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October 22, 2020 By R.A. Jones

Tap Dancer

Back in the sixties on the shore of Monterey Bay, the Tenth Infantry planted its colors at long gone Fort Ord. One day, the commander and his officers sat at a long table planning for a training maneuver in the field. I was a captain and a rifle company commander. My thoughts wandered while an engineer lieutenant droned on about an uncertain bridge our tracked vehicles would have to cross.

Opposite from me sat the captain commander of “B” Rifle Company with some of his officers. He seemed vaguely familiar. His name tag read, “Lyon.” Captain, infantry, parachute qualified, green combat leader’s tab, he was the real McCoy. I knew him by reputation as a U.C. Davis ROTC officer. Then someone called him, “Walt.” OK, Walt Lyon. Once, he had mentioned Richmond. Then I got it. Years before, when we were both very young, he had lived next door to my grandmother in Richmond. He usually got called in for tap dancing practice.

A tap dancer? In that rugged outfit? That was too rich. I chewed my pencil and smiled at how he’d take the ambush. At break time, we pushed our chairs back. I looked across at Captain Lyon who was talking to his lieutenants.

“Captain Lyon?” I asked, for we weren’t on a first-name basis.

“Yes,” he replied.

“Do you still tap dance?”

“TAP DANCE!” he fairly shouted. “What makes you think I know anything about that?”

“When you used to live next to my grandmother on 4th Street in Richmond, you used to get called in to practice tap dancing.”

“Oh, thank you,” he said in disgust, because what was coming next was clear.

“Geez, sir,” said one of the lieutenants with more nerve that the others. “Can you really tap dance? How cool.”

“Show us a couple of snappy steps, sir,” laughed another.

“Hey, sir, you could do a number in the group talent show coming up.”

“Yeah, like Fred Astaire. And for a partner we could find you a Ginger Rogers down on the pier in Monterey. You could teach her a couple of snazzy steps.”

“She’d have to have good legs.”

“We’d check that out at the audition.”

“Yeah, at happy hour. And we could get her a top hat and a snappy black outfit.”

“You two would be a sure shot to win.”

“Alright, OK you’ve all cracked up. Anybody who really thinks this is good idea mention it tomorrow at P.T. and we’ll discuss it while we’re doing pushups.” “And thank you, Captain Jones,” he said. “If this goes any further, I’m going to tell them you took piano lessons.” Which was true.

In the end, none of it happened. In a few short weeks, some of us were ordered out on the first big American push into Vietnam. Smiles faded. The show out there was conducted over open gunsights.

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