July 2007

One of my most vivid, early, childhood memories of my father is this:
I'm watching him approach a man in our playground who had been seen there over the course of a couple of days, watching the kids play. On this particular day, the man was at the rear of the sliding board, watching the little girls climb up the ladder in order to sit and slide to the bottom of it.

Pop was looking at this guy through our dining room window. This was military dependent's housing-- an apartment complex with a playground/courtyard shared by the backs of 4 buildings which enclosed it--  
in Frankfurt, Germany, about 1956 or so. My mother came over to him and asked him what he was looking at. He pointed out the window. They both watched for a few minutes. Pop said: "He's going to leave-- right now", and headed for the door.

I remember my mom saying: "Now, Wayne; don't fly off the handle."

Pop replied: "I'm going to give him the chance to walk away, first."

I didn't quite understand what was going on, especially the reference to "flying off the handle",  but I recall the impression that there was something... wrong with this guy being there, and that Pop wanted him gone. As I watched from the window, I saw my father exit the building through the back door and walk slowly up behind this guy, whose attention was focused upward, on the next little girl who was climbing the slide.

We couldn't hear anything, but the exchange went like this: Pop said something to the man; the man turned and looked at him and replied. Pop pointed around him at the apartments, then pointed at the playground. The man folded his arms across his chest and shook his head, indicating "no", and said something else. Pop replied, and gestured with his thumb over his shoulder. The message-- even at this distance-- was clearly: "Take a hike, buddy."

The next 5 seconds replay like a tape loop in my mind. The guy widened his stance, stuck his jaw out (idiot...) said something, and very forcefully poked Pop in the chest with an outstretched index finger. Pop uncoiled and hit this guy-- *twice*-- BAM! WHACK!-- though he always swore he could only recall one punch.  I remember this because I can still, in my mind's eye, see him shift his weight slightly on the balls of his feet, and pivot, left to right. A short, sharp left beneath the chin set him up, and a roundhouse right to the temple sent him straight backwards-- without his knees even buckling. The guy went down like a felled tree, never bending at all, and I remember his head bouncing once as it hit the blacktop.

He was out cold. My mother shrieked, thinking Pop had killed the fellow. She yanked the window up and began yelling at him to come inside... I remember saying "WOW!" The guy just lay there like a lox. Pop came inside and called the MPs (Military Police, who had jurisdiction at the housing complex) and the MPs alerted the German Police, who also showed up.

The capper is that this guy was well-known to both agencies, as someone who had prior arrests for child molestation. In later years, I spoke to my father about this. I'd never seen him hit anyone in anger before. I asked him about the conversation and what had provoked him so.

He said: "Well, for starters, I just knew this guy was all wrong. It's something in your gut, you know? So, I went out there and I asked him if he lived there, or if one of his children was here at the playground. He said 'No'. I asked him what he was doing here, and he said it was none of my business. Not a good reply. I told him to leave, and he told me to go fuck myself. 'This is still Germany, asshole', he said, and poked me in the chest. You know,  the next thing I remember is that he's lying on the ground and your mother is yelling all kinds of things at me from the window. She was an excitable woman, your mother..."

The stupid bastard in the playground had *really* picked the wrong day to challenge an ex-welterweight boxer (29 wins and 1 loss; wait-- make that 30 and 1!), a former Army Ranger, 17th Airborne paratrooper and the father of 3 kids. My Pop was a pretty cool guy, but he was nobody you'd ever want to provoke.

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