I have more words than you………. An essay by William Marshall

We all know that things are very divided when it comes to certain words and phrases in this society. If you are in a certain group, you can say a certain thing. If you are not in that group, you become a monster should you utter the awful word or phrase.

I have a good friend that recently smiled wide and proclaimed that she just learned that she is .004% black according to her “23 and me”. She seemed to be very proud to be suddenly inter-racial, I thought it was really cool. A little later and after a few drinks she began to explore the idea that now suddenly she has more words available in her vocabulary than she used to. She sort of jokingly wondered how she might be able to break out the new vocab. It stunned me when she shared that idea. She has a point I never really considered. She didn’t try out her new vocab around me, but it really got me to thinking.

About this time, my social media feed encountered a video posted by another friend. The video showed her nephew, a very cute 11-year-old boy, dancing to demonstrate his proficiency on a recent craze called the “Mop dance”. The video is basically pretending to mop and do a dance about it. The use of a certain word in the music was very subtle in some areas and very “in your face” in others. The word is celebrated, like the singer was very proud to identify. It is a silly craze that seems to be celebrating synchronized mopping skills. I got it, its just a dance, maybe it’s a celebration of the past, I don’t know.

What is it about words that make them so powerful? Do I have words in my quiver that maybe others don’t have and don’t realize it? Are there words that can be used that would hurt me in the same way that certain words hurt others? As I think about my wonderful friend, I wonder a little about her and her new vocabulary? I’m interested to see how she uses it.

In Love

My time as a girl…… An essay by William Marshall

I have no idea why I was going; I never really went to anything before that I can remember. Yes, I had been to SS class plenty, it was usually coming in late on some random Sunday morning, looking for somewhere to sit and any familiar face. In my eyes, everyone was regulars and I was the outsider. Scooting out of there as soon as it was over so I could either explore all the crazy stairwells and hallways that were in that big old church or find my parents and dutifully prepare for the church service. We were regulars enough to have a spot. It was like it was our assigned spot, if you have been to a church, you understand. We were that regular, but I didn’t really know any of the kids.

They didn’t go to my school. We were from the Southside, we had been going to a small Methodist church in our neighborhood. Mom was the pianist and dad was a youth SS teacher and mentor. A few years prior, there was falling out about hiring a pianist. I don’t know all the details, but we never set foot in that church again. We seemed to lay out of church for a while. Maybe a couple of years.
We were now going to First Baptist Church of Dothan. It was the big church in town. As a youngster it was obvious that this was where the cool people were. Mom would always point out to dad the different people and who they were. So and so over there did this and that. Not gossip, just my mom and dad talking about their world around them. It seemed like we were in a different world.

It was a Halloween party or maybe some dress up birthday party that the church was sponsoring, it was at someone’s house. We drove up in the car and the parking was a mess. I don’t think my mom intended to stay but I do think that she was planning on walking me to the door. That didn’t happen though when she let me out and I walked up to the door with my present and my handbag.

I’m actually baffled now that I look back on it. Do little boys dress up like little girls for Halloween in Alabama in 1979? I think I was pretty. I can guarantee you that I was convincing. I don’t remember whose idea it was for me to dress up like a girl, but it wasn’t a big deal to me. Sounded fun. I knew what I was gonna do. I was going to play with the girls. They seemed like way more fun than the boys anyway.

I remember looking into the mirror and thinking that I really did look cute. The biggest thing that I remember was the dang handbag. I had to carry it everywhere. It is one of the first things in my life that I ever really remembering that I had to not lose.

When I got to the door, I said hi, thanks for inviting me. I gave the nice lady the present and she led me over to where a small huddle of girls were. I started to tell her that I was a boy and go out in the back yard where they were. I just didn’t.
I just followed her lead.

There were all kinds of girls in all kinds of costumes. I just fit right in, just I didn’t have an elaborate costume. Just a nice light blue party dress, frilly socks, cute little girls’ shoes with buckles, and my mom fru fru’d up my hair she called it. I think my nails were painted. I dang sure had make up on. Not overdone either, my mom’s good. I knew most of the girls, but they didn’t seem to know me. It was fun to talk with them and hear what they were saying. They sure didn’t seem to be talking about boys, I didn’t care either, I knew that us boys never really talked about girls either. We just mostly kicked dirt and made noises. Girls talked about different things.

They were playing some kind of organized game that had been set up for the girls. The boys were somewhere else, doing something else. It was fun. When it was time that I had to do something as part of the game, the host, a wonderful lady doing a great job asked me my name. I told her William. She seemed to say ok. I knew that I didn’t stutter, my voice was my voice. But it was obvious though, that it was like she didn’t understand my name. I thought nothing else about and went on playing the game. We had a great time. I surely enjoyed my visit with the ladies that day.

I still have the newsletter write up where the SS class mentions this event. They didn’t know who the pretty little girl named William was until my mom showed up to pick me up. Until then they honestly thought that they were misunderstanding my name and that I was a cute little girl.

I was playing with the girls. It was fun.

Which way does the rug go?………. An essay by William Marshall

New furniture, old rug. It changes the room, of course it does. “The other furniture was much more boxy” she said. “This is rounded.” “Of course,” I agreed. I was grunting as I did, luckily everything slid fairly easy on the fake wood floor in our trailer house. It’s a big rug, with big new furniture, same small room. Did you know rugs are heavy? I had never really thought about it.

She stepped back and tilted her head to this side, then that. That contemplative look. The sun was in my eyes a little bit, it was getting later in the day. We had gotten her old furniture out of storage. She was re-laying out the room. “It was important”, she said, “We have to get it right.” I agreed.

We thought about it this way a while, then we slid it around, thought about it that way for a while. She asked what I thought. When she asks my opinion, I begin to tread lightly. I know that with things like rugs and their orientation, her tiniest bit of OCD is nowhere close to my level of “I care not at all.” So, she wins no matter what.

I did ask her this time to humor me and put the couch towards the middle of the floor and away from the wall to see if we liked it. She agreed to let me do it. We left it there for almost a whole minute before she smiled lovingly at me and we moved it back. She is vacuuming now. I slipped over to write this.

I must go now. She is calling me over.

I’m back, she declared the room situated. Was very painless. I like it. I really do. BTW, rugs go east/west. She is vacuuming again.

Entangled at 4000…. An essay by William Marshall

I began counting just like I was supposed to as I leapt from the door. 1000, 2000, 3000, 4……. the wind gust hitting my helmet, my britches legs flapping in the breeze. I am an Army paratrooper. I’m exiting a C-141 aircraft over Holland Drop Zone. Holland is one of the major training DZs on Fort Bragg, NC. It is a wide open expanse of clearing. Starkly devoid of trees, just flowing waving grasses and patches of dirt. There is a large flight landing strip in the center of it. You don’t want to land on the runway. It is very hard.

I have on a helmet, boots, a main and reserve parachute. I have camouflage paint on my face to help me hide better once I’m on the ground. On my left side is a M1950 Weapons case which holds my M-16A2 rifle. My Rucksack is strapped to the front of me. By rule, it must weigh at least 35lbs. It hangs between your legs suspended by straps connected to the same connector that your reserve parachute was connected to. You must walk bow legged while wearing the gear on the ground. You feel about like a hunched over super squatty heavy waddle duck.

As I’m counting, the horizon seems to tilt and spin and whirl while the jet blast buffets me around and I flail at the mercy of physics. I’m locked into my good tight body position like I’ve practiced so many times. “Eyes open, chin on chest, elbows tucked into your sides, hands on the end of your reserve with fingers spread, feet and knees together, knees locked to the rear, bend slightly forward at the waist, count to 4000.” Just as I got to my 4000 count, I realized that as my parachute was opening, there was another parachute that was opening around me. Oh boy!

Another Soldier’s parachute had inflated and now I realize that I’m in the middle of his canopy. My weapons case had entangled with my sudden new buddies parachute. To get technical, my connector on the weapons case had gotten wrapped up and entangled with my fellow paratrooper’s anti inversion net and suspension lines. I realized that I was in the middle of my new friends’ canopy and we were about to take a ride, together.

“No big deal, we got this,” I thought to myself. We have procedures for all this. We are taught how to avoid collisions and what to do in case it happens. My new friend spoke first. I was just finishing the count as he stated, fairly firmly, “slip away.” You see, that is what we are taught to do. If you find yourself drifting towards another jumper, simply pull down on the opposite riser and you will begin to slightly drift in the direction you are pulling. But this isn’t some nimble sport wing flying canopy, this is a round piece of nylon with a hole in the top. You can’t steer this thing. Even if I could, its way too late for that now. Here I am, I missed my chance to slip away. I was too busy counting.

He obviously realized that his pleas were pointless, as a matter of fact, I seem to remember him clipping off the last part of “slip away”, as if he realized it was futile of him to even finish the words. Luckily, it was daylight outside. We were about 700 feet in the air. We both had good main parachutes suspending us. We were just a lot closer than we liked and tied together in a crazy green silver and white knot on my left side.

As soon as I reached to fiddle with that mess of a knot, something seemed to be amiss. Remember that I was inside of my new partner’s parachute. As soon as I began to direct my attention on that knot, I remembered the next step of what to do if you entangled. The training says, “the higher jumper will climb down to the lower jumper using the hand under hand method. Once the jumpers are even, they will grasp each other’s main lift web and discuss which parachute landing fall they will do.” Sounds easy enough. If I can get this knot out, I’ll just climb down to him. Too easy!

That something that was amiss showed itself very suddenly about one tenth of a second into my knot worries. You see, my parachute lost air. The parachute of my new friend downstairs creates a vacuum up above it. Well, that was the area where my parachute was trying to hang out. Uh oh!

I began to fall through even more suspension lines. As I passed my new buddy on the way down I realized that I knew my new partner. It was Private First Class Friend from Alpha Battery. I remember very clearly seeing the expression of determination and also fear as we fell through the sky together. I was a Specialist at the time. I was in Bravo Battery. I knew who Friend was because he would come and hang out in our area from time to time. We weren’t really friends or even buddies but we were sure working together now.

I sort of tumbled below him briefly. I remember that we didn’t really speak when I went by. We didn’t take time to exchange pleasantries. I wasn’t below him long. When my canopy lost air, my entanglement with his anti inversion net caused me to take his canopy with me. We began to leapfrog. First, I lost air, then he did, then I did. We were playing follow the leader in a very dangerous game. It was looking like I needed to break out my reserve.

The procedures were, “In order to activate your reserve for a partial malfunction, snap back into a good tight body position with you left hand over the rip cord protective flap. With your right hand, pull the rip cord grip and drop it. Form a knife cutting edge with you right hand and insert it behind as much canopy and suspension lines as you can. Pull it out and over one shoulder, throw it in the opposite direction of spin. If it fails to inflate, gather it back up and throw it again,” we always added, “you have the rest of your life to accomplish this task.”
For a second, I realized that it was going to be hard to snap back into anything resembling a tight body position as I was flailing about. I began to wonder where I would throw the reserve. Basically, If I wasn’t falling, I was wrapped up in Friend’s suspension lines. I fell again.

This time the fall was different, it was farther. I felt something snap, rip, tear. My right hand was reaching for the rip cord grip as I wondered if this was really the time. The suspension lines were hitting my legs and boots, I was kinda upside down and falling fast.

Suddenly, something took. My canopy inflated, I wasn’t free from my new buddy, but things were suddenly much better. And we both had good main canopies. We were still riding this thing together but it seems that my last fall had ripped me free from his anti inversion net. We were now just entangled by several suspension lines and we weren’t leapfrogging and spinning as badly as before.

We were really close to the ground though. Like real close. Friend was a little bit higher than I was. Laterally we weren’t too far apart but still way out of reach. He reached down suddenly and lowered his rucksack that was between his legs. I remember it passing by me on its way to the end of its lowering line. It was close but it wasn’t going to hit me. I remembered to lower mine also. I reached for the lanyard, I pulled, it dropped. My rucksack didn’t make it to the end of the lowering line that was about 15 foot long. It hit the ground before it ran out. I and PFC Friend hit the ground shortly after. Me first then him right behind. We both jumped up right away and looked at each other. “You ok?” we seemed to ask in unison to each other. We both said “yeah, I’m fine.” And we were so relieved. I remember just falling back down for a second and saying a little prayer.

I remember that untangling our parachute was just as easy as me taking my quick release snap off of my weapons case. That’s where the problems were. Took me two seconds on the ground. We both rolled up our parachutes, put them in the bags, threw them over our shoulders and ran off on our mission for that day. Our camouflage was probably a little smudged.

I didn’t talk to Friend about this event after it happened. There was no investigation into the events. I’m not sure anybody else really noticed. Just the way things went back then.


See video where James and I discuss many years later. Link below.

I hope you get Soldiers just as sorry as you!…….. An essay by William Marshall

“I hope you get a platoon of Soldiers just as sorry as you!” he exhorted to them.  He had jumped up into the doorway of the bus to get a little elevation.  He was obviously disappointed in his peers.  He was student of mine in the United States Army Air Defense Officer Basic Course.  He was a young Lieutenant learning how to lead, only he wasn’t quite as young as the rest of the guys and gals there.  He was actually my age and had already been a platoon sergeant in the Army.  He was what we called, “Prior Service.”  He was not as tall as some, stockier than others, but it became clear as we worked out there in the desert, learning our Leader skills, that this guy was and is a true leader. 

During just a short hike from one training area in the desert to another, we all had packs on our backs, the students had helmets, weapons, and blank ammunition.  These were mostly young men and women straight out of their college commissioning.  This was their first taste of the real Army.  This was back in circa 2003.  We were at war and trying to train leaders up for this new modern warfare that was going on in Afghanistan and Iraq.  As we walked the short three miles from one spot in the desert to another, you could hear them grumbling.  It was pretty typical growing pains as I saw it.  Lieutenant McCormick saw it way different.  He was not happy with his battle buddies. 

As he stood on the bottom steps of that bus and addressed my students, I was taken aback.  This guy was quick to jump on his buddies left and right.  He exhorted them to step up, follow his lead, change their attitude and not be the sorry Soldiers that they sounded like as they were grumbling and whining. 

I will always remember that day.  It was as if the ghost of Patton showed up in my formation.  That turned into one of the best classes of students that I have ever been a part of.

Almost twenty years has passed from that day until now.  You probably wouldn’t be surprised if I told you that LT McCormick went on to earn three Purple Hearts, the Silver Star, at least one Bronze Star with V device for valor.  Thanks for your service and leadership my friend.

Hawaiian Punch……. An essay by William Marshall

My Uncle Russell’s grandkids were running around in the yard. They were here, they were there. There were bunches of them. If they were older and in the city, you would have said that they were gangs. They seemed to be extremists. One minute they would be laughing, the next they would be crying. None were older than ten.

We were checking the fishponds to make sure none of the fish had jumped out. There must have been 10,000 catfish in those little ponds. They just boiled up, slurping the surface when the feeder went off, spraying dog food like pellets all over the water. I was on the back of the golf cart enjoying the ride.

About that time, one of Uncle Russell’s granddaughters came galloping by, it was actually the whole pack but only she stopped. She was red faced and half out of breath. She ran up to Uncle Russell like he was a bad guy in the particular scene that she was playing out. He played right along. He balled up his fist and looked real mean. He was playing with his granddaughter. He shook his fist at her. He said, “You want a Hawaiian Punch?” She giggled and ran off.

Later in the day, we were back on the porch and the gang had joined us ever so briefly as they roamed the property just like my cousins and I did when we were young. I watched that little red faced girl as she interacted with her cousin. She was playing still, giggling. She balled up her fist at her other girl cousin. Both too young to really hurt each other. She said with all seriousness, “Want some Kool-Aid?”