Sometimes words can serve me well and sometimes words can go to hell,
for all they do.
For every dream that took me high there’s been a dream that passed me by.
I know that’s so true.
– Harry Chapin “Story of a Life”
It was the second day of May 1970. We were parked at Caldwell’s and Phillip was in the back seat spreading his smile and charisma through the car where LaWanda Frost, and me (and maybe Susan Smith . . . I can’t remember) were all talking about LaWanda and me getting married the next night. Phillip was my best man. All of us were members of the PHS Class of 1969 and we had been laughing and having a great time remembering the days at PHS while Phillip and I had revealed a few tales from the Navy, but we kept most of our tales to ourselves because they weren’t really sharable (as you now know).
LaWanda and I had only been dating two weeks and Phillip couldn’t believe I was getting married. Earlier that day in private he had confronted me “Webster, what is wrong with you? You have no business getting married.”
I had tried to explain to him how I had to leave town in two days to take my next radio gig in Dimmitt, TX. and I didn’t want to go without her. He argued how there were plenty of women in Dimmitt, TX.
I finally said, “Phillip, It’s like this. I finally found the promised land . . . and so did she. We found it together, and I am not leaving here without her. He looked at me and had the biggest grin I think I ever saw him smile and said (you guessed it) . . .
“Webster, your crazy”
So that night at Caldwell’s I found it really funny when suddenly LaWanda looked at Phillip and said, “Phillip, When are you and Susan going to get married?”
Phillip moved his head from side to side and said, “Oh, man. I can’t get married. I’ve got too much living to do.”
Four weeks later he was killed in a tragic automobile accident on Pampa High School graduation night 1970. Phillip was picked up by some graduates as he was standing in front of the Capri Theater. Two blocks later the car hit a dip and crashed into a tree at Pampa’s Central Park. Phillip died at the scene.
The morning after Phillip’s death my parents did not want to call and tell me on the phone. They were on their way to Dimmit to tell me in person and were only about 15 miles away when I pulled some news copy off the radio wire to prepare for the noon news. In front of me were the details of Phillip’s death, delivered by the Associated Press, not my parents. In many ways I think I preferred it this way.
I delivered the news. I did not include the story of Phillip’s death. There are some limits where you just don’t test yourself. I felt I could hold my composure and deliver the newscast, but not that story.
Phillip was buried in a grave almost as close to Pampa High School as you could be buried, maybe 50 feet from the fence on Duncan street. At the funeral his brother Paul and I hugged each other and as a condolence I said to Paul “He was my best friend”.
Paul acted like that offended him and replied, “He was my best brother.”
I didn’t know what to think of that so I let it pass and never had a chance to discuss it with Paul. I did not mean it to offend him.
Not too many years later Paul’s bullet riddled body was found buried under some galvanized tin in a remote part of south Texas.
Paul had a son named Justin who was the spitting image of Phillip. He was the same age of my now deceased daughter and when they were both 17 my daughter was living with me and for a time they went together. She moved back to Aledo to be with LaWanda before her senior year.
In the 1990’s I became close to Twyla, Phillip and Paul’s mother. She would come by my office in downtown Pampa and sometimes sit and talk for 30 minutes or more. She had endured a lot of tragedy and Owen, her husband, was failing in health and she worried a lot about the future. She came to me to talk. I listened.
Twyla, had raised Paul, Phillip, Pam, and then Justin. Paul and Justin were in constant trouble. She had buried two sons and worried she would have to bury Justin or watch him go to prison. The idea of either brought her to tears and she was almost out of those. Before Twyla passed away she told me Justin had straightened out and become a good young man and she was really proud of him
Knowing how much he looked like Phillip I couldn’t help but think how wonderful that was.
If Phillip Long had lived and made the most out of the gifts he was given he could have been anything he wanted to be. He could have achieved anything he wanted to achieve. To use the word Buzzy Green recently used, Phillip Long had a magical quality about him that would have opened doors the rest of us would have had to open for ourselves. The pathway for Phillip’s future success was to give the US government four years of active service and then get a higher education Owen and Twyla could not give him.
If Phillip had taken that path he could have become President of the United States, not just our senior class.
With an undesirable discharge on his record and no higher education . . . even with all his charisma he would have some big obstacles to overcome.
About 3 months after his death LaWanda and I had just packed and moved from Dimmitt to Plainview where I had been hired for a mid-morning gig with a substantial raise at a larger station as I was working my way up on my dream of making it into big time radio. We had not even been there a week.
I am on the air when I got a call for “David Webster”. Since I used an air name “Robert Day” I knew the call had to be personal. I put on a record and said “Hello”.
“David Webster. Johnny Dark, K-O-M-A I have your air check. I like your sound. I’ll pay you $125 a week. Can you be here tonight?”
My heart skipped a beat. “I need to give notice.”
“I’m not looking for applications. I have a drawer full of those” and he hung up without saying another word.
I was immediately taken back to the night Phillip and I had gone to Oklahoma City and how as we left KOMA that night I had told myself I would work there someday. Well, maybe not, now, but at least I had the chance.
“What do you think, Phillip?” I reached out to his spirit. “You were there. Should I have just walked out of here and headed for Oklahoma City?”
I heard a little voice from heaven say “Webster, you’re crazy.”
- The Graduate was Hot! KOMA was King!
- In the Navy – We Want You as a New Recruit
- Basic Training – First Abandonment
- To the Girl Who Loved Me
- A Cantina in Mexico – Second Abandonment
- Vanished In Tijuana – Fear and Panic
- Phillip Needs Help – We Can’t Tell the Truth
- Thanksgiving Day – A Time for Healing
- The Captain’s Mast of Seaman Apprentice Webster
- Conclusion – Too Much Living to Do <- You are Here