Have gun, will travel – the true story of Dick Dunnington

Dick Dunnington volunteered (you read that right) for 3 tours of Vietnam, as a military intelligence officer, but wouldn’t breathe a word of what he did there, even though I asked him about 5x a day [1]. He worked hard his whole life and, not being able to have kids of his own, adopted two foster children. He was punctual, responsible and a man of his word. He lived precisely by the letter of his contracts.

Even though he was a warrior, he valued peace, character, integrity, and honesty (remember, those?). Even though he fought a war and lost friends, he wasn’t bitter. Even when he was laid off and out of work for 3 years, he never didn’t wake up at 6 AM every morning and fill his day with productive activities (he eventually bounced back as a consultant – see below).

His politics were as true as his character. We had similar backgrounds, in some ways, as I was a veteran myself, but different politics. Despite our different political persuasions, we ultimately agreed on the same candidate at the time. It was an era where people who disagreed could still talk with each other, and even, sometimes agree. Remember those days?

The big Boom, Boom

A funny story Dick told me once, was when his convoy was moving through some road in Vietnam and the kids, from a local village, who were standing along the road watching them, all suddenly put their fingers in their ears. It seems they were expecting a big Boom, Boom, a clear, albeit unwitting, indicator that they were about to roll into some trouble! 😉 The kids knew what was going to happen, the soldiers did too, but all the patrol could do was reach down and squeeze, in anticipation of the fireworks that would ensue, unable to stop, change course or turn around.

I’ve thought of that so many times at work. How many of us have been in the same situation? I call it “the Big Boom, Boom”

Out of luck, out of work

Dick, like seemingly 50% of Massachusetts at the time, worked for Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). I thought he was old at 50 … oops, the same age I am now! If Dilbert was a human being, he would be it (and that is a compliment). He talked like what you would think a mathematician would talk like. Despite, these admirable qualities, Dick was laid off (eventually along with everyone else at DEC). Dick had a solid position in middle management and his pride and principles wouldn’t allow him to take a job for less than he had at DEC. So he was out of work for a year … then two … then three. Sure, he kept busy. He worked his land in New Hampshire with some heavy equipment he had, but three years is a long time to nurse your ego and turn your nose up to lesser opportunities. So finally, he realized it was time to change.


Wait, what was that little word? Ego? Opportunities? No, change. That is why I emphasized it.

• If something isn’t working, you have to change
• If you are tired of beating your head against the wall, you have to change
• If you have hit rock bottom and there is nowhere to go but up, you have to change
• If you are unhappy, unfulfilled, un[fill in the blank]ed or you simply want to grow and improve, you have to change

No change role play

You: Ok, change … I get it. Easy. What do I have to do?

Me: Really? Are you ready to do this? OK … take all the stuff you are doing now and do it all differently. Stop doing the things you are doing now. Start doing things you haven’t been doing. And for things you should keep doing, do them differently. That is all

You: Whoa … let’s not get crazy here. Sure, I want to break out of my current pattern, but I really have to do things differently? No, that seems a bit extreme. That’s a deal-breaker to me. Instead, let me just sit around a bit more and just hope things get better.

There is a great book that covers this topic really well. It is called “Who moved my cheese”. Go to Amazon, buy it, read it, internalize it. It will change your life. I’ve talked to people who I recommended that book to who I still hear from and thank me for the recommendation. It will take you about 30 minutes, to read it, including a coffee break. So if you haven’t done it, do it.

Change role play

Instead, let’s try this again …

You: Ok, I get it.

Me: Good. Let’s look at some patterns in your life that you can alter to create the foundation for more fundamental change. It starts with going to bed early, waking up early, getting out of the house (even if you have nowhere to go), eating right, detoxing from alcohol, sugar, crap food, drugs, computer games, porn, illicit sex, social media, excuses, self-pity, pride, self-deprecating thoughts, self-destructive behaviors, etc, and forcing yourself to engage in wellness activities like meeting with friends, exercise, reading. music etc.

You: Ok, I can do that

Me: OK, great. I’ll be checking on you to make sure you are! Once you have committed to that and we have the beginnings of a solid foundation, let’s plan the next steps to alter and improve the trajectory of your life.

You: Great, let’s do this thing!

Have gun, will travel

Getting some of these die-hard “older” guys to make changes in life, is a challenge, but that is what Dick undertook. He decided that at 50 years old, he would change his stripes and become a technical consultant. The only problem was that he didn’t know a damn thing about technology, except perhaps mainframes and other water-cooled computer systems.

Undeterred, he went down to the local bookstore and went to the technology aisle. As the books were arranged in alphabetical order, the first topics were for “A”. He grabbed the first book he saw which was on Microsoft Access. Bought it, took it home, read it. Then he bought a copy of Access, installed it, and started to apply the principles he learned from the book. Once he was comfortable, he hung up his shingle, “Dick Dunnington – Microsoft Access Consultant” aka “Have gun, will travel” – an old Wild West American TV show.

He introduced himself to various agencies who were more impressed with Dick’s presence and aura of professionalism and responsibility than he many years of experience with this technology (as he had none). Soon enough he was hired for his first consulting assignment at $40/hr, then his next at $45, then his next … By the time I met him he was at $50 and ready to level up again.[2]

In a few short weeks, Dick decided to get off of his backhoe, change his entire profession and approach, invest in doing the things he needed to do to achieve this transformation, and systematically move forward to execute his plan.


The last time I spoke to Dick he was complaining of too many people contacting him for work assignments. I commiserated with him and we both went about our lives. I always told myself that someday, when I had a little time, I’d write down some reflections of this man, who made such an impression on me.

Dick, if you or your kids, wife, etc. ever find this, I want you to know I appreciated your leading by example, and I always found inspiration in your story.

For others out there, if you are stuck in a rut, as we all get from time to time, perhaps you can also gain some inspiration from this story as well.


[1] He was under a bunch of security restrictions about his duties, missions, etc although I would have expected those to have eventually expired …

[2] These are rates from 20+ years ago

(p) Photo credit – https://www.metv.com/shows/have-gun-will-travel

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