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By Earl Paulson

  Web Editor's Note: This is a part-humorous, part-serious "must read" for anyone who knows Hap Paulson personally or knows him through his Army-related poetry. The author is the oldest son of Harold "Hap" Paulson (703rd TD Bn & 3AD Association Poet Laureate). In this true and often side-splitting story, Earl writes of events surrounding the trip he made with his father to the Association Reunion in July, 2005, in Indianapolis. This work first appeared in Earl's personal newsletter called "Earl's Wearld" and then in the Association Newsletter in Sept., 2005.


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 see either.

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 shop.

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 All."

That's enough of the serious moments. I have a lot more bloopers to share.

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 fancy machine.

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" commercial.

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,


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