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Jewell: ‘Year Ender’ in the desert

dfox • Updated Nov 17, 2015 at 8:52 AM

I’ve belonged to the San Diego Telephone Golf Association for about 25 years. Each year, the group heads to the Palm Springs area for two days of golf to end our tournament cycle. 

Much has changed in that quarter of a century. When I first joined, the group was capped at 100 members. There are now 40 members. We have some from retirement and relocation. A number have joined that golf course in another place.

Initially, Jim Hileman invited me to join his foursome. Jim was an aviation technician on the USS Ranger during the Vietnam War. After serving his obligatory two years, he started working for AT&T and retired about two years ago after rising to a management position.

I first met Jim at my wedding reception. His wife, Sharon, and Maureen went to high school together. Sharon attended the wedding. Jim arrived at the end of the reception. When introduced, Jim explained he played golf earlier. I asked him why hadn’t he asked me to play. We’ve been fast friends and golfing buddies ever since.

Our foursome composition has changed. Several also have relocated. We lost one to cancer. It appears we now have the foursome for the duration.

Marty Linville has been with us for at least ten years. Marty and I began playing Friday morning golf at Navy courses in 1991. 

Peter Toennies is our newest member, joining us a half dozen years ago.

I enjoy the association, playing a different course each month and strictly by the rules of golf. 

For years, the association played the “year ender” in September. From mid-May until October, the cost of playing in the desert is a bargain. Why? High temperatures wander between 110 and 130 during those months. Green fees are slashed as well as lodging. But as the group aged, playing in decent weather became more important than great prices.

Usually our wives join us for the weekend, but this year only Sharon Hileman came with her husband. Marty drove Pete and I on the two-plus hour drive where we stayed in Pete’s time-share condominium at Shadow Ridge. 

Somewhere in the middle of this expedition, it occurred to me I was in my element. Yes, my element is home away from home: a Lebanon native in the Southwest corner. There were three golfers sharing a condo together in a desert turned destination. We spent our afternoons looking out on a golf course, with wine and cheese, and discussing the military, past, present, and future. You see, the three of us are retired military veterans.

Marty served two tours in Vietnam in Army artillery. He was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action, fighting off a larger force when the Viet Cong attacked his battery near Laos. Marty served in “purple tours” with the Air Force and Navy before it was a popular thing to do. His last active duty assignment was at the Naval Amphibious School where he was in charge of the San Clemente Island Naval gunfire range. After retirement, he worked as an expert in human/weapon systems interface in tactical and strategic scenarios.

Pete retired as a Navy Captain from his position as Chief of Staff for the Navy Seals Special Operations command. During the Iraq war, he was in charge of a unit that was stationed on a barge in the Persian Gulf and interdicted ships suspected of carrying contraband weapons, cargo, and personnel in support of the Iraqi military. He worked with the Army, Marines, Air Force, and foreign military units from the Philippines to India.

In our talks, I mostly sat and listened. Two loyal, concerned veterans of the highest order discussed our military forces and humbly told stories of their exploits. None of the three of us have the need to be glorified. We spent our combined 70-plus years of service because it was our job.

En route to our rounds each morning, we passed Cathedra City’s Patriot Park. On Saturday, the city held their tenth “Healing Field” ceremony where citizens walk through 5500 U.S. flags representing our lost personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan. The prepositioned flags were impressive.

The sight and our afternoon discussions put a fitting denouement on the week of Veteran’s Day.

Jim Jewell, a retired Navy commander lives in San Diego but was raised in Lebanon. His book, A Pocket of Resistance: Selected Poems, is now available through Author House, Amazon and Barnes and Noble online. Jim’s email is [email protected].

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