…as long as ever you can.

In the early 1950’s, there was a young sailor in boot camp at Bainbridge…Fred, the company clerk, was a gregarious, handsome devil, well-liked by his fellows.
Also at camp was a classmate of Fred’s from Keyport High School, back in New Jersey. Bob, more shy and circumspect, had been a year ahead through school, and had actually moved to neighboring Matawan before graduation.
Both had mustered in at the same time, in the waning days of the Korean conflict – now ended while both were still in basic training.
They could not have been more different in appearance – the clerk, very slight of build and scarcely average in height, had played French horn in the marching band at Keyport High. Bob, very tall, and built like the offensive lineman he had been in High School, was nearly twice Fred’s size.
Bob had been raised by his mother, while Fred had both mother and father at home. Both families were poor, by any standards, but both boys were raised in a time when work ethic meant something.
Both attended the Methodist Church in their respective towns…Fred was from Keansburg and Union Beach, while Bob had lived in Hazlet, then Aberdeen. (Hence the senior year change in High Schools).
Both had worked on local farms when not in school – sometimes for the same farm. They weren’t close friends, but knew one another well enough.
Reunited in boot camp, they rarely saw each other – they were not in the same unit. In a few weeks, both would be assigned to their first duty stations, and would be leaving Maryland.
A very cold night in late November, a blizzard struck, putting the Bainbridge Base under nearly two feet of snow – rare, indeed, in Maryland. Drifts were nearly twice that deep lay across their path.
As clerk, Fred had been working all day in the office attached to the giant “gymnasium”, which doubled as an indoor parade field. As the snow continued to accumulate, Bob had been assigned to guard duty, standing post at the door.
Time came for them to return to their respective barracks, and, on opening the door, they discovered that nearly three feet of snow lay on their path…sometimes more.
The area in the lee of the building had accumulated huge drifts, which they would have to pass through to get back to their bunks.
Fred, who had left first, was having a very hard time with the snow, while Bob was easily striding over it, (nearly a foot taller, his longer legs were a huge advantage.)
After a few hundred yards, Fred was flagging – the effort was exhausting him. The chill wind and blinding snow weren’t helping, either. Bob, who had headed off in another direction, suddenly appeared at his side.
“Follow me, and walk in my footsteps. I’ll get you there.”
Fred did so, with Bob “breaking trail” before him – seeing him to his barracks before heading back off to his own.
It seemed such a simple courtesy…and a thoughtful act between friends, and brother sailors.
Fred was struck by those words – spoken out of the darkness, as he was struggling – more so than he would ever have wanted to admit to his fellow sailors.
The hip-deep, even waist-deep snow had him a more than a little concerned. He had begun to realize he was in real trouble, when Bob had showed up out of the darkness.
A few days later their units were shipped out – and the two friends never saw one another again.
Later in his life, when dealing with the struggles and adversity we all face, Bob’s words would come back to Fred –
“Follow me, and walk in my footsteps. I’ll get you there.”
It seems such a simple story – but it takes character in both men for it to matter, today. One, because of their unselfish act, and another, because he was wise enough to see the message, and share it.
“Follow me, and walk in my footsteps. I’ll get you there.”
We find wisdom in the strangest of places…but only if we’re willing to listen for it.
“Fred” was, and is, my father.
Yesterday, I stood at the grave shown above, and said a prayer for the man who cared enough to break trail for my dad – “Bob” – Robert E. Anderson.
The Christ-like words, “Follow me, and walk in my footsteps. I’ll get you there”, were a lesson Dad passed to my brother, sisters, and I very early on.
Now that dad is past 80, I was curious to find out what had become of Robert E. Anderson.
I found what I had expected to find, that he had long since passed away, but not where I had expected to find him.
You see, Bob’s in a section at the Brigadier General Doyle Cemetery that my Scouts have often been assigned to for the flag placement before Memorial Day.
There is every chance that I, or my son, have placed his flag over the years.
Certainly our Troop’s Scouts have. A powerful coincidence, indeed.
We’re breaking trail, of a sort…but we’ve only been able to do so because someone else has done so for us, so very long ago.
A new path lies open before for this Nation – one that will lead us where we’re supposed to go. Don’t just follow, though.
Lead those less able than yourselves.
That way, we all “get there”.
“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”- John Wesley
Rest in Peace, Bob. Glad our paths were the same, if only for a moment. – FJL

One thought on “…as long as ever you can.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *