My Life at Age Six

Alamo in San Antonio TX USA
We visited the Alamo in San Antonio Texas USA.

After being an Army doctor at Madigan Army hospital for three years, my father was sent to San Antonio TX USA in order to study tropical medicine for one year at Fort Sam Houston. He bought a station wagon for his growing family and obtained a trailer for transporting our household goods. We drove down to Oregon and visited the farm of my maternal great-uncle Frank Stangl in Wilsonville. Then we drove further to San Francisco and stayed with my cousins near Golden Gate Park. My same-age cousin took my brother Larry and me to Golden Gate Park and to the Pacific Ocean. Then we drove past the Salten Sea and we went to Kansas to visit my father's best friend, Dr. Winton W. Wilcox. His son had an elaborate train set in the basement, and told spooky stories at night which scared the daylights out of me. I was very suggestible, and I could not distinguish between the made-up stores and the truth.

My father rented a house on the outskirts of San Antonio near an airport. My brother and I would sometimes ride our bicycles to the airport, or stop on the way and watch guys flying gas-powered model airplanes round and round on a tether. In the back yard there was a pecan tree and a rented-out garage under which a skunk lived.

Across the backyard fence a somewhat older neighbor boy would show Larry and me how he could connect batteries and wires to a little flashlight bulb and make it shine. That demonstration was my introduction to experimentation with electricity, leading eventually to my solving the problem of Natural Language Understanding in artificial intelligence. We thought that the neighbor boy was terribly sophisticated. He had once been arrested or ticketed for spitting on the sidewalk.

My brother and I went to grade school at Saints Peter and Paul School in San Antonio. The nun teaching me used the popular "Dick and Jane" books to teach reading, but our family left for the Panama Canal Zone before I could catch on to reading. At Christmas our first-grade class had a gift exchange. We each had to bring an inexpensive gift for another child. I received some kind of toy rocket into which a cap with gun-powder was to be inserted so that throwing the toy down on a hard surface made a loud noise. Another boy with black hair saw my toy and came over to show me how it worked. He threw it straight down and made a very loud noise. The nun at the front of the room was very annoyed and said, "Who did that?" I had not done it, so I did not respond. The other boy, who was what Mad Magazine would call a "ratfink", pointed to me and said, "It's his toy," as if I had done the misdeed of his own doing. From then on the teacher seemed to be out to get me and punish me. I was too dumbfounded by the false accusation to say anything in my own defense.

My father taught Larry and me how to play chess in San Antonio. He also took the family out onto a highway or avenue where we could get a glimpse of General Dwight David Eisenhower campaigning for president against Adlai Stevenson. General Eisenhower had masterminded the D-Day invasion and had defeated Nazi Germany in World War Two. We saw him from about half a block away as a gray-haired man standing up in a convertible car. Years later, when I was a U.S. Army soldier at Redstone Arsenal in Alabama and General Eisenhower passed away, the Army sent me and at least one bus-load of other soldiers in uniform into downtown Huntsville to march in a parade honoring the general who had defeated the Germans and who had served two terms as president. As time went by, I also became familiar with Eisenhower's warning to the American people about the "military-industrial complex".

Our parents took Larry and me out of school early, before the end of the school-year, in order to begin the long journey to Fort Gulick in the Panama Canal Zone. First we drove up to Seattle to say good-bye to all our relatives. Then my father set out driving three thousand miles to New York City for a voyage by passenger ship down into the Caribbean and onwards to the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal Zone. We stayed in motels all the way across America. At one stop, I asked my father to buy me a little cigar like the big ones that my Grandpa Yagle smoked. The little cigar made me cough and choke, so I could not finish smoking it. That cigar was my one experiment in life with smoking tobacco or anything else. My brother Larry smoked cigarettes for many years and suffered terrible damage to his lungs, cutting short his life before his time.

On the good ship Goethals we stopped in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on our way to Panama. Before we disembarked for a stroll in San Juan, we watched an American Army band play stirring marches on the pier below the ship. In the intervening water, Puerto Rican boys were diving down for coins thrown from the ship by its passengers. I watched the boys dive ten or fifteen feet down in pursuit of coins. When we left the ship for a short walk, we saw land-crabs scurrying about on the pier.

When we arrived at Fort Gulick, another military family sponsored us, just as we in turn sponsored another family later on, which included a little redhaired girl whom I would go and visit, only to be accused by another Army-brat of having a girlfriend. Our sponsors showed us how to get settled in at our first quarters, half of a house at the bottom of the road leading up to the Officers' Club. It was a shock to experience nightfall just across the road from the Panamanian jungle. There was a deafening din of millions of insects making incessant noise all night long. The jungle began abruptly at the edge of what was otherwise a normal American lawn of ordinary green grass. Where the grass ended, stood a massive wall of green vegetation. At first our parents would not let us kids go into the jungle. We went to the outdoor swimming pool and I took swimming lessons. The teenage girl teaching swimming taught me how to open my eyes under water. Soon I was dog-paddling in the deep end, and I realized that I could swim in water twelve feet deep there, or twelve miles deep in the ocean.

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