February 3, 2011
John Kinstrey's memories of moving from The Bronx to Levittown and years later reuniting with an old friend while in the Army
By John Kinstrey '61
When I first came out to the island from The Bronx, Tom Baker - then Tommy Paturzo - was hangin' with Louis Lopez, Steve Mohr, Richie Ostrowski, Johnny O'Brien (Louis' cousin) and a kid named Pierre Woog who had a fox of a sister named Nikki. They were all in the 5th grade, Nikki was in the 7th.
Unfortunately, I was in the 4th and at that stage of life the "big country kids" didn't relish having to drag some "younger city kid" around with them. But, Steve Mohr's folks (Uncle Charlie and Aunt Ethel) and my folks had been friends since before WWII and, I guess, due to parental pressure, he was told to take care of his "cousin". At least until I could swim and find my way back from the West Village Green pool by myself.
These "country" kids knew some neat stuff. We would take sewing thread spools with a rubber band over the end and shoot the old wooden, light-on-anything, stick matches at each other as we ran down the street setting peoples yards on fire with any match you couldn't manage to get into somebody's pocket or at least launch into their hair. We created these medieval carpet guns out of a piece of wood from an old orange crate, a rubber band, a bottle cap and a clothes pin. We could shoot one-inch pieces of linoleum at a thousand feet per second at each other - long before OSHA required safety glasses. Pete Smith, whose dad managed a drive-in movie, had potatoes and tomatoes growing behind his house on the Old Motor Parkway right-of-way. Ate them raw with some salt. Wow, this "country stuff" was cool.
Anyway, within my first week in town, this Ostrowski guy thought he could pick on me and face no retribution whatsoever - he thought. Enter Tommy Paturzo. Whatever Tommy said to him worked. At that stage of our lives, Tommy was the only one who even had biceps, much the less the 18 inchers. In any event, the Big O never laid a hand on me again. That was the first time Tommy had saved me. Once I got into the 4th grade crowd, Tommy and I only said “hey” every so often. That was the way it went for the duration of our school years.
Fast forward to 1978. I was, at that time, the Operations Officer for the 5th Training Brigade, Fort Dix, New Jersey. A former special forces captain, on the list for major, I was completely out of my element. The Army had just moved all the mechanics and truck driver training programs to us from Fort Jackson and Fort Knox, and I knew nothing about either of those specialties. In addition, we had to integrate female trainees into a facility which, until then, had been an infantry training environment, hence, all male. My boss tells me, on top of all the other things I had to do, to develop a Sexual Harassment/Rape Crisis Program. Sure. Ouch!
Then, my civilian admin person tells me - the last words an active duty guy wants to hear on a crazy, busy Monday morning - "Sir, you've got a reserve captain coming in next week for two weeks active duty." Great. Just friggin' great. Some frumpleman reservist, probably wearing a wig to cover up his ponytail (which was OK back then). "Send him to the motor pool and let him count truck parts. That should take up at least 14 days."
So a week later into my office comes this Army reserve captain, looking sharp as a tack in his short sleeve summer tan uniform; creases perfect, medals and ribbons aligned and with, what appeared to be, 20-inch biceps. The name tag above his right pocket said BAKER. He stopped three feet in front of my desk - I thought he was going to salute but there was no time... eye contact was made and it was "TOMMY!" ... "JOHNNY!" That's what they called me in the 4th grade.
The folks in the outer office must have thought it was a fist fight. We talked. Closed the years' gap. As it turned out, Captain Tom Baker had been involved in developing the same programs while formerly a police officer in Virginia Beach. But now he's a professor of sociology at the University of Scranton, and says he'd be happy to help me out. No parts counting for Captain Tom. No Sir! Tommy had saved me the second time and I would be forever grateful. As it turned out, the final document became a model for other installations Army-wide as the male/female specialties merged at an increasing rate.
Before Tom left Fort Dix to return to his professorial chores, my wife (Sharon) and I had the opportunity to have dinner with he and his lovely wife Jane at the McGuire Air Force Base Officer's Club. For dessert we had about four inches of rain in 20 minutes. McGuire AFB has a two-mile runway, a gazillion feet wide, and a like number of taxiways. Concrete everywhere. With no place to go, the rain became rivers. The rivers lakes. As we tried to negotiate this unrelenting deluge, it was apparent we were doomed. A missed turn into a dark warehouse complex turned out to be our only salvation. We drove up onto one of the loading docks and waited out the storm. I know Tom and Jane get a kick out of this memory.
John Kinstrey is retired and lives in North Carolina. He and Sharon have been married 35 years and have a daughter, a son and a pair of grandkids.