I first met Dickey Randolph when I was just turning nine years old in my hometown of Hattiesburg, Ms. I was already a dog-lover by that time and had raised my first dog, a beagle named “Buster” from age 6-9. I was heartbroken when my parents decided to give him away as he was a loud barker. I thought for certain no dog could match the love and affection of Buster.
But Mom had something else in mind. It had not been too long that Disney had released the blockbuster film “Big Red” and Irish Setters were becoming very popular. A friend of Mom’s Betty Randolph was raising them and had a new champion litter. Betty’s son Dickey, five years my senior, had just picked “Lad” as his new best friend. I picked the one next to Lad and named him Rusty. Unlike most situations back then, when friends were isolated by age, Dickey was very friendly and, like me, wanted to talk about Irish Setters. He knew a lot more about them than I ever did, and took the time to educate me of their tempermant, etc, and was very generous with his time; not something a snot-nose kid like me was used to back then from an older teenage peer, but grateful that he bent the rules of communication.
We went to schools about five miles apart and though we ran into each other occasionally at downtown (such as Coney Island Cafe or Belk-Whitley Store); I didn’t get to see Dickey often. Though my parents were good about furthering my education regarding the care of pets, I spoiled Rusty early, and allowed him to follow me to school; chasing me on my orange stingray bike down Mandalay Drive to Thames Elementary School. Rusty was so unique at that time, and so friendly, the teachers allowed me to bring him inside.
Rusty lived to be about six years old, and I still don’t know until this day whether he died of natural causes or my parents gave him away. Irish Setters were by then so inbred that some of them were getting a bit crazy. Aside from stealing milk from neighbors, Rusty allegedly bit a mailman, and one day when I was in bed recovering from an accident, Rusty was gone and my parents told me he “was at a very nice farm owners home”. I was angry, of course, and it took me about six months to move on from the grief of losing him.
Fast forward about four years to a (mostly college) nightclub called “The Library”; aptly called so, I imagine, to please our parents. “Mom, Dad…going to The Library”. That always brought a smile to their faces. And off we went to party for the night.
Dickey Randolph was, also by then, older, and already knew his way around the joint. He remained friendly and kind and showed me the ropes. I was always grateful for that.
The Viet Nam War was in high gear. I signed up for the draft. They still had the lottery system then. My number was too high and I went one year to our local college USM, which didn’t fit me well, and then off to Dallas to Richland College. I didn’t have another dog for about a decade. I ran into some mutual friends of Dickey when I went home to visit who told me he had gone to Viet Nam and was back and at college (but I was unable to find him before I had to leave to go back to school).
I came back home in 1977 and sold residential real estate with the family business. Dickey had married and moved to Florida and we lost touch again.
After four years I learned that the residential real estate business was not for me and I moved on to the northeast; living and working in New York City and later Washington D.C. and finally settled in Hot Springs, Ar. in 1999.
Fast forward about a decade…enter facebook. My old friend Pamela Breazeale told me about it and showed me the ropes. Before long, mutual friends of hers were following me. A familiar name came on the screen to friend me. It was my dear old friend all the way back from my youth, Dickey. I immediately took up the offer and we chatted on facebook daily for almost 2 years. It was great to hear and he’d updated me with both information and photos of his service in Viet Nam. It was extremely impressive. Dickey never gave me details of his service, only that he’d served and what kind of experience it had been.
My transformation from the 60′s and 70s “hippie/rebellious” years to adulthood was never an easy one. It still amazes me how easy it is to pigeonhole oneself into a label such as that. I was already now in my fifties, and had volunteered with several military charities to help. I learned the difference between being anti-war and anti-soldier. Back in the 60′s it was easy to “paint a label on oneself”. The hippie one never really fit but what was I? Dickey, once again, took the time to show me some things. It was okay to have been anti Viet Nam; in fact most from my generation were. But as an adult, I now know that war is never “cut and dry”. I have learned that though nobody wants to go to war, there are times it is inevitable. One can hope and pray that wars end, but do everything to support the troops while there.
Dickey introduced me to a number of friends; some of whom I knew who they were, but didn’t know them as well as he did. Some were in his age group. I again was grateful. About a year ago, I was glad to see some very good old friends. Though I knew Dickey had served and he’d shown me some photos from there, I didn’t discover until 2 years later that he had more decorations than anyone I’d known who came home from there (including a purple heart) from the postings of another person on facebook.
My then girlfriend soon-to-be fiance, now wife Lee still lived in her home of Portland, Or at the time. She came from a WW2 military family and she and Dickey became good online friends as she reconnected to facebook as well and I introduced her to my friends. Last year, Lee and I had planned to go to Washington. We drove about halfway there, and a kidney stone was developing (I didn’t know it at the time but knew I was in tremendous pain). We turned around and went back to Hot Springs (by then she had moved here as we were engaged). Dickey knew we were going and she promised we would go to The Viet Nam Memorial and “get tracings” of several of his buddies who perished in VN. We were unable to do so; due to my illness and I felt terrible about it.
But he understood, and we all went on with our lives (I eventually had the stone removed) but not without a lot of difficulties and discomfort. Dickey was very understanding but of course I’m sure, disappointed as he’d been hoping to get this tracing which of course meant much to him.
Dickey, and several others in the military and/or interested in it were very accepting and open to my new love Lee; and she never forgot their warmth and kindness; nor will I.
Two nights ago at 8pm CST, sadly, Dickey passed away peacefully in his sleep. I am 56, so am guessing he was sixty or so. I had no idea I would feel so sad about his passing. After all, though we’d been friends since childhood, we never got to really know each other well, until facebook, and though we talked every day; we also went exploring other people we knew, or had met, and most of our talk was either about old times or dogs (we still loved to talk about Irish Setters). He, in fact, had just treated himself to another one a month ago and named it “Lad”, same name as the one he had when we were kids. He had to have felt well as by then I knew Dickey well enough to know he’d not get a dog if he felt ill or that he might become unable to take care of it.
This clued me as to how fragile life is. I had just chatted with him several days ago and then not heard anything so I sent him a private message that was not returned. I figured he was busy with family matters so I didn’t think twice about it. Then I saw the posting by Mitzi Geiger-White; a close childhood friend of my sister’s, of Dickey’s death.
It hit me like a ton of bricks, and I didn’t have a clue why. It was because Dickey was not just a childhood friend, he’d become a hero; not just to me but to many others. Yesterday someone posted a pdf file of Dickey’s honors and medals. I was floored…from The Purple Heart to The Silver Star and many in-between. Dickey had risked his own life more than once, to save the lives of his fellow soldiers while serving his country. I found out later through someone else’ posting of his service medals.
I was crying a good bit yesterday, and my wife Lee explained to me that maybe he would have wanted us to celebrate his full & good life. He had left behind a legacy of which to be proud. He never turned bitter. He had a beautiful family and life in Florida and so many friends. Dickey is gone, but I bet I’m not the only one who feels his kind spirit lives on. RIP Dickey.
I am a writer, designer and founder of Londons Times Cartoons which is the Google & MSN #1 ranked webcomics on the Internet since 2005.