Four newly commission 2nd Lt infantry platoon leaders on board the USS Mann en route South Vietnam September 1965. Left to right,
Bob Dunn March 11, 1942 – May 18, 2010
George McCoy June 24, 1941 – February 26, 1966
Larry Peterson December 6, 1940 – May 22, 2017
Larry Peterson died last week.
We had been best friends since that day 53 years ago when he threw me a life line.
Christmas 1963, home from college, I went to see my ol’ buddy, Staff Sergeant Donald Lawrence, and we sat on the steps of his back porch drinking beer.
I was goin’ nowhere in college, I told him, bored, behind in my studies, no goals. Played poker mostly, caroused, partied.
He said – and these are pretty much his exact words – “Well just raising hell don’t feed the dog. Think about the Army, been good by me.”
Back at Chapel Hill in January I tried to study for exams, but couldn’t or didn’t. Mindlessly I got up from my desk, collected all my stuff, threw it in the back of my old junker station wagon, drove to Sanford, NC and signed up for 3 years in the US Army.
Too soon, in basic training I found I had made a career decision with some seriously unpleasant, unanticipated consequences.
Sheared to the skull, wearing ill-fitting Army fatigues, sleeping nose to armpit in a crowded barracks, getting yelled out, running hither and yon and back again, drill sergeants nipping at our heels.
Sort of hellish punishment for slacking off in college.
Only positive was my fine showing on the company street when we were introduced to the manual of arms with our M-14 rifles… a drill I had mastered in a military school I attended during my rambunctious youth.
But I was still a sheared-to-the-skull Private E-nothing, almost indistinguishable from the other sad sack recruits standing in rank around me.
Towards the end of basic training I was given an opportunity to apply for Officer Candidate School (OCS), which was known as a pipe dream by most new to the enlisted ranks… because OCS was set up, so the conventional thinking went, to allow qualified Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) with years of military service to go up in rank. Certainly it was not meant for a 21 year old recruit like me with a wayward pre-military past.
Nope, OCS was a 24 week endurance test to separate natural leaders from wannabees. Notorious for its physical demands, in 1964 it was structured where candidates got by on 3 or 4 hours of sleep a night.
Not for the weak of heart. It was a meat grinder. Few were graduated.
Be that as it may, I was accepted. Don’t ask me how. I don’t know. But after some home leave I drove my uncle’s maroon 1949 Ford sedan down to Fort Benning to join the November 1964 running of OCS class 55.
Sitting in that good car smoking a cigarette, I looked across the street into OCS-land and could see the new officer candidates being set upon by senior OCS classmen and the more lethal regular US Army Tac Officers. There was much in-your-face screaming. All the new men were sweating from the separate ass-chewing gauntlet they ran as they made their way to the OCS administration building.
It was quiet in that ’49 Ford. So maybe I smoked another cigarette as I watched the initiation carnage across the way, knowing that was next up for me.
And I was arriving with a little gift from God.
Well it wasn’t little, it was the size of bubble gum machine. A bright red pimple on my chin.
Here as I faced this enormous six month man-test, I had a pimple on my chin. An obvious sign that I was miles more an adolescent than a potential Infantry Officer.
I could only put off goin’ across the street for so long. After taking a last long drag on my cigarette, I put it out, got my duffle bag and crossed the street into hell.
Me and that pimple.
Immediately, with my first footfall into OCS-land, I was set upon by the upperclassmen who were yelling “drop down and give me 10 pushups, candidate.” And “You’re late scum bag. Give me 10. And then ten for the man on the moon.”
Everything was hectic and loud and pretend-angry, but I sort of rolled with the punches and was OK. I could make a step or two from one collection of hazers to another on the quad… when… as I was being braced up by yet another couple of upperclassmen… someone spoke into my left ear. Unlike the others screaming in my face, this voice was calm and low. “I saw you sitting in your car across the street, dreading to come here. To face the challenge. You are a piece of shit. I am Tac Officer Taylor, and I don’t like your sniveling, weaseling, shitty attitude.”
He moved to my front and saw the bubble gum size red pimple on my chin and his eyes got large. “You are not officer material. I can tell. I have an instinct for this. I promise you that I am goin’ run your ass out of here. You are taking up space meant for someone else. You… are… not… officer… material. I know. You are finished. You understand?”
Tac Officer Taylor
And it only got worse as Tac Office Taylor followed me every step to the administration offices, fading in and out with his enormously hurtful and meaningful promises of kicking my ass out. Looking directly at that pimple when he got within inches of my face.
Then later he found me in the room I had been assigned and came in like a hurricane, throwing my gear around, with most ending up in a pile in the middle of the room.
The next day we formed up on the quad with our 240 man class divided into six 40 man platoons, and as we were turning to march toward the main class rooms in Building # 4, Taylor called me out of ranks and had me run around the company as it marched along. And then on the way back, he called me out again, and again I had to run around the company as it moved back to the mess hall.
And every time I passed Taylor he would tell me to drop out of the program now, it would save me pain. He guaranteed me I would not get far in the training… it was just a matter of time.
And all around me for three or four days the other candidates kept their distance… even though the pimple had gone down with all the exertion, still I was toxic, and there was no shared sympathy for my fix. It was like I was all alone in the middle of an ocean, people were around, but no one was helping and a shark was circling. Death seemed assured.
Every time we moved as a company I had to run around it, because as Taylor said, I wasn’t worthy to stand in among these other more qualified people.
He followed me back to my place in rank once and there, so all in my platoon could hear, said, “Parker, you are not officer material. I know this… you are a dead man walking. Get out, spare yourself pain. You’re not goin’ get through here. You ain’t graduating. I’ve never been wrong on this before.”
He stood close and looked me in the eye, with a snarling smile. Finally moving away, I think he knew that I was almost to the point I could not continue. Almost no sleep at night, the running, the harassment, the constant taunts from Taylor.
24 weeks ahead of this.
There was no reason for hope.
When down the line from me, I heard, “What did you say to piss that man off so much?”
I was Parker and beside me was Patricelli and the voice came from the other side of Patricelli… which put him directly in the middle and he froze in fear.
“You want me to maybe introduce you.” I said to the voice.
“Nope, I don’t want that man to know my name. He’s your friend.”
The voice – which was like a lifesaving line thrown my way – belonged to Larry Peterson, who I met during a smoke break in the training later that morning.
We shared the first friendly conversation I had had at OCS. He had a laugh that came out the side of his mouth and being from Nebraska, he had a down home manner which was like a smooth balm on my tortured soul.
“You’re going do OK,” he said smiling that lop sided smile of his.
He couldn’t have said anything that I wanted to hear more… and more than that, from that moment forward he sort of took ownership of my sorry ass… like he was goin’ make me OK.
He ran interference for me whenever he saw Taylor sneaking up. Or coughed in ranks to distract Taylor if he was starting to zoom in on me. One time he just whistled which completely befuddled Taylor because he couldn’t find who did it. Only person he knew for sure who it wasn’t was me, because Taylor had been staring at me when the whistle blast occurred somewhere in the ranks.
Plus Pete would always tell me that I had the right stuff. And I don’t remember ever having to buck him up. Older, he had been in the military by this time for three years and knew better than I how to survive.
We roomed together from about the 2nd week forward and helped each other out on the insidious bayonet sheet… a lined piece of paper each candidate in the platoon filled out every Friday. On that paper individually we had to list the candidates in the platoon from the ones we thought the best qualified to be officers to the one we thought were the least qualified. We had to list everyone but ourselves.
Every Friday, Pete put me first and I put him first. ‘Cause with 40 candidates putting a peer rating in every week, you gotta lot of significant data that can be influenced up with some simple collusion.
One night after Taylor and another Tac had razed my ass for doing nothing wrong, Pete had me stand at attention so that he could take a close look at me to find out what exactly was wrong… I attracted Tac officers like flies to shit, he said. So standing at attention Pete walked slowly around me and then up close he sniffed like he was trying to smell me.
Pete and I as OCS upperclassmen
“Well I tell you, buddy. That pimple that looked like a skinny woman’s tit you arrived with, didn’t help you early. And now it’s gone, I just don’t know for sure. You look like a smart ass. And I don’t know a cure for that. You just gotta live with it… got to be aware all the time you look like a smart ass.”
Somewhere after about a month in the course Taylor began to slack off and there were no more being called out of ranks to run around the company as it marched along. Helpful here was Pete’s constant advice which helped put some steely resolve in my eyes so I could look back at Taylor with an undaunted gaze. Not smart alecky, or smart ass-ish… passive. Confidant and steady. That was Pete’s coaching.
After about 14 weeks they started to give us week-end passes and Pete and I would buy a bottle of Inver House scotch at the first liquor store off post, that would usually last us the week-end.
And then one day when we had an hour or so rest in our room – the day after I was selected to anchor the company color guard - Pete and I realized that we were goin’ to graduate. Absent some stupid foul up, we were going to soon be 2nd Lieutenants in the US Army.
That epiphany notwithstanding, there would only be 63 of the original 240 candidates to graduate on time.
We kept up the mantra that we would get our commission, by God, in Inver House slurs over the week end. Our confidence will win out. We thanked each other, pointing out the power of teamwork. Our team. Pete’s and mine. We can take on the world.
And we were part of the 63 who graduated.
Pete and I near the time of our graduation from OCS
Incredibly we stayed partners out of OCS in May 1965 – when all the talk had become the fighting in South Vietnam. Pete and I were both assigned to the 1st Division in Fort Riley, Kansas. And once there, we were assigned to the same Battalion, the 1st of the 28th. And once in the battalion, we were assigned to the same “A” Company. I had the 3rd platoon, Pete the 4th.
Like being accepted to OCS, I can’t explain it. Don’t ask.
At Fort Riley, Kansas, Pete and I would often go up to his home in Lincoln, Nebraska where his mother and father took me in. Where, when we heard that our Division was in fact goin’ to Vietnam, we bought $10,000 insurance policies on each other. These were eventually cancelled because New York Life didn’t insure men going into a combat zone. But we had fun with it.
Loading my car in the drive way of Pete's parent's house in Lincoln, Nebraska
Back at Riley we would team up with Bob Dunn from “B” Company and George McCoy from “C” company during off hours. Dunn, from the Pacific NW, took up a lot of space. Loud and funny, he’d punch a stranger in the nose on just any provocation. George, from Illinois, was quieter, smarter and probably the group leader. But we all found our place in the 4 man group; there were no squabbles or issues with us. We laughed a lot.
Though on the boat ride over to South Vietnam we had our solemn moments, especially when we got word on the casualties the 1st Cav suffered in the highlands in pitched battles with the North Vietnamese. Life of a second lieutenant like us in combat was just seconds long.
This of course led Dunn to say, “What? What? They didn’t tell me that when I signed up!!”
In Vietnam, we had skirmishes with the VC throughout October, November and December. We built a bar at the end of our tent in “A” company and most night when we were back in the base camp the 4 of us, Dunn, McCoy, Pete and myself, held court. Sort of like M*A*S*H. We built a chess board table and often McCoy and I would play chess while Pete and Dunn roared from behind the bar.
Dunn, me, McCoy and Peterson at the "A" company bar, Vietnam
And since we hadn’t suffered many casualties those first three months, we hardened in our roles as platoon leaders without a lot of drama. Tough work, clearing jungle areas of suspected VC, but easier as time went on.
Then came January 1966 and Operation Crimp, when our battalion was deployed into the Iron Triangle NW of Saigon half way up to the province capital of Tay Ninh on the Cambodian border. We were going into a long held VC sanctuary and our first area to clear was what later was to became known as Cu Chi.
We took awful casualties the first few days, our troops getting shoot by VC who seemed to disappear from small clusters of trees and foliage… to find we were moving through an area laced with tunnels.
Late one afternoon I was sent with my platoon to patrol an area not far from where the battalion was settling in… and we were taken under fire by a group of VC as we approached a hut incongruously set up out in the middle of the jungle. We surrounded the hut, firing as we went and when we moved in we found empty rifle cartridges and a big pool of blood where we had obviously badly wounded a VC. Colonel Haldane told us to attempt to capture the wounded enemy which involved following the blood trail down into a tunnel that lead away underground to God knows where.
With the time spent in the unsuccessful effort to find the wounded VC down in that awful tunnel, darkness set in. We set up in a defensive perimeter around the hut and endured a night of stark terror as we were attack constantly by VC who had us surrounded.
Pete by this time commanded the battalion Recon platoon and at first light he and his platoon took off in our direction to bail us out. His patrol arrived when I was down in the tunnel removing the booby trap I had set the night before to keep the bad guys from accessing our midst.
One of my men, Private Patrick, had fallen asleep and when he suddenly awoke to men walking in his direction he started shooting. Pete’s point man returned fire and Patrick was killed.
When I came back out of the hole, Sgt Castro was holding the dying Patrick, Pete standing nearby. No words were necessary. And then we started getting small arms fire from enemy around us. I don’t remember exchanging a lot of words with Pete.
He had other tasks to do that morning and his patrol soon moved out. We wrapped Patrick’s body up in ponchos and made out way back to the Battalion.
I did not see Pete for a couple days. Then as we were spread out, with the battalion on line, getting ready to move on a VC village, Pete’s recon platoon moved through the line some distance away and he saw me and raised his rifle in greeting, as he continued to move into the jungle ahead.
I missed the opportunity to sit and talk with Pete about Patrick’s death, so that we could get our minds around it. Plus on things like this, Pete always knew best. Whatever he would have said would have helped me understand.
A couple of hours later, as I led my platoon through the jungle, more or less keeping abreast of the battalion in the jungle, to our front came an explosion of small arms fire, punctuated with grenades and the steady pumph, pumph, pumph of a heavy machine gun.
Pete’s platoon under fire.
I switched my radio to Pete’s freq and heard his radio operator explain that they had been ambushed and most in the platoon killed… and then he suddenly went off the air… and an NCO came on to say the radio operator had been killed, almost everyone now “was down.”
So I went over to our Company Commander, Capt Jack Wooley, to plead for him to let my platoon go ahead to bail out Pete’s unit. I had grabbed him by his elbow and was pushing him along as he tried to get through to battalion that I was launching out ahead, when a command detonated mine went off, and several in file right behind us were killed. More were wounded.
All I kept thinking about was getting to Pete, but there were dead and wounded all around. I knelt down to a man with a chest wound when enemy fire zinged overhead, and then things went crazy in my head and it was as if everything was going at half speed, as if my mind was overloaded. I was only aware of my surroundings at intervals… when, leaning over one of our wounded, I got shot in the ass.
And suddenly things slowed down to normal again, and I crawled off to a medic. In the distance I could hear the firing up by Pete’s platoon begin to quiet.
Then, since I was ambulatory, I had to help carry our wounded to a “dust off” site and wait with those wounded men and the other who had died for a helicopter to come.
Firing off in the distant had quieted. And I felt terrible. My soul hurt more than my ragged ass.
Pete was gone.
Later after being attended to in the Division aid station I was sent to lie on my stomach in the recovery tent because the right cheek of my butt was stitched .
Still feeling enormous grief a couple of days later, I was visited by the Hqs company commander, who told me that Pete had not been killed. Shot up pretty good, but that he was in the 93rd field evac hospital, getting ready to be sent back to the states. Leaving the next day in fact.
So I went out and commandeered a stretcher jeep and driver and we drove through unsecure areas over to the 93rd and I walked in to his air conditioned Quonset hut as some nurse was combing his hair. They pulled a gurney for me up to Pete’s bed, where they had to re-stitch some of my stiches, because it had been a bumpy ride over from the Division aid station.
Laying there side by side, Pete said as his recon platoon was inching along that day, he noticed that the jungle had turned awfully quiet, when suddenly - as the platoon advanced into the kill zone of a VC ambush - the world exploded. He got shot by a big caliber bullet in his right shoulder and as he was being thrown back, he was hit by a smaller caliber round in the back side of the same shoulder. That second round threw him to the ground, probably saving his life. The enemy kept raking his platoon with deadly fire until a relief column from the battalion reach them. First friendly person he saw was the battalion commander, Lt Col Haldane.
But it was powerfully good to see him and that lop sided smile. He kept laughing at the fact I got shot in the ass.
Pete did go back to the states, and in short order I went back to the battalion’s base camp.
The next month McCoy was killed.
So it was down to Bob Dunn and me, and we kept to ourselves.
Surprisingly at the end of my tour in Vietnam I received orders to Fort Ord, California… Dunn too. Pete was finishing his rehabilitation and was also being assigned Fort Ord. Maybe all this was happenstance, this assignment to the same units/post, but Pete and I later said that one of our OCS classmates and good friend had returned to a Pentagon assignment from OCS and maybe was responsible for our good luck.
Other than that I really have no idea how we were all assigned to the best Army post in the USA.
Bob Dunn was married and lived with his bride in an apartment complex near Fort Ord. Pete and I rented a house in the Carmel Highlands, that overlooked the Pacific, two houses up from Kim Novak.
Front steps up to our rented house in the Carmel Highlands
Only problem with this three bedroom beauty was that it had a master bedroom/den with a commanding view of the ocean, one with much less of a view and one with no view at all.
Now we were planning on getting a roommate of some kind for the no-view bedroom, so the question was who got the real good room and the one not so good one.
We sat and talked about it. Like adults.
View of the Pacific Ocean from the good bedroom/den. Kim Novak's house is at the bottom left.
We knew each other pretty good and no place to go that morning, so we were comfortable sitting there discussing the options. It wasn’t that I was the talker and Pete was the listener, that would imply maybe that I was the alpha animal. I wasn’t. Pete probably was. He had a gift for making good decisions and what he’d usually do in situations like this was to wait me out, to let me spend myself on grand sophistic arguments. That way he could pick from my thousand up front words two or three that he’d use to prove I was full of shit. Probably he won most of our friendly arguments over the years about life, death and why men have nipples.
Though this was big.
I argued my head off, even offered to play more of the rent.
Nope, Pete wanted the big bedroom.
Didn’t matter what I said, Pete wanted the big bedroom.
So we flipped a coin. I called it.
The Carmel Highlands, two houses up from Kim Novak, in a house with a bedroom that had spectacular view of the Pacific shoreline. And I slept in a 10 x 8 closet with a peek-a-boo view of the ocean.
Does that sound right to you?
That aside, this was the time of our young lives. We did the Mission Ranch with Clint Eastwood on Thursday nights. Spent hours at the Matador bar downtown Carmel. Dated California girls goog-goog eyed over being with wounded vets. Who would run their fingers over our healed wounds in the quiet of the night as we told stories of our combat.
Took trips up to San Francisco and Palo Alto.
Went to Super Bowl 1 in LA, followed the next week-end by the Bing Crosby’s Clambake at Pebble Beach. Every star in the world attended it seemed and being Vietnam Vets we were honored guests.
Went scuba diving once…
Surprising being that Pete was from Nebraska that he had so many hours underwater with scuba gear.
Me? Pete knew I had been a life guard for several summers at Myrtle Beach, SC, so he didn’t challenge me on my scuba skills. I had my brother in law’s dry suit, that more or less fit, and googles and tanks and flippers. I dressed up nice. Looked unwater-ready.
Only I had never been scuba diving before.
This is not a pretty story. It ends with my nearly good-fitting dry suit leaking, and off the coast of Carmel, under a bed of kelp, I began to fill up with water. I looked like a snow man or one of those eunuchs selling biscuits and tires. Bouncing off the ocean bottom I decided that I had had my share of scuba diving for the day and headed up a rope Pete had tied around his waist that went up to a skiff on the surface. Only I got caught in the kelp on the way up and it sucked me into its midst, and I lost my hold on the rope and then lost my mouth piece as I frantically fought to get to the surface… and then I reached my limits and began to black out from lack of oxygen… just started to relax and drift. When Pete saw what was happening and pushed my water logged ass up to the surface and then over the skiff and in to shore with the help of others who saw the little boat stand on it end like a cork as I was trying to pulled my way up through the kelp.
Pete's back is to the camera as I am being loaded into a ambulance after our scuba diving adventure.
There was no question without Pete I would not have graduated OCS. And there is no question that if Pete had not pushed me to the surface when he did, I would have died.
This incident was a harbinger of things to come… that my luck – even on the Monterey peninsula paradise was on the skids because not long after the scuba diving adventure, Pete began dating a girl from Palo Alto.
I forgot how he met here, but initially we’d go up together and his girl would get me a date and we would go out together.
But then the next week-end Pete would want to go back to Palo Alto, and I would say something like, “Ah, dude, you know you got a few thousand girls down here in Carmel and Pebble Beach you know. Beautiful girls. We got this house. The whole Pacific Ocean. We got Bob Dunn and his very easy to like wife, Linda. You like Bob right? We got cold beer. Why Palo Alto?”
Ah, this girl there, he would say.
I didn’t like her. She wasn’t Pete’s type. She was California. Pete was Nebraska. You know what I mean? She was new age. I was old school.
We were in competition, this lady and I.
At first when we were together and I tried to make funny, she would just look at me, without expression, sitting amidst others who might be laughing including Pete. She must have scolded Pete about liking my humor, because after a few times together, she wouldn’t look at me after the punch line, but looked at Pete, and he would swallow his laughter.
And then there were the sleeping arrangements that meant I would often be driving all the way back to Carmel by myself in the early morning hours, Pete to come in late the night before work.
The girl would alternate weeks coming down to our Carmel Highland house. One week-end I brought a local girl by to meet her.
This particular honey was a little on the trashy side. Good looking but she had a big ol’ mouth on her. This at a time we use to say the easy girls were the ones with big mouths. This woman’s mouth was so big she’d get lipstick on her ears when she smiled.
So that pretty much put a stop to Pete’s lady coming down… so Pete was going up by himself, every week-end.
There was something goin’ on one week-end and I took a date up and we joined Pete and Ms Palo Alto and two other couples at a steak house south of San Francisco. But it wasn’t really a steak house, steak house. It was an older house someone had converted with very little cash into what they hoped would be a trendy steak eatery. Our party was seated in the dining room of the old house… and we found out quickly that this was not a well-run operation yet… we had terrible service, the wait staff got the orders all wrong and then when that was all cleared up, the waiters disappeared. No more bread or water or beer or whatever it was we were drinking.
And then they gave us the bill, which was just one number, not itemized or separated like we asked. One number, so the men all ponied up their due and I was closest to the door, so I had the money to cover the number on the bill, plus a tip… but no waiters to be seen… so everyone in the party went on out to the cars. Leaving me behind to pay the check. We were goin’ someplace or doing something and time became an issue.
And no one came for the money… walked up to the cash register podium. No one was there, so I walked out to the parking lot still hanging on to the cash… and greeted my party, who were busy getting into a couple or three cars…
When the missing wait staff and the cooks and the bus boys all descended on the parking lot and to the surprise of everyone in our party, they were yelling that they hadn’t been paid. I stood off to the side. When everyone’s gaze suddenly turned in my direction, I showed the money in my hand, and put on a weak smile.
That was it.
My ship was sunk with Pete’s girlfriend. Not only did she think I was crass but she had proof now that I was also a louse. Trying to steal everyone’s money like that. Poor restaurant people. Parker is such a bum.
From then until I was discharged from the Army, I rarely spent time with Pete. He was too committed to this lady and spent most all his free time up at her place. More and more his clothes moved from the big bedroom in our house up to Palo Alto.
He proposed or she proposed or something, I don’t know. Suddenly Pete was engaged to Ms Palo Alto.
They were to get married a few months after my discharge in the spring of 1967 and I didn’t wait around. I went home to North Carolina.
Back working for my father near where I was born and raised, Pete came down for a visit between assignments, I think to make sure we were still friends. Also to tell me he was going to helicopter pilot training and would be making the military a career. He said life with his bride was good. A kid was on its way.
Just the two of us there in North Carolina, it was like old times.
We stayed in touch over the next ten or so years. He had become a helicopter pilot and had returned to Vietnam for a tour flying the military officer he most respected, our old battalion commander (Lt Col now General) Haldane, into and out of danger every day. [In an oral history of his military career General Haldane reported on the great love and respect he had for Peterson, who would "wrap his helicopter" around the good general to make mobile command of his troops possible. No other pilot instilled the same confidence General Haldane had for Peterson, the pilot. More, General Haldane's wife, Elise, said her husband had told her he loved Pete, a feeling I know absolutely was reciprocated.]
Pete called after he got back to the states from that second tour and afterwards I knew where he was most of the time, that he and Ms Palo Alto had had more kids and they had spent many post Vietnam years on assignment to Germany.
He knew I had gotten married and gone back to school. That I had been recruited by the CIA and had a couple of tours with them under my belt.
In about 1981 he dropped in to see Brenda and me and spent a couple of nights at our house. He was between assignments, or something. He and Brenda hit it off… and he and I spent hours jawing on the back porch just like always. Same ol’ Pete. We re-lived our times together. The enormous Nebraska wholesomeness of Pete was still there. He still had no rough edges. He wasn’t judgmental, nor did he talk bad about anyone. Wasn’t sarcastic. We still had the same interests. There was good pace to our hour on hour talks. He’d be talking I’d be listening. I’d be talking he’d be listening. Don’t remember that there ever was a pause.
He didn’t have much to say about ol’ Ms Palo Alto. His comments to Brenda about his wife and family were flat. I probably ask if everything was OK. Although I don’t remember an answer.
Then another 7 or 8 years passed and I saw Pete in Washington when I was back between assignments. He was separated from his wife, and oddly for him, didn’t want to talk about it.
Working at the Pentagon, he was staying in a Rosslyn apartment with a co-worker and was stressed.
He told me that not only did I tell him not to marry that woman, but his father had said the same thing, too. The marriage had been over for some time before he moved out of their loveless house.
We picked back up on communicating and he told me that he had met his high school sweetheart, Sheila, at a high school class reunion and things were looking up. He retired from the Army after 26 years, and he and Sheila became an item… I’m not sure married or what. But they were together in Florida.
I retired from the CIA and moved back to North Carolina. Pete and Sheila moved from Florida to Lincoln, Nebraska. I drove up to spend some time with them and it was good ol’ Pete from years ago. Happy like I had known him before. Laughed easy. Grounded. Loved Sheila and her mid-west values. Was teaching history to eight graders from Lincoln's center city.
. Pete and I in Lincoln, Nebraska 1993. Same pose as in OCS. Different physiques.
I had my brother back.
Probably once a month we’d reach out to each other. Telephone. Email. I was called back to work for the CIA and invited him to join Jack Wooley, our Company Commander in Vietnam, and me at a Society of the 1st Division officers (or something like that) function in the Washington area.
Me, Jack Wooley (our company commander from Vietnam. A very fine individual and always our good friend) and Pete. Washington, DC. Circa 2005.
Brenda and I moved to Las Vegas for a variety of reasons. All of which I bounced off Pete in our regular telephone contact.
I visited him again in Lincoln and told his junior high class what a special man Pete was. A real live war hero.
And he and Sheila came to Vegas and spent several days with us.
In 2010 Bob Dunn took sick, maybe because he was still drinking hard and raising hell like there was no tomorrow. But he was seriously sick. His liver was pickled. I was in Afghanistan on a CIA assignment and Pete went out to spend some time with him and was able to get Bob and I linked up on the telephone. I told Dunn to hang on for my return in a month or six weeks. And he said he’d be around to piss on my grave. Not to worry.
But he died a few weeks later.
McCoy, killed in Vietnam. Dunn, killed by Jack Daniels. Just Pete and I now.
When I got back from Afghanistan Pete and I flew out to Portland, Oregon where Dunn was buried and Linda, his widow and our friend, took us out to his grave site.
Me and Pete by Bob's grave marker.
Then in a couple of years later Pete and I found where George McCoy was buried and we made a pilgrimage to his grave marker in Illinois.
Later that day as we drank a beer in memory of the time when we were young and went to war, Pete said visiting these two ol’ friends, George and Bob, was all he had on his bucket list. “Now it’s done,” he said, “I’m OK.
By George McCoy's grave marker
In April 2017, Pete developed a rash on his back and went to his regular physician in Lincoln. That visit led to a series of test that included a C-scan of his abdomen. Which produced a clear picture of a large gall stone in his bladder and an accumulation of murky waste. Operation end April could not dislodge the stone, though part of his bladder was removed and a plastic tube inserted.
Pete went home to recover… but returned to the hospital 12 May for another operation to trade out the plastic tube for one made of metal.
He called when he came out of surgery to say he was as fine as a good country fiddle, and that he’d be in the hospital for a few more days recovering before goin’ home.
But in fact he was not as fine as a good country fiddle. The surgeon in replacing the tube in his gall bladder had unknowingly nicked his bowels, and when he was stitched up, leakage from the bowel nick poured out. Shortly after we talked on the telephone, Pete developed terrible pain in his stomach.
Midnight surgery opened him up again, the nick was closed and the bile drained from his body but his body was traumatized by the enormously invasive operation and Pete was put under a hospital induced coma and had ventilator tubes run down into his lungs to keep him breathing.
Sheila called me the next morning, scared.
I got up to Lincoln on the 15th and when I walked into intensive care unit, Pete was awake - the ventilator tubes had been removed and he was out of the coma.
He smiled in that same lop sided way that I remembered him smiling when I walked into his hospital ward in Vietnam more than 50 years before.
His granddaughter was sitting at his side. Sheila off in the shadows.
He still had four tubes coming in and out of his body and his face was drawn, but he was in good spirits and he welcomed me to his Nebraska.
That night we talked occasionally, between doctor and IC nurses visits. I slept in a chair in the IC reception area and the next morning, we talked… but as the day went on he became tired and would sleep.
The following days he continued to fade. Doctors said it was the healing process. It was natural for a 76 year old man to become disoriented after such major surgery, they all said. All his vital signs were good. He’d come around.
Middle of the week, he came out of his stupor once when I was by his bed. He called me by name and said he couldn’t go on. It was too much to bear. But then when I asked about the pain, he said no, he wasn’t in pain. He just couldn’t go on… and I reminded him of our trials before when we had to find the strength to go on, but that in the end everything turned out OK. “Remember? This is the Pete in me talking to you, like you talked to me before. Hang on buddy.”
But he did not respond.
Doctors continued to insist that he was goin’ through a period they expected and that he was going to be OK. All his vital signs were good.
But Thursday he wasn’t very responsive. Plans went forward that day to move Pete out of intensive care – he was taking up prime real estate in the hospital – and he was moved to a regular hospital room and then on Friday he was moved to another facility that could handle long term doctor assisted rehab.
Doctors and nurses at the new place, picked up the idea that his lack of communication was a sign that his body was going all out to recover from the surgeries.
While I had plans to stay with him until he came out of his fog, staying in the hospital with him, I had become aware that my presence was marginalizing the care giving Sheila wanted to provide. And on Friday his son arrived and the granddaughter he loved visited. It was again apparent that my friendship was not aligned with their familial relationships. To them I was an outsider.
On Sunday the doctors insisted that Pete was goin’ to be OK. Sheila thanked me for coming, speaking for Pete, she said he much appreciated me being there.
So I left.
Pete died the following morning.
There are no words to describe my sorrow.
Pete 4 days before his death