My brother Jack was the oldest of my seven siblings and I am the youngest, so we were never close like you would expect brothers to be. I think that was because he had a son almost three years older than me, so I was just another kid. Jack was a big man who sometimes came across as gruff to me, though I know he had a great sense of humor and a heart of gold. But he was too busy living his own life and raising his own children to pay me much mind. But there was one time when I know I impressed him.
During part of my time in the Army, I was a firearms instructor at the US Military Academy at West Point, New York. Being someone who liked to shoot and who was encouraged to do so as much as I wanted, it was a great job. I can’t count how many rounds I fired in everything from handguns to rifles to machineguns. All on the Army’s dime.
When I got out of the Army in July of 1974, my family lived in Toledo, Ohio and Jack had a farmhouse on some land outside of town on Bancroft Road. Once, Jack, our dad, myself, and my high school buddy Dan Connell were on his land doing some informal target shooting. Back then I was a darned good shot, if I do say so myself, and I had hit every tin can we had. Then we stuck some empty shotgun shells on end, and I was knocking them down one after another with my little Ruger .22 carbine.
Apparently, Jack decided to see how good I really was and flipped a quarter into the air, saying, “Let’s see you hit that, smart ass.” I wasn’t expecting that, and was holding the Ruger with one hand, the butt resting against my hip. I never moved the gun, never looked at the quarter, I just pulled the trigger. By some act of fate, having nothing to do with any skill on my part, the coin must have flown into the bullet’s path, and I nailed it just shy of dead center.
Jack was amazed. Dad and Dan were both amazed. But nobody was more amazed than me! As my brother searched for the quarter in front of the backstop we were using, my dad and friend looked at me, and I shrugged my shoulders and shook my head in wonder. It was truly a once in a lifetime shot.
Jack finally found the quarter and stared at it a long time, then pulled another one out of his pocket and told me to do it again. I knew there was no way I could ever repeat the feat, so I shook my head and said, “Why? Dad knows I can do it, Dan knows I can do it, and you know I can do it. I’m not going to show off.”
As I said, I was just another kid to Jack and nothing I had ever done before then had impressed him. But that sure did! He told everyone he knew about how his kid brother, fresh out of the Army, was the best shot that ever lived. And over time, the story got better and better. Not only did I not even aim at the coin, I made my shot while looking the other way and talking to our Dad. By Christmas, he was telling people that I made the shot one handed, and when he told it at a family get together a year or so later, I was walking away with the gun over my shoulder when I pulled the trigger! Yeah, Jack was impressed.
We lost Jack in 1982, when he was just 52 years old. At the time, I was living in Washington state, publishing small town newspapers, and he lived in Florida. We had not seen each other in years and were both busy doing our own thing, so any contact we had was by word of mouth from our parents. But I sometimes think he may have had a premonition of his death because not long before he died, Jack called me on a Sunday afternoon and we talked for almost two hours. We talked about our lives and our families, lamented that we had never been as close as we should have been, and he told me that he loved me, words I had never heard from him before. And Jack asked me if I was still shooting quarters out of the air. He still remembered that after all those years and said if he had not seen it with his own eyes, he would never have believed it. I have a feeling that wherever we go when we leave this life, Jack is drinking a beer with his buddies and bragging about what a crack shot his kid brother is.
Rest in peace, Jack. I love you.
Thought For The Day – Always leave people better than you found them.