The first school trimester at Michigan State College ended in the middle of December (1948), so Bill Cass, one of my 13 roommates, and I decided to hitchhike home. Bill was from Frewsburg, in southwest New York state, and I was from Rochester, so we could travel together to Buffalo before going our separate ways. Because of the cold winter weather, I was wearing a sweater, my ROTC winter coat covered by a top coat, with a scarf wrapped around my neck. As was the custom in those days, neither of us wore a hat.
We started out in East Lansing by riding with a family as far as Port Huron. Our good fortune continued as we were picked up by a trucker who took us to Hamilton, Ontario. It was early evening when he let us off. Shortly thereafter, we were picked up by a hockey player who was going as far as Buffalo. Bill hopped into the front seat and I settled into the back seat and promptly fell asleep, expecting to be awakened in Buffalo. Imagine my surprise when I woke up to a pleasant female voice telling me to wake up for breakfast. More surprise when I opened my eyes to find it was a nurse in the St. Catherine‘s Hospital. And I with my right arm taped to my chest. Bill was in an adjacent bed.
The story, as I found out later, was that the car skidded on some ice and slid into a steel light post, hitting about where my knees were. The ambulance crew thought at first that I was dead because of all the blood - caused by numerous cuts from window glass when my head hit. I suffered a broken collar bone; more severe injury was avoided probably because of all the padding I was wearing. I was asleep, then probably knocked unconscious by the blow, then sound asleep again in the hospital bed. I did have the sensation that I saw the lamp post coming at us, but it’s a very vague impression. The driver had a bump on his forehead and Bill had gravel in his hands as the result of being thrown out of the car when the door was flung open from the momentum.
My parents were notified and came to bring me home, where I went to visit the doctor for further treatment. He checked the x-rays, noting that the bones had shattered at the break, then left the room. I heard the sound from the basement of someone sawing wood, wondering what remodeling he was having done, when he walked back into the room carrying a piece of plywood. He had sawed it into the shape of a T and taped it to both shoulders and across my stomach. “There,” he said, “that should hold it while the bones knit.”
I wore the brace for a bunch of months, including a train trip back to East Lansing to turn in my ROTC uniform and pack up my clothes. Believe me, it’s not very comfortable to wander through life with a piece of plywood taped to one’s back. It eventually came off, and the break did knit, but to this day there’s a bump at the break.