Until yesterday, I did not know the name of the man who steered my life into a new direction. I did not remember the name of the man who is the one person responsible for where I am in life now. That was until yesterday.
Yesterday I opened a box of memorabilia from the Sixties. In that box I found this newspaper clipping of when I joined the Army. On that newspaper clipping is the name of the Army recruiter who talked me into joining the Army.
This is the first time I've looked at this clipping in fifty-four years. Over the years, as my life has taken its course I often wished I remembered the name of that Army Master Sergeant who persuaded me not to join the Navy as I was signed up and ready to go, but to join the Army instead. I was resigned that his name was lost to history. But now I am happy to say, I know his name because it is stated on this newspaper clipping. His name was:
Master Sergeant (Theodore) Wallace Syphard.
After I graduated from high school in June of 1959 I decided to join the Navy. I wanted to "see the world." Besides, I couldn't get a civilian job. I couldn't afford to go to college. My parents already told me when I entered 9th grade and had the option of choosing a college preparatory course that they weren't going to pay for my college education and I wasn't smart enough for a scholarship nor did I have the family connections for a legacy entry into college. I couldn't get a job so I decided to get my military obligation out of the way (I didn't want to get drafted - see, I was even thinking smart when I was 18 years old).
I had already visited the recruiting offices that were located in the basement of the Coatesville post office. I remember the summer (June 1959) day I entered that scary place (for me, a very shy and self-conscious 17 year old). There were four metal desks, with four uniformed men sitting behind those desks. One was Air Force (which I wasn't interested in). The next was the Marine recruiter, which I was DEFINITELY not interested in. My whole thing with joining was to avoid combat. I'm squeamish and I had no desire to prove that I was a man. I am who I am, and at that time I was a skinny, awkward, fighting my gayness, teenager scared to death of what I was getting into. I wanted to minimize my exposure to danger. I had to get through this.
Ah, there is was, the Navy recruiter's desk, which just happened to be next to the Army recruiter's desk. I wasn't interested in the Army recruiter either, too much like the Marines and COMBAT.
I sat myself down at the chair next to the Navy recruiter and told him I wanted to join. He interviewed me and was, apparently satisfied that I was a worthy Navy recruit and he said he would draw up the recruitment papers. He said he would call me a few days later to come in and sign my papers and get my departure date.
I left and went home and told my Mom I was joining the Navy.
I get the call a few days later from the Navy recruiter that my papers are ready to sign.
Mom takes me to the Post Office in Coatesville (I didn't have my own car).
I walk down the stairs to the basement of the Post Office where the service recruiters lie in wait for the next nubile young man (only men joined the service in those pre fem liberation days). I look over at the Navy recruiter's desk and he's not there. The uniform man at the desk next to the Navy recruiter told me that he was out to lunch and would be back. He said I could sit down at the chair next to the Navy recruiter's desk. I sat.
Now this is where my Life Course took a major, perhaps THE major change. While I was waiting for the Navy recruiter to come back from his lunch, my eyes wandered as they were wont to do in a room full of men (remember, I was a prepubescent, closeted, afraid of my own shadow, didn't know here the f__k I was coming from, KID). He made eye contact with me. He said "Why did you decide to join the Navy?"
I told him "Because I wanted to travel and see the world" (I bought into the Navy recruiting ads). Plus, what I didn't tell him was that I didn't want to be in combat and be shot at or shoot at people. Way too much potential for blood for Sensitive Ron.
He said, "What if I told you you could join the Army and see the world and only spend three years instead of four?" Hmmmm, this sounded intriguing to me. Three years? See the world? Tell me more.
I moved my behind from the Navy recruiter's chair to the Army recruiter's chair.
He explained to me that the Army had a program, the Army Security Agency, that, once I completed a six month school, I had a 97% chance of traveling the world and I would have to spend four years looking at the world through a porthole. Sounded good to me! Where do I sign up?
Long story short, by the time the Navy recruiter had returned from lunch I had signed up with the Army recruiter. Thus began the first time I was persuaded to change my mind by a man and which resulted in changing the course of my life forever.
Little did I know at that time that this chance, random, seemingly innocuous decision changed the rest of my life forever.
I joined the Army. Went to basic training at Ft. Dix New Jersey. Went to school at Ft. Devens Massachusetts. Met my best friend Bob McCamley. After school I went to Ft. Meade Maryland for the next two and half years working for the National Security Agency. While stationed at Ft. Meade I met two new friends, Ron H. and Sal who also happened to be gay as I was. We were all closeted and survived all the witch hunts which were pervasive back in the ignorant early days of the Sixties.
|Me (right) on the firing range at Ft. Meade 1962 with my friend Jim Harris - our once a year playing soldier to qualify with our rifles - the rest of our tour of duty was pushing paper at NSA (communications intercept)|
After leaving the Army I went to my first gay bar in Philly at the suggestion of my Army friend Ron H. At that gay bar (the Westbury) I met Bill Kelly, my now husband of fifty years.
I now live in Delaware because of my friendship with Bob McCamley who had moved to Delaware in the Seventies and who I often visited, promising myself someday to retired to Delaware.
Over the years I've often wondered, where would I be today if that Navy recruiter was waiting for me instead of out to lunch that fateful June day in 1959?
These are the things that go through my mind as I approach the end of my tour of duty of this life.
Sometimes I think we don't make our life choices, they're made for us.
Thus I wonder now will I look back upon where I am now (if I survive that long) and wonder at the fateful way a certain person just happened to come across my blog and contact me and became my friend. Someone who understands me as much as Bill does and one or two of my other lifetime friends. Someone who sees that I am not a perfect person but who likes me all the same. Someone who doesn't condemn me because of who I am. Someone who truly likes me.
Folks, one of the really wonderful things about arriving at this plateau called Old Age is that things that I used to be concerned about, things and people who I used to consider important in my life, people who I have tried to please and accept me as I am . . . . I just don't care anymore.
As my friend said this morning, trying to console me after my latest encounter with disrespect and hatefulness . . . he said "it's unfortunate but sometimes people get under our skin and often it's people we really have no interest in."
So this morning I look back fifty-four years and now I know the name of the man who was so instrumental in where I am now. Thank you Master Sergeant Syphard. You were the first angel in my life.
I have been blessed. As I often told my dear departed friend Bob McC., "If I should die tomorrow, I'm ahead of the game.I've had a good life and no regrets. Everything worked out perfectly."