Monday, July 28, 2014

An old Army Buddy ~ My Column from Sunday's paper

A dream last night about an old Army buddy sparked an idea for this week’s column. We haven't talked in over 20 years, but I think about him often.

Doug McGraw and I transitioned out of the Army in early spring 1973. I moved back home that spring and tried to find work so I could begin the next phase of my life. The phone rang one evening and my mom answered it. She chatted with someone for a while before calling me to the phone. It’s your friend Doug.

“Why don’t you come visit? The weather’s nice here in Virginia, and there’s a lot to see,” he said. That sounded like a great idea. I packed my duffel bag with a change of clothes, and fetched what money I had from between the pages of mama’s Bible. The only fly in the ointment was I didn't have a car.

The next morning I walked down the hill from our house to the main road and stuck out my thumb. Hitchhiking can be a tricky business and I'd mentally prepared myself for a long wait, but after a few minutes, a Lincoln Continental slowed. The gravel crunched under the tires as he steered off the road. The automatic glass on the passenger side whispered down and the driver leaned over to size me up through the open window. “Where are you headed?” he asked.  I told him I was on my way to visit an Army buddy in Virginia. “You're in luck. Throw your bag in the back and hop in,” he said.

As it turns out, the traveling salesman was ex-military and he was heading through Virginia on a sales call. He drove me to my friend’s front door. It was serendipity.

One of the things that brought Doug and me together in the first place was music. I played guitar, and he wanted to learn.

Often when someone thinks they want to play guitar, they see themselves in a room of adoring fans that shout out requests for the old songs that everyone knows and loves. The luster quickly fades when the tips of their fingers blister as if they were burned. This is when most people stop practicing. Soon their guitars are stored in the corner behind the exercise bike.

But Doug was different. He understood the price he'd have to pay and agreed to take the mangled fingers like a Marine. The hurt would be temporary, but the gift of music would be life long. So one weekend while visiting Fort Sherman, I went with him to buy his first guitar.

It was a long holiday weekend, and on Friday afternoon, we sat down to begin the guitar lessons.

We started with finger positions on the basic chords G-C and D. You can play practically any old country standard with these three chords.  He was a quick study and he “manned up” when his fingertips got tender.

We stayed up from Friday until Monday afternoon by swigging beer and chasing it with mess hall coffee.   We spent a lot of time that weekend laughing, cursing, and having the time of our lives.

By the time he boarded the train to head the 50 miles back to Fort Clayton, our heads were buzzing, his fingers were bleeding, and we were walking zombies, but he knew all the basic chords, and could play any song that Hank Williams ever wrote.

I plan to call Doug tonight to catch up on old times. Hopefully we can plan a road trip and meet somewhere in the middle. I'd love to brew some coffee, tune our guitars, and play music all night.

Zennia Art


  1. This sounds like fun Rick... I look forward the blog post about it down the road ;-)

  2. Anonymous10:51 PM

    I think you could be friends with ANYONE!!

  3. Friends gained in the military are surely friends gained for life...

    I had lost all contact with my Air Force buddies until a few years ago when I was looking up something on Wikipedia regarding one of the old AF bases I had been stationed at when I noticed that a familiar name had edited some of the Wikipedia information. And it was the name of one of my favorite old Air Force buddies. I eventually chased down an email address for him and we made contact and are now in frequent contact via email.

    I'm sure you can relate to the joy and comfort in re-establishing that relationship. I felt extremely fortunate and lucky in finding him because there are a large number of folks my age who never warmed up to computers which are huge assets in locating old friends these days but those friends have to be connected to the technology.

  4. A great story and I hope that you two connect again for old time sake. It's awesome to see someone after all the years like a high school reunion. Some change and some never age.

  5. It is so good to remember (better to see) the old military buddies. Of all my friends, I see two on a yearly basis. I do not have the music to tie us together, wish I did, but it is still good.

    Yeah I tried the guitar once. Cheap $3 guitar, strings 1/2" off the frets, I had no idea how hard it was. I was a trumpet player. You use one hand the other just holds. You guys with the guitars make both hands do different things at the same time, my mind couldn't learn that. hahaha. And yes, we non players always want to hear 'ONE MORE".(smile) Good article.

  6. Friends we've made in the past and shared so many good times and maybe a few not so good times with are great! Those shared memories become the glue that holds the friendship together over the span of many years.

  7. A great story I liked it and it sounds like fun was had

  8. A memory to enjoy over and over again. Keep the phone calls going.


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