In the summer of 1961, those in dental schools across the nation who had joined the Navy Reserve officer's program were sent to basic training in Newport, R.I. There we learned to salute without poking ourselves in the eye, some basic military jargon and how to drive a battleship if needed.
It was also where most of us learned to sail small-class sailboats.
When I got to Newport, my baggage didn't arrive with me, so the first day I was without a toothbrush or shave. Needless to say, I didn't pass muster, thus demerit No. 1.
That morning, I met two fellows from Nebraska who didn't pass muster either, so it was a natural for us to bond. It was kind of like having three Pig-Pens in "Peanuts." During the week we — Bob Smith, Cork Rowley and myself — struggled with sleep apnea during class sessions. But we'd somehow snap out of it about 5 p.m. and get real social at the officers' club. We had all the privileges of officers and gentlemen without responsibility.
Life was good.
A hurricane came through the second night we were there. When we got up in the morning 100-year-old trees were down all over the base. We had slept right through it, so we thought they were just doing some new landscaping.
Bob and Cork were my salvation from complete boredom that whole week. Cork was a married man, so he kept a short leash on the two bachelors. We all graduated "cum laude scotch," an honor reserved for special-capacity fellows.
The three of us managed to graduate from dental school in 1962. Just shows it pays to keep a low profile. So, there we were, Navy dental officers with all the bars in place on smart blues. They weren't tailored to our Ironman bodies, but we made do.
Upon reporting to Camp Pendleton in California, I again ran into the Nebraska boys — officer's club all over again. This time, however, we were responsible for our conduct as officers. Bob got married right after graduation and brought his wife, Jeanne, with him. Bob, Cork and I spent a lot of time together at Pendleton and reinforced the bond made in Newport.
I was sent to Okinawa with the Marines while Bob and Cork finished their tour at Camp Pendleton. I didn't get hazard pay, but I did enjoy my stay on "Poor Man's Hawaii."
Several years ago, one of my patients came to my office and told me about a hunting trip he had taken to somewhere in Colorado. A stranger came into his camp, he said, and they visited for awhile. The man asked my patient where he was from, and when he answered "Medford, Oregon," the stranger asked whether he knew Dr. Lewellyn.
My patient answered, "Yes, he's my dentist." The stranger said, "Tell him Cork Rowley says 'Hi.' "
When we got out of the Navy, we all went our separate ways. I returned to Medford in 1964 to start my practice and raise my family with my wife, Vonnie. Bob went on to graduate school, becoming an oral surgeon and settling in Nebraska. Cork also attended graduate school and became an orthodontist. He and wife, Nancy, settled in Longmont, Colo.
We exchanged Christmas cards and occasional phone calls for 47 years. This year, when I received Cork's Christmas card, I phoned and asked him to come fishing.
"Call Bob, and let's get a reunion underway," he said.
They arrived Feb. 28, and we packed up my Blazer and took off for Brookings. After consulting with my expert fisherman, son Bart, we opted for the Elk River. Not being familiar with river-drifting techniques, it took a little time for them to adjust. They were great sports; they caught steelhead, filled the air with conversation, lots of jokes and good, hearty laughing. The question of the week was, "Where'd 50 years go?"
In the four days we were together, we learned how much our lives had paralleled. We married, had our kids, schooled them, watched them marry, have their kids and it is just a matter of time until they will have their kids. That's life I guess, but we all agreed it's been a great ride. We are proud of our families and our profession.
And we are proud to remain buddies.