On the trip down, I did some real estate business on my cell phone and enjoyed the ride in my new car as I looked forward to seeing Dave and Andy and talking about our old teammate Pat. I’ve addressed several Book Clubs over the years and actually had improved my descriptions of Pat both as a basketball teammate at school and as the author of My Losing Season, the non-fiction book about our basketball team. I was very comfortable in talking about Pat and others who surrounded his life. Little did I know, I was in for one of the most disturbing and unsettling days of my entire life.
I met Andy and Dave at the Alumni Center and we started on our journey around the campus. Dave, Andy and our video filmer, Conner, were laughing and carrying on just like always do when Andy stopped the golf cart in front of our brand-new War Memorial which was just completed this year. I told Andy to stop and that I wanted to walk inside and view this masterpiece of architecture which is modeled after the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington (which I have visited). That’s when the despondency of my afternoon started. I walked in straight to the Viet Nam war wall and immediately saw Joe Missar, Frank Murphey, Nate Davis, Carl Peterson and Joe Eubanks engraved on the wall. Some of these guys were not in country even 30 days before they made the supreme sacrifice. Then I turned and saw that the Memorial inscription was written by John Warley, one of Pat’s best Class of ’67 friends and an established author in his own right. When John came to Law School here at USC he dated Nancy Moore (Thurmond). I came a year later to Law School and also dated Nancy Moore who “Dear Johned” both John and I and married Strom Thurmond. Nancy was always my excuse for flunking out of Law School… she broke my heart for a 66-year-old man. Those names on the wall jumped out at me like buckshot coming out of a shotgun. Thankfully, Andy did not ask me to speak because I never would have made it out of that segment… my eyes had welled and I froze inside the Memorial and could not even move for a few seconds. It had that much of a grip on me. I was affected.
By special permission, we were allowed to enter Stevens Barracks where Dave, Pat and I lived for four years. I had not been back to those barracks since graduation. Standing in the middle of the Quad and looking around the different divisions and where my room had been left me very depressed… it was just disheartening and sad to me. I went up to 2nd Division and found Pat’s room where he lived with Bo Marks and Mike DeVito. I had no good memories of the barracks… none. Combined with my experience in the War Memorial this was not turning out to be at all like I expected.
Finally, we arrived at McAlister Field house. Above the Citadel locker room is a plaque with the name “Joe Eubanks” on it. Since Joe was only about 5’6” and maybe 120 pounds our team appropriately named him “Rat”. Rat loved being part of our basketball team… he reveled in it. One day, due to injuries, we had to put Rat on a team so we could have 10 guys to scrimmage with. It was the highlight of his life to actually be on the floor practicing with us.
Standing under the passageway to our locker room, with Joe’s plaque overhead, Andy asked me (live) to tell the story of Joe Eubanks who was the first member of his family to go to college. I started out noting that Rat had been on an Army ROTC Scholarship at The Citadel and became a helicopter pilot when he went on active duty. I was doing fine until I described his death. Rat was hovering over a hot LZ in Viet Nam and he had friendlies on the ground that he needed desperately to pick up and “dee dee mount” the area. He made his first dive and could not land. He made his second dive in to enemy fire and still could not land. On his third attempt (and this is where I lost it), Joe valiantly dove down… and they got him. The NVA soldiers killed little Joe Eubanks… who loved our basketball team more than anything. I asked Pat to dedicate My Losing Season to “Rat” Joe Eubanks and Pat seriously considered that before selecting our teammates for dedication.
We had to stop the Joe Eubank’s story while I just balled like a baby. Thank goodness, I had a handkerchief. It was miserable and I was simply in a coma of despair.
Then we changed positions in the gym and Dave and I simply sat on row one in the stands and Andy started with impromptu questions. He asked me, “What kind of influence did Pat have on your life?” I got one word out… “I”. And then I totally lost it… uncontrollable, unbridled crying. Never have I experienced emotions like this.
The entire afternoon was an eerie experience that I was totally unprepared for, totally caught off guard. Stevens Barracks, the War Memorial, Rat and then the big question about how Pat influenced my life… it all came in a rush, in a storm that I still don’t understand. I am very bothered by this because I have not risen from this funk yet. I’m not the most jovial person to be around and I can be very withdrawn.
Normally, Dave and I go to “Moe’s Across Town” and have a drink but not this time. I headed straight back to Columbia. There was no drink this time… my car headed straight West anxious to get home. I broke down again in the car… asked myself the “What did Conroy do for you” question, and I still could not answer that question without starting to cry.
If you’ve ever had a similar experience, I would love to compare notes… because on my own, I don’t get it.