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Published September 29, 2020

THE VIEW FROM MY SEAT

Box of photos revives lots of fond, somber memories

By Ernie Williamson / The Bulletin

I suppose most of us have a collection of family photos and documents stashed somewhere.

For people my age, the items might not be filed on a cellphone or iPad, but probably stored in a box in the attic or high on a shelf in the closet. They are collecting dust, waiting for the day when someone gets interested enough to peruse them.

Running low on things to do because of the pandemic, I started looking through my box the other day. Fortunately, despite several moves, my wife had saved pictures, documents and letters.

There were wonderful pictures of mom and dad, of my daughter and the grandchildren, the oldest of whom is now a freshman at the University of Texas.

Don’t worry, I am not going to bore you with family stories.

But there were some items that reminded me of some characters from long ago.

One photo, however, brought back memories of a painful time. It was a photo of my 1965 high school basketball team. I have long since lost touch with those guys, so I don’t know what happened to them, with one exception.

Our starting forward became one of more than 58,000 Americans to die in Vietnam when he stepped on a land mine. Fifty years later, it is still painful to look at that team picture.

There’s also a picture of my buddy, Jim, who I worked with in Army public information while serving my own tour in Vietnam.

Jim was a bit of a rascal. That was appropriate because he wanted to go into politics when he returned to Boston, his hometown.
Jim perceived a problem, however. The war was terribly unpopular, particularly in Boston, and Jim was afraid his military service would be a blot on his record.

So, one day he asked me to go to Saigon to take pictures of him playing soccer with war orphans. He would then send those pictures to Boston newspapers to show his humanitarian side.

Apparently, it worked. Jim held several different offices for many years. Since times have changed, I bet he now proudly campaigns on being a Vietnam vet.

Jim had another quality that I am sure came in handy in his political career. He could talk his way out of anything.

We had befriended some civilian contractors while we were working on a story in Nha Trang, Vietnam.

They invited us to dinner and to spend the night at their nice hotel. There was a problem, however. It was in an off-limits area of the city.

I decided not to go, but Jim took them up on their offer. Everything went fine until the military police knocked on Jim’s hotel room door in the middle of the night. They were looking for Sandy Koufax.

Jim had signed the hotel guest registry with the name of his favorite baseball player. The MPs, apparently astonished by Jim’s brazenness and gift for gab, didn’t even give him a citation.

Then there is a picture from my years at the Houston Post. We had fielded a team in Hoop It Up, a three-on-three basketball tournament that was played on the streets of Rice Village.

The team consisted of me, then Post columnist Ken Hoffman and a third person who will remain nameless.

For reasons unrelated to his basketball skills, I had to fire that nameless guy several weeks later.

It was probably the best thing that ever happened to him.

He went on to found an Internet company and eventually sold it for millions of dollars.

When I see him now, I tell him he owes me.

Before closing, I have a confession. My box of mementos contained an embarrassing item. My eleventh-grade report card showed I only earned a “B” in Introduction to Journalism. That’s hard to admit for someone who spent almost 50 years working for newspapers. Must have been a tough class.

(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at williamsonernie@gmail.com. Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)