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.
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.”
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.
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?”
“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.
“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.
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!