I Could Almost Hear The Sound Track of “Out Of Africa” Playing In My Head

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The General and I were involved in a relaxed, causal after dinner conversation Saturday night with another couple. At our invitation, they were visiting in our home and attending the Thanksgiving celebration at our church on Sunday. We have met briefly several times over the course of the past three-to-four years.

The husband was a friend of my twin brother’s at Texas A&M – Class of 1969.   I’m not sure how Ralph initially located me, but they drove from College Station and came to church one Sunday morning. He introduced himself by saying something closely akin to: “You may not remember me, but I was one of the groomsmen in your brother’s wedding. I found out where you were and wanted a chance to visit. The memory of your bother and the friendship we shared is something we continue to value.”

Whenever anyone from the past mentions my brother’s name, shares a memory or indicates theirs was a valued friendship, it always leaves a warm place in my heart for the person sharing the information. Ronnie and I have been separated for the past 43 years. Gracious people like Ralph and his wife Terri who invest the time to highlight that their continued memory of my brother is important to them have softened the years of silence. It probably sounds strange, but without fail, those kinds of conversations are always an unexpected gift and I am enriched by the experience.

In October, when I attended my 50-year high school reunion, many people had similar conversations with me about Ronnie. It highlighted that Ron’s memory is still a gift that many treasure. That, too, was an unexpected gift, but one I found important and comforting.

Saturday night, the questions I asked Ralph and Terri were simple questions, but I wanted to know more about them. I’ve known for a long time that they are kind people. In addition to being personable and involved in the lives of their two daughters and their families, I was curious about their families of origin and where they grew up.

Once the conversation started, the information shared was fascinating. Terri shared more of her life story than did Ralph, but I suspect much of Ralph’s story is wrapped in military service “not yet for public disclosure” kinds of information. He is a retired Colonel from the U.S. Air force where is served as a pilot.

Ralph is from Texarkana. I asked which side? He smiled and said, “I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as quickly as I could”. Apparently, when it comes to be Texan, he was a near miss. He was almost in Texas. I can’t remember if he said he was born four blocks or four miles from the Texas State line, but he obviously made the switch and is now a Texan by choice.

Terri, on the other hand, comes from the other side of the world. Her dad was military. As she shared the location of her birth, I could almost hear the sound track to “Out of Africa” playing in my head. Wow! I’ve only known one other person born in Africa. At the time of her birth, Terri’s dad was stationed at Wheelus Air Base in Tripoli, Libya. Consequently, she is indeed “out of
Africa”.

No sooner had those words come out of her mouth than we were discussing the Marine Corps Hymn that includes the line: “From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli”. Obviously, the song is one of the oldest official songs in the United States Armed Forces. The battles chronicled in the verse go back a very long way in time.

“The ‘Halls of Montezuma’ refers to the Battle of Chapultepec in 1847 during the Mexican-American War, where a force of Marines stormed Chapultepec Castle”. What about the “Shores of Tripoli?” That phrase pre-dates the reference to the “halls of Montezuma”. It refers to the First Barbary War and specifically the Battle of Dern in 1805.” It was at that time that Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon and his Marines hoisted the American flag over the ‘Old World’ for the first time. The phrase was added to the flag of the United States Marine Corps.”

I don’t even remember how the topic was approached, but I was fascinated by Terri’s story. The year was 1969. She had just graduated from high school. She was standing first in the teller’s line at Bank of America in Rancho Cordova, California. The transaction of her cashing a check was abruptly interrupted when one of three gunman pointed a gun at her head and that of the teller. Everyone in the bank was instructed to lie on the floor.

I would be traumatized if I ever bounced a check. Can you imagine how surreal and terrifying the next few minutes in Terry’s life had to be? I’m sure that was true for everyone in the bank. Just for the record, “Not everyone who plays with guns, plays nice.” She said, “Someone kept saying, ‘Hurry up Ernie. Get the money. We’ve got to go’.”

The gunman who pointed the gun in Terri’s face had not seen the last of her. She may have been only eighteen years old, but she had a stalwart determination that justice would be served. Despite treats of safety that subsequently came her way if she testified at the trial, she clearly remembered the face of the man who pointed the gun in hers. Despite the threats, she later testified at the trial. Justice was served, but how do you ever fully forget the terror of someone pointing a gun in your face. I’m sure you don’t.

I’m grateful for now having a friendship with friends of Ronnie. It feels good to know, they are now friends of mine.

All My Best!

Don

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