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Three Meter Zone | JD's Bunker | Poetry | Chapel | American Journal

Thoughts While Running Looking in the Mirror

J.D. Pendry

I've been shaving this face for more than a quarter century now. Each day when I look into the mirror I accept that over time it hasn't gotten any prettier and still has the potential to make babies cry. For a most of my 28 years in the Army I shaved it every day, Saturdays and Sundays included. I thought I'd change that routine when I left the Army. My first Saturday as a bona fide, blue ID card carrying, retiree, practically civilian type I didn't shave. Didn't need to, after all this was the new me and now I live by different rules. On my first Sunday, while preparing for church I stepped in front of that mirror again. I saw a couple of things. One was a growth of scraggly looking, mostly white whiskers. For some reason, white whiskers seem to want to grow in odd directions - pointing north when they should be pointing south. Maybe it's just me. The other thing I saw in my mirror was one of my three-meter zone heroes, 1SG Pedro Olivari, looking back at me. His head was cocked slightly to one side, sticking in the corner of his mouth was a little stub of a cigar, and he was squinting one eye a bit to avoid the trail of smoke that spiraled upward. Sounding just as clear as it did 27 years ago, I heard him say, "Come over here my son."

I was the company mailman in Korea in 1972. It was a seven-day a week job. Somewhere near the middle of my 13- month tour I managed to talk Top into giving me a one-week in country leave. He was reluctant, "You'll just get yourself into trouble my son." But, with enough begging and a good inspection report for my back up, he finally gave in.

Being the fine Private I was, I decided to not shave that week. Somewhere toward the end of the week I wandered into Top's orderly room with a week's growth of whiskers on my face. With that familiar tilt to his head, Top puffed on his cigar stub a couple of times while he looked at me. He then took the cigar out of his mouth. This was something Top done when he was ready to be serious. With the cigar in his hand he motioned to me and said, "Come over here my son." When I got over to Top's desk, he shoved a regulation into my hand and told me to, "Look up what it says in there about shaving." Hesitantly, and I'm sure with a puzzled expression on my face, I reached for the regulation. "Don't you understand?" Top asked. "Look in the reg my son, and tell me what is says about shaving." He let me fumble around with the regulation for a few minutes. My mind was more on losing precious leave time than on following Top's instructions. "Find it yet?" he asked. After a couple of more minutes, Top took the regulation back from me, flipped through a couple of pages, pointed to a sentence and said, "Here, read this. Out loud." he prompted. "Males will be clean shaven every day," I mumbled. "But Top, I'm on leave," I whined. "Read it again my son," he instructed, "out loud. I especially want to hear that part where it says except when you are on leave," he added. "It doesn't say that Top," I admitted. "Exactly, my son. Report back to me as soon as you have shaved." I did, and Top advised me to enjoy the rest of my leave.

While spreading the shaving cream on my face, I thought about other lessons I'd been taught by Top and other great NCOs. The ones that stayed with me were very subtle lessons like Top's lesson on shaving which was really a lesson about following the rules - all the rules, all the time and without reminders to follow them.

While I was admiring the whiskered mug that the good Lord blessed me with I had another thought - one that was quite a bit more sobering. I wondered if I left any enduring lessons with soldiers during my time. And if I did, were they positive lessons? Were they timeless lessons like Top's, that serve to make soldiers better soldiers and better people? As I began to scrape off the whiskers I asked myself if I used my 28 years in uniform wisely in that regard. The realization that we all leave some kind of legacy behind came to mind and I could only hope that mine was a positive one.

During the hectic time of our final move, physical fitness fell off my daily schedule. Unpacking, checking for damage, arranging, rearranging, painting, remodeling... all of those things disrupted my routine for awhile. When the storeroom was finally cleared out enough to allow it, the last thing unpacked, unwrapped and set up was my treadmill.

The next day I was walking past the open storeroom door and I saw the idle, unused treadmill sitting there in its corner. I felt a pang of guilt about my recent neglect of physical fitness. Then, in my mind's eye there stood Top Olivari. He had on that old gray sweat suit and the canvas sneakers he used to wear while running laps around Camp Red Cloud Korea in 1972. Top ran those laps almost religiously while a large portion of the rest of the Army was on its alcohol abusing, drug abusing, physical fitness butt. With that familiar grin on his face, he flipped his cigar stub away, cocked his head to one side, and in his best Puerto Rican accent said, "Come over here my son."

Top Olivari left a legacy when he left Korea for Puerto Rico and retirement in 1972. Looking in the mirror, I wondered if I had left one as positive as his. Will you?

© J. D. Pendry