With Veteran's Day just passed and so many of our young men rapidly joining those same ranks as Veterans of Foreign Wars, it made me proud that all of the men in my family have served their country in the military services. My oldest brother was a paratrooper and served in Korea and at one time all three of my brothers, Jerry, Lowell and Rick, were all stationed in Germany at the same time on separate military bases.
As most good G.I.s do, my brothers often got most of their immediate information from The Stars and Stripes, the Army newspaper. Imagine the shock of both Jerry the oldest and highest ranking at Master Sergeant, and the youngest brother, Richard, a PFC, Private First Class, upon reading an interview with their middle brother, Lowell, right on the front page.
He was quoted about being raised on a huge dairy farm that bred fine cattle, horses and herd dogs. It went on to say how he had been active in the training of all the animals, even teaching them fancy tricks and painting himself as something of a "horse whisperer" for all kinds of animals.
Further the article said that because of Lowell's vast experience with animals his platoon had chosen him to be in charge of the handling of the company mascot, a huge male lion so big and fierce, that he could easily have been a stand-in for the MGM beast roaring from the silver screen,
Of course both brothers were startled to read about the non-existent big homestead they had never seen or heard of before reading about it in the Army paper. Neither of them could wait to write Mama and Daddy about the news item. Both also wanted to know why Lowell got the "lion's share" of the big dairy farm and demanded their share. I can remember Mama reading that part of the letter to Daddy and laughing.
"Well I've always said about Lowell, 'He can take a story all the way out the door and around the corner.' He likes to embroider on the truth, that's all." Then she'd laugh and add, "What do you expect-he's six foot five-of course he's gonna tell tall tales." She'd refold the letters, shrug and turn back to the stove, still shaking her head and chuckling low to herself. She always had liked that part of him.
When Lowell came home on leave, his prize possession was an 8X10 black and white glossy photo of he and the lion setting on the hood of a jeep. He'd tell you all about the lion and how he got out of maneuvers and certain training sessions because he had to sit down in the basement by the lion's cage. He had convinced the higher ups that his proximity to the lion was a big part of his training plan.
"In the meantime I'm down there reading cowboy novels. There's not a Louis Lamour book I don't know." If you coaxed him even further you might get to see the red faced devil with blue black hair tattooed on his upper right bicep framed with the words BOOT HILL. He almost seemed to be winking at you when he flexed his muscle. "All the fellas in my unit used to call me Boot HIll so," then he'd flex again.
Finally, he might be convinced to hold up that photo and tell about the time Elvis Presley toured his army base and met up with Lowell's lion. Both the King and my brother were serving in the military at the same time. It was right after Elvis had exploded into stardom for a couple of years and then suddenly had been drafted into the service.
Yet even in the army, Elvis was afforded certain privileges that most enlisted men did not, and the army was determined to treat him like royalty when they gave him a tour of the facilities. "They figured it was probably good for the morale of the base," my brother would explain, "and I guess in a way it was."
"Well of course they want me to bring the lion out, you know, put on a big show for Elvis. So I combed his mane and got him about as nice and purty looking as I could, without letting him bite me." His hand would flinch automatically at this memory, as if he physically remembered some nasty bites. His gaze would go off into the distance and he'd add in a low, wistful voice, "He could be a nasty big cat sometimes."
Back to his story, he'd go on to say, "So when Elvis was walking around, he comes up to me and the cat and he just goes ahead and tries to pet the lion. I said, 'Whoa Elvis! Nobody can touch that lion but me.'
"Course, he don't listen to me, I guess he figures 'Hell! I'm Elvis! I'm the King! I can do whatever I want to do!' Because the next thing you know, he's reachin' his hand out to pet the lion. Just lucky thing I seen it and jerked the lion back. That ol' lion was just about ready to take a big bite out of his arm."
"You should've see Elvis jump back. That ol' lion would've even bit his arm clean off if not for me. You tell me how he could've played the guitar then? Who would've watched him in all them hip shaking movies then? He'd be off balance with just the one arm."
He'd lean back in his favorite chair, pop a can of Coors, and continue, "Yep. . .except for me jerking that ol' lion back, the whole entire history of rock and roll could've gone a whole other way. Musical history might have been changed forever right before my very eyes."