Photo Gallery - Peter Gagarin

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More on Peter Gagarin' adventures after OCS

Once again I applied myself, stayed awake in class, only played golf in the afternoon after class was over. Life was good. And I still had my knack of dealing with numbers and taking multiple-choice tests, so when the two months were over, I seemed to be at the top of the class. I figured it couldn't hurt.

I don't know if it helped or not. I also don't know if it helped that on my first day in the Army, being processed in to basic training, when one of the forms asked for my civilian skills - and understand that coming from Harvard I had no regular civilian skills - I put down "data processing" because I had taken a couple of computer science courses at college and worked for IBM one summer. Whatever, I got my orders and they were to report to FAOUSA.

Yeah, I didn't know what it was either, turned out to be the Finance and Accounting Office of the US Army, located in SW Washington, DC. Packed up the car again, back to the DC area, found a place to stay with a friend of my brother, and reported for duty.

About 500 people worked at FAOUSA, all civilians except for about 5 colonels who were in charge and about 10 lieutenants. I was assigned to the data processing section along with two other lieutenants who had already been there for a while. First question - how long is the assignment? Two years they said. Sweet.

Computers in those days were unlike computers now. We had three Honeywell mainframes, took up a huge room, massive air conditioning needed because they gave off so much heat. Date kept on big reels of magnetic tape, the reels filling up another big room. Plus some older Univac computers still operating with punch card programming.

We lieutenants were there for "special projects," whatever needed doing, no worries about the civil service rules the civilians operated under. Did some programming as requested though I don't recall for what.

But the work wasn't hard, there was no heavy lifting. Ft. McNair, home of the National War College, was right next door, and we could use the gym there at lunch time. Four of us even managed to talk the powers that be into sending us as a team to the First Army Golf Tournament in Louisville, closest I ever came to a real boondoggle, we got away for 5 days, all paid, to play golf. We surely didn't win, but I'm pretty sure we also weren't last.

So life went on there, not too exciting, definitely safe, no one shooting at you. And then life changed again. It was a Sunday, maybe 6 months after I'd gotten to FAOUSA, and my mother was visiting, staying with an old school chum of hers who was married to a Washington lawyer, and I went over there for lunch. Also there was another old school chum and her husband, and the husband happened to be the Secretary of the Army, a fellow named Stan Resor. At some point he found out I was in the Army (my hair had grown out a bit, so it wasn't immediately obvious) and he chatted me up about what I was doing. So I told him. I think I also told him it was OK, but not real interesting.

A couple of days later I got a call, some colonel at the Pentagon, could I come over. I guess it was a job interview, though I'm not sure I realized it at the time. And a week later, another call, did I want to come work there. And there, the office where this colonel was chief of staff, was the office of one of the Assistant Secretaries of the Army, the one for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, a guy named William Brehm. Not knowing any better, I said yes.

So now I had an office, well, a cubicle. I was filling a spot normally occupied by either a major or a lt. colonel. I got handed about three volumes of a study which represented the current thinking about the Army's "force structure" (how the Army is organized) and told to educate myself, and about two or three weeks later I was on my way to becoming Brehm's expert on force structure, even though I really didn't know shit. Did I say I felt out of my league?

But it was an interesting time. 1969. Brehm was responsible each month for coming up with the number that needed to be drafted, that number was dropping, also the headcount in Vietnam was starting to come down. Interesting time. Brehm had a briefing book, most everything he needed close at hand when his boss called, it got updated every week and I was responsible for one section. You sure as hell didn't want to screw up. And then when he was going off to testify in Congress, there would be his statement to write, you'd write a draft and then he'd tear it up, and you'd do some more, and it would finally get to where he was happy with it. Learned more about writing concisely from him than anywhere else.

So always interesting, but always feeling like I was out of my league. Worked pretty long hours, six days a week. One Saturday, must have been November 1969, day of the Army-Navy game in Philadelpia, Brehm and others in his office had gone to the game, taken the train, just me and a couple of colonels around the office, and a call came from the office of the Ass't Vice Chief of Staff - Westmoreland was Chief of Staff, then there was the Vice Chief, don't know what he did, then there was the Ass't Vice Chief, a three-star, he ran the Pentagon staff operation - he was having a meeting about post-Vietnam scenarios for the force structure and he wanted someone from Brehm's office there. Well, that was my area, so off I went. The three star, I think maybe a one-star or two, three or 4 colonels, and me, by now a First Lieutenant. I was smart enough to keep my mouth shut, other than to say a couple of times, in relation to one proposal or another, "I don't think Mr. Brehm would be in favor of that."

Monday late morning I got called in to Brehm's office. Oh, shit. But he was quite delighted, said he'd heard I'd done well.

My other experience with the big brass was with Westmoreland himself. I played squash from time to time at the Officers Athletic Club at the Pentagon, played a pretty good game. One Sunday afternoon I went over there, didn't have a match scheduled, just hoping to find one. There was a guy in grey sweats at the window where you reserved a court, I heard him say his playing partner couldn't make it. I piped up, I was looking for a match and would be glad to play. He turned around and it was Westmoreland, knew it right away. He looked me up and down, thought for a moment, then said OK.

Interesting experience. Understand that I was already no fan of him. Also that I wasn't planning on making the Army a career, so in most things at the Pentagon I tended to say what I thought even if everyone outranked me by a lot. Anyway, we started to play, warmed-up for maybe 5 minutes, and I could tell right away that I was better than he was. First game, I think I won something like 15-5. I don't know if the common practice, or his expectation, was that I would roll over for him, but no way I was going to do that. Second game, maybe 15-4.

Time for one more game. My serve to start, the winner of the previous game always got to serve first, but he said, "Give me the ball." I tossed it to him, he took one slow walk around the court, catching his breath I guess, then tossed to ball back to me. 15-4 again. I was having a good time, but I think maybe he wasn't.

The half-hour was just about up. But, again, "Give me the ball." Another slow lap, another game, maybe 15-3 this time. Another "Give me the ball." I looked up to the spectator balcony, two guys watching, colonel types, obviously they had the court reserved next and we were already using some of their time. "Sir," I said, "I think those gentlemen have the court reserved now." Westmoreland looked up at them, "You don't mind if we play another game?" "No, sir, go right ahead, sir."

I was pissed. It was their court. Made it as fast as I could, 15-2. Got to say I enjoyed it. Except that the other two only had 10 minutes left of their half hour. That wasn't right.

Got outside the court. I said thank you. Westmoreland looked at me. "Where do you work?" "Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army," I said, knowing that on an organization chart of the Pentagon I was not under him. And also that I hadn't just blown any plans for a career, because there were no such plans. I still laugh about the experience, and it also still bothers me.

I guess it was August of 1970, my two years were up. Brehn wanted me to stay longer. I liked working for him, but I didn't want to re-up, so we got it fixed to shift over to civilian status. Six months after that he left for Los Angeles and the private sector. I said my good-byes, moved on.

I had a fascinating experience, very interesting staff position, learned a lot, got some skills and some confidence I hadn't had. I also missed the real Army experience, with a unit, some semblance of command perhaps, for better or worse. I ducked Vietnam. Never felt guilty about that, felt I was doing my national service, but still, classmates were in Vietnam, maybe dying. You can't not think about it. But in the end, you get up each morning, you do you job, and at some point you move on.

Part 3 - After the Army, Life

First the basics. I met Gail about the time my Army stint was finishing up, and we got married in 1973, the day Secretariat won the Triple Crown at Belmont. Much to her grandmother's dismay, we pulled out a TV during the reception to watch the race. Every year since then, when I hear people talking about the Triple Crown, I know I have to concentrate extra hard to try to remember our anniversary. This year especially, as number 40 is coming in a couple of weeks.

No kids, neither of us we really eager. I often wonder about that, wondered what life would have been like with kids. No way of knowing, of course. It certainly has made things easier financially, but that was never a consideration.

No career to speak of. A little time trying out life in a small business, didn't really like it as I walked away with the feeling that I didn't care for the ethics of many folks I was dealing with. After that we moved to New England (I grew up in NW Connecticut), to western Massachusetts, first for 9 years in Amherst where the state university is, and then the last 30 in the small town of Sunderland.

A running friend had the idea that he and I and one other guy ought to start a magazine about very long-distance running, ultramarathons, so I drifted into that. It turned out to be more substantial and more successful than I would have imagined. Spent 15 plus years doing that, mostly running the business side, also a bunch of writing and editing. Quite enjoyed it, worked very hard some weeks, hardly at all others. Sold it when the internet came along, didn't seem to me like that boded well for print publications.

And the next thing, again just sort of drifted into, back to my finance roots, a tax business, been doing that for about 15 plus years. I work like crazy for 3 months, hardly work at all for the other 9. Not so bad. I have too many clients for the available hours, but I like most of them, just ordinary people whom I feel like I'm giving a good service to at a reasonable rate. Makes me feel good about myself.

Others things: Health is generally good though there have been issues. Memory is disappearing, eyesight is not so good, hair is mostly gone (I've always had bad hair, so it's not really a big loss), had a hernia fixed a year ago. Major bump in the road was prostate cancer about 5 years ago. My dad had that, so when my PSA numbers went up I paid attention. It took about a year to deal with, first a couple of biopsies, with the second showing mid-level cancer, then figuring out what to do, and prostate cancer is a pisser, because it is not at all clear what to do - surgery, radiation in one of a couple of different ways, or even nothing at all on the theory that something else will get you first. Did a bunch of research, opted for surgery. Seems like it was successful, that all the cancer was contained in the prostate. My plumbing works a little differently, but it still works just fine. And I didn't have to put up with radiation or chemo. Cancer lite really. (Note: I can't imagine I'm the only one dealing with this. If anyone wants more details, I'm always happy to talk. And one of the best things I did was be public about it from day one. It made what is a very scary journey a whole lot less difficult.)

Sports: I think what I would really have liked to be in life was a professional athlete, but you need a different body for that. But I like being active. At some point in the early 1970s I discovered the sport of orienteering, found out I was really good at it, and I've been enjoying it ever since. And it also brought a few unexpected surprises: Peter Gagarin's passion How Peter Gagarin got on a Wheaties Box

Double Click the above photos to visit Peter Gagarins pages.

The orienteering also got me into running, just for fitness at first, and then into trail running and eventually marathons and ultramarathons, did I think 8 100-mile runs and maybe 25 50-milers and a bunch of marathons over the years. I won't deny that there was some pain, but always wonderful adventures. I'm still doing the orienteering regularly, still running regularly, everything slower of course but still better than giving up. Last ultra was a 50-miler about 4 years ago, I thought that was the end of them, but for some reason I signed up for another, two weeks from now. Not sure if I will make it or not, but I have already gotten a lot of pleasure out of the anticipation. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

And I have also returned to the game of golf, which I played as a kid and then quit for 25 years when real life intruded. My game is neither great nor terrible, but I have made a great deal of progress on the mental side, enjoying it more and more, getting pissed less and less, having a couple of good friends to share a few hours with from time to time. I just wish it hadn't taken me so many decades to make this progress, but better late than never.

Politics. The is an old saying to the effect that if you aren't a liberal when you are young then you don't have a heart, and if you aren't a conservative when you are old then you don't have a brain. I guess I have neither, as I've gradually moved from a conservative kid, certainly far removed from the student protests of the 60s, to a left-center old man, I'm guessing (though based on no facts) a fair bit removed from OCS classmates. So be it.

My involvement in politics has been strictly at the local level in Sunderland. First was getting on the Finance Board in Sunderland, and then chair of it for half a dozen years, responsible for the town's budget and oversight of its financial affairs. Presenting the budget at annual town meeting in front of a couple of hundred people, well, it was far from the only time I thought back to my OCS training, feeling stressed, but also feeling like I knew how to deal with the stress, how to think on my feet, how to project a voice out to a crowd. Then a few years on the school committee, then after that they talked me into being on the building committee for a new library. That was an experience, almost all good, and I smile every time I go by the building.

Peter's experience managing construction of the library

Friends: I have always been lousy at making friends, and then if I did make any, keeping them. Lonely all through my youth and early adult years. Kept up with no one from school or college or the Army. Orienteering was the one exception, a bunch of good friends for the last 30 or 40 years, perhaps the reason I have stayed with it. But I still get mostly failing marks in social matters. It just doesn't come easily. Some things I think you are just genetically hard-wired for.

And finally, family: A brother and a sister. Another brother shot himself in the early 70s, he had drug problems, very sad. My dad died a decade ago. We didn't get on too well and I didn't see him the last few years. He was very smart, very accomplished, very sure of himself, but somehow I just couldn't deal with him, and that was sad too. My brother has two kids, both wonderful. My mom, 94, is still alive. I never had much of a bond with her, she was always very private and reserved, so the last 3 years have been a bit of a surprise, as I now am in charge of her life. She still lives at home in Connecticut a couple of hours away, but now she needs 24-hour care. So I have 6 employees and I visit every week to deal with whatever needs dealing with. I never would have imagined being in this situation. I mean, I never really liked her. But at a certain point there was no choice. She fell, she got hurt, she was in the hospital, she wanted to be back home, and with my brother in Texas and my sister not able/willing (she could have used a little OCS training), it fell on me.

Honestly, I thought she might live a few months at most. Now it looks like she's not going anywhere soon. She has not so much of a life - almost blind, very hard of hearing, has to be fed, liquid foods only, needs help with everything, also pretty bad dementia. It doesn't seem like her life is much fun. But we take care of her as well as possible, and somehow I find myself willingly doing this for this person I never really loved. And it is all OK.

Who knows how many years we have left. Who knows what will happen. I have never known what I wanted to do. Things have just happened. But I am certainly happier than when I was young. There are always things you wish had been different, but fortunately also a lot of things that bring a smile. And that is not so bad.

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