Searching for the right word is tough, mimicking, harassing, hassling, picking-on,
joshing, there might be another dozen words that sort of fit. None of them really fit, exactly.
One may be just fooling around, out of affection, just a joke, no one meant anything mean.
This story grew out of a writing prompt “Conflict” at the Senior Center, here in Fremont.
Sadly, much of this story is way too true, names have been changed.
the four of us, (I was the smallest) we could have stopped it dead, right then.
I was 18 at the time, 52 years ago and shame and regret has only spread, wider and deeper…
Conflict: Alcohol vs Ragging over Col. Argy
an unresolved question
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Back then, in the Navy, a sailor from Kentucky was known as the “Kentucky Colonel,” every one of them. Our favorite was Argyle “Argy” Sibley, he was from outside of Pine Knot, in the SE corner of the state, near the joint of KY, TN and VA. Col. Argy called it “Kay-Tin-Vaaahh county, kinda confused but sorta peaceable.”
There is no doubt “The Colonel” was the most popular guy in the squadron, tall and lanky, a tad ungainly, with strange, “unfiltered ciderey” looking, blond hair that appeared unkempt even when closely cropped. He had a permanent smile like a dolphin, an even disposition, and a love of all, as he said, “the long the short and the tall.”
Everyone loved him, from the Skipper all the way to the bar girls in all the dives we visited out-side of the gates, all over the far east. I can close my eyes today and hear the b-girls in Sagamioska struggle with, “Colonel Argy”, that was almost as tough for them as, “Darrell”, that was the cutest…
Col. Argy, was the best shipmate ever, he actually would give anyone, “the shirt off of his back,” he did that once, for a little kid with a bloody nose in Olongapo, outside of Cubi Point in the Philippines.
To this day, 52 years later, it’s a complete mystery to me, why almost all of us, his best friends and squadron mates, without any planning or collusion what so ever, destroyed his future happiness.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The Colonel had a little quirk about him, after about four or five beers he would turn real red and splotchy and would stammer and stumble through his stories. At the same time he talked about five times his regular amount. He’d be on his feet, waving his arms and swaying back and forth, side to side, stuttering and faltering though a story of moonshiners and tent revivals, mules and farmers, and winsome young females, both humans and horses…
One of the guys started mimicking Argy, not the red face of course, but the body language and the accent, though mostly the stutter. We would all laugh, even The Colonel, at the beginning at least. The whole thing was real funny, other guys started doing the mimicking too. It spread from at night in the bars, on to the flight line and in the barracks even to the galley. In short order, people that didn’t really know him would stammer at him… It wasn’t funny any more, his dolphin smile even slipped a bit.
Dotson, Keller, Pollacek and me, we all stopped the ragging on Argy almost immediately, some others didn’t for a while. The four of us could have stopped it, we should have stopped it, we were young and stupid, we didn’t stop it. Within a couple of weeks The Colonel, our best friend, no longer had a stutter just while drinking, it was full time now. By then everyone had stopped with the ragging, it was too little, too late. His normal demeanor had changed too. Mostly now his head was down a little his eyes were avoiding you, he seemed shorter and shrunken. He talked a lot less, avoided going off base to the night spots. A few of us tried to keep him with us and get him back to his old self. We failed, we failed him, he had never failed us.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
In Nov. of ’62 Argy was rotated out, he had had orders to pick up with our sister squadron in Rota Spain, but the Squadron Flight Surgeon had got him switched to Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego. They would work on his speech problems there for six months and if they weren’t successful he would get a medical discharge. At the terminal on Guam about a dozen of us were seeing him off. The Skipper and Maintenance Officer and the Flight Surgeon and his wife joined around eight of us enlisted men to say goodbye and good luck. It was a pretty quiet sendoff and as Argy was turning to climb up to the Pan Am 707 he turned and tried to say something, he failed…
Most of us stayed and watched the big jet climb into the darkening sky. The Flight Surgeon’s, normally friendly wife, turned her back on us and walked to their Ford. The remaining 7 or so of us enlisted men took the base bus to the Enlisted Men’s Club. An hour later one of the guys said, “that it was too bad that alcohol had caused The Colonel’s stutter.” Dotson and I blew up and said, “that we, all of his buddies, had caused it. A few minutes later 13 squadron mates were fighting outside in the crushed coral and mud. No one won the argument or the fight. Five months later I left Guam for a bomber outfit on Whidbey Island, Washington State. I never heard of Argyle Sibley again, I thought of looking for him a thousand times, I never have.
In 2008 I spent a couple of days with Dotson, we talked of many things. Finally at 3am in a Seattle Hotel Coffee Shop we discussed Argy, we didn’t have a lot to say, it seems that shame grows like a mold or a fungus. It never goes away, or sprouts like a tree, it just lives on, in the lower, darker places, hiding from the light.
A year or so later Dotson passed on, at his memorial, one of his daughters asked me about The Colonel and her Dads obsession about not ragging on a person’s disabilities. I told her a little of the insidious evils of alcohol. But mainly I spoke of the gross and repulsive evils of the human being, even when we didn’t mean it… It’s us humans have the most deleterious effects on other humans, sometimes even the humans we love…
*the above story was submitted by Bruce Haase .
*the above picture was taken by Paul Schwafel /friend of Bruce Haase — May 12, 2014