This was the longest plane ride in my life! Towards the end everyone was getting fidgety. Some of the smart ones had brought cards and books to read, things to help pass the time. I hadn’t thought that far ahead. We finally landed and I was more relieved that it was over, than excited to be there.
It took a long time to debark the plane. Everyone stumbled around gathering their things, trying to get the circulation back into their legs. No one yelled at us to hurry. We were regular soldiers now, not just some douche bags, and we were afforded some respect. I was a part of the United States Army and it felt good to be grown up.
Inside though, I was still a kid, excited about this new journey that lay ahead, convinced that I was making all the right decisions and satisfied that I was heading in the right direction.
We were taken by bus to the replacement center. It look liked a castle. It was dark outside and that added to the mystique. It wasn’t at all like the T V or magazines portrayed. Everything looked and felt very strange. Being there, in person, hearing the sounds and smelling the smells made quite a difference. It wasn’t just a square picture in front of me. It was all around me.
They formed us up into groups and marched us around from building to building, each time giving us more stuff to carry. This was our “TA-50” which was mostly winter gear. It added another twenty pounds to my already bulky load. I still marveled at the organization of it all.
Come to a different place, needing different stuff, and they give it to us as soon as we arrive. And quality? This stuff was the greatest, especially the winter boots! They were nicknamed “Mickey Mouse” probably because they looked like his feet. They have little air vents in them. Blow warm air in between two insulated layers and it just didn’t matter how cold it got
Good equipment gave me a secure feeling, like being trusted with something important. They felt I was valuable enough to take good care of, and that made me want to do a better job.
We dragged our stuff from place to place while they lectured us. It was mostly about hookers, and the strength of German beer. I’d already seen the films about those diseases found in many of the women who hung around military bases, and I believed them! Anyway, I hadn’t been thinking much about girls. There were too many other new and exciting things happening… or, maybe they really do put something in the food. Nah! They would have to tell us if they did something like that.
Then they told us about the beer.
“A German beer is the alcohol equivalent of three American beers!”
There was a rousing cheer. This was not the response he wanted, but he was used to it. He knew he would have the last laugh the following morning when they had formation, watching them all stumble around with terrible hangovers.
We waited around for a few days until they decided where we were needed most. I used the time to walk around the town and see the sights. I couldn’t get over how different the lives of people could be, just by living in a different country. Every other country must be just as different, and in other ways. I felt so sheltered, so unaware. It would take a while to adjust to all this. It was almost information overload.
On the third day they called me. I was assigned to the Third Armored Division. It was one heck of a unit during the Second World War. Many brave men gave their lives wearing that patch! Now, it was parked in a “Caserne.” That was our base, and from it we ran around playing war over the same countryside these units had once fought for real.
The bus stopped at the Orderly Room of my company. Dragging my load, I walked in, and reported to the desk clerk and handed him my orders. No one was in any real hurry but everyone went about their duties with this sense of efficiency that made it look so very organized. I couldn’t wait to be a part of all this. I wanted to be efficient too.
“Welcome to the unit Turner!”
He sounded like he meant it. Everyone I had spoken to since my arrival here had been really pleasant. This was a very encouraging sign.
“You’re a radio operator! Good! We need a radio operator! You will be assigned to an M-114!”
They need me! I think I actually trembled a little inside.
This, by the way is pronounced M-one-one-four, not M- one-fourteen! But, a tank, the M-60 was called M-Sixty, not Six-Zero. Things you learn.
Someone called out to him from another office.
“Johnson! I need Sgt. Willis in here ASAP! And where are those action reports?”
“On my way Sir!”
The clerk just calmly replied not looking concerned at all about being given an order. Even though this was still the Army, there was a relaxed but professional atmosphere. I liked it.
“And they’re in your top drawer, right side!”
That must be my new Company Commander, or C.O. I tried to tell by the tone of his voice just what kind of person he was. He wasn’t yelling any louder than he needed to, to be heard. But, his voice was firm, like he was used to getting what he wanted when he wanted it.
I made a mental note to try my best to make a good first impression. I would pay attention and do all that they told me to, and suck it up if they chewed out. I really wanted to fit in here and be a real part of this unit not just another body. I would be spending the next few years here. They would be pleasant ones if it were going to be up to me.
“Well, we will worry about this when we get back!”
He stuffed all of my paperwork in his top drawer.
“You will have a chance to meet the Major when we get where we are going! Follow me and I will show you where you’re going to bunk!”
I grabbed my stuff, noticing he wasn’t offering to help, and followed him out the door. Going? Going where?
“So, how did you end up here?”
We walked in the direction of all the noise I heard earlier. I hoped they didn’t have me living right next to that!
“They just put me here!”
He smiled back and I relaxed a little more. Maybe this wouldn't be all that bad after all!
“That happens a lot! Okay! That building right there! You’re on the second floor, room four!”
Room? I have a room? Maybe an eight by twelve room like our instructors had back in basic. One or even two men could live in something like that pretty comfortably. Then it hit me and I smiled. I already had something to look back on. Time was moving along at a pretty good pace.
There were only four rooms on the second floor. Each with twenty bunks, twenty wall lockers, and twenty foot lockers with sixteen sets of very shiny boots exactly centered in front of each one. No one was in the room when I first got there. I set my things down just inside the door and looked around. This was truly impressive, much newer than I was used to.
Every bunk and locker was in its place exactly where it was supposed to be. The room looked synchronized. It was so perfect, I was almost afraid to walk in it for fear of messing something up.
There were a couple empty bunks but I was not going to just walk in and pick one out. I would wait till someone else told me it was okay.
It wasn’t long before a tall skinny guy rushed into the room. He hurried to his footlocker and was working on the combination before he spoke. He knew I was new to the company.
“Where are you from?”
He asked me in a polite but hurried tone. I had this new habit of listening to the tones people used when they spoke to me. How they said it told me a lot more than what they said.
“I’m from Michigan!”
I walked over to him, glancing back at the floor, making sure not to leave any scuffmarks.
“My names David!
He looked up, smiling.
“Hey! No kiddin! Motown here! Welcome to Germany homey!”
He got his locker open and stood up.
He stuck his hand. Now I’d seen a few of the other soldiers giving this new kind of handshake and I had been anxious to try it myself. I put my hand up in the same “V” position he had, just like I had been doing it all along.
“Great to meet you Stan!”
It was nice to meet someone who lived that close to home. Even though I had not been to many places in my state, there were things we could find to talk about.
“So, where should I bunk?”
“You can have this bunk right above me! Jones left a couple days ago! That one will be your wall locker, and that one, your foot locker!”
As he pointed them all out to me, I couldn’t get over the feeling that things were finally coming together. This was what the Army was all about!
Grabbing my bag, I was just about to ask Stan where I could pick up some locks, when a corporal stuck his head in the door.
“Saddle up! We are heading out in fifteen minutes!”
“No Problem! Stan answered. Then he noticed the confused look on my face.
“Didn’t they tell you we had an F.T.X.?”
“Field Training Exercise! We are taking the “big boys” to the firing range!”
I would have to figure out what would be needed for this trip. I opened my bag, and looked at the neatly folded clothes. Except for my new winter gear it was all packed. I decided to bring it all.
“You ready?” Stan asked.
I put my field jacket on, stuck the gloves in my pocket, tossed the duffle bag over my shoulder, grabbed the winter boots with my left hand, put the helmet on my head, poncho under my left arm, and I still had one hand left to salute. I was getting the hang of this! Stan took one look at me, and smiled.
“You look ready! Let’s go!”
We headed out the door. I decided to stick close to Stan, at least until I got the hang of things here. I had no idea what my duties would be with this company, let alone on this exercise, and was glad he was here.
The closer we got to the tank line the louder it was. The smell of diesel fuel filled the air and burned my nose. The sound of all those massive machines revving up made me feel small. The ground shook beneath me and the vibration coursed through my whole body, getting stronger as we got closer, until I was trembling in unison with the awesome power of those beasts.
I felt insignificant with all this activity going on around me. People were running around, jumping up and down on tanks, smaller tanks, and jeeps, everyone with a purpose. As yet, I had none.
“Did they tell you anything in the orderly room?” He asked, as we walked.
“They just said I will be a radio operator on an M-114!” I replied.
He pointed over to the right, to a group of smaller tanks that were just starting up.
“You will be on one of those! Just go over there and find an officer. They will get you squared away!”
Then he stuck out his hand.
“Okay! Well good to meet you! I’ll see you at Graf! We’ll talk more when we get back! Good luck!”
And with that he turned to go where he was supposed to be, leaving me alone smack dab in the middle of the whole U.S. Army!
Okay! I’ll just go where he pointed and start there. I walked down to where a dozen or so personnel carriers were parked and spotted a set of captain’s bars. I walked up and saluted. He returned it.
“What can I do for you Turner?’ He said, looking at my nametag.
“Sir I just arrived in company and was told that I would be a radio operator on one of these and that’s all I know!”
“Good! We needed one!”
He pointed to one of the tanks where three other guys were making preparations.
“Report to the T.C. (tank commander) sitting on that one right there! He will get you situated!”
Then, he noticed all my extra gear and smiled again.
“You planning on staying a while Turner?”
I smiled back.
“I hope so sir!”
I saluted again, for good measure. He returned it again. If you salute them, they have to salute back.
The T.C., or Tank Commander, sized me up. He might have looked slightly disappointed. Maybe not. I was getting sensitive about that kind of thing.
“Stow your gear in the back by the radio! You do know how to operate a radio right?”
I was right. There was more than a touch of sarcasm in his voice. I was determined not to let it get to me. I would just do my job the best I could, and leave the rest to the dealer.
“That's my MOS (military occupational specialty) sergeant! I will do my best!”
I answered calmly, as if I didn’t notice his tone. His features seemed to lighten up some.
“Alright! Go ahead and start your radio checks!” Your call sign is “Mike two-nine!”
Radio checks. That’s something I understood. It was one of the first things they taught me. This was most certainly my first call sign. I went back to the rear of the machine. There was one big four-inch thick steel plate that covered the whole backside. It tilted down to open, and up to close. Once it was closed, the only exit was a small round hatch where the gunner sat with his head sticking out. It felt very confined in there but I tried not to dwell on it.
My radio was situated in the back and it was one I had been trained on. There was a small metal seat beside it where I would ride. I stuffed my gear under the bench, put my headphones on and flipped the on switch.
Immediately there was chatter. And it was chatter I understood! The Army, in its infinite wisdom, trained us all to talk exactly same on radio. I listened for a little while, getting the general idea of what the others were doing Finally, I felt it was time for my radio check.
A radio check, basically, was when you called someone’s call sign, usually the net operator. If he heard you call, he called you back. If you heard him call you back you then called him back and asked him if he could hear you. If he heard you, he called you back and told you that he could. Then he asked you if you could hear him. If you heard him, you called him back and told him so. Then you both stood by waiting for everyone else to call that needed to know if they could be heard. Finally, everyone knew they could hear everyone else, we were ready and it was time to head out!
We roared here and there, through fields and towns, some with roads just barely large enough for our biggest tank. I sat at my seat listening to the constant traffic on the radio. Most of it I understood, but some, mostly regarding the tanks or the operation itself, was still Greek to me. No one called me and that was okay. I worried a little about doing or saying something stupid on the air, and giving a bad first impression. They stick with you. So I just sat and listened.
Things were settling down some. I figured there wouldn't be much traffic from now till we arrived. Then, there was a call for one of the “Liaison Jeeps” to report to the rear of the column. As I listened to the conversation, I heard that one of the big tanks had taken out a corner of a building while trying to make a tight right turn in that last little town we went through. I figured things like that had to happen here. The tiny spaces these big tanks had to maneuver in seemed impossible to me. I found out later that it happened quite a lot.
It was the Liaison Officer’s job to fill out the report. He took some pictures, filled out some forms, and gave a copy to the building owner who was usually pretty upset. The Army later paid for the damage.
Laws in Germany were quite different, especially civil laws, and the U.S. military had to abide by them. For instance, if you run over a chicken you not only pay for the bird but all the eggs it would have laid in a lifetime. It was all figured out in the courts. They even had charts and graphs. If you hit a cow, it was the all milk it would have produced in its lifetime, and the price of two calves. I can’t imagine what those few bricks cost the American taxpayers.
We arrived at the camp. Somebody said it was called “Bum-Something Egypt!” We were in Egypt? I didn’t know we had left the country! I sat at my radio, looking like I was intently listening, even though I was hearing nothing. I was trying to look busy while everyone else, who knew what they were doing, set up camp.
Even though I wasn’t directly involved yet it felt neat at least to be a part the entire goings on. This was “Official Stuff!” We were not just playing around! There was millions of dollars worth of equipment parked all over the place. Guy’s lives were at stake here and I was a part of it, or wanted to be anyway.
After a couple more radio checks where everyone still heard everyone else, I decided to go to the operations tent and see if I could find out if there was anything more I was supposed to be doing. I wanted to have something important to do and hoped this wasn’t all there was to my job. That would be quite a pisser if my only function in the Army were to constantly check and see if I could be heard.
I stood there just inside the door, waiting to be acknowledged, watching everyone go about their business. While I stood there a call came in that some guys Mother had died and the Red Cross was standing by to help him ship back home.
This guy had some important function here. The only other person who knew that job was the Lieutenants Liaison driver. The Captain appointed him to the new task, which left his opening to fill. He was looking around the tent when he spotted me.
“Can you drive a jeep?” He asked.
I lied, without a second thought. I had driven a stick shift, just once. He didn’t ask how well, just if I drove.
“Good! You’re the new Liaison driver! Have the clerk over there type you up a license! Can you operate the radio?”
“Yes sir I can!”
I exclaimed a little loud. He looked at me a little strange for a second.
“Good!” he finally said. “Your call sign is Tango-One-Niner!”
And with that, he walked out of the tent, satisfied that he had handled this crisis quite well.
I watched as the clerk typed my name on a piece of paper a little larger than a business card Underneath in one of the spaces provided, he added “Jeep M-151” Then, he continued to type.
½ Ton Truck
3/4 Ton Truck
1 Ton truck
And he didn’t stop there!
Cool! Tanks! But, he continued!
Dang! That was the tank! The “Big Boy itself! I was being authorized to drive that? And, he didn’t stop there! I watched in amazement as he typed in the final space.
I found out later that the M-78 was a Mobile Bridge! Dang! This must be some sort of joke, maybe some kind of initiation. Just a few minutes ago I only made radio checks. Now I was authorized to drive almost every single vehicle in the United States Army! Talk about a battlefield promotion!
He pulled the card out of the typewriter, signed it, and handed it to me. Maybe it wasn’t a joke!
“Have fun!” He said.
I could hardly contain my excitement! I looked over at the Lieutenant who I would be driving around. He was already looking at me.
“I didn’t mean it that way sir! What I meant was…
“Never mind Turner!” He said, also looking at my nametag.
“Go gas up the jeep and report back to me!”
“Yes Sir! “ I replied smartly.
I saluted, turned and briskly walked out. Then, as I faced the vehicle I was supposed to know how to drive, I realized that maybe I spoke too soon.
David! You got to straighten up! You’re not playing with a toy here! It’s time to get serious! First things first! You’ve got to learn how to drive this jeep, and you have one trip to the gas station to do so! Did I just get in over my head?
P.O.L. or Petroleum, Oil, and Lubricants, the Army’s name for gas station. It was set up at the other end of our bivouac area. Good! That would give me a little time. I sat in the seat and looked around for the starter Crap! Then I remembered someone stepping on a button on the floor. I found it and stepped down. The jeep jerked forward! I forgot to push the clutch in! Thankfully, no one saw me. I pushed in the clutch and tried again. The jeep roared to life.
I found neutral, let the clutch out, and sat there for a minute getting acquainted. This jeep had both a lap blanket, and doors! I found out later both were hard to come by. In these cold winters they made a great deal of difference in driver comfort, and now they were mine!
It was time. I couldn’t postpone it any longer. I looked at the stick shift to figure out the shifting order. It was too worn to make out. I remembered that upper left was first gear in the only car I did drive. I pushed in the clutch, shifted, then let the clutch out slowly, and the jeep took right off smooth as could be.
Alright! This wasn’t going to be that bad. I tried to find second and stalled out. That wasn’t it! I started again, got back in first, and took off. Okay, as long as I don’t have to shift, I’ll do just fine. No, I have to do it. I shifted, trying a different position on the gears. This time, just like first gear, it pulled right out, almost getting away from me.
I took my time getting to P.O.L. practicing my shifting and turning and starting to feel a little better about my earlier fib. I might just pull this off! Pulling up to one of the fuel trucks that already had a jeep fueling up, I watched what he did without letting him know. I learned where the gas cap was and how he pumped it. He finished and drove away after nodding to me. Of course I made sure to nod back, not wanting to appear rude to anyone. I pulled up, and went to shut off the jeep. That’s when I made a mental note to let it turn off completely before letting the clutch back out. It wouldn’t look very good if I gave my officer whiplash.
Despite my awkwardness so far, I was feeling relatively important. People were depending on me for something much more important than keeping my room clean. Nothing this big, this real, had ever happened to me before. I determined to myself, right then and there, to always be as serious as possible about my responsibilities. Even if everyone around me was goofing off, I would do my duty. Who knows. Look how far I had come with the company and I hadn’t even slept in my own bunk yet! At this rate, by next week I might be flying jets!
A splash of fuel all over my hands told me the tank was full and broke my daydream. The pumps didn’t have auto shut off. Another mental note, some quick wiping, and I was back on the path. Now I just needed to drive around a little to get the smell of gas out of the jeep.
Then, my radio squawked.
“Tango One-Niner, This is Tango Four! Do you copy? Over!”
That was for me! Panic set in for a second. I looked all over for the Microphone, and couldn’t find it right away. It was under the lap blanket. They called again.
“Tango One-Niner, This is Tango Four! Do you copy?… Over!”
I pulled the jeep over and jerked to another halt. Feeling the front of the radio, I found where the microphone was plugged in, and followed the cord back to the action end. I took a breath, and keyed the mike. This was going to be my first real communication.
“Tango Four, This is Tango One-Niner! I copy! Go Ahead!”
That sounded pretty good!
“Rendezvous operations tent ASAP!”
Now, ASAP, in the regular world meant as soon as possible In the Army it meant, “You ain’t here yet?
“Roger Four! I am on my way!” One-Niner out!
Except for not being where they wanted me right then, I was starting to feel confident about actually being able to handle my new job.
That feeling was overshadowed by the look on the Lieutenants face, as I pulled up to the tent. He had been waiting there, for what he considered far too long. A quick glance at my watch told me it had been over a half hour.
“What took you so long?”
He sounded a little perturbed.
Should I just go ahead and tell him that I had never driven anything even close to a jeep before and wasn’t totally sure I was ready now? That he would probably be better off finding someone with more experience?
And, miss out on all this? Not a chance!
“This is my first F.T.X. and I was just driving around the camp making myself familiar with where everything was in case you needed to send me somewhere!”
His face softened a little. He walked around to the passenger side, opened his door and got in. I was glad when he did it himself. That would have made me look more like a chauffer, than a soldier.
“Good idea, Uh, Turner!”
He said, looking at my nametag again.
“Take me to my tent!”
I drove him to the officer tent area. I only went to second gear. I wasn’t sure which one was third yet and didn’t want to make any mistakes trying to find it.
“This one here!”
Then he looked at me again, curiously this time.
“So you are new to this company eh Turner”
Finally, someone noticed I was new. In the rush of things to get ready, no one had paid much attention to me. I wondered how long it would have been, if I had stayed in front of my radio. I forgot about that. Someone will to have to let them know I would no longer be doing it.
“Yes sir! I got here ten minutes before we took off on this exercise!”
He seemed to relax a little. He had seen me being “requisitioned” to this new responsibility by the captain. I hoped he thought I was doing okay.
“Well, it looks like you are handling it okay!”
That confirmed my hope.
“Pick me back up here, in one hour!”
“One hour! I will be right here sir!”
He got out. I waited till he crossed in front of me. My foot was tight on the brake, and it was out of gear. I would not run anyone over this night.
He disappeared into his tent leaving me on my own, but not all alone. This time, I had a jeep. And this jeep had a radio!
I decided to take a spin around the encampment. I put it in first and let the clutch out. Smooth as silk! I pulled it down into second and had no problem with that. Third gear, then fourth was the same thing. I was getting the hang of it I was now a jeep driver, just that simple.
The place was quiet now, except for a few guards walking their post, paying me no mind. Except for the operations tent most lights were out. The radio had been quiet for sometime now. The net operator had closed the net and except for an occasional call, the Army was at rest.
Not me! I was wide-awake, and my imagination was running wild. I was in the European Theater of Operations, maybe old Blood and Guts personal driver. It was my job to get him safely to headquarters. Whatever it was, it was dangerous and it was up to me to get it done! I was feeling pretty full of myself.
I saw another jeep over at POL and went to see what he was up to. He noticed me and waved a hello. I pulled up beside him and started to get out to introduce myself. Next thing I knew. I was picking myself up off the ground. The engine had not completely stopped and as I let the clutch out and it was still in gear. It took off underneath me! I brushed my knees off, making another mental note, glancing around to see if anyone else besides the other driver, who was cracking up, had seen me. Thankfully, we were alone.
He asked, still barely able to talk yet.
He walked up with a couple bottles in his hand, then noticed that I was not who he expected.
“Who are you?”
He slipped the bottles in his field jacket pocket.
“What happened to Art?”
“My name’s David! Art’s Mother passed away, and they’re sending him home!”
“Oh Man! Sorry to hear that! Art was a decent guy!”
I thought about those beers that he was planning on drinking with Art and didn’t feel right just asking him, so I beat around the bush. I had been getting a little curious about it.
“So, what does everyone do around here for laughs?”
That was enough. He grinned again, pulled out the bottles and handed me one. I looked at it, trying to figure out how to open it. It wasn’t like our beers. These had ceramic tops on them, with rubber seals and wires holding them down.
“Man! You must be new here!”
He took the beer from my hands, flipped the top open and handed it back.
“Be sure to grab that Flippy!”
He saw the confusion on my face, and explained.
“Each time we go on an F.T.X., we put one of those rubber seals around our lighter. Some guys here have their lighters covered completely! It’s a kind of status symbol! It also keeps your lighter from falling out of these loose pants!”
I took the flippy, which was nothing more than an orange doublewide rubber band, and snapped it in place. Then I took my first swig, of German beer. It tasted like antifreeze! It was bitter, had a strong bite to it and worst of all it was warm. The Germans like their beer warm. They must have picked that habit up after the war when they could get no ice. Not wanting this guy to think I wasn’t cool, I hid my distaste and took another long drink.
“Ahhhh! Good stuff!
I lied, smacking my lips.
“Bull! Nobody likes this stuff! We only drink it for the buzz!”
Relieved that I wouldn’t have to pretend how enjoyable it was, I kept drinking, only taking sips now instead of gulps.
“My names Bill, but they call me Willy!”
He stuck out his hand, the same way Stan had. This was definitely the cool way to shake hands.
“Glad to meet you Willy! Whose driver are you?”
“I belong to the C.O. of Bravo company!” My call sign is “Delta, One-Seven!”
“Mines Tango!” I started.
“One-Niner!” He finished for me. Obviously, these two, had done this before. I began to relax a little. The beer was beginning to affect me, just a little.
“So! How long have you been here?”
I looked at my watch.
“In ten minutes it will be ten hours!”
“You are new!”
He said, polishing off his first one, with me anyway.
“You ready for another?”
He walked over to his jeep.
“No thanks! One’s going to be my limit! I don’t wanna screw up! No one even knows I am here yet and I don’t want them finding out I’m here by me doing something dumb!”
He fished another one from somewhere in back of his vehicle.
“You know what? You look like a decent guy! You want to be a good soldier? I’m gonna let you in on a little secret! This could change your life!”
He flipped the lid and took a long drink, killing almost half the bottle. His face puckered from the bitter taste. Then he belched and wiped his face off on his sleeve.
“Secret? There's a secret eh?”
I did want to know the secret, but I was getting very tired of being the brunt of all the jokes. Should I take the chance or never find out if he was on the level.
“I'm not kidding! But, if you don’t want to hear it!”
“I'm sorry! I just have heard a lot of the “Wisdom of the Ages” lately if you know what I mean!”
“Well, forget all that crap! Just remember this okay!
He was starting to sway back and forth and when he looked at me he was having a little trouble focusing, like he couldn’t quite figure out just how close or far away I was. He leaned a little closer into my confidence zone, glancing around to make sure we were alone. I leaned in too.
“Okay! What is this man’s Army looking for? What do they want from us?”
I looked a little puzzled.
He was yelling and when he realized it he put his finger over his lips.
He whispered, spitting a little on my face as he leaned back in.
“Results! See, the Army has a speficic … a sispefic…. a right way to do every single thing! Heck! I bet there's even a spif.. a way to wipe your butt!”
The beers were hitting him hard. I was glad I decided on only that one. It felt good to be able to just decide something and not be swayed by what someone else wanted me to do.
He wasn’t done. Apparently that wasn’t the secret.
“Here’s the secret!
He glanced around again, a little more sway to his turn. We were still alone.
“Stay in motion! You don’t have to be moving fast, you just have to be moving!”
He straightened back up, a very satisfied grin on his face. He figured he had just set me on the right path. I’d already decided to humor him for a few more minutes, then act very late for something important and head out, no harm done. But he wasn’t finished.
“Once you figure out what your supposed to be doing, do it, and keep doing it until someone tells you to do something else. Then do that. Don’t let anyone catch you not doing something. They hate that!”
“Just do it? I don’t get it!”
He got loud again, looked around and quieted back down.
“Results! If you’re a mechanic, always be fixing something! Find something easy to fix, and start working on it! Every time someone sees you, you’re fixing something! It doesn’t matter what it is! It doesn’t even matter if wasn’t broke! If you’re a cook, be cooking something! And be seen! Make some noise doing it! Do it in front of them, and especially behind their backs because eventually someone will walk around the corner and see you, and you do not want to be standing around! Have you ever heard an officer tell anyone to stop doing something? Nope! It’s always “Carry on soldier!”
It sounded so simple, yet it was profound! It made sense! I smiled and he knew that I was getting it. It spurred him on. He looked at me, his index finger pointing up in the air, eyes squinting to focus.
“Have some fun while you’re in this Army! But, do it the way they want you too! Look, it’s not the worst thing in the world to be here! Why not try to enjoy it! You’ve got nothing else to do for the next few years!”
He straightened back up and smiled, satisfied he got his point across. And, he did! I actually got it! It made all kinds of sense. Do It! It really is the secret! Dang! All kinds of new ideas filled my mind. I couldn’t wait to start “doing it.”
I glanced at my watch. Oh Crap! One hour exactly. This wasn’t a good start!
“I got to go man! I'm late! But, hey, I get it! I really do! Thanks man!”
I stuck out my hand, the cool way, to shake.
“Tango One-Niner Right?”
He grabbed my hand, firmer than mine and almost pulled me off my feet in his exuberance.
“I’m Delta One-Seven!”
“Delta One-Seven! Got it! Let’s do this!”
We jumped into our jeeps and with only one little jerk I was headed out to “Do It!”
I made it just as the lieutenant was walking out. He smiled at my promptness. So far, so good!
“Back to H.Q.!”
I let out the clutch, maybe with a little too much gas, but it still glided into first smoothly. Then as careful as possible I shifted my way to third gear. Fourth wasn’t needed in camp. We were halfway back and I was just starting to relax and settle in to my seat, when it happened.
“Tango One Niner! This is Delta One seven! Do you copy over?”
NO! Not while my lieutenant is in the jeep! This won’t end up good! That guy was pretty wasted when I left him.
“You know that's your call sign, right?”
The lieutenant was watching to see what I would do. I had no choice now.
I grabbed the mike. Here goes my future!
“Delta One-Seven, This is Tango One-Niner! I copy. Go Ahead!”
Just the way it was supposed to be done.
“Tango One-Niner, This is Delta One-Seven! What is your E.T.A. your destination?”
That was good, exactly the way you were supposed to ask for that information, if you had a need to know it. But he really didn’t. Then, it hit me! Was he doing it? Should I go along with it? I looked at the lieutenant. He was waiting for me to reply, so I did.
“Delta One-Seven, This is Tango One-Niner! Will arrive my destination, zero-five, over!”
So far… So good.
It was okay to shorten the call sign, once contact has been established.
“I am headed to the north tank line to check out a disturbance. I will rendezvous with you at P.O.L. in One-Five!”
“Roger! One-Seven! Copy that! Rendezvous P.O.L. in One-Five! One-Nine… Out!”
Just like they wanted. We were sounding so… official. It got hard to contain my excitement. I glanced over at the officer who was in charge of me, looking for some sign of approval. Nothing. To him this was nothing out of the ordinary. To me, I had just found my all time favorite thing in the world to do!
I set the mic back, feeling all giddy inside as we got to the headquarters tent. I pulled far to the right, swung around in a U-Turn, and put him right next to the door to the tent. I think he liked that.
Then he turned to me, like he was taking his first real look at me, like I had passed some point of initiation and was worth a little consideration. It made me feel, on some level, I was now part of the program, one of the gang.
So! That's what that feels like! I don’t remember anything ever feeling any better!
“I will call you, when I am ready! Keep your radio on!”
“Yes Sir! You Got it!”
Then, I got a little too excited and pulled away a little too quick. I missed second and the grinding blew the mood. That kind of thing seemed to happen every time I needed a reminder not to get too big a head about things. “Something” would not let pride get in the way of common sense.
I pulled into P.O.L. Willy was already there waiting. He didn’t have a beer in his hand and I relieved. I worried that he might be an alcoholic or something, and didn’t want to associate with anyone with any problems abusing stuff.
“See what I mean! Nothing to it!”
He looked better but his eyes had a whole different look in them. They were now a little bloodshot.
“You were right! I gotta hand it to you!”
“Listen! You give them results and you get somewhere! You don’t, you go nowhere!” Isn't this what you came here to do?”
I started, remembering what choices they had offered me.
“It was either this, or be a medic!”
“No! You don’t want to be a medic! You’ll get your transfer papers, for sure!”
“What do you mean? I thought once you got where you were supposed to be, that's where you stayed until you got out!”
“Just about every medic that has come here has been transferred to Vietnam within two maybe three months!”
His statement sparked an old feeling. The one of the cards, the dealer, my future, and the “cup.” But I was beginning to have fun right here, so I put it away again, for now anyway.
“So! You want to “Do It” some more?”
I cranked up and took off. When I wasn’t worrying about it so much, I had fewer problems shifting. Things were just coming together for me in ways I never dreamed of and I couldn’t wait to “Do” some more. I grabbed the mic.
“Delta One-Seven! This is Tango One-Nine! Radio check! How do you copy? Over!”
He answered right away!
“One-Nine! This is One-Seven! I read you Lima Charlie! (Loud and Clear) Over!”
We sounded good! But, we couldn’t do radio checks all night. There had to be other things. Then, I saw a soldier standing by the tanks. He saw me and waved. I pulled along side and asked him if he needed a ride. He held his hand up. It was wrapped in a rag, and the rag was all red. That was blood! He had cut his hand and it looked pretty bad!
I was thrilled!
I keyed the mic! It was fast becoming an extension of my hand.
“Delta One-Seven! Tango One-Nine! I have a casualty at the far end of the tank line! I am transporting him to the dispensary! My E.T.A. to that location, is zero-two! Over!
“Roger One-Nine! Copy that! I am near that location! I will let them know to expect you! Over!”
“Roger One-Seven! Thanks! One-nine out!”
I looked over at his hand. It had been cut pretty deep! He only had a small towel wrapped around it, and by now it was completely red. His hand was shaking and he looked a little scared.
Come on! It was only a cut! Then he lifted the rag to look at it. When he did, I got a glimpse. The first thing I saw, or think I saw, was bone, and maybe tendon. It was about two inches wide across the back of his hand, and splayed wide open to reveal more than I was prepared to see. It made me gag! I had no control over it. It was immediate and intense! Good thing I hadn’t eaten in a while. There was nothing to come up.
“Where you from?” I wanted to take his mind, and mine, off that wound. He looked like he might actually faint and I didn’t want that.
He said hurriedly.
“Uh, could you just drive?”
I stepped on the gas.
We got there and I helped him to the door. He was feeling a little faint and I helped him walk there with his arm around my shoulder. For just a brief moment, I was there, in the middle of it all, helping a wounded buddy get back to safety. I felt like a weight was being placed on my shoulders and I could handle it.
The doctor was just inside and he took charge of the patient. Mission accomplished! Walking back to my jeep, I could hardly contain myself. Something very important had just happened. I was a critical part of it and I did my job. It just does not get any better!
Willy was sitting in his jeep beside the tent. I jumped in mine, not more than ten feet away. Still, he keyed his mic.
“Tango One-Nine!… Delta One-Seven!… Rendezvous P.O.L Over!”
“One-Seven! Roger! One-Nine Out!”
We smiled at each other. He pulled out and I followed him to the fuel depot. When we got there he parked his jeep behind a fuel truck and jumped into mine.
“Well, am I right, or am I right? As long as you do things the way they want, you can pretty much do what you want… almost! He hesitated, checking me out again, looking for some response. It didn’t come. I had no idea what he was expecting me to say. He tried again.
“Like, I don’t think the Army has a certain way they want you to do this!”
As he talked he brought out this pipe. It looked like a regular tobacco pipe. Then, he produced a small little chunk of something wrapped in aluminum foil.
He handed it to me.
“What is it?”
I put it up to my nose, starting to get a little suspicious. It didn’t smell like anything familiar. I was pretty sure it was some kind of drug.
“What do you think it is?”
Then his tone got serious.
“Hey! You aint C.I.D. are ya?”
He looked directly into my eyes! He wasn’t buying my ignorance.
“Criminal Investigation Division! Cops! Narcs!”
I answered right away.
What else could I say, tell him I have had no experience with any kind of drugs? I decided on the truth and see where it would take me.
“To tell you the truth, I've never done any kind of drugs in my life!”
I threw it out there, and waited to see what happened.
“A Virgin? Hot Dog! Well! Its time to break you in!”
I thought about it. I was already aware how widespread drugs were getting in the world, and in the service, when I was eavesdropping on the “cool gang” in basic. By just listening a person can get quite an education. By my count there was probably a little more than a half dozen guys in my company that either had done drugs recently, or at some time in their lives. To hear these guys talk about it, it was almost better than sex. I had no way to compare.
It was also with this group that I had first learned the phrase “Getting Over.” Anytime you were able to get away without actually doing something, or able to get yourself put on an easy detail, or just have something work out to your great advantage, you were “getting over.” The goal, ideally, was to do absolutely nothing during your entire tour of duty.
At the time, the idea sounded tempting. I had actually tried a couple of their ideas, like hiding at certain times when I knew the sergeant was looking for volunteers, or carrying some papers around with me, trying to look like I had a destination, when actually I had none. Anyone who might be looking for a “volunteer” would think I was already otherwise engaged.
Now, sitting here in my jeep, I could sense how close I was coming to heading in an entirely different direction. This one little decision could make a huge difference in the way I spent my remaining time.
I knew how easily I could be influenced. Those last couple decisions were good ones, lucky, but good. I had to remain focused at all times. This might seem like a simple decision but making it wrong could change my very life, and I understood this.
I would not be getting high. Not right now anyway. I am just getting the hang of getting results and didn’t want to mess things up. It was hard enough to keep things together being straight. I was on to something here and couldn’t imagine what I might do, or act like, if I were all doped up.
“I appreciate the offer, but I don’t think I’m ready to do any drugs right now! Maybe sometime, but not now! I just got here and don’t know what I’m doing yet!”
I handed him back his stuff. He looked at me, like he accepted my decision and all was still okay. I’ve had a few of those looks shown to me as of late and it was having a definite effect on my self-confidence. I could react to situations, even emergencies now, and not be worried about always messing up. Except for the gagging part, I thought I handled the emergency with the guy’s hand okay.
He smacked me on the arm with the back of his hand.
“Okay man, I won’t bug you about it!
“Don’t let me stop you though!”
He pulled out his Zippo and fired up his pipe.
I didn’t even want to be around the smoke. I wanted to go do something!
“I am going to go check on my lieutenant! I’ll call ya on the radio!”
“Good enough! Check you on the airwaves!”
I took off in the general direction of the H.Q. tent. I was thinking about what had just happened. This feeling has been coming over me, only moments at a time, I was actually starting to feel grown up. Also, I learned something tonight that might help my Army career tremendously. Not exactly the way Willy explained it to me, but that general idea. “Open mind!” That's what Dad said. I was already here. I might as well just do it. I would “Play Army!”
“Tango One-Niner! This is Delta One-Seven! Over!”
And I already had a playmate!
“One-Seven! This is One-Nine! Go!
“One-Nine! We have a couple Big Boys (M-60 tanks) arriving our Twenty (location) in zero-five! We need to get then squared away! Rendezvous your H.Q.!”
And now, something to do!
“Roger One-Seven! Wilco (will comply) Out!”
He was parked across from the H.Q. tent. I pulled next to him.
“I just heard some tanks calling H.Q. asking where to park. I’ll drive over to where the others are and find some space. You head to the front entrance, wait till they get here, and lead them back to me!”
Then he keyed his mic.
“One-Nine! I will find the spot! You wait for them at the front! When they arrive I will vector you back to my twenty!”
He just said the same thing. I cracked up. I was getting the hang of it now.
I kept it short. Once you had established communication and knew you could hear each other every time there was no need to go through every single step.
And so it went. For the next few hours we rendezvoused, radio checked, and vectored, keeping the radio waves buzzing with activity. All the time, having a great time. I even decided to have one more beer. I was about halfway through chocking it down, when….
“Tango One-Nine! This is Tango Six! Over!”
In all my “functioning” I had forgotten what my original function was, which was driving an officer around. I had been having way too much fun and gotten way too carried away! This shocked me right back to reality.
“Tango Six! This is Tango One-Nine! Go Ahead… over!” No abbreviations!
“Rendezvoused H.Q.! Six out!”
“Tango Six!… Wilco!… Out!”
Pulling up to the tent, I scanned the Lieutenants face for any sign of how he felt about me. The radio had been on in there. They couldn’t help but hear us, nut to my great surprise, and delight, he was in a great mood
“Take me back to my tent! My days over at last!”
He settled back in the seat. He just talked to me just like I was a person, not just a driver. He was making small talk. Then, he turned to me.
“Where you from Turner?” He knew my name, without having to look at my nametag!
“Michigan sir! Just north of Detroit!”
Then, he asked me a strange question.
“Did you enlist, or are you a draftee?”
“I enlisted lieutenant!
He nodded his approval. I found out later that he was a “career soldier.” That was different than a “Lifer” A lifer was someone that stayed in the service, because they enjoyed it, or didn’t like it on the outside. Their personality was more the “Gung Ho!” type. They were easy to spot. They were the ones that had every badge, patch, or button they earned, prominently displayed on every uniform they owned. They usually stayed in until someone told them they had to leave.
A career soldier, on the other hand, was someone that had a particular reason for being in, whether it was education, or to put a certain amount of time in and use it towards a retirement plan. Although both types liked things run “by the book” the career soldier was usually less uptight. I found out that this lieutenants’ wife had been ill for a long time and needed very expensive medical care. As long as he stayed in the military all the bills were paid in full. Pretty smart!
As I pulled up to his tent, his door facing it, he got out. Then he turned back towards me.
“You’re off to a good start!”
And as he turned back towards his tent, he added.
“Keep it up!”
Then, he disappeared inside his quarters.
At that moment, I reached a new plateau in self-satisfaction. I could hardly stand being myself! People for years have tried to describe this feeling, and the closest they have come to it is to say that they are “On Top of the World.” That’s how I felt right then. I hardly slept that night.
The next day, I was up at the first light. I couldn’t wait to start. I slept in my clothes so dressing was only a matter of putting my jacket on. I hurried out to my jeep and started it to let it warm up, and keyed the mic.
“Delta One-Seven! This is Tango One-Niner! Radio Check!”
(Are you out there so we can play Army again?)
Willy must have been waiting for me. He replied right away.
“Tango One-Nine! This is Delta One-Seven! I read you Lima-Charlie! Are you ready? Over!”
I knew exactly what the “ready” part meant. It was our own little code
“One-Seven! Roger! Let’s do it! Rendezvous P.O.L. Zero five! One-Nine Out!”
All that day we drove here and there, doing nothing but keeping busy, talking on that radio like there was no tomorrow. Both our officers were going to be busy most of the day. Today was “range day” where they let the tanks practice firing their weapons. They would be planning the logistics of that mission. They were going to use live ammunition. There were a great deal of tanks and people that had to be in the right place and at the right time. That gave us pretty much the entire day to play Army.
And we did! It was close to nine o’clock at night when I finally started to lose steam. I felt exhausted, but it was a good tired. I looked back over the day’s actions and even though much of it wasn’t all that important, nor did it accomplish much of anything, it was all by the book. Most importantly no one ever told us to stop.
The exercise lasted for five days. By the end of the fifth day I was an old hand at my job. I never had the opportunity to be cocky before, so I wasn’t sure if I was doing it right. I was feeling extremely sure of myself. I turned down every beer that Willy offered me. I was having too much fun and didn’t need it. He made a comment that maybe I was turning into a lifer and I laughed. Maybe I was.
Another thing I noticed was doing it was not any harder than not doing it. Actually, I felt that it took more energy to look busy than to be busy. That insight was life changing. I couldn’t understand why everyone didn’t understand something this obvious. I realized how close I came to going the other way.
The drive back was quite different than the drive there. Instead of being in a cold track, sitting on a cold metal bench, I was in a warm jeep, with a lap blanket. I had come such a long way in such a short time. I was beginning to feel, like I could do no wrong.
We arrived back at base without hitting any more buildings or cows and I radioed Willy to find out where he was so he could show me where to park and what to do with my jeep. There was a specific way the Army wanted this done too, and I wanted to do it that way, by the book. I found the track I had been on and gathered my gear. I still needed to unpack and get settled in my room. We had the rest of the day off and while most of the guys took in a movie, or went to play pool, I spent mine straightening up my locker.
The very next morning, we had a “Muster Roll Call!” This meant, if you were in the Army, and you weren’t dead or in the hospital you needed to be there. I stood with my new roommates, only knowing Stan so far. Most of the others had got in quite late the night before and I was asleep by then. Another thing about doing things the right way is you slept well.
Our Battalion Commander was critiquing our performance overall during exercise. I was fingering the Flippy on my lighter. It was my first symbol of accomplishment. I was drifting in my thoughts, thinking of other ways I could play the game back here at the base when the C.O. (Commanding officer) started calling out some names. As he did, people started walking up to the stand. I thought I heard him call Willy, whose full name was William. I was looking to see if it was him walking up there, when I heard my own name! Shocked for a second, I just stood there. He called it again.
I hurried up to the podium, where the others had gathered. There was Willy, looking over at me with this big grin his face. If he was smiling, this couldn’t be all bad.
Then our leader began speaking of things like dedication to duty, sense of purpose, words of praise, and they were for us! When he finished he called us one by one and handed each one a couple pieces of paper. We saluted, he shook our hands and we went back to our places. I glanced at mine, and at the top of the first sheet was the word, in big black letters, “Commendation! Holy Crap! I’ve just been commended for playing Army!
I couldn’t believe it! I looked over to where Willy was, and he was looking at me with a big “I told ya so” look on his face. I nodded a “yes you did” look back at him. I stood there, not hearing the rest of the C.O.’s words. My mind was racing with all of the possibilities the future held. I looked at the other piece of paper. It was a copy of a hand written letter to my parents! Could it get any better? I didn’t think so! I could just picture the look on my Dad's face when this arrived at our house. I wished I could have been there, just to see that look. After all, this was one of the reasons I joined. Now I was going to miss the best part!
We were dismissed, and Willy made his way over to me.
“What did I tell ya? Huh? What did I say?”
I think he was just as surprised and don’t think he expected this result any more than I did.
“You were right my friend!” I admitted.
“So, what do you want to do now? You ready to celebrate yet?”
I knew what he was asking. He wanted to get me high. I didn’t want to now, even more than I didn’t want to then, and we began to lose the camaraderie we once shared. Not that I felt superior to him in any way. I was just growing bored with his constant need to get some sort of buzz on. I had a different direction to go in, and I didn’t feel we were on the same wavelength anymore. But, I was grateful for his help and didn’t want to hurt his feelings. That was called, not burning my bridges. I smiled at him,
“No! Not yet! But, you will be the first to know when I do!”
Then I made my excuse.
“I still have all my unpacking to do yet! I’ll look you up, as soon as I have some time!”
Then I got serious for a second.
“I want you to know your secret has mad a big difference in the way I am going to start doing things!”
I reached out to shake his hand firmly, the right way! He smiled and grabbed mine, even firmer. I might have been his first real convert and he was quite pleased with himself,
“Don’t mention it!”
I was sure if I hadn’t, he would have.
“I’ll talk to you soon!”
I replied, already walking away. I wanted to get back to the barracks and read these commendations again.
I walked into my room, now filled with my roommates. Stan saw me and introduced me to the rest. He rattled off their names but by the time he was done, I’d forgotten most of them. They seemed genuinely pleased to meet me, or at least acted like it. I was going to not take everything at face value anymore. I had been burned too many times to do that.
I sat on my bunk looking at my new awards, feeding my pride and it felt good. I wanted more of these and resolved to put as much effort as possible into this new way of doing things. I guess you could say as time went on that I became a “brown nose!” Okay, so I was! But, I didn’t care! They were jealous of me, and my award and that was the only way they could justify their inadequate existence, by making fun of my fulfilling one.
But as time passed, and no more commendations were awarded to me, I started feeling that restlessness again. I had written my parents a letter, letting them know that there would be some official documents arriving soon. They soon wrote back and it was full of praise for me. Mom told me how Dad wanted to even put an announcement about it in the paper. But, that was it and soon it didn’t have the “kick” I had hoped for. Something was losing its flavor and I didn’t know why, or what I could do to bring it back.
Even though I had started off on a good foot with my bunkmates, things had inevitably turned back into the same old thing. People were treating me like a young kid again and there seemed no way to make them think any different.
Old thoughts, ones that I had been too busy to bother with, were starting to come back to me. Thoughts about combat, and proving myself once and for all, and maybe, getting a few of those scars so I wouldn't have to. These thoughts were much stronger this time, like I was being pulled into some new direction, much like that day in class, only this time, I had an idea!
In just a few days, it would be my eighteenth birthday. At home, it would have been a milestone. New freedoms would have been mine to enjoy. But here, it meant something different. It meant, that I could now be transferred to a combat zone if the Army so chose, or I decided to. I didn’t think they were so inclined, but I was getting an inclination.
The commendations had really done nothing to fill that “cup.” Oh, it seemed to for a while, but it quickly faded, and with nothing to replace it I was back where I started.
My birthday came and went with no fan fare. I didn’t even bother to let anyone know. I was busy trying to figure out what I to do to regain those wonderful feelings again. In my heart, I now knew this wasn’t the way it would happen. Even if that award made my parents proud, deep inside I had actually accomplished nothing. I had proved myself to no one, especially to myself. That would not fill the cup. I had to find something that would. I had another idea. Something I’d been thinking about since a week before my birthday and the more I thought about it the more sense it seemed to make.
One week later, three days after my eighteenth birthday, I found myself in the orderly room, reenlisting for four more years. When you reenlist you have the opportunity to change your duty station or place of assignment, and I was changing mine to the Republic of Vietnam.
I was re-sworn in. I now owed the U.S. Army seven years total. I had signed all the necessary papers, during which time at least three people had asked me if this was what I really wanted. This bothered me as much as it always had, and only did more to strengthen my resolve than change my mind. I had considered all the options and weighed the facts carefully. Every time I even thought about it this excited feeling came over me. It was my conscience telling me to hurry up. Or maybe it was the dealer, asking me if I wanted another card. One day, I would know for sure.
Back into the room a few of the guys were sitting around listening to music, writing letters home, or napping. They reminded me of my former classmates. Laying there, accepting their destiny without a struggle and just few complaints. I couldn’t end up like these guys either. I had this feeling like I had been chosen, for what, I still had no idea, but every time there was a choice to either accept things as they were or try to change them, I always went with the change. I think it made me feel like I was somehow calling the shots.
“I’m going to Vietnam!” I stated.
“Oh man! Tim said.
He walked up and put his arm around my shoulder.
“Don’t worry man, you’re gonna be alright! I know these things!”
“Man! This mans Army is a piece of crap!”
Don yelled, walking around the room, waving his hands in the air like he was pleading with someone for my soul.
“Why did they pick on you? You’re the youngest kid in the room?”
Wait! Is that what they thought, that the Army was doing this to me? I had to explain that I volunteered. There is no glory in being sent. Anyone can be sent but it takes a little more guts to volunteer. I’ve seen the respect that non-combat soldiers show to those that did their duty and went. It wasn’t excessive or overdone, but you could see it there, in their eyes. Nope! No glory in being sent.
“Don! They aren’t sending me! I just reenlisted and volunteered!”
I waited for the inevitable pats on the back.
“You did what?” Stan exclaimed.
A few of the others stopped what they were doing, and looked up at me.
“I said I just signed up for four more years!” I repeated.
“Why? Why would you do that? Don’t you know there's a war going on there?”
“Yes! That's why I have to go!”
I wasn’t prepared for this kind of reaction and didn’t have any good reasons at the ready.
“You stupid idiot! Don was yelling at me now.
“What do you mean you have to go?”
If I ever shared any brotherhood with this bunch, it was all gone now. I couldn’t tell them why I really wanted to go.
“My cousin was killed over there!” I lied.
It was the first thing that came up. I remembered a kid in basic who had joined the Army with the express purpose of going to Vietnam to kill some of the enemy for his brother who died in combat. I felt compassion for him at the time, and it was all there was left to hope for of anything positive from this group.
“So! You’re gonna go over there and get your head blown off, and that's gonna make it all better for your family! Is that what you think?”
Don was pretty worked up! And the rest of them are following his lead.
“I'm not gonna get my head blown off Don!”
I was starting to get a little miffed here! These guys are no different than the rest. They all knew that I wasn’t the one that would make that decision. I knew it too.
Then Don, losing all hope of reasoning with me, just turned away shaking his head.
“Go ahead! Go be a dead hero! See if I care!”
He lay back on his bunk and picked his magazine up, acting like this conversation never happened.
I don’t know where that comment came from. Even though I could care less what he thought, it hurt! He didn’t know me well enough to wish that kind of misfortune on me.
And Tim, who, had assured me of my safety, and survival, actually stuck with me.
“Its not as bad as they say over there you know. Lots of people come home from there without a scratch! It could happen to you too!”
While I appreciated his new vote of confidence, that's not what I wanted either.
It sounded hollow. I was done speaking with this gang. Not having to be packed and ready to go for twelve more hours, I decided to take in a movie, someplace where I could be alone with my thoughts. Maybe by the time I got back most of them would be asleep.
The name of the movie was “Once Upon a Time in the West” That's all I remember about it. I was deep in thought, my mind racing from one subject to another. I tried to play off the scene that had taken place as a result of my announcement. These guy’s opinions of me didn’t matter. What did was…
Then it hit me, again! I still hadn’t told my Mother! And, this time the consequences were far more serious! The time had come where I would have to consider them. She’s barely had time to relax, thinking that she had me safely tucked away in Germany. I had been here, less than ninety days.
One good thing was this time no one called ahead to let her know. That meant no one knew I was coming home. The surprise would be neat. Then again, I would be the one making the announcement, and the one to see the initial shock first hand. Even though I have grown up enough and cut the cord, I still dreaded what lay ahead. I decided to wait until the very last minute of my leave to tell them. That way whatever does happen will happen less. And judging from the reactions so far, it would be best.
I did not understand everyone’s reactions, including those that had been there, especially those that had been there. I hadn’t yet taken any time to actually think about specifically what it was everyone seemed to be trying to get across to me. I was too wrapped up in trying to make sure all these decisions were my own, and for that reason I wasn’t asking anyone for their opinions.
Not stopping to think that there might be a valid reason for they way they were acting towards me, and that it might include the fact that they were actually concerned about me, I just blocked it all out. All I could see was all of them telling me I didn’t know what I was doing.
Isn’t part of growing up, being able to make these decisions on my own? I never saw them telling anyone else how to live their lives! I was the only one that ever got these responses and usually when I told someone something I was about to do.
Now there were new questions, and doubts Was I doing all this just to show them and everyone else? Well, yes, in a way. Was this path of my own choosing, or am I doing it out of spite? Was I playing to win, or just trying to show that dealer how far I could go? Was this my road to glory, or my path to destruction? One thing was for sure. This was one heck of a time to wait until I tried to try to figure it out!