Do you understand sacrifice?
I finally found his name on the memorial. There it was, chiseled in marble – “HARLEY CRUDHOLTZ”. He had been a high school classmate of mine. It was an odd name, and it was just too easy to make fun of. “Crudholtz” easily became “Crudhole”, which described his lack of cleanliness, and “Harley” just seemed to be too fancy to suit him. My classmate pals and I had never heard of anyone named Harley before. Of course, in the sixties, the iconic Harley Davidson motorcycle had yet to become a symbol of coolness. The name seemed very distinguished now, engraved forever on this shining stone wall.
My pals and I were known as “college prep” students, back in the day. This kind of set us apart from most of our classmates. Maybe many of us really were headed to college, but we didn’t have a clue yet as to what trade or profession we would pursue. We were aware, however, that our classes were harder than the other student’s classes, and we really did put in long hours of studying. I guess some of us thought we had earned a higher spot in the “pecking order”. Some of us had an attitude to go along with our “superiority”. Unfortunately, Harley, and people like him, bore the brunt of our wisecracks and ridicule.
Harley became a standing joke and laughingstock among us, first because of his appearance. We made fun of him behind his back because he looked a little like a cave man. He was of average build. Maybe he was on the sturdy, muscular side. It was his face that suggested a cave man look. He had a slightly protruding brow which overhung his eyes. His eyebrows had no arch, but instead, ran straight across above his nose. The term for it nowadays is “unibrow”. Under that crude brow his eyes were squinty, and dark and deep-set. Nobody ever really gazed into them closely enough to detect that there was a certain glint in his eyes. His haircut was a close butch or flat-top, which the varsity jocks like us favored. He sported a little pineapple-like sprout at the widow’s peak.
Harley’s physical movements lacked any grace. In gym class, whenever we played basketball, he dribbled the ball improperly by slapping it hard up and down against the floor, lacking much control of it. His clumsiness gained him the additional label of “the clod”.
We had to admit that he was a good team player. He played JV football as a freshman and sophomore. We watched the JV play one afternoon, and Harley performed exactly as he was coached, even at the risk of injury. He was playing linebacker when suddenly the opposing fullback, a big beefy kid, broke free and was racing full speed down the sideline with only Harley between him and the goal line. Harley stood his ground and lowered his shoulder into the knees of the runner, taking a terrible blow, and the fullback went down. Apparently, the coach never taught anyone how to simply push a runner out of bounds.
Crudholtz was a bus student from “Wildcat Ridge”, several miles away, and nobody knew how he got home from after-school football practice or games. As far as anyone knew, no one ever picked him up to take him home. There was a rumor once that he was seen jogging down Occidental Highway in the direction of his home. Somebody said that Harley’s mother had wrecked their car on one of the road’s sharp curves.
“Wildcat Ridge” was a group of homes, mostly shacks, at the bottom of a deep, remote river gully that ran through our section of the county. There may not have been running water in some of those homes, since the water and electric service was spotty down there. This might have explained Harley’s perpetually stale and unwashed clothing. Clearly, he never brushed his teeth. My teenage friends and I never put two and two together. We couldn’t fathom living with insufficient utilities. Reliable city services were taken for granted in our neighborhoods. All we cared about regarding “Wildcat Ridge” was that occasionally we would drive down there at night for the adventure of doing it. It was said that some residents there were known to brandish shotguns toward unwelcome nighttime visitors. Strange traffic was quickly noticed down there.
A couple things happened later in high school that caused me to start changing my opinion about Harley. One time I was in the hall with my buddy Tom Dixon, and Harley came out the door of a new class and declared to no one in particular, “I want to learn. I want to get a good grade”.
Tom said to me, “That’ll be the day”.
I said, “Well at least he has a goal, and some determination. Some of these guys don’t even try”.
Another time, my buddy and I were talking to some girls in the hallway about an upcoming dance, where the roles were switched, and the girls had to ask the guys.
Tom was joking around and said to Sally, a cheerleader, “I heard you were going to ask Harley Crudhole”.
“Harley Crudhole”, she scoffed, making a fist at Tom. “I wouldn’t invite him to a hog wallow”.
Just then, Harley burst around the corner, red faced, and quickly walked by, picking his way through the crowded hall. I saw his eyes for an instant before he looked away. They were wet.
“I’m afraid he overheard you”, I said.
Tom looked at me and said, “Why don’t you run after him and let him cry on your shoulder?”
I felt sorry for him, but I didn’t think much more about it. I never forgot it though.
Soon after graduation, Harley joined the Army. It suited him well, and he liked it. I, and most of my friends went on to college. According to official accounts, Harley was part of a rifle squad pinned down by enemy fire. His squad leader was killed right away, along with a couple others, and several more lay wounded. Harley made two trips dragging and carrying wounded comrades back to a helicopter landing zone. On his third and final trip, he dragged a heavy ammo box of rifle clips back to his buddies, who were out of bullets.
I attended his closed casket service in Arlington, only because I was in the neighborhood. There were only a handful of civilians in attendance. An older couple sitting front and center, I guessed were his parents. The father was wearing an old WWII Army cap. When the Honor Guard approached, he stood up on crutches and saluted. The mother was wrapped in a blanket and seated in a wheelchair. Her only movement was to turn her head from time to time. Set atop the flag-draped casket was a photo of Harley wearing his crisp Army uniform, and there was a box of medals. In the portrait, he looked like a proud and rugged soldier.