Camping with Pinky
Everyone has a special someone that stands out in their memories in a special way. That person might be a cousin with whom they were close or it might be one's grandmother or grandfather. It could be just about anyone with whom there was a special bond of friendship. One of those people for me was a fellow named Harold Bascom Durham or "Pinky." You see, Pinky was red headed like his mother. Now, when I say red, I mean red. His hair was not deep red. Nor was it auburn. It was RED! He also had a ruddy complexion and a smile a foot wide. I remember that Pinky had one tooth out right in the front. I seem to recall that he got it knocked out while spinning a bicycle rim backwards and making it come back to him. It seems that it jumped up and knocked the tooth out. Well, anyway, he had a false tooth that he could run in and out of his mouth while being silly, which was often. Pinky and his brother Johnny lived just around the corner and up the street a little from me. I lived on Pine Street and they lived down Missouri Avenue just about half way. There was a gang of us that played together and became like brothers and sisters. There was me, Johnny and Pinky, Nick Bennett and his brother Ray and a couple of others whose names escape me right now. This was when we were all about seven or eight years old. Nick Bennett was a couple of years older and so was Johnny. Those were the days when kids went outside and played all day. Not everything we did was safe but no one told us not to do them soooo... One of the things I remember that we did was that we would have Nick Bennett's older brother shoot his bow and arrow straight up in the air. It would go out of sight and we would all stand around with our hands over our heads as if our fingers would stop an arrow from piercing our skulls. It always seemed to land a few yards away and no one was ever hurt, so....we did it often! We also played "war" a lot. I remember that we were all "soldiers" and fighting an enemy. One of the favorite weapons was our hand grenades better known as pine cones. Dirt clobs made good bombs. They even made a cloud of dust when they "exploded" upon impact. We lobbed them with all the furor of a soldier fighting a fierce battle. And, we always won. Something our country needs to practice today.
Well, time passed by and we grew into teenagers but the childhood friendships lasted and we were all buddies. Nick Bennett had a wonderful singing voice and he later sang opera. Johnny had a beautiful bass voice and he travelled the world with a boy's choir. Pinky and I hung around. But before I get ahead of myself I want to recall a time when I went out to Pinky's house, which was by a lake, and camped out with him. All the preparation was made. The tent was set up. The cot was placed. The blankets were brought out of the house. Water was in the canteen. Mosquito repellant was doused on and we were ready to sleep out in the tent by the lake. Pinky, Johnny and I hunted rabbits well into the night and then it was time to try to get some sleep. Well...we had a wide cot so Pinky and I slept on the same cot. He tossed and turned. He snored. He pulled the covers off of me all night long. Then, about four in the morning, I awoke and found that Pinky was gone. I thought to myself....that little jerk! He has gotten uncomfortable and he has gone back inside to his warm bed. It was the time of the morning when the sun was trying its best to get ahead of itself and shed a little bit of light but it wasn't much. I barely could see. And, here I was outside by the lake by myself! Spooky feeling! My Crossman pellet gun was over in the corner of the tent. I could barely make it out. But, it wasn't pumped up and loaded with a pellet. No good in an emergency! I lay there listening to all the noises outside the tent and my imagination had some kind of lake monster slithering up toward me. From time to time I would hear a strange sound and the tent would slightly move. Chills would run all over me and my hair would stand straight up on my head and arms. What in the world could it be. I wish I had my pellet gun with me. It's all the way over there in the corner. Where are my pellets? How fast can I pump it up and get it loaded? Would it stop the intruder which was surely about to attack me and drag me into the lake? It got brighter and brighter. I could clearly see my gun now. The dew was thick as I dared a peek out the entrance to the tent. Finally, it was bright enough to give me some courage. Boy, I couldn't wait to jump all over Pinky for abandoning me and going back inside. Chicken! Well, I quietly tip-toed across the tent, got my pellet gun; loaded it, and felt like a big game hunter in Africa. Confidence returned, so I parted the flaps on the front of the tent and boldly peeked outside one eye at a time. Nothing! What was causing the tent to move and shake every little bit? I walked around the side of the tent and lo and behold, what did I see? There was Pinky on the ground all wrapped up in the blankets, sleeping soundly. He had rolled off the cot, slipped out from under the tent and the tent ropes were all that kept him from rolling down into the lake. When he would move, the tent would shake. That lake monster that was going to slither up, get me and eat me up was none other than a soundly sleeping Pinky Durham. I was flooded instantly with several emotions. Relief, aggravation and humor were all mixed up in me at the same time. I wanted to do something mischievous to make him pay the price of worrying me and scaring me half to death for the past few hours. Anyway, I woke Pinky up and he squinted his eyes in the morning light and said: "What am I doing out here?" How did he know what I was thinking? He was covered with dew and the blankets were wet from the morning moisture. We both laughed at the whole thing and went inside so his mother, "Red" Durham could fix us some breakfast which she did. She was one of my favorite people. There was a mixture of devilment, feistiness and fun all running around in her which made her someone you just had to like. Pinky was full of her. Breakfast was really good that morning.
So, my adventure of Camping with Pinky was something to remember. I have thought about it many times over the years. One never really knows who they are friends with when they are young. Some of one's friends may go on to be famous politicians. Some of them become very wealthy business men. Others excell as educators and writers. But, Pinky, now that's a different story. He went into the army about 1965 and later came by the clothing store where I worked. He had been to Vietnam and returned safely and he had decided to go to Officers Training School and return to Vietnam as an officer. I remember talking with him one day in Rollins Men's Shop. He had stopped by to see all of the guys in the store while he was between OTC and shipping out to Vietnam. I said: "Pinky, why in the world do you want to go back to Vietnam. You made it out one time and I don't think you should push your luck." He replied; "Man, it's going to be good. Vietnam is good duty. There are the hot spots but it's really good duty most of the time." When he left that day, I didn't realize that I had seen and talked to one of my very best friends for the last time. It wasn't but about two or three months later someone walked into the men's store and said, "have you heard that Pinky Durham was killed in Vietnam?" I was stunned. I cried. I couldn't believe it. I recalled my conversation to him about not going back. I was sick at my stomach and at heart also. You see, while others pursued their life goals and achieved a lot, Pinky died fighting for our country. But, that's not the end of the story. He was given the Medal of Honor for how he died. He protected his men to the last breath. He gave himself up for them. This time the bullets were real. The bombs were not clods of clay as when we played so many years before. They actually exploded. Death came stalking through the jungle of Vietnam seeking Pinky Durham. But he had a hard time claiming him because he wasn't dealing with just an average human being. Death was dealing with Pinky Durham and he gave that old enemy of ours a tough fight and at the same time he was saving the lives of many of his fellow soldiers. Life ended for my friend. His brother, John, and the family went to the White House for President Nixon to present the Medal of Honor to Pinky posthumously. In 1985 or thereabouts, there was a large ceremony in the Tifton cemetery at which a Medal of Honor headstone was placed for Pinky. It has his picture on it and it is emblazoned with the Medal of Honor symbol. He made a mark bigger than most all of the rest of us put together. I was asked by John to come to the ceremony and lead in prayer. It was one of the biggest honors of my life. Can't be matched. All these many years later, tears roll down my cheeks as I write about Pinky. The church I pastored for 31 years always had a Patriotic Extravaganza every other year on July 4th. We always remembered those attached to our church family who are deceased veterans. I always made sure that Pinky's photo was shown along with the others. The inscription under the picture says: "Pinky Durham, boyhood friend of Brother Bill." I will never forget him.
So, the boy who rolled off the cot, stole my blanket, scared me half to death making me think a monster was shaking the tent, was the same boy who won the Medal of Honor only a few years later. One never knows who they are childhood friends with or what they might do in the future. I never knew that my buddy, Pinky Durham, was going to die the way he did and I never, in my wildest dreams, would have thought that I was camping out with a Medal of Honor winner. But, that night, by the lake, many years ago, it was fun Camping with Pinky.
William F. Harrell