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Senior Correspondent

These old boots have a lot of miles on 'em. Bought 'em years ago in Asheville, when our daughter, now 36, was in her first or second year in college up yonder. Best boots I've ever had.  Comfortable, lightweight, mostly waterproof, and I could walk in 'em all day without getting the wobblies or the barking dogs.

Hiked in Idaho and Maine in 'em, built an outhouse, a workshop and a garage in them, plowed the gardens, tramped through the ashes of our burnt-down log home in them, hauled timberframe parts for the replacement house, picked  asparagus and the blueberries, mowed the dam and the hayfields, hauled cars stuck in the snow and put nearly 200,000 miles on my pickup truck with 'em on. Great boots.

Trouble is, I've worn them out two or three times. Soles are all but slick. Went through  innumerable sets of laces and at least two tubes of Shoo Goo, but now they come apart in a matter of weeks, the sole flapping like some talk radio host that loves to hear his own voice rattle on, the damps seeping in along the stitches and the toeboxes rising up like elf shoes.

They're going into retirement, because earlier this fall I finally found some replacements — reasonably lightweight clodhoppers with good ankle support and soft grippers that let me climb on the metal roof without slipping. Liked 'em so well I thought about buying an extra pair, and using the old Army boot trick to tell 'em apart.

I don't expect anyone does this anymore, but when I went off to Ft. Bragg for basic combat training in April of '69, the quartermaster issued us two pairs of black boots — the old black shoe Army gear. And the drill sergeants of Company B, 10th Battalion, 2nd Basic Combat Training Brigade ("Bravo, Bravo, B-10-2, First you see Rest, Now you see the Best!", we used to chant whenever drill sergeants ordered it up)  required us to wear one set of boots on odd-numbered days and the second set of boots on even-number days. They could tell which pair of boots we were wearing by the white dot of paint we had to put on the back of one pair of the boots. You'd wear a white-dot pair one day, the no-dot pair the next. That way, the boots would get broken in equally.

Well, the recruits of Company B didn't want the toes of both sets of boots to get torn up by the constant scraping and grinding and hopeless struggle of being made to low-crawl the machine gun course, the company street, the parade ground and anywhere else those soul-less drill sergeants could think of to make us miserable. If you've never been made to low crawl, it's exhausting and filthy and hateful. You can't rise up even an inch. You're suppose to drag yourself over whatever terrain is in front of you the same way a snake would — stretching and reaching and pushing forward but staying in full contact with the ground. There was a point to all this — not just breaking down the troops in order to rebuild them, but also teaching soldiers how to crawl as flat as possible in order to avoid being shot by an enemy looking for anything moving that they could shoot.

So to avoid ruining both sets of boots, we'd rise in the night during lights out and change the white dots from one set of boots to the other. This allowed us to continue wearing one set of boots while keeping the other set in perfect unworn condition.

We thought we were so clever. And it wasn't until a few days before graduation after eight weeks in basic hell, when you could actually have a human conversation with the drill sergeant, that we learned the truth. It might have been Drill Sergeant Glenn Warner, a tough little bantam of a soldier, who clued us in with something like: "Y'all probably think you invented the white dot trick and were fooling your sergeants. You didn't. We knew what you were doing and we allowed it because you all were starting to work together.  That's what basic training is all about. And now you got a decent pair of boots for your graduation parade. Outstanding. Now drop and give me 50 pushups."

So I thought about Drill Sergeant Warner and his colleagues back at Ft. Bragg a lifetime ago, and I bought that second pair of new boots. About to put 'em on for the first time. And I won't have to resort to the white dot gimmick to tell 'em apart, either. They now come in both brown and black, and today is going to be black boot day. Outstanding! 

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