Monday, February 22, 2010

Where the Trail May Lead

Stevie Joe Payne

That is I sitting in front of Pawhuska High School except that I wasn't.  The photograph was made by Charlotte at Osage Hills and used in publicity for the my book "Pawhuska Kids' Stuff."  I later took the Osage Hills rock, trees, bushes, leaves and branches out of the photograph and secretly replaced them with the photograph of the wall from Pawhuska High School.  One more alteration to mention is that the letters on the real wall are not black and orange in color but simply aluminum.  I photographed the wall and colored my photograph to make the wall look as I wanted it, black and orange.  I tell people that I am a member of the class of 1962 and I am; but I did not graduate in 1962.  I graduated in 1967 as a member of the class of 1966 and from College-High School in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.  I attend my Pawhuska class reunions whenever I can and I attend the all school reunions which are the best type to me.  Pawhuska is home and holds a special place in my heart and it always will.  But I don't want to sail under false colors and claim graduation with my class.  In 1960 I began my junior year of school and I was very unhappy, running with kids that I liked but we were not the best for each other.  We were not bad kids but we certainly needed guidance and, perhaps, a strong hand, maybe even across the back side.  But we didn't get that.  By January of 1961 I was not doing well and I was more depressed and in a downward spiral that could lead only to trouble.  I was asked about and even considered military school and then I went a step further.  I enlisted in the United States Navy, that Great Canoe Club of the Southwest Pacific Ocean, as we called it.  All my life I had thought I would join the Marine Corps.  My friend Charley Edgar had enlisted in the navy on a kiddie cruiser enlistment and that put me in touch with the recruiter, Chief Petty Officer Hall (Radarman).  Over the next month, I had several visits with him and he was gradually pulling me along by the nose because I knew him but I did not know other recruiters so CPO Hall charmed me into the navy.  Since I was only seventeen February 12, 1961, I had to have my mother's permission, which she gave.  A kiddie cruise went like this; a sailor enlisted before his 18th birthday and would be released before his majority, i.e. one day before he turned twenty-one yet given credit for four years.  In Edgar's case, he enlisted the day before his 18th birthday, so he served three years and received credit for four.  In my case, I enlisted about 28 days after my 17th birthday and would be released one day before my 21st birthday so I would serve just under four years and be credited for four years.  If you do the math you'll realize I was not smart but it was fine because I needed the extra discipline and training.  I was training in two disciplines at once; to be a sailor and to become a better person.  I was sworn in March 9, 1961, traveled to San Diego for three months of basic training, "Boot Camp" as it was called, then six months in Radar "A" school at Treasure Island, San Francisco Bay, California.  In December 1961, after finishing school, I was assigned to the USS Point Defiance (LSD-31), my only ship, where I served until January 22, 1965.  I was a 3rd class radarman (E-4) at the time of my honorable discharge.  Connie and I married January 30 and we struggled for several months as I sold insurance to make a living.  I had a GED for high school via the navy and a one year college GED; none of these were accepted in the civilian world in 1965.  I returned to Pawhuska but settled in Bartlesville working what job I could find and then I returned to high school at College-High.  Everitt K. White provided me a job working in the outdoor advertising industry.  I went to school from 7:00 AM untill noon, then worked for Mr. White until day's end, whatever it turned out to be, and did my home work. I completed my last full credit with a correspondence course in 1966 and was awarded my diploma in June of 1967.  Between the navy, my wife, my mother, and some help from some really good people, Everitt K. White and Principal, John Haley, I turned my life around from the hurt and confused kid that I was in March, 1961, and became the young father who went to work for Phillips Petroleum Company in March, 1967.  I retired from Phillips thirty-three years later.  About the Point Defiance; I served in the Cuba Quarantine of the October 1962 Missile Crisis, went to Viet Nam in 1963 for the Nho Din Diem coup d'etat, and served with the bathyscaph Trieste in the recovery mission for the lost submarine USS Thresher (SSN-593) in 1963.  I served in two missions to WESTPAC and a mission to Christmas Island for nuclear waste recovery.  I owe a word of thanks to my friend Kenny Carman who was the first to tell me how to begin the process of returning to high school at age twenty-one.  I graduated from College-High but my heart belongs to Pawhuska High School, Class of 1962.

The USS Point Defiance (LSD-31)

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