Notes from the Southwest Corner: The 1959 Heightsmen, a band of (my) heroes

Published in The Lebanon Democrat Tuesday, June 30, 2015. Caught up on columns. This one is very meaningful to me. The Bradley’s, especially Headmaster Leonard; son Leonard who passed away a week ago Monday; and Bobby, my good friend who looked after me in Boy Scouts and at CHMA who was lost at sea flying as NFO in an A6. i shall not forget them. i should add Burke Herron, the faculty advisor in the photo below (taken from the 1959 Adjutant, the Heights’ annual, was a terrific teacher who became a great friend, and was a super human being.

SAN DIEGO – By the time this column is available to readers, news of Leonard Bradley, Jr. passing away will have been published here.

As I have noted in other media, Leonard was a hero to me. His brother, Bobby, was a year older than me, and a close friend. But I thought Leonard was one of the coolest people walking the earth when I was a student at Lebanon Junior High (1956-1958). But of course, my earth at the time was pretty much limited to Lebanon.

Leonard extended his Castle Heights education as a post-graduate for my freshman year and was one of several of the 1959 Heights graduates who helped this reluctant “Goober” adjust. Thinking about it now, it is a wonder I admired Leonard as well as Jimmy Smith. My focus was ratcheted down to football, basketball, and baseball (Oh yes, I did have a frustrated interest in girls). Yet these two seniors who impressed me were not jocks. The previous year, Jimmy was on the golf team before the sport was eliminated from Heights athletics (I wonder how many readers remember the dirt greens on the nine-hole course around the perimeter of the campus).

Leonard worked at Little League and Babe Ruth League games, probably covering them for this paper. I saw him a lot during summers. Like many cadets, Leonard became involved in journalism. JB Leftwich inspired a passel of us to continue that interest after graduation. Leonard started before graduation. He was already working for The Democrat as a part time reporter. Stan Hugenin and Bob Cleveland, along with Leonard, demonstrated being a journalist was okay, and “Coach” JB Lefwich whetted that interest in the following years. Leonard and JB maintained a close friendship until Coach passed four years ago.

59_adjutantLeonard was dapper. I remember him on baseball diamonds wearing an olive green summer suit with a thin tie. The cut was tight with slim lapels, the latest fashion of the time. Often, he carried LP jazz albums usually including Frank Sinatra.

Leonard and Jimmy were academic stars, quiet leaders, and for this naive freshman, super cool dudes, the operative teenage description for superlative in the late fifties.

Jimmy Smith lived a block away from me on Pennsylvania Avenue. He was smart, good looking, and ultimately the coolest guy around, a tough thing to exude in a wool gray military uniform. He, like Leonard, took me under his wing. That extended to Vanderbilt where Jimmy and Kent Russ were responsible for getting me to join them in the Kappa Sigma fraternity five years later.

There were other heroes on the hill for me. Kent, mentioned above, was a post-graduate from Benton Arkansas, played football, and ran track. At Vanderbilt, Kent introduced me to Ralph Boston, one of the most impressive men, as well as an Olympic champion and world record holder in the long jump, I’ve ever met.

John Sweatt was a senior as well. The next year, John, then a postgraduate, befriended this smallest team member in Stroud Gwynn’s single wing. Thinking of John and Kent in the same backfield is scary.

I also looked up to Lewis Cash. Dr. Cash’s garden abutted our back yard. Lewis and Graham, Lewis’ older brother, often played catch with me in their sprawling lot (but never in Dr. Cash’s garden) on the corner of West Spring Street and Castle Heights Avenue even though I was younger. It was apparent, even to this lad, Lewis was brilliant.

I admired John Castro for another reason. John dated Lynn Frazier, one of the prettiest women in Lebanon. Joe Manning, another town boy, always seemed to be enjoying life. Charlie Teasley, a good friend of Jimmy Smith, was simply a great guy. Crockett Carr had the prettiest jump shot ever.

Others seniors also helped me over the hump. I soon enjoyed sports at Heights rather than being a Blue Devil. My teachers inspired me to good grades and taught me to enjoy studying. I learned to be proud of attending Heights. Those 1959 seniors and postgraduates were my catalyst.

I continued to admire Leonard and his achievements throughout the years. He gave me wise counsel when I was considering possibilities at Vanderbilt when he was a professor there. When I last saw him about two years ago in Lebanon, I remember thinking, “He’s still the coolest guy around.”

He will be missed.



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Notes from the Southwest Corner: A land far away


Published in The Lebanon Democrat Tuesday, June 23, 2015. i’m still catching up.

TUOSIST, IRELAND – As I write this, Maureen and I are with my brother Joe and his wife, the novelist Carla Neggers in Tuosist, Cork County, Ireland.

Tuosist town center: Post Office and store

Tuosist town center: Post Office and store

Joe and Carla rented a seaside cottage for a month’s retreat. Tuosist is on the Beara peninsula in the southwest corner of the country. It is remote and small enough for even the Irish in Shannon to not know of it.

For almost ten years, Joe and Carla have been coming to Kenmare, the larger town just up the road where the land forks into the Beara and Iveragh peninsulas. Joe and Carla’s son Zack and daughter Kate with her husband Conor Hansen, and their two children, Oona, two; and Leo, six, previously have joined them here. Conor’s maternal great grandfather, an O’Shea, emigrated to the U.S.A. from Tuosist in the late 1800s.

On our first morning walk, I ventured inside an old, decaying stone cottage, an arm distance off the lane. The inside was about 300 square feet with a wood plank loft above about a third of the space. The current inhabitants are some weeds, a bale of hay, and a five-gallon plastic can of old paint. The cottage was where Conor’s great grandfather and his eight siblings were born and raised. I’m sure the loft was a sleeping area.

The O’Shea’s were plentiful in this neck of the woods. The 85-year old lady who still runs the small Tuosist post office is a relative of Conor’s. It is a pretty wonderful place to have kin.

It seems a pretty wonderful place to live, but then, I am a visitor, not a working part of the community.

The Beara Peninsula, in fact, the entire southeast corner of Ireland, seems to be a land time forgot. Our cottage sits on the south side of the bay, named “Kenmare River” by a previous British lord in order to stay within the edicts and still tax the inhabitants. The cottage view is to the south, out the mouth of the bay, almost a telescope effect with the Atlantic horizon being sandwiched by the end points of the two peninsulas.

Driving is an adventure. To start, vehicle drivers are on the right side, not the left. Consequently, driving is just the opposite of ours. That complication is abetted by most rental cars having standard five-speed transmissions, and the upgrade to automatics is significant. Added to that is most roads in Ireland are similar to those in Tennessee in the 1950s, only narrower. The Irish are used to passing oncoming vehicles within two feet. Shoulders are almost non-existent and stone walls are the usual roadside.

Most of our activities consisted of walking around the countryside and the streets of Kenmare, and dining from pubs to the wonderful experience at the Park Hotel. The first day was foggy, a rarity around here, and the remaining days have been gorgeous.

While here, I keep thinking this place reminds me of somewhere else. Maureen and I, while driving down a lane lush with greenery and tree limbs forming an arch above, concluded it was much like the Hawaiian isle of Kauai, only much, much cooler.

Comparing latitudes and current flows from the Artic, the area can also be compared to western Washington and the islands of Puget Sound. The climate and the foliage are similar.

Yet in considering these comparisons, I came to the conclusion Southwest Ireland reminds me of the land east of Lebanon to the foot of the Smoky Mountains, only much cooler and damper with roads narrower than those of pre-Interstate Tennessee.

It is restful. It is peaceful. It is restorative. It is like going back to simpler time.

I hope we come again. But it is a long way from the Southwest corner, and it takes a bit of doing to get here.

Besides the best thing about the trip was spending time with Joe and Carla. I cannot recall a time my brother and I have spent substantial time together without some family event or crisis requiring our presence. The time was well spent: an old sailor and a former pastor finding more than just our background in common.

If you are in need of some quiet time in a place time forgot; if you would like to see small farms and narrow lanes flushed with green vegetation and a seascape to take your breath away, I recommend the Beara peninsula in Ireland.

It took my breath away.

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Notes from the Southwest Corner: Diego Garcia: Neverland


Published in The Lebanon Democrat Tuesday, June 23, 2015. This is a bit late because i am still discombobulated from the trip, catching up, and the impending short trip to Sonoma tomorrow to spend the Fourth of July with our friends, Alan and Maren Hicks. Yesterday, we had no kidding real thunderstorms in the Southwest corner. i think that is the source of my discombobulation. i still feel like i have posted this before. 

SAN DIEGO – Somewhere past “the second star to the right, and straight on till morning,” there once was a real “Neverland.”

It is almost as remote as that second star. If I ever were marooned on a deserted island, this would have been the one. It is literally away from all we know.

footprint-freedomDiego Garcia is in the Chagos Archipelago, pretty much in the middle of the Indian Ocean seven degrees south of the equator. Smaller islands at the entrance on the northwest end are toes for the sliver of land, about 30 miles in length, which resembles a footprint surrounding the lagoon.

Daily highs hover around 86. Almost daily rains are cooling, refreshing.

The chain was uninhabited until two centuries ago. Portuguese navigator Pedro Mascarenhas discovered the Chagos in 1512. Mauritius French populated island in 1786, initially as a leper colony, and in 1798, established coconut plantations with slave labor. Slaves were replaced in 1834 with hired labor and imported donkeys until 1961. The laborers did not fare much better than the slaves.

The island had two coaling stations for steamships transiting the Indian Ocean in the 1880s.

The Brits bought the Chagos chain from the Maldives, and the United States established a small base on the big toe area in the mid-1960s. The forced departure of the “Chagossians” was brutal.

When I first visited in 1981, the Navy’s presence had grown. Diego Garcia had been anointed “The Footprint of Freedom. A P3 landing field sat on the strand halfway down the western side. A “Seaman’s Club” for merchant marines was between the two Navy facilities. Military Sealift Command (MSC) ships visited frequently.

More than 400 donkeys were legendary until they were isolated and now number only 20 in a confined area. The lagoon was the home for “Homer,” a 30-foot shark. Consequently, swimming in the lagoon essentially ceased. Recreational sailing was done with caution.

USS_Yosemite_AD-19_1988When I returned in 1983 as executive officer of “U.S.S. Yosemite,” the U.S. presence had grown significantly. MSC transports with military equipment and supplies were pre-positioned there for military action in the Mid-East. Destroyer tenders, including “Yosemite” provided repair operations. “Yosemite,” however, only stayed two weeks before sailing to anchorage off Oman for more convenient service to the Ranger Battle Group, returning to Diego Garcia for two two weeks at Christmas.

In that near month on the atoll, several of our officers and I befriended the British command, often gathering at their small club for splicing the main brace and darts.

The U.S. Navy’s officer club on the edge of the big toe provided good food, gin and tonics, and a patio with a spectacular vista of the lagoon entrance.

Frank Kerrigan, the ship’s doctor; Linda Schlesinger, the disbursing officer; and I ran half the island several times (about 13 miles: the strip of land making the footprint was just over the length of a marathon (26.2 miles). The officers established a getaway in one of the old barracks, previously abandoned for the residents’ newer digs. The gym had racquetball courts, showers, sauna, and a spa.

Once I drove to the middle of the western strand and walked to the pristine beach. As I walked out to the surf, I experienced dizziness. The entire beach seemed to be moving in waves. It was. The beach was completely covered with tiny hermit crabs.

The Brits asked us to help restore the plantation buildings for historical preservation. We investigated. En route, we saw a quarter-acre field covered with coconut crabs, each about the size of a dinner plate weighing up to nine pounds. They were hideous.

The plantation buildings were in ruins. We explored the slave/labor quarters, the communal eating area, the crude medical building, and the wooden slab where they bled corpses before burying them. Eerily adjacent was the plantation manager’s home. Though decayed and falling apart, I could envision the opulent living style for the residents while the slave/laborers suffered within 100 feet.

We had the expertise but not the time, supplies, or money to donate to the restoration.

Today, the small landing field is a major operation of the U.S. Air Force, the lagoon is filled with the MSC transport ships, the CIA is based there, the Navy base has expanded and the old plantation has been partially restored.

It is different now, but I still think about what a nice place it could have been for Robinson Crusoe…or Peter Pan.

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