By Tom De Francesca
Have you visited Classmates.com recently? They’ve added much more than just the ability to locate past classmates from high school. Now one can locate former college buddies, military members, and former co-workers.
This past week, while typing in the information on my former U.S. Coast Guard duty stations, I was presented with a listing of names of individuals who were stationed at the Alameda (California) Recruit Training Center — otherwise known as “boot camp.” One of the names that appeared on that list seemed to just jump off of the page.
The name was Terry Dowdy. He had been my company commander during the nine weeks I spent at Alameda. Being a company commander meant that Terry was in charge of all of the drill instructors in my company. He was the big cheese, when he walked into any area that we troops just happened to be located in — we all had to drop down and do 50 push-ups. I reckon we must have done about 500 of them suckers every day.
Terry was unlike the “D.I.s” under him, though — he was quiet and calm, the instructors, well, let’s just say, they were like walking activated fire alarms — noisy, abrasive, and unrelenting.
When I arrived at boot camp, I was involuntarily separated from my original company of recruits and placed into “Oscar” company. “Oscar” company was the official drill team, members marched in formation, and performed intricate routines with massively heavy rifles (M-1s from World War II) — and they had big, sharp bayonets on them. I had absolutely no desire whatsoever to be on the drill team. I wasn’t happy. My goal for boot camp was to keep a low profile, not volunteer for anything, and just survive.
Because I was so unhappy about my assignment, I got up the nerve to approach Chief Dowdy — I couldn’t believe it, he was actually approachable.
He listened to my opinions, and without yelling and screaming at me, or demeaning me, he made me an offer. “You participate in the first gig, and if you don’t like it — you can go back to your original company, and you won’t be harassed about it.” I thought that was a very fair offer.
Needless to say, the first performance was inside San Francisco City Hall, the taps on our shoes sounded awesome on those marble floors, and we impressed the heck out of the visiting prime minister of India, all the while having our performance broadcast on live television.
Needless to say, I remained with “Oscar” company.
We performed 21 times in my nine weeks of boot camp, winning first place in 19 of them.
We traveled all up and down the West Coast, performed in the Kingdome before a Seattle Mariners baseball game, performed in front of 50,000 people at Sea Fair in downtown Seattle, and got to perform on the streets of Vancouver British Columbia.
Most folks, when they think back to boot camp, have relatively bad memories of it. Me — it was one of the most exciting times in my entire life, and I have Terry Dowdy to thank for that.
Occasionally, we have folks that come into our lives for just very brief periods of time, and then they are gone. Most of us never consider the possibility of ever being able to articulate to them our sincere appreciation.
Well, I succeeded in doing just that this week.
I located Terry using Google.com, called him up, and expressed my thoughts to him. He’s now living in Fairbanks, Alaska — which is quite a coincidence, considering that is where my family and I lived when I was a child.
Sometimes life actually does come full circle — we just have to notice it.
Tom DiFrancesca III is a freelance columnist and a resident of Clovis. He can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org or www.trackertom.com