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a different azimuth
the website of john neel

my stories

"All the world's a stage, and all men and women merely players; they have their exits and entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts."~ William Shakespeare
I assume every old man has stories that he loves to tell.  The older he gets, the narratives change, names are forgotten, and, perhaps, a bit of embellishment creeps in. 

I have decided to tell a few of my favorites on this page, to spark my memory, codify the story to stop any changes, in case my kids or grandkids are one day interested, and for the causal readers of my life.

We asked our Parents to do this a while ago, well before they passed.    I wish they had begun writing much sooner in life; now we have only those few stories to know about their lives before my brothers and I were born. They are cherished by the family as classics of Neel History.

So, here they begin, my tall tales, fish stories, memories of the glory days, war stories- the comedy that has been my life.





The Sheep Swatters, England, 1988

When I was first posted to the British Parachute Regiment, I was assigned to 538 Platoon, The Depot, while I awaited on1 Para to return from Northern Ireland.  There I met "my Corporals," Pitcher, Fuller, and Edwards.  Like their American drill sergeant counterparts it is said that you never forget your Corporals.  I know I will never for get mine.

I chose to use this time in the Depot to learn as much as I could about British Soldiering before joining 1 Para. My Corporals  also took it on themselves to make sure I was straight, treating me, sometimes as their friend, their sergeant, a visiting dignitary, or as a private. 

I was taught British tactics, weapons, fitness, drinking, and that particularly nebulous subject...British Humor.

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The Maury River and Me, written a few years ago

This is what happens when I’m left alone to my own devices. Kim should never leave home.

This past Sunday morning began as usual--sleeping in, and then deciding not to go for my run until later in the morning.  I sat down and watched Hannibal, which I thought was very good. THEN (here’s where things began to go wrong), during the movie, Conor Evans called to see if I wanted to canoe the Maury River. I said yes and invited poor Elise to go along with us.

I should have known better. Every time I’ve done anything in the Maury, it has had bad results.

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Forty Degrees Below Zero, Canada, January 1982

It was too warm in the C141 Starlifter. In-flight rigging is always a pain, but made even worse when the Air Force refuses to turn down the heat. We were sweating, a bad thing since we were jumping into below freezing weather.  We had been briefed by the Battalion Commander, personally, on the mission and its importance to relations with the Canadians. We would be training with the Canadian Commandos for twenty-eight days, eighty miles north of North Bay, just shy of the Arctic Circle. The temperature was minus 40 in Petawawa, and there was three feet of snow on Anzio drop zone. I remember the colonel saying, “Don't worry, you'll work up a sweat coming off the drop zone.”

He was a damn liar, and the Scouts, being from the South, were too ignorant to question the time.

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Wahoma, Birmingham in the 1960s

Before the highway came through the center of Birmingham, my family lived in a small two bedroom home at the end of 6Avenue North. Our house was exactly like every third house on “The Block,” as we called it, until Mom and Dad added on a living room and dining room to the north end. I would have preferred another bath and a couple of bedrooms.

Life in the house was crowded. One bathroom and five people made for a lot of knocking, waiting, and complaining. Three brothers in one bedroom allowed for no privacy, constant bickering, and a lifetime of good-natured enmity.

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The Cult

I joined the cult back in 1974. Having just become a believer, I began visiting churches throughout the Birmingham area, frantically looking for someone who would tell me what I needed to do and be as a Christian. I was given a book by a good friend from a pastor out in Texas. It was amazing. The Pastor was a retired Army officerl. His teachings were strong, serious, and patriotic.

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