The Secret Life of Walter (aka MUD) Petty

Years ago, I read the book, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" by Thurber.  At the time, I didn't realize that many of those adventures we going to be the story of my life.  While I played war with my friends, I had no concept that I would take a trip down that road and go to Vietnam.  In fact, as a child, I could have not put a pin in a map to locate Vietnam. 

I had seen a post card from my Grandfather when he went to Panama but to imagine myself there was a stretch as a kid.  I went there in the fall of 67 and lived some of my most grand adventures.  I got to do a slide for life across the Rio Chagres, make a raft with a poncho and swim back across the river.  I rappelled down a waterfall and lived in the jungle for most of two weeks.  On the Escape and Evasion aka Land navigation course we ventured into a Mangrove swamp and was eaten alive by mosquitoes. 

There was a time in my military career that I had doubts that I would ever make Major.  After the Vietnam War, there were more officers than the Army needed and only the cream of the crop got early promotions.  I didn't realize that the slow rate of promotion for me as a Lieutenant and Captain would allow me to not be in the range of the cuts needed.  I finally moved to Topeka and the State headquarters.  There, I floated to the top rank of Colonel when I retired. 

I dreamed of leading men as a kid and little did I know that I would get to command both a Battery and a Battalion.  The promotion to Lieutenant Colonel got put on hold for a year so I could be the S-3 of a battalion and then command that unit.  They had failed a major unit test (ARTEP) twice and were on the verge of being decertified if they did it for the third time.  I worked my butt off and convinced everyone that the secret to success was that everyone had to know their job and like the Nike ad, "Just Do It."  I am pretty sure that my promotion to Colonel was a lot based on that.  It didn't hurt that the first year I hit that list we had a record number of Colonel's retire.  I think there were 8 or 9 Colonel's retired that year and a bunch of the Vietnam Vets got our bird's. 

As a kid, I always loved great cars.  One of my most favorite was the 57 Chevy.  In High School  had a 55 Chevy but it was a 6 cylinder rust bucket we called Bad News.  A while back, I was given a Christmas present of a 57 Chevy and took that sucker apart bolt by bolt down to the frame and back together again.  I'll bet I used ten gallons of WD-40 taking apart all of the rusted bolts.  I am sure that is when Barbara started washing our clothes separate.  I would come home from work and go to the garage for hours of "Piddling Around"  (That was Grandma Bessie's word for doing something that didn't produce immediate results)  It did take most of a year and a lot of my Guard Check to bring it back to my high level of production.  I swear this summer I am going to finally figure out why the motor doesn't run well and also put an A/C on it. 

One time, I picked up a Popular Mechanix magazine and saw a car that was worth $20,000.  I wondered how anyone could afford such luxury.  I was working full time and making $55.00 a week. We spend more than that when we stop at Wal*Mart for a few items.  I will admit that our last car did only cost $10,000 but if you knew how hard Barb looked to find that bargain, it wouldn't surprise you. 

Barb and I grew up poor.  Not dirt poor but not middle class either.  I think we both grew up in a hose where central heat and air were a pipe dream.  A vacation was often a short trip to Grandmother's house.  I can remember getting two pairs of shoes a year.  One of those was generally a pair of Converse gym shoes that I also wore the rest of the day and not just in gym.  I'll bet the last pair of gym shoes I bought cost more than my parents spent the entire time I was in school.  

I will admit that I didn't think being poor as a child made a lot of difference to me.  Several of my friends said it did to them but I was kind of like Walter Mitty and thought denial was de river in  De Africa.  I had the opinion I could out talk, out cuss, out fight or out run most of the rich kids so it mattered little to me. 

To end this little tale, I must say that like my own Walter  Petty story that I now have everything I need and dang near everything I want.  The beauty is that when the month's over I generally have more money than month. 

Someone once told me that I would be the source of my own happiness.  I think early that I didn't pay attention and now I have fulfilled most of my dreams.  Hope you can say the same thing one day.


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