Math has never been one of my strong points. I don't mean calculus, or algebra. I mean simple addition and subtraction, things I should perhaps have mastered by now.
But I haven't. At last week's bi-monthly talk at the Heritage Center, my topic was introduced as "Remembrances of 29 Years as a Leavenworth Times Columnist." When those words were said, I told the audience I'd see them next April, as this April is only my 28th year.
Nobody got up to leave, so I slightly altered the topic and forged ahead with only 28 years of memories.
When I returned to Fort Leavenworth as a civilian employee in 1984, the late Johnny Johnston, then- general manager of the Times, asked me to drop by his office. He asked if I would consider becoming a weekly columnist for the Times, something I'd never ever thought about.
I said I'd think about it and let him know. I wrote down eight topics I could write about, all having to do with the history of the fort, and returned to his office to say yes.
But before I could speak, he said he'd changed his mind. Stunned, and a bit perturbed as the more I'd thought about it the more interested I'd become, he said "I don't want you to be a weekly columnist, I'd like you to be a twice weekly columnist."
Wow…from having figured out eight weeks of topics, I was suddenly reduced to four weeks. But before he might change his mind again and ask for three, or one every other week, I said yes.
The post public affairs officer was not pleased when I told him. He said "You know of course anything you write has to be cleared through my office first." No, I didn't know that. Neither did officers at the Department of the Army when I checked with them. All I had to do was send a written request to be a "recurring columnist" in a civilian newspaper, agreeing to common sense security and other requirements. I received approval in seven days.
My first column was on April 19, 1984, and Johnston's editor's note explaining who I was was longer than the brief column. In the intervening 28 years I've gotten a bit more verbose, or wordy, or whatever term applies.
I've had a lot more compliments than brickbats, but interestingly almost all compliments are verbal, whereas brickbats tend to be letters to the editor. When I make a boo-boo I'm happy to be told about it, but some of the "gentle notifications of errors, or perceived errors" have not been so gentle.
I've had some really interesting exchanges with international students at the fort. The first student from Qatar tracked me down and said he'd like me to write a column about him. I told him I'd think about it, but soon he was in my office again saying he was leaving for the Christmas break the next week and wanted to take the column with him.
Page 2 of 2 - I scratched my planned one, and called the editor at home to say "Hold the presses," that I was bringing a replacement column by his house. He did, I did, and the column ran before the student left.
When he returned he had a front-page of the only daily paper in Qatar, in Arabic of course, with my column about him. The only non-Arabic words were my name. Turned out his father owned the paper, which is why the student wanted to be in an American paper.
A few weeks later I got a letter at the paper from the U.S. Embassy in Doha, Qatar. I wasn't real comfortable opening that envelope until I saw it was a full page letter from the U.S. ambassador, complimenting me on the front-page in the Qatar paper and telling me the "inestimable benefits" the favorable column had on U.S. relations with Qatar. It's the only letter I've gotten from an ambassador.
Wonder what's waiting out there for the real Year #29?
John Reichley is a retired Army officer and retired Department of the Army civilian employee.