Antibiotics were unknown then. Gene's sinus infection had spread to his spine. It was hard to accept, and doubly hard to tell his parents what a real friend he had been. So I just choked up and shook hands with his dad and put my arms around his mother. I went to his funeral, puzzled that God had chosen to take one so happy and promising.
Four decades and three wars have passed since Gene and I carved our Hippocrocolions and sat out our lonely 24-hour vigils. Yet our accomplishment remains fresh in my memory. I still feel proud that I had measured up as a second-degree brave. Soon after I was initiated, the Order of the White Swastika had a new name, because the Nazis had debased the old one. Sadly, the noble Indian symbol will never have the same meaning again.
Why do I, at this late date, break silence on our ritual? Partly in tribute to Gene. And partly because I believe there is a precious ingredient missing from the life of today's American boy. Amid the television sets and comic books, too many cars and too few chores, teen-age pregnancies and drugs, just plain decent kids do not have enough to strive for. It may sound corny, but there were good old days when a boy was proud of what his body and spirit could endure. I'm proud of the guts and idealism that got me into the order, and I wish there were more of it in today's youth.