Basic Training

It’s time to get to four of the most interesting years of my life. I don’t know how much I will remember, but I’ll do the best I can. It was probably about March of 1961 that I went down to the Air Force recruiters office and signed up. I was scheduled to leave in a few days and had to go home and explain to my mother what I had done. She was not happy. We were on the farm then, so I didn’t stay very long. I packed what they told me I could take and boarded a train in Battle Creek which would first go to Chicago and then south to San Antonio, Texas. The only thing I remember about the trip was laying in a birth in the train and looking out the window at the night and watching the fields and towns go by and wondering what I had gotten myself into.

I eventually arrived in San Antonio, Texas where the Lackland AFB was. This was where I was to spend 16 weeks of basic training. Basic was a period of time in which they taught you how to be an airman. Since I was not an officer and probably wouldn’t ever be one, I was an Airman third class. Actually, I started out one step lower than third class but don’t know what they called it. The first thing they do when you get to Lackland is to give you a pile of clothes that you must wear during basic. Then you have an appointment with the barber and he cuts off all of your hair – gives you a buzz cut. Everybody who goes to the barber comes out looking like everybody else.

They send you to a doctor and go though a series of tests to see if you are fit to serve in the military. (Turn your head and cough) Everybody hopes they find something so you can go home and not have to worry about the military. I had a little problem since I had had rheumatic fever and they weren’t sure I could take the rigors of military life. But, they eventually decided I could take it and admitted me to the program.

Basic training was 16 weeks of misery. You marched and learned how to shine your shoes and live in a barracks with 50 other guys. You learned out to make your bed so that the sheet was so tight a quarter would bounce on it. We learned hospital corners and how to keep things clean. We each got a chest that sat at the end of the bed and the stuff in it had to be in exact order. Socks in a certain place, underwear in a certain place. You’ve heard of white glove inspections. Well, they did them, too. The officer would come through the barracks wearing white gloves. They’d run their fingers over surfaces and if they picked up any dust or dirt, then you got demerits.

We went on 5 mile hikes. They loved to wake us up at 3:30 in the morning and time how long it would take for us to go from being totally asleep to being dressed and in formation out in front of the barracks. The time had to get better and better or we’d get in trouble and get KP or an extra hike or something.

The trick was to keep a low profile and not bring attention to yourself. Just blend into the group and if they didn’t notice, they couldn’t yell at you. One time we were in formation and I absent-minded reached up to check my cap. It was supposed to be two fingers between the top of your eyes and the cap. Unfortunately the Drill Instructor saw me. He came over and with his nose about 1/2 inch from mine, chewed me out at the top of his voice. What I was done was break formation which was a no-no. He then had me do 20 push-ups right there in the street. None of my friends could say anything. They couldn’t even watch. They just kept their faces straight ahead and I did my punishment. That was easy and I got it done. I never did that again. I did not want to be known as a screw-up.

We did get to spend one weekend off base on leave. I went into San Antonio and went to The Alamo. That is an historical building where many Texan’s lost their lives fighting the Mexicans. Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie (who invented in Bowie knife) and others died at the Alamo. Go rent the movie and see what they went though. It was a dark day in the history of the United States. Actually, I don’t think Texas had been admitted to the Union yet, so the Mexicans were fighting to keep it that way.

San Antonio has this river way that runs through the town. There are little boats that you can ride. It was a rough neighborhood back when I was there, but I’ve heard that it’s been cleaned up since then. I spent a day seeing as much of San Antonio as I had time for. Of course, I was alone, so it wasn’t as much fun as it could have been.

The culmination of the 16 weeks was an obstacle course we had to run. In order to graduate from basic, we had to finish this course. We had done it before. I had done it many times and knew I could do it. But on the morning that we started the course, the first thing we had to do was grab a rope and swing across a small pond that was filled with muddy, dirty water. The guy right in front of me didn’t release the rope correctly and it was wobbling around as it came back to me. I should have waited and got a good hold of the rope and then taken a good swing and jumped over the water. But the DI yelled at me just as the rope came to me and I panicked and grabbed the rope and tried to swing across. Of course, I missed and into the water I went.

I spent the whole rest of the course wet and muddy. It made it doubly hard to do. We had to jump over piles of logs and brick walls. We repelled down a cliff holding on to ropes. Just like you see on “The Amazing Race”. I did it all. And I did it all wet. It was so much fun. (Not) I did graduate, however. They asked me what I would like to do for the Air Force. I told them I thought being a cook was a good job. You can tell, I didn’t have high aspirations, then. So they put me in electronics. Before I knew it I was traveling to Biloxi, Mississippi to attend Biloxi Air Force Base and learn electronics. They have one of the biggest electronic training centers in the Air Force there. And as it turned out, I was to spend the next 3 1/2 years at Biloxi, first going through the school as a student and then staying on as a teacher.


How Do I Feel Being Old?

Let’s take a short departure from the “Jim Hoag Story”. I saw this printed in the Rochester IBM Retirement newsletter. It’s credited to Anonymous, so I’m assuming I can re-print it here. I don’t feel everything described here, but I wish I did.

A young person asked me how I felt about being old. I was taken aback, for I do not think of myself as old. Upon seeing my reaction, she was immediately embarrassed, but I explained that it was an interesting question, and I would ponder it, and let her know.
Old Age, I decided, is a gift. I am now, probably for the first time in my life, the person I have always wanted to be. Oh, not my body! I sometime despair over my body, the wrinkles, the baggy eyes, and the sagging butt and often I am taken aback by that old person that lives in my mirror (who looks like my mother!), but I don’t agonize over those things for long.
I would never trade my amazing friends, my wonderful life, my loving family for less gray hair or a flatter belly. As I’ve aged, I’ve become more kind to myself, and less critical of myself. I’ve become my own friend. I don’t chide myself for eating that extra cookie, or for not making my bed, or for buying that silly cement gecko that I didn’t need, but looks so avante garde on my patio. I am entitled to a treat, to be messy, to be extravagant.
I have seen too many dear friends leave this world too soon; before they understood the great freedom that comes with aging. Whose business is it if I choose to read or play on the computer until 4 AM and sleep until noon? I will dance with myself to those wonderful tunes of the 60 & 70’s, and if I, at the same time, wish to weep over a lost love … I will. I will walk the beach in a swim suit that is stretched over a bulging body, and will dive into the waves with abandon if I choose to, despite the pitying glances from the jet set. They, too, will get old!

I know I am sometimes forgetful. But there again, some of life is just as well forgotten.. And I eventually remember the important things. Sure, over the years my heart has been broken. How can your heart not break when you lose a loved one, or when a child suffers, or even when somebody’s beloved pet gets hit by a car?
But broken hearts are what give us strength and understanding and compassion. A heart never broken is pristine and sterile and will never know the joy of being imperfect. I am so blessed to have lived long enough to have my hair turning gray, and to have my youthful laughs be forever etched into deep grooves on my face. So many have never laughed, and so many have died before their hair could turn silver.
As you get older, it is easier to be positive. You care less about what other people think. I don’t question myself anymore. I’ve even earned the right to be wrong. So, to answer your question, I like being old. It has set me free. I like the person I have become. I am not going to live forever, but while I am still here, I will not waste time lamenting what could have been, or worrying about what will be.And I shall eat dessert every single day (If I feel like it) Anonymous


My Grand Parents

When writing the last post, I realized that I haven’t said much about my Grandfather and Grandmother. Elaine and Louis Altman were my Grandma and Grandpa, even though Elaine was my Grandpa’s second wife. My real Grandma died in 1941, a year or so before I was born. So, I never knew her. But I did know Elaine. If I get to Heaven (or the Celestial Kingdom), I want to see her second only to my mother. Even though we were not blood related, she treated me like a grandson and she was great. I loved her and grandpa very much.

We lived with them when I was little. We lived on Haskell Street in Battle Creek and then we moved over to Kelley Street. Grandma and Grandpa lived on Kelley and there was a vacant lot right next to their house. My Mom bought that lot and built our new house. I remember sitting by the living room window that faced the lot and watching the house take shape as they built it. I slept on the porch and the light came in from the street lights. It’s a wonder I got any sleep. But I loved it.

My Grandpa was Louis Martin Altman. He was born in Chicago in 1892 and died in 1962 while I was in the Air Force. My mother lost her husband and her father within a three-month period. That’s one reason I was able to leave the Air Force early and come home. I believe my brother Martin is named after Grandpa. He was an electrician by trade. Barb says that it may be because of him that I majored in Electrical Engineering later at BYU. I’ll never know for sure. Let me tell you some of the things he did that I remember.

In Battle Creek, there was a building called the Wolverine Building. (Michigan is the Wolverine State.) It used to be the tallest building in town, probably about 20 or 25 stories tall. On top of the building was a four-sided structure to which a huge “W” was attached. This W would light up at night and you could see it for miles. It was the first thing you saw when you drove into Battle Creek at night for years and years. It’s gone now. Louis was the man who wired that W and got it working in the first place. One time, he took me up to the top floor of the Wolverine building and I got to see the W up close. It was very cool and I was so proud of him.

One other thing he did was, he wired and got to work the very first traffic light in Battle Creek. I don’t know where it was, exactly. It was just a story he liked to tell. When I lived at his house he worked at the Battle Creek newspaper “Enquirer and News”. I believe the paper is still being printed. At least, it was the last time I checked. He was the electrician for the paper and if the presses broke down and the reason was electrical, they would call him at any hour of the day or night so he could fix it. I went with him to the building where they printed the paper several times. The only thing I remember about the trips were the gigantic rolls of paper they used to print the paper. We’d walk through the storage area where they stored the paper.

Elaine played the piano and I still have sheet music that was in the piano seat at her house. My mother saved it. I was thinking about selling it on eBay, but maybe not. It’s what I have left that belonged to her. I also have a vase and a marble topped table that belonged to her. The table is in our living room right now. Whoever reads this and wants those things, let me know and I will save them for you when I’m gone.

I saw my first TV at their house. They had a small 17 inch black and white floor set. Every Friday night, Grandpa and I would sit and watch the Friday Night Fights. It didn’t convert me over to be a boxing fan, though. I sincerely hope I get to see them again in the here-after. They are two of the finest people I have ever known in my life.

Next, we’ll get back to the time-line.


University of Michigan, Part 2

Several things happened during my months in college which had a profound effect on me and made me realize that college just wasn’t in the cards at that particular time.

The first was the “Dear John” letter I got from Nancy which I’ve already told you about. That had a major impact on me. The second thing which happened was that I lost both of my Grandmothers within a 2-week period.

Grandma Altman died on Jan 29, 1961 and I was in the middle of finals when I got the news. I remember going to see my Chemistry teacher and telling him that I had to go to a funeral and could I take my final late. He looked up my record and said, in effect, you are right in the middle of the “C’s”. Even if you flunk the final, you’ll still get a C. If you ace the final, you’ll still get a C. So, he let me off and I didn’t have to take the final. I was so sad about my Grandma, but happy about the test.

I realize I haven’t said much about my Grandma and Grandpa Altman.  They were, at the time, my favorite people in the world. I loved them very much. I think I’ll devote a whole post to them and my relationship with them. I went to the funeral in Battle Creek and then came back to school. Two weeks later, on Feb 12, 1961, my Grandma Hoag died. Now, I wasn’t real close to Grandma Hoag, but it started me to thinking about life and death and wondering what my real purpose in life was. I couldn’t face the thought of another funeral and did not go home for it. I wondered later if my Dad thought badly of me because of that.

I couldn’t settle on a major. I started out majoring in Math. I had every intention of becoming a Math teacher. Then, after a few months, that didn’t seem right any more. I changed majors a couple times and finally, my counselor had me come in and told me maybe I should take a deep breath and try to figure out what I should do. He had me take a series of tests that were designed to determine what you were interested in and maybe pick a life’s work. I was thinking about writing at the time and answered the questions like writing was the answer. When I went in to talk to the counselor to get the results, he said, Good News, Jim, we have a clear signal that you should be a lawyer.

I laughed out load. You’ve got to be kidding. A lawyer? I could not see myself as a lawyer. Looking back, it might have been a good direction to take, but maybe not. I was so discouraged that I decided to drop out of school and go back home. When I told my mother I was dropping out, she was furious. I was giving up a four-year scholarship with all tuition paid. How could I do that?

I left Ann Arbor in February, 1961 and went back to Battle Creek. I stayed there just long enough to go down to the recruiters office and volunteer for the U.S. Air Force. The Vietnam War was just starting and I knew that if I couldn’t get an exemption for being in school, since I had dropped out, it was only a matter of time before I was drafted. The Air Force looked a lot more appealing than the Army.

It turned out to the best decision I had ever made in my life up to that point of my life. Stay tuned for the “Military Years”, 1961 – 1965.


University of Michigan, Part 1

I think we’ve beaten high school and the farm years to death enough. Time to move on. In the fall of 1960, I left home for the first time in my life and traveled by bus to Ann Arbor, Michigan to begin what should have been four years at the University of Michigan.

Since I was Valedictorian of my class, I was guaranteed a scholarship to U of M. The school had a policy that they would give at least one scholarship to every high school in the state. The scholarship was given to the first student, who qualified, and applied for it from each school. It covered complete tuition and books and fees. I just had to figure out a way to eat and pay rent and I thought I could do that. Since we were broke, living on the farm and Floyd would have never parted with any of his hard-earned money to help me, I had to have the scholarship or I wouldn’t have been able to go at all.

The time I spent at U of M was short, only about 6 months. I didn’t even finish the second semester. I don’t remember much about the actual school life. I lived in a dorm with in a room with another guy. Don’t remember his name. I took basic freshman classes. the only one I remember for sure was Chemistry. I sat in this huge classroom that’s shaped like half a giant bowl. The room held about 200 students and you could barely see the teacher. You sat and listened and tried to take notes and you went to labs and dealt mainly with Teaching Assistants and never said anything to the teacher himself unless you really messed something up or needed something signed.

I doubt if anyone who reads this remembers the TV show “Dobie Gillis”. It was a black and white half hour comedy from the 50’s that was about this high school boy, played by Dwayne Hickman and his friend Maynard G. Krebs played by Bob Denver. Denver later went on to play Gilligan in “Gilligan’s Island” in the 60’s. Maynard was, what they called back then, a hippie. He had a little go-tee of a beard and said things like “Groovy, Man”. Well, my best friend at the U of M was a kid who could have been a double for Maynard Krebs.

He was a 100% hippie and I would go over to his apartment and we and some other friends would sit around and listen to weird music and talk about stuff like, what if the entire human race living on earth was contained in a drop of water that was in the glass of some giant in some other universe. We thought we were so cool. I never smoked dope, but I’m sure some of the other guys in the group did at some point. It was that kind of group.

More tomorrow….


Fun With Math

One of my fondest memories of high school was Math class. If I could find my yearbook, I’d know more names. Maybe if I find it later, I’ll go back and put them in, but for now, the only teacher whose name I remember is Mr Oakes. He was our Trig and Geometry teacher at Pennfield.

I took him in my junior and senior years. He started a “Math Club” and I was the president. I think I can point my love of math back to those years. At the end of each year, the school would have an assembly in which they honored the leading students in each major area of education. Guess who won the Math award his senior year. Yep. I still have that award. It’s a little metal charm bracelet size medal with a Math symbol etched on it. It’s in a box somewhere in the house and one of these days, I shall find it.

One thing I especially remember was the Math Fair we held in Mr Oakes room. I think it was for some kind of open house for the parents. We set up all kinds of displays, kind of like a science fair and demonstrated all different aspects of Math for our parents. Barb asked me if my Mom or Floyd came to it and I can’t honestly remember, but I doubt it.

At the fair, I was in charge of building a giant 3-D hyperbola made of string. It will be extremely hard to describe, but I’ll try. I should make a video of building one and put it on youtube and maybe people would watch it. This is what you do. You draw a large circle on the ceiling of the classroom (I remember it being about 3 feet across). Then you draw another circle on the floor exactly under the first circle. Then you thumb tack string to the top circle and run it down to the bottom circle, but at a slant. Not straight down. You do this every inch or so until you’ve attached string to the entire circle. The strings are all straight, but by slanting them, if you step back from the structure, you can see a hyperbolic curve that is formed by the string. You can do this on paper, too, but in 3-D, it was really cool.

That night was truly one of the highlights of my high school career. Man, were we geeks.


I Knew the Fonz

There was a boy in my high school class that looked and acted exactly like the guy on “Happy Days”, The Fonz. Henry Winkler played him on TV, but this kid was the real thing. He always wore a tee shirt and jeans and had a pack of cigarettes rolled up in the sleeve of his tee shirt. He walked around like he was trouble with a capital “T” and if you did anything to cross him, you were in danger of getting beat up.

As you know, I was the valedictorian of my class and probably one of the smarter kids in school. Fonz approached me one day and asked if I would help him with a homework assignment. I was afraid to say no, so I helped him. Well, believe it or not, we became great friends. I guess I was his Richey except not as cool.

One night after some event at school, he offered to take me home. He was one of the few kids in class that owned his own car. But, he said, he had to do something first. I was in no hurry to get back to the farm, so I said sure, I’d ride along. I wondered if we were going to go get beer or something harder. Instead, he drove to the local Barn Theater. They were doing a production of “Finian’s Rainbow” which is a musical. He said they were rehearsing and would I like to watch. We went in and I found out he had one of the leads in the play.

He sang and danced and was really pretty good. I watched from the wings. I was dumbfounded. Here is this kid that is feared by almost every other kid in school singing and dancing. I learned that you never judge someone until you know everything about them and maybe, not even then. It was one of the coolest nights I experienced in high school and something I’ll never forget.


Most Likely to Succeed

When I was a senior in high school, it was time to do the yearbook for the class. Our school had the tradition of picking all the “Best of…..” and “Most Likely to….” type of stuff. We were all gathered together in the library. One of the first things we voted on was “Most Likely to Succeed”.  I was nominated and I accepted. The vote was made and so for 1960, I was put down as the Most Likely to Succeed. Which is, I think one of the best categories. We went on and voted for other stuff, like Best Athlete and Best Dancer and Best person on the newspaper club and on the math club and on the spanish club. There were 20 or 30 different categories and they all had to be nominated and voted on.

Then we got to the “Most Optimistist” and I think one of the cheer leaders got that. Next was “Most Pessimistic” Someone said that Jim Hoag should have that category. Well, our counselor was a very wise woman. She said “I don’t think any one student should have more than one award.” She looked over at me and asked me which award I would like. Either Most Likely to Succeed or Most Pessimistic. If Homer Simpson had existed back then, I would have said “Duh”, let me think about that. Well, it took me about 1/2 nano-second to decide on that one. I was glad the Most Likely to Succeed was done first, because I wanted to keep that.

I smiled sweetly and told the counselor I would prefer to keep the Succeed award. So, I did and they were forced to give the Pessimistic award to someone else. Darn. I came out OK in that one. Too bad, I didn’t learn anything from it.


At the County Fair

Barb and I are watching the movie from the 40’s called “State Fair”. It’s about a family that goes to the Iowa State Fair back in the days when fairs really meant something. It made me think of a story that I had forgotten until now.

Every summer, on the farm, one of the highlights of the summer was to go to the Calhoun County Fair. I think it was in August and we went every year. The Kader’s would take animals to be judged and we kids would get to go, too. I begged my mother until she gave me some money and then we could ride as many rides as we could and get cotton candy, etc.

My cousin’s Sharon and Dick and I would run around together all day and have a great time. The best part was that we weren’t working that day. It was like a vacation. One year, Sharon came running excitedly up to me and said she’d got to know the operator of the Merry-Go-Round and he would give us a free ride. We were to get on the ride, mount a horse and then when the ticket taker came along to pick up the ticket, we would just point to the operator and the ticket taker would go on and we’d get a free ride.

Well, it worked perfectly. The guy came along. I pointed to the operator and he nodded and went on his way. We rode the ride and got off. It was after the ride was over that Sharon told us that she had never talked to the operator at all. She had made the whole thing up. She thought it was a great trick to play on us and expected us to get kicked off the ride. It backfired and we got the ride anyway.

We laughed about that for days.


My First Love

I took the last week off from the blog because I needed to finish my taxes and Barb and I have been working on another project which I’ll tell you all about another time.

I wanted to say more about those four years I spent in high school. I think I’ve covered the farm about as completely as I can remember, but not so much about high school. I told you about my two best friends, David Peters and Bob Harrison. They both went to Belleview and I met them in the 9th grade. We were friends until after graduation and then we drifted apart as people do when they no longer have anything in common.

Strangely, I can’t remember having too many friends at Pennfield.

Bonnie Hendrickson was the name of the the girl I took to the Junior Prom. I remember almost nothing about the prom except that Bonnie was a year younger than me and seemed impressed to be going to the prom with me. We never got any further than just being friends, though.

My first real love interest was a girl named Nancy Letterman. Spelled just like David on TV, I think. She went to Pennfield and I remember that she lived very near to the school. Since I lived 15 miles away on the farm, the only time I saw her was at school. I used to get home from the bus ride and go right in and call her. By this time, I was starting to get interested in music and had bought some 45 records. I remember one time being real excited about this great new record I bought. It was Ferrante and Teicher and “Theme from The Apartment”. It’s an instrumental. They play dual pianos. It was and still is, a great song. I think I’ll write something about this on the number1project site. Anyway, I had come home from the store with the record and called her because I wanted to share the song with her. I played it (on a old record player – holding the phone receiver up to the speaker) and then asked her what she thought. she said “It sounds like somthing my mother would like.” Being of fragile self esteem anyway, I was really disappointed. I hung up and I don’t know if I ever shared another song with her.

Nancy had two beaus (boyfriends). Me and a big wrestler type named Dale Hoffman. When the senior Prom came along, I got to her first and asked to the prom. She accepted and I was worried that Dale was going to beat me up for that, but he didn’t.

I must say, it was a magical night. We had a great time and I thought that she was truly the girl for me. After the dance we had what we called “Senior’s night” All of the seniors drove over to Lake Michigan (about 1 and a half hours away) and swam in the lake in the middle of the night. It was all pretty much harmless fun. No orgy’s or anything. This was 1960, remember, and while some of the wilder kids did those things, I wasn’t part of that group and neither was Nancy. We had a really good time. The climax of the night was to go to (I believe) Howard Johnson’s in the morning and have breakfast. Then we all went home. I thought life couldn’t get any better than this.

During the following summer, I saw her as much as I could. We’d talk on the phone a lot. It was during that summer, I believe, that I played the record I talked about earlier.

There was one big problem, though: me. I have been and probably always will be a very pessamistic person. I was that way in high school. Dale, on the other hand was athletic and positive and pretty much everything I wasn’t. I don’t know why she stuck with me as long as she did, but I was sure that eventually, we’d get married and live happily ever after. As you know, it was not to be.

In the fall, I started school at the University of Michigan. I’ll go into detail on that later, but this is about Nancy. I was there at school (Ann Arbor, Michigan – about 75 miles east of Battle Creek) when one day I got a card from Nancy. Might have been my birthday, I don’t remember exactly. But I’ll never forget the card. On the front of the card it said:

“Look inside and you will see, exactly what you mean to me…”

I opened the card and the inside was blank. (It meant nothing.) I might have thought it was a joke, but down in the lower right hand corner of the card, she had written “That’s right.” A “Dear John” card if I ever saw one. This was her way of breaking up with me. I have never been as crushed as I was that day. I tried to call her but she wouldn’t speak to me. I finally got to talk to her mother and she told me that Nancy was engaged to Dale and they were going to be married in the spring. So, I didn’t need to call again. She was nice about it, but seemed particularly pleased that her daughter had chosen the right man.

It took me a long time to get over Nancy. There’s a P.S. to this story that came along about 20 years later. I’ll tell you that when I get to 1980.

More later…