I'm back from my Dad's 3rd Armored Division Army reunion.
What a week! I hadn't spent five straight days with my father
since I was a teenager at Boy Scout Camp. It was quite an experience.
I'm amazed that my mother lived with the man for more than fifty
years and never once tried to kill him (or herself). My Dad has
both a photographic memory for old jokes, and the uncanny ability
to spot them in everyday life. He also has the gift of gab, though
I'm not really sure that it would rightly be called a gift.
The night before we left for Indianapolis, I stayed with him
at his summer house in Yaphank, NY. Reveille was at oh-three-thirty.
That's 3:30 A.M. to you civilians. My 86-year-old father, who
can no longer read without his glasses and a magnifying glass,
but still has his Florida driver's license, drove us to Islip
Airport in the middle of the night. Surprisingly, I wasn't afraid,
even though it was pitch black and pouring rain, because I couldn't
Somehow, we managed to get to the practically vacant airport
long-term parking lot around 4:30 A.M. We sloshed the couple
hundred feet to the terminal to find that they were only kidding
us about having to be at the airport two hours before our 7 A.M.
flight. The counter wasn't even open yet -- nor was the coffee
My father is a very religious man. While we were waiting in
the airline terminal, he took out his rosary beads to pray. All
the security guards saw this. When we got to the security check
we were both strip-searched before we could get on the plane.
Despite this, the flight to Philadelphia did, still, leave
on time and with us on board. The connecting flight in Philadelphia,
though, was delayed, because of bad weather the day before. We
had a three-hour layover in Philly. We took a shuttle bus from
Terminal F, where we had landed, to Terminal C, where the connecting
flight to Indianapolis would depart. After that, we still had
two and a half hours to kill. My dad loves pancakes, we decided
to find a MacDonald's and have breakfast. Surely, there had to
be a MacDonald's in one of the food courts. There was. However,
it was in terminal A!
The original reason for me to take this trip was because my
father's heart condition made him feel uncomfortable about traveling
alone. My Uncle Leon, who went with him to the reunion held in
Europe last year, was going to go with him again this year, but
he had heart problems of his own and was unable to make it this
year. So, aware of my father's heart problem, but also aware
that we had a lot of time to kill, I asked my Dad if he was up
for a leisurely stroll to the McDonald's in Terminal A. He told
me that he goes to a gym regularly and does 20 minutes on the
treadmill and 20 minutes on the stationary bike every day, so,
he could handle it. It took us almost an hour, because it was
so far away, but we made it there no problem.
On the way back though, Dad tried to stop all of the golf
carts taking handicapped people from one gate to another. He
faked three heart attacks trying to get them to stop. Nobody
stopped. They just rang their little bicycle type bells at him
and sped by.
When we eventually got back to terminal C, we still had plenty
of time before our flight. So, he wandered about our waiting
room asking everyone over 60 if they were going to Indianapolis
for the 3rd Armored Division Reunion. Anybody who wasn't going
to the reunion was regaled with a brief history of the famed
"Spearhead" Division. Finally, though, he found someone
who was taking his grandson to the reunion. We all agree to share
a cab from the airport.
Well, the reunion committee had mentioned something in their
newsletter about an arrangement being made with a local cab company
for a special rate for those people attending the reunion. So,
when we got to the terminal in Indianapolis, my father asked
the girl at the limousine desk where we could find that cab service.
"Right here," she said without missing a beat, and
I knew this girl was a natural for sales. The next thing I knew,
the four of us are riding in a limousine capable of holding an
entire Army platoon. I felt like a rock star.
We drove past the downtown section of Indianapolis, and then
just kept going and going. The hotel seemed to be closer to Chicago
than Indianapolis. Finally, we got to the hotel, and the old
soldiers who were already there saw the size of the stretch limo
and thought a General must be arriving.
The Sheraton hotel we stayed in had two buildings. After checking
in, we wandered up and down the 6th floor for an hour looking
for room 643 before we found out it was in the other building.
Hup-two-three-four. On we marched.
We registered for all the events Dad wanted to attend, and
then found ourselves with time on our hands before the first
event. We had already done enough walking for the day, so we
decided to visit the hotel pool and relax. We changed into our
bathing suits and headed for the 3rd floor pool. When we got
there, we found that it was closed for the day for routine maintenance.
We got back on the elevator which was now full of Dad's old Army
buddies. "How's the pool, Hap?" (That's what my Dad's
friends call him. His initials are H.A.P., Harold A. Paulson.)
"We got thrown out," he tells everyone on the elevator,
as he sees an opening to tell a joke. "The lifeguard caught
my son peeing in the pool and threw us both out." My son
argued that it wasn't fair because everyone occasionally pees
in a pool, but the lifeguard said, "That may be true, but
nobody else does it from the diving board."
Half of his buddies laughed at the joke. The other half gave
me a strange look. Fortunately, we had reached our floor by then.
The week was filled with enjoyable social events, but there
were also many serious moments, such as the memorial service
for the many "Spearheaders" who died during World War
II. A list of their names was posted, and I didn't have time
to count all of them, but I counted over 700 names in just one
Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Armored Division. My father's unit,
the 703rd Tank Destroyers, had 71 guys killed in action. During
the war, my father was lieutenant-in-charge of a platoon of 32
men. Those 32 guys were collectively awarded a total of 64 Purple
Hearts, but only one died. He was Earl R. McCleary, and I was
named after him, even though he was a poor illiterate sharecropper
from Virginia who had absolutely nothing in common with my father
other than that they had gone through Hell together. When I listened
to the stories these guys told me during the week, I thought
of that Billy Ray Cyrus song, "All Gave Some; Some Gave
That's enough of the serious moments. I have a lot more bloopers
Being guests of the hotel gave us privileges to use Bally's
Fitness Center next door. I decided to accompany my dad on his
daily trips to the gym to do the cardiovascular routine prescribed
by his doctor. Since I was there anyway, I figured I'd take advantage
of the machines too, especially after I saw my reflection in
the full-length mirrors on every wall.
I knew from previous experience years ago how to use the Nautilus
equipment, varying the weights to amounts that I could do without
killing myself. I didn't want to push myself too hard, even if
I did need a good workout. After all, I was there to keep an
eye on my dad's health, not create problems with my own. I had
never been on a treadmill before, but I figured I'd give it a
try since walking is one thing I know I'm naturally good at.
So, while Dad did his stretching exercises, I headed for the
It was computer operated, but there was more to it than just
turning it on. I had to use a keyboard to enter all sorts of
data. The machine calculated my target rate based upon factors
such as my weight and age. My target rate was 106 heartbeats
per minute. I pushed the button for an aerobic workout and started
to walk. There were sensors in the machine that automatically
monitor the heart rate, but you have to be wearing some kind
of belt. I wasn't wearing one of those devices, so the machine
just assumed, as a starting point, a normal pulse around 60 or
so and the conveyor belt started. When the machine did not detect
any increase in my pulse rate, after so many seconds, it increased
speed and inclination to help me reach my target heart rate.
So, every testing cycle, the machine would continue to measure
my pulse rate at the same 60 beats per minute and determine that
I was not yet expending enough energy to produce an effective
workout and automatically increased both speed and elevation.
Before long I was on a machine going 90 degrees straight uphill
at the speed of sound - that sound being my screaming as I did
my best imitation of a Vonage "stupid things people do"
On Saturday my father and I headed for a post-workout dip
in the pool, only to find that the pool was once again closed.
This time some kid pooped in the pool. We got back on the elevator
and another group of Army buddies suddenly became the audience
my father needed for the chance to tell the same exact diving
board joke another time. I pictured my Mom in Heaven rolling
her eyes, shaking her head, and saying "That's Harold."
Since Dad and I now had time on our hands, we changed out
of our bathing attire and went to the Spearhead hospitality room
for a beer. Sure enough, as soon as we got there, Dad told all
the guys who asked him why he wasn't in the pool, that we had
gotten thrown out because I took a dump from the diving board.
(Author's note. The pool was only 5 feet deep at the deepest
end and didn't even have a diving board.)
On our way home from the reunion, Dad was at the flight gate
again praying his rosary. Now, London had just been hit by four
terrorist attacks the day before. Everyone in the waiting room
who was watching him was getting nervous. So, he was strip-searched
again. This time they let me go, but I noticed that they kept
an eye on me.
Boarding the flight home on the Philadelphia-to-Islip leg,
my father and I were sitting in the aisle across from one another.
A pretty coed is sitting next to me. The seat next to my father
is vacant. Then just before takeoff time a middle-aged woman
comes up the aisle with a huge potted plant. Naturally, she has
the window seat next to my father. Instantly, he starts making
conversation with her. I turned to him and said, "I did
what I could to make sure you stayed alive the last five days,
but if you tell this lady I pooped in the hotel pool, I'm going
to strangle you right here on this plane."
Get well soon, Uncle Leon. (Please.)
Peace and Love, and all of the above,