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Nobody will question a person carrying a case of toilet paper

After getting my degree from the University of Oregon in June 1961, I applied for military officers training and was inducted in November of that year.

This may not make sense to some, but when you are with the same guys 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, under pressure, brotherhood bonds are quickly established. In 30 days I spent more actual time with these men than I would in a year in the normal world. My best buddy was Joe Lazzaro, and we are still friends. Two other friends, Al and Barry, have joined the “riders in the sky.”

Joe and Al had an advantage on me. Joe had served in the Reserves prior to officer’s school. Al was older, a retread, as we called them. Al had served on active duty, left the military, went to college on the GI Bill and was now back.

Both Joe and Al were much savvier than I was about the service. The closest thing I had to military experience was a few years in the Boy Scouts and one year of mandatory ROTC training upon transferring to the University of Oregon as a sophomore. Being a three-sport athlete in high school helped me to a degree.

One afternoon, Al and I were assigned the mundane task of cleaning up a common area of litter (called “policing the area”). Al said, “Larry, we are going to screw off.”

I responded, “Al, we will get in trouble.”

I was sure we would get caught. Al said, “Larry, it depends on how we approach it.”

Al then outlined his plan. He had procured a carton of toilet paper. He told me I was to put the carton on my shoulder, keep my mouth shut, follow him, and he would take care of saluting officers and leading us. I started to object and Al responded, “Larry, nobody will question a person carrying a case of toilet paper; we are on an important mission.”

Al was correct. We walked, rested, did absolutely zero and no one ever questioned us. We didn’t attempt to hide or avoid. We marched through areas like we belonged there. It worked perfectly. Perception of a mission carried the day.

Then Al said to me, “Larry, we are invisible. The next officer we pass of the rank of major, lieutenant colonel or full bird colonel, I will salute as we pass, and instead of saying, ‘Good afternoon, sir’ I will say, ‘How’s your ass sir?’”

I cringed as we proceeded. I was sure Al had lost his senses and we would be caught. Not long after, we passed a senior officer. Al saluted sharply and said, “How’s your ass, sir?” The reply, “Good afternoon, gentleman.”

Al taught me a valuable lesson that day. If you don’t know what you are doing, wear a hard hat, carry a clipboard and look competent until you figure it out. That lesson has served me well over my lifetime.

Larry Slessler lives in Medford.

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