Musings, Thoughts & Commentaries
The New York Yankees in the ‘60s would take a day off after Spring training and make a bus trip up the Hudson River Valley to play the Army baseball team at West Point in an exhibition game. This event was much anticipated by the Corps of Cadets and it was obvious the Yankees had fun too as there was no pressure and they could relax for that one day.
In 1962 I was in my second year at West Point and was on the wrestling team. I could not go to the baseball game. After wrestling practice I was running laps around the indoor gym when two guys came onto the basketball court and started shooting hoops one-on-one. I recognized them immediately as Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, the Yankee stars. The baseball game was over and they were having some fun before they would be guests of the Corps for dinner in the mess hall.
Growing up in Canton, Ohio, of course I was a Cleveland Indians fan from birth. In the early ‘50s I listened to baseball on our RCA tube-type radio in the living room and scored the games—every pitch. Roger Maris started his career in Cleveland but deserted the Indians to become a Yankee and we all hated him for it. Now I was shagging balls and throwing them back to him and Mantle as they played. They joked around with me—we were the only three people in the gym—and I got to like them.
Later in the mess hall, the Yankees were scattered around the corps squad tables where I was also assigned, passing out signed baseballs. I asked Mickey to sign one, he did and passed it to Roger. They told their teammates our “basketball story” and passed the ball around to be signed by almost all the Yankees on the 1962 team, except a big start, Yogi Berra.
Two years passed. I was now a “Firstie”, my senior year at West Point. It was again time for the exhibition baseball game, which once again I could not attend. I was now the rider of the Army Mule, Hannibal III, and had sprained my ankle when he flipped over on me while I was riding him at a fast trot on an asphalt road. His shoes slipped; it was dumb of me. Hannibal could have been hurt.
While I was sitting in the locker room having my left ankle wrapped, Yogi Berra jumped up on the table beside me and asked what had happened. Yogi was a very personable guy and just wanted to talk to a cadet. He was now the manager of the Yankees and up here for the annual game. I asked him if he would mind signing a baseball that had been signed two years before by most of the Yankees, but not by him. He was surprised and happily agreed; I grabbed the ball from my locker where I had stored it hoping something like this would happen today. Now I had a baseball signed by almost all the most famous Yankees of all time!
I carried that precious souvenir with me to Fort Benning, then Germany, back to Fort Campbell. When I got assigned to Viet Nam I had to sell my Corvette Sting Ray for almost nothing and dump everything I could not carry with me. I did not know where I would go or what I would do—if I came back. As I was packing up my gear to go to war, I did not know what to do with the baseball, and flipped to a young boy I had just met. I hope he still has it. I was off to Viet Nam.
Viet Nam was a mess when I arrived there in 1967 and I knew it would stay that way. I believed then, and still do, the USA had no objective and hence no strategy would matter. Our country had gotten involved in a war there because one of the sides claimed to favor “democracy” so we had to help them fight their neighbors. It would have been much better if we had let them unite, and then become friends with their nation.
I was assigned to the First Air Cavalry Division, Field Artillery. My only artillery experience had been with nuclear weapons in Germany, and I was not qualified to command a howitzer battery in combat. Therefore, I was assigned to command the Headquarters of the 1st Battalion, 77th Artillery and also to serve as the S-1, the Personnel Officer. I was responsible for administrative functions rather than combat capabilities. This HQ assignment probably saved my life, although I was wounded in the Tet Offensive of 1968 when my bunker was hit by a mortar round.
For the first six months in Viet Nam I was in An Khe where there was an officers’ club. In early January 1968 I was having a beer there with my West Point classmate Kirby Wilcox, an officer with great potential for becoming a General. Kirby told me he had volunteered for front line duty rather than admin assignments at HQ because he felt is was his duty to see front line action. He was killed shortly after he took the job. I kept my admin assignment.
Part of my responsibilities was to coordinate celebrity visits to our troops in the field. I assigned myself to be the escort officer for Joe DiMaggio when he came to spend a few days with us in early 1968 before the baseball season started. Joltin’ Joe was perhaps THE most famous New York Yankee of all time. We flew around in one of the First Cav helicopters to visit the troops on the front lines. Sitting together and talking, I told him my story about Mantle, Maris and Berra. He had to chuckle. Before his departure back to the US, he asked me if there was anyone he could call on my behalf to let them know I was doing okay. Joe was starting in a new position in executive management with the Oakland Athletics then, and I happened to have an uncle in Oakland who had invited me to stay with his family for a few days while I was on my way to Viet Nam. I learned later from my uncle that when he had received the call from Joe DiMaggio, he had answered, “Yeah, right, Joe DiMaggio,” and hung up, not believing such an icon would call him. He did believe it when few days later he received in the mail an Oakland Athletics baseball cap, signed by Joe.
The rest of my time in Viet Nam was either very boring or way too exciting, like during attacks by the enemy or Bob Hope tour.
Mindanao is under martial law. Headlines shout the possible evolution of local militia into radicalized fanatics who seek global affiliations based on religion and economics.
Mindanao, the southernmost island of the Philippine Archipelago, has the resources and population to stand alone as a nation, with no contiguous countries to dispute the natural boundaries of ocean waters. Will Mindanao remain a part of the Philippines, or be absorbed into China—or Indonesia? Will it become an independent Islamic caliphate?
“Mindanao” by Freddie Aguilar, resonates with reality.
Listening to that song while sitting in a gazebo outside our home in Davao ten years ago inspired me to write “Rebels of Mindanao.”
Listen to “Mindanao.”
Sir Freddie became a friend. We met while he was on tour in the USA and later I hung out with him at his Ka Freddie night club in Manila. He sang the song on stage directly in front of me. I gave him a copy of my book, the last hard copy I had in the Philippines and told him “This must be in your hands.”
I showed Freddie a newspaper story about his marriage to his love, made controversial because she was Muslim and he had converted. Coincidentally next to their photo was a story about me and the movie I had written which had recently been released. He introduced me to his lovely wife and they both autographed the newspaper. I felt everything had come full circle.
Also with us at Ka Freddie that night were an actress attached to the next movie and a General of the Philippine Army—around the table we were a mix of religions, politics and nationalities that had found a way to coexist and to create.
I have written stories in fiction. I have been asked, indeed challenged, why, how dare an American write about Mindanao? I must. Who has heard of “Mindanao”? Where is it? Who cares? History has been forgotten. It is time to wake up.
Why cannot the world coexist without war; why does war, brother against brother, continue for five hundred years in the Philippines? What will be?
Tom Anthony is a West Point Graduate and combat veteran who spent his professional civilian career in global business all over the world. He has lived and worked in Austria, Italy, Spain, England, Iraq, Israel, and throughout Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Anthony also lived in Mindanao for seven years.
Copyright 2017 Tom Anthony.