That's what guys do with their friends, they bond. We are bonding all the time. We bond during good times and bad. We never actually finish bonding. We just get tighter and tighter until the line between friend and brother disappears.
Just before Christmas in 1967, Sam Smith (Class of '67) came home on leave from the Marine Corps after boot camp. His leave officially started at 12:01 AM so he stayed up, signed himself out of the base at Camp Lejeune just after midnight and then headed to the Greyhound Bus Station where he caught the first Bus home. Adrenaline wouldn't let him sleep on the ride to Huntsville. There is just no feeling like going home.
He arrived that afternoon and we made plans to hang out that night. Sam borrowed his Dad's car, a nice Dodge Dart GT. We had used that car to cruise many times during our senior year at Lee. It was familiar to us, almost like a mechanical friend. Sam picked me up then we dropped by Steve Campbell's (Class of '66) house and picked him up. The three of us were ready for some male bonding!
We drove through the parking lot at the north Shoney's then through Jerry's then through the south Shoney's before finding a parking spot. We pulled in, ordered three large Coke's and started flirting with every girl in sight. Charming would not be the appropriate term to describe us but loud and silly would. After an hour or so, we were able to clear all the girls out of Shoney's. We weren't sure where they went but we were sure they were gone. We listened to the radio for a while, told some silly jokes, compared the Army to the Marine Corps. Sam made the comparison, Steve and I just listened.
After a while we decided that the girls weren't coming back so we decided to drive around looking for them. We were just a bunch of teenaged boys ready to be seduced by some teenaged girls. We used all our hunting skills but couldn't find even one girl anywhere.
Together we tried to think of something else to do. I am not sure who said 'Let's go to Fayetteville.' As soon as that was said, we were on our way. I don't think any of us had ever been to Fayetteville before because I am sure we would have thought of somewhere else to go if we had been there.
Sam drove up 431 and we talked all the way. Once we got there, we drove around the square and quickly decided that there was more to do in Huntsville. It doesn't take long to see everything in Fayetteville.
We stopped at a gas station to answer nature's call. Steve called 'shotgun' so I pulled the seat forward and climbed into the back. I realized that there was room enough in the back to curl up so I did. Steve must have been sleepy too because he rested his head against the side glass and started to doze. Sam forgot where he was and drifted off to sleep too!
The car gradually left the road on the right. As soon as our right wheels left the road, we were all awake, sitting up, paying attention. The car was fine, we were just traveling a little too fast to have one pair of wheels on the road and the other in the grass. Sam had the wheel and was trying to regain control and to slow the car at the same time. Everything was going pretty well but the car was gradually sliding farther into the shallow ditch at the side of 431.
Finally, we slid too far into that little ditch. The right headlight caught in the mud. The car flipped onto its top in a cork screw motion. We were all on the headliner as the car was sliding down that little ditch upside down. The glass was shattered and the sound of metal being smashed was very loud. I can remember holding the dome light in my hands, trying not to allow my body to slide to the side of the car where I could get caught in a shearing action with the ground as it raced by. After a month-long slide, the front of the car caught in the mud again causing the car to begin to cart wheel. I have no way of knowing how many time we flipped.
Finally, the car stood on its nose and dropped back down onto the wheels. The radio was still on! I was in the back seat just where I had started. I sat up and called to Sam and Steve. Sam was wedged up under the dash and immediately answered. Steve was gone!
Sam and I crawled through the windshield opening and stood on the hood. 'Steve, Steve' we yelled. 'Over here!' Steve yelled back. He had been flipped out of the car and had landed in a farm field across a barbed wire fence. I'll bet that is the only time in Steve's life that he cleared a fence in a single bound!
We flagged down a trucker who called the police for us. The car was totaled but we were fine except for cuts and bruises. Steve wore a neck brace for a while but that was the extent of the damage.
In a few weeks, Sam reported back to the Marine Corp and was sent to Vietnam. He was killed there before reaching his 19th birthday. Sam is buried in Maple Hill Cemetery and is memorialized on the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in Washington.
(Editor's note: Our thanks to Tommy Towery of the Lee Traveller website at http://www.leestraveller.com for the use of this article. To learn how Sam died, please see our Veterans page for the story that Tommy found.)