Coates Uncovers Hero Saga
Hermit's Dad Proud of Son
by Chris Farrell
(As told to Paul V. Coates)
That was my boy Dennis who came out of the Griffith Park hills this week after living up there for six years like a hermit.
I'd like to tell you a little about him. Maybe even tell you why he went up there, or, at least, why I think he went up there.
But before I do, there's something else I'd like to say:
I'm proud of my son, and so is his mother. We're real proud of him.
How many men in the world today could do what he's done? How many men could live in a forest and survive for six years without any help?
A man has to be awfully strong to do that.
And he has to be awfully strong of mind, too, when he's hungry and cold, not to do something dishonorable to get the bare necessities to keep himself alive.
All his life -- from the time he was a little boy and used to go out into some terrible storms to deliver the Denver Post -- he never asked anything of his fellow man.
He gave. He was a generous giver. But he'd never permit himself to be dependent on other people.
Dennis, who's 33 now, was the oldest of our six children. He graduated from high school, was a good student -- a little bit too himself, maybe -- but he got along fine with all the rest.
In fact, his classmates back in North Platte, Neb., still think the world of him.
When he was 18 he went into the Army. On the last day of the Okinawa campaign he was shot through the chest. The bullet went clean through him and collapsed a lung, but even in his letters home then, he never complained.
It was only this week that I learned that Dennis had been a pretty big hero over there in the fighting. That's one thing he never did talk to me about. More than one time, if the subject of war or shooting came up, he'd leave the room.
It was Milton Fabre, Dennis' old Army buddy, who told me this week how Dennis and a soldier named Gonzales saved their platoon by shooting 40 Japanese soldiers between them.
It's strange that Dennis never told me that story.
I guess it was after my boy got out of the Army that his problem started building. He'd go from job to job, never quite getting one he felt had the proper challenge to it.
It was when he came back from a job in Omaha in early '52 and tried to re-enlist in the Army that he first showed any signs of being despondent. They turned him down because of his disability, even though long before that he'd told them to stop sending his pension check.
He explained it to me, "Dad," he said, "there's other guys who need that money worse than I do."
Anyway, it was after the Army turned him down that he packed and slipped out of the house one night, May 9, 1952. He didn't say a word to us. He just left.
We never heard another word from him, or about him, until last April when the police in Hollywood picked him up in the park.
We'd given up. We thought he was dead.
As soon as we heard, Mom and I rushed out here. But by the time we arrived, he was already released and back in the hills.
Naturally, as soon as we heard the news again this week, we came right back out.
I want to say that Mr. Fabre has been more than a friend. He stayed with Dennis all the first day. And the Hollywood police officers have been very kind, both to us and to our son. They were wonderful.
I want to pay back the officer who put up the money for Dennis' hotel room the other night.
Mom and I are just thankful now that he's in good hands. The VA Hospital is going to take care of him. Then we hope he'll come home.
We're confident that Dennis will be all right once he gets straightened out. He's our son and we know him, and we know that he's no different than hundreds of thousands of other peoples' sons.
And we're so thankful that they didn't go into the hills and drag him out -- that he came out by himself.
He made the decision. He was ready. That's a good sign.