Saturday, July 26, 2008

RAGBRAI Brings Old Friend to Iowa - George

One of the participants in this year's RAGBRAI was an old Army buddy, Mike Wong, who lives in the Sacramento, California, area. It was a chance for us to get together in North Liberty. We hadn't seen each other since 1992 when another Army buddy, Ken Lee, got married in Columbus, Ohio.

Mike and I were among the last of the draftees before the Army became all-volunteer. We both took basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, although we didn't know each other there. We met during Advanced Individual Training (AIT) at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. There we were trained for field artillery fire direction control (FDC). Then we were shipped to Camp Essayons, South Korea, where Mike became a battery clerk and I was in FDC before getting transferred to the Division Public Information Office/Division Newspaper...but not before my share of trips to the field as an FDC chart operator and a week at the DMZ.

After a year in Korea, we finished our "military careers" with six months at Fort Hood, Texas. Mike continued to work as a clerk; I became a jack-of-all-trades -- subsitute battery clerk, alternate mail clerk, photographer, writer. In Texas, Mike and I became fans of Doug Sahm (Sir Douglas Quintet) and saw him perform at the Texas Opry House and Armadillo World Headquarters, both in Austin. Bobby D. frequently plays his music on the Crawfish Circuit Saturday nights. We even saw jazz piano legend Teddy Wilson play on a stage in a cow pasture at an outdoor music festival near Kerrville.

After the service, I was best man at Mike's wedding. He was an usher at mine. He went back to school and became a registered nurse and is currently a school nurse, serving six elementary schools.

After several cell phone conversations and dealing with streets that were blocked for RAGBRAI, we finally met up at the First United Methodist Church in North Liberty, which was serving a supper for RAGBRAI participants. As we were eating our supper of pork roast and mashed potatoes, Mike asked me, "So is pork a big deal in Iowa?" He later sweet-talked one of the church women into letting us have a second dessert.

It was great to get together, re-live our days in the Army and catch up with each other's lives. Mike seems to have aged a little better than I. A little heavier than during our service years, but hardly any gray hair. Me, a little lighter than when we served together, but totally gray.

Although he didn't get to train as much beforehand as he would have liked (but he does do triathlons so he's in pretty good shape), Mike loved his RAGBRAI experience, except for the crash near Jefferson that sent him to the hospital for observation. He said he really enjoyed the people of Iowa. And he just might return next year -- to get some more pork! It would be great if he does.

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