Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Freelance feature: Same place, Different time

Blogger's note: I am taking a departure from my normal blog activity to share a freelance feature I wrote  this past week. It is about two men from our church. It was published in our local newspaper this week. 

Same Place, Different Time

When New Yorker Nelson Rosado walked into Jerry Thaggard’s barbershop in his new 
hometown of Senatobia for the first time, he had no idea he would reconnect with a part of his own history. He had crossed paths with the man behind the barber chair in the past, but he didn’t know it yet. 

Rosado and Thaggard both attend St. Gregory’s Catholic Church. When Rosado came into the shop that day, Thaggard recognized him from church, although Rosado did not recognize Thaggard. 

Rosado did notice that there was a Marine emblem on the door. He asked if anyone had been in the Marines, and Thaggard replied that he had. It would take a few more visits to the shop for the two men to discover that they had gone through basic training in the same platoon at the Parris Island, S.C. Marine Corps Recruit Depot 55 years earlier. 

The two men could not be any more different. Thaggard is a soft-spoken Mississippian who grew up in Neshoba County in the Tucker community near Philadelphia. Rosado, a native of Puerto Rico, is animated as he speaks, often making jokes and spinning interesting tales for those around him. 

Thaggard comes from a large Catholic family of seven boys and four girls whose property joined the Choctaw reservation. His childhood friend, Phillip Martin, was chief of the Choctaws for many years. His father worked for the railroad, and his mother was a homemaker. He graduated from Philadelphia High School in May, 1957 and in June began his three-year active duty stint in the Marines. After basic training, he went to Camp LeJeune, N.C. where he became a machine gunner and rifle range instructor. In 1958 he was transferred to the U.S. Naval Retraining Command, a federal prison in Portsmouth, N.H.,  where he worked as a guard and as a cross-country chaser. 

After his time in the Marines, Thaggard returned to Mississippi and attended barber college in Jackson. He came to Senatobia to work. “B.L. Hogan and Pop Taylor were partners in a barber shop here and I came to work for them at the City Barber Shop. I opened my barber shop with my brother James in 1963,” Thaggard said. “We called our shop Big T’s Barber Shop because it represented both of us.” 

He met his wife, the former Frances Patrick, when a customer’s wife, who worked with her at a local bank, introduced them. They were married in 1965 and are the parents of three daughters, Cathy Moore, Marcia Thaggard and Jeri Yow. They have four grandchildren. 

Rosado moved from his native Puerto Rico at two years old. His father was already in New York working as a cook at the Winthrop Hotel. His mother, a homemaker, took care of the family of six children. Rosado attended the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan, studying Graphic Art. After high school, he enlisted in the Marines for a two-year stint in the reserves and headed to Parris Island. He later added another year to his duty, after finding out he’d have to return to Parris Island if he were called up. He was assigned to the motor pool. “The funny thing was, I couldn’t drive and I didn’t know how to work on vehicles, either. Go figure,” Rosado said, laughing. After a year, he transferred to a job as a supply clerk at Marine headquarters in Camp LeJeune, N.C.

In 1958, his unit headed to Beruit, Lebanon to assist during the threat of civil war between Maronite Christians and Muslims. Rosado never got on the shore, as the trouble there was over when they arrived.  “I was on the second ship and it was over when we got there. We headed back to the U.S. by way of Puerto Rico. We landed in San Juan. I was on mess hall duty and could not get off the ship. I was the only Puerto Rican on the ship and all I could do was watch from the deck. I couldn’t believe it,” Rosado said. 

After his time in the Marines, he returned to New York to take advantage of his educational benefits, only to find out that the legislature had suspended them. He wanted to go to college, but his father could not afford to send him. The benefits were later reinstated but he had already found a job as a graphic artist and worked for a company until 1974 when he opened his own business. That same year, he married a friend of his sister-in-law’s, Linda Velasquez, who was also from the Bronx. They are the parents of two children, Ricardo and Monica, and two grandsons. 

Even though the two men were in basic training together, they did not remember each other from their time spent together at Parris Island. “There was no fraternizing with each other,” Rosado said. “I had a classmate there, and we only said hello once the whole time. We were always standing at attention, running, eating, sleeping. There was just no time to make friends.” 

Today, the two former platoon mates not only worship in church together, they have formed a friendship. Rosado has shared his Marine memorabilia with Thaggard, whose platoon photograph and book had been damaged. They can frequently be heard at church and at the barbershop greeting each other with a hearty “Semper Fi!” 


The two friends today. 

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