In the 1940’s, my Dad, Jack Hart (now 85), served in World War II. One of the early lessons he taught me in life was that people are not always what they seem to be, at first. While first impressions are often very accurate, it is important that we consider more information before we draw conclusions about people. Imagine all the incredible people in your life that you would not know today had you gone with your first impression, and then closed the books on that person at that point.
Let me share this story, in my Dad’s own words, from his basic training experience, nearly 70 years ago!
CAMP ROBERTS 1944
“I didn’t know I could actually hate a man.” “He must be insane.” “How could the top command allow this to happen?”
The year was 1944 and the place was Camp Roberts, California. We were in about the 13th week of a 16 week army infantry basic training program. I had erroneously thought the training would be easy for me because I had been active in high school football and other sports, and had often caddied 36 holes of golf in a day, carrying two heavy bags. However, after weeks of dawn to dark heavy duty physical exercise, we were all able to double time at least 20 miles in army boots in very hilly country, carrying a rifle and pack – while singing.
Our leaders had been outstanding, lead by company Commander Captain Geddy. We loved him. He was positive, inspiring, uplifting, and ready to participate in any of the exercises with us. He was also handsome, eloquent, and compassionate. When a buddy was sick or hurt, Captain Geddy was right there to make sure that he received proper treatment.
But one morning at the crack of dawn, Captain Geddy was not there to announce the activity of the day. Instead, a new guy, Major Kendall was up front, telling us that Captain Geddy had been transferred. Major Kendall growled at us that we were a sorry looking group of soldiers, the worst he had ever seen. Then it began. Nothing was good enough to please him. We climbed hills double time with much heavier equipment. Squat jumps and 50 push-ups were regularly ordered. Then he’d shout “Do them again – right this time!”
Training day ended late every night with hollering about how miserable our performance had been that day. This went on for more than three weeks, which we barely survived. This man was clearly crazy, or just plain out to get us.
On the final day, we were assembled in front of company headquarters, and Major Kendall strutted up front. We were sure he was going to read us out. Instead, he started something like this: “Men, I had no trouble seeing that you all hated me, and that was tough. However, you are about to go into combat and confront an enemy who has one goal – to kill as many of you as possible. I have been in many combat battles. The only survivors were those who had been exposed to the toughest situations in their training. The others were easy victims. By God, I decided to do everything I could think of to help you survive this terrible war…”
It went on that way for at least half an hour. There was not a dry eye among us, nor did we make a sound when he dismissed us and walked away.
So, which of these men, Captain Geddy, or Major Kendall, had the best interests of his men in mind? Probably both of them. However, it would have been very easy for my Dad, and his fellow troops, to immediately think that Major Kendall was just a jerk, and didn’t care about them at all.
So often in life, we make a snap judgement about someone, only to find out that we were dead wrong about them. Take a little more time to really see what the other person is about, and remember that most people are good, kind, and actually just might have your best interests in mind, as well. If we go through life assuming that those around have good intentions, it will make life much easier, less stressful, and our relationships much more harmonious.
People, indeed, are not always what they seem…often times, they are much better!