Friday, June 24, 2016

Joe Reding: Topping Billy Cannon's record

(Second of three parts)
     The first few years Joe Reding played organized football, he could not play with kids his age. He was too big.
     Because kids football in Bossier City (and Shreveport) in the mid to late 1950s was organized by weight limits, Joe always was too heavy for his age group and so he played "up" with kids a year or two older.
     But in 1959 and 1960 (eighth and ninth grades) at Rusheon Junior High, he was unlimited ... and unstoppable. And even as an eighth grader, he was big enough and good enough to play with the ninth-grade team.
    He was nearing his full height (6-foot-1) and growing toward the 200 pounds or so he was in high school. Opposing teams' kids found him hard to tackle in football; he ran over them or past them. Hard to guard in basketball, impossible to beat in track.

In junior high school and at Bossier High (above), Joe Reding
was the big man in the middle (front row)
     Shreveport sportswriting legend Jerry Byrd called him "a superstar" and here's why: As a ninth grader in football, he scored 120 points (in eight games); in basketball, he was the dominant center who led his team to 37 consecutive victories; in track and field, he set four city (Shreveport-Bossier) records (shot put, discus, long jump, high jump).
    Rusheon swept every championship for two years and was so good, its facilities better than any across the river, that the next year the Shreveport schools' league excluded the Bossier City schools. Don't know that they ever reunited.
    David Smith, a longtime coach/administrator in Bossier Parish and for the past 23 years an insurance agency manager now based in West Monroe, La., recalls that Joe's success was due to "No. 1, he was such a competitor.
    "He was a quiet guy, didn't say a lot, but he was great. He came from a great family; his Mom and Dad were such nice people; it was just a super family.
    "He didn't talk about his accomplishments, he was just an ordinary guy like anyone else, but he was a super guy.
    "We had a great time together; I spent a lot of time at their house."
    They headed to high school together, but in the summer before their sophomore year, reality dealt the Reding family a huge blow -- his father's death.
    "That put me in a tailspin," Joe said. "I was only 15. I didn't really understand life."
    Mr. Reding "was always pretty tough on us, he stayed on us all the time," Joe said, "but he was very encouraging. He was always trying to teach us. I wasn't the greatest student, and I can remember him sitting at the kitchen table working with me on algebra, etc.
    "Our relationship was good, and the sad thing was we were just getting to the bonding stage."
    For a couple of days before Mr. Reding's fatal heart attack, he and Joe worked to refurbish a garage apartment on the house they owned (and lived in) near Bossier High (they subsequently moved to a home on Old Minden Road, a few miles away).
    "I treasure those last 2-3 days; we worked together and we worked hard," Joe said. "I treasure those days a lot."
    Another treasure: When Mr. Reding passed away, construction was well underway on a new gymnasium for Bossier High, replacing the old gym inside the main school building where some 600 fans crammed in to watch the Bearkats win the Class AAA state basketball championship in 1960.
    The spacious new gym opened early in 1962 ... and was named E.L. Reding Gym. It's still in use, and last season's Bossier team won another state championship.
    For the dedication ceremony, Dick and Joe -- both playing basketball for Bossier -- were in uniform. "It was very special" for the family, said Joe. "Memories I will never forget."
     In the 1961 football season, Dick was a senior end and Joe was an immediate starter at tackle for the Bearkats in an era when few sophomores ever played at a Class AAA school. Not only did he start, "he made 18 tackles in his first game," said Dick.

     He made All-City (Shreveport-Bossier) as a sophomore, the first of three consecutive All-City selections.
     "He was so physical, so tough," said Billy Don Maples. He recalled a big, strong Springhill running back (white-haired Larry Fambrough) colliding with Reding in a brutal matchup early that season.
    "Fambrough hit him high in the chest," Maples said, "and Joe was down. He was moaning and crying, and bleeding from the nose, and they took him out of the game. He came back in the second half, and led our team in tackling."
    In his three seasons, Bossier had records of 8-3, 9-2 and 7-3-1. But Byrd and Woodlawn and a surprising Bastrop team in 1963 kept the Bearkats from making the state playoffs.
     Because at the time, only 11 players were selected for the All-State team, it was his teammate and classmate Neal Prather who made the Class AAA team in 1963. Prather, who went on to play at Northwestern State and then became a doctor in Shreveport-Bossier, was a breakaway back (Reding was the strong inside runner). Like Joe, Prather was very mature physically early and also a star as a sophomore.
    If the all-star teams had had separate offensive and defensive units -- that didn't begin until later in the 1960s -- Reding would have been a first-team cinch at linebacker. In fact, he was an All-City choice in 1963 as a designated "defensive specialist."
    LSU was impressed enough to sign him to a football scholarship. And Joe was talented enough to convert to the offensive line.
    So football was the ticket to college, but where Joe Reding really was impressive was in the shot put.
    The Reding boys learned to shot put tossing the ball back and forth in the backyard.
    "It [the shot] would just fly out of his hand," Dick recalled. "It was like he was a freak."
    As a Bossier sophomore (spring 1962), Joe bettered 56 feet, got close to the state record -- and won his first Class AAA state title. Just a beginning.
    He began the next spring with a 58-9 effort at the season-opening Shreveport Relays at Byrd, topping Billy Cannon's state record (57-10). Thus, the photo (and distance on the shot put) arranged by Jerry Byrd for the Shreveport Journal
    A few weeks later, at the Indian Relays at Fair Park, he broke the sound barrier -- 60 feet -- with a 60-3 1/4 toss.
    Cannon had won the state shot put and 100-yard dash titles -- a phenomenal double -- for Istrouma (Baton Rouge) in the spring of 1956 before going to LSU and becoming a football immortal.
    To break his record, said Reding, "was almost beyond my comprehension."
    He repeated the state titles in 1963 and 1964 ... but he never improved on his best mark. He had a 60-1/2 toss early in his senior year, but that was it. 
    "I don't know what happened," he said. "I got stuck between 57 [feet] and 59." 
    But he competed without the benefit of much weight training -- it wasn't part of many athletes' workouts those days -- and certainly not any performance-enhancing drugs (those were for a later era).
    This was a clean era, and Joe's tools were strength (those hands, wrists and forearms), technique (form and quickness across the shot put ring) and hard work/practice.
    When The Shreveport Times last year had a panel of a dozen or so sports-minded people voting on Shreveport-Bossier's top 20 greatest all-time athletes, my ballot included Joe Reding at No. 17. As I wrote then in a blog piece, as one of the "oldtime" voters, I probably was the only one who listed Joe.
    My reasoning: His shot-put state record "stood up for a decade or two" and he was a three-year football starter at LSU in a great era (1960s). 
    Oops. Upon further review ... His state record stood up for a few weeks.
    His meet performances in North Louisiana probably stood for some 20 years until the bulked-up Campbell brothers, first John and then Arnold, shattered them while competing for Airline in the early 1980s. Arnold was Louisiana's first 70-foot shot putter and his 74-10 1/2 in 1984 is an out-of-sight record.
    But Reding's state best was topped by Terry Esthay of LaGrange (Lake Charles), who got even for Reding's victory over him in the state meet a week later when -- again competing against Joe -- he beat him with a 61-4 1/2 effort in the New Orleans Recreation Department "Meet of Champions."
    Soon enough Reding and Esthay would be teammates, offensive-line mates, at LSU. And their shot put days were short-lived.
    Joe did compete with the 16-pound college shot put (12 pounds in high school) as a freshman, and he threw it 53-plus feet. But football was -- is -- king, and that's why he was there.
    "We just didn't have time [for track and field season]," Reding said. "We had off-season workouts and then 20 spring practices, four days a week [five weeks]." So he and Esthay only occasionally "messed around" with the shot put.
    "They were married to the football program," Dick Reding observed.
    Next: LSU football was "the greatest experience"

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Joe Reding: A big shot, always

      (First of three parts)
    Whether it was athletics or business or family, Joe Reding has a lot to be proud of and cherish.
    He is 70 now, white-haired, actually lighter than he was in high school and college, and in relatively good shape physically, retired and living a few miles from New Orleans.
Joe and Karen Reding, on their 50th wedding anniversary
     He was, as those of us from his time (basically 1960s) well remember, one of the distinctive athletes from Shreveport-Bossier -- Bossier actually -- and in Louisiana.
    Three athletic achievements that set Joe Reding apart:
    (1) He was the first Louisiana high school shot putter to break the 60-foot barrier.
    (2) When he set the state record in the shot put, the athlete whose record he broke was ... Billy Cannon. (If you don't know who Billy Cannon is, you probably don't need to read any further.)
    (3) He won three consecutive state championship in the event. That might have been equaled but likely will not be topped.
    I will add another, and it's a personal observation because being a year younger than Joe and being at other schools, I saw him in a variety of sports: He was the biggest, best, most dominant, junior high athlete I've seen.
    He was -- to us -- Superman. With him as team leader, I don't remember Rusheon Junior High in Bossier City ever losing in football, basketball and track/field. 
    So when he went on to star in football (fullback-linebacker) and track (shot put) at Bossier High, and then go on to become a three-year starter (1966-68) in the offensive line at LSU, it was no surprise.
    "He did some amazing things; it's hard to believe," his older brother and role model, Dick Reding, told me a few weeks ago, recalling that even when Joe was in elementary school, his athletic potential showed. And Dick was a standout all-around athlete himself.
     "He was a fine football player, and great in track. ... Quite a guy," said David Smith, Joe's junior high and high school teammate and good friend. "He was a 'man' early -- just bigger and better and stronger than anyone."
    "He was strong as a bear, with God-given talent," said Billy Don Maples, a Bossier High football teammate two years older than Joe and later on the same Airline High School coaching staff for five years.
    "Dick maybe was the better all-around athlete, but Joe was a genuine guy with good values. ... He was an excellent offensive line coach [at Airline] ... a very, very hard worker."
    The work ethic, traced to his parents' nurturing in Bossier City, and his talent and dedication carried Joe a long way through a lot of places.
Three-year starter in the offensive line, 1966-68
    For almost two decades, athletics was a big part of his life. They provided an outlet, recognition as a star, the above-mentioned notable distinctions, eventually a college scholarship and then an entry into coaching.
    That was a long time ago. Then he moved into real life, the real world.
    There's not much glamor, not many headlines, in the freight business. But for some 38 years as a manager -- until he retired in 2012 -- it gave Reding and his family what they needed.
    Home is now Pearl River, La. ("actually it's north Slidell," says Joe), and has been for 11 years. The Redings arrived there "just before [Hurricane] Katrina" and Joe was the manager of UPS freight division in the New Orleans area.
    "We like South Louisiana; we're very, very at home here," he said. (Of course, South Louisiana is where he played college football.)
    That was last of 12 moves through such stops as Memphis, Little Rock, Springfield, Mo., a decade in the Washington D.C.-Baltimore corridor and four years in Hurst, Texas (mid-cities area of Fort Worth-Dallas).
    "I worked for five different companies, three went bankrupt," Joe said. "You move a lot; it's sort of like coaching or being in the military. ...
    "It's been a good life; it provided well for my family."
    Family: Joe and fellow Bossier High graduate Karen (Reisinger) have been married for 50 years (since his second year at LSU), with two children -- daughter Kathy, 49, and son Kris, 34 (both in the Little Rock area), two grandchildren (Kassey, 26, and Joe, 21) and 5-year-old great grandson Abel.
    But he knew about close family ties from way back.
    His father, E.L. (Elbert Lee) Reding, was the Bossier High football coach (1927-32) as a young man in his 20s; the Bossier High principal in the early 1950s, then after a few years out of education, a supervisor (assistant superintendent) in the Bossier Parish school system.
    Dick was 18 months, two grades in school, older than Joe. Becky was four years younger than Joe.
    E.L. and Doris Reding were deeply involved in their children's schooling and athletics, almost always present and watching.
    But all lives have hardships, and so it is with Joe.
    E.L. Reding, at age 57, died of a massive heart attack, sitting at home one evening drinking ice tea, in the summer of 1961 -- just before Dick's senior year at Bossier and Joe's sophomore year.
    For Joe, it's been three knee surgeries, beginning with "a horrible knee injury in the spring of my freshman year at LSU" and three years ago  "invasive lower lumbar
surgery called a laminectomy ... which decompresses the lower back."
    And then this: In December, on their 50-year wedding anniversary cruise, Karen became ill. The result: esophageal cancer.
    She has undergone treatment in New Orleans and "we don't know what's ahead of us," Joe said, "but right now [it's] going very well and she has responded well. Best I can put it: We are encouraged, but guarded."
    Athletics began early; Bossier elementary schools -- unlike those in Shreveport -- had organized teams. Joe's prowess first showed in baseball; as Dick recalls, playing in the Dixie League programs, Joe once hit five home runs in five at-bats at one of the then-new Walbrook Park diamonds.
    As a 14- and 15-year-old, he was a star on Bossier teams that played in the national VFW "Teener League" tournament in Hershey, Pa. The second year Bossier lost the title game 4-1 to a perennial powerhouse from Gastonia, N.C., and Reding scored the Bossier run. 
    "He was a great hitter; if he had stayed with it, he could have been a major-league player," says his older brother. But he left baseball after that summer of '61 and in high school gravitated to football, basketball (for a year) and the shot put and discus in the spring.
    He got plenty of practice, and guidance, at home.
    "When we were kids, we played a lot together," Dick said, "and we loved each other. But we were brothers; we fought a lot, too.
    "Joe was pretty methodical," he added, "and very opinionated. He would argue at the drop of a hat, and he was very dogged in what he thought, what he believed in."
    Athletics caught hold. "I remember Joe looking at the newspaper almost every day," Dick said, "and looking at statistics, writing them down. We had all these little pieces of paper all over the house, with the stats on them."
    Dick would develop into a three-sport star at Bossier High. An end in football, he earned a scholarship to Northwestern State, where as a senior in 1966, he was an all-conference player and a leader of an undefeated [Gulf States] conference team coached by his father-in-law, Jack Clayton, in the final of his 10 years as NSU's head coach.
    By the time he was a senior, he was a "future" pro football draft pick -- Washington Redskins (NFL) and Kansas City Chiefs (AFL). He did go to the Redskins' training camp in 1967, but did not make the team.
    (He and Nancy, Coach Clayton's daughter, for years have made their home in Colorado where he was a teacher and coach.)
    Dick, significantly, also was a two-time conference champion in the shot put. He was not the best shot putter in the family.
    Here is how the late Jerry Byrd put it in his book Football Country"Dick Reding was a rare example of an athlete who grew up in the shadow of a younger brother. ..." 
    Dick remembers this about Joe: "He had really strong hands, thick forearms, always. I realized after a while it might be better to have him as a friend than someone I wanted to fight every day."
    Keep those strong hands and forearms in mind because soon they belonged to The Best Ever in the shot put in Louisiana.
    (Next: Topping Billy Cannon's record)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

An ideal time: 69 ... and counting

One of the joys of life these days: Spending time with the
youngest of our four grandchildren: Eli Smith, 1 1/2.
     So it's the annual birthday blog -- the fifth annual since the blog began in 2012 -- and let's start with my age today.
    I will begin with how my mother used to answer when someone asked how old she was. "Well, it starts with a 6 ..."
    Today will be the last time I am able to answer that way because this is birthday No. 69.
     The number 69 has, well, an unconventional definition you might know, but never mind that. I found a web site -- -- with this:
    "... 69 is a number of idealism, family, and harmony. It's also a number of health and compassion.

    "The number 69 is a philosopher and an idealist. It tends to determine an ideal way of being or method of doing and sticks to it, yet is open to alternate points of view and may change its own ideal as a result."
    Now that is how I'd like to be this year ... and every year.
    That is what I wish for everyone -- it's the idealist in me -- but the reality, it seems to me, is that we're more divided, more contentious, in this country than we've been in a long while.
    I can't fix it, but I can try to fix my part in my world.
    I'd like to think I do fit some of that definition. But there's always room for improvement.
    My wife several times in the past week has quoted this verse to me:
    "Talk less. Smile more. Don't let them know what you're against or what you're for."
    This is from the musical/play Hamilton. You might have heard of it recently.
    Bea, as some people who follow my posts on Facebook and my e-mails might know, was Hamilton-obsessed a few months earlier than most of the world. So here she is borrowing from Aaron Burr's advice to Alexander Hamilton in their first meeting.
    Put it in hip-hop form, and you have the right rhythm.
    But the advice is pretty solid, don't you think? Talk less, smile more.
    Most people who know me know that I love to smile -- well, laugh -- a lot. But talk less? Ha. I probably should, but that'll be the day.
    Still, as for letting you know what I'm against or what I'm for, you won't find a lot of that from me on Facebook or in my e-mail posts -- at least not on politics or social issues.
    Again, people who know me well know I'm pretty darned opinionated. But, thinking of that harmony/compassion aspect of the number 69 -- and open to those alternative points of view -- I will leave the public opinions to others.
     You can guess what I'm against and what I'm for.
     I don't even post that many thoughts about the sports world -- and I know a helluva lot more about sports than I do politics and social issues. But arguing online, or in person, is not how I want to waste my time, or yours.
     Just don't feel like bashing anyone, or being bashed. No sense in it. There is too much negativity all around us.
     A year from being 70, I do think more and more about our mortality. Not planning to leave soon, but we're talking about living wills and emergency situations and, well, funeral plans.
     I figure, if I keep eating right and stay in relatively good physical condition and remaining fortunate, I will stay around. My parents -- who went through a lot of hardships -- lasted into their late 80s.
     So maybe I have a couple of decades left. That's a lot more birthday blogs. I welcome the thought.     
     I will keep smiling and living a day at a time, maybe talk less (and maybe not).
     I embrace family first, compassion and harmony, an open mind and others' point of view, and I'll try to be philosophical and even idealistic.
     I want to be optimistic and realistic and -- if possible -- idealistic. So here's hoping for the best ... for everyone, for our country, for the world.
     See you next June 16, birthday No. 70.


Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day, and why those kids in Vietnam mattered to us

      Explaining the why and how of my four blog posts of the past month, all related to Woodlawn High School in Shreveport and the Vietnam War:
     Writing about the annual memorial service for the 1960s Woodlawn students who died in the service of this country and then about three of those young men -- Edward Cox Jr., Harold O'Neal Jr. and Glenn Ogburn -- actually was timed to  lead into this Memorial Day piece.
     I wrote Memorial Day blogs in 2012, 2014 and 2015 (in 2013, I was in the middle of writing a series about our trip to The Netherlands), and those blogs were inspired by Trey Prather.
    That is no surprise to regular readers of this blog. And Trey also inspired the thought behind the blogs this May.  
    Trey inspired us as a superb athlete, as a fellow student and friend, as the subject of frequent blog pieces and e-mail/Facebook posts by me in recent years ... and, of course, as the most prominent of the four Woodlawn 1960s "kids" killed in Vietnam.
    I did not know the other three ... but I know a little more about them now. And hopefully those who read the blog pieces on them do, too. 
    After a January e-mail/Facebook post (actually a re-post) about Trey showing the painting of him in his Marines Corps uniform -- first provided to me by Colin Kimball of McKinney, Texas -- the response was significant, as it usually is when I post an item concerning Trey.
    The people who remember him from Woodlawn, and many other people, always appreciate it.
    But one of the responses -- from Sandra Thrasher Ourso, a one-time Woodlawn cheerleader who now lives in Baton Rouge and is a journalist and published author -- said (in effect): You are always writing about Trey. Why don't you write about the other three Woodlawn guys who died in Vietnam?
    My first reaction (not an unusual one for me): I don't like people telling me what to write.
    But the more I thought about it, the more I felt this might be a good idea, and certainly a challenge.
    As a fellow sports writer reminded me frequently many years ago, everyone has a story. We just have to find those stories.
    It has been almost 50 years. I didn't know much at all about Glenn Ogburn, Harold O'Neal and Eddie Cox, although I have mentioned them almost every time I have written about the memorial monument in the center of the Woodlawn quadrangle -- where their names (and Trey's) are posted.
    But I didn't know their background, their families, where they lived, why they joined the service, where they served, and -- unfortunately -- how they died. The only pictures I had were those on the Internet's Vietnam War web sites.
    I did not know if they had family still around to give me some insight.
    This was going to take some research ... and a lot of help.
    It worked. It took four months to develop and then to write, but it's done. Thank you, Sandy, and you're welcome. And thank you to those who helped me reach four of the five remaining siblings.
    Mostly, thank you to those siblings -- Dale Cox, Michael O'Neal, Farrelyn Ogburn Hemperley and June Ogburn Morgan. Each of them was cooperative and helpful. 
    Re-living the loss of their respective brothers, talking about them, no doubt was a bit painful. But they also were proud of their service and their sacrifice, and they always will be.
    I know that Marion "Pou" Prather, Trey's younger sister who lives in Bradenton, Fla., certainly feels that way.
    On Jan. 19, I sent out an e-mail and posted a Facebook message to the Woodlawn people on my lists telling them about this "project" and asking for any information about the three young men and their families.
    There was enough response for me to realize this might be a worthwhile effort. I received some clues that each of the three might have siblings in the Shreveport area.
    But I moved slowly as I worked on some other blog ideas.
    Internet research, on the Vietnam War/Wall sites, gave me background on their service and their deaths (and photos of Ogburn and Cox -- but not O'Neal -- in uniform). That was a start.
    Through Facebook connections, I first was able to reach Dale Cox and interview him. He led me to Tommy Craig, Eddie Cox's close friend who lives in Mansfield, La., joined the U.S. Army at the same time as Eddie and served in Vietnam at the same time.
    Several people told me that Michael O'Neal, Harold's younger brother, was still living in Shreveport. But no one could tell me exactly where or give me a phone number.
    I searched the Internet -- I call myself searching -- but kept coming up empty. Finally, Wally Hood gave me the number.
    When I called, Mike answered -- and was more than happy to talk about Harold and the O'Neal family. He also told me he was listed in the phone book.
    As it turned out, the "empty" was my research diligence.
    I had seen a number for Michael O'Neal in Shreveport among those on "White Pages" listings, but because it began with 221 (downtown), I didn't think that would be him ... and I didn't try it. I should have; he was right there available for me all along.
    I also talked to two of my old Sunset Acres friends -- they lived close to us and both were All-State football players -- and they were friends of Harold's. Also, two other Facebook friends provided photos of Harold during his high school years. 
    After I had written the Cox and O'Neal pieces, I still had only scant information on Ogburn. But several people told me that he had two sisters living near Shreveport -- Farrelyn in Stonewall and June, who was in my Class of 1965 at Woodlawn, in Keithville.
    Through a couple more Facebook connections, I got a phone number for Farrelyn and she did provided all the back story I needed, and then June and I traded Facebook messages and she made several family photos available. A couple of Woodlawn friends helped me lift Glenn's photos from school yearbooks.
    Like I said, lots of help, and we're grateful.
    The underlying thought I always have about Vietnam and these deaths: What a waste.
    I wrote about the everlasting Vietnam War debate last year, and I was reminded of it during my talk with Farrelyn and the exchanges with June on Facebook.
    Glenn, said June, "had such a loving heart, I often wonder, had he come home, what the war would have done to him."
    She added: "They saw things over there that I pray we never have to. When Glenn was in on leave, he wouldn't talk about it much, so we didn't pressure him. But he did say that he would see his little brothers in the faces of some of the children over there. And his heart would break for them.
    "He volunteered to go over there to keep that from coming here. For that reason I supported him being there. I just wish our government had better supported them there and when some came home."

    Farrelyn also talked about the family's support, but in the same vein, she said, "After Glenn died, I could understand why some people wanted to avoid it [military service and the war], why they went to Canada.
    "I didn't want to see other families have a loss like we had."
    There are 58,195 names on the Vietnam Wall (pulled that number from a Google search) and there is a story for every name. I've written about a half dozen -- Trey, segments on Gene Youngblood of Shreveport and Terry Cross of Oakdale, La., last year, and now these three.
    These are only a glimpse, though; there's more that could be written. Certainly there is much more I could write on Trey, and maybe that will happen.
    But now, as their family and friends always knew -- and I hope you'll agree -- Glenn Ogburn, Harold O'Neal and Eddie Cox are more than just names on the monument at Woodlawn.

    Links to the previous Woodlawn/Vietnam-related blogs:


Monday, May 23, 2016

Glenn Ogburn: The first in line in Vietnam

     (Third of a three-part series) 
     It is important, I believe, to know that Glenn Ogburn wanted to serve with the U.S. Marines in Vietnam in 1966-67.     
     Just as, inspired by an uncle who was a Marine, he knew from the time he was a boy that he too wanted to be a Marine.
     And, as his older sister Farrelyn Ogburn Hemperley told me last week, "Glenn really believed in what he was doing in Vietnam, and we [the family] supported him."
     He believed in it so much that after serving a year in Vietnam, he "re-upped" for another six-month tour in the war. That began after a leave and a trip home to Shreveport.
     Three months later, the next trip home was his final journey.
     Perhaps it explains why his family, many of his friends, and those of us who affiliated with Woodlawn High School in Shreveport in the 1960s and long afterward still think of  Glenn Roy Ogburn.
     He was the first ex-Woodlawn student to die in action while in the military, the first of "our" four 1960s Vietnam War deaths. 
     Thus, his name is at the top of the memorial monument in the center of the Woodlawn High quadrangle -- Glenn Ogburn/USMC (Class of) 1964.
      He also was the oldest of the four, in two ways: (1) born first and (2) length of life. His death by an enemy mortar attack on July 7, 1967, came two days after his 21st birthday.
      Henry Lee "Trey" Prather III (Class of 1965) was 13 days short of his 21st birthday. Harold O'Neal Jr. and Eddie Cox Jr., both Class of '67, were 20.
      The pertinent facts on Glenn Ogburn: 
      He was a corporal (3rd Marine Division, 1st Battalion, 9th Regiment, H&S Company), listed as a motor vehicle operator. His service ID number was 1947161, and he is  No. 38549 on
      He was listed as a "ground casualty," hit by enemy fire. The specific location: Nva 152mm Shell at Con Thien, Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam. (Con Thien was a cluster of three hills about 158 meters high.)
      His name on the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C., is on Panel 23E, Line 30, and he is buried in Centuries Memorial Park in Shreveport.
      Posted by his sister Farrelyn -- who lives in Stonewall, near Shreveport -- on the "Wall of Faces" web site (compiled by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund):
    "I still love and miss you. I often wonder how different our lives would be if you had come home from Vietnam. It just wasn't meant to be."
     There was so much to like about Glenn Ogburn.
     He came from a large family; Wilma Ogburn delivered  seven Ogburn kids. Glenn was the second, three years younger than Farrelyn (who was in Woodlawn's first graduating class, in 1961), a year older than June (Class of 1965). There were four younger brothers.

     Farrell Ogburn was an oilfield worker and later owned a fence company. The family lived in the Queensborough neighborhood of Shreveport before moving to Sunset Acres (on Hollywood Avenue) for a couple of years, then to Summer Grove (on Mansfield Road) during Glenn's high school years.
Woodlawn sophomore year
    One Woodlawn student of the early 1960s remembers him as "tall and quiet." Another called him "range" (long-limbed, tall, slender). Both remember him as "a nice guy."
     He was, it seems, inconspicuous. His picture is in the Woodlawn yearbooks only four times in three years, only once among individual class photos (as a sophomore, at left). (Having an individual class photo was optional.)
     Two of the photos were of him in National Defense Cadet Corps (NDCC) platoons -- foreshadowing his military future. Another was in a math class.
     A couple of the photos show that he was taller than most of his classmates (he was 6-foot-2 or 6-3, 180 pounds, and above 200 during his time in the Marines, his sister said.)
From a Woodlawn yearbook, an NDCC cadet
(middle back)

     "He was the kind of typical Woodlawn student then," said Warren Gould, also from the Class of '64. "He was 'everyman.' I can't remember him sticking out, but he knew who you were and you knew who he was. He wasn't a standout, but he wasn't a nothing, either. If you were in the room with him, you knew he was there."
      "He was a compassionate person," Farrelyn said. "He loved people ... family was first with him. I don't know anyone that didn't like him."
      Plus, he loved animals and to hunt and fish. 
      "After a flood [or hard rain], he would be knee-deep in the Cross Lake overflow," Farrelyn recalled, "usually with a string of catfish.    
      "... Just a good ol' redneck boy."
      And he was, well, good-looking. I was going to write that; then I saw some comments on Facebook from women who knew him after June Ogburn Morgan -- who lives in Keithville, just south of Shreveport -- posted pictures of Glenn (and also made them available for this blog).
      From Judy Gail Chandler: "He was my first kiss as a kid. Only had one date with him as a teen. Not sure why not another. Either way me and my family always loved him, and still do."
      From Johnnie Hall Covington: "Glenn was tall -- I think at least 6-3. He was nice-looking and very, very shy. Glenn helped his family by working as a carhop at a drive-in root beer place. ... "
      From Mary Hemperley Gray: "Man, he was handsome."
      From June: "Everyone said he looked like Elvis."
      Mary: "I think so, too."
      Yep, Elvis. Sounds good to me. (Especially in the photo  below.)
      June added this: "Susan King was always the love of his life. They broke up before he went to Vietnam because he didn't want her waiting in case he didn't make it back."
MP duty while stationed in Alaska
     Even in his senior year at Woodlawn, he was headed to the Marines; he had joined the reserves, although his parents had to sign and give permission.
      Then in the summer of 1964, he was a Marines regular -- basic training at Camp Pendleton (in southern California), then off to Adak, Alaska for a year.
      "He said the wind blows in four directions there," Farrelyn recalled, laughing. "Don't go pee outside; the wind will blow it back in your face."
      Then he went to Camp Lejeune (Jacksonville, N.C.) to train for duty in Vietnam and, after a short leave and a trip to Shreveport, he went for his first tour in that awful "conflict."
      Three months into his second tour, fate intervened.
      "He drove for the colonel [in his platoon]," Farrelyn said. "They'd been out all night, and Glenn was worn out. When they got back to the barracks, he was asleep in the colonel's bed. A mortar hit the bunk."
      For three days, the platoon was under fire and unable to move. So the Ogburns, in Shreveport, did not receive word until the second week of July.
      Two officers from the Marines came to the house, but only one of Glenn's brothers was home. The officers handed him a card for the parents, asking them to call.
      Farrell Ogburn was a World War II veteran, so when he saw the card, he knew what it meant.
Final trip home: fishing with one
of his younger brothers, Ambrose
      "It destroyed our family," Farrelyn said. "We thought we were going to lose Mother then. ... For 2-3 years, it was all we could do to keep her grounded."  
     The damage to Glenn's body was so extensive that it was left to a priest and an uncle to make the identification "and they advised us not to open the casket," Farrelyn said.
      Warren Gould, who served in Vietnam with the U.S. Army, remembered learning of his classmate's death and said, "When I heard, it was a shock. This was a guy we knew."
      Posted by Judy Matheson Trammell eight years ago on a web site: "I dated Glenn a few times during Christmas vacation, and he was such a sweet honest and patriotic man. He loved his family and he was proud to serve his country."
      From Sue Lafitte Corley: "So sad. Still hurts; he was just the sweetest."
     One memory June has is that Glenn "was a very protective big brother to me. He screened most of my male friends. Needless to say I had few dates. I really miss him."
      Wilma Ogburn lived to age 92, and died last month (April 4), her final years with Alzheimer's. There was more tragedy for her and the family, the loss of three of Glenn's brothers from 2001 to 2006; only Steve survives (in Texarkana, Ark.)
    One of the Ogburn uncles had worked for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), so that was a goal for Glenn. "His dream was to work for the FBI or the CIA," said Farrelyn.
    It's likely that he would have been just as dedicated to that task as he was the Marines. But Vietnam ruined many dreams.
    "It's amazing how when we talk about it [Glenn's death] in detail, it's almost like it happened yesterday," sister June wrote on Facebook. "I miss my big bro so much still. ...  It's good to keep him alive in our memories, though."
    "It still hurts," Farrelyn said of the loss. "It's something you never get over."

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Harold O'Neal Jr.: Recalling a fun, tough guy ... and a dog tag

     (Second in a three-part series)
Harold O'Neal: Woodlawn High
 senior class photo, 1966-67
     Harold O'Neal Jr. was a young man who liked to have fun, a prankster at times. At other times, a rough and ready-to-fight kid, a contentious big brother.
     In the summer of 1967, not long after graduation from Woodlawn High School in Shreveport, Harold -- already working a job he liked -- faced the prospect of being drafted into the U.S. Army.
     Instead, he joined the U.S. Marines.
     On Nov. 23 that year, he was shipped to Vietnam and the middle of the "conflict."
     His life ended less than 10 months later -- Sept. 15, 1968 -- when he became a "ground casualty" in Quang Nam Province. The specific spot is listed as Vic Hill 55 Dodge City Sector.
     Harold O'Neal Jr. (born March 15, 1948) was a Lance Corporal, a rifleman, with the 1st Marine Division, D company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. His service ID number was 2252772.
     He was the third of the four ex-Woodlawn students to die in action in Vietnam, the second of 1968 (Trey Prather, Jan. 10). Eddie Cox Jr. would die exactly five months later.
     They had much in common, Harold and Eddie. They knew each other; they were friends. They each were 20 when they died, were in Woodlawn's Class of 1967, joined the service on the "buddy" plan (with friends), loved girls and fast cars (maybe that should fast girls and cars), and died much the same way (trip wires that exploded too soon).
     And both left prospects of better lives ahead.
     Harold O'Neal Jr.'s name on the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C., is on Panel 44W, Line 66.  
     Life often wasn't easy in the 1960s at the O'Neal home on Hillcrest Street on the northeast side of the Sunset Acres neighborhood (near Hearne Avenue and the old Sunset Village Shopping Center).
     Harold O'Neal Sr. ruled that house, and at times, alcohol ruled Harold Sr.
     Mike O'Neal is the surviving family member, born two years after Harold Jr. He is 66 today (May 19 is his birthday) and living in a downtown Shreveport apartment. He'll tell you that times could be turbulent back then.
     "We had some good parents," Mike said earlier this week. "But Dad drank a lot and when he drank, he could be brutal. He worked us over some. ... It was hard being around when he drank."
     And the boys often didn't get along. Mike liked a lot about his older brother, but said his personality "was like a Jekyll-and-Hyde thing." So there were battles, and sometimes there was blood.
     "We fought worse than most brothers," Mike recalled. "We fought a lot, and it was bad. Dad made us fight some times; he put us out in the yard, and we had branches, and we'd get after each other. He wanted us to get it settled. We wanted to really hurt each other. It was kill or be killed.
     "I almost hated him [Harold Jr.] at times."
     But Harold Sr., who had a produce business with a couple of produce stands (one at the edge of Sunset Acres) "was a good man, too; a hard worker and a good provider." And he taught his boys to work.
     Harold Jr., Mike said, "loved to hunt and fish and he had a really good job at the newspaper [as a typesetter]. He was learning that business."
     First one of the dozen of kids who on Saturday nights inserted sections into the Sunday paper, he was learning set type as an apprentice at the Newspaper Production Co., where The Shreveport Times and Shreveport Journal were printed. 
     Kathy Littlejohn was a junior in the 1966-67 school year, sitting in the back of an art class alongside Harold and Ross Oglesby, seniors who picked on a then-shy girl.
     "They were just a mess, they used to tease me all the time," Kathy remembered. "Harold had such a fun personality. ... They'd play jokes and kid around, didn't do a lot of artwork."
     But one day their artwork was a big poster that read, "Be kind to Kathy Longjohn day ("that's what we called her," Ross said). They were going to hang it in the school cafeteria, but Kathy and the art teacher intervened and stopped them.
     Undeterred, the next day ... another poster, same slogan. This one made it to the cafeteria "and six shifts of kids saw it at lunch," Kathy said.
     Another day, Harold and Ross -- the All-State running back/state champion hurdler who lived down the street from me -- picked up Kathy by the elbows and gave her a lift all the way across the Woodlawn quadrangle to the cafeteria.
     Harold had his girlfriends ("I think he was engaged to a couple," Mike said, laughing). Kathy wasn't a "girlfriend," per se. "We never dated," she said, "but we became good friends. When he went to Vietnam, we wrote each other a lot."
     And then, when she was a freshman at LSU in Baton Rouge, he sent her his military ID "dog tag" with a note saying, "Keep this for me until I get back."
     "Harold shouldn't have sent it to me," Kathy said.
     The casualty report on reads: "In an ambush position, near the Phu Son village complex in Hieu Duc District, LCpl O'Neal was placing trip flares around the squad's position used as warning devices when he detonated an AP (Anti-Personnel) BT (Booby Trap) believed to be a Chicom grenade. The explosion from the hostile device killed LCpl O'Neal as a result of fragmentation wounds."
     Mike's explanation: "The Marine who accompanied his body home [to Shreveport] told us that a tank got knocked out and Harold and another guy had to stay overnight and protect the tank to keep it from getting stripped [by enemy forces]. So they set out trip wires and bobby traps near the tank. When they went out the next morning to remove those, one of the trip wires exploded on Harold.
     "They [the enemy] had booby-trapped the booby-trap."
     Jerry Wilcoxen, another Woodlawn Class of '67 member who was stationed with American forces at Khe Sanh Combat Base, is believed to have been the last person from "home" to see Harold, just before the infamous Tet offensive began in late January 1968 (Harold was based at Huế).
     Joe Cobb, also Woodlawn Class of '67 and future husband of Kathy Littlejohn, said at the time he was stationed "only about a mile away from where he was killed."
     But Joe didn't get the news until months later when his Vietnam had ended and, now based in Savannah, Ga., he was home on leave.
     "I went into a bank in Shreveport and saw Mike and said, 'What's your sorry brother doing, where is he now?' "
     The answer, obviously, was devastating.
     "He was a fun-loving, good ol' boy," Cobb remembered. "He'd do anything for you, and he was always laughing. ... He was a carefree, happy-go-lucky fella." 
     And, Cobb also recalled that Harold -- despite their differences -- was proud of his younger brother. "He thought the world of Mike playing football (for Woodlawn)."
     That didn't last -- Mike dropped off the team, but even while in high school, at the urging of a couple of former Woodlawn players, he joined the semipro Shreveport Oilers.
     Cobb remembered Harold driving "a white two-door hardtop '62 Chevy Nova ... everybody was crazy about that car." And the story is that one day they took that car and went hunting and "Harold left a shotgun in the back seat, it got bumped and went off and put a hole in the roof.
     "Harold just stuck cotton in that hole, and he kept driving the car just like that."
     He was a solidly built young man (about 6-foot-1, 200 pounds) who enjoy sports. In the summer of 1965, he was just a kid on a baseball team sponsored by Westside Baptist Church. 
     One of his teammates, Durwood Lee, remembers:  "At the end of our season the coach took us on a night camping/fishing trip to a pond near Mansfield. I was in boat (small aluminum) with Harold driving. We hit a stump and the motor came completely off and Harold caught it just before it sunk." 
     "He was a good guy, a likeable guy, very outgoing," said Tommy Craig, another Woodlawn buddy and Vietnam veteran.      
     But with the fun side came the other side.
     "Harold ran around with a bunch of guys that I liked to call 'hoodlum wannabes,' " Oglesby said. "They'd come their hair back and slick on the sides. They wanted to be tough guys, but there weren't quite there.
     "Harold was a pretty tough guy, but anybody could sit down and talk with him. He was easy to know." 
     Still, he'd fight. Maybe this was a Marine-to-be's MO.
     A Woodlawn friend remembers a day when Harold had "a misunderstanding" with a classmate in the school parking lot, and it came to blows. When Harold swung and missed, he instead hit the other guy's car door and left a dent.
     Mike recalls another school-ground fight with a Woodlawn football lineman -- good player, physically strong -- that bystanders were reluctant to break up, and Harold got much the better of it.
     "He [the football player] didn't realize Harold fought all the time at home," Mike said. 
     The database on his page includes this tribute -- posted March 11, 2001 -- by our old friend Edwin Tubbs.
     "Harold and I went to high school together at Woodlawn in Shreveport, La. It seems like everybody in school knew and liked him and we had about 2,000 kids at this school. I think he could make you laugh so hard that you would almost pass out.

     "We were both in 'Nam at the same time, but he was in the Marines and I was in the 101st [Army Airborne Division]. Our mothers, along with some more ladies, would send us a box of goodies about every two months or so. I'm sure he looked forward to them as much as I did.
     "Harold was a short timer when he was killed in September. My mother didn't tell me because I was coming home in December, and as a 'boonie rat' [nickname for a 101st member, immortalized in a song of the Vietnam era] she didn't want me to know. She, God bless her, was trying to protect me.
     "Woodlawn High was lucky, it lost only four sons to Vietnam. To honor them all the student body placed a monument with their names on it for all to see and know of the sacrifice they made.
     "For all the Marines who were with Harold, I'm sure he made you laugh and feel a little better."
     This was posted by Ron Evans on Nov. 30, 2010: "I served with Harold in Vietnam ... Harold was a fine man and he served with distinction. He was a member of my platoon and I was near him when he died ... God Bless and Semper Fi!"
    Mike was at home -- his parents were at work, at the produce stand -- with a girl from across the street and he saw a car pull to the sidewalk, and a priest and a Marine in full dress uniform got out and began walking toward the house.
     "I knew then," he said.
     He went to get his parents at the produce stand (70th Street and Jewella Road) and ... "our family was never the same again after that."  
     Harold Jr. is buried in Chester County Memory Gardens, Henderson, Tenn. (plot 63D, grave 2). Why there?
     The O'Neal boys knew the area in West Tennessee; they visited there often because Harold Sr. had family there. Mike said it was a place they loved -- the beauty, the quiet, their cousins they played with; it was where they talked about settling.
     And indeed, shortly after Harold Jr.'s funeral there, the O'Neal moved from Sunset Acres to Henderson. But they only stayed a few months.
     "I really missed my friends, I loved going to Woodlawn," Mike recalled. "I was the only [child] left, so my parents spoiled me, they did everything they could for me. And I wanted to go back to Shreveport and Woodlawn."
     So after a couple of months, they did return to Shreveport. But without Harold Jr., life changed dramatically for each family member -- some positive, some not.
     "It affected us all a lot," Mike said, and it most affected him and his mother (Margaritte).
     "She didn't see his body because it was a closed casket, and she always believed he was going to come back. She never could accept that he was dead. It was that way until she died (1983, cancer)," Mike said. "She always thought he was coming back."
     A week after the funeral, the O'Neals received a letter from Vietnam written by Harold.
     Losing his brother "had a lot to do with the way I lived my life," Mike added. "I look back now and say, 'Why did I do that, why did I do this? I think about how I might have been different if Harold had been around. ... I changed, and not for the better."
     Harold Sr. also changed.
     "After Harold died, my Dad became a totally different man," Mike said. "I never saw him drink again, I never heard him say another cuss word. He was a good man, a good father before, but the drinking ... I'm so proud of him; he became such a good person."
     Harold Sr. died in 2009 at age 83. 
     Kathy Littlejohn Cobb remembered that she went to her LSU mailbox in the fall of 1968 "on a Saturday morning and I had a letter from my mother telling me that Harold had died. I went to class, and I was so shook up."
     A month later -- eerily the same scenario as at the O'Neal home -- she received Harold's last letter from Vietnam. "I still have that letter," she said.
     She also kept the dog tag, for years, in a jewelry box.
     Then "15-16 years ago, Joe and I were living in Grand Cane and we were going to the memorial service at Woodlawn [for the servicemen who died in wars] and I found the dog tag and took it with me."
     When she told her husband, "Look what I brought, Joe was real surprised." Someone pointed out Harold O'Neal Sr. to them. "We didn't know him," she said, and when she introduced herself, she asked him to hold out his hand.
     She gave Harold Sr. the dog tag. "He saw it, saw what it was ... and he started crying."
     Mike O'Neal was surprised to hear that story. He has his own good memory now.
     "After Harold left to go to the service, we got along much better," he said. Through letters and phone calls, and his final visits home, "We became so close. It was completely different."
     Harold's plans, post-service, were to find his career, perhaps in typesetting. "He was making really good money before he left," Mike said, "and he had saved some. He had a good future."
     And remember the car with the hole in the roof? Plans were to buy one of the generation's "muscle cars," the fast-racing kind. "All he had on his mind was buying a [Pontiac] GTO," said Mike. "That's all he talked about."
     "He told me, 'We're gonna get in that car and do some driving.' "
     As with Harold's life, as with the lives of so many we lost in Vietnam, it was a promise unfulfilled.
     Next: Glenn Ogburn, the first in line