After 50 years, lost friendship renewed

November 14, 2012 

Sometimes things happen at odd times and for no apparent reason. Long ago, July 1960 to be exact, two good friends, both youngsters, were working at Tabor’s Peach Packing Shed on U.S. 41, just south of Lakeview Road. For whatever reasons, one day, one of them decided that the world was waiting and there had to be a better way to make a living. So in a split-second decision, they decided to join the Navy and in what memory recalls to be a very few days, they had completed local testing at the Navy Recruiting Office in Macon, boarded a bus in Perry and were on their way to the Armed Forces Recruiting Depot in Atlanta for more testing, physicals and swearing in. Those two were my friend Stanley Skelton and me.

I had already graduated from high school and was 18 years old, so there was no restriction on my signing up. But if my memory is correct, Stanley was not yet 18 and had to get his mother to sign an affidavit giving her permission for him to enlist. I don’t remember the exact chronology of events for the next few days -- I didn’t weigh quite enough, so the staff at the Recruit Depot gave me some money and sent me down the street to buy as many bananas as I thought I could eat. It seems to me that the weight requirement for my height at the time was 105 pounds and I weighed in at 103 pounds. Long story short, I ate enough bananas to just exceed the minimum weight requirements. (You should see me now!) To this day, I’m not overly fond of bananas, but they do sometimes serve a useful purpose. At any rate, we completed our duties in Atlanta, joined a group of what must have been 20 other Georgia youngsters and were soon on a plane headed for San Diego for nine weeks of boot camp. For some reason, I was placed in charge of the entire group. We had a stop in Dallas, Texas, for fuel, and as I remember there were many large, Texas-sized crickets in the terminal and a few members of our group decided the proper thing to do was to capture a few crickets and have a contest to determine which cricket could jump the longest distance. Naturally, the “contest” soon elicited a great deal of exuberant yelling that drew unwanted attention and staring toward the group, which had failed to heed my pleas to be quiet. As I asked them for the second time to be quiet (which they also ignored), I spotted two Army MPs walking through the airport and quickly solicited their assistance in getting the group under control, which they did in short order. This action surely did not endear me to my group, but the rest of the trip was uneventful, and when we arrived in San Diego, the Navy Shore Patrol met us at the plane and got us to Recruit Training Center San Diego without delay. To this day, I am convinced that the two Army MPs called the training center and informed them of our escapade in Dallas.

We arrived at the training center about July 28, 1960, and completed training in early October of the same year. We had all received our orders as to where we would go from there, and the last thing I remember about boot camp was standing in line to board the buses to take us to the airport, looking around to find Stanley and not seeing him. He would ultimately report to China Lake, Calif., for machinist training and I was headed for the Naval Air Technical Training Center at Memphis, Tenn., for electronics technician training. It would be almost 52 years to the day that I found out why Stanley was nowhere around when I left on that bus. I had often wondered about him.

Fast forward to the summer of year 2012: My wife and I return from a trip and there is a message on our phone from Stanley -- he has found me! Just as soon as I can, I dial his number and just like that, we are reunited! As I am writing this column, my wife and I have just returned from lunch with Stanley and his wife, Frankie, as they are on their way from Indiana to see a daughter in Orlando, Fla. On this day, I found out -- while we were sharing sea stories and boring our wives, I’m sure -- that Stanley was sick the day I left boot camp all those years ago and was hospitalized for about three weeks. Amazing also is the fact that our paths came so close to crossing again several times during our first four years in the Navy. Stanley exited the Navy after his initial hitch and subsequently retired from the city of Los Angeles, and I retired in 1985 after 25 years in the Navy of the United States of America. Personally, I think we did fairly well for two Georgia peach packers! Good friendships last forever but should be renewed at every opportunity.

Walton Wood lives in Kathleen. Contact him at jamewood@windstream.net.

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