Remembering Today Reilly Family Members Who Gave the Last Full Measure of Devotion
Three Dot … 137
Remembering Today Reilly Family Members Who Gave the Last Full Measure of Devotion
Three Dot … 137
As a child growing up in Lindenhurst … on the south shore of Long Island … we had a dog … a mutt, really … named Ranger.
Ranger’s mother … Lucky … wasn’t. She was hit by a car and killed not long after Ranger’s litter was born … and they weren’t even weaned yet … my mom had to hand feed them until they got big enough to eat on their own.
I was five at the time … and given my choice of which of the puppies we would keep … I picked the runt of the litter … and named him Ranger, after the lead character of a children’s TV show that I liked to watch … Ranger Joe.
Ranger became my faithful companion from then until I left home to go to West Point 13 years later … other than school, he went pretty much everywhere with me … and particularly enjoyed loping along next to my bike when I did my paper route … and running along with me when I did laps around the block as training for cross-country and track.
Eventually, he got too old to do the running … instead, he would lie on the grass in front of our house … and follow me with his eyes as I ran by each time.
Despite his small size, Ranger was fearless … too fearless, as it turned out. One day in March of 1964, he was with my mom and two younger sisters as they walked to the neighborhood grocery store. A much bigger dog came out of the Narrangansett Inn, a local restaurant and reception hall … thinking the dog was coming after his humans, Ranger ran to intercept him … and got into a fight which resulted in injuries so severe that he had to be euthanized.
Mom called me at West Point to give me the news … and I cried myself to sleep that night.
But, that isn’t the main point of this story … which is really about the dog I fell in love with three years later and who was going to be my next “Ranger”.
My Aunt Ethel and her family lived in West Babylon, not far from where we lived in Lindenhurst … and I visited there frequently after my family moved to California in mid-1964, shortly after Ranger’s death. They had a female dog named Queenie … and, coincidentally, she had a little of puppies in April 1967 … just a couple of months before I was due to graduate from West Point.
In my journal for May 6, 1967, I wrote that I had picked up Jessica Poulson, who I was seeing at that time, and then … “we drove out to Aunt Ethel’s. Queenie had her puppies. I picked out one for me — it’s all black with 4 white feet, a white-tipped tail, a white ring around its neck and a white face.”
I had just that week also finished reading Boris Pasternak’s book Doctor Zhivago … and Jess & I went to see the movie based on the book that same night. I decided that I would name the puppy Yurochka … the affectionate name that Larisa Antipova calls Yuri Zhivago … and then ended up calling him Yuri for “short” (even though in Russian Yurochka is the diminutive of Yuri).
On Saturday, June 3rd, Jess and I were back on Long Island … and I picked up Yurochka …
… to take back to West Point with me for a few days. In retrospect, he was probably a bit young to be separated from his mother … but he enjoyed the visit … particularly sleeping with me on my brown boy (our plush comforter). Needless to say, it’s a good thing no one in authority saw him there in my room!
We graduated on June 7 and I spent the first three weeks of graduation leave hanging around with family on Long Island and visiting with high school friends and teachers … while Yuri was back at Aunt Ethel’s with his mom.
On June 28th, I finally left New York … driving to Washington DC, where Yuri and I stayed at a Holiday Inn. The next day, I visited the Pentagon and confirmed that I would have a few weeks temporary duty at the Pacific Mine Force headquarters before going to the Defense Information School at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, in the fall … then on to Saigon, Vietnam, in November.
While driving, Yuri would sit in the passenger seat … or, if I had the top up on my Corvette, would lie on the convertible top cover, just behind the seats. When in the passenger seat, he was too small to see over the doorframe or hang his head out the window … so I usually turned the vent window in so that wind would blow on him while driving.
The third day of our trip, June 30th, Yuri and I visited my high school track teammate George Brown in North Carolina … then went on to Merritt Island, Florida, to visit with my best friend from high school, Jim Clark. We spent five days there, then on July 5th started the drive across the South … headed for Memphis, Tennessee, to visit with my West Point roommate & best friend, Jim “JO” Vance.
On Friday, July 7th, JO and I had dates with two sisters who lived in the Whitehaven section of Memphis … my date that evening was Sandy Douglas … and, as they say, the rest was history …
… regarding which, see…
After two days in Memphis, Yuri and I headed to Oklahoma, where I hoped to see my former girlfriend … Candy Sayes (ah, yes, a whole other story for another time). I was able to visit with her and her fiancée, Joe Davis, for about an hour … then drove down to Lawton, where I planned to see another of my West Point friends, Norm St. Laurent, at Fort Sill.
After visiting with Norm, I decided to drive straight through from Oklahoma to California … in part because I didn’t have any friends living between the two. On Tuesday, July 11, I got on the road about 8:00 am and drove until 3:00 … slept on the side of the road for about an hour … then hit the road again.
I stopped again about 10:00 and called home, then decided to continue driving until I got home … which I expected to do about 2:30 or 3:00 am. For most of the trip from Oklahoma to California, I was driving on either I-40 (which was not yet complete) or the old Route 66 … which connected the completed sections of I-40 at the time.
Shortly after midnight, I stopped in Barstow, California, for gas … I had the top up and Yuri was sleeping on the convertible cover behind me … I pulled up to a pump, got out and began pumping gas.
Perhaps a minute later, a woman from another car at the station asked me, “Is that your dog?”, while pointing toward the highway. I turned to see where she was pointing and saw Yuri … just as he was hit by a car speeding along the highway.
I immediately ran out to Yuri … and when I got to him, knew instantly that, although not yet dead, he would be soon … I picked him up and carried him back to the car … by the time I got to it, he had died.
I wrapped him in my lightweight West Point grey jacket … borrowed a shovel from the gas station attendant … and took Yuri out into the desert to bury him. I dug a hole about three feet deep … laid Yuri in it … and filled the hole. The driver of the car never even stopped.
The rest of the drive home took about two-and-a-half hours … during the entirety of which I was crying so hard that I had trouble driving … and which makes me cry even now thinking about it. My mom had stayed up, waiting for me to arrive, and I fell completely apart when I got there.
To this day, I do not know for sure how Yuri got out of the car … the convertible top was up … and the windows were up high enough that I don’t think he could have wiggled through the opening of either window. The only thing I could … or can … think of is that he must have awakened as I opened the driver’s door, then jumped down onto the seat and out the door behind me as I closing it.
However he did it, it took just a matter of seconds … no more than two or three … and, because I was concentrating on pumping gas, I never saw that he was out of the car until it was too late.
It is nearly 49 years since Yuri was killed, but the guilt I feel over his death burns my heart every time I think of it … which is still often. My journal entry for that day ends with the comment, “He trusted me so & I let him down in the worst way possible.”
I was motivated to write about Yurochka by the incident at the Cincinnati Zoo which resulted in the death of the silverback gorilla Harambe … and the resultant outpouring of animus and vitriol toward the mother of the child who got into the gorilla enclosure.
To the Christians among the vocal critics of the mother, I commend Matthew 7:1-3, King James Version (KJV):
1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.
2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
In other words, clean up your own act before you judge the actions of others … and once you do, perhaps it would be best to help those others, rather than judging them.
Or John 8:7 (KJV): He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
In the context of the gorilla discussion, it is a certainty that everyone, without exception, has at one time or another, been distracted in such a way as to lose track of a child … even a small child … for a short period of time. Most people are lucky in that nothing untoward happens during that momentary distraction … the Cincinnati mother … and I … were not so lucky.
Apparently, the Hamilton County, Ohio, prosecutor will announce tomorrow whether or not he is going to file criminal charges against the boy’s mother. The legal standard in Ohio for filing charges is whether or not she acted “recklessly” or created a “substantial risk” to the health and safety of her child.
Factual circumstances likely to play a part in the prosecutor’s decision include the child’s background and any history of dangerous behavior, risk factors at the zoo, and … perhaps most significantly … the length of time that the child was out of the mother’s direct sight and why.
A few more pictures of Yuri
Three Dot … 127
Today is Vietnam Veterans Day …
… a day for honoring all those who served there, including …
… my Dad, GMCM Lawrence John Reilly Sr. (US Navy Ret) …
… my brother, BT3 Lawrence John Reilly Jr., one of The Lost 74 of the USS Frank E. Evans (DD-754) …
… the rest of the crew of the Frank E. Evans …
… my prospective brother-in-law and West Point classmate, Thomas Havard “Trey” Sayes III (Capt. US Army) …
… his Dad, Col. Thomas Havard Sayes Jr. (US Army Ret) …
… all of my other West Point Class of 1967 classmates who served with courage and distinction in Vietnam …
… and all other American & allied veterans of that war.
Three Dot … 123
Most of my first day as a West Point cadet … July 1, 1963 … is a complete blur in my memory. About all I can say for certain is that I still consider it one of the most miserable days of my life … so, I wouldn’t normally blog about it … except for one thing.
Because we lived in Lindenhurst, on the south shore of Long Island, I was one of the fortunate New Cadets who was taken to West Point by family … and the whole crew made the trip … Mom & Dad, Larry Jr., Jerry, Luanne and Suzie (who was then just four years old and with whom I was particularly close).
Once I left the family to “report to the man in the red sash” and begin my life away from home, the rest of the family participated in various activities designed to help them understand what their now departed sons (no women yet at West Point then) would be doing for the next four years.
Eventually that day, the upper class cadre trained the 800+ newest cadets well enough for us to march in our first parade … and to be accepted into the Corps of Cadets. And then it was time for the families to leave … which mine did, beginning the drive back down to Long Island.
It wasn’t long, however, before Suzie realized that I wasn’t in the car … and she cried out, “We forgot Jimmy” … when told that I wasn’t coming with them, she cried most of the trip home.
Little did she … or I … or any of the rest of the family know that by the next time I would visit home, in June 1964, Dad (a Navy Chief) would have been transferred to Long Beach and they would have moved to Garden Grove, California … and that I would not again set foot in my childhood home until invited in by the current owners when I visited the old neighborhood nearly 46 years later in March 2010.
Three Dot … 112
Memorial Day is a day for remembering American military servicemen who made the ultimate sacrifice. Sadly, of the 34 members of the extended Reilly-Douglas-Sayes-Davis families who have served in the military, we remember 3 of them today:
My younger brother, BT3 Lawrence John Reilly Jr. USN, was one of the 74 men lost in the sinking of the USS Frank E. Evans (DD-754) on June 3, 1969.
The Evans was participating in a SEATO training exercise during a brief respite from gunline duties off the coast of Vietnam. My Dad, GMCM Lawrence John Reilly Sr. (USN Ret) was one of the survivors of the collision, barely escaping from the sinking front half of the ship.
I have blogged here several times on the efforts of the USS Frank E. Evans Association and others to have the names of The Lost 74 added to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, thus far to no avail.
One of my father’s uncles, Stephen John Otten, fought with the US Army in Europe during World War I. He received a Purple Heart after being gassed and several years later died as a result of the injuries to his lungs.
Going back even further on my wife’s side of the family, one of her ancestors, John Calvin Busby, was killed in action during the Civil War Battle of Gettysburg. He was one of nine family members who fought in the Civil War, eight of them in the Confederate Army.
Unfortunately, I do not have photos of either Stephen Otten or John Busby and do not know any of the details of their military service.
Today is also a day to remember two other groups of veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice … The Lost 74 of the Frank E. Evans …
… and the 30 of my West Point classmates who were killed in Vietnam.
On this Memorial Day, I salute all of these men … John, Stephen & Larry … The Lost 74 … and my 30 West Point classmates.
There is good reason to conclude that the class lived up to its motto … “None Will Surpass” … with ’67 grads excelling in their military careers and civilian endeavors after leaving the Army … or, for three of us, the Navy!
For today, though, I just want to remember … through representative photos … what an experience it was for me to be a West Point cadet from July 1, 1963, until June 7, 1967.
Among my I-2 classmates were my two best friends, Jim Vance (3rd row, 2nd from left), who nearly four years later introduced me to my wife-to-be, Sandy Douglas, and Dick Waterman (upper left corner).
On October 19, 1963, another classmate and good friend, Tom “Trey” Sayes, introduced me to his younger sister, Candy. We dated throughout the rest of plebe year … and, after her family moved to Oklahoma the following year, saw each other rarely … and finally drifted apart. We saw each other one last time in July 1967, while I was on graduation leave … then not again until exactly 43 years to the day of our first meeting … October 19, 2006 … when I drove to Colorado to see her again … as they say, the rest is history … and we have been back together ever since.
By yearling (sophomore) year, we were more relaxed … and a smaller group, several of our company mates having departed.
I was a rabid Army football fan and festooned the door to my room … and the surrounding walls … with support for the team … and, along with the rest of the Corps of Cadets, enjoyed Army’s 11-8 win over Navy in the 1964 game … the winning margin of which came by way of a field goal by my classmate Barry Nickerson.
In April of 1965, near the end of Yearling year, my family visited West Point … and my Mom took this picture of me … my favorite of all of my West Point photos …
As a plebe, I had run on the plebe cross-country, indoor track and track & field teams … but was not good enough to compete intercollegiately as an upperclassman. As a result, I participated in intramural athletics … including football …
Eventually, as a first classman (senior), I was the coach of the company intramural football and wrestling teams … and finally was designated Athletic Sergeant for the company … my official rank upon graduation.
Between our yearling and “cow” (junior) years, the corps was re-organized from two regiments to four … and we were re-assigned to new companies. I was assigned to Company D-2 and housed in the old Central Barracks (which were later demolished to make room for new cadet barracks). Among my D-2 classmates were my roommates our last 2 years as cadets … Bob Unterbrink (front row, third from left, next to me) … and Rob Walker (4th row, right end).
Two of my D-2 company mates went on to become Army generals … Chuck Sutten, (front row, 4th from right, directly in front of me) … and Ed Smith (2nd row, 4th from left). Note in this picture Arnie Cano (from Panama) … holding in his right hand a small lizard!
First class (senior) year marked the beginning of our transition from cadets to officers … starting with receipt of our rings …
During the 1966 football season, Army played the California Golden Bears in Berkeley … providing me with the opportunity to visit for the first time Cal’s Memorial Stadium …
… a place I would later visit many times and grow to love as a fan of the Cal Bears myself (after #1 son attended Cal and worked as a student manager for the football team). Army beat the Bears 6-3 in the 1966 game!
Another major milestone came in March of 1967, when we were allowed to receive delivery of our new cars … mine a maroon with white top 1967 Corvette convertible …
Then came June Week … the traditional celebration of a graduating class of West Point cadets. The day before graduation, we had an academic award ceremony … at which I received the “Colonial Daughters of the 17th Century Award” as Honor Graduate (First in Class) for the Department of English …
.. the night before graduation, we had our graduation hop …
… and then graduation day itself … and my swearing in as a newly commissioned United States Navy ensign … a whole other story for another time!
And … finally … graduation …
… and liberation!
Besides being my wedding anniversary …
… and the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor …
… December 7th is a significant date to me for another reason …
… the Army-Navy football game in 1963, about which I have blogged once before …
Separate and apart from my personal interest in the game, the 1963 Army-Navy game had national significance, coming as it did on the heels of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy …
… the game had been scheduled for November 30th, but was delayed because of the assassination … and there was some discussion of possibly cancelling it completely.
The president, however, had been a big football fan, particularly of the interservice classic …
… and had planned to attend the game and flip the coin for the opening kickoff … his family, in particular First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, wanted the game to be played, even as the country was in the midst of the official 30 day period of mourning for the slain president.
JFK, of course, was a Naval officer and World War II hero … about whom the movie PT-109 was made … so, after a one week delay, the game was on … with Navy, ranked #2 in the country, a big favorite to win its 5th Army-Navy game in a row.
Instead of names across their shoulders, the Navy uniforms featured the slogan “Drive for Five” … and the Middies were led by Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Roger Staubach.
Rumor had it that an upset win by Army would put the Black Knights, in place of Navy, into the Cotton Bowl against #1 ranked Texas … and Army had a secret weapon named Rollie Stichweh at quarterback …
… so we cadets were hopeful.
The game was played at Philadelphia’s Municipal Stadium, which was later renamed John F. Kennedy Stadium in honor of the president … and the nation looked on as the two service academy teams met in honor of their fallen commander-in-chief.
Army scored first, but Navy ran off three unanswered touchdowns to lead 21-7 with ten minutes to play … which was when Army … and Stichweh in particular … took over and mounted one of the most thrilling comeback attempts in college football history.
First, Army drove to a touchdown … which was scored by … Rollie Stichweh on a one yard run … after which Army made a daring 2 point conversion, to make the score 21-15.
And then, with everyone in the stadium expecting it, Army attempted an onsides kick … and succeeded … with the ball recovered by none other than that man Stichweh … after which Army once again drove deliberately (too deliberately, as it turned out) toward the Navy goal line.
On a 3rd down run, Army halfback Ken Waldrop dove to the Navy 2 yard line with 18 seconds to play …
… but with deafening noise in the stadium and no timeouts remaining … Army was not able to get off a 4th down attempt to pull out the win.
Like all Army fans, I was crushed when the officials waived off the game as time expired … and the memory remains vivid even after 50 years … but there is no doubt that the game helped to heal the grievous wound which the nation had suffered two weeks before.
Oddly, the game is known in football history for another reason … it featured the first ever use of instant replay … showing Stichweh’s 4th quarter touchdown run.
As mentioned in my earlier blog, Sports Illustrated writer Dan Jenkins wrote an excellent story about the game … which I have saved to this day … and which is reproduced below.
One other personal note … my guest for the 1963 Army-Navy game was none other than my then girlfriend and now fiancee Candy Sayes (Davis)!
This year’s Army-Navy game will be played at 3:00 pm EST next Saturday, December 14th, at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia … the Middies are on an 11 game winning streak against Army … the longest such streak in the 113 year history of the game … and lead the series 57-49-7.
I, of course, will be rooting for Army … as will Candy’s brother, my West Point classmate, Trey Sayes … but she, her son Jason Davis, a 1994 Annapolis graduate, and my Dad (Lawrence Reilly, Sr., a retired Navy master chief gunner’s mate) will all be cheering for the Middies.
For other stories about the national significance of the 1963 Army-Navy game, see:
A documentary has also been produced about the game and its importance to the country …
… it is called “Marching On: 1963 Army-Navy Remembered” and is described here:
The Army football website is here:
Navy’s is here:
The Wikipedia article on the history of the Army-Navy game is here:
And here is the Dan Jenkins Sports Illustrated article about the game:
Today is a day to honor and give thanks to everyone who has ever served our country as a member of any branch of the armed services — Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.
And to give special thanks to the members of the extended Reilly/Douglas & Sayes families who have served — 18 of them altogether, stretching back to the American Civil War (and thanks to my daughter Risa who did the genealogical research which found our Civil War vets).
Two of the 18 made the ultimate sacrifice in or as a result of their service — my great grand uncle Steve Otten, who was gassed in combat in France during WWI and died several years later as a result of the injuries to his lungs — and my brother Lawrence John Reilly Jr. who was lost in the collision between his ship, the USS Frank E. Evans, and the Australia aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne, during a Vietnam training exercise on June 3, 1969.