After reading a column in the Washington Post about a move in Congress to excuse taxation on the medals won in the Olympics — the winners of which receive not only the medals, but $25,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver, and $10,000 for bronze — I thought back to my two-year stint in the Army during the Korean War, from 1950 to 1952.
My last of three Army bases was Fort Eustis, Virginia. In my company were several noted sports figures — Willie Mays the most notable. Among others were Ed Roman, the center for the City College basketball team — which a year before had won both the NCAA and NIT tournaments, but then became enmeshed in a betting scandal; Vernon Law, a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Fran Rogell, fullback for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
I remember one other sports luminary: Sandy Saddler, the world's featherweight champion. While I was in the base hospital, having undergone a minor operation, Saddler, dressed in fatigues and sporting an enormous ring, paid us a cheering-up visit. He regaled us with stories about his career and answered questions about boxing.
Although there was a military draft — through which I came to serve, thankfully not in battle — all these stars had been recruited with assurances that they would not be sent overseas, that their primary duties would be carried out in their respective sports.
But the scandal of providing safe service to sports luminaries hit the fan, so to speak, and an Army investigation into the situation resulted in reassignment of the officer in charge of this charade to Fort Knox, where he apparently served nobly guarding our gold bullion, and genuine basic training for the sportsmen in my company.
Special privileges may be found in almost every aspect of our culture, from business to sports, to entertainment. I, too, benefited from it: I had the privilege of playing catch with Willie Mays on a bright afternoon in the fall of 1952.