Column: Making boys into men

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 18, 2001

All too often during my research into the past of this area I’ve encountered references to the members of the nation’s armed forces during World War I and even World War II as being boys.

Friday, May 18, 2001

All too often during my research into the past of this area I’ve encountered references to the members of the nation’s armed forces during World War I and even World War II as being boys.

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Now it’s certainly true that some of these alleged boys may have then been 18 or 19 years old. Yet, they had completed rugged basic training. Some were soon killed or wounded in hostile action, and many served the nation and coped with a multitude of brutal living conditions.

Yet, for all too many years the popular terms used were to &uot;salute our boys in blue&uot; (the Navy), &uot;our brave boys over there,&uot; and &uot;all the boys in uniform.&uot; Incidentally, some of these boys in uniform were commissioned officers and senior enlisted personnel who had been in the armed forces for two, three, and even four decades.

Right about here one could ask a very logical question. When does a boy become a man? One way is to say the big transition comes with a high school or college diploma; take your choice. Another answer could be based on the ages of 18 or 21. That one obviously relates to a birth date. Still another answer would be based on just one incident. And my favorite answer is based on what I like to call a rural legend.

First, let’s concentrate on the incident factor. One of the comments used in the reel world (films and television) and out here in the real world is based on an overused statement. It comes when a parent sends a son to a special summer camp, a factory, or even a military academy. This parent says, &uot;I give you the boy; give me back a man.&uot;

Through the years I’ve known several boys that qualified as real jerks who were sent away to military academies for &uot;problem students.&uot; They came back to their home environments and were still real jerks.

Right about here let’s shift the focus to the rural legend. We’ve heard about the urban legend; here’s the small town version based on an alleged incident of converting a boy into a man.

In a locality out West lived a very successful entrepreneur. He owned several businesses in town and had a huge hobby ranch out between the sagebrush hills about 20 miles from the nearest neighbor. This particular man was very proud of his rise from poverty to wealth and success. However, he had a teenage son, an only child, who was a real juvenile delinquent.

The father considered a military academy in the Midwest as an alternative to the possibility of his son going to the state reform school. Then he decided a summer spent on the remote ranch could make a man out of his wayward son.

The father told the ranch foreman to treat his son as just one of the hired hands with absolutely no favoritism. In fact, the foreman was ordered to add on a few extra touches to mold the boy into a man.

The summer was one the son barely endured. The daily work assignments for the owner’s son ran from dawn to dusk. He was given challenging jobs like barn cleaning, fence line repairing, branding cattle, walking for miles on what’s called ditch maintenance, and the worst of all ranch jobs – cutting and stacking hay.

When the son came back to town just after Labor Day, he was certainly subdued. His father noticed this welcome change. The foreman was given a bonus for making a man out of the boy.

About 10 months later the son graduated from high school. He spent the next few years attending college and working for one of his father’s business ventures.

There never was any desire to go back to the ranch. The young man would reluctantly go with this father on inspection trips. After all, there were still the unhappy memories of that one summer spent out between the sagebrush hills.

Just after his graduation from college, the young man’s parents died in a car accident.

The son inherited everything, including the ranch. After the legal paper work was completed, the son’s first action as the new owner of the ranch was to fire the foreman. His second decision was to sell the place with so many bad memories.

Feature writer Ed Shannon’s column appears Fridays in the Tribune.