Chapter 1960, age 17-18

Themes and Events:
* The Civil Right Bill passes Congress. This year Tax Freedom Day falls on 17 April, in 1950 tax freedom was two weeks earlier, on 3 April. The U.S. nuclear submarine, Triton, completes the first underwater circumnavigation of the globe, traveling 30,708 miles in 84 days.
* Teflon coated cookware comes to market and is met by an enthusiastic public. The first felt tipped marker, by Pentel, are sold. The laser (Light Amplification through the Stimulated Emission of Radiation) is patented.
* The new head of government in Cuba, Fidel Castro, nationalized all American interests in his country. The U.S. retaliated by suspending sugar shipments from Cuba. One thing led to another and animosities grew between the Us government and the communist, Castro regime.
* The US Census shows the U.S.population is currently 179,323,175, up 27,997,377 from the 1950 census, for the largest population growth in population to date. Meanwhile, the world population has grown to 3 billion people, up from 2 billion in 1930.
* The contraceptive pill was approved by the USDA for public use on May 9th. In my younger years, while hiking or riding my bicycle, I would occasionally came across a semi remote “lovers lane” parking spot. In such places I saw  wadded tissue paper and well used “rubbers” laying about the ground, all testimony to the effectiveness of  “lovers lane”.
* Until the early 1960s, one occasionally saw a “condom” dispensing, vending machine, in gas station bathrooms. Before, “The Pill”, sexually active couples relied on “rubbers” much more frequently to curtail an unwanted pregnancy  than they did after birth control pills became available. In these times condoms were also used to protect against syphilis and gonorrhea, which were the only two sexually transmitted diseases active in the American population. The sexual freedom offered by the contraceptive pill gave rise, in the years ahead,  to an era of promiscuity. As promiscuity spread so did the numbers of varieties of venereal disease. By the early 1990s, there was occurring several VD epidemics at once including: Chlamydia, A.I.D.S., Herpes, antibiotic resistant Gonorrhea, Syphilis, Genital Warts…

Pasadena High School, JROTC
When first enrolling in PHS (Pasadena High School), I was surprised to find they offered  JROTC (Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps). JROTC was something like advanced Boy Scouts, with pre military training,  uniforms, inspections, marching drills, rifle practice, etc. The class sounded interesting, so I registered to take it.

Although time has erased memory of the particulars of the class, I remember the marching drills and the rifle training. Each one of us JROTC students learned the proper method to care for and fire a .22 rifle. There was a permanent rifle range set up adjacent to the JROTC class room and armory in the  basement beneath one of tha campus buildings.
After several rounds of competition between the schools several JROTC classes, about five of us were left as the top marksman.  We became the Pasadena High School Rifle Team, and went into state competitions. We won the shooting completion against several other area schools and were bussed to Pendleton Marine Base for the state championships. I remember exiting the school bus and walking across a corner of the Marine parade grounds, while formations of Marine recruits were marching around learning to follow orders while moving in a tight formation. [Internet image showing a rifle range with targets similar to what we had in JROTC]

During competition, we fired heavy, competition grade .22 rifles from the prone position. Our targets were of the small ‘bulls eye’ variety, hung 50-75 feet away each in its own brightly illuminated lane.

When sighting to fire, the procedure was to take a final shallow breath, gently exhale whilst slowly squeezing the trigger. It seemed that with each heart beat, the pulse of blood flowing through your body would make the rifle slightly rise and fall or arc across the dead center of the bull’s eye. As your breath exhaled, and pulse moved the rifle, your trigger finger slowly pulled the trigger, in that last moment when the micro adjustments were coming together, the target would fall onto the sights, and the rifle would report. The moment you were aware the gun had fired, you could feel if it resulted in a good shot. After each shot we moved our heads to the side and looked down range with a spotting scope to see where  the target had been hit.

Our rifle team didn’t win the state championship, nor were we in second place, but I’d had a small personal time of glory, rising several levels in the state rifle marksman competitions.

After moving from Arizona and with the passage of time, I’d started a new school, made new friends and was moving along in life. I had a tender spot in my heart for my ex girl friend, Shanna, we’d had a great summer together. We wrote to one another, about monthly, frequently enough to keep in contact, but not often enough to make our emotional fires kindle to flame. As teen age kids, our letters were short and talked mostly about school and friends, they were not not the kind filled with passion. I think we both rightfully figured that there was too much time, circumstance and distance for us to ever get together. How could it ever happen? One had to face it, we were teens living with our parents, neither of us had transportation, no money of our own, no jobs, we were in school. You simply cannot expect to maintain a long-term relationship when you live in a child’s world. Fortunately, we approached the problem with only a vague understanding the time and event factors that kept us apart, friends who could never’ be together. So, we occasionally wrote one another and went about the important daily activities of everyday life.

One night, alone in the mountains
One Friday afternoon, I made plans for a solo overnight campout in Eaton Canyon.
It so happens that Eaton Canyon is the same mountainous canyon that Ted and I hiked down returning from Mt Wilson the previous summer. The portion of Eaton Canyon we were use to hiking in was the lower part, the part accessable from northern Pasadena neighborhoods.

Ted and I had been in the lower elevations of the canyon while hiking and exploring many times, so I was familiar with the area. Anyway, I assembled my gear, an old war surplus Army jacket, a canteen of water, K-Bar hunting knife, some bologna, a can of beans and my Boy Scout mess kit. Mom and Dad agreed to drive me up to the closest point and I’d hike back from there. It was only about a ten minute drive on the road, I left from there on foot.

Within about a half hour I’d gone quite a ways back up the canyon and it was becoming dark. Making my way along the dry stream bed, I finally came to a widening in the valley floor, the place where I’d planned to stay the night. There was a bright moon so I could see fairly well. However, there were scrub oak trees around the flat area which created some deep dark areas that were pitch black. As I quietly approached a dark area within the trees, I heard a light ‘crash’ as if something had jumped down from a tree. Then I heard small brittle fallen tree limbs and leaves crackle as something made its way across the cluttered ground. Alarmed, I stopped, tensed up, pulled my hunting knife from its sheath and gulped with a little fear, and looked hard into the shadows for movement. I was worried that a mountain lion might be directly ahead of me and only 50-70 feet away. There had been the occasional reports of mountain lions in the San Bernardino mountains, but they were very infrequent (in those days) and had been reported deeper in the mountain range, not so close to human habitation.

The sounds could also have been a deer, raccoon or other non predator…? Irregardless of what it was, I wasn’t going to challenge it’s right to be there, so after a few short moments, I began backing away. After a minute or so I’d backed out into the moonlight,  not hearing any more movement, I turned and walked briskly back down the canyon, stopping now and again to look and listen. Shortly, I came to a fork in the canyon, one way went back the way I’d origionally come in, the other led into a rather narrow dry river bed channel with steep cliff sides and sandy floor. I veered off into the narrow canyon.

After walking less than a  hundred yards, I found that the base of the cliff  on one side, had an approximate two foot high crevice eroded out at stream bed level. The crevice was maybe twelve feet long, about two feet high and three feet deep (back under the cliff’s overhang). The overhang was just the right size for me to climb into and sleep, safe from attack except from a ‘straight on’ direction.

The thought that maybe there might still be an animal stalking me was still in my mind, enough to make me cautious, but not enough to make me go home. I collected as much fire wood as I though I’d need that night and started a campfire just a few feet outside my crevice-cave. I figured the fire would keep any animals at bay and the smoke would cover my scent.

With a nice fire illuminating the area, I fried my slices of  bologna and heated the can of beans. After eating, I buried the can and washed out my eating utensils with sand, fed more wood on the fire and crawled back into the crevice. Lastly,  making sure I could reach the kindling, to  feed my fire during the night and even pulled some of it  up close up by my legs, to alert me if something tried coming through under the crevice.
[At right an Internet image of the type and approximate size of crevice that I slept in.]

As the fire died down, I laid there listening to the silence of the wild, there was no snapping twigs nor rustling leaves, only the sound of an owl.

Suddenly, it was morning.  I dragged myself out of the crevice stiff and chilly, and stood to look around. Having soundly slept through the night, I was glad to see the gray of dawn. After going to the ‘bathroom’, burying the ashes from my dead campfire and having a big drink of water, I proceeded back down and out of Eaton Canyon on the  several mile walk home.

I had accomplished what was to me at the time, was a courageous deed and faced some modicum of potential danger from some  wild creature the night before. I had faced the creature within, and won.

The family was just getting up and moving around the house when I came in.

My new friend, Mike
Not long after our family moved to Pasadena, probably within a month of the time I met Ted, I  was introduced to another neighborhood fellow, named Mike.
Mike, like Ted, turned out to be a friend for the rest of my life.
It’s funny how you can live in several places around the U.S. as I had, and have relatively few long memories of the people met. Then suddenly, as  if out of the blue, with in a month or two, meet two people with whom you maintain friendship and continued communicating with for over 50 years. And so it was with my new friend, Mike.
I remember meeting Mike at his house and standing around in the back yard chatting for a while while we got to know one another.
As I eventually learned, Mike’s father had a long-term, successful business on Colorado Blvd, in Pasadena; as a result, the family was affluent, but in a  quiet, comfortable way. Their large extended family, who lived in the area, were very close and frequently got together for traditional, old world  pasta feeds.

After chatting for a while, Mike invited me indoors to see his ‘lab’.  We walked to a door in the kitchen, which he opened, then flipping a light switch, he led the way down a flight of stairs into a partial basement.
What I saw at the bottom of the stairs took my breath away. Mike had a ‘complete chemistry lab’ on one wall, a book-case of science books in another area, and various electronics gear including an oscilliscope on a large L shaped work bench. I mean, he had a high school grade science laboratory packed into his basement.

I think why I liked Mike from the beginning was that he was very focused in science oriented studies and he was curious. He was like a teenage scientist; heck, he was a teen-aged scientist!
On the many occasions we were together down in “the lab,'” Mike would be working on a project of his design, or testing a circuit while we chatted, or we’d discuss various theoretical concepts, or talk about the other guys or neighbors in the immediate neighborhood.
Between the two of us, we designed a small robot with mechanical, vice like, gripping ‘hands’. We had discussions of, and at least a partial design for building a Van de Graaff generator – using a coffee can.
From Mike’s enthusiasm for science, I was moved to borrow and read the biography of Nichola Tesla from the  school library.

Ted and Mike were very different people and for the first time in my life I was really learning from and being inspired by others. While Ted was my friend in adventure, Mike was my friend in studied observations. I was neither as free thinking or mature as Ted (despite my being older) nor possessing the dedicated intelligence that Mike had. I was something in between the two, perhaps lending an enthusiastic, creative bend to our endeavors.

[Photograph at right:  Mike ca. 1962, a few years older than when we met.]

In a way, Mike was like a social hub in his location within the neighborhood. Directly next door to Mike lived a fellow named, Russell, whose family had lived in the very large, old multiple story house since its construction in the late 1800s. Russell’s great-grandfather invented a part for oil drilling rigs that prevented oil blowouts when the drill struck pressurized oil formations. Russell’s family had, at one time in the past, been ‘well to do’.
About a block from Mike and Russell’s homes, generally back in the direction of my house, lived the two brothers, Dick and Dale. Dale was my age and Dick a year younger.
Mike lived about 2-1/2 blocks east of our house and Ted lived  a couple blocks to the west, Dick and Dale lived almost in between. During the first few months that our family lived in Pasadena, I became friends with Ted, Mike, Russell, Dick and Dale.






[Photograph, 1959: Mike in his basement lab. The lab’s  focus gradually underwent a change from chemistry to electronics. Many hours of good times were spent here chatting about science topics and life in general.]

 Easter vacation at Crystal Lake
With Easter vacation 1960 approaching several teens from the Howard Street area planned a camping trip. We decided to stay at the Crystal Lake campground in the San Gabriel Mountains north of Azusa, CA., about fifty miles from home. Our group consisted of neighborhood friends, Ted, Russell, the brothers Dick and Dale and myself. We planned what food and equipment to take then divided the shopping and logistics amongst ourselves.  Russell’s mother drove us campers and our equipment to the campground in her family station wagon; no soon were we unloaded when she promptly left.
[Internet image of Crystal Lake: The small lake was a short hike from our tent in the campgrounds. We tried fishing a couple of times, but only a couple fellows managed to make a catch, which were very small- maybe two fish caught 4-5 inches long.]

We hurriedly set up our tents and laid out our other equipment then began looking around for fun things to do. Not more than two hundred feet from where we were set up,  was another group of five or six teenage guys. Our two groups immediately got together; we found they would be camping for a week also.
Early in our vacation, there was a storm which blew down a couple of our combined groups makeshift tarps and tents, this caused some of the fellows to share lodgings between groups. From that time on, a couple of our group slept at the neighbors camp and a couple of their group slept in ours. I had a canvas two-man Mountain tent, the other group had a large canvas square, large enough to cover four fellows. The other four or five young men made tents constructed from a tarp, and old blankets that had been laid over a rope strung between trees, tied at the corners and staked down.

Any time you’d awaken during the night there were always a couple of our expanded camp group sitting around the campfire and chatting and any time of day, several people could be found sleeping or trying to sleep.
With the exception of meal times, someone was always fishing, hiking, involved in a rock fight, climbing on the mountain, or dragging firewood back to camp (which was simply another infraction of park rules). There was a lot of running, shouting, swearing and complaining, particularly as the better food supplies were exhausted.

As the days passed, everyone inspected each others food provisions trying to work out decent recipes from what was available. Neither group had an ideal selection of foods to live high on, so we tried to mix meals that were, if not tasty, at least filling and warm.

After a week of camping, with little or no bathing or changes of clothing, meager food supplies and long hours running around, Mrs. Garner returned for us in her station wagon. We had a great time. If we’d had a good meal, a bath and change of clothes, and more provisions, none of us would have been interested in returning home.

Memories of the Telephone System[1], 1960
By the early 1960s, essentially every family had one telephone in their house, some families enjoyed the extravagance of having two or more. Since almost every dwelling had a telephone, it should be realized that every person in the nation was for the first time in potential, immediate contact with every other person. The shared “party line” had become a thing of the past.

Although the telephone companies advertised declining rates for long distance calls, the average person of the 1960s still didn’t make many out of area calls during any given year. From this period up through the mid 1990s, if you wished to make long distance call, the most economical times were during non business hours, i.e., after 5:00PM on weekdays, anytime on holidays, or on weekends.

When making a long distance call, we had the new option of dialing “station to station” directly by using the long distance area code. If the area code concept was still a little vague, one needed only dial “O” and the Operator would place the call for you. In an Operated Assisted long distance call you were given the options of: 1) “Person to person”, If you wished to speak to a particular person and no one else at the given number. This service was charged at a higher rate. 2) “Station to station”, if you would talk to whom ever answered the telephone at the dialed number. This service was charged at a lower rate.

It was common practice to cheat the phone company out of fees on certain occasions. If you were going to visit a person who had a long distance number as dialed from your home, you could make a toll-free call through the Operator to let your host know, “All was well and you were leaving on schedule. ” This was accomplished by prearrangement: At the time of your departure, you would place a Person to Person call through the Operator to your hosts number and ask for yourself or a fictitious person in their family. The host family receiving the coded name from the Operator knew you were about to leave home as scheduled. The standard response to the Operators inquiry after the fictitious person was to say, “Sam (or who ever) is not here right now.” On the other hand if you wanted to accept the call and chat for a moment or pass on some last minute information the host would just accept the call.

During these years, a local call made from a coin operated, public, “pay telephone,” cost 10¢. Pay phones were located at supermarkets, gas stations, airports, hotel lobbies, some street corners, in large department stores, in the lobby of public buildings, factory lobbies, etc.

Too many mouths to feed at home? (family triage)
By this time, Dad was writing “hardship” letters to his Mother, Elsie  Pierce for partial financial support while he attended Fuller Seminary. Although Grandma Pierce would periodically send some money, her assistance couldn’t be counted on. Mom and Dad never said how much they received, like so much about themselves, they remained secretive. Mom continued working at a local garment factory.

My three fateful choices
I graduated from High School in the late Spring, graduation service were held in the Rose Bowl. When I arrived home after the ceremony, Dad was reading school texts and stopped for a minute to congratulate me and present me with a wrist watch.
Within a couple of days after graduation, Dad asked me to decide what I was going to do, now that I was out of school. He asked if I would be going to work, college or in the Armed Services? Suddenly and unexpectedly, I was faced with adult decisions, yet neither school, my parents, nor personal experience had ever trained me to make such decisions.

I was told to sit in my bedroom with a sheet of paper, consider my alternatives and list them- so that’s what I did:
1) Work? I didn’t know anything about work for I hadn’t heard any “work stories” from Dad. He hadn’t worked in the last five years and before that he never talked about work in front of us kids. Yes, people worked, they knew how to do things, I didn’t know how to do anything, but kid stuff.
2) College? From what Dad said about college, it was hard and he didn’t think I was ready for the commitment it would require.
3) Armed Services?  I didn’t know anything about the military either. The idea of the military seemed to set well with Dad, as he told me that there was hiking, camping and rifle practice. I took J.R.O.T.C. class in high school so was familiar with wearing a uniform, drill practice, saluting, etc. Going into the Army sounded like the best route, but I was “hemming and hawing” with indecision when Dad sweetened the pot, saying,
“If you decide to go into the Army, we’ll send you back to Michigan to visit your Grandmother and cousins for the summer. But when you return at the end of the summer, you must keep your part of the bargain and go into the Army. OK?”
Hahaha, what a deal!
(I took the bait)

[Photograph, 14 February 1960: Left to right: Larry (me), sister Linda, mother Hazel May  (Shafer) Pierce and father, Robert Francis Pierce taken in Pasadena, CA. Photo taken by Ken Milhouse, a cousin to President Richard Nixon. Ken was a Youth group director at the Altadena Baptist Church]

I chose the Michigan/Army route, knowing that I could always go to college after the Army and find work after college. The main problem was, I simply lacked information about my three choices. I didn’t know a thing about the world of work, didn’t have the commitment for college, but ended up on the right path by default.

Returning to Michigan for summer vacation
Soon after the ‘decision making process’, Mom, Dad and Linda saw me off at the Greyhound Bus Station on Greene Street in Pasadena, CA.
For the second time in six years I was embarking on a round trip bus ride across county.
Several days later, my first cousin, Jack, picked me up at the small Greyhound bus station in Paw Paw, MI, about five miles from Lawton. Mom and Dad sent with my luggage, a nicely framed Eighth Grade graduation photograph of Linda. During the trip it was smashed and ruined by shifting luggage in the bus luggage compartment. Jacky drove me to Grandma Elsie Pierce’s apartment rental in Lawton.

Grandma had never returned to the rural Coloma farm, since Grandpa Glen’s death two years earlier.  She lived with her middle son, Jack’s family for a while, then rented a flat, a block from their house.

Grandma, Elsie Pierce’s apartment
Grandma Elsie had an upstairs flat, above a large family garage. It was a nice efficient apartment with a small kitchen, bathroom, one bedroom and a livingroom.  The livingroom couch folded out into a bed, which is where I slept.
The only problem with Grandma’s quarters was that it was upstairs. The  rather steep, exposed outdoor  wooden stairway led up along the side of the building to her flat. During the winter, I imagine this was at times a precarious climb through ice and snow for a 70-year-old woman, for anyone.

Most of the furniture in Grandmother’s semi furnished flat was of a newer, plain, lower quality type, not unlike you’d find in a motel. She had a couple very old pieces (which had decades earlier belonged to her mother, Anna Flora (Anderson) Grubb) that son’s, Bill and Jack, brought over from the farm. Among these was an antique writing-table and a small spindle legged table on which she always kept a variety of potted green plants. Elsie loved African Violets and raised several variety, just as her Mother, Anna Flora (Anderson) Grubb had done before.  [Internet image of the main street through Lawton, MI. ca 2000AD]
No sooner was I situated when, Grandma gave me a set of keys to her 1956 Pontiac and told me to use it at my convenience.

As the summer passed, cousins Jack and Bob, several of my new friends and myself took jobs loading bales of hay for local farmers in order to earn spending cash.

Although we never spoke about Grandpa Glen, Grandma’s loneliness was apparent. She had lost in a moment– her husband, her farm home, most of her farm hobby interests, and all that was their family’s way of life. Now she was an old woman, quaintly passing her time with a few friends and relatives.
Grandma maintained a fairly large garden by the garage, as she pointed out, “Just to keep me busy.”  Indeed ever once in a while I’d  come home from tossing bales of hay and Grandma would be either out weeding or would have a few fresh vegetables on the sink for our supper salad. Grandmother wasn’t canning, just raising some vegetables to eat and mostly give away. She wasn’t as tough as she’d been before, she seemed older, less cheerful, with less gumption. I remember that every time I saw Grandma Pierce, after our family moved away from Michigan, I developed a tear in my eye.
Grandma was always my favorite person, we had similar spirits, she loved me and I loved her. Every few years when I saw Grandma, she looked older and older, she was weaker and less steady, her strength seemed to be ebbing away, her face more deeply wrinkled and hair not as dark, then becoming speckled white. When I saw Grandma, tears well up and I choked them back so as not to make her feel bad. I didn’t like what nature was doing to her.[2]

My Uncle, Jack Pershing Pierce
I  liked my Uncle Jack, He was a friendly, mellow man who was always ready with a big smile and a pat on the back. Years earlier, while visiting their house, he fixed me my first alcoholic beverage, a Grasshopper, while admonishing me not to tell my parents.
Uncle Jack was a college graduate. He served as a Captain in a Transportation unit, in Europe during World War II. It was said that when he went to war his hair was dark brown. He must have seem some terrible things and lived under great stress while in Europe, because when he returned from the war his hair was white. From my earliest memories of Uncle Jack, his hair was white.

After the war, Jack found a job working in a farm supply company, selling Allied Chemical products. Over the years, he did so well that he received promotion after promotion. As Product Manager for central Michigan he bought a large white, wood frame, two-story house in Lawton. The house was subsequently furnished with quality furniture, rugs, draperies, etc., the kind of quality that my family never had in our home.

Finally, Uncle Jack was promoted by Allied Chemical Corporation to the position of Western District Sales Manager for the western half of the United States. When Jack was transferred to his new office in Omaha, NE his marriage with Aunt Julie dissolved.

A few months before I arrived for my summer visit, Aunt Julie and Uncle Jack’s marriage had broken up. Aunt Julie remained with cousins, Jack Jr. and Bob, in Lawton[3], while Uncle Jack moved to Omaha.

 Fun, with a capital F!
My time in Michigan with cousins and their friends was fun! Between the unrestricted use of grandmother’s car, having money from a summer job bailing hay, staying up all hours of the night, going to movies, stopping for hamburgers and fries, visiting, partying, camping out with my friends in the grape vineyards, I was in a teenagers heaven. This was the first time in my life I’d ever had the freedom to be my own person. I tended to be a little irresponsible at times, something that is often encountered in teenagers, something that is part of growing up, it was a time to learn boundaries, other’s expectations and eventually, responsibility.

One dismal damp and cloudy afternoon, when it was too wet to bale hay, cousins Jack, Bob, a couple of their friends and I were sitting in a fast food restaurant in Paw Paw making small talk, wiling away the afternoon, when the song , I Want To Hold Your Hand, by The Beatles played on the juke box. I’d heard of the Beatles, but until that point didn’t appreciate their music. To a group of young guys just “hanging out” having a soda pop and a plate of French fries, the fast and vibrant music lit up and put sparkle in what had other wise  been a somewhat boring and uneventful day.

Skinny dipping in Bankson Lake
One night after attending a movie in Kalamazoo, cousins Jack, Bob and I drove back to their house. Although it was about 10:00PM, we weren’t tired and still felt like doing something. Jack got the idea of raiding his Mom’s liquor cabinet, an excellent choice, so away he went. A few moments later he came back outside with a bottle of wine. We three made short work of the wine, meanwhile we decided to go swimming.
We drove out to Bankson Lake, which is just a few miles from Lawton, stripped naked and went skinny dipping in the moonlight. It was dark and there wasn’t anyone around at that late hour, so we had a good time.
That summer, we did all of our swimming at Bankson Lake, from a sandy beachfront lot owned by the Babson family, my cousins neighbors in Lawton. The Babson’s intended to build a beach house on the property, but at that time had only constructed a short pier with a raft anchored about 100 feet off shore. We had a riotous time swimming, diving from the raft and carrying on until well after midnight.

Exchanging love letters with Shanna
My vacation in Michigan wasn’t all swimming, and working on a farm. Much of the time was spent watching TV, chatting with my cousins and their friends, playing cards with Grandma, shopping, going to the movies, writing letters and other common daily affairs.
Regressing a bit:
After our family moved from Tempe Arizona to Pasadena, California, my old girl friend,Shanna  and I had maintained rather sporadic correspondence. While I was in Michigan, our communications increased. Toward the end of the summer, Shanna, with her Mom, Louise’s  permission, invited me to stop at their house for a few day visit, on my return trip to California.

To the Mackinaw Bridge, or Bust!
After cousin Jack and I earned a nice amount money loading hay bales, we decided to go on a “road trip”.  We borrowed Aunt Julie’s car, ostensibly to go camping at a State Park at near by Lake Michigan. Our real plan was to drive up state to northern Michigan and visit the Mackinaw Bridge.
At first we drove to the Lake Michigan park to see what it looked like and had a picnic lunch. Afterwards, we set out with the attitude, “Mackinaw or Bust”, and we busted!

Having driven to within ten miles of the bridge, something went wrong mechanically with the car forcing us to stop at a gas station. I don’t recall what the problem was, but we were told it  was serious. The mechanic told us the car might break down as we pulled out of the gas station, or with luck and slow driving, we might be able to drive several hundred miles before it failed altogether. We never did see the Mackinaw Bridge. Our trip back south was at speeds not exceeding fifteen miles per hour, all other traffic on the road passed us.

Our stomachs were tied in knots hoping the car wouldn’t break down as we nursed it along, back to the State Park where we were suppose to be camping.

The next morning we struck camp and returned to Lawton. Aunt Julie was upset that the car had troubles. The mechanical problem wasn’t our fault, but it certainly chose an inopportune time to manifest itself. I don’t think Jack ever told his Mom about our abortive trip and it sure wasn’t my business to say anything either.

High speed thrills
I’m embarrassed to write about this, infact thinking back about this period almost makes me pale. I suppose I’m lucky to have lived so long… One day I was driving a group of teen age friends from Lawton to Kalamazoo in Grandma’s Pontiac. We were all talking loud, telling jokes and playing “grab ass” as young males often do, as we wiled away the miles. For some reason, I decided to try and drive the car while sitting on top the front seat’s backrest. One fellow held the accelerator with his foot as I climbed into place. While sitting crouched, hunched over on the seat back and steering with my feet, he pumped the gas and we roared down the highway at 90 mph.

Another night, driving between Lawton and Paw Paw, I treated the same group of teens to a 120 mph ride on a gently rolling, secondary County Road posted for 60 mph Maximum speed. The only way I can look back on these episodes is to shake my head and think, “crazy”, then be thankful that the good Lord has given me another 50 years of life.

As summer came to an end, my cousins and friends were preparing to return to school. Our temporary summer farm jobs were gone and it was time for me to return to California.

Visiting Shanna in Tempe, Arizona
I traveled by Greyhound bus from Paw Paw, Michigan, to Tempe, Arizona, taking a several day layover to visit with Shanna and her family, before returning home. In the year since our family moved to Pasadena, Shanna’s family had moved from Robert’s Road to a small duplex located about two blocks from town.
When my  bus arrived in Tempe, I collected my luggage and carried it the few blocks to their house. It was disconcerting to find Shanna’s brother confined to his bedroom recovering from the Mumps, a disease I never had.
One evening, Shanna and I took the Rapid Transit bus to Phoenix to see the newly released movie, The
Time Machine
. The movie, released in 1960, starring Rod Taylor and Yvette Mimieux, was adapted from H.G. Wells book of the same title. The movie was fantastic for its time, something in it struck a chord in both of us. After the show, Shanna called her mother to let her know we planned to stay and see the movie a second time.

Almost fifty plus years have passed since we saw The Time Machine those first two times. Over the intervening years I’ve seen the movie in theaters, on television and video cassette, another nine to twelve times. The only movie I’ve seen as many times, is another time travel movie entitled, Somewhere In Time, which can be read about at the beginning of my handwritten Journal 1: The Gordian Knot, or in this blog in, Autobiography/Chapter 1983.

 An overnight trip to Las Vegas
That Friday, a couple of days after we went to the movie, Shanna’s Mom, Louise, suggested we go on a road trip. Louise and Shanna’s stepfather, Ray, were planning a drive to Las Vegas, some three hundred miles north-northwest of Phoenix.
When Ray came home from work that afternoon, we loaded some pillows, blankets, and sandwiches into the car and promptly left. Shanna’s younger brother, recovering from Mumps, stayed at home in the care of a baby-sitter.

Shanna and I sat in the back seat talking, holding hands, hugging and kissing until our mouths were sore. The hours passed and our minds grew leadened from lack of sleep and the monotonous rumble of the road. We tried to sleep, but the excitement of the impromptu trip and our being together again kept us from anything, but brief naps.
We arrived in Las Vegas shortly after midnight. [Internet image above: Las Vegas strip 1960.]

As is usual in Las Vegas, the “strip” casinos and businesses were brightly illuminated, people were continuously streaming in and out of the casinos, chatting on the sidewalk, catching cabs, crossing the busy streets.
Louise and Ray were fortunate to find a parking place on the “strip” and left us to nap while they went inside a casino to gamble. Shanna and I periodically dozed, and sat holding hands, looking at one another and making small talk. Her parents returned several hours later and found us sitting, snuggled up together and half awake, under a blanket in the back seat.
From the car we could see inside the nearby casinos. People were sitting in front of “one Armed Bandit” slot machines, repetitively dropping  their dimes, quarters and half dollars into the hungry slots, then cranking down the “Bandit’s” arm to spin the wheels of fortune.
All up and down the boulevard (called, “The Strip”) there was heavy auto traffic, taxi cabs were sitting here and there along the curbs or darting back and forth amongst lanes.

At daybreak we left the “Vegas Strip” and stopped for breakfast at a restaurant located on the edge of the desert, just out of the city. While we ate our large breakfasts of sausage and eggs, potatoes, toast, orange juice and coffee, Louise and Ray told us about their small winnings. They’d primed a “Bandit” almost to the point of winning a sizable jackpot, and how someone sitting near them hit a big jackpot… Since Las Vegas was first built as an entertainment and gambling center, it has been a glitzy place, where people do ‘win’ some of their gambled money back  and  “almost win” big.

After breakfast we drove to Boulder Dam, parked and walked across the dam. While standing along the guard rail at the top center of the dam I dropped a paper cup down the side. The cup slid down the concrete, becoming smaller and smaller and finally disappeared from view about one-third of the way down. Boulder Dam, also known as Roosevelt Dam is a huge structure, it’s amazing that such a massive
undertaking was accomplished during the depression years of the 1930s.

Several days after our trip to Las Vegas, it was time for me to leave Tempe and return home, the final leg of my summer vacation.

From our time together it showed that Shanna and I were still sweethearts, and time passed….

My last days at home
When my Greyhound bus arrived in Pasadena, I took a taxi to the family’s house on Howard Street. Although it seemed to me like I’d been gone for a long time, nothing had really changed at home. Dad was still going to Fuller Seminary and Mom was still sewing at the garment factory.
During the first few days at home, I visited with my neighborhood friends, Ted, Mike and Russell. Being as it was already past mid September, they were all back in school and moving along in their lives, so we could only get together in the late afternoon or on the weekend. During our brief visits, the hours seemed to melt away as we exchanged gossip and details of our summers activities. After being home for about two days and well before I had a chance to fall into a routine, Dad reminded me that it was time to keep my part of the bargain, and join the Army.

Volunteering” for the Army
The next morning, Dad drove me to the Army enlistment office in downtown Pasadena. There I took two brief tests that were to determine my basic aptitudes and capabilities. After reviewing the test results, the recruiting Sergeant advised that I could go into any specialty school the Army had. He went on saying that the Army needed men in the Infantry, Intelligence Corps and Airborne. After explaining briefly what each branch expected and offered, I chose to go Airborne.
The plan was for me to be at the Induction  Center for processing on 28 September. After processing I would be sent to Fort Ord, California for Basic Training and Advanced Infantry Training, if I passed the tests along the way I would be transferred to the Airborne school.

 A cheerless send off to the Army
The next week passed in a blur, then it was the morning of September 28, 1960, my day to leave home for good. There was no party, special family activity or favorite meal to send me off with memories of love from home. On the morning I was to leave, Mom and Dad simply drove me down to the Army Induction Center in Los Angeles and left me at the curb. That was the beginning of a period when this boy became a man.

There were thirty to forty other fellows and myself gathered at the Induction Center.
The first order of business was our registration and a couple of hour physical examination. When the exam and paperwork was finished, we were brought together and instructed to raise our right hands and swear our allegiance to the US Government and Constitution, we then became members of the US Army. After the administration of the oath we were immediately assigned a serial number identification; I became, “Pierce, Larry F.,  RA19,6nn, nnn.”

Late that afternoon we were taken to a nearby cafeteria for supper; after the meal we were loaded on a bus and driven to the Los Angeles train station for our trip to Fort  Ord.

The train trip to Fort Ord,  California
Upon boarding the train, each recruit was assigned a private sleeper cabin, which was a nice First Class touch. The conversation amongst us volunteers was upbeat, excited, nervous yet with an air of confidence. We were all going on an adventure and we knew it.

Shortly after leaving Los Angeles, an old Negro coach attendant came through the car, stopping at each cabin to ask if there was anything we needed. I didn’t know about the other recruits, but I felt like a drink and asked the old gentleman how much it would cost for a bottle of booze.. He replied that he wasn’t suppose to supply alcohol to anyone under the legal drinking age of twenty-one years, but for a dollar, he’d see what he could do. The old crook took my dollar and left. A while later he returned with several small, two ounce sealed bottles of bourbon. He gave me one and took the rest on down the corridor, probably to other fellows who’d placed orders. I laid back on my bed, propped up on one elbow, slowly sipping and savoring my drink, while looking at the contents of my shaving bag.

All that I had, or had claim to in the world were the clothes on my back and the small shaving bag which contained: a bar of soap, small towel, razor, tooth brush and a partially used tube of toothpaste.

Over the next hour or so, the sounds of people talking quieted. I sat against the wall in my cabin, looking out the window, listening to the sound of the train as it clicked its way along the rail, lost in thought about my unclear future.

Arriving at Fort Ord
Sometime after midnight, perhaps around 3:00AM, we recruits were awakened and told to ready our belongings as the train would soon be stopping at the Monterey train station. Shortly thereafter, we climbed down from the train and were ushered onto canvas-covered 2- 1/2 ton military trucks for the ride to Fort Ord Army Training Base.
[Postcard image at left, Fort Ord, ca 1942, 18 yrs before I was here for training: Located on  Hwy 1 about five miles north of Monterey, California, was once home to 25,000 soldiers and civilian workers. Founded as a cavalry post in 1917, it became a major training post during and after World War II.]

All that I could see of Fort Ord, in those early predawn hours were long, white or cream-colored wood frame buildings with military vehicles parked here and there. Our several truck convoy stopped in  the middle of the road, in front of a round roofed Quonset building. We climbed down from the trucks and were put into a rough formation. The first order of business was to teach us the basics of how to space ourselves in formation and how to stand at attention. Then forming a line, we filed through the Quonset where we were issued a mattress, mattress cover and pillow. With our arms loaded, we reboarded the trucks and were driven a short distance to a fairly new looking, two-story, concrete barracks.
Once again we were put in crude formation. Then, several sergeants came out of the building, their uniforms starched, their bearing and demeanor proud, sharp and professional. They stood in front of us with their hands on their hips, looking us over with authority and a certain disdain, while a roll call
was taken. We were immediately separated into to several groups.

Barracks assignment
Sergeant Sanchez, a neatly mustachioed Mexican- American, stepped up in front of my group and introduced himself as our Platoon Sergeant. He went on saying, “For the next six weeks of Basic Training, I’ll  be responsible for your training. I’ll be your Mother, Father and big brother…

A few moments later we were taken into our new home and assigned double-deck bunk beds. No sooner had we laid our mattresses down  when we were taken to the company supply room and issued sheets, blankets and a pillow case.

Our first lesson of the day included instructions in the military method of making our beds. We spent the rest of the morning at a quartermaster building having our measurements taken, being issued military clothing and equipment.
{Internet image, amongst the barracks at Fort Ord]

During that first week in the Army, we were given ‘scalp close’ haircuts, taught how to wear and fold our clothes, how to lay out our gear in our personal footlockers, how to polish shoes and boots. We learned how to “fall in” to a formation, follow basic drill marching commands, how to salute and respond when we were spoken to. It was a hectic, interesting time, and if one had the time to think about the events that were occurring, they would have been considered fun.

Basic Infantry, Combat training
As Basic Training continued, we began a daily, early morning program of calisthenics, in order to build up our strength and endurance. We attended lectures on military etiquette and law. We learned to disassemble and clean the M-1 rifle.

One morning we were given a battery of tests to determine our IQs and areas of specialization. My test scores were as follows:

Army Classification Battery– Mental Scores
Test    My Score
EL          109       Electronics
GM         122      General Maintenance
CL           104      Clerical
GT          119       General Technical
RC          114        Radio Code
IN           129       Infantry
AE          101       Armor, Artillery, Engineers

Later, I learned that the GT (General Test) score relates very closely to IQ, while the IN (infantry) score dealt with tactical thinking.

My class graduated from Basic Training in late November. Most of my Platoon went directly from Basic Training to A.I.T. (Advanced Infantry Training.)  Some fellows had enlisted for telecommunications, etc., so were sent elsewhere for their continued specialized training.

Advanced Infantry Training
The six weeks of Advance Infantry Training was more interesting than Basic, because we were given considerably more ‘hands on’ experience with a variety of weapons,  equipment and techniques.

Most mornings, we jogged in formation out to one of the firing ranges where we learned basic proficiency and care of the M1 rifle, BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle), M-30 air cooled machine gun.  We continued practice with our M-1 rifles, additionally learning the concepts of defending positions with ‘fields of fire’. We learned to throw hand grenades and dive for cover. We learned to trust our gas masks, how to properly pack our back packs, set up an Army pup tent. We learned to pack our web gear, field hike in full battle gear and use our equipment to the utmost. We were taught how to take compass readings, read topographical maps and avoid capture in a nighttime Escape and Evasion Course.

Escape and Evasion
The Escape and Evasion Course was fun, but like so many other occurrences in the military, it was a little scary and commanded your full attention and wit.
We’d been schooled in classroom exercises and seen military training films on how to escape from the eventuality of our positions being over run. We were told that if captured to only give our name, rank and serial number, and never provide information about our unit size or give away any tactical plans to the enemy.

The final part of this training was a live, night-time Escape and Evasion practicum. On the evening of the exercise, several hundred of us, probably our entire company of recruits, were trucked to the crest of a hill. The platoons were unloaded about 150 feet apart and our training cadre point out some lights about 3/4 mile away across a shallow valley. The lights were our rendezvous area. It was a moonlight night so one could see, but not very well. [Internet image: Soldiers on a night ‘escape and evasion’ training session.]

We were to suppose to sneak across the grassy, brush dotted valley, without being caught. There were unseen by us quite a large number of experienced soldiers waiting out there in the  dark. Our cadre admonished, “Some of you who will be caught might be’ lightly tortured by Escape and Evasion  training cadre in front of all the rest at the rendezvous point”. Hahaha, the extra scare was unnecessary, no one intended on being caught! After being given a few final directions, we were turned loose.

No sooner had we spread out and begun running on our own, when dark silhouettes began rising from the grass, one dropped from a tree, flashlights were popping on, with voices yelling, “Stop where you are! You’re caught!”  I crouched low while continuing to quickly move forward, stopping for a moment now and again to see where the nexus of activity was, then angling my movement away from it.

Before long, I was well away from the foray and creeping across the valley.

Now and again I saw a solitary form in the darkness moving a few dozen yards away moving in the same direction– other trainees making their way through the night. Once, when there was relatively close activity, I dropped flat in the eighteen inch to two foot tall grass and laid still for a few moments. When the sounds had moved on, I raised to my knees to look around, suddenly, there was a rustle beside me, my head snapped to the right. About six feet away, a large cat stood up in the
grass facing me, it swirled about and silently disappeared into the dark. I just stared in wide-eyed surprise, my mouth agape and breathing stopped as I tried to fathom what had just happened.

The cat seemed about two-thirds my size, it didn’t make a warning sound, I couldn’t see color just a large, dark animal that smoothly slipped away from a hiding spot almost within my reach. I suppose it was as scared as I was, with all the humans running around in its territory that night. A moment later, with the creature gone, it was time for me to get moving as well. I stood and began to run stealthfully toward the rendezvous point. With in a few minutes my scare had passed, I was not caught, but had made my ‘escape’ successfully.  It was a thrilling and scary night.

The B.A.R. insight
One gray morning, at the Browning Automatic Rifle range, we were set in bleachers. A handful of troops were called down and given a BAR,  heavy automatic rifle that was partially supported by a strap over your shoulder. We would be using a dead reckoning aim and shooting the weapon from our hip.

The young soldiers were stood about five paces apart and each told to walk up a trail keeping an eye to their side so no one got ahead or fell behind the others. As they walked, electrically controlled targets would pop up behind bushes, logs, and from inside foxholes. When a target popped up, the rifleman was to swung his BAR about toward the target and fire a burst of rounds at it. If the target was hit, it would automatically drop indicating a kill.

I watched as several groups walk up the firing line and observed that most were shooting into the soil in front of the targets. So I made a mental note that when it was my turn, I’d swing my BAR toward the target to where I thought was right, just like everyone else, then I’d raise the barrel a little to compensate for the observed under positioning the others were making.

A few minutes later I had the opportunity to shoot. The targets popped up and I turned on them, raised the barrel just a little and fired. Time after time the gun belched fire and time after time the targets fell, I’d knocked down every target and was congratulated by the firing instructor.
There was a lesson from my observation on the firing line that I’ve always remembered, general common sense is not always more correct than a studied contrarian sense. Its not so easy to explain, other than to say, some times and within reason, marching to your own drum beat brings better results than following the herd.

Initial Chemical warfare training
After having classroom exercises and films about chemical warfare,  the fitting and use of our gas masks, and drills putting the equipment on, we were taken to the Fort Ord’s Basic training ‘gas chamber’. The chamber was a wooden shed like building measuring maybe 20 feet wide and 30 feet long, with a door and several windows.

Learning to trust our gas masks was a little scary. We were told that we would put our gas masks and gloves on, outside, then file thought the tear gas-filled building, That once inside, the group would stand for a few moments, then we’d file back outside.
If we had our masks on properly, we would not be affected by the gas.
So, that’s what we did and our equipment worked fine. Of course, back outside after removing our masks, we could smell the acrid tear gas in the air from the buildings door, which was left open.

After the gas chamber was fairly aired out, we were taken back inside, but this time without our masks on. Once inside, our eyes started smarting from small amounts of gas still in the air. We were told that a tear gas canister was to be popped and that we had to put our masks on before the full strength of the gas hit us. We were told not to worry if we did get any gas in our eyes, as any burning sensation would only be temporary, with no lasting effect. Then the instructor looked around at us, pulled the pin on a canister and dropped it, Immediately gray fog began spewing out of the canister, rising and rapidly expanding like a cloud throughout the room. We trainees suddenly became animated, taking a last breath and grabbing for the mask stored in carriers on our hips. I’ll bet it didn’t take ten seconds for our group of about a dozen fellows to put their masks on, as soon as the seals and head straps were checked, we all began looking around to see how everyone else was faring.
[Internet image above right, typical basic chemical warfare training. Troops gaining confidence with their equipment in a tear gas training environment.]

Aside from the slight sting  we felt, from before the test, the gas masks did their work of protecting us. The room was completely filled with gray smoke, but the only place we felt a sting was on a band around our wrists that was neither covered by our long shirt sleeve or gloves.

It was a little scary to know that a lot of pain, and who knows what else, existed  in that fog of gas just outside our mask, only 1/8 inch away from our face, nose and eyes. When the cadre were satisfied that we were all aware how well the masks had protected us, we filed back out the door, happy to have ‘survived’ the somewhat dreaded ‘gas chamber’.

Toward the end of A.I.T., several from my company were required to pass a physical endurance test in order to qualify for the Airborne Jump School.
The test required us to do a certain number of timed exercises including; sit ups, push ups, pull ups and running a given distance. Out of the twelve or so of us taking the test, two failed qualification.

Until this time, life had been so full and busy with rushing here and there, learning new things, and seeing new sights, that I’d not given much thought to my enlistment for Airborne. The night immediately after I passed the pre Airborne endurance test, the real meaning of “Airborne” began to sink in. That night after “lights out,” I laid on my cot staring wide-eyed at the bottom of the bunk above me. In the quiet semi darkness of the room and within the private confines of my mind, I began to explore and conceptualize the act of stepping out the door of an airplane that was flying.

The visualization of jumping out of an airplane and falling through the air kept me awake. A cold terror crept through me. I forced myself to face that fear. The dangerous course on which I was charted lay before me in the unclear future. I decided to treat each day as I had in the past. The fear would have to be dealt with when the danger became real and imminent.

At the end of A.I.T.  we were promoted from pay grade (rank) E1 to E2. If memory serves me right, the E2 pay grade yielded about $79 per month, which wasn’t much even in 1960.

What’s on TV tonight?
My favorite programs in 1960
•  Tales of WellsFargo – a western
•  One Step Beyond – sci-fi fantasy
•  Alfred Hitchcock Presents
•  Route 66- adventure drama
•  Bonanza – a western
•  Have Gun, Will  Travel- a western
•  Maverick – a western
•  Lawman – a western
•  Twilight Zone – sci-fi fantasy

During the year, while in Michigan and into the beginning of 1961  while in the Army, I saw the following movies:
Butterfield 8 with Elizabeth Taylor, Laurence Harvey, Diana Merrill
Darby O’Gill and the Little People with Sean Connery, Albert Sharpe, Janet Munro
Flaming Star with Elvis Presley, John McIntire, Dolores Del Rio
G.I. Blues with Elvis Presley, Juliet Prowse, Robert Avers
Last Woman on Earth with Anthony Carbine, Betsy Jones-Moorland, Edward Win
Ocean’s Eleven with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Law ford
Pillow Talk with Doris Day, Rock Hudson, Tony Randall, Thelma Ritter
Swiss Family Robinson with John Mills, Dorothy McGuire, James Macarthur
The Gazebo with Glenn Ford, Debby Reynolds, Carl Rainer, John McIver
The Magnificent Seven with Yule Brunner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson
The Time Machine with Rod Taylor, Yvette Milieu, Sebastian Cabot

[1]  See Journal 14, Trace of the Temporal Visitor, page 2744, “My “Memories of the Telephone System.”
[2] And now almost 50 years after the events of this story unfolded, as I sit reworking and expanding my notes about living with Grandma Elsie for the summer, I break down and sob. That’s one thing about an autobiography, looking for events and memories, you occasionally end touching base with your now deceased loved ones. The years mean nothing when you are together. Here I am, a 65-year-old man, choking back tears,  my  nose running, sobbing- I’m still a little boy, a teen, a young man, the love is eternal.
[3] During the late 1970s, while in the middle age of her life, Aunt Julie developed a brain tumor and died.

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Filed under Autobiography, __2. Childhood: 1942-1963

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