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a different azimuth
the website of johnny neel      www.neel505.com

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.  OK, a LOT 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, just 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 him...at 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 6th Avenue 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 what I needed to 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 officer. His teachings were strong, serious, and patriotic.

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Dubya-double-Oh-Dee-El-A-Dubya-In

I began my freshman year at Woodlawn High (WHS) in the fall of 1971.  I took college prep classes with every intent, at the time, to go, like Mom and Dad had encouraged, to attend college.  It was understood; I would go to college. I would be deferred from the draft that existed at the time. Vietnam was in full swing.  Jim had registered for the draft, had been selected with a pretty low lottery number, but was accepted at Birmingham Southern and was deferred as 4-F, for academic reasons.  4-F was the plan for us all.

Back then, I remember not knowing what I wanted to do, medicine maybe, or oceanic biology.  I had an aptitude for science, but not for math.  I loved History, but refused to learn to spell or write well.  The struggle over the next four years for grades good enough for college would be tough, made tougher, by basketball, sporting events, girls, car, and laziness.

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Safe!

All high school Freshmen are dumb, but I was, most likely, the dumbest, most goofy freshman that ever attended Woodlawn High.

Back Stories.

Life for a freshman at Woodlawn was confusing.  Just learning where your classes were, stretched over three buildings, and getting there from your previous class, on time, was sometimes a challenge.  There were times you had to run...or you felt you had to, until you found the path of least resistance through the crowds of students in the halls between classes. Or, maybe I was the only kid who did this.

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Meeting Kim

I met Kim at Church.

At the time, I wasn't looking to meet anyone.  I was broken.  I had left the Army after my four year commitment, having accomplished what I said that I would, but my future life fell quickly apart. I had just gone through the breakup of my marriage and divorce.  I didn't care about anything.  I returned to my old reckless ways of driving too fast, in a fast car, with no insurance, and expired tags.  Because my divorce left me destitute, I had moved back in with Mom and Dad.  I had just been passed over for a job at work for a kid right out of college, who didn't know shit, but had the right Engineering degree.  I didn't fit in with my co-workers except for Stan the Vietnam vet.  I missed the Army and was considering going back in.

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A Stranger in a Strange Land

I had to look the place up on the map.  The only thing I knew about Turkey was what I had seen on the movie Midnight Express.  When the Army asked if I would take Jonathon and very pregnant Kim, I immediately chose the fifteen-month unaccompanied tour. 

"Apprehensive?"  No.  I was dreading it.

What I found when I arrived was a beautiful country, filled with the most beautiful, hospitable people, with delicious food, pristine beaches, music I would learn to love, and interesting places to see.  Turkiye is both ancient and modern at the same time.  I fell in love with everything about it.  Since that first tour, I volunteered for two more tours, and would go back tomorrow if I were still in the Army.

Like Tumpane, I thrived.

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There's a Bug in My Ear

You've probably seen the Star Trek movie where Kahn puts the really scary bug in Chekhov's ear.  Maybe you have heard stories of earwigs burrowing into human ears and laying eggs.  Well I sure have and these stories came crashing down on me one night on exercise in Florida.

The Scouts were on a frontal screen line monitoring the Mechanized Infantry across Highway 85, marshaling their armored vehicles for the start of the exercise.  Once they stopped the traffic on the highway was our cue they were coming. We would begin to interdict them with preplanned Artillery Fires, would pop the first two tracked vehicle with our Dragons, then run like hell to prepared Alternate and Subsequent Positions to continue to slow and report their progress and formations.

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Fishugh and Neely

After Jump School, I was shipped to the 82nd Airborne in accordance with my enlistment contract.  At the Depot, I was assigned to the 2nd Battalion of the 505 Parachute Infantry.  Once at the battalion Personnel Admin Center (PAC) I was told that I would be in Charlie Company.  I reported to Charlie Company Orderly Room and to the Operations Sergeant who filled out my data card, took copies of my orders, and filed my Jump Log.  Since I was married, I was told to take the rest of the day off and to report the next morning at 0800hrs, in Fatigues, to the Company Formation Area.

The Next morning I met my First Sergeant (1SG), Alfred H. Gainey.

Our 1SG had fought in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.  No one fucked with the man and we looked at him as  god.  He taught us everything and was a fantastic leader and warrior...but he was funny and cool, laid back and absolutely fair.  He was my first mentor and he taught me more than any other person in the Army.

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Huggin and Chalkin

We jumped into Mizzoula Montana and it looked like the whole town turned out to see us.  The road that ran parallel to out drop zone was lined with cars.  Along the fence were loads of folks who turned up for the show.  As we landed, it began to look like the end of a winning football game as the "fans" ran out on to the DZ.  I had about ten people helping me collapse my chute and pack it up.  There were cowboys, old men, moms, kids, and college students, all very friendly, and all overly helpful.  I remember focusing on securing my M203 above all else.  I didn't lose anything, but you can't be too careful when faced with that many people around you.  I think they were a little hurt when I insisted on carrying my ruck and chute myself.  I could just see my thousand dollar chute disappearing in some cowboy's pickup truck.

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Osko, I Gotta Go

Boy, You Better Find That Dog

Under The Tennis Ball

I Used To Be

Geiger and Berry

Motion Man

Chief Pin Cushion and Beaker Washer

Virginia Mil

Big Foot