When you meet someone for the first time, do you ever notice a person’s shoes or boots? I always do. Not just a man’s footwear, but women’s shoes and boots too! In my family we polished our shoes because we didn’t get a lot of new shoes as a boy, so polish would hide the blemishes on my brother’s shoes that had been passed down to me. The fact that I had to stuff Kleenex in the toe so they wouldn’t fall off made the shoes or boots easier to shine. I was always a little shy about my shoes in high school because they were always old. Shiny, but old. Isn’t it funny what you dwell on when you are young? I have one more thing to tell you about having shined shoes.
When I was first assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, I was a medic for a rifle platoon. I didn’t care for the assignment. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I didn’t want to pull KP duty (Kichen Police) and I didn’t like going to the field for two weeks every other week. Both of which I had to do if I couldn’t find a job that exempted me from those duties. There were ways to get out of those duties, but as a private it was pretty difficult.
Then I met the driver for the Commanding Officer for the 187 Battle group. He was a pretty cool guy and he set the standard for being ready for any inspection. In exchange for being on duty at headquarters, he was relieved from KP duty. He also had to wear fresh uniforms everyday. That was a hurdle that I almost couldn’t bear. Fresh uniforms cost $.70 each time you put them on. Not an easy burden since I only got paid $78 per month. As I got to know the colonel’s driver, he would explain what I had to do to get out of duties that were expensive or boring. He told me that if I ironed the uniform, I could get away with changing every three or four days.
Then he told me I must have very shiny boots. Because in the headquarters there were a lot of people coming and going and the first place they look is at your boots. I forgot to mention that the one thing that made paratroopers different was that they got to blouse their boots when wearing their class “A” uniform. You blouse your boots by tucking them into the top of your boots. Doesn’t sound like much, but it is a privilege and only paratroopers got to do it. Since polishing my boots was something I really enjoyed, I was noticed right away.
Two days later I found myself standing outside of headquarters. I walked into the building like I owned the place. I wanted to know what it was like to drive one of the senior officers of the Battle Group. I must have done something right because I was assigned to Colonel Sadler. He was a genuine hero, having served in all sorts of “dangerous spots” all over the world. He wasn’t what you might call a talkative guy, but like most heroes he knew how to make him self understood. He also told me that my boots were going to be the first thing that most officers would look at. When he didn’t need me to drive him anywhere, I would sit in this little room where the drivers were told to stay. All I did was polish my boots.
He was and is my hero. He got me promoted to E-4 and kept me out of KP until I transferred to Germany. Germany was fun. To live in another country where all sorts of things are different is a great way to understand more about people and their ways of life.
No matter where I was assigned from that point forward, I always kept my boots shined. A paratrooper will actually fight anyone that steps on their boots. It doesn’t matter if it is on purpose or not, it is just pride and tradition.
After I got out of the army, I applied to the Santa Clara Sheriff’s Office for a job. I was invited to a face-to-face meeting with the senior deputies and a member of the human resources department. When I sat down I figured who was going to give me a hard time. This senior deputy handed me my application back and asked why I turned in a paper with 21 strikeovers. I had never been in a hiring meeting before, so I had failed to erase my mistakes.
After my face quit glowing, I just mumbled some answer. Not sure what, but it got me out of that conversation. Then he asked if I had a library card. When I told him I didn’t, he asked why. It was one of those questions that you can’t really answer. From that moment on, every time I interviewed a prospective hire the first thing I would ask is if they have a library card. They also commented on my shiny boots and asked how long it takes me to get them to shine like they do. That led the conversation to a more comfortable area.
Shining my boots or shoes is a way for me to pass the time. I just kneel down on the rug and watch the TV while I bring out the shine in my boots. I think sometimes I created a monster because now everyone in my family wants me to polish their shoes. You know what? I like to do this. I can zone out on everything while polishing and think how blessed I am to have the life I live.