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Lessons learned from 'Chief'
Lessons learned from former New Hampshire Wildcats trainer Dave Eastman, a helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War.
Lessons learned from ‘Chief’
By BEA LEWIS
Article Date: Friday, January 11, 2008
AUTHOR AND naturalist Dave Eastman of Tamworth holds a copy of his 2001 book ‘Outlaws in Vietnam.’ The book recounts Eastman’s experiences as a First Lieutenant in the 175th Aviation Company flying helicopters from 1966-67 in the Delta.
(BEA LEWIS/CITIZEN PHOTO)
As a result of a wrong middle initial, Dave Eastman had to track down his own travel orders to Vietnam. But as the former trainer for the University of New Hampshire football team, Eastman was well versed in how to respond when things went wrong.
He credits Clarence “Chief” Boston who coached the Wildcats to a championship season in 1962 during Eastman’s tenure at UNH for broadening his horizons in some challenging ways.
“You need a lot more than a broad back to get out of a ditch,” is how Eastman characterized Boston’s educational and coaching philosophy for New England working class athletes.
Eastman graduated from high school in the Chesapeake Bay region and then followed in his father’s footsteps and enrolled at UNH, deciding to major in Forestry and to join ROTC, the Reserve Officer Training Corps.
The son of a naval officer, Eastman recounted that he and his ROTC classmates eyed the experience as a good one, as there was the presence of the draft in those times for all, and the thinking was that, if you could get into the military and learn to fly, you might sign on with the airlines later, resulting in a high-paying career while also living in New Hampshire.
Eastman recounted that he was “just a kid” when Chief handed him all the administrative duties of the team, from booking and paying for travel accommodations and meals to making sure team members were awakened, fed and dressed appropriately in time to catch the team bus to their next game.
Boston majored in Medieval French Poetry as well as being a Latin scholar; he was a heavyweight wrestler and a Harvard Hall of Fame blocking back.
“Because of his classical education, he was a very funny man,” Eastman said of his mentor, a former West Coach line coach whose peers included coaching legend Vince Lombardi, before becoming head coach at UNH.
Within days of arriving on campus, Eastman said, he met members of the UNH football team who eventually “advocated” for his being a team manager, a position he’d also held in high school.
The position was gained, and Eastman smiles as he recounts that, as a result of his link with the team, he could visit any fraternity house on campus during Saturday night parties and be guaranteed admission, a privilege usually reserved for upperclassmen.
“Chief made me like a general’s aide. I became someone everyone could talk to. I became a confessor and was really in an esteemed space by the time we went into the championship game,” said Eastman.
The Wildcats defeated UMass, 16-14. Leading handily at the half, Eastman recounted that the team assembled on tiptoe, hoping not to jinx their position.
“We’re all whispering, ‘Don’t break the spell.’ And Chief came in and tried to say something really touching and he just blubbered,” Eastman said, chortling at the tears to this day, as fellow players still do.
With a laundry list of pre-game duties, Eastman said, he remained at a dog trot, doing everything from paying the referees and helping the ground crews put flags up in the end zones to locating scarce resources for both teams.
Each bench required large quantities of ice and Eastman said he found an icemaker in one of the chemistry labs of James Hall. Prior to the doors being secured for the night,Eastman would enter and discreetly unlock a window. He would return later on Saturday mornings, armed with a large, rubberized garbage can to load with ice and spirit out of the building.
A local orchard donated a bushel or two of MacIntosh apples that were offered to players, along with quartered orange slices from the campus food services, Eastman recalled.
While Ivy League schools had dozens of handlers for their elite football players, Eastman usually was solely the head manager for UNH on away trips. One of the few times Chief relented and allowed Eastman to bring along two assistant managers, the team nearly missed its game against Springfield.
“I didn’t know then how to manage people,” Eastman recounted, saying how, in his efforts to be fair and divide duties equally, he forgot to assign one of the managers to wake up the team.
“At times, you have to double-think. That’s what I think you get from the collegiate experience,” he said.
Awakening in the motel, Eastman sat bolt upright in bed Saturday morning when he realized things were far too quiet. Racing outside the motel barefoot and wearing pajamas in a drizzle while beating on doors, Eastman said he sprinted out front to see the team bus, parked and with the door open and driver in place, with Chief sitting in the front seat by himself, looking straight ahead.
“David,” he inquired, “Where is the University of New Hampshire football team?”
“I’ll get ‘em!,” Eastman responded, dashing off to continue his wake-up duties.
“Only the two quarterbacks were awake. Everyone else was still sleeping. They’d missed the meal and the taping session. They were still groggy at halftime; never did wake up!” he said.
Following his graduation in 1965, Eastman joined the military and was assigned to Army aviation, serving with a helicopter unit, the 175th Aviation Company “Outlaws,” from 1966 to 1967, ultimately earning a Silver Star for gallantry in action in the Mekong Delta.
In 2001, Eastman teamed up with publisher Peter Randall of Portsmouth to write “Outlaws in Vietnam: 1966-67 in the Delta,” a personal narrative of his 175th Aviation Company tour.
The book has been awarded a silver medal by Military Writers Society of America, recognizing it as a superior example of the genre.
The book is available at Amazon.com and may be purchased directly from the author by writing to him at POBox 59, Center Sandwich NH 03227.