Since 2004 I had the privilege and pleasure to work with a great engineer and greater human being, that I have the honor to call a friend, Tom Riley. Probably his major fault is that while living in Michigan he supports “The Ohio State University” football team.
Over the course of the “Orion Program” (named by me after the mythical hunter) Tom and I traveled extensively to China and especially Brazil. As I have family in Brazil I would travel on Fridays to be able to visit them on some weekends, and for many times Tom joined me.
We survived together the rigors of my sister’s children’s birthday party, enjoyed some good conversation over long hours driving, some moderate amount of libations (just “two fingers” measured in a rather lose way), shared great meals, and had a good time generally.
But two occasions stand apart. We went to a barbeque (or grill) at my sister-in-law Angela and her husband Mauro and something that I had never paid attention to, was suddenly clear to everyone in the party. Tom and my brother-in-law Dito (short for Benedito) look almost like twins.
You can notice the less than generous hair, grey mustache and glasses. I let you figure out who is who.
The other event happened when I took Tom to visit the farm where I grew up, Fazenda Taboa, about 25 kilometers from Orlândia.
Tom served in Vietnam about the same time that I was born (or a bit before that), and he is one of those persons that can talk about that time with a unique perspective and even some humor.
Apparently his main problem with the US Army was that when he landed in Vietnam he was not issued a personal weapon, as he was considered to be “support troop”. No long after that he had to scavenge a rifle and dug himself a foxhole to defend his base when it was attacked by either the Vietcong (or the NVA, I am not sure).
Tom told me that his position was about to be overrun when an army truck backed up to it, the tailgate dropped and a “Meat Chopper” opened fire. The “Meat Chopper” consists of four fifty-caliber Browning M2 machine guns mounted in an anti-aircraft support, but widely used as an antipersonnel weapon.
Tom tells that he was deaf for a couple weeks, but was terribly happy to be in that condition and alive.
To make a long story short, I decided that Tom should have the opportunity to shoot a couple white winged pigeons, one of my all time favorite game bird. I got my old 12 gauge CBC trap gun, a handful of shells and we started to wander around the house looking for the pigeons.
When Tom held that shotgun he changed. He held it at port all the time, started looking around very carefully, kept himself to the very center of the pathway, and walked very carefully, like stepping on eggs.
That situation surprised me a bit and I started joking with him, and then Tom told that this was the first time he held a firearm since he came back from Vietnam. Almost forty years late he was looking for potential ambush, booby traps or land mines.
Suddenly a pigeon flew from one of the very large mango trees and came straight towards us (a very uncommon thing for a weary pigeon to do). Tom shouldered the shotgun, aimed at the bird and fired. The small problem is that rather than hit the pigeon, he hit the high voltage electric wires overhead, and we had a brief, but unique, pyrotechnical show, almost like a miniature white phosphorus grenade.
Tom was fast enough to point out that his intention was to scare the hell out of the attacking pigeon so he could tell all his companions how dangerous and well armed we were, and therefore avoid any big engagement.
There is no doubt that old ways die hard.
I hope that Tom has enjoyed our relationship as much as I did. I know that he holds a grudge against me for introducing him to Brazilian pizza (at BRAZ, in Campinas) and creating a lower appreciation for the US variety. But, how could I tell he would enjoy it so much?