Friday, July 21, 2023

Insight: Where have all the scourges gone?

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

It seems the older I get, the less likely I am to encounter a scourge. You know, those annoying and irritating individuals who make your life miserable merely because they can.

Lt. Col. Frank Hill, right, presents Ed Pierce
with the 'Golden Quill' Award for writing
during a ceremony at The Pentagon in
Washington, D.C. in 1980.
Back in high school, whenever I would ride the school bus home, there was a classmate who always happened to be on the bus at the same time and this young man, whose name was Floyd, took delight in being a bully. He would sit near me and either grab my hat and use it as a frisbee on the school bus, or he would make off with one of my textbooks as we neared my bus stop and he’d refuse to give it back. Several times we came to blows and it came to the point that it was hard to make eye contact with him for fear of what would happen next.

After high school I never saw Floyd again until he walked up to me at the 45th class reunion and extended his hand to me. He hugged me and apologized for his boorish behavior and bullying me when we were teenagers. To tell the truth, I had long forgotten about some of those incidents until I saw Floyd again and his heartfelt apology indicated to me that he genuinely was sorry for the way he treated me years in the past. At subsequent class reunions and gatherings, I find myself looking for him and incredibly, I now consider him to be my friend.

Then there’s Lieutenant Colonel Frank Hill, an antagonist of mine from my days serving in the U.S. Air Force at The Pentagon in Washington, D.C. My duties as Public Affairs Representative for the 2044th Communications Squadron involved gathering information from members of our squadron and publicizing their achievements and activities by writing newspaper articles about them. For a long time, my unit’s commander was my supervisor but there were occasions where the deputy commander, Lieutenant Colonel Hill, would oversee my work and I would dread when that would happen.

He never quite grasped the value of publicity for the squadron and had little regard for time involved with interviewing people, collecting facts, and then writing an article. To that end, Lieutenant Colonel Hill would give me long lists of 50 or more potential articles to complete and then would chuckle as I would struggle to finish them by his arbitrarily imposed deadlines.

Once I asked him how he came about prioritizing his numbered list. He smiled at me and told me, “It’s stochastic derivation.” When I asked him what that meant he suggested that I find a dictionary and look it up. I found it is a mathematical term meaning to guess or at random.

After several months, our unit commander gave Lieutenant Colonel Hill new duties involving oversight of the telecommunications department working on the midnight shift, and he reassumed his direct supervision of me. Years later I heard from a friend that Lieutenant Colonel Hill had retired from military service and while watching a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game, he had died in the stands at Busch Stadium when he choked while eating a hot dog and suffered a stroke.

For several years at a newspaper in Florida in the late 1990s and into the 2000s, I sat across the aisle from a fellow named Ernie who was the world’s biggest cheerleader and fan of the New York Yankees baseball team. Knowing I was a lifelong fan of the Baltimore Orioles, he took great delight that his team regularly won the American League championship and was playing in the World Series. He would go on and on about how he booked his birthday trips to New York every October so he could watch his Yankees in the World Series. Working near him was like having a Yankees-only fan radio station on all the time as nearly every word coming out of his mouth was either praise for Derek Jeter or about the greatness of Mariano Rivera. This was long before the days of earbuds to tune him out, mind you.

If he wasn’t wanting to chat about Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams or Joe Torre before lunch, I could sense he wasn’t feeling well that day and I came to loathe him mimicking broadcaster John Sterling’s call of “Ballgame over! Yankees win! Theeeeeee Yankees win!”

Once he hung a gigantic Yankees banner across his cubicle when New York played the Florida Marlins in the 2003 World Series just to see how I would react. The stunt backfired when the Marlins toppled New York, 4 games to 2, to win the title that year. Despite the loss, Ernie continued to express his admiration for everything Yankees-related right up until he left the newspaper in 2009 to teach at the local community college. After not hearing from him for more than a decade, it took me by surprise last August when I learned that Ernie had suddenly passed away at the age of 67.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from the people I’ve mentioned, I wish I could say that remaining positive helps, all I know is that right now, I’m scourge-free. <

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