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I was 16 years old when I completed my army basic training in November 1961. I was stationed at Fort Gordon, Georgia and decided to take my leave in Jacksonville, Florida where I had been raised in an orphanage, before being sent to Fort Wainwright, located in Fairbanks, Alaska.
As I arrived at the Trailways bus station in Jacksonville, I noted many unsavory types standing around on the street, which was not unusual to me. Some of them I had seen hundreds of times, because I had lived on these same streets for several years before being placed into the army by a juvenile court order. I guess I came back to the streets of Jacksonville to show everyone that I had finally become somebody. I threw my duffle bag over my shoulder and started walking toward Forsythe Street.
As I had no family, I decided to see if I could find someone who I knew from the times when I lived on the street. As I continued to walk the two miles or so to Forsythe Street, I felt very uncomfortable, because Jacksonville was strictly a ‘navy’ town. As I walked past the sailors, they gave me the evil eye. About that time, several sailors walking behind me started making comments about my uniform and how they could discard a certain "army boy," if he did not pick up his pace and get out of their way. So I quickly turned into a coffee shop and ordered a bottle of soda.
After I was sure they had gone, I decided to go back outside and they were nowhere to be found. As I continued to walk toward town, I decided to stop in an army/navy surplus store. I emerged about a half an hour later decorated with almost every medal known to mankind (!!), not to mention my white spats and my white pistol belt. With the decor, I was one sharp looking dude! When I finally reached Forsythe Street, I was walking by the Florida Theatre when I noticed those same three navy guys giving this dwarf guy on a mechanics board a hard time. They had pushed him off the sidewalk and were laughing at him. As I passed, I could see the little man had no legs and his hands did not have many fingers. What was there was calloused from pushing himself around by his bare hands.
I had seen him many times long ago when I lived on the streets, but I had never spoken to him because he looked too scary to me. This time, I just could not get up enough nerve to say anything to the sailors, so I just walked on by. The further I got from them, the more I hurt inside. Finally, I could not take it anymore, so I turned around and headed back.
When I arrived, the sailors were already crossing the street. I noticed that they had jammed a single dollar bill in the dwarf's mouth. As I stood before him looking down, I did not know what to say. I reached into the street to get his mechanics' rolling chair and helped him get back on it. I told him that I would buy him something to eat, if he was hungry. He said he was, so I took out my wallet and handed him a $20 bill. That was a lot of money for me, because I only made $68 a month in army pay. A few steps after I turned to leave, he yelled at me to stop.
I did a smart about-face, whence to my surprise he asked me if he could buy me dinner. Hungry by now, I walked while he rolled down the street to the Krystal hamburger stand where we ordered enough hamburgers for each of us. We talked for about an hour and I told him that I did not have a mother or father and that I had been raised in an orphanage on the south side. He also told me that he did not have any parents and that he had lived in an institution for about 10 years.
After we ate our meal, I paid for his hamburgers so he could save the $20 I gave him earlier. He pleaded with me to wait awhile as he went to get something he said was important. About 30 minutes later and I was aching to go my way, he finally showed up to hand me a large envelope and thereafter asked me not to open it until he was gone. I shook his deformed hand and then watched as he rolled himself, with his bare malformed hands, back down the street toward the Florida Theatre. I folded the envelope, stuck it in my back pocket and left the restaurant.
As I stepped out into the street, there they were... the same three burley-looking sailors, who immediately started shoving me around and finally pushed me against the glass window. Several military policemen drove up and asked what was going on. The three sailors just walked away laughing. The MPs got out of their vehicle, walked around me several times and then one of them asked me, "Just what damn service are you in?"
"The French Foreign Legion," yelled one of the three sailors as they laughed and continued walking off.
I was handcuffed for no reason and taken to the Naval Air Station at Mayport. Several hours later, I was told that my leave had been cancelled and I would be taken immediately to the Jacksonville International Airport where I was deposited aboard a flight to Fort Wainwright, Alaska.
As I sat in my airline seat, I happened to remember the envelope that the little guy gave me. When I pulled it out and opened it, I found 10 $100 bills, a note and a page from a magazine. The note read: "I said I would take YOU out to dinner." On the dirty old wrinkled magazine page was a large picture of a man and a woman standing next to a fancy six-horse drawn carriage. Behind them stood what I presumed was a castle. The headline read "Scottish Royalty Dies, Deformed Infant Found and Placed in Institution."
At the bottom of the magazine page was written, "A large steak would be nice. That's what I eat every day, my friend."