My dad, James Whitmore, Part Twenty Four

A project that shows a celebrity to be a good man. A good father. A good provider. And a strong support system.

That was the goal. That’s why I started writing these columns because I wanted to show that an actor of some accomplishments, my dad, also was a good provider. Celebrities take such a hard knock in today’s rough-and-tumble world of internet scorching, I wanted to show a decent and generous man: My dad. A father as well as a husband and a famous actor. His generosity over the years was awe inspiring. He was always there for me.

I have been through some difficult times. No question about that. Dad was always nearby to bail me out. The obvious questions: What if he had’ve left me alone? Would I have matured faster without his help? Was dad’s help, indeed, that? Help or hindrance?

Yes, sometimes the columns have been more about my difficulties than dad’s direct involvement in whatever challenge I was facing. Lately, I’ve begun to read these past 23 columns and realize they are about a guy who just couldn’t get his act together. A loser. A flake. A whiner. I got myself into scrapes and my dad bailed me out of them.

There has been much darkness in my life. Self-propelled, of course, but darkness nonetheless. The answer to the question of help or hindrance came to me one day more than three decades after I had left the drunken madness behind.

I hadn’t had a drink of any kind of alcohol for going on 28 years on this day around 2005 when I was showing my dad around the office of my boss at the time: The Sheriff of Los Angeles County. My life had indeed changed.

In those 28 ensuing years I had graduated with honors from a four-year university in two years with a bachelor’s degree. I had raised a family, worked as a journalist for more than two decades, sometimes at large newspapers like the Los Angeles Times and sometimes at small papers like publisher of the La Canada Valley Sun, a small weekly in the foothills above Glendale, California. I had done radio and television as a journalist. My life had turned around entirely from those dark days when I was 27. Now, I was showing my dad around this majestic office. I was 55. My dad was 83.

This was the office of the highest ranking law enforcement officer in Los Angeles County. The man who ran one of the largest jail system in the nation; provided security for one of the largest court systems in the nation; one of the largest transit systems in the nation; more than 20 contract cities where the Sheriff’s Department provided law enforcement services, including patrol, detectives, homicide, to name just a few; one of the largest community college districts in the nation; and one of the largest crime labs in the nation. This is just a sampling of what the Sheriff’s Department did under the administration of Leroy David Baca, my boss.

A man, by the way, with a heart as big as all outdoors. A man of justice, integrity, compassion and a lifelong commitment to humanity and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Upon his retirement, he’d spent 49 years in Los Angeles County as a deputy sheriff in one rank or another. In fact, he used to say to me his life was complete the day he “became a deputy Sheriff.”

Sheriff Baca is going through a difficult time right now, but in the end, the measure of this man will win the day. He is now, and will always be, my friend.

So, here I am with my dad walking around the Sheriff’s office. It was a weekend or some other non-business day because the office was quiet. Me and my dad walked around, looking at all the memorabilia behind huge glass cases. Impressive. Massive. Awards, plaques, photos, historical pieces. So much more, but an office of an important man. His office was large, as you might expect. He had five secretaries, if memory serves, as well as a full contingent of other staffers. I had an office just down the way from his main office. I was Sheriff Baca’s senior media advisor; a title thrust upon me by one of his other senior advisors. I wrote speeches, press releases along with myriad other duties for the Sheriff. I was also his spokesman.

Me, this lost and confused boy who had a dad in his corner, had grown into a man of substance; now working directly for the man that ran the very same jails I had been an inmate. A dad that never gave up on his son. Help or hindrance? When my dad put his hand on my shoulder as we walked through these halls of justice and said with misty eyes, “I’m proud of you, son,” the answer was clear.

I’m going to be leaving this project now. After 24 columns – all of which can be found at stevewhitmore.wordpress.com – I believe you get the idea of a dad, a celebrity, an actor, but most important, a man of character. My dad was all of that. I thank God for the James Whitmore’s of this world.

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My dad, James Whitmore, Part Twenty Three

Funny thing about influence. It can come in the most obscure places.

In my case it was a television show called, “Northern Exposure.” It was on television from 1990 to 1995. It was about a New York City doctor sent to a tiny town in Alaska to practice medicine. It appeared to be a somewhat ideal life. TV at its finest.

Remember: My dad, James Whitmore, was an actor of some success and we grew up on television; movie production sets; and sound stages. TV and movies were a huge part of my growing up. I watched a lot of TV and movies as a kid and do so to this day.

Brennan was now nearly 5 when I decided to move my family to a tiny town in Southeastern Oregon thinking I would find a similar experience witnessed on TV. Not the smartest move on my part, I must say.

But let’s back up just for a bit. Then Oregon in all its finest, which did produce my second son, Sean. Just by the way, I was forced to deliver Sean in this small town of Lakeview, Oregon, because there was some kind of screw up during the delivery with the anesthesia and my wife at the time turned to me, ashen face, and whispered with all her might, “Can you please tell somebody I can’t breath.”

I did and the doc gave me an instrument and said, “pull out your son! We need to attend to your wife.” I did as instructed and delivered Sean into this world and he’s been a pain in the ass ever since. Not really. He’s a great guy. I’m lucky to be his pop.

Now back to Brennan, who was in the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit for two weeks. That was nearly five years before the Oregon strangeness. Brennan did get stronger everyday and grew healthier and bigger every passing hour. Until finally, we could bring him home at a healthy 5-or-so pounds.

When we left the hospital, I was holding Brennan and my dad was walking alongside. As we entered the parking lot outside, a nice man or woman, I really don’t remember the gender, stopped us.

“I know you,” this kind person exclaimed, pointing at my dad. My dad, ever the most gracious with the public, smiled and thanked them. “No, I know you,” the person continued. “what’s your name? I know you. I just can’t think of it. Darn. What is it?”

Trying to be helpful, my dad responded, “James Whitmore.” The person recoiled, replying, “No, that’s not it. No, I know who you are. Give me a minute. I know ( a pause): You’re Ed Ames!” My dad smiled and agreed to give an autograph as Ed Ames. Life in the big city. Just as a side note, Mr. Ames was a popular singer and actor in the 50s and 60s, who often played a Native American.

“Jesus, what a life,” my dad said with a laugh as we walked toward my little economy car. I had placed the car seat right in the middle of the back seat so I could keep an eye on Brennan every minute. I probably drove about 5-miles-per-hour back to the apartment. Safe and sound.

Brennan was going to be safe and sound as long as I was able, I promised the skies above. I made the same promise when Sean came into the world that June day in 1992 in a small town in Southeastern Oregon.

We didn’t spend too much time in Lakeview, Oregon. We lasted about 9 months. Nice people. Nice place. Just not for us. I ended up as the managing editor of a little weekly newspaper in Lakeview as well as the managing editor for the local radio station. The work was fun. I do remember that.

But it was time to move on after about nine months. Sean was two weeks old when we moved back to the Southland.

My life was now set. I was sober. I had two kids and off we went as a family. I lived in Hutchinson, Kansas; La Crescenta; and Simi Valley of California. I worked different newspaper management jobs and wrote columns for Southland dailies. Life was now in session. I was present, and it was good. The days of yesteryear were gone and I was growing into a responsible, hard-working family man.

Next up: The final summation of this journey with the answer to the question: Was my dad’s help just that, a help, or was it a hindrance? The answer is next.

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My dad, James Whitmore, Part Twenty Two

“Do you want to cut the umbilical cord?” The doctor asked as he held my just-born baby boy. “No!” I said emphatically. Then I took the surgical scissors and went over to this little thing; this little baby boy that my wife and I had created. I’m sure with God’s help. And I cut the cord. The little thing was quickly taken away to the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit because he was so small, maybe two, four pounds. I don’t remember. Only that he was small. And perfect.

Brennan Richmond Whitmore was born December 9, 1987. And my life instantly changed. I wanted kids because I thought they’d keep me busy. I had a bounty of energy. What I didn’t know was that my newborn opened a reservoir of emotion unbeknownst to me. I fell deeply in love with this little guy.

To back up just a bit, I had gotten divorced from my first wife. Then dated a beautiful, kind lady with breast cancer who had recently passed. She was 36. We were together for the last two years of her life. When she died, she left behind a young, wonderful teen-aged daughter. The divorce and this lady’s passing put me in a strange position; to say the least, I was a bit confused.

I was at a meeting one night and a woman was waving at me, calling out my name. She cornered me outside after the meeting. I didn’t know who this person was but she was engaging and certainly encouraging.

The first thing she said to me that I remember was something like: “You owe me an apology.” “Excuse me,” I replied to this person I did not know. She went on to explain that we had attended San Diego State at the same time and were in a few classes together. I mumbled something in agreement just to get out of the conversation, unsuccessful I might add. She had me cornered and I was not going anywhere until she was done with me.

She continued to tell me in no uncertain terms that while in college I had insulted her in front of others and that I was an asshole. “You owe me an amends!” She kept demanding. “I am sorry for any harm I may have caused you,” I uttered, trying to get the hell away from this person. Finally, she relented and I was free to go.

I was later to learn that she was coming off a cocaine binge and trying to get sober. I did not remember her but being the way that I am, I asked her out on a date. Out first date was a funeral of a man that meant the world to me and others. We quickly became a couple. We married. She was kind. Smart and tough. Tough as nails.

She got pregnant. Brennan was the result. Now that you’re caught up. Here’s the deal: Brennan was in the Neo-Natal ICU for a couple weeks. My dad visited almost every day. Always there. Nearby.

I was encouraged by the doctors and nurses to touch my son. To talk to my son. There were openings in the plastic incubator they had him in where you could place your arms through and touch this incredible baby boy. He had tubes running out of every orifice of his body.

I had no idea what to do or say. I had just been laid off from my job at the L.A. Times; the first round of many cuts to come after my departure. Unemployed, no savings, married for four months, and living in an apartment where the landlord didn’t permit children. Scared was the kindest word to use for the state I was in.

I was petrified. I had never been responsible for anything in my life. Just along for the ride. See where it will take me. Well, there was something else now on this ride with me. A little baby boy fighting for his life and a bride with the courage of the bravest of the brave. The ride had become real. Plans had to be made. Jobs had to be found. A place to live had to be acquired. Life was in session and I had a job to do.

So, as suggested by the nurses and doctors to touch and talk to my son, I put my arms through the plastic openings and while I touched my son, my incredible little boy, I said in the most manly voice I could muster – I mean come on, this is the first thing I’m going to say to my boy, I have to at least sound like a grown up. I said: “Hi, my name is Steve Whitmore and I’m an alcoholic.”

Next up: A move. A job. A house. A magical life. Then, Oregon and all hell breaks out.

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My dad, James Whitmore, Part Twenty One

The bandage covered most of my face. I was in a hospital bed. My first job as an actor. I had only one line. Forget now what it was. I was nervous as hell and probably was rising out of the bed like Regan from the Exorcist. I did the scene, fluttered my one line and was done. Say hello to Hollywood.

My dad, famous movie star James Whitmore, was not much help. I don’t think he wanted me to go into the business. Meanwhile, my older brother, Jim III, was doing quite well.

I didn’t like the business. I was sober now about three years and flying off the planet. Energy bursting forth like a rocket blast.

Show biz had too much bullshit. People talking all the time and doing nothing.I was doing a lot of plays. Small theater groups. Must a done half-dozen plays. Joined one theater group as a member. Always doing something but bored as hell. Got jobs here and there. Bit parts. Long periods of no employment. Took odd jobs. Life was spiraling downward.

I couldn’t pay the rent. Had to borrow money from my mother. She reluctantly agreed. I stood on a street corner in Glendale across from the center where they offered assistance to the indigent. Those who can’t take care of themselves. I was sober now five years. I applied and received food stamps. I was depressed as hell. A friend said, “Don’t worry you’ll get used to it.” I never went back.

I met a neighbor girl. Liked her. She wanted to get married. I eventually acquiesced. I wasn’t doing anything. A friend offered me a job in an off-set printing plant in their dispatch center. I worked alone and sent mechanics out to repair these off-set printing machines. Easy job. Sat alone all day. I wrote a screen play in long hand in about four hours. Decided to shoot it. Why not? Life is short. Give it a try.

I must say the movie wasn’t very good, but I wanted to do it anyway. I raised $7,000 from friends and family and made this movie, “Choices” over a weekend. Actually sold it to Public Television. Had a music score and everything. It really stunk, though.

At the same time, I was cast as a semi-regular on the soap opera “General Hospital”. It was during the time of Luke and Laura, which apparently was a big deal. One day I was on “General Hospital” and that same night my movie was on television. Thought I’d be happy. I was at a meeting one night around this time and broke down and wept. I hated my life. I left show biz after being in it for 16 months. Had no idea what to do but I knew it wasn’t going to be that.

A friend got me a job as a teacher’s aid at an elementary school that my niece and nephew had attended. Cahuenga Elementary school. I was a big hit. They promoted me to playground supervisor. I was a cross between Mahatma Gandhi and Idi Amin. I was having a ball. I was approached to be a teacher. No thank you, I said. I gotta move around.

I had met the city editor of a small daily newspaper covering Glendale and the surrounding areas while I was doing the movie. They’d done stories on me. I went to him to talk about writing for the paper. He gave me a story that nobody had been able to do. I agreed to do it, I would be paid a single dollar for every column inch published. Twenty-inch story would be twenty bucks. I agreed to do it. I walked the streets of Glendale, California, and interviewed people about this piece and turned the story in. They published it. I had a byline, “by Steve Whitmore, Correspondent.” I loved it. Something in me broke the malaise of my self-absorption and a sense of well-being emerged. Weird as hell.

My pop, who had bailed me out time-and-time again, beamed with pride. He said, “that-a-boy.”

Next up: Divorce. L.A. Times comes a calling. My first son. Born premature. Neo-natal ICU. Live or die.

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My dad, James Whitmore, Part Twenty

The creature sat at the end of my bed. Looking at me, chuckling. It had three rows of teeth, bald head, deep, imbedded eyes, more slits than eyes. Squat, painted clown white and it was looking at me chuckling. Hissing almost. Scared the living shit out of me.

I called Will. Early in the morning, maybe 2 or 3 a.m. Always woke him up. For some reason, when I did that this creature disappeared. For that, I was eternally grateful.

Hadn’t had a drink now for a week or so. I was seeing things. Obviously. My hands would close up and twist outward, clamp down. Couldn’t break the grasp. They were locked. Then after a bit they would let up. It happened regularly. Will said it was alcohol-related. He wanted me to see a doctor. I had no money so he set it up and paid for it. The doc said I was going to be OK, if I didn’t start drinking again. He said my liver was bruised but it, too, could recover, if I didn’t drink again. That was the mantra.

My head was exploding. My body was exploding. Everything was exploding. Sweating was a daily occurrence. Noise was deafening. One night a bug was on the wall and it grew into this huge praying mantis, squawking so loud and facing me while attached to the wall. Tentacles reaching out slowly in my direction. Call Will. 2 or 3 a.m. in the morning. Monster bug disappears. I didn’t sleep for the a long time, The only time I felt at peace was by Will’s side. I felt safe near him. That’s where I stayed.

My energy skyrocketed off the charts. Had to do something. I enrolled in San Diego State University with one goal in mind: To graduate so my pop would be proud of me. One problem. I hated school. To much sitting. And I wasn’t exactly sedentary at this point.

Sobriety is not wonderful in the beginning. In fact, it’s a nightmare. Drinking was my way of living; getting through the day. Now that’s gone, I was a crazy, looney bird. You have to replace alcohol with something. That something was a group of men and women gathered together to not take the first drink one day at a time.

College. I decided my major would be drama. Easy I thought. I could do that. I started college using the G.I. Bill to live. The G.I. Bill paid me $304 a month to go to college.

I was a bit high strung so I decided I couldn’t do four years of this tedium. I took full loads of classes and more and did San Diego State in two years.

I acted in plays all the time. I was put on the Dean’s list for academic excellence. I was voted the King of the One Acts because of my acting in a number of plays. I enjoyed it. The success in college made me feel some worth.

The day of the graduation my family was there. Dad, brothers, mom. That was good. But what touched me was that Will was there.

The creature sat at the end of my bed. Looking at me, chuckling. It had three rows of teeth, bald head, deep, imbedded eyes, more slits than eyes. Squat, painted clown white and it was looking at me chuckling. Hissing almost. Scared the living shit out of me.

I called Will. Early in the morning, maybe 2 or 3 a.m. Always woke him up. For some reason, when I did that this creature disappeared. For that, I was eternally grateful.

Hadn’t had a drink now for a week or so. I was seeing things. Obviously. My hands would close up and twist outward, clamp down. Couldn’t break the grasp. They were locked. Then after a bit they would let up. It happened regularly. Will said it was alcohol-related. He wanted me to see a doctor. I had no money so he set it up and paid for it. The doc said I was going to be OK, if I didn’t start drinking again. He said my liver was bruised but it, too, could recover, if I didn’t drink again. That was the mantra.

My head was exploding. My body was exploding. Everything was exploding. Sweating was a daily occurrence. Noise was deafening. One night a bug was on the wall and it grew into this huge praying mantis, squawking so loud and facing me while attached to the wall. Tentacles reaching out slowly in my direction. Call Will. 2 or 3 a.m. in the morning. Monster bug disappears. I didn’t sleep for the a long time, The only time I felt at peace was by Will’s side. I felt safe near him. That’s where I stayed.

My energy skyrocketed off the charts. Had to do something. I enrolled in San Diego State University with one goal in mind: To graduate so my pop would be proud of me. One problem. I hated school. To much sitting. And I wasn’t exactly sedentary at this point.

Sobriety is not wonderful in the beginning. In fact, it’s a nightmare. Drinking was my way of living; getting through the day. Now that’s gone, I was a crazy, looney bird. You have to replace alcohol with something. That something was a group of men and women gathered together to not take the first drink one day at a time.

College. I decided my major would be drama. Easy I thought. I could do that. I started college using the G.I. Bill to live. The G.I. Bill paid me $304 a month to go to college.

I was a bit high strung so I decided I couldn’t do four years of this tedium. I took full loads of classes and more and did San Diego State in two years.

I acted in plays all the time. I was put on the Dean’s list for academic excellence. I was voted the King of the One Acts because of my acting in a number of plays. I enjoyed it. The success in college made me feel some worth.

The day of the graduation my family was there. Dad, brothers, mom. That was good. But what touched me was that Will was there.

Will Campbell is the reason I’m alive today. My love for him was as deep as infinity. He became my dad in so many ways.

Then there was my actual dad. He was there. I was the only son to graduate from college. I was the only son to serve in the armed forces. I was the only son. He was proud, bullish proud. But he expected more, always more. I knew it. I had caused a great deal of harm to my family. Trust was a distant relative with schemes. Off to Los Angeles to be an actor. Problem was, I didn’t like acting. It bored me. I didn’t feel like I was accomplishing anything. But I did it anyway. My dad did it. My brother was doing it. I was going to do it. There was trepidation.

And I was leaving Will. Clouds were forming. Staying put may have been the answer but I’ve always been on the move. The only time I’m happy is when I am on the move.

I went to Los Angeles and was courted by a huge agency ICM. Things were looking up except I was miserable. Sobriety is a place where your demons collaborate and move towards the inner destruction of your being. I was sober know for two years and mad as a hatter. Mad as a hatter.

Next up: TV shows. Movies. General Hospital soap opera. And total humiliation applying for food stamps. Fun in the big city.
city.

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My dad, James Whitmore, Part Nineteen

They called him “The Shepherd.” I didn’t know why but soon discovered he was, in fact, a shepherd of men.

I was running down alleys, naked, screaming in the early hours of the morning. Scared. Really scared. My best friend had abandoned me. My best friend, my only friend, was alcohol and it didn’t work anymore. I had lost all sense of reality.

One day, a friend came to visit me in the small room I was renting. I was drunk. Really drunk. I asked him a question. It was this: “If you see me some day and if you see that my spirit has left me. My eyes have gone dead. Would you please kill me?”

This friend looked at me and said nothing. There was silence for a long time. Then he just turned and left.

All the places I’d been, all the people I’d had the privilege of meeting, all the worlds I had lived in, meant nothing. The advantaged I had been given by being the son of James Whitmore, a hard-working movie star, meant nothing.

I was lost. Drunk. Yes, but it wasn’t working anymore. I would drink and drink and drink and nothing would happen. I was inebriated, of course, but the magic was long gone. The alcohol did not shut off my head. The voices in my head just got louder and louder until the screaming was unbearable. I had to stop drinking. But how? I couldn’t go a minute without a drink.

I walked a lot, up and down streets. All the streets. Just walked. I was near a college. They had a center of some kind where you could go and get therapy. I didn’t really know what they were about. But a few years back in Stockton, California, I had gone into a place that offered free counseling for alcoholics. I had been put on Antabuse; a drug that was supposed to make you sick if you drank. I took it. I drank, got drunk, in fact. And other than my heart racing and my face turning bright red, it didn’t prevent me from drinking.

I went into this center in East San diego near this college and hoped they would give me some pills or something. I didn’t want Antabuse but something I could get high on. I had to be stoned on something. Life was way to ordinary if I wasn’t loaded. In fact, it was downright unbearable.

I was shown into a small room where this older man wearing a Yarmulke, or to be more exact a Kippah – a black hat – was sitting behind a small wooden desk. He was nervous because I was shaking and moving in his direction.

“What can I do for you?” He finally asked. “I think I’m an alcoholic.” I blurted out. “I can’t help you.” He replied. He proceeded to tell me about a group of men and women that could possible help me. He pushed a phone towards me and gave me the number. “Call them.” He said.

That night, a man with a twisted leg, came to my room and took me to a church where men and women were gathered together against the first drink. I knew this was not going to work for me.

These people were old. Boring. Stupid. I was young, 27, exciting, I thought, and my whole life was in front of me. These folks were waiting to die. Of course, I may have been 27 but as one person politely put it, my face had a lot of years on it. I was in shambles. Ratted clothes, matted hair. Smelled.

I was glib. Quick with a joke about my circumstances. Arrogant. Huge chip on my shoulders. One young guy yelled at me. He was serious about his sobriety. I was full of shit. Excuse the language but I was.

I went to the meetings for a while, but got drunk again. By this time, drinking didn’t work for me. I had drunk myself into sobriety or death. Death didn’t seem such a bad thing to me. I wasn’t sad really. Just bored and scared. How do you get through the day without being drunk? I decided, maybe suicide was OK. Not such a big deal. I wasn’t maudlin about it. Just seemed like the next logical step. Then, the phone rang.

“Hello,” I said. It was a girl. She asked how I was doing and I told her the truth. “ I think I’m going to kill myself.” I said this matter-of-factly. Not emotional or hysterical. Just a fact.

“Don’t do anything until I come over,” she said. “OK,” I replied. Hung up the phone and waited. And waited. And waited and waited. She never came over. And the thought of suicide left. It was night by now and I walked to one of those meetings.

Not many people at this gathering. They were reading out of a book. I sat, bored, restless and ready to bolt again. But this night was different. A man was there who took me aside and talked with me. He was kind. Gentle. Loving even. I liked his warmth. He asked if I would like to go to a meeting the next night. I said I would.

I lived in East San Diego. This older man lived in La Jolla. He was the manager of the shoe department of I. Magnin’s – no longer in existence.

This older man, Will Campbell was his name – now deceased, drove a beat-up station wagon with a pissed off Cocker Spaniel in the back seat. Always this small yellow dog was in the back seat of this rickety station wagon. The year was 1977. I was 27.

Will Campbell was known as “The Shepherd.” I had no idea what that meant, but here’s what I do know. He would drive to where I was roaming the streets of East San Diego and pick me up and take me to a meeting in La Jolla. That drive took him two hours. Half-hour to get me. Half-hour to the meeting in La Jolla. Half-hour back to my room and then half-hour back to La Jolla.

He was to make this trip every night for the next 365 days. I haven’t had a drink since. October 16, 1977 was the first sober day.

His name was Will Campbell and he was, indeed, “The Shepherd.” I owe him my life.

Next up: A new day. College on the G.I bill. King of the One-Acts. Life was now in session.

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My dad, James Whitmore, Part Eighteen

I could hear her crying on the end of the phone. I had asked for my birth certificate. I had not told my mother why I wanted it. But she knew. Word was getting around. I was just one short step from homelessness again. My life was in shambles.

It was near the end of 1973. I was 23 and had drunk myself into a deep abyss.

The Vietnam war seemed to be finally winding down and I kept walking by this Army recruitment office. I was not going to survive much longer. I had just been fired from a security officer job working the midnight to morning shift at the then-downtown Los Angeles headquarters of a large gas company. One day, I went into the recruitment office and decided to enlist.

Mom knew why I wanted my birth certificate. The Army needed it. I didn’t tell her. Dad had thought it was a great idea because “I had decided something on my own.” Is how he put it. Mom was frightened. She knew me. How frightened I was; cowardly in fact. Not tough. Vulnerable. Drunk all the time. She stilled loved me.

Dad had served in the Marines during World War II as a second lieutenant. Enlisting seemed like a good idea because it would get me off the streets. The draft had been eliminated. The Army was desperate for recruits. I was an ideal candidate, or so they thought until they ran a security check. Much to their dismay, my arrest record by this time was pretty extensive. Dozens of arrests for DUI, reckless driving, drunk in public, so-on and so-forth.

They rejected me with a caveat: If I could get people to write letters of recommendation to the Army testifying to my good character, they would reconsider.

Immediately, as word went out, I had dignitaries of all sorts willing to put in a good word so I could enlist in the Army as a private.

The Army did reconsider and in December of 1973 I was inducted into the United States Army as an E1, private of the lowest class, and was sent off to basic training at Ford Ord in Monterey, California.

There was a visit from the public relations arm of the Army asking if I would be willing to be featured in a story about the new Army because of my dad. James Whitmore’s son was a big deal, they thought. This was a time when morale was low and the Army was looking for any way to boost it.

I mentioned it to my mother and she quickly shot down the idea with “what if you don’t make it out of basic training? That’s not going to look too good.” Or words to that affect. I didn’t do the story.

Basic training began to right this broken ship. First off, the Army doesn’t coddle. They break down egos, build them back up with a commitment to the unit, the team, the country. Things alien to me.

I was still drinking. Still getting into incredible scrapes, escaping by just inches from sure imprisonment or injury. I would get drunk and sound off. Obnoxious, embarrassing statements to commanding officers questioning their manhood and methods. Their response were threats of court martial, punishment, extra duty; Shut up or get out! Keep it up and you’re going to jail. Scared the bee-Jesus out of me.

I was sent to Germany as a crew member on an anti-aircraft weapon. I was assigned to Headquarters of the 8th Infantry Division. The Army was trying to keep me out of the field. Give me a desk job. I requested back with a line unit because I had some friends from basic training. Nobody turns down headquarters in those days for a job that may result in combat duty. I wasn’t thinking this through. I just wanted to be with my friends.

To say the least, I didn’t do real well. Almost instantly my drinking got me in trouble with the Captain, who mentioned I may be brought up on charges of insubordination. I had told one of my superiors to “go f#*k himself.” Not a bright move.

Then, something bizarre happened. I was transferred to the main headquarters of the 8th Infantry assigned to an attorney as his legal assistant. Just before, I may have been court-martialed, I was now working for the Judge Advocate Generals Corp. or Office, known as the JAG office. All discussion of court martial ended because I now was working for those that did the court-martialing.

I was promptly sent off to be trained as an Army paralegal and investigator before being assigned to my permanent attorney. Intensive training on all aspects of the Military Code of Justice followed.

I went from living in a room of 20 or more men constantly at each other’s throats to a room of two with a living room. What a gift. I then went to work for an attorney rooted in the Mormon religion that took great care of me. He encouraged me, supported me and directed me to re-enter college after the Army. I was not as dedicated as his support but it did get me to apply to San Diego State University, which accepted me.

Callison College was willing to release what transcripts did exist but there was an outstanding bill. My dad was unaware of such a bill because I had availed myself of his account without his knowledge. Still, he paid the bill. Congratulated me on my return home safe and going back to college. Problem was, I was still bringing myself along. I was to drink for a couple more years before a man decided enough was enough and pulled me from the streets of East San Diego and thrust me into a new world sans alcohol. But before that, I was to endure a few more moments of pure insanity with a group of misfits living in a place called, Mission Beach, California. Or as we used to call it: The Ghetto Riviera.

The people in Mission Beach rivaled any group of misfits out of such novels as Cannery Row by John Steinbeck with names like Grub, his common-law wife Jeffrey – yes, a woman, Charlie Tuna and others like the small group of young kids, surfers and skateboarders. Here I was now 26 and started living the life of a drunken beach bum.

It was the last grinding down of the alcoholic. I lived in that beach town for just 16 months and had to borrow $300 from my dad to leave it. He gave it to me and for the first time expressed his disappointment. He’d hoped I was doing better. I did too.

Take Nineteen: Plucked off the streets of East San Diego at the age of 27 and thrown into a new world of sobriety. Much was about to happen.

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