John Arnold - The SpyWednesday, June 24, 2009
I have written over three and a half year’s worth of blogs every day. A week ago in Texas my luck run out and I was unable to find a computer in the middle of a large ranch in South Texas. The fact is that the more you write the easier it becomes. Because it is easier it is also more fun.
This one has been fun from the moment I ran into the burly man with the red ball cap and the dark sunglasses at the end of the stairs when I arrived at Austin/Bergstrom Airport on June 10. I went up to the man with the cap expecting to find wires attached to one of his ears (“Could he be an airport security guy?” I thought). I said to him, “You are the man.” His answer was, “Yes.” And that’s when my adventures with John Arnold, the man with the faded semper fidelis tattoo on his left wrist, all began.
In 1960 at St Edward’s High School in Austin, Texas he had been one of three other of my roommates. In picture below, from left to right, that’s John Arnold, Mac Letscher, me and Melvin Medina. John chose to be my protector/bodyguard. I was a nerd but nobody ever bothered me that whole year.
In 1985 I went to Houston and we had a small class reunion, one late evening, poolside, at a Holiday Inn. It was a typically humid and scorching Houston summer. Arnold in a perfectly ironed white button-down white shirt reminded me of Gerald Ford. He didn’t say much.
Since then whenever I have asked any of my former classmates about Arnold the replies are similar, “Wasn’t he a spy?”- “Wasn’t he in the CIA?” or “Wasn’t he in the FBI? Arnold isn’t telling. He will admit that he was an investigating officer of the Securities and Exchange Commission. He will tell you that he sent many people to jail. In fact once when he was accused of taking a bribe he called as witnesses (after convincing the judge) a group he had sent to jail. The former felons testified that Arnold did not even accept free coffees. Or as Arnold put it to me, “They were my friends even though I had put them in jail. Then knew I had no malice and I was doing my job.”
To this day, Arnold’s wife Carolyn and his family will never attempt to wake him up from a deep sleep. Arnold, a US Marine Corps Vietnam veteran from 1965 still has nightmares. He can be a dangerous man not given time to wake up.
To me there are two types of men. There are the ones who have been shot at and perhaps have shot back and killed. Arnold is an example. And then there are those like me who have not experienced that. There is a gulf there that can never be reconciled.
On June 14 Arnold and I climbed into his black Chevrolet F-150 crew cab pickup and began a journey that would help us not only become new friends but discover aspects of ourselves we were ignorant of. It was a journey that would take us 290 miles south via San Marcos, New Braunfels, Buda, San Antonio and a town called Falfurrias to Mike East’s Santa Fe Ranch. Just as soon as we sat in our seats Arnold pointed at the centre console and told me, “Here is where I keep Harley.” He pulled gently and explained, “This is a Kimber, single action, .45 automatic with Crimson Trace laser grips. I have a permit for a concealed weapon and I am allowed to carry her concealed because Texas law stipulates that I can do so when I cross county lines.”
For those like me who might not understand about those Crimson Trace laser grips this is what they are. Without having to bring the gun to one’s eye the gun projects, upon gentle command, a little red laser dot on the target. Arnold explained, “Boy if you see that red dot anywhere near you, you are in trouble. And when you don’t see it you know that you are dead.”
But Arnold is not quick to the draw or quick to point a gun at anybody or anything. “There are four colours that define a situation. A white situation is when you are in the comfort of your home. The moment you leave you are in situation yellow and you have to watch and be careful. You might drive near an accident or a similar such incident. That’s condition red. For condition black you take out your gun and you shoot to kill. If I miss, I shoot again and you are dead.”
Somewhere past San Antonio Arnold asked, “Are you comfortable with yourself?” I felt vulnerable and nervous about the question so I asked him to explain. In the next few hours we told each other secrets of our innermost soul.
In my previous blog I wrote about Brother Thomas Frey, his smile and his acceptance of his life as it is. This confidence, while not illustrated by frequent smiles I saw in Arnold. Arnold is no saint but he is at peace with his world and the world that surrounds him. I would not suggest that you mess with him but if you learn not to be intimidated by his stern demeanor and observe that he does indeed smile sometimes you might find in him a friend you will take to your grave.
As his buddies at the USMC say, “Semper fidelis.”