Wednesday, September 30, 2020

As I Remember My Friend Harry Walters


 

Photos by John Mallen

Ironically, our fathers were promoted by each of their separate employers, causing them to move to a small suburb of Cincinnati within two months of one another just when my friend and I were starting the eighth grade. We met and bonded immediately as we found we had much in commonprimarily sports. In football, there was one team covering all four grades. This meant that only the older kids played. My friend was an exception, breaking into the lineup in our sophomore year. Also, he was bright and ended up at West Point where he played fullback on Army’s last undefeated team in 1958 which featured Pete Dawkins, 1959’s Heisman Trophy winner. The backfield was pictured on the front cover of Sports Illustrated in November 1958. The team ended the season ranked third in the nation back when the Army played and beat the nations football powerhouses such as Notre Dame, Syracuse and South Carolina. He lettered in four sports all four years as he had done in high school. Having played in college, my best sport was baseball. He was better at it than me, however. He was a major contributor to us winning the Ohio state basketball championship, and later that year, making it to the semifinals in baseball. 

My friends name is Harry Walters. He was the miracle gift and a lifelong friend. By nature, he was a good guy, but if provoked, he could be tough and confrontational, both verbally and physically. Plus, if he got angry, he was capable of super-human strength. The following incident illustrates this trait. 

It was the spring of our senior year. After taking our gals to a movie, we drove to a local restaurant for a snack. We parked close to an outdoor telephone booth and Harry excused himself to make a phone call. Shortly thereafter, a car drove up with two guys in it. They parked to our right. After the driver initially hurled some verbal insults at us, a confrontational dialogue ensued. At that point, the driver and I got out of our cars and started walking toward one another.  

Just then, Harry came out of the phone booth and walked between the guy and me. The guy pushed Harry aside saying, “Get out of my way, that’s the guy I want,” as he pointed to me. Harry then grabbed the guy and threw him up against the side of his car. This was not a small person and his feet were off the ground. The guy could not move his body or his arms because Harry had them pinned to the side of his car as he instructed him his next move would be to get in his car and leave town. He dutifully obeyed. 

Several years later, Army’s legendary coach Earl Blaik spotted this characteristic in my friend and used it to the teams advantage by keeping Harry in an aggravated state so he played harder. 

Upon graduation, Harry served on active duty, then left the Army to work for Kimberly Clark Corporation in sales management and marketing. From there, he accepted the position of Under Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Resources in the newly elected Reagan administration. President Reagan got to know Harry when the budget director David Stockman tried to cut his budget. It ended up in Oval Office with Harry doing the talking and the President looking on. Needless to say, the budget remained intact. Henceforth, whenever a controversial communications situation came up, Harry got the call. It always came via Edwin Meese, the Attorney General. For brevity’s sake, I’ll sight two examples among many. 

The President was traveling to West Point to give the commencement speech to the graduating class and asked that Harry accompany him on Air Force One. In route, the President explained that after the Vietnam war, the country was feeling down on itself. Then something happened to change that trajectory. In the 1980 Olympics, a bunch of American college kids defeated a former seasoned recordsetting winning Russian hockey team. The President then said his campaign coasted in on that momentum. He pointed out that the Army had not had a winning team for quite some time and asked what kind of signal does that send to the nation and the rest of the world when the nation’s military academy is mostly defeated on the field of friendly strife? He then instructed Harry to get up there to West Point and give the leadership the word and be sure to tell them you have the full backing and support of the President of the United States.  

Harry joyfully accepted his orders. In the next few years when the Army became a winner, the President himself having played football in college would call him occasionally during a game and comment on it. 

The next situation involved a decorated Vietnam war general who was taking it upon himself to lead a drive to make the military mandatory for any male who wasn’t married or in college. The administration didn’t want to do that, and they needed someone to give the general the word before the press found out. Harry attended a meeting where the details of the General’s plan were being discussed. He stood up and announced to the rooms shockWe’re not going to do that. Have the General call me for an appointment.  

The General sidestepped the appointment and burst into Harry’s office the next morning, ranting and raving. Harry told him to have a seat and relax, he had something to tell him. Upon hearing the news that his pension and career were on the line he became a different person. President Reagan went on to promote Harry to Director of the Veterans Administration. Today, this is a cabinet post. Harry found it difficult to accomplish much because of the bureaucracy and left his government job to return to the private sector shortly before the end of the Presidents second term. 

Harry died last August from an aggressive form of cancer that took him just four months after diagnosis. Being a man of faith, he took it in stride. On various walls of our coachs office in high school were posted motivational sayings or mottos such as “A winner never quits, and a quitter never wins,” etc. Among them was one from a famous sportswriter from the first half of the twentieth century. His name was Grantland Rice and it goes like this“When the one Great Scorer comes to write against your name, He marks not that you won or lost – but how you played the game.” As a mere mortal, having known him as I have, I believe in my heart that Harry’s doing just fine. 

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