Beckley, West Virginia – Oxnard, California
It would be easy to say that he died at Maywood Acres Healthcare in Oxnard, California after a long illness – that is what most would say…but Tony wasn't sick, he had kidney cancer. Sick is when you eat a bad herring, …or potato salad that has sat out in the sun too long, or have the flu; no Tony just couldn't be fixed by the doctors and after multiple surgeries and too much pain, he finally succumbed to the inevitable. Along the way it spread to his bladder, weakened his heart, compromised his lungs (giving him the COPD) and finally he just lost the battle…but never his sense of humor.
Several of us visited him in the hospital in Oxnard on the 18th of September. Steve Crocker, Norm Marous and I were his last visitors. He was weak¸ but alert, and very happy to have a framed photograph of his sister, Louise Marron by his bed. This had a been brought by his Veterans Administration Fiduciary Mr. Robert Wheet after visiting her only a day or two earlier. He had questions that we answered, and his mind was set at ease. Then he joked with us. He was most happy to see his friend Norm. Then Chief Crocker prayed with him – Tony was not a religious man, but if there was a time for religion this was it and he knew it. It was obvious this was not a time to say goodbye but adieu, for he would soon be with God. The following night he passed in his sleep.
Tony was a very difficult man to figure out. His sense of humor was designed to often irritate, to usually confound, to just plain grate on you – he merged black with blue humor to get the least politically correct humor possible. He had his own local TV show, called most irreverently “The Poop Show” that he wrote and produced for many years. Unlike Mae West he served no jail time – possibly because of the time that the show aired and probably because of the number of viewers. He also spun records – old records of which he had an extensive collection and knew them all. You did not want to challenge the man about who wrote or sang or played on a certain record…you would lose, and I did - often. What follows is as told to me by Tony himself. Most of it is likely true – part of it may be pure conjecture. Please do not hold me personally liable for any of it. The photograph is from his high school yearbook.
Tony was born in Pursglov, West “by God” Virginia on 17 May 1940. I have been to Pursglov – he would not make that up (he told me to add the “by God.”) Unfortunately, his parents had no interest in him, and he was, at the age of two taken in by his cousin Louise. She was 18 at the time and raised him as her son, but he always referred to her in life as his sister. He attended Woodrow Wilson High School in Beckley. Tony was both a well read and studied individual. His “sister” made a good mother.
He enlisted in the Army at Ft Jackson, South Carolina the year after he graduated with the Class of '59. He looked just the same 60 years later (well, that's what he said the mirror told him.) That is why I chose this picture…it is how Tony saw himself - don't we all see ourselves like we did back then?? At Ft. Jackson he was schooled in motor vehicle maintenance and sent out into the world of the U.S Army. He then served a year in Germany with Battery A, 4th missile Battalion of the 6th Artillery Division, US Army Europe. He attended the Army Basic Infantry school and held the Basic Missile Man Badge from the Army. Like many others before him, he became disabled through service to his country and was Honorably discharged at the rank of Private First Class with a VA rating of 100%.
Tony was the longest serving volunteer in our office at the Vandenberg AFB Joint Retired Member's Center. Rain or shine he was always here, for well over 20 years. He existed to help others…and we served as his family, it was a synergistic relationship. Like family, we sometimes grated on each other's nerves and don't always like each other - but always love one another. …and we loved Tony. Whenever the coffee mess got low – a $50 bill would mysterious appear in the plastic pig and he had no idea where it came from, …or a can of coffee so big it would not fit in our freezer - Tony's sense of humor again. He would give us something we really need, but in such a big container that we would have to repack it to utilize it. When someone was ill – he would come in with a card or some flowers…always the thoughtful one. If you fouled up – he would be the first to get on your case.
He was married four times. Said he liked the oriental women – those of us who knew him can attest to that. How did that go? He loved them, and lost them, and he was crushed. Love can really hurt. He vowed after those experiences to remain a lifelong bachelor …with an eye for the ladies. He fulfilled that vow. …but always had a tear in his eye when he spoke of his wives. They were Mary Ann Page, Choon Ja Chung, Patricia Ann Busby and Josephine U. Vinluan.
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His friends here at Vandenberg (his family) include, in no particular order: Miss Natalie Cohen, Mrs. Charlotte Compton, Chief Steve and Mary Ellen Crocker, Commander Bill Danner, Major Roger Flocken, Mrs. Helen Hornick, Chief Norm and Gerry Marous, Mr. Thomas Lyons, Chief Archie Mitchell, Mrs. Patricia Nuth, and Master Sergeant Desmond Overton.
In addition to these friends, he became very endeared to his fiduciaries with the Veteran's Administration over the last couple of years of his life. Initially the person assigned to him was Mr. Roger Wheet. He took Tony to appointments, helped him deal with the VA and literally anything else he needed – always just a phone call away. He was additionally assigned Ms. Marla Chaloukian who specifically managed his needs toward the end. Anything I have ever said negative about the VA I take back after dealing with these two superlative individuals who truly grew to love Tony as much as he loved them.
One of his most memorable stories was of somehow being at Entebbe Airport when the hostage situation went down in July of '76. Fate had placed him on another plane that was stranded on the field that wasn't spoken of by the press. But he knew every moment of Entebbe firsthand as only someone who was there could possibly have known. He too lived all those days of horror under Idi Amin and his security chief. …and never even mentioned it until I asked if he had seen any combat. He apparently told no one else of the hell he had lived through – that had been part of his life and become part of his dreams.
I used to dread seeing Tony walk through the door because I knew he would give me a lot of nonsense (“BS”), all…day…long. But he was clever, always had fresh material, and damned if I don't miss the guy. Yep, I may not have always liked him…but I sure did love him…and I will miss him. Already do. He was family.
He asked Natalie the last time he saw her where we go when we die and she told him, “Why, to the other side of the rainbow, of course.” Tony said, “Do you think I should be scared...or is it scary? She said, “Is it frightening or scary to look at a rainbow? Have you seen a rainbow?” “Yes”, he replied. “Did it frighten you?” “No, it was beautiful.” He then said, “See you on the other side of the rainbow, Kiddo.” We all look forward to seeing Tony “On the other side of the rainbow …just beyond the moon.”
There will be a service at graveside on 10 October at 2 PM. Sacramento valley National Cemetery, 5810 Midway Road, Dixon, CA 95260.
- Written by Bill Danner