|In 1970 I was stationed at Guided Missile
School, Dam Neck, Va.
Having completed the Polaris Electronics-‘A'
school I was now in MK-84 Fire Control-‘C' school. The holidays were rapidly
approaching and I wanted to return home to Kansas.
Back then my ‘baby' was a 1968 Dodge
Charger RT. Ah, now there was a car. 440 cubic inches of fire breathing,
drop-forged, bullet proof, glow-in-the-dark, Detroit steel. My leather
seated, golden steed, trimmed with bolt on horsepower goodies made me the
envy of the Topeka 57th street drag racers.
Yes, there in Kansas, in freezing snow
my baby waited patiently for my return and rescue. As a nephew once put
it, "Dale, I only read about the muscle car era, you lived it!"
I had thought I would fly home and bring
my "baby" back when I returned. Only I had a small problem, no money. A
combination of Virginia Beach horseplay, barracks poker and car payments
had me down to about $40 until the next eagle's flight. But now like the
grasshopper who had fiddled away the summer, I was wondering how would
I ever get home?
After an anxious week and with some
guidance and reassurance by a sea-daddy now land locked as an instructor,
I planned getting two military hops and hitchhiking the rest. It would
take a couple of days, but I would be home.
So on December 23rd, Seaman Dale L.
Worley in dress blues with nothing other than $40, my black gym bag with
shave kit and a couple of days socks and skivvies, set out on my adventure
in a haze gray shuttle bus from Dam Neck to Oceana. I was barely 18 years
of age, heading home and had the world by the tail.
About 1100 I boarded a C-130 military
hop from NAS Oceana bound for NAS Willow Grove somewhere around Philadelphia.
Upon arrival things suddenly took an unanticipated turn. The flight to
the Naval Air Reserve Center in Chicago early on the 24th was canceled
due to snow. I was afraid that everything was about to be canceled due
to snow. I decided to put this matter in God's hands.
Undaunted and with the help of a sympathetic
Airdale heading home to his family we developed plan B. We surmised that
if I got on the Pennsylvania Turnpike my problems would be over. The turnpike
(I-76) would turn into I-70 and I-70 goes right through Topeka, Kansas
with the south Topeka exit 4.5 miles from my Moms front door. The Chief
gave me a lift to I-276.
Here is where it gets amazing.
As I thanked him for the lift, the snow
started falling. So there I am, by the side of the road in dress blues,
hair high and tight, young, confidant and praying. Within 10 minutes I'm
in a car heading west to the turnpike and the mountains of Pennsylvania.
I went from exit to exit, car to truck, truck to car. Across the mountains
in the dark and in falling snow, never once having to wait more than 5
minutes by the side of the road.
Maybe it was the sight of a young man
in uniform during those turbulent years, maybe it was pity, and maybe it
was the Christmas spirit shining down on me through other people's hearts.
I don't know. All I know is that some wonderful people took me in, fed
me, let me sleep and transported me toward home.
The snow never ended.
Mile after mile I thought of home. I
met amazing folks. I listened to joyous stories and heartbreaking ones.
Mile after mile I thought of home. I slept in a trucker's semi cab and
on the floor of a van driven by hippies. I ate cookies destined for others
and was given pocket money to get coffee at the next stop.
I stepped out onto the snow again at
Lawrence, Kansas at about 2000 on the 24th. Lawrence is 20 miles from home.
The snow fell, and I stood there with traffic thinning as people went to
their homes for Christmas Eve. I stood there with my gloved thumb stretched
skyward as car after car disappeared into the white. After about 20 minutes
I was very cold and becoming discouraged.
This was to be a surprise. Mom didn't
know I was coming.
I had confessed on the phone to her
of my transgressions and poverty and she was clearly saddened by it. My
first Christmas away from home, I don't think she was ready for it. There
was something else, too that I learned of later. Mom was ill, very ill.
The wind was bitter. I backed into it
with my peacoat collar turned up. I thought I'd just walk into Lawrence
and call Mom. I was heading for the exit ramp when a car pulled over and
the door opened. Inside were 5 angels. College girls asking me if I needed
As we headed west they told me that
they were returning from the airport in Kansas City where two of the girls
had just arrived from college back east. I explained where I was going
and had come from. They asked me if they could buy me something to eat
in Topeka. I wanted to get home, but not wanting to offend my gracious
new friends, accepted.
We pulled into Topeka and proceeded
to the Pizza Hut, one of my high school haunts. In we went, a young sailor
in dress blues, in Kansas, on Christmas Eve. escorted by 5 of the most
gorgeous young women on the face of the earth. The place came to a standstill.
I knew some of the kids in there that night. I swaggered over to their
tables and said hi to them. The girls ordered pizza and pitchers of beer.
We ate, talked and decided it was time to go.
The angels had decided to take me to
Mom's. We pulled up just after 2200, they shined the headlights on the
front door, and I thanked them, got out and walked over to the door. As
I was about to knock, my Mother opened the door to see who was in the drive.
She saw me and started to cry, I hugged her and started to cry. As I looked
back over my shoulder the girls in the car were crying. They waved and
I went inside and all was right with
the world that Christmas Eve.