August 23, 2014

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Dan Coughlin: Thankful to have a hometown sports job

It was on Nov. 21, 1963 – forty-four years ago – that I got my walking papers from the Army. It was my discharge date. I had been drafted two years earlier, dragged off my first newspaper job, and for most of my hitch, assigned to the First Armored Division in Fort Hood, Texas.
I reflect on those two years with gratitude because nobody shot at me. I was never in danger. This is my Thanksgiving Day.
That was just before the Vietnam War got out of hand. Troops returning from Vietnam in the early 1960s told wonderful stories of their roles as “advisers” in that civil war. They lived in a hotel in Saigon where maids washed their clothes and shined their boots. In the morning they went out on patrol with South Vietnamese soldiers to shoot some Viet Cong and by 5 p.m. they were back in the hotel bar, showered and shaved and guzzling American beer.
So highly coveted was this duty that to get there you were required to add a third year on your hitch. Some guys did drink the Kool-Aid and signed up.  Not me.  I had written to several newspapers to schedule job interviews and the most promising was a position with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a reputable rag owned by the Pulitzer family. I figured I`d win a couple of their prizes along the way.
My interview with the managing editor was arranged for Nov. 22, 1963, a Friday, at
2 p.m., Central Time. Three of us left Fort Hood on Thursday afternoon and drove north through Dallas – through that fateful underpass – and on to St. Louis. The other two dropped me off at the Statler Hotel early in the morning and they continued east. I never saw or heard from them again. I slept for a few hours.
It was just past 12:30 while I was getting dressed that a lady on KMOX-TV stopped playing the piano and an off-camera voice told us that President Kennedy had been shot on that same stretch of road where I had been less than 24 hours earlier.
Shamefully, my first thought was that my interview would be cancelled, which of course it was. The managing editor`s secretary and I agreed that I would call the next week and reschedule it. I flew home to Cleveland on Saturday.
This is the part that I tell high school kids on career days. Some day they`ll look for a job. Start your search at church, I tell them.
Sunday morning, back home in Lakewood, I ran into an old family friend after the 12 o`clock Mass at St. Clement`s Church and he told me that The Plain Dealer was looking for a sportswriter. He knew the sports  editor, Gordon Cobbledick.
“I`ll tell him you`re going to call him,” said J. Ralph Novak, an old newspaperman himself.
I started in January.
I don`t know many people with more to be thankful for than yours truly. I found work in my hometown. Later I began a wonderful relationship with this paper that has been going on twice a week for over 20 years. Imagine! You and I go back to the 80s. I don`t know about you, but I`m grateful. About the same time I bumbled into Fox 8. I imagine there are people who wonder why I don`t concentrate on one of them and do it right.
I`m lucky to have four children, mostly grown, who have both parents, many uncles and aunts and dozens of cousins. What they know about my business is that they were always told to keep quiet when Dad was writing a column. They inherit their bad manners from me.
I still owe the Post-Dispatch a phone call.