Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Monday

November 12, 2012

Doc Savage's Old Glory

A Veterans Day tribute

Bud Savage was captain of the 1943 Traverse City Trojans team that won the very first Michigan state championship in football.

Like many other TC boys, Bud graduated early in January of 1943 so that he could enlist in the Marine Corps to join the World War II effort.

He excelled in Marine Corps boot camp and was selected for assignment in the USMC Raiders, the very first of America's Special Forces. Thus began his long distinguished career as a Marine.

He fought in the South Pacific, in many of the bloodiest battles of the war. He was wounded three times in World War II and went on to fight for the duration in Korea. He also served three successive tours in Vietnam. I asked him years later where he went to enjoy R&R as a break from combat.

He practically went down my throat in his booming drill sergeant's voice, "R&R? R&R? There was a war on! I didn't go on vacation! My boys were in the fight of their lives! They NEEDED me!"

Between wars, 'Doc' Savage was a drill instructor at Paris Island, S.C., and Camp Pendleton, Calif. He retired in 1970, having served well over 25 years.

My uncle has always been my hero. In 1966, I was attending Northwestern Michigan College. The Vietnam War was raging. I was so inspired by my uncle's record that I volunteered to go down to Fort Wayne to take my Marine physical. Because of a congenital defect in my back, I was classified 4-F, which may well have saved my life. So I went back to school and graduated from Western Michigan University in 1970. But patriotic passion burned bright all of my life, inspired by my uncle.

After he retired, my uncle settled on the banks of the Colorado River near Yuma, Ariz.

In 1991, when the first Gulf War broke out, he went down to the Yuma Marine recruiting station and begged to get back in — at age 65.

"I can drive a truck, I can cook, I can bag sand or dig latrines," he told them, "but I have GOT to get in there and support my boys."

The recruiters told him, "Go home Sarge. You served your time, and admirably. We will take it from here." He once sent my grandmother, Helen Savage, a Christmas card saying that he had attended the Marine boot camp graduation ceremony of his nephew at Camp Pendleton.

"All the boys looked so nice in their dress blues and the sun sparkled on the band instruments," he wrote. "And then I saw her! Old Glory, coming down the field carried by the proud color guard, and I jumped to my feet, snapped to and saluted my Old Glory, one more time."

I have always had a passion for bald eagles, ever since Stan Lievense, then with the DNR, took our Cub Scout den to see an eagle's nest near Bellaire, when I was just 9. I was so crazy about bald eagles that I picked up the nickname many years ago.

In 1998, my now-deceased firstborn daughter, Lisa, was living in a suburb of Minneapolis and suggested that during my upcoming visit we tour the raptor center at the University of Minnesota. There, I got to realize a lifelong dream of holding a bald eagle. I also learned that I could donate $1,000 and get to name and release a bald eagle when one was ready to go. I made the donation and instantly decided that I would name the eagle in his honor, Doc Savage's Old Glory, and have him release it.

When I returned from Minnesota, my uncle was in Traverse City. He had suffered for years from prostate cancer, but was still able to pull a huge fifth-wheeler all over the U.S. with his aging Ford 250. For several years, he parked it in a special spot I had prepared right next to my home north of the Grand Traverse Resort. I had a large flagpole planted in front of his RV spot overlooking the bay, and had a full bath installed for him. He loved it, saying, "This sure beats a field shower."

When his cancer worsened, he paid a visit back here to Traverse City, visiting his daughter, Linda Savage Ritola. I think he was making the rounds and saying goodbye, in preparation for his death.

I saw him off at Cherry Capital Airport and while we were waiting for his plane to board, I produced a brochure from the raptor center and told him of my plans. When "his" eagle was ready for release, I said, I would send him an airplane ticket and meet him at the Minneapolis airport.

He just put his head down, then crushed my hand in his vice-like grip, looked me in the eye, and, blinking back tears, got on the plane shaking his head in disbelief. I stood there blinking back tears of my own, thinking, "Now there goes a true American hero.

A few months later, I got a call from the raptor center informing me that they had an immature bald eagle ready for release. My uncle was too sick and weak to make the trip and asked if I would do it for him.

So I contacted Lisa and told her we were coming, and that I wanted her and her two young children to accompany my fiancée, Jennifer, and me to the release and to bring her video camera.

On that glorious fall day on the banks of the Mississippi River, we gathered to reintroduce Doc Savage's Old Glory to the wild. I made a little speech about my uncle's war record and fervent patriotism, and in his name and honor tossed that magnificent bird into the air, proclaiming: "Whether he is here with us or not, Doc Savage's Old Glory will still be flying high over the America he so loved and fought for in so many battles. Here's to you, Uncle Bud! Here she comes!"

Jennifer and I were married the next March in Las Vegas, and for our honeymoon we traveled to Yuma to present my uncle with the plaque and paraphernalia associated with the release of his eagle. We showed him the video. He sat quietly, tears rolling down his cheeks, and he mustered, "Jimmy, I cannot find the words to express my feelings of how much I love you, and how much this means to me." He broke down and sobbed.

1st Sgt. USMC, (Ret.) Allen Clair Savage, died on August 13, 1999. I wore the Raiders patch that he had given me pinned to my suit pocket. After the funeral, Jennifer and I were standing back home by the flagpole saying goodbye, and I was saluting his flag. Of course, when I had that flagpole erected, I had a copper bald eagle affixed to the top of that pole, and as God is my witness, a mature bald eagle appeared over the bay and circled the flagpole about 100 feet up for several minutes.

A few months ago, an article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune described a mature bald eagle that stands guard on a tombstone in the Minneapolis National Cemetery, watching over a sea of white tombstones marketing the graves of hundreds of honored veterans.

I can believe that majestic bird is Doc Savage's Old Glory if I want to.

And I do. Like my uncle, he never left his post.

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