I don’t remember writing much about my military time except perhaps in my autobiography. It struck me a couple of days ago how it affected me when my brother commented through a post on his FaceBook page that everyone should take a trip for a period of time outside of their ten friends and two bars, as it was said.
He got away from home after events led him to take leave of situations that were detrimental to him. He took a job in the Marshall Islands in broadcasting similar to what he was doing locally back home. After the contract he got back as far as Hawaii and stopped in and called it home for several years. It was an up-righting period of time for him. Just recently he moved to Riverside California doing much the same thing, but in yet another whole cultural experience. It’s been good for him.
As for me, I was a young teen that graduated from high school in 1969 and went straight into the work force as a carpenter apprentice and then a field engineer chainman. I wasn’t really going anywhere with this except I was taking a course in architectural drafting it that kind of flowed together.
During the engineering and study time I was 1A for the draft. Vietnam was a hotbed of political and national debate, not even speaking of the loss of lives in a small country on the other side of the earth. Some fifty eight thousand young souls of our own died there. I could have been one of those. God saw different for me placing me in a skill that would not lead me to Vietnam.
I’d grown up on a farm. I worked the fields and took care of the animals, where I went to school with the same twenty five kids. I grew up from first grade to graduation with them. My last year was involved in the social change to total desegregation. That added fifty blacks to my graduating class. I though we’d transitioned quite well that year. The trouble is that is was down hill from there to the great exodus as I heard it put.
I tried to enlist into the Army before I got drafted so I could at least have a shot at something that I could use in civilian life. That was construction drafting, but they attempted to steer me to cartographic drafting. I wanted nothing to do with lines that weren’t straight. That goes against my OCD. So. The draft caught me up in September 1970.
Then began the transformation of the country farm boy to a man of travels. I boarded a bus heading to Raleigh in a hot September morning. My mom dropped me off. She later said she cried for days afterward. I wasn’t alone that morning. I made friends with three or four other, but one in particular. His name was Lawrence Shaw. We went through basic training together before parting for our military schooling (MOS training).
That was an eventful day. From the farm that morning to Raleigh where we took our oath and then to the airport. By one o’clock the following morning we were sitting in a bus stop in pitch black dark street where we were told to wait for a bus to take us to Ft Polk. I was so glad to see the headlights of that bus. Fort Polk is divided into two parts. North and South Fort. South Fort was for basic training. That is where our bus dropped us off at the Reception Center. It was a mysterious place in the dark with hot drab two story buildings and smells unlike I’d ever experienced before. A group of us were herded into a room that fit about thirty of us that was set up like a classroom in one of those buildings. We were kind of shook down. They told us to dump anything we had that was considered nonessential, which included naked pictures of our girlfriends. I know those guys had a field day there after we were taken to the mess hall for something to eat. We’d not eaten in a good while, so food was more enticing than any naked pictures could be, yet, I would have loved to had mine back. Yeah. I had a couple of my own.
We’d heard of the stories of salt peter. If that worked I probably wouldn’t have cared, but I sure missed my girl at the time. Research says it wasn’t used, but bromides were. Mostly anxiety and such diminished such urges around others as our dignity was stripped from us. That first night taught me to adjust quickly to new surroundings and what “fire watch” was all about. Any of you reading this knows what that is.
The following week was for hair cuts, new clothes, tests and more tests. The funny part of the week was they gave us a choice of three hair cuts. An A cut got you nothing but stubble. A B cut got you side walled with a little longer stubble. A C cut got you side walled with an inch on top. The point is when we got to our company to begin training the first thing the drill sergeants did was take us all to the barber shop for A cuts. That meant some barbers were making money. We got all new uniforms including underwear, t-shirts, socks, belts, two pair of combat boots and a pair of dress shoes. And what was called a “cunt” cap. Sorry folks. That’s what it was called. When I got my first paycheck I bought a saucer cap. I still have that one.
I won’t go into details of my military time here. I might write that as time goes on. To make a longer story short. I graduated basic training and went to missile school at Ft Sill, OK and then on to Germany via Ft Jackson. I spent almost sixteen months in Germany and visited France and just inside Austria. When I came home I was out-processed at Ft Dix, NJ. I flew back home from via Philadelphia and DC to Wilmington.
I was back home after nineteen months as a Specialist Fourth Class. With that came a bigger vision of the world at large. I was no longer a innocent cloistered farm boy. I had become a man. But, that too was yet another starting point in life to a new still bigger and higher form of learning.