation. I recall saying that “Maybe they didn’t know that it was being held there.” “And maybe pigs fly,” was the response and general consensus of opinion about that idea. I knew that the guys were right…I just didn’t want them to be.

 

We knew that the main road into the grove would be watched and they weren’t likely to let us in to satisfy our curiosity. They might have let me in by myself, if one of their number would speak up for me. But, I wasn’t interested in being alone with the Knights of the KKK, betting on them being understanding “Good Ole Boys.” So that approach was out. There was another road which connected this grove to the next, but it was a long way to the other end where you “might” have been able to enter, and it could have been padlocked too.

 

The only logical choice for us was to cross the big canal next to the paved county road that bordered the grove. Then hike in through the trees in the dark without flashlights, and hope that we didn’t encounter snakes, etc. There were also the man made obstructions like barbed wire and irrigation hardware. Yep. It was the best way, they would have to figure that nobody would be crazy enough to do that and not worry about posting guards or lookouts on that side.

 

We found a place for the cousin to park the car and go to sleep. He promised to wait and not drink the Vodka until the agreed upon time and if we weren’t out by 11:00 PM he was to go get the entire tribe to rescue us. We didn’t think that the cops would be of much use for some reason… a hunch that proved to have merit later.

 

The water was deep and cold, and there were alligators and Water Moccasins in those ditches, especially big canals like that one. Those minor details made it even more comical that we had to get naked and wade across with our clothes held over our heads to keep them dry. The running joke was about where you might get snake bit; and that nobody was going to suck the poison out, etc.  We were very loony, that much is obvious now, but at the time it was just another thing that we did. We could see an alligator farther up the canal, but we were too large for it to bother with.

 

We found a good spot to get out and quickly got dressed again. There was a minor planning problem; we had to use our underwear to dry off with. Not wanting to put wet underwear back on, we left them hanging on the bushes to dry. I wondered for a long time if they were still there. We didn’t go back for them, that’s for sure!

 

We actually made good time through the trees and were being very careful where we put our feet, both to avoid hazards and to prevent making unnecessary noise that might alert the Klansmen. We wanted this to be a “private” viewing of their rally and not for us to be “part” of it. The thought of what would happen to my Seminole brothers if we were caught made me very careful. The idea that I would be the reason for harm coming to them suddenly terrified me.

 

It was 7:45 p.m. when we got to the edge of the clearing where there was a bonfire and a lot of “White Robes” moving around. That meant it took us 30 minutes to cross the canal and hike in to that spot. We moved along the trees, keeping them between the crowd and us until we found a likely site to watch from.

 

The four of us then climbed a tree almost all the way to the top. Orange trees were not my choice for climbing with their thorns sticking out everywhere. I was scratched and bleeding from several places by the time I reached my perch.

 

If we had hesitated at all, we would have been history. We had no more stopped moving than two guards in white robes and hoods, carrying shotguns, walked right up to where we were and stopped. I was afraid to even breathe!

 

The rally was called to order and the ceremonies began at 8:00 p.m. on the dot. Those boys were punctual, I’ll give them that much.

 

The head guy of all of them, the “Exalted Grand Dragon,” was sitting in a lawn chair behind the stage, out of sight. He didn’t get up or even appear to pay any attention when the “Wizard” was on stage working the crowd into a frenzy. I supposed that it was much like what the opening act did for the headliner at a concert or a Las Vegas show.

 

This hooded bozo (the Wizard) had already answered a lot of our questions concerning the attitudes and intentions of the Invisible Empire of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. If you weren’t just like them you were wrong for their future and a danger to their children; and you had to be eliminated. Peacefully if possible, but however was necessary, if that was what it took.

 

The speaker professed to be a God fearing man on a mission to save his race from contamination and extinction. He said that he was doing it all for his children and their children. Using children and God were his main hooks to work the crowd, and work them he did! These robed figures were agitated, animated, and aggressive (just to use the “A’s”.) However you wanted to describe it, they were pumped up and ready to receive the message from their “main man!”

 

As good as the Wizard was at stirring the crowd up, he was nothing compared to the Exalted Grand Dragon! That man had people crying, shouting, and dumping money into a barrel. The donations were to keep up the fight against the government and all the others who would deny them their God given right. Of course, maybe a little of it would have to be used to pay for the stretch limousine that the big guy had arrived in; and would go on to the next rally in, riding in comfort.

 

I got the feeling that I was witnessing Adolph Hitler working on the plan for the Aryan race. There was no longer any doubt in my mind that genocide was too singular for what these crazies had in store for the rest of us.

 

When I was able to take my eyes off of the stage and look around us, I just about spoke out loud. Damn! The rally with all those fanatics was in front of us and their cars were parked behind us, with armed guards patrolling all around them. There was no “sideways,” the bonfire was so large that it illuminated everything around us. We were in an ugly fix, but still safe in the tree top for now.

 

The ceremony of lighting the cross would usually have begun the rally I was told later on in life. On that night it had special significance and had been delayed until that critical point. I had never seen so large of a cross before; it was made from telephone poles and was at least 40 feet high.

 

The Grand Dragon said a prayer that got a lot of “amens” all through it and had everyone focused on him. At a wave of the hand signal from him, one of the attendants lit the cross with a forty foot burst of liquid fire (like napalm) from a flame thrower. The screams, squeals and applause of the masses gathered there were thunderous!

 

The KKK will tell you that the lighting of the cross is a sacred religious tradition honoring the Light of God and Jesus for dying for our sins. All completely Christian and only meant as a good example of their faith.

 

So why then did their leader say, “All of the unclean, and the mixed curs had better take warning from this cross burning brightly in the night. We will take what is our right by any means necessary and they can perish in its flames if they get in the way.”

 

The crowd again responded with riotous and righteous clamor, not unlike a hound pack hitting a strong scent trail. I feared that the Dragon was going to send them out to harm people right then. In their present state of mind I believed that they would do anything that he ordered.

 

The man with the flame thrower was so moved that he unleashed another burst of fire on the already burning cross, causing more screams yet.

 

That “re-lighting” of the cross served a better purpose for us. It brought the guards in from the parking area to witness the burning and increasing level of excitement. Their movement drew them in far enough that we felt that it was our best chance to get out of the tree and slip out through the cars. Again we went with the logic of doing the least expected. No one would expect us to come out through the cars and down the main road of the grove.

 

Those trees ate us alive with scratches and cuts, but not a sound was made, at least not out loud. I was truly screaming inside my head from all of the pain. I almost fell out of the tree, but a hand reached out and grabbed me. Larry was looking out for his “brother,” as always.

 

We made it to the ground and staying low, moved as quickly as possible to get to the cover of the vehicles and darkness. Fear was a great motivator and we had plenty to be afraid of from those nuts, especially in the frenzy that they were riding on right at that moment.

 

As shocking as the words had been, and as disheartening as the supposed “moral conviction” of these robed figures was; the real pain and hurt lie ahead.

 

When these Knights of the Klan were just anonymous figures in robes, it was bad enough. But, when we got among the cars and recognized the vehicle of our Sheriff, the personalized plates of the Mayor’s car, the car of a banker who was the father of one of our friends, the truck belonging to the owner of the local hardware store (complete with the sign on the side), and other vehicles of people that we knew by the car or license plate… it went past bad, it was gut wrenchingly painful. How could they act this way here at this rally, and then smile to our faces when they met us on the street?

 

And then came the real crusher. The unmistakable car of the preacher whose church we had been attending! It serves no purpose to identify what religion he represented; none of them would condone what he had done here tonight.

 

The sinking realization that we now knew why the Wizard who “opened” for the main speaker sounded so familiar, and why he could talk for an hour and a half without letting up. We never set foot in his church again after that night.

 

We moved quietly through the cars and down the road towards freedom and fresh air. It smelled like sulfur and brimstone where we just were.

 

The Escape

 

There was a checkpoint to pass and even though it was dark, we could smell their cigarettes and hear what they probably considered a whisper, a long way from them. We just slipped off to the side and went through the trees until we were clear of them and then got back on the sand two-track road and in no time we had reached pavement.

 

Upon gaining that asphalt pavement, we allowed ourselves (for the first time) to run, and run we did, all the way to the car about a mile down that county two-lane. We ran like the Devil himself was behind us, and I’m not so sure that he wasn’t.

 

When we woke the cousin up from a sound sleep in the back seat of his car, scaring him with our emotional insistence to hurry up, he no doubt thought that the Klan was after us. It was worse, it was demons in our minds, screaming about what we had seen and heard!

 

The clock showed 10:30 p.m. when we walked back into the dance; we had been gone a lifetime. It was a sad, hard lesson to learn that things are seldom what they seem and people are capable of unbelievable extremes and such hatred that I couldn’t yet comprehend.

 

It would take many years and experiencing war to make me know the depths of the human soul.

 

Right then, at thirteen years old, I was in shock. If this was what it meant to be white, then I was glad to be a “brother” to the Seminole People, maybe they would claim me and I wouldn’t have to be white anymore.

 

I was sure embarrassed by what we had experienced on this night and apologized to my brothers for the color of my skin. They were wiser than I was, and told me not to worry, that I had a good heart and would always know the right path to take. I don’t know if I lived up to that, but I was glad that they were still my brothers.

 

Finally

 

Whatever color, nationality, or religion that you may be… whatever differences that you may have… whatever problems may arise in your life… we learned that night that: HATE IS NOT THE ANSWER.

 

It can get better

It can get better

The year was 1991 and I had been medically discharged from the Navy and working for the USPS as a letter carrier in Fallon for three years by then. One of the medical issues that I was dealing with was pain in my right shoulder, for which I had been treated while on active duty and was a chronic problem.

Being a veteran and with the price of medical care being what it was even then, I was encouraged to seek treatment at the VA Hospital in Reno. I must tell you that it was not a good place to go in those days. At best the chance of actually getting treatment was unreliable, and the delays for everything that you did get were legendary. Horror stories were rampant and true.

I was sent to the VA Hospital to see the Orthopedic Specialist for evaluation of my shoulder for surgery. Would it (surgery) improve my condition or not, was the $64,000 question of the day.

In those days (1991) they played a weird scheduling game at that specialty clinic. You had to report in between 08:00 and 09:00 a.m., regardless of when your appointment time was. Then you would wait in a kind of “stand by” mode until your scheduled time arrived.

 
This oddball process was initiated and enforced by the lead doctor, and the man that I was to see, Dr. F. (He whose name must not be spoken, for he will sue.) He felt that his time was too valuable to have any blank spots in his day, but obviously felt that the veteran’s time didn’t matter.
 
With Dr. F’s plan the patients were stacked up like cans in a soda machine waiting to move forward should a cancellation happen. Of course the doctor could (and had done so in the past) walk out the door at any time and cancel the rest of his day, like if an emergency golf game popped up. No, I am not kidding.

This meant a five hour wait for me with my 1:00 pm appointment. I was already angry from having to park a mile away from the hospital and hike in as that day was Tuesday which was “clinic day.” People in the know, arrived there early to get a parking spot.

It was my first visit to this particular clinic and I didn’t know the hospital very well at all. Parking was on the opposite side of the hospital from the main entrance, so I was coming in through the back of the hospital, which had me all turned around. Fortunately, by habit I always arrive early for any appointment. Otherwise the walk in and then wandering lost through the building would have made me late. I was hustling to make 08:00, but I found the main administration area and check in desk, and got my name in by the hour.

I plopped down in a chair with my back to the wall to wait and sat there observing the activity around me. I never heard anybody called for “Ortho,” or any other clinic for that matter. After thirty minutes of being patient, I asked the guy sitting across from me which clinic he was waiting for. I don’t know if he was a jerk, or just deaf, because he moved his paper up in front of his face and said nothing.

 
Fifteen more minutes passed and I got nervous. I got out of my chair and went back to the desk where I checked in to ask the lady there why no one was being called.

The shock of being told that I was in the wrong waiting area jacked my blood pressure right up! I really had to focus on the instructions as to which hallway, and how many turns, etc., would get me to the orthopedics waiting area. It was almost 09:00 and I was in the wrong place! I would say that I was having an anxious moment, or adrenalin spike, or something. Making a mistake like that upsets me, even though it may not have been my fault.

Feeling slightly better armed with my new instructions on where to go, I walked away from the desk directly towards a glass wall with doors to the outside. That was where I had to turn and proceed down a hall.

 
Coming through the door from the outside, was an elderly man wearing a WWI veteran cap being pushed in a wheelchair by a young black man wearing hospital scrubs. Not being in so much of a hurry that I couldn’t show respect and help, I stopped to assist with the door. The orderly didn’t pay any attention to me at all, but I got a smile and a nod of thanks from the old vet, which made me feel good.

As I turned to hurry on while looking at my watch, I heard the old man say to the orderly, “Please, I have to pee, can you take me to the bathroom?” To which the young man said, “You will have to wait” as he parked the wheelchair against a wall and locked the wheels. As I looked back while still walking, I could see the orderly going back outside. I seriously regret not having gone back to the old man’s aid at that point.

I was immediately lost again and in a frantic hurry. I’m sure it was because I was still thinking of being late and losing my appointment. If I had been thinking logically I would have realized that with a 1:00 p.m. appointment, I had several men ahead of me and was in no danger of being dropped.

 
To explain: If they called your name and you were not there, you were removed from the list and had to reschedule. The appointments in that plan were set for one every fifteen minutes. This doctor was a civilian with a contract, not a VA employee, and got paid by the body count. This was truly factory assembly line medicine!

I found the clinic and checked in with the gum popping young lady behind the counter. She told me to have a seat and do not under any circumstance, leave the waiting room without telling her or my appointment would be cancelled and I would have to reschedule. I resented the Hell out of her attitude and instantly wanted to slap the gum out of her mouth. But I did not.

 
There was no doubt that I was angry with myself for not helping the old man get to the bathroom before being placed in this holding pen. It just felt like I had done something wrong, again.
If you add that to the stress of finding a parking spot in an unfamiliar area, getting lost in the building twice, being in the wrong waiting room, etc, I was agitated. It had not been a good morning. Going to the doctor was proving to be harmful to my health.

Finally, it was 1:00 p.m. and my turn. Obviously being there hours early had done me no good at all. The doctor was observed sauntering slowly back in from lunch like he had nowhere important to be. As I listened to him interact with the staff, it was apparent that he was just as arrogant and abusive with his receptionist as I had been told that he was with patients.

 
I was his first appointment after lunch, so I thought, “OK, he should be in a good mood and we could get through this.” For sure, I was not looking forward to the manipulation of my shoulder that I had learned to expect from other examinations. It hurt when I was required to push the rotation to the range of movement limits and then for hours afterwards. That was part of why I was there, something was obviously wrong with the joint. Rotating your arm was not supposed to hurt.

My name was called and I fairly shot out of my chair, such was my preconditioning to not miss my turn. I was escorted back to the examination room by the young woman I checked in with. Which I thought was kind of odd; to have a receptionist leave her post was unusual. That task was usually done by a nurse.

 
The gum popping girl complained all the way down the hall that the nurse didn’t come back from lunch with the doctor and now she had to do her work too. I can remember thinking to myself, “Honey, you couldn’t empty a bed pan without screwing it up; you could never be a nurse.”

When I moved towards a chair to sit down I was told (rather than asked) to sit on the exam table and wait for the doctor. Again I had the urge to smack the gum out of this rude young woman’s mouth as she popped a bubble for punctuation to her order. I recall thinking, “Yeah, you had better stay at your reception desk, you wouldn’t make it one day as nurse.”

 
Being the well conditioned soldier, I complied with my orders and sat on that uncomfortable examination table with my legs dangling and nothing to rest them on. I spent my waiting time studying all of the medical posters with joints and bones exposed showing the workings. At least that was interesting, and didn’t chew gum.
 
After a few minutes, Dr. F. burst into the room, kind of flailing like he was tossed in there. He was steadily writing in my chart and didn’t glance my way or even speak to me as he went to a desk at one side. It was as if I wasn’t even there.

Tossing my chart on the desk, he picked up the telephone and dialed a number. “Oh damn,” I thought, he saw something in that chart and is ordering some kind of immediate procedure. Will they admit me and keep me here?” You always expect the worst case scenario when you go to a doctor’s office; it is some kind of bizarre conditioning thing.

That fear bubble burst when the doctor started talking to the person on the other end of the telephone line. He was arranging a golf game! He completed that call and instead of turning to address me and apologizing for the delay, he immediately dialed another number and spoke to another golf buddy. This repeated until he had arranged his golfing foursome.

 
Finally done with his priorities, he picked up my chart and wrote in it once again. He then looked up at me and said, “Come back and see me in two weeks.” Throwing my chart in the “completed” bin, he got up and turned to leave the room. The man was so impersonal, that I felt like he completely disrespected me as a veteran or even a human being by his actions.

I was way beyond angry at that point and fairly jumped from my seat on the examination table, to a position blocking him from leaving the room. I got nose to nose with this medical “unprofessional” and was probably spitting on him as I spoke, I was so mad.

“How dare you use my fifteen minutes of time for your golf date calls after I have waited all damn day to see you! How dare you write in my chart without ever even looking at me, much less examining me you arrogant quack!” I know that this is exactly what I said because the receptionist wrote it all down and I was presented with the details later in a written “denial of service letter.”

The doctor went “bug-eyed” and started screaming for the receptionist, alternating between “Get out!” and “Help, get security!” I did turn and leave at that point, as I knew that I was never going to let this guy work on me, even if he would have.

 
The fortunate thing for both of us was that he did not put his hands on me. It would have ended very badly for him. I was completely calm by that point, which I knew from experience, could be very bad. It was a precursor to physical violence.

I left the orthopedic clinic and not knowing how else to get out of the building, I retraced my path back to the main administration area where I first checked in. It was probably the longest possible route to exit the hospital, but it was the only way that I knew.

As I walked I could see the old man sitting in his wheelchair from down the hall, exactly where he had been “parked” hours before. When I got closer I could see the man visibly sobbing and that there was a puddle under his chair, which made me walk faster.

 
Almost to him, I could now see and hear the young orderly approaching from the doorway. Speaking in a very harsh and menacing tone he said to the old veteran, “Now look what the Hell you done did! I am gonna have to clean up that mess you made! Sorry old…” and was raising his hand, as if to strike.

That was as far as he got, as my fingers closed around his throat and I slammed him against the wall, lifting him just off of the floor by his neck. His eyes were bulging as I choked his windpipe and I quietly said to him, “You owe your freedom and your very existence in this hospital to this man. Is this how you repay his service to our country?”

That orderly truly owed his life to the very man that he abused. As I was closing off his airway, the old man said, “Please don’t kill him, he isn’t worth it.” I just said, “Yes Sir” and dropped the younger man to the floor.

Could I have killed him? Yes, easily. I am well trained to do so. Would I have killed him? I don’t know. I was very angry, but was still under control or he would have died instantly.

Hospital Security was already walking through the building looking for me after my run in with the orthopedic Doctor. They wanted to locate me, although they couldn’t really “do” anything to me for just yelling at that creep. So, they were right there on the spot when I made that latest “crazy man” scene.

Given the circumstances and hearing from the witnesses who sprang (if one can spring from wheelchairs and crutches) to my defense, the security guards were very nice to me and asked me to please accompany them. I expected handcuffs and some shoving around and was already embarrassed by what I considered as “losing control” on my part.

By that I mean, I should have at least warned/threatened the guy first, before putting my hands on him. Unfortunately, that just wasn’t how I was trained to react to a perceived threat. The orderly was advancing upon and threatening the elderly veteran in my eyes. So, I just reacted and moved by instinct to counter (or remove) the threat.

I was taken into the administrative office and questioned by the security supervisor as we waited for the Reno PD to show up. Their procedure was understandable, because I had laid hands upon another person the police had to be called.

 
The hospital security guys kept coming to the door and speaking to their boss. They were repeatedly relaying more witness statements and information. Their comments including saying Dr F’s name and laughing (when safely out of earshot of the supervisor) at what a jerk he was to them. Even though they greatly disliked the doctor they were still afraid of the clout he had with the hospital administration.

I must confess that as I waited in that office I had scoped out the exits and planned how I would get out of the building to my vehicle should they want to arrest me. I was NOT going to a jail cell. My severe claustrophobia would have required full time sedation to lock me up.

The Reno PD guys arrived with one slender but hard looking blond white guy, and one very large black man that filled the doorway with muscles. Both of them had serious haircuts and their deportment confirmed my evaluation of their background, at least to me. You could almost see the “thread marks” on their skulls; they were “jarheads” (Marines) all the way. Semper Fi!

 
I sat still and behaved myself as the officers conducted the business they had to do. The two men smiled at me as they listened quietly to what was being said by the hospital security supervisor. They also interviewed the other security guards and all of the witnesses who had stayed around to the last man to be heard.
 
Finally, the orderly that I had choked was brought forward for his statement. He sneered at me when bopped into the room like he was a gangster with an entourage following him. The policemen were watching me for a reaction, but I showed no emotion. In truth I thought that the man was pathetic and didn’t warrant any further effort on my part.

The young man mistakenly figured that he could play the “race card.” He started off his case all wrong by calling out to the black officer, “Yo homey, we got to stick together when whitey tries to put us down. You need to bust cap in that honky’s ass. Or I WILL.” (Verbatim, from the transcripts) and then started towards where I was sitting.

Both officers moved as one to intercept and stop the possible confrontation. The black officer almost cat-like, was instantly in front of the young orderly. His partner positioned himself to block me should I attempt to engage. The blond officer smiled as he saw that I was not moving and that I was unimpressed with the bravado and noise. He nodded at me and turned his attention back to his partner. I suspect that they had served together in the Marines or at least had been partners for a while, because they were very much in tune with each other’s actions.

The bigger officer leaned slightly forward from the waist with his hands on his hips, in a fashion reminiscent of a drill sergeant, and addressed the young man saying, “First, I am NOT your homey, I am Officer “X” and I just heard you make a threat of violence. Should anything happen in the future what you said will be a matter of record and I will personally come looking for you. Second, I think that you had better be careful what you ask for, you may not be so lucky next time,” and looked in my eyes and nodded to me.

There was another, much older, white orderly (either a union rep, or a supervisor) trying to quiet and restrain the young man, without much success. The man finally grew exasperated and said, “Will you shut up and come with me! We need to get you checked out.” He then led him away.

The RPD officers asked me to come with them, and we walked out the doors on the opposite side of the building. When we got outside, the white cop said, “What you did was assault on one hand, and justifiable prevention of assault and continued abuse on the other. No way are we going to charge you for defending a helpless old veteran. If any law suits happen from this we will testify on your behalf. Now it’s probably a good idea if you go back home to Fallon in case this guy has any hot headed friends in the area. We don’t need any more trouble.” His partner smiled at me and chimed in, “Or any bodies should my mouthy “homey” jump up in your face.”

I gave them a departing “Semper Fi!” to which I got “Ooh Raw!” in unison from the officers.

It was more than twenty years after that event before I even considered utilizing the VA services that I was entitled to. I was thoroughly convinced that the Veterans Administration was just another screwed up government agency and not worth the trouble.

It was not until a field clinic was opened in my town, staffed by people that I respected that this changed. The personnel of the Fallon VA Clinic were able to convince me that it was worth another chance. I have known the doctor who works there for more than twenty-five years. He used to be my civilian physician. The girl working the reception desk used to work with me in the Navy. The office manager worked at another medical office and I encouraged her to take on the VA Clinic job when it was offered. They were all friends that I trusted.

I am happy to report that the Reno VA Hospital is a far better environment today. Veterans of all ages are treated with dignity and respect. Every effort is made to serve the patient. You are no longer treated like an inconvenience that they have to put up with, but as the very reason for their existence. Care there is excellent.

It was worth the twenty plus years it took to return, it is better place today.

P.S. 

I always get asked this when I tell this story, “What happened to the orderly?”

The word got around pretty quickly of his abuse of the old WWI Vet and by the end of that day, no one wanted to work with him. I mentioned to a neighbor who worked in the top administrative office at the VA hospital what had happened (so that she heard it from me and not rumors) the same day that it took place. I know that she made telephone calls when she went back inside, because I could see her on the phone through the window. The next day when I delivered her mail she informed me that the man in question no longer worked at the VA Hospital in Reno, having sought employment elsewhere due to a “hostile work environment.” I never saw him again.

I also learned later (from my admin. friend) that the old man, who was an inpatient there, passed away a few months afterwards (in the hospital) from complications from his war wounds. He had been shot multiple times and had been gassed in the trenches in Europe. The man had every medal there was (except for the Medal of Honor), including three purple hearts.

He had entered the service at age 16 and didn’t come home until it was over, over there. The old soldier had lived his entire life carrying metal fragments in his body and dealing with damaged organs from his service. He was buried with honors in the Veterans Cemetery in Fernley, NV.
 
I am glad that I defended him and I am still sorry that I didn’t take action to prevent his humiliation of wetting himself. Lesson learned; never hesitate to do the right thing.