I met Mickey Mantle and even shook his hand. I sold Bob Hope a Rheingold when I hustled beer at Yankee Stadium. And, let me tell you the good fortune I stumbled across, when, in 1971, while my Marines provided security for the USO shown at Freedom Hill in Dan Nang, Jill St. John kissed me on the cheek. Well, that alone was a life-changing moment for a street rat from the East Bronx. Like Eliza Doolittle, "I Could Have Danced All Night."
But, now I'm pushing 71 and about the only thing that cranks my tractor is watching a thunderstorm on the prairie while smoking a cigar and pulling on a flask of Johnny Walker Blue. Yet, the other day I visited Gen. Michael Hagee, the retired 33rd commandant of the United States Marine Corps. Once again, I felt like a kid in a candy store.
I had previously arranged through the general's secretary to meet him at 8 a.m. I arrived at 7:45, with the understanding that if I didn't, I'd be considered 15 minutes late. The last thing I wanted to do was have the commandant, a four-star general, waitin' on me.
When Gen. Hagee appeared at precisely 8 a.m., my sensory impressions helped me see beyond the greatness of the man, outside of his accomplishments. What I saw was graciousness. I thought of Shakespeare's "Henry V," wherein he wrote, "He is as full of valor as of kindness. Princely in both."
It was apparent the general's graciousness was inborn. He was present not only in body, but in spirit and I sensed that his essence was that which is the best in human potential. As we spoke, I sensed his inner harmony and realized here is a man who has lived life well.
I appreciate biography and absorb the lives of men and women as they evolve. Those individuals who impose a lasting impression reveal accomplishments attributed to one's basic core: spirit, soul and body. Gen. Hagee is a man of such fiber.
I reminded the general that our first encounter had been a casual meeting during the fall of 1969. At the time, we were both 2nd lieutenants perfecting the skill sets that would enable us to become effective Marine Corps officers. I was in Alpha Company and the general was in Bravo. I find it serendipitous that 49 years hence, I would be writing these thoughts about a man who would go on to sit on the Joint Chiefs of Staff and advise the president of the United States.
I thought I had taken too much of the general's time. I thanked him for his time and begged my leave. I sensed his sincere reciprocal respect as he made me feel happy that I came.
You can't compare apples to oranges, but if I were to do so, I'd say visiting Gen. Hagee was right up there with getting a kiss from Jill St. John — maybe as close as 6- and 7/8's to a 7.