Firmum In Vita Nihil Blimps, Brothers, a Girlfriend and Frogs

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After finishing another school year, Dad got transferred again. This time it was up the coast a bit to a Marine base called  L.T.A. (Lighter Than Air). It was in the middle of nowhere in the rural area of Orange County. We lived in a duplex with some folks from Oklahoma. It was here where I got my first schoolin’ on the birds and the bees, and country music. Real country music. Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and such.

Having moved, my new school was University Park, and I was starting the fifth grade with my G.I flat top ( a little dab will do ya). I’ll never forget two teachers there. One was a folk/country music type, the other was into the “British Invasion”. In the morning I got The Kingston Trio, and in the afternoon I got to hear “Paint It Black” by the Rolling Stones. It was funny to me that these teachers who obviously wanted to listen to music would turn it into classroom study. I remember the Stones fanatic asking me (I’m 9 almost 10) after listening to “Paint It Black”, “Joe; What was he trying to say?” “Uh, hum. I’m not, um…” It was quite a difference between parochial school and public.

My best friend in L.T.A. was Frankie Hernandez, he was a chubby Mexican kid. His mom was always in the kitchen making fresh tortillas, and pumping us both full of them. They were incredibly good with peanut butter and jelly. We collected baseball cards together ’cause Frank wasn’t exactly too energetic. My favorite team was the Baltimore Orioles, and my favorite players were the Robinson brothers, though back then I never quite figured out why one was so much darker than the other. They both had the same last name…didn’t matter, they were my favorite players. We saw our first pro baseball game together at the “Big A”.

Then cupid strikes me for the first time. Her name was Rae, and we were to be together forever. Which wasn’t real practical since both of our Dad’s were in the service, and we knew our time together was to be months, but we played along with the charade. She was a great 5th grade girlfriend.

A few other experiences come to mind from this year (1966), recess: “Kill the man with the ball”, it was huge back then. The rules were simple, whoever had the ball had fifty other kids chasing him into the dirt covered play ground, and you wrestled the ball away to see how long you could keep it.

Then a very strange thing happened that Halloween. Some older kids “crucified” a bunch of frogs on telephone poles. Everybody thought they were weirdos after that. They were pretty much shunned from then on. No parents, no police, no school, and for heaven sake no psychiatrist. Just the kids handled it back then.

Everything was going great between me and Rae, had only been in one fight all year which ended with his older sister chasing me home. I wouldn’t hit a girl, and I had already fought three brothers. Fighting in those days was primarily wrestling until somebody cried uncle. But to run home chased by a girl was a bitter pill for my budding ego.

When I got home everybody was crying, and my Mom was holding some papers. I thought, oh no, another transfer. What about Rae? Another six months without Dad. This time was different, it wasn’t just another West Pac tour and transfer. This time, it was War.

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