“My first two years in the Army, I was a private,” Al said at dinner tonight. “I was a private the whole time. I didn’t even make private first class. After basic, they sent me to West Point, New York. I was supposed to be watching for enemy planes. It was beautiful up there, and we had a wonderful view of the Hudson River. But I kept telling people I wanted to get to Europe before the war ended.
“Finally, they sent me to Newport News. I had done some drafting, so they had me draw different views of ships and what was in them. Then, if the Germans sunk a ship, we’d know exactly what was on it and how the stuff was stowed, and we could send another ship in its place. After four or five months, I got bored with the job. I told a colonel I wanted to do something that would get me into the war. He pointed his finger at me. And I pointed my finger right back at him and told him I wanted to get to Europe. A couple days later, he told me I was going to infantry school at Fort Benning.
“They put me on a train in Newport News. In those days, the conductor put a tag on your seat so he’d know where you were supposed to get off, or change trains, or whatever. Well, this conductor forgot about me, and the next think I knew I was on a train to Cincinnati. I was supposed to have changed trains in Richmond. They put me off the train at some tiny station and told me if I’d follow the dirt road about a mile, it would take me to the main road and I could hitchhike back to Richmond. I did what they said. Back then if you were in the service, you never had a problem thumbing a ride. The guy who picked me up was about half drunk, but he said he could get me back to Richmond in time to catch the train. And he did.
“It was Friday afternoon when the train got to Columbus. I grew up here, in the Rose Hill area, and I went to see some of my buddies. We spent the weekend drinking moonshine whiskey and going over to Phenix City, to the nice houses they had over there, the ones with the red lights. Then Monday morning I reported to Fort Benning. They told me I’d been AWOL for two days.
“A couple of weeks later, we were scheduled to have a map-reading test on Monday. That Saturday, I went downtown to see a movie at the Bradley Theatre; it was new then and quite a beautiful place. I was sitting there enjoying the movie when somebody tapped me on the shoulder. It was a colonel. ‘You’re supposed to be studying for the map test,’ he said. I told him I’d studied for four hours that morning. I hadn’t studied at all, but I wasn’t going to tell him that. Then he told me if I didn’t pass the test I was done. Well, I passed it.”
After dinner, I went out to breathe some non-air-conditioned air and to enjoy the sunshine, which has been a rarity here for the last week. Beverly was on the way in from her evening walk.
“Hey, Bev, how are you?”
“I’m going to my room to mope.”
“I was talking to my son this afternoon. He said I had to stop spending so much on the dentist. I don’t want to let my teeth just rot away. I told him that, but he said Elizabeth, my daughter-in-law, told him they’ve been buying all sorts of stuff for me, and I owe them over a thousand dollars. I told him I bought him several thousand dollars’ worth of stuff when he was younger. Now he probably won’t speak to me for a while. So I’m going to go to my room and mope.”
I went on my way, and as I was going through the parking lot behind the C Building I heard music. I couldn’t tell if it was coming from one of the cars or from the shopping plaza on the other side of the trees. I decided it must be coming from the plaza and went on. The next time around, about twenty minutes later, I heard the music again, and went to check it out. The source was a pickup truck. I looked in the passenger-side window. A man sat in the driver’s seat, his head down, his chin resting on his chest. I knocked on the window. It startled him. “Oh hey,” he said. I asked if he was OK. He said he was. He seemed alert and oriented, and I continued my jaunt. By the time I got around to the front entrance, I realized I should have talked with him a while longer, just to be sure he was OK. Instead, I told Aleasha, who was working at the front desk, about the man. She went back to see what was up. Apparently, the guy’s mom is in the process of moving in, and he was waiting for the rest of the family to get there with the truck.