By SCOTT GRABER
It’s Sunday night, late, and I’m with my former college roommate Bill Stansbury. Right at the moment we’re in the midst of 70,000 souls who are celebrating the Baltimore Ravens — a football team that has just defeated the New England Patriots, 37-20.
“Buff” Stansbury and I have known each other since August of 1963, when we both took up residence in Law Barracks at The Citadel. We have remained friends for 56 years.
During those 56 years he has never, ever, asked me for a favor. Never, that is, until Aug. 4, 2019, when he called and said, “Do you think Zach could get us tickets to the Ravens-Patriots game on Nov. 2?”
He explained that this would be an important game and there were no tickets anywhere at any reasonable price.
“I can’t get you tickets, Dad, but I can get you credentials,” my son replied when I asked.
“Yeah, that will get you anywhere in the stadium you want to go.”
When I called and told Buff we had “all access credentials,” all I could hear was “Oh My God!” repeated over and over until I finally hung up the phone.
For most of my Citadel career I was not much of a cadet. Buff, who would eventually become India Company Commander, helped me survive SMI — Saturday Morning Inspection and countless other regulatory encounters.
“Jesus, Scott, do you really think those shoes are going pass muster?”
Whereupon he would spit on them, apply a bit of polish in circular movement, and hand them back in the manner of one handling a dead scorpion. In this fashion Buff took care of me until I figured out the system and decided I wanted to stay at the Military College.
During our last year we roomed together, although he was a cadet captain and I was a cadet private.
“What branch are you going to choose?” he asked me one night.
“I don’t want Infantry, that’s for sure,” I replied.
“Then you won’t ever be Chief of Staff,” he said.
“You can bet your last dollar that I will never, ever, darken the C-Ring at the Pentagon,” I replied. “What about Intelligence?”
“Yeah, we’ll be in a bunker, an air-conditioned bunker, mostly looking at aerial photographs,” I said.
“Are you sure about that?’’
“Yeah, we’ll look at photographs all day. Then, in the evening, we’ll go to the Officer’s Club and dance with the nurses from the field hospital.”
On the strength of this conversation we both signed up and in due course both were given commissions in Army Intelligence. Buff went directly to Vietnamese language school in Texas. I deferred my own departure to Southeast Asia by going to law school.
Then I learned — to my horror — that he was attached to a Vietnamese unit in I Corps just below the DMZ. His unit was tasked with gathering-up prisoners by taking a ‘blocking position’ while a larger force did a sweeping maneuver.
This maneuver put Buff into the middle of some hard, desperate fighting. It was not an activity that involved bunkers, or air conditioning, or flirting with nurses at the officer’s club.
I was at George Washington having comfortable, climate controlled instruction in torts and contracts; and somewhat less comfortable debates about the morality of the war. But every night, sober or not, I would fall on my knees and say, “Let him live, Lord. If you’re going to take anyone tonight, take me Lord.”
I remember going to class praying that Buff would survive the nightly fire-fights and would return healthy and whole, and I would be able to properly apologize for getting him into the thick of the shooting.
Buff did survive the shooting. He came back uninjured, undiminished and our friendship resumed with shared holidays, road trips and a telephone conversation every other week. But I never got round to an apology.
If I had scripted tonight’s game it would have started with a tour of the broadcast trucks; then an hour on the field watching the adrenaline-charged football players warm up.
Then we would have gone to the press box buffet and had crab cakes, brownies and watched (on a monitor) a Baltimore defensive back recover a fumble and run it back 50 yards. If I had scripted the evening it would have been a well played, hard-fought game with Baltimore pulling ahead in the fourth quarter.
I didn’t write any of that narrative, but it unfolded in precisely that manner.
And by the look on Buff’s face I think maybe I’ve been forgiven.
Scott Graber is a lawyer, novelist, veteran columnist and longtime resident of Port Royal. Email Scott at email@example.com.