I stared into the middle of a dark mud puddle and decided what I was going to do when I grew up. I was 5 years old.
My red and while plastic toy boat floated in the deepest middle of the puddle where you could snag tadpoles if you were bent on that. But I wasn’t. Instead, my future danced in my imagination and in my landlocked West Virginia soul. I was going to be an officer in the United States Navy. Thrilled, I mentally laid my plans for a future aboard a warship, a glorious prospect indeed.
But first, I had to start first grade in Maybeury, a coal camp along Route 52, McDowell County, West Virginia, where, not long after having an epiphany in a mud puddle about my destiny, I heroically fought off a malicious attack by a foul rooster eaten up with malignant meanness.
I have never wavered in my love for the Navy and for steel gray warships. Growing up in West Virginia, then in West Chester, the loveliest borough in Pennsylvania, I collected books on ships, nautical history, and battles at sea featuring the American and British navies. As the son of a football coach and a player myself, I indulged my fantasy of playing football for the United States Naval Academy.
Then one day in the hallway between classes when I was in 8th grade at West Chester Junior High School, I clocked a dude for insulting West Virginia. I was immediately suspended and sent home, where, alone and angry at school, I collected two pair of clean socks, mounted my bicycle and ran away from home. I peddled 35 miles to the gates of the Philadelphia Navy Yard to join the Navy.
The Marines guarding the gates to the Yard listened to my story, smiled, asked my age, 14, and gently sent me away. Deflated, I called my parents from a phone booth on South Broad Street. They drove to Philly and collected my bike and me. My mother praised my decision to include fresh socks in my quest to join the Navy, but scolded me for not taking underwear.
Four years later, Annapolis rejected my application for admission to the Class of 1966. Heartbroken, but with the support and love of my family and friends, I went in another direction. Which led to the School of Law at the University of Alabama and a 30 year career in the FBI. Sometimes you have to lose in order to win. However, the Bureau, unlike the Navy, did not provide socks and underwear.