I mentioned before that the first year at Wichita State (WSU), also affectionately called Woo Shock U., was for me a real growth year. I got there, as noted, on a football scholarship. With three siblings behind me, I had to take the least expensive college education money could buy.
K.U. had offered a scholarship hall which would have contributed a few hundred dollars a semester. But after all, I wanted to play football, and perhaps some day even turn professional. Nothing serious here, just dreaming. The first few days were spent taking achievement exams and participating in two-a-day football practices. The testing got me into the honors program and the two-a-day practices got me knocked out. I shared a room that first semester with three jocks from Texas.
The first week in practice, Hank Fulberg - a former all-America from Army who had played with the legendary "four horsemen", and went on to coach Texas A&M was putting us through one-on-one drills.
My first time up, it was 108 degrees in mid-August, and I was across from the only All-American (that I knew) ever to play at WSU, Roland Lakes. He was 6'5" and 265 pounds of dynamite, I got down in a three point stance, determined to do my best to impress Coach Hank.
At the command of go I charged......later as I was recovering on the sideline where they had to drag me - unconscious, before sending for a trainer and smelling salts, Coach Hank came up to me. I was bleeding from a cut on the chin where I had received a forearm with 265 pounds behind it and was seeing double. Hank looked at me with a look of disdain and said, "Now, from now on when I tell you to keep your head down, you'll know why, Right?" "Yes sir..." I mumbled through a jaw that felt like it had become unhinged.
What else could I say. The scar is still there today, it's been joined by a few others, but I can still remember and sometimes think I hear that bark "get your head down"! My teacher in proper head placement, Roland Lakes, went on to a distinguished career with the San Francisco 49's.
Around mid-semester Hoss, the freshman quarterback from Corpus Christi, Texas and one of my three roommates, asked me for help. Instead of 20 classmates in English like I had in my class, Hoss had 200. Instead of 4 textbooks, which included the College Bible and the Homer's, The Iliad, Hoss had only one, a paperback book with the title of "Organizational Man".
The paperback only took an hour to skim and I outlined his paper for him in detail, suggesting introduction, text, approach to take, conclusion, etc. What surprised me was the grade. After he, unbeknownst to me, finished passing it around among the football team, five different people turned in the same paper and received everything from an "A" to a "D".
When the realization of what had happened dawned on me, I resolved then and there to concentrate on myself in the future, granting friendly advice maybe, but work product for submission never again. It's a wonder they didn't kick half the freshmen team out of school. I seldom saw my roommates as they rigged up a makeshift basketball court in the room and spent hours each night playing. My evenings were spent in the library where I could study.
One subject, in particular, didn't agree with me, chemistry. By semester end I had a strong "F" in the class and was frankly scared. Without any high school chemistry I was behind the power curve and about to get my second knockout punch of the year.
I'd finally made a few friends after a slow start, and one chemistry whiz showed me the way to total study. With a little effort, about four hours a night for a couple of weeks, I learned how to derived all the basic formulas for beginning chemistry. The final was a snap and I was able to pull my grade up to a "C". While promising myself not to get behind the power curve again, it was inevitable, but at least in the future I knew immediately when I was in trouble and could bail myself out. One problem with this kind of approach to academics is that it's possible to get to tired "to bail;" and when that happens you can sink real fast.
The second semester I got myself moved into a room with Eric, a junior on the track team. We kept out of each other's way and life became peaceful again. I saw Eric eight years later in Okinawa when I was returning from Vietnam and he was still flying missions. I hope he made it home to his family's farm in eastern Kansas. There wasn't much I could do to help him. As a close friend once summarized life, you can only influence that which is in your immediate sphere of influence to affect.
These recollections of past events fit this philosophy, for while anyone might read these pages, only someone close to me will bother to spend much time on these pages of prose. The reasons may be curiosity, or maybe to critique (hopefully in quiet), or perhaps they care or are interested; and in any case I hope they get a few laughs.
My family still cares and will with some degree of reverence peruse these stories. As the trials encountered taught me my mistakes and lessons about life and dealing with people; so I hopefully can, herein, beneficially influence to some small degree those I care about.
The new friends and experiences that first year in college were far beyond what I had expected. A student from India and I spent many hours discussing his seven pillars of faith and their relationship to Christianity. I don't know whether Pastor Mark would agree although I believe he would; but we concluded back in 1960 that heaven (wherever it may be) is equally accessible to devote followers of either faith.
Being from a small town in western Kansas, I'd only read a text about comparative religions, while taking a course at Garden City Junior College, and had never before met someone from another faith, unless one includes the Catholics back home (this is not intending as disparaging, remember my two sisters both converted to the Catholic faith). Now that I think of it, the Lord probably called them to service for the way they treated me when they were young.
My most memorable friendship at Wichita State was with a history major and senior in the dorm who had this fantastic photographic memory. He was a big help with one of my classes because of his total recall of any significant date. He called me once, ten years later, when we were living on base at Eglin AFB, Florida. He was working in a military intelligence command post in Washington (DIA) when he decided to call me at 11:30 PM and remind me that we hadn't talked since October 30, 1960. Not a significant date when you think about it, but at least he remembered.
It was several years later when he got tired of the intelligence agency using his brain for their purposes and resigned to go to work for an airline in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
I learned an early lesson (there were more later) about people using people; for example, the junior halfback living across the hall in Wichita State's jock dorm was friendly. Loaded with money, he owned a section of farm land and made more money in a year than I'd ever seen.
Gil was always offering me his car to use, but all he really wanted was to be introduced to some girls in the freshman class. One in particular was Julie B., she was real nice and her folks owned an island somewhere off the northeast coast. We'd met in a class and were friends; the kind you talked to about class, about the professors, and about the dreaded term paper.
Well, the junior halfback got down to cases after I'd used his car and wanted to meet Julie specifically. I didn't think anything of it, introduced them in the Union one day, but about a week later I got a call from Julie while in the dorm. She was in tears and needed to talk. My friend Gil had gotten overly friendly and tried to assault her. I hadn't felt so bad since my senior year in high school when a girl I was seeing disappeared forever.
There was a quiet discussion that night in the dorm, my roommate listened in to be on the safe side, and junior hotshot was warned off permanently. If I got so much as a phone call he would be reported to the police, the school administration, and so on. I didn't appreciate being used, but it seemed so harmless at the time, I'd never given it a second thought.
Brings to mind that old story about the little yellow bird who flew south a wee bit late in the year. He froze up just before he made it all the way south, crashed dived into a farmyard and into a puddle of fresh hot cow poop, began to immediately thaw out, and poked his head out and began to sing. The farm cat pulled him from the poop and cleaned him off, just before he ate him. When you're down and out and covered with crap and begin to see a ray of light, count your blessings and remember what the coach said -- keep your head down and mouth shut; and when someone reaches down and helps you up and cleans you off, that person isn't necessarily your friend, so pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and quietly go about your work and doing what needs to be done.
I believe I would have made WSU's football team the following year, but in spring football practice, which I had to quit track to participate in, I damaged my knee. It swelled up like a balloon and I thought they were going to operate. Some of the scars I'd seen were gruesome so there were a few touchy weeks toward the end of school.
The "Ranch" or Air Force Academy accepted me for the class of '65 and I told Coach Hank goodbye. As a former West Point man he was real supportive. My Dad insisted the knee would heal, he'd cured horses worse off than me, and after draining a pint of fluid off the knee, I spent the next month exercising. Four or five miles a day, swimming every day at the Plunge, and heat packs all night every night. I never have had a knee operation, of course there were a few other trips to OR that are best not remembered.
Leaving WSU was really going away for me for the first time. My grandparents were in Wichita as well as an aunt and uncle. More critically, I'd spent too much time and energy that year without a focus, and writing all my old high school classmates who had made that jump to their next level of endeavor (like Nintendo - Mario leaps to that next ledge, or misses and drops into the abyss, or stays where he is). I felt like I needed to move forward also or forever be stranded on that first ledge.
Would I do it all again, not in a million years, but at the time youthful exuberance was in charge and there wasn't anyone to listen to, or with whom to review my options. Its also doubtful that my thought processes ever considered anything beyond the immediate decision at hand.