Cumberland Times-News

Jim Goldsworthy - Anything and Everything

September 8, 2012

He was more than just ‘Spam in a can’

When people ask how long I’ve been at the paper, I tell them that I landed at the newspaper several hours after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon.

July 20, 1969, was my first official day at the old Cumberland Evening and Sunday Times.

I remember Neil and Buzz, not just for July 20, but because Buzz and I share a birthday — January 20 (a birthday he has been observing for 18 years longer than I have).

At age 72, Aldrin punched a frequent tormentor who didn’t believe that he or anyone else has been to the Moon. The police refused to charge him; good for him and good for them.

It bothers me that few remember the third Apollo 11 astronaut and might not even remember there was a third astronaut — Michael Collins, who remained in orbit while Armstrong and Aldrin landed.

Dammit, he went there, too!

Armstrong played in the golf tournament Al Via held for years to raise funds for leukemia research. Al’s daughter, Vicki Via Dotson, died from leukemia, and he was determined not to let her death be in vain. Considerable progress has been made in treating and even curing leukemia because of Al and his tournament

I played in it a number of times myself, but — to my regret — didn’t do so when Armstrong was here.

One of Armstrong’s greatest legacies is the grace with which he bore the hero’s mantle that mankind set upon his shoulders.

In announcing his death, his family said, “The next time you walk out on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.”

He has been called “The quiet hero.” It has been said that unless you already knew who and what he was, you’d never have guessed it by talking to him. That’s a phenomenon I’ve run across more times than I can count.

It wasn’t until I read his obituary that I learned my old friend John Dougherty, a retired Times-News pressman, received a Purple Heart for being wounded while carrying a disabled soldier to a field hospital during the Korean War.

When the Collings Foundation’s B-17 Flying Fortress came to visit Cumberland, I ran into one of my golfing buddies from Maplehurst.

I told him I’d just flown in it from Warrenton, Va.

I’ll never forget the look in his eyes, or his wistful smile, as he said, “I wish I’d been with you. I was a B-17 pilot in World War II.” After that, the look in my eyes, upon seeing him, was a bit different than it had been before.

I helped my friends in the Mountainside Detachment of the Marine Corps league when they held their first “Leatherneck Ride” to raise funds for the detachment’s good works.

Suddenly, this thought struck me: “Wow! I’m standing here telling jokes with two Marines who were on Iwo Jima!” (John Dick and Bob Filkosky)

The late Bill Menges was a good friend from bowling, and one day he came to the newspaper to hand me a sheaf of typewritten pages.

“I wrote this some time ago and wanted to give you a copy,” he said. “I thought you might have use for it some day.”

I took it home and read it, learning to my astonishment that he also had been on Iwo Jima, and in the Korean War, and retired as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps.

I’d never have suspected that, otherwise. He was just one hell of a nice man, and my friend.

After he died three years ago, I wrote a column about his story. You can find the entirety of Bill’s account — “Here’s one day in the life of a U.S. Marine” — by calling up our website and doing an article search for “Bill Menges.”

Hearing about Neil Armstrong’s passing reminded me that I once met a man who was considered for astronaut training until they found out he was an even larger man than I am, and I’m 6-2 and 230.

Tom Colvin was a bit outsized for what they used to call “Spam in a can.” Nonetheless, he knew and became friends with all seven of the original Mercury astronauts.

I was dating his daughter the only time I met him 17 years ago, and I’ve always thought he and I could have become lifelong friends. Janet said he thought well of me, which meant more than she probably realized. His sense of humor, love of life and good-natured friendliness were even bigger than he was.

I knew he’d been an Air Force F-4 pilot in Vietnam, but it wasn’t until after Janet called to tell me about his passing that I found out more; some of it, she didn’t even know until after he was gone.

“Daddy was with some of our ground troops when they came into contact with North Vietnamese soldiers,” she said, “and he had to kill two men with his bare hands.”

He flew more than 250 combat missions, some as a forward air controller (which made him a wonderful target) and became commander of the 308th and 309th Tactical Fighter Squadrons.

To me, he was “Colonel.” Not “Tom.” He was one of nine American pilots chosen to work with the German Luftwaffe’s first post-World War II fighter squadrons. Many of the German pilots were aces (five kills) several times over during the war ... former enemies, now our allies.

Janet said he was at peace toward the end of what he told her was a wonderful life, having found a home in the country that suited him.

The Colonel’s obituary said he had married the girl of his dreams and had three daughters with her.

It said he achieved his boyhood dream of being a fighter pilot and had found out what it was like to be shot at — and missed — by very good anti-aircraft gunners, and that he had lived in exotic places and eaten exotic food.

His great-great grandfather, Mason Colvin, was a Revolutionary War soldier, and “He knew the burden and rewards of being a commander of men.” His grandson Robby, whom I knew as a gangly kid, served for a year with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.

I’ve met all sorts of heroes in the 43 years that have passed since Neil and Buzz landed on the Moon, and I landed at this newspaper.

The ones I prefer — like those we’ve talked about today — are those who don’t act like it.

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Jim Goldsworthy - Anything and Everything
  • He means well, and this time they spared his life

    Our pal Phil is the only re-enactor certified in writing by both the Lee and Custis families to portray Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee (whose wife was Mary Anna Custis Lee). When he’s in uniform, he generally stops at the bottom of the path that leads to the summit of Little Round Top, salutes Capt. Gary and First Sgt. Goldy and asks permission to join us. (Get it? Generally ... General Lee?) We always return his salute and grant him permission, in part because he’s our friend and also because the real Lee never got to see what it really looks like from up there. (Get it? Grant ... Grant? U.S. Grant? Real Lee ... really? OK. I hear you. That’s enough. Seriouslee.) Phil gets a kick out of being able to sneak up on us while we’re distracted by tourists.

    July 20, 2014

  • They’d have fallen like Autumn leaves

    So there we were, minding our own business (at least momentarily), leaning against the cannon at Little Round Top.

    July 13, 2014

  • Better read that french fry before you eat it

    People give me otherwise-insignificant items they hope will amuse or inspire me. I appreciate this. I’m always glad for free entertainment, which as Goldy’s Rule 33 says is everywhere. All you have to do is wait and it will come to you. Also, I have been writing columns for 37 years and embrace inspiration anywhere I can find it.

    July 6, 2014

  • The moose is loose, and it’s coming for you

    So how would you like to look out your kitchen door window onto your porch and see a moose looking back at you from close range?

    June 28, 2014

  • There are some debts you can never repay

    Today’s column will be relatively short, as my columns go, for reasons that should become apparent, and I thought long and hard before writing it.

    June 21, 2014

  • It could have saved the county a lot of money

    Random thoughts sometimes occur to me when I least expect it, usually when my brain has become tired.
    When I voice these thoughts at work or in other places, people may tell me, “Goldy? It’s time for you to go home.” Yes, ma’am.
    Here are two random thoughts of recent vintage:
    • If Bugs Bunny were an Emergency Medical Technician, would that make him a MedicHare?
    • If Daisy Duck got a job driving for United Parcel Service, would she be an UPS-a-Daisy?
    I wouldn’t blame you if you think that sounds Goofy — or Daffy.

    June 15, 2014

  • These two were part of the Not Top Ten

    Occasionally, at this time of year, I see reference to a “class orator” or a “class speaker.”

    Nothing wrong with that — people can call such things whatever they want, as far as I’m concerned — but it makes me wonder. Have “valedictorian” and “salutatorian” become politically incorrect, and I didn’t notice? It may come as a surprise to you, but I really have not kept up with what is politically correct or incorrect. That’s what people tell me, anyway. With some of them, it actually seems to be a compliment.

    June 8, 2014

  • Coming soon to a highway near you?

    People say to me, “Goldy? Can I ask you a stupid question?”

    In theory — and theory only — the correct response is: “The only stupid question is the one you don’t ask.” Not so much. There ARE stupid questions, some of them so stupid that to call them stupid is to damn them with faint praise. Other questions are — on the face of it — legitimate questions, but shouldn’t be treated as such ... not if you subscribe to the same philosophy that I do: Free entertainment is everywhere; all you have to do is wait, and it will come to you.

    June 1, 2014

  • This was a skill that proved very useful

    The Belmont Park stewards have decided to let California Chrome wear his nasal strip during the Run for the Carnations. Nasal strips usually are worn by people who snore and may have saved numerous marriages. It helps the Triple Crown hopeful to breathe, and some twolegged athletes wear nasal strips for the same reason. In this case, Chrome’s nasal strip may keep him from (wait for it) ... losing by a nose.

    May 25, 2014

  • He made a big splash by asking this question

    “I don’t know who you were talking to last night,” said Capt. Gary, “but you were talking and moaning in your sleep. Never heard you do that before.” Neither has anyone else, I said. Besides, I had told him not to be surprised if we had visitors. I wasn’t at the top of my game for a couple of days, and he said some of our friends asked him if I was all right. It’s not the first time for this, so now I’ll know to watch out for it. It can affect you and is not something to play around with — as our friend Cathy found out.

    May 18, 2014

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