An Amputee and Adopted Child: a Winner in Olympics and Life

Jessica Long paralympic ChampionJessica Long, winner of twelve paralympic swimming championships has been featured on a number of recent documentaries during the Winter Olympics at Sochi 2014 that videotaped her and her sister when they traveled back to Russia to trace her birthplace and family. Long was named Tatiana Olegovna Kirillova when born and spent her first year at Irkutsk in an orphanage, an 18-hour train trip from her birth-place of Bratsk, before her adopted parents brought her to Baltimore, Maryland.

One is NBC's 20-minute Long Way Home: The Jessica Long Story, that shows her and her sister on their trip to Russia and to meet her birth parents, brothers, and sisters since adopted when 13 months old by her American parents. The build up of this moment of truth for Jessica and her birth family in their tiny home in Russia 7,000 miles away, was filled with anticipation and uncertainty. Jessica wondered as a child what her mother looked like, and didn’t want her or any of her Russian family to feel she had any anger for being placed in an adoption home. The mother gave birth to her when only sixteen, and the couple simply could not afford the expensive operations necessary to give Jessica a chance in life. Jessica made sure to inform them she was so happy the adoption was a wonderful success and wanted to share it with everyone.

When the moment arrived that her mother hurried from her door to greet Jessica, she placed kiss after kiss on her face, hugged her, and tears flowed from joy of an unforgettable reunion 21 years in the making.Her father, a sturdy man with crew cut, hugged and kissed her, red eyes watering from emotion, and then the sisters and brothers all joined in the greeting that completed a circle of uncertainty, anxiety, and finally into an ecstatic release of pent-up energy. Any observer will enjoy these embraces that celebrated the lives of all involved, especially Jessica’s remarkable journey from that tiny child in the adoption home surrounded by others wondering if anyone would come to welcome them into a new family, or leave them because of a disability.

The Baltimore Long family carefully guided Jessica wherever her passion for physical exercise and sport would lead. Gymnastics, running with prosthetics were early options but swimming was by w0far Jessica’s favorite and she fell madly in love with the sport. Long was named Tatiana Olegovna Kirillova when born and spent her first year at Irkutsk in an orphanage, an 18-hour train trip from her birth-place of Bratsk, before her adopted parents brought her to Baltimore, Maryland.

Jessica had a double leg amputation when 18 months old as she was born with fibular hemimelia. The lower part of Long's legs were amputated when she was 18 months old but despite the disability she loved swimming and was determined to succeed and did, as she became a Paralympic champion twelve times. After learning to walk on prosthesis she went on to become a Paralympic medalist 17 times.

She won gold in the S8 100 meters and 400m freestyle as well as 4x100m freestyle in 2004 at Athens and at Beijing won in 100m and 400m freestyle, 100m butterfly and 200m individual medley in 2008.

Her Paralympic titles in 100m and 400m freestyle, 100m butterfly, 100m breaststroke and the 200m individual medley followed at London in 2012. With 13 world records, Long is a two-time US Paralympic Sports Woman of the Year. The following videos can be viewed below. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-ysDS5SjCs

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WiDI1civr9A http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-ysDS5SjCs

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Maryland Fifth Grade Adventures 1950: BB guns, Baseball, Boxing, and Scientists Cliffs

BB Pistol        

We had a target range in the basement of our Chevy Chase home for BB rifles and pistols Dad bought Chip and me. Dad marked off the distance where we should stand and gave us a safety lesson that included never pointing a loaded gun at anything living.

Scientist CliffsTarget for BB gun          

Chip and I spent many hours shooting at thick paper targets with a bull’s eye marked on it with ever widening circles to the end of the target. One day Chip teased me so hard about not being as good a shot as he, “Stop teasing or I’ll quit,” I said.

“You’re a sissy, can’t beat me, and want to leave like a baby.”

“I’m not a sissy. Don’t call me that.”

“You’re a sissy. What are you going to do about it?”

“Don’t ever call me a sissy again.”

“You’re a sissy. Danny is a sissy. What are you going to do about it?”

“Maybe I’ll shoot you if you keep it up.”

“You better not or Dad will take your pistol away, sissy.” Chip grabbed my BB pistol from my hand but I had too good a grip for him to take it.

“Get your hands off my pistol or I'll shoot.”

“You wouldn’t. You're chicken.”

“Get your hands off I said.”

“Sissy Chicken. Sissy Chicken.”

BOOM THUD!

“Ouch!”

His unbelieving eyes and shocked expression met mine and I ran upstairs to escape retaliation. A small BB lodged in Chip’s hand. Silently, he came upstairs, tended his wound with iodine, and put a Band-Aid on the surface scratch that had made its point. He realized he went over the line with me. I was taught not point the gun at any person and was embarrassed by my loss of control. For the first time I had asserted myself against Chip when he acted like a bully. That opportunity never occurred before nor did I ever have in my power such an opportunity. Scary what a gun in a boy’s hands can do. Dad removed the BB guns to penalize us.

Our cousins Lew, Phil and Nance Groebe, visited us the next week during summer when their parents drove them from Chicago. Dad rented a large cabin in a private community called Scientist’s Cliffs on Chesapeake Bay an hour and a half away.

Scientist Cliffs Maryland        

A community house, swimming pool, tennis courts, fishing, athletic fields, parkland, and community gardens were there for us to enjoy. Scientists' Cliffs comprise 276 acres of the Calvert Cliffs, which rim 25 miles of the Chesapeake Bay's western shore. Towering up to 130 feet above water level, the Cliffs contained exposed marine fossil deposits from the Miocene period, when the area and much of Maryland was covered by a shallow sea. We swam, fished, found prehistoric shark's teeth, and played with other vacationers as well as the locals. I brought my baseball glove, bat, a football, and a few balls to play catch.

While on a short hike exploring I noticed older kids playing a softball game. After awhile I asked a boy close to my age, “Do you need any good players?”

Scientists Cliffs field for tennis and softball        

“Sure. My name is Tommy. What position do you play?”

“Any position you need.”

My new friend introduced me to his teammates saying, “This guy Danny can play softball good.”

The captain looked at me with my bat and glove. “Danny, play left field. You bat fifth up after Tommy.” When the other team took the field, their pitcher whipped fast underhand pitches warming up trying to intimidate us as the sunshine glinted off the fresh cut grass at noon with its fresh smell. They wore orange, black, and yellow Baltimore Oriole hats and were in the fifth grade—I was in fourth and wore a pin-striped Washington Senator’s cap with a large "W" on the front. As I came up with two outs and two on base, their huge first baseman with pot-belly teased, “The Senators suck.” I hid my enmity, but was distracted.

“Ball one,” said the ump as the ball whizzed by me high.

Remembering Sam Mele’s coaching, “Always be ready for the first good pitch,” my eyes glued on the next one that came down the middle. SMACK! My line-drive went over the shortstop’s head in the gap between the outfielders driving in two runs and I slid smiling into second in a cloud of dust with a double.

After an hour the game ended. Contributing to his team’s victory with a few hits and running catches of hard hit fly balls that could have been home runs, I was glad they thanked me for joining them. Although the Orioles were a minor league team, it made no sense to rag kids who looked up to them.

“Do you know how to box?” Tommy said after the game.

“Sure, my Dad taught me to box my older brother.”

“Boxing is my favorite sport. Come over to my house and box a round. I have the gloves for both of us.”

Looking at him again a little worried he might knock me out, “I really haven’t boxed for years.”

“I’ll show you how to box for fun.”

He was a good athlete, a little bigger, older, and stronger, but I thought maybe it would be fun. “OK show me.”

“I’ve taught lots of kids to box because my Dad taught me how to defend myself. I box in competitions.”

These words frightened me even more. Not wanting him to think I was a chicken, I could not back down. We walked to his house where he took me to his room. “Head gear will protect you and the gloves are soft,” he said handing them to me.

“Yeah, they are soft.”

“Put on your head gear and follow me to a ring my Dad fixed in the back yard.”  My heart pounded as he was a serious trained boxer about to pound me.

Scientists Cliffs tough Boxer boy        

“OK Danny, stand there in that corner and I'll start here in my corner. When I ring the bell we have three minutes to box and then the bell will ring stopping the round. Return to your corner when you hear the bell.”

“Aren’t you going to teach me to box first?”

“Come on Danny. The best way to see what you need is to watch you box. After that I’ll teach you how to improve.” DONG rang the starting bell and out he charged at me eyes bulging with confidence like a bull-dog to a poodle. Holding my boxing gloves up in a defensive stance, I was determined to give him a good fight. He jabbed me twice with his left hand that I warded off. I threw a hard punch at him that he ducked and swung a mighty upper cut that caught my chin sending sweat and saliva in the air. CRACK…. Stars burst in my head and my body crumpled to the ground—head throbbing and mind spinning. No one had ever hit me so hard in the face. The gloves seemed to have added power to the blow, but at least there was no trace of blood, just hurt, watching from below.

“I can’t box you. I haven’t learned to defend myself.”

“Don’t give up. You need to protect your chin and face from any punch wherever it comes from. Get up.”

“Don’t punch me again like that. You knocked me out.”

“I always knock out anyone who fights me. Then I teach them to box. Don’t you want to learn?”

“Yeah,” came out my sore mouth. BLAM and down my body fell from a punch that landed on the right side of my face from a “hay-maker.” As I got up he attacked tenaciously with his left fist against my left cheek smashing it against my nose. My head was reeling. Dizzy and sweating, blood dripped from my nose into my mouth. I struggled to rise and charged him like a football player would before tackling someone. He dodged and hit me on the side of my head with another brutal punch, but the head gear cushioned the blow and then the bell rang. We sat in opposite corners. Heavy breathing and sweating revealed I was a fish out of water.

After a minute the bell started the next round. Staggering, I came at him again jabbing with my left. He blocked each whack and pummeled me with two heavy blows to the forehead. Back-peddling, I led with a  hard right when he approached. He backed off long enough for me lunge and I socked him hard on the side of his face, SMACK...that made him smile. He enjoyed pain! The bell finally rang. Feeling hurt in many places, sweating profusely, and red-faced, I was unsteady and bewildered. It seemed like we had been fighting for fifteen minutes, not six. “You’re the best boxer I ever met. I need to rest.”

“Get some water and in a minute we’ll go another round.”

The battle taught me to have a healthy respect for boxing, but I was so over-matched it would have been foolish to let him pummel me anymore. “My Dad allowed me two hours to play softball and I've been gone three. Thanks for showing me how to box. Can you ever hit hard!”

“OK, but you should practice and learn to defend yourself.”

Glad to have survived a boxing test as a 10 year old subjected to teasing, but not clouts to the face that brought blood, I was left with a splitting headache. Tommy used my face as a target pulverizing me relentlessly. Was life punishing me for shooting Chip with a BB pistol? Does Karma balance the cruelty in the world? Tommy was a brute I had no intention of emulating. His depraved smirk when my right fist connected with his face revealed the savage inside one could feed or reject for a compassionate life Grandma Ruthie taught. "One reaps what they sow," she often said.

When I returned to our rental, Lew and Phil were taunting Chip about his interest in a girl they called, “Red Mouth,” causing him to blush and feel victimized.

“Chip, I'm sorry I shot you with a BB,” I said with a smile.

“Let's play catch,” he said, grabbing a football grinning.

Lew and Phil joined as we threw friendly spirals to each other. “Sammy Baugh throws another Redskin's TD,”I said when Chip caught my pass. He spun around and fired one to Lew.

Snagging the pigskin, he turned and connected with  Duke, “Johnny Lujack hits Ed Sprinkle  and the Bears win the game,” he said as Phil sped under it. Camaraderie between cousins replaced petty tension when deflected.

“Come and get it,” said Dad ten minutes later. He and Uncle Lewis had prepared a BBQ and planned an evening of magic tricks and card games.  We joined them, Val, and cousin Nance as they served ribs, steaks, corn-on-the-cob from the grill, and a salad. It was good to return to civilization.

Scientist Cliff's Sunset      

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Annapolis 40th Reunion for the Class of 1964 Part II

  • The famous Tailgate for the Navy Football team’s Homecoming celebration preceded the game against Delaware University. On a spectacular day, like many a perfect fall Saturday for any outdoor activity, with a clear blue sky and seventy-five degree weather, the tree leaves glistened with sparkling red, yellow, and shades of brown hues this glorious day, so different from our first drizzling grey experience upon arrival.

(Annapolis walking up Main Street toward State Circle: Click on all photos to expand)

Andy Douglas and his wife, Barbara, joined us for a walk through the city to the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. We purchased the tickets from another roommate of mine, Mike Pemberton, who had to offer them to the first buyer when he couldn’t make the Reunion.  Mike was trying to sell his house in Ventura, California and had unexpected delays. He and I communicated to arrange the transfer and ever since became golfing friends.

(Famous Naval Academy Tailgate Shuckers of Oysters)

Eventually we arrived at the Stadium and walked directly to the most amazing Tailgate ever. Under large white canvas canopies, tables with everything you might expect at ritzy Hotel Del Coronado stood inviting everyone. In the middle people hovered alongside a huge salad bar with strawberries, blueberries, cantaloupe, melon, bananas, mangoes, kiwi, pineapple, apples, oranges lettuce, olives, radishes, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, avocado, red peppers, bacon chips, walnuts, and a wide selection of salad dressings. At the end of the salad bar at least a hundred Bloody Mary cocktails stood waiting for takers at a table where many classmates sipped them mingling with the crowd. Caterers constantly replaced the tall concoctions with celery, olives and horseradish as they disappeared.

(Sumptuous offerings of the Tailgate)

So many classmates from other companies appeared I met friends I had not seen for forty years. Next to the Bloody Mary table, a man in a Budweiser uniform dispensed ice cold Bud Light or Michelob into convenient sixteen-ounce paper cups. To the right outside of the canopy three caterers shucked raw oysters they pulled from barrels of ice. The aroma of roasted garlic, fresh herbs, and oysters fusing into rich chowder lingered beside the shuckers in huge vats. A table with Styrofoam soup bowls stood alongside with plastic spoons, forks, and knives.

(Tables under Tarpaulin for Class of 64 Tailgaters)

A carving table for prime rib roast beef, smoked turkey, and spiral honey glazed ham stood on the other side of the salad bar with a table alongside for rye, wheat, and sourdough bread. All the condiments appeared alongside stacks of paper plates and napkins. Another covered area had more than fifty circular tables that sat eight tailgaters. The next table contained soft drinks, lemonade, ice tea, coffee, and stacks of plastic cups. Across the way, an open bar with bottles of red, rosé, and white wine invited all comers. Another table with vodka, gin, bourbon, scotch, and rum with stood next to another full of mixers and ice where many tailgaters gathered with drinks.

(Kathy and Rich Umfrid enjoy ice cream bars for dessert)

Ray Snyder I knew from the Academy baseball team, sat at a table nearby. He attended Long Beach Millikan High and played halfback on the football team and second base on their baseball team. Having tackled him many times as the safety for Long Beach Jordan after he broke away from our lineman, we had much to discuss. Fast, muscular, and always full of energy during a game and cool, calm and collected afterwards, Ray played any sport with intensity and great skill. He mentioned he had served as a Marine and lived in San Diego area. “Are you going to play in the alumni softball game with the other baseball players in our class?” he asked.

“I didn’t receive an invitation and know nothing about it.”

“That makes no sense. I’ll see what I can do to get you on our softball team. I can’t believe what an incredible Plebe baseball season you had. You hit everything they threw at you Plebe year!”

“Yeah, I had a great year then but after that I had to deal with Joe.”

“Joe never gave me any trouble.”

“I know you did well under him, but he got under my skin until I finally couldn’t stand it anymore and eventually quit.”

“Look me up when you are in San Diego and we’ll play some golf.”

“You can find me at the Lowe’s if you find out I can play ball.”

Joan and I carried our plates full of oysters, roast beef, and salad with Bloody Mary’s in hand when I noticed another baseball player,Chuck Pinney, seated at a nearby table, “Hey Chuck, remember me?”

“Yeah Dan, how could I forget. I just told someone Roger Staubach beat me out of an outfield position on the baseball team that wasn’t too bad. How’re you doing?”

“I’m feeling very fine right now. This is my wife, Joan.”

“Glad to meet you Joan, I knew Dan on the baseball team.”

“Well, we’re going to sit over there with some of my 20th company classmates. Good to see you again.”As we made it to a table with Charles and Elisabeth Heath, I had to laugh about Chuck’s remark, he had such a “gung-ho” attitude that made him a natural for the Marine Corps.

(Naval Academy Cheerleaders held up high Singing and Yelling Cheers)

Halfway into our meal the Naval Academy Cheerleaders arrived to energize the alumni with a strong dose of Navy spirit in preparation for the Delaware game an hour from starting. Shapely and attractive female midshipmen, or should it be midshipwomen, performed admirably making me glad they had advanced into areas only men previously filled. Their hard sensual bodies made me wonder how smooth the transition first occurred.

(Lon Cooke Shouting a word of Encouragement Looking for Seats before Game)

Since that time, unfortunately, a number of Naval Academy Midshipmen, like Air Force Academy, and West Point Cadets, had sexually abused some women. That criminal behavior ended in severe discipline and expulsion from the Academies for some and at least one criminal prosecution. Regardless of that dark side of the relationship, these cheerleaders seemed a welcome addition to the fighting spirit of the Naval Academy Football Team. They performed a pre-game series of acrobatic maneuvers and rousing cheers and songs. When they concluded we gave them a standing ovation.

(Naval Academy Choir Warming up before Football Game)

Harmonic voices drifted through the stadium from it’s loudspeaker system magnifying the men’s choir singing“The Star Spangled Banner” a cappella. Since I belonged to two choirs and loved singing, I quickly moved to a location close enough to see the singers. The Naval Academy Choir, stood behind their director, warming up for the game, and began by singing Navy Blue and Gold. Their rendition sung with feeling in four-part harmony sent chills down my spine. They measured up to my highest expectations as I moved even closer with Joan.

(Navy Mascot Billy The Goat with Handlers before Game)

The sound of drums in cadence with the Naval Academy Marching Band signaled the Brigade had entered the stadium. The crowd had nearly filled the stadium, so Andy, Barbara, Joan and I made our way to the end zone with the alumni. By the time we found our seats through the crowd, the Brigade had filled half of the football field. We watched the precision of the midshipmen making their column right maneuver to the end of the next available portion of the football field.

(Brigade Beginning a Column Left Maneuver before Game)

Each company filed in one by one until all twenty-four filled the field. On command, they shouted in unison a cheer to beat their opponent for today’s game, the Delaware University Blue Hens. That name should not fool anyone into thinking Navy faced a weak team. First in the Atlantic-10 Conference, they had won six of their seven games and led East Coast colleges sending many graduates to the National Football League.

(Brigade Facing Choir and Home Crowd before Game)

After shouting a cheer for Navy, the Brigade on the next command made a classy about-face in unison. They acknowledged the Delaware supporters with a cheer for the Blue Hens followed by tipping their white dress caps toward the opposing fans. Joan mentioned she had never seen such an act of good sportsmanship at any football games she attended in Chicago or at the University of Florida. After the game went back and forth with neither team dominating the score, half time intervened.

By the time the players returned to the field a group of huge Delaware fans some said were their freshman team because of their size, lined up behind the alumni section. They loudly screamed for their team during the most of the third quarter. Some of them made snide and obscene remarks to the alumni fans that offended a few who had more than enough alcohol to challenge them verbally from their seats. Many of us yelled back remarks to their solid line of brutes abusing us with obnoxious taunts to everyone in the Navy end zone section.

Fortunately, Navy got a few breaks, made some good runs and passes to win the game 34-20 overwhelming the Blue Hens and silencing the despicable hoodlums standing behind us. The Brigade with the Naval Academy Choir and Band played and sang with Navy fans standing, a traditional song the midshipmen sing at the end of every football game:

(Naval Academy Choir Singing the National Anthem Facing Brigade)

NAVY BLUE AND GOLD

Now, colleges from sea to sea

May sing of colors true.

But who has better right than we

To hoist a symbol hue?

For sailors brave in battle fair

Since fighting days of old

Have proved a sailor's right to wear

The Navy Blue and Gold.

GO NAVY – BEAT ARMY!

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Early Shades of Conscience and a Conversation/Confrontation with Dad

 

(Dan when a Freshman at Duke with Chip at the Naval Academy; click to expand)

Each NROTC midshipman had to swear allegiance to the United States Constitution and to follow the orders of superior military officers to protect our country against all enemies, foreign, and domestic. He must agree willingly, and not under any force or coercion.

The coercion from my Dad’s pressure about the decision made matters worse. Time was closing in on me. In twenty-four hours, I had to pursue an eight-year contract, or drop out. Recalling the professor on the train to Florida who said the National Guard could shoot civilians at civil rights demonstrations when they refused to follow police orders,  made me feel a dread the Navy would soon own me. These thoughts crashed into my mind and left me in a sweat in bed that evening.

The next morning my meeting with the counselor occurred. “Follow your conscience,” he said after interviewing me at length. “Only you can make your own life’s choices. No one should feel they must do what their father wants. Consider what your father and family will think and all the alternatives.”Then he looked me squarely in the eye like my grandmother would when anyone she loved faced a serious life decision. “Many parents believe they owe their sons and daughters a good education without coercion about choice of study, but not all can afford Duke, so it makes an NROTC scholarship desirable,” he offered placing the ball in my court.

Staring out into space as if my mind had encountered an impenetrable fog, I realized he understood my dilemma. Mortified and unnerved, “Thanks. You’ve helped me,” I said.

Considering my options on my knees, I discussed them with Steve, and decided to change my life’s course. The pre-ministerial program offered me the best option and that left open the possibility of baseball if I excelled at Duke.

 

(Duke Chapel at West Campus)

An hour before the swearing in ceremony I arrived at the NROTC office. “I can’t attend the ‘swearing in ceremony’ due to religious beliefs, will enter the pre-ministerial program, and drop my NROTC scholarship,” I said to the officer in charge.

“Are you sure?” he asked with a quizzical look.

“Absolutely.”

His expression became stern, “You must speak with your father before the ceremony and report the outcome to me.”

During the next thirty minutes I wrote a script of what I should say to Dad, knowing he would try to change my mind and criticize me. Shaking from nerves, I called the Commanding Officer of Military Sea Transportation Service in Washington, D.C.“Captain Lavery will answer from his office,” an office worker said.

(Captain Richard J. Lavery, Jr. USN)

(Click to expand)

“Hello, Dan.”

“Dad, I’ve decided to drop my NROTC scholarship…

“You did what?” blasted my ears from Dad’s shrill interruption.

…and enroll in the pre-ministerial program at Duke.”

Outraged, he tried to interrupt, but I continued my first sentence.

“Why have you done this immature thing?”

Taking a deep breath and trying to sound calm and rational, but with my hands and legs shaking, and my voice wavering with emotion, “I prayed about this decision, Dad.”

“You’re throwing away a future as a naval officer.”

“An adviser warned me of the consequences.”

“Have you lost your mind?”

“He felt sure you wouldn’t support my decision.”

“This is unacceptable.”

I took a breath, “He emphasized I should follow my conscience.”

“You’re about to make the worst decision of your young life,” Dad said in a gasp.

“He warned me I would face criticism for waiting so long.”

“Damn it Danny, you’ll live to regret this.”

“He said I should do what I want to do in my life; not what anybody else wants.”

“The hell with him. You mustn’t do this.”

“I’m sorry I led you to believe a naval career was what I wanted for my future.”

“Do you understand me?"

“I know you and Chip chose the Navy.”

“You can’t do this.”

“The Duke Football team pays for my meals.”

“You’ll be throwing away an extremely valuable scholarship.”

“I’ll only need to pay for my books and room.”

“You’ll cost me money I don’t have.”

“Please accept I’ve made up my mind.”

“I can’t afford Duke.”

“Duke will pay my tuition.”

“You must reconsider now before it’s too late.”

“I have to make my own choice.”

“You’ll cost me much more than you think.”

“I have decided.”

“You’re acting selfish.”

“The officer in charge stated I had to speak to you...

“You’ll regret this for the rest of your life.”

…before I inform him of my final decision.”

“Take out a piece of paper.”

“I’m sorry you don’t agree with me …”

“Write the cost to me of everything caused by you dropping the scholarship.”

“…but, I’ve made the decision.”

“No, I won’t accept this.”

“I’m going to inform him I’ve spoken to you…”

“You’ve made a very foolish decision.”

“…and you’re not happy with it…”

“You’ll regret this.”

“…But I’ve decided what I must do.”

“How could you throw away this scholarship?”

“I must leave now as the ceremony begins shortly.”

“Danny, Don’t…”

“Goodbye, Dad, I have to go.”

Turning and walking to the officer in charge, I said shaking from my father’s attack, “I have told my father of my decision to drop the NROTC scholarship.” His angry expression told me to leave his office.

“Very well Mr. Lavery, I’m sure a happy replacement will fill your spot. Stay here for awhile. You must sign papers to make your decision official.”

My body trembled as I signed the documents. Running to my dorm to release the stress, I informed Steve of the conversation. He tried to help calm me down, but waiting until the last minute made the situation as bad as possible. Unequipped to buck Dad’s plans for me until an intelligent counselor focused my mind to face the consequences, I felt confident the NROTC was not right for me and needed to explore my options without Dad’s coercion. Abandoned by my father when I had finally asserted myself to follow my conscience against his plan for me, I was still unsure of my future. To the officer in charge and my father, I had disrupted the routine of the conveyer belt that moved military men into endless mechanical motions before they had a chance to grasp their freedom. Now my future would depend on my decisions as I had dodged an eight year train to the military life.

Dad wrote a series of nasty letters to me from that day for the next two months. The first three demanded details for every dime he had to pay from my decision. He referred to me as immature, unable to make decisions, unstable, and a failure. The barrage came at a time I needed to take charge of my future, prepare for an adventure in advanced academics, seek intellectual stimulation, and embrace personal discovery. Instead, he bombarded me with critical letters and phone calls repeating the drumbeat of my failings. After grueling football practices, I was depressed instead of enthusiastic.

(Click twice to read: Post card to Grampa after Duke Finals,Note in the Duke Paper about varsity baseball prospects, and Dan at Athens the next month as Merchant Marine)

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Tom Preaches in Japan, I’m Hooked, and some Wiser Perspectives

 

(Dan #13 QB for YoHi Football Team 1955-6 and Sophomore Class Officer; click to zoom)

The 1955 YoHi Football team selected Tom and Roy Busby co-captains. Tom was also the president of the YoHi student body. Since he had played quarterback at his Texas high school, he worked on my passing, laterals, and fakes until I was the first team quarterback. John Lynn was our fastest halfback and Chip played fullback. Tom played a passing and running halfback who chose all the plays to run in the huddle. At the end of the month Tom indoctrinated me into fundamental Christianity. He told me I had to have a personal relationship with Jesus as he did. With an “A” average, Tom was the most influential and physical of all the football players with a gregarious personality. He could throw a perfect spiral sixty yards whether on the run, while jumping in the air, or poised straight up like Joe Namath. No one but John Lynn beat him in wind sprints despite his bulk. An articulate speaker, he could maintain an argument and persuade anyone on many subjects. He invited me to spend the night at his house, so we could have a “heart to heart talk.” After football practice, I ate dinner with his family, and then he took me to his room. He pulled out a ragged Bible. “Danny, have you been saved?” “What do you mean, ‘saved’?” “Have you taken Jesus Christ as your personal savior?” “I’ve been baptized in the Baptist Church, read the Bible with my mother, and always attend Sunday school. I’ve memorized the Lord’s Prayer, asked for forgiveness for my sins, and pray to God to bless those I love every night.” “You don’t understand. I asked whether you had taken Jesus Christ as your personal savior. I’ll take you through the gospels slowly to show you exactly what I mean.” Tom opened the King James Version of the Gospel and read in his forceful voice a few verses from the Book of John. He explained the teachings of Jesus in a simple and enthusiastic way. I always had difficulty understanding some of the religious dogma about the blood of Jesus, a sacrificial lamb that somehow washed away the sins of believers, but Tom’s explanations were not confusing. After a few hours he looked at me, “What have you learned from our readings?” “The Sermon on the Mount meant the most to me. Jesus cared passionately for the poor, the disabled and downtrodden of the world. He urged humanity to lay down their weapons, love their neighbors, and their enemies. I want to follow his example.” “That’s a beginning,” Tom said nodding his head, “But you haven’t taken seriously the challenge to live the life of a born-again Christian, nor known all the teachings of Jesus. Reading the Bible will show you the path to eternal life. You can find salvation only if you have a personal relationship with Jesus. He’s here in this room with us now, waits for you to join the believers who pray to him, and wants you to make him your own personal savior.” Tom chose Bible verses for me to read aloud, asked me what the words meant, and guided me through the ancient language until I started to understand. After three hours, we had gone through much of the Book of John. He explained the Trinity, eternal damnation in the fires of Hell for unbelievers, and indoctrinated me in fundamental Christianity. I appreciated the explanations from a respected mentor. The experience enlightened me to mysteries I had never understood. Tom’s genuine concern for me, and his guidance during our encounter changed my perspective on how I should conduct my life. He persuaded me to join a Bible study group, pray to God often, and commit to a life in imitation of Christ’s example. “Let’s pray together,” he said. We knelt down, and he prayed, “Dear Lord, please bless Danny with your presence from today on. Help him understand your Word and how to live a Christian life. I ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen. Close your eyes and let the power of Jesus change your life as he has done for millions of people. He performed miracles that healed the sick, brought back the dead to life, will forgive your sins, and make you whole. Ask our Lord and Savior now.” I thought about having had sex with a prostitute, bowed my head in prayer, asked God to forgive me for my sins, and invited Jesus to come into my life. Tom’s concern motivated me to change my life’s purpose. A warm inexplicable spiritual feeling filled me.

That weekend Tom took me to a Billy Graham revival to hear the famous evangelical preacher who had just arrived in Japan for his Crusade for Christ. Reverend Graham gave a passionate sermon that lasted an hour at a church in Yokohama. He emphasized many of the points Tom had made, but in Graham’s own persuasive style, spiced with Biblical references. Billy made me feel like a sinner bound for Hell, as Tom had done. When Billy asked new Christians to publicly dedicate their lives to Jesus, I walked down the aisle as a newly “saved” Christian, assured not to suffer the eternal fires of damnation. From that day on while in Japan, I read from the New Testament an hour daily and memorized verses that inspired me as Tom suggested. Trying to act as Jesus would in whatever situation faced me, I began to transform into a new Christian.

(Dan guard on YoHi Varsity Basketball Team 1956 click to zoom)

First off the bench on the varsity basketball team as a guard, I occasionally made an impact with a set-shot, rebound, speed, and a drive to the basket. At Nagoya I buried a shot from the left sideline and followed Degelman after a missed layup for a tip-in that was close to a slam-dunk. On the train ride back a student revealed a horrible tragedy when a key player had stuck his head out a train window and was beheaded by a sign before our game. “The Japanese trains race rapidly through narrow tunnels and their signs are close to the tracks,” he said warning us with tears in his eyes.

Jon Lynn, Pinky Hart, and Dave Degelman led the team in scoring as we won nearly all our games until the Far East tournament. Okinawa was the favorite to win and visited us at Yokohama for the championship game. During warm-ups Marion Choate moved under me waiting for a rebound and I came down awkwardly on his foot. My ankle turned violently. The pain hit me like a spike driven into the ligament. In agony and disappointment I could only watch the game from the sidelines. We lost in a hard-fought close game. That day a doctor at the Yokosuka naval hospital put a cast on my ankle that remained for six weeks.

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(Click to zoom)

(Dan Varsity YoHi pitcher 1956)

Baseball season could not come soon enough for me. After a few weeks Bux made me the clean-up hitter and starting pitcher. Against ASIJ (American School in Japan) I hit two home runs over their left field fence and a double over the trees in centerfield in our two victories and against Narimasu tripled with the bases full. In our other match against Narimasu, before the first pitch our catcher, Dave Degelman, fired the ball towards second base hitting my pitching arm at the shoulder blade. I crumpled to the ground in pain. Tom ran over and rubbed alcohol with oil of wintergreen on it vigorously for fifteen minutes, but it left me unable to pitch. Bob Webster, a tall skinny pitcher, took the mound and coach sent me to right field. An opponent hit a fly to right with a runner on second that drove me just before the fence, I caught it and fired a strike to Sandy Milwit at third who tagged him out. It surprised everyone, especially their coach who sent the runner. My arm had loosened during the game and Bob pitched his best game of the season.

My record as a pitcher that year, including summer games, was 7-4 with two no-hitters. One was against a Japanese team in a game rained out in the fifth inning. The other was a seven inning game against Zama Army base that featured four YoHi starters including Jon Lynn, Sam and Sandy Milwit, Brad Hardin, and  the rest were second or third team varsity baseball  players.  A professional pitcher that played for the Yokosuka Seahawks had taught me to pinch my curve ball tightly to get it to break more radically and proved nearly unhittable. My batting average was .424 and I led the team in home runs and rbi's as a sophomore.

***

“What have you learned from the Bible?”Jerry asked a month later appearing interested. “The teachings of Jesus have changed my life. You’ll start to understand what I mean if you read the Book of St. John. Ask me anything and I’ll discuss it with you.” “I’ll read some tonight. I’m sorry for making fun of you.” “A religious sailor started a Bible Study group to help people understand the Book of Revelation. Come with me at our next meeting,” I said. Jerry joined us for one session, started reading the Bible, and shared his thoughts with his father. “Why don’t you discuss the Book of Revelation with my Dad and me tomorrow after school?” he said a few days later. “Ok, but I’m no Biblical scholar.” “That doesn’t matter. You might find my Dad has some insight on the Bible.” “Alright, see you then.” Entering their home with trepidation because I had never thought of discussing my new Christian beliefs with a Jewish Doctor who was far more knowledgeable; I wanted to cooperate in the pursuit of Bible study, whether it came from his father, or anyone else. Doctor Cohen sat on a leather chair in his library surrounded by hundreds of books in floor-to-ceiling bookshelves with the Book of Revelations on his lap. A little over-weight, balding with dark hair on the side, his large head exuded a facial expression of reflection, intelligence, and kindness. Fortunate to have a man of his caliber at our discussion, upon viewing him, I became almost instantly frozen in humility as a teenager before a pinnacle of wisdom. “You’ve been studying the Bible with a group led by a sailor?” he asked. “When Jerry showed an interest in what inspired me, I asked him to join me.” “Dad and I noticed from the book of Revelation,” Jerry began, “that St. John’s dream described a vision of Jesus returning to Earth in the future in the clouds to save the believers. But, only twelve thousand Jews were included. Do you believe that? “The Bible is the Word of God and the truth I’ve been taught.” “Dad and I agreed that no loving God would ever allow millions of practicing Jews remaining on earth to die in the lake of fire.” “I’ll ask John for his input, or maybe my minister,” was what came out of my mouth having no answer for their dissent, recognizing I knew too little to convince Jerry about such a discrepancy, much less his father. At our next meeting I asked John about their protest. “The Book of Revelation is the Holy Word of God all Christians believe,” he began confidently. “The Holy Spirit inspired every word in the Bible. Jerry and his father are Jewish. They reject Christ as the Son of God and our Savior. Don’t waste your time with non-believers.” This conflict and his answer baffled me. The Cohens had a strong argument and John seemed prejudiced against Jews but, I was too uncertain to criticize him. The next Sunday at church I asked the Navy Chaplain, a Princeton graduate, about this dilemma because of his knowledge, intelligence, and kindness.

(Yokosuka Chapel where Chaplain Chambers led the congregation) “Many things aren’t fully explained in the Bible,” Chaplain Chambers said. “We often don’t understand their meaning without careful research into the language of the original texts, especially the Book of Revelation. Terms like twelve thousand can mean a much larger number today, since that number would have been significant then. Millions of Jews follow the Ten Commandments and live virtuous lives. We can’t always take the Bible’s language literally. Many passages from the Bible say if a person loves his neighbors, treats all life with compassion, and cares for his family, even if he never heard of Jesus or the Bible, God would welcome him into Heaven.” He used an analogy: “A native on an island with no Bible to read, who lived a virtuous life harming no one, as God would have us live, would not suffer in Hell. Just because he lacked that knowledge, our loving and all-knowing God would never reject such a person from the gates of Heaven.” My pursuit of truth made me aware that many sincere and good people see religion differently. Afterwards I shared this understanding with Jerry in a philosophical discussion. “Reading distinguished authors to gain wisdom on how to live an ethical life is preferable to memorizing the Bible,” he said. Intrusive “born-again” indoctrination required me to consider my past as depraved. Self-loathing and repetitive Bible verse memorization, athletics, and studies left little time for open-minded thought that might have allowed me to challenge some religious concepts I accepted without questioning. Nevertheless, a few people wiser than I, had planted seeds of a broader understanding that would bear fruit in the future.

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