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Glenda had been dating, among others, Billy Cannon, a schoolmate of hers at Istrouma High. Neal had a girl called Pickles at Baton Rouge High. Eventually things got sorted out and Glenda and Neal were married, with blessings from a justice of the peace, when he was a freshman at Tulane. The union resulted in Neal Jr., now 13, and Darla, 10.
Glenda says she didn't ask him not to volunteer for his third combat tour in Vietnam, because she would never do that. But "I had a bad feeling about it, that's all," she says. The night before he went down she woke up screaming. The words were still on her mouth—"Bail out! Bail out!"—but she was unable to put together the details of the dream.
She says she never despaired. She came home from Japan and busied up her days raising the children and working toward a degree in elementary education at LSU. And she bought a $27,000 three-bedroom house in suburban Baton Rouge to make ready for his eventual homecoming. She put up his plaques and dusted off his Air Force trophies, and she promised herself for the hundredth time that she would glue the clippings in his old football scrapbook. And when she wrote she carefully avoided the issue of LSU vs. Tulane.
"You have to have a wife like this to know what it can mean to a man Up There," the major says, gripping her hand through the rigging of his brace. "A fine troop." She says she finds him "'deeper now" and "more patient" and "more aware of things." He asks her to marry him for the third time. They do, in a church, just the two of them, and the minister.
But there is no keeping him to herself. Forty-eight hours after he is home he has tickets for a marathon of spectatorship at LSU, a gymnastics meet followed by a basketball game. He goes the distance. Five hours. When Glenda wants to leave early, to beat the crowd, he says he could not possibly do that. Doesn't she realize how close the game is? LSU rewards his endurance by defeating Ole Miss in the final seconds.
For most of the basketball game the major's tutor is Slats Hardin, the old Olympic hurdler whose son he had gone to school with. Hardin explains the unfamiliar stuff: bonus shots and out-of-bounds rules. The major is all eyes. "It's a lot faster game than it used to be," he tells Hardin. More than once he leaps to his feet to cheer the play.
At the half he is introduced to the crowd, and the applause gathers around him like hands and lifts him to his feet. Every time he tries to sit down a fresh wave of cheers brings him back up. Throughout the game his view is interrupted by people wanting an autograph or a word or two. To each signature he adds "God bless America."
Toward the end of the game a slightly built Oriental excuses himself and asks to shake the major's hand. The young man says he is Vietnamese, and that his father was killed by the Communists in North Vietnam. "J wanted you to know that I appreciate what you did for my country," he says.
The major's days are spent in rediscovery. His wife is in school, "so I wander around." Charlie McClendon, the LSU coach, escorts him through the athletic plant there, and makes him promise to come around for a workout. Of an evening the major drops in on Billy Cannon, the 1959 Heisman Trophy winner. They had been rivals through high school and college, but they had been friends, too. Cannon recalls a time the two couples went fishing and the men hied off to a favored spot and left the wives sitting in the boat past dark. "Damn, if looks could kill we'da been goners," Cannon says, laughing.
"How do you like being a dentist?" the major says.