KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It came out of the blue.
I wonder where that term came from. Perhaps it was first used when someone was walking along on a beautiful sunny day and got hit on the head with a space rock.
But it is one of those sayings that we all kind of instinctively understand when we hear it.
For me recently, it was a phone call that came out of the blue, and it was decidedly more pleasant than a chunk of meteorite on the noggin.
On the other end of the line was a voice I hadn’t heard in about three decades. It was a voice I never expected to hear.
It was an old Army buddy. And in case you don’t know, there’s no buddy like an old Army buddy.
But this particular guy was more than a buddy to me. He was one of the best friends I’ve ever had, even though we came from very different backgrounds.
He is a genuine, honest-to-goodness New Yawker, straight out of Brooklyn, accent and all. I’m a kid from the Midwest. He’s black and I’m white.
But that’s the beauty about military service. Unlike other groups of young men, say a fraternity, where the members tend to generally share the same kind of background, the military throws together city kids, country kids, small-town kids, black kids, brown kids, white kids, rich kids and poor kids.
Somehow in that sea of diversity, masked in olive drab conformity, Rob and I found each other.
Maybe it was because he and I were the new guys who joined an established unit right before it shipped out to Germany. As an aside, if you’ve never made a trans-Atlantic flight in a military cargo plane without windows, you haven’t missed much.
Of course, who wouldn’t bond when you’re sitting in an armored vehicle on the edge of a sugar beet field with a transistor radio (Google it kids) and listening to a German version of “You Picked a Fine Time to Leave Me Lucille.”
And when visiting a beer tent conveniently set up in the woods adjacent to the bivouacs for units from two different divisions, it is extremely advantageous to have someone to watch your back (especially when one of those groups of soldiers is from “The Big Red One” and you’re not.)
Memorable, but good times not so much.
Anyway, we survived those beer tent brawls, and those hordes of Russians just over the next Bavarian hill were smart enough not to mess with the likes of us.
With our duty as World War III trip wires done, we made it back to Fort Carson, Colo., where we maintained our friendship until one day, quite suddenly, he was gone.
I never knew what happened to my friend, until that phone call he made after wondering about his old buddy Tony Rizzo from Kansas City.
Despite the passage of years, our conversation felt so comfortable. We caught up on careers, kids and grandkids (his, not mine), and discovered that we’re both past the 30-year mark on our first marriages.
It was great. We’ll talk again from time to time, and one of these years maybe we’ll see each other in person.
As for his sudden Army departure? He fell asleep on guard duty and they forced him to take a less-than-honorable discharge. I should have let you know, he said. But I understand how he felt at the time.
Unless you are a “lifer,” which we definitely were not, when the Army tells you that you can leave, you don’t let the door hit you on the way out.