A young Michael Jackson once sang about going back to Indiana.
This past weekend, thirty years after leaving Grissom Air Force Base, Indiana for what I figured was the last time, I returned to it. Long ago, thirty people had to put up with me as their boss because when I went to work, I wore little gold bars on my shoulders.
If you know anything at all about the military, you’re probably tracking with me. Sometimes, the only thing worse than reporting to a Second Louie is being a Second Louie. I’m sure that was true in my case.
If you’re not tracking, “Second Louie” or more properly “Second Lieutenant” (in the Navy it’s “Ensign”) is the entry-level rank into the officer corps. Back in 1979, kids like me with a four-year college degree in just about anything, and who could behave well enough to get through a few weeks of officer training school, were awarded those shiny metal bars and a commission to lead some enlisted people through the daily routine of keeping the nation from the clutches of evil – which, back in the day, was spelled U-S-S-R.
I’m not picking on lieutenants. In warfare, Army and Marine Second Lieutenants are the officers on the ground who most often lead the charge into the enemy guns. To know of their heroism is to learn the real meaning of taking a bullet for your friend. But one particular lieutenant, DiGrazie, has often tasted my wrath over the years.
My return to the scene of my first two years of military service forced me to consider how unprepared I was for life at age 21. I’ve cringed often to remember this or that person or situation from my two years in the Hoosier State, and how a tenth of what I’ve learned since would have gone a long way!
The most powerful, spiritual moments of my return to Indiana were to re-experience the communities I lived in, the houses and apartment buildings I called home, and the country roads where, in 1980, I trained for the only marathon I ever ran in. The tiny village of Bunker Hill, just two miles from what used to be the base’s main gate, was home then. I used to run as many as thirteen miles per day, east on State Road 28 and back. I think running kept me alive then. Seriously. I teared up when I snapped this photo of it.
It was a bleak time for me, but somehow, better days eventually came my way. I probably won’t write a story about it, but as I keep processing the memories and emotions that my return visit stirred, I hope it will make me a better storyteller.
Most of Grissom Air Force Base is no longer active. This is the sort of thing that happens when you let DiGrazie near weapons. Seriously, the fate of Grissom Air Force Base was decided by a much more sinister force than I – the U.S. Congress. A small corner of it is now a museum, and I did see it. Driving around on the closed, neglected parts of the base was sad, but special.
Back around 1970, R. Dean Taylor sang that he couldn’t go back to Indiana. But I wonder if all of us have places and times it would do us well to revisit. We may need to confront some whopping errors, but in so doing we can also appreciate how we’ve grown. And me? I think I’m in a better place now, to try and make peace with Second Lieutenant DiGrazie.