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"Get the fuck off the bus!" the sergeant wearing a Smoky Bear hat screamed. "The last one of you fuckers off the bus is going to be sorry you was even born."
I, and thirty-five other scared recruits, stumbled, gouged, kicked and clawed our way off the bus and spilled onto the parking lot. Two more sergeants were screaming at us, "Fall in! "Get to attention!" "Wipe that smile off your face!" "Are you eyeballing me?"
It was pandemonium in the worst degree. I was just pleased as hell that I wasn't the last one off the bus. He could definitely be in deep shit for the next eight weeks.
Within five minutes from the time we were ordered off the bus, all of us were at some semblance of the position of attention, arms held straight down at the sides of our bodies, hands cupped with the thumbs along the seams of the trousers, chests out, stomachs in, heels together with the toes pointed outward at a forty-five degree angle, as the group of training instructors, known as cadre, looked us up and down, continuing to verbally harass us and chastising those of us who were grossly overweight.
"Hey, fatboy," one of the soldiers said to me as he pushed his fist into my stomach, "I bet if I hit you in this gut, I could bury my fist up to my elbow." His exhortation rattled me as he kept pushing his fist in and out, trying to knock me over. He screamed, "You are one sorry looking motherfucker. How much do you weigh, lardass?"
I stared at him in mortal fear, cringing in his wrath as he continued to physically abuse me. I timidly replied, "I weigh two hundred and fifty-five." I continued to stare into his hard eyes.
He put his face about an inch or two from mine and snarled, "Don'tyou ever eyeball me, boy! You weigh two fifty-five what?"
I removed my glassy gaze from his eyes, looked over his head and quizzically replied, "I weigh two hundred and fifty-five pounds."
"Asshole," he screamed in my face, pressing ever harder into my stomach, grinding his fist back and forth into my soft flesh. "The correct response is, sergeant, this fatboy weighs two hundred and fifty-five pounds, sergeant. You got that, blimp?"
"Sergeant, yes, sergeant!" He finally let up on me and walked down the line of men to pick on someone else for a while, but I knew I would definitely be on his shit list for some time to come.
As they checked us all out, the last man off the bus was being mercilessly picked on by the biggest of the three sergeants. He was being screamed at for being so slow, and was made to do countless pushups on the macadam, ending the exercise with bleeding hands. Fortunately, he seemed to be in pretty good shape physically. If his mental state was as tuned up as his body, I was sure he was going to be okay, because our minds would be messed with as much as our bodies.
It was going to be a very long eight weeks.
Nearly everyone was yelled at for something until the cadre finally let up their tirades. The biggest man, who wore the rank of staff sergeant, began to pace in front of us, like a caged tiger looking for food, and then he finally spoke in a surprisingly soft, yet firm voice.
"Men, my name is Drill Sergeant Lincoln and that is how you will address me at all times. I am not 'sarge', and I am not 'hey, man' or 'yo, buddy." A couple of guys laughed and he ran up to them screaming, "Do I look like I am funny? Do I look like I am joking?"
"No, drill sergeant!" We all screamed properly this time. My throat was becoming parched and dry, the screaming words causing my vocal chords to become raw.
He looked us over again, while the other sergeants walked around us and through our ranks, staring us down, daring us to eyeball them, or to give them another reason to hit us.
When all three sergeants were once again gathered together, he spoke again. "As I was saying, I am Drill Sergeant Lincoln, and I will be addressed as such at all times. The rest of my staff will be addressed by their ranks and last names. For the next eight weeks I will be your fathers, your mothers, your sisters and your brothers, but I will not be your wives or girlfriends, BECAUSE NO ONE IS GOING TO FUCK ME! Do I make myself clear?"
As one, we screamed, "Yes, drill sergeant."
"I want you to all go into this barracks, find your assigned room, lock your gear in your wall locker and report back to me. You have fifteen minutes. Anyone not out here by the time I blow my whistle will give me fifty pushups. Move your asses!"
Our rooms were on the second floor, so I knew I'd really have to hurry. I wished I'd have gone on a diet before I was drafted. This shit was going to kill me. I was huffing and puffing after only arriving at the landing between floors. I raced down the hall, frantically searching for my name, suddenly realizing that the names were in alphabetical order. My room was nearby! I stumbled across the threshold and stuffed my gear into my locker, slammed the door and padlocked it. Many of the other recruits had finished the task and had returned to the parking lot. I raced back down the steps, my heart thumping more from fear of failure then the hard exercise. On the way down the hall, I nearly collided with another fatboy, but I made it back into formation about three seconds before the whistle blew. We had all returned in the allotted time, and the cadre seemed pleased. Sergeants Wheeler and Mains, and Corporal Knudson were even smiling at us.
Drill Sergeant Lincoln looked at this watch and stated, "It's almost time for chow. Atten hut, right face, forward march." He began calling cadence as we marched to the mess hall. He would sing a line and then we repeated it, or responded with the proper return.
"I don't know but I've been told."
"I don't know but I've been told."
"Eskimo pussy's mighty cold."
"Eskimo pussy's mighty cold."
"Am I right or wrong?"
"You're right." This said as the right foot struck the walking surface.
"Are we going strong?"
"One two, three, four, One two?three four."
Cadence was called nearly every time we marched in order to keep us in proper step.
Arriving at the mess hall, we were told to stand at parade rest--feet shoulder width apart, hands locked below the small of our backs, until we were given the command of attention. Before we entered the dining facility, we had to place the brims of our caps inside the rear waistband, the top of the cap facing rearward. Prior to dining, we were told, "You will never wear headgear inside a building unless you are under arms."
We stood outside for about ten minutes before being given the command of attention and then hustled inside. As I entered the room, I placed my cap in the prescribed place, scurried to the chow line and grabbed a tray. I took everything that was served to me because I was absolutely starving. I wolfed down my meal, not even really tasting the food. Upon finishing, I hurriedly disposed of my trash, placed my tray in the receptacle and sauntered outside for a smoke. Those of us who smoked had to hurry our meals to enable us time for a cigarette or two before proceeding to the next event of the day.
Several minutes later, green clad men stepped out into the waning afternoon sun, and milled about until the entire platoon was once again assembled.
Lincoln called us to attention and marched the platoon back to the barracks, having us gather in the parking lot where SGT Wheeler demonstrated the proper way to make a bunk. We all had an opportunity to learn how to make the correct folds as daylight faded into dusk. We were then ordered to 'fall in', and our drill sergeant exclaimed, "You will report to your rooms and all bunks will be properly made before anyone sleeps. Is that clear?"
As one, we all responded, "Yes, drill sergeant."
"Platoon dismissed. Double time up to your rooms."
We all ran upstairs, enjoying the opportunity to indulge in the luxury of a latrine break, one last smoke, and introductions to one another before setting to the seemingly simple task of making one's bed.
The mattresses were rolled up at the foot of each bunk on top of a metal spring frame. On top of the mattresses were two sheets, one pillow and pillowcase, and one blanket. I unrolled the mattress and placed the bottom sheet, carefully making the forty-five degree hospital fold corners on all four sides of the sheet, tucking the sheet under the mattress. The top sheet was done in the same manner except that the corners were only made at the foot end of the bed. The blanket was done the same as the top sheet, and everything was stretched to a tautness that a quarter would bounce back upward when tossed onto the blanket. The upper part of the blanket and top sheet were folded down about four inches and tucked under the mattress. The pillow was placed on top of this white border with all excess material of the case tucked under the pillow. It was a simple procedure, yet it took many of us several times to become proficient at this task.
Not knowing what we were supposed to do next, we milled around in the center of the room sharing tidbits about ourselves with each other until we were ordered into the hallway and told to sit with our backs against the wall.
One by one the cadre entered the room to checked how well we had done our jobs. We heard lots of noise and after they departed, we walked back inside expecting one or two bunks to be overturned, but to my chagrin, all eight were lying upside down.
From a distance I could hear Lincoln yell, "If all these bunks don't pass my inspection within one half hour, everyone is going to suffer. Help a buddy out if he is having problems and you know what to do."
Once again we made our bunks and when they came in to check, they were satisfied with the job we had done. I think they overturned every bunk just to show us that they were indeed in charge. We were once again herded into the hallway.
Drill Sergeant Lincoln said, "You did well, men. You now have fifteen minutes to shower and prepare for tomorrow. If you choose to shower in the morning, you may run short of time because you will get the same fifteen minutes, and your bunk will have to be made. Your time begins now. Dismissed."
A mad dash to the showers ensued, since everyone wanted that extra time in the morning to take a dump and shave before making the bunk and getting dressed.
The shower was hot and refreshing and, after toweling off, I stepped to an available sink preparing to shave. I gave myself a good look, seeing a scared man, not quite twenty-two years old. My once long, brown hair had been cut to the length of day old facial stubble, and small, sad, brown eyes looked back at me from the mirror. My round face appeared sallow, and a frown crossed my small mouth. It was a pitiful sight, but as I looked at my reflection, I resolved to make it through this little bit of hell on earth, no matter what they threw at me. I finished in the bathroom and headed to my rack for some much needed sleep.
After we had tucked ourselves in, Sergeant Mains shouted, "Lights out."
I closed my eyes, wondering how much sleep they would allot us tonight, and how I had ever gotten myself into this. As I waited for sleep to claim me, I began to think what had transpired in the past fourteen months.
It started out being one of those days. You know, the kind of day that you wished you could crawl back under the covers and just wait until tomorrow.
I locked the door from the inside, then left the house, and walked across the street to where my car was parked. I looked in disbelief at the right front tire. It was as flat as a pancake. I must have picked up a nail or something on the way home last night, I thought. Reaching into my pocket for my keys, I discovered I had forgotten them. Thank God my mom was home to let me back inside or I would have been up the creek without the proverbial paddle.
"Mom," I called as I rapped on the door. "Let me in. I forgot my keys and I have a flat."
She opened the door for me and I took the stairs two at a time to my bedroom. I retrieved my keys from the top of the dresser, and flew back down the steps--anyway as fast as a two hundred and fifty pound man can fly- and slammed the door behind me so hard that the windows rattled. I crossed the street, ignoring the car that was braking to avoid hitting me.
I had changed the tire and was lowering the car back down, when the jack handle popped from the cradle and took a piece of flesh from between my thumb and forefinger. I wrapped a handkerchief around the wound to stem the flow of blood and continued to bring the car back down. I tightened the lugs, threw all the tools into my trunk, and walked back across the street and into the house, tightly pressing the bloodied handkerchief against my wound.
"Mom, do we have any peroxide and bandages? The damn jack handle bit me and I'm bleeding like a stuck pig."
"Yeah, Greg. I'm pretty sure your dad has some in his cabinet on the shelf below his shaving supplies. Are you going to be okay?"
"Sure, mom. Thanks." I opened dad's cabinet and found the peroxide. I poured some into the cut and watched the foam rise like a good pour from a bottle of beer. There was probably some rust on my old jack handle because my Plymouth leaked like a sieve and I hadn't taken the time to purchase a new jack for my Camaro. The old one had fit into the frame perfectly. I put two bandages across the web between my two fingers and stuffed a few more in my pocket for later.
I looked at my watch and saw I was really running late and wouldn't get to work on time unless I broke a few speed laws and didn't run into too much traffic. Damn it, I was pissed off.
I was making up some time on the road until I blew the stop sign. Immediately, the township cop pulled up behind me. Through my rearview mirror, I saw it was Paul Richards, but it appeared as though he had someone with him. Paul was a great cop and if he knew you, he'd normally let you off with a verbal warning, but since someone was riding shotgun with him, probably a supervisor, I was pretty sure I was going to get busted.
"Mornin', Paul," I offered, albeit a bit testily, handing him my license and registration. "Are you coming over to Uncle Harvey's store on Saturday night to jam with the guys? He's letting me sit in on drums because Lenny's sick and won't be able to make it." My Uncle Harvey, who was blind, ran a small general store, selling mainly soda, snacks and a few canned goods, along with tobacco products. Two Saturdays a month his band would jam, playing mainly country and bluegrass. The band consisted of Harvey, who played guitar, banjo, fiddle and piano; Lenny Jones, a long haul trucker, who was the drummer; and Grant Stevens, a retired army cook, who played guitar and sang, as did Paul, who played bass.
"Yeah, Greg. I'm coming over, but I have bad news for you about blowing this stop sign. I have my supervisor with me, and I have to ticket you or he'll have my ass. Sorry, bud."
"No sweat, Paul. You gotta do what you gotta do." We chatted while he completed the citation, and after he handed it to me, I once again started out for work, deciding to take it easy the rest of the way and just be late. I could ill afford another ticket.
I worked at Hess's, a nationally known department store, in the warehouse as a furniture deliveryman. It was a typical day of furniture delivery. People who were getting a bedroom suite had naturally waxed the foyer and asked us to remove our shoes so as not to track in any grit. Since the customer is always right, we put all the pieces on the front porch and then took off our shoes. Not only was the foyer waxed, but they also did the stairs, making our jobs just a little more exciting, sort of like carrying furniture across a frozen lake. We delivered a washer and dryer to a new home and, naturally, the washer was just a bit too large for the inside cellar door, forcing us to remove it. We also had to remove the back of the washer to enable us to get it inside.
The most fun was yet to come. After lunch at a greasy spoon, we had to deliver a refrigerator to a third floor walkup and we were to leave it inside the carton until we entered her kitchen. There was hardly any room to maneuver the hand truck, as we had to jockey that sucker around the corners of each flight of stairs. Sweating our balls off, we finally arrived at the customer's apartment. Taking off yet another door, we rolled the appliance into the kitchen, and removed the refrigerator from the carton. The lady of the house gasped and said, "This is not the refrigerator I ordered. You will have to return this to the store and return with the one I ordered. I must have it today."
Bob Hall, the senior man, put in a call to the store and informed the warehouse manager our problem. After holding for a brief period of time, he was told that we had to bring the fridge back and deliver the correct one before quitting for the day.
As we struggled to get the refrigerator back down to the truck, I grumbled, "Man, this really sucks. I have a date with Terry tonight and now I'll be really late."
"Sorry about that, Greg, but we have to take care of the customer, even if someone in the warehouse screwed up big time."
We did our thing, returning the wrong fridge and delivering the correct one before we packed it in. It was now seven o'clock, and I was to have been at Terry's house by seven fifteen. I had to go back to my house, twenty-five miles away, shower and shave, and then drive another twenty-five miles back to Terry's house. I was really pissed off.
I called and told her what had happened and that I'd be late. She replied, "Greg, it's okay. Just get here as soon as you can."
When I arrived home, I walked into the kitchen and said hello to my parents. They were sitting at the kitchen table with looks of deep concern etched into their faces.
My smile faded and I asked, "What's up? You guys look like the end of the world is near."
My dad handed a white envelope to me and I slumped back in the chair, squeezing my right shoulder repeatedly. Nervously. I lit a cigarette, took a deep drag and blew the smoke up toward the ceiling. The letter rested heavily in my hand, and although I didn't want to open it, I had to. After reading for a few moments, I looked up at my parents, sighed and said, "I have to report on March third. The bastards waited thirteen months to call me. I thought I was home free." I crushed out my Winston and went to get cleaned up before heading to Allentown, hearing my mother's sobs as I walked away. As I washed up, I thought about the first time I saw Terry.
I met Theresa Evans in August of 1968. Bob and I were teamed up together for the first time and he always stopped for breakfast at a little restaurant on the south side of town. She was a waitress and, when I first saw her, I knew I wanted to take her out. She stood about five-feet seven inches tall, was solidly built at about one hundred and twenty-five pounds and very attractive. Her oval face was framed by medium length, light brown hair. Terry's brown eyes sparkled and her smile revealed perfect white teeth. Her skin was golden brown from all the time she spent at the pool in the summer. I was toast from the moment I first laid eyes on her.
Bob saw me looking at her and said, "Greg, she's pretty young. Terry's only seventeen and she has a son almost a year old. You sure you want to get involved with her?"
I turned to Bob and replied, "I'm only twenty-one, so I don't think I'd be robbing the cradle."
"Yeah, okay. But what about her having a kid?"
"That's something I'll have to deal with if things work out between the two of us."
Terry came over to take our order. It was fun just watching her walk; her long, shapely legs reached out from beneath a mint green mini-skirt. She saw me ogling her and asked Bob, "Is this your new partner?" Her smile was captivating.
"Yeah, Terry. This is Greg Taylor." I stood and offered her my hand.
As she gave me the once over, I became embarrassed, hoping I didn't look too fat and maybe turn her off. My two hundred and seventy pounds were evenly distributed over my six-foot one-inch frame. Unfortunately, the Taylor men always had protruding stomachs, which made us look even heavier then we actually were, but she didn't seem to care. She looked deeply into my eyes and tousled my long hair. When she shook my hand, electric sparks seemed to generate from our touching. I was sure she felt it, too. I smiled at her and ordered breakfast. She wasn't very busy, so she sat with us while we ate. When I paid the bill I asked her if she would go out with me, and she accepted with a smile and a hug.
From the time we started dating, I began to lose some weight, having more self-confidence now then I had had in years. I hadn't had a date in over a year and I wondered if I'd ever find anyone who'd like me as I was. I considered myself intelligent, articulate and loaded with personality. Only the exterior packaging needed work. I considered asking her to marry me, even though we had known each other only a few short months. I loved her son, Jeremy, and the three of us had many good times together.
The memory of our meeting faded as I became aware of a driver leaning on his car horn. I guessed I had been stopped at the intersection for some time and irritated the guy behind me. As I continued my drive, I wondered if now was the time I should ask her to marry me. We could be husband and wife before I would have to leave for the army, yet I doubted that she would marry me knowing the Vietnam albatross was hanging from my neck.
I rapped on the door and Terry opened it. She looked great and, at that moment, I realized I'd miss her more that I thought would be possible once I was inducted.
"Hi, hon," I said, my sad smile a dead giveaway--plus, I hugged her a little tighter or longer then I normally did, making her realize that something was terribly wrong.
She broke the hug, looked up at me and in a soft voice said, "You have something to tell me, don't you, Greg?"
I hugged her again and whispered in her ear, "Baby, the draft board sent greetings. I have to report on March third."
"Oh, Greg," she sobbed into my chest, "what's going to happen with us?"
"I guess we have to figure out what we're going to do, but at least we have a few weeks to talk over our options."
The rest of the evening was spent quietly. I guess we both understood that I could be in the ground before 1971, and neither of us knew how to deal with that fact. I held her so tight as she snuggled with me on the sofa, I could feel her trembling.
"Talk to me, Terry. I need to know what's going through your mind right now. You're shaking like a leaf."
She sat up and took my face in both of her hands, kissing me hard and long. She placed her head on my shoulder and said, "Greg, I'm afraid! Jeremy's father deserted him and now you're going in the army and he'll be without a man around again. You may have to go to war and never come back. How will we deal with that?"
I really couldn't give her an answer, so we both let it pass.
On March second I spent the whole day with Terry and Jeremy. I took her home with me that night because she wanted us to spend our last few hours together at my parents' house. I was to report the next morning at five AM, so we spent the night in the living room on the sofa bed, but I don't think either of us slept at all. At four AM my dad drove us all to Allentown where I was to board the bus taking me to Wilkes Barre where I would take the oath.
I hugged everyone, kissed Terry and said, "As soon as I'm able, I'll call, and I'll write as often as I can. Don't worry, I'll make it through these two years and then we can pick up where we left off."
When I boarded the bus I immediately located a seat by a window and, as the bus pulled away, I saw the three most important people in my life hugging and crying. I would soon be in the army. My tears were falling as rapidly as the bus sped north, and I thought about the last time I had gone to the induction center.
In January of '68, I received my first letter of greeting and I was required to report on February fifth. My friends decided to throw a going away party for me on the evening of the fourth. Several cars full of friends pulled into a wooded area, away from prying eyes, where we could eat and drink and be merry before I had to become a soldier.
The party was going great, considering the temperature was in the low twenties and we were all bundled up to ward off the cold. We were cooking meat over a huge open fire, which was definitely a mistake, unbeknownst to us at the time. Next to the fire, but a good distance away was a half barrel of Budweiser. A trunk lid popped open to reveal bags of chips and pretzels, buns and condiments for the burgers and dogs, and Harry Kern had the foresight to liberate a gallon of his dad's homemade dandelion wine for our drinking pleasure. It was known throughout the area as the best wine, and I had known this for a fact, since I had gotten drunk on my ass many a time after work, playing cards at the Kern house. At some point during the course of our partying, we all became intoxicated, and we received a surprise visit from a state trooper in an unmarked car. Apparently someone had seen the fire, assumed a bunch of kids were having a drinking party and called it in.
The state cop stepped from his car and ordered us to empty all the beer and wine on the burning logs, probably to prevent a forest fire. He could have been Smoky Bear; he was big enough and he was wearing the right hat. The trooper suggested that we all be seated in our vehicles until he had a chance to interview each of us inside his car. We all knew that Bill Hennings would be in deep shit, since he was the only one of us over twenty-one, making him able to legally purchase the beer. Fortunately, the officer did not see the homemade wine or there would have been more hell to pay.
When my turn came to be interrogated, I sat in his car while he scrutinized my license and wrote the information in his notebook.
"Greg," he said, scanning his scribble up and down, "you are all underage, except for Hennings and you are all in serious trouble here. Why are you guys out here partying anyway?" I was sure he had asked that question to all the others, checking to see if our stories matched, even though we had no time to formulate a plan, nor a need to.
"Sir, this is a going away party for me. I'm reporting for military service tomorrow morning, and my buddies just wanted to see me off. We weren't hurting anyone," I answered, looking at him to see if his expression would change, signaling understanding for my friends and sympathy for me, but his features remained passive.
"Well, I'm truly sorry to hear you have to go in the army. I was fortunate, being able to do my time before we had troops in Vietnam, but that doesn't alter the fact that you were here, drinking illegally. You are still going to have to report for induction, but inform them of what happened here tonight so they will know that some kind of action is pending. They will probably send you back home until your fate is determined. Who knows, maybe you'll get lucky and they'll forget about you. It's happened before, Greg."
After he concluded his interviews, he watched us clean up the area, making sure the fire was completely out. I stirred the embers with a stick, mixing them into the muddy mess, hearing them sizzle as they burned out in the wetness.
"You guys follow me out of here and go straight home," he ordered as he stood by his vehicle with the door open, one foot already inside the car.
"Guys," Harry offered, "don't sweat the small stuff. I've been in this situation before and about all they will really do, if anything, is take us to court where we'll each pay a thirty-two dollar fine along with court costs."
Bill stated, "Yeah, but what about me? I'm twenty-one and bought the beer. I could end up in jail, while you guys get your wrists slapped!"
We all sympathized for him, but really did not know what to say, neither collectively nor individually.
The next morning, after telling my parents about my impending doom, I arrived at Wilkes Barre to be inducted. I told a sergeant about my situation and, after talking to his superiors, it was decided that I should indeed be sent home until the issue was settled. I rode the bus back home, along with the other rejects. After getting off the bus, I called home.
After a long series of rings, the phone was finally lifted from the cradle and I heard my mother's voice. "Hello?"
"Hi, mom. I'm back in Allentown. Please come pick me up. The army told me to come back home until this underage drinking thing is taken care of."
"You aren't in any trouble, Greg. No one is going to have anything on his record and they even let Bill off with a verbal warning."
I was really happy to hear that. "That's great news, mom. I'll see you in about a half hour at the diner. Toot your horn when you pull up outside." I hung up the phone and walked across the street to the diner. Maybe the cop was right, I mused after I ordered a cup of coffee, lit a smoke and offered thanks to God for a small miracle.
Two days later, I received a letter from the Pennsylvania State Police stating that there were no charges levied against me. I was informed that I was to take this letter to the draft board for their consideration. I drove to Allentown, walked into the draft board office and handed the letter to the secretary, a dowdy looking woman in her early thirties.
"When do you think I'll be called again?" I asked her.
She dialed a number, gave the person on the other end of the line the information and after hanging up she said, her voice thick with sarcasm, "You'll probably be called in March, so I wouldn't make any long range plans if I were you."
I leaned on her desk and replied, "I only have long range plans if you come with me." I turned and walked out the door, looking back to see a complete look of shock on the woman's face. She obviously liked seeing guys being conscripted.
Now, thirteen months later, I wondered if she played a game with me, delaying my military service and giving me a false sense of security. I was on a bus with thirty other souls, involuntarily prepared to join an organization that could get me killed. I thought back to the day I received my second draft notice. After telling Terry about my plight, I seriously gave some thought to bugging out to Canada, but my upbringing would not allow running away. Even though I had mixed feelings about the war at this time, I just believed that if your country called you to fight, you should. It was never a soldier's duty to make policy, merely to carry it out. It was hard to understand what was going on over there, even after trying to sort out all the images seen on the nightly news and hearing the numbers of killed and wounded that were passed on to the public. If we had in fact killed that number of the enemy, they should have run out of people about two years ago, I thought. Attrition was not the way to win this thing, as we sank deeper into the quagmire of Vietnam. Unfortunately, I didn't know the answer then, and thought maybe by going over, I could understand the scope of the war and be able to see what it was really all about. Disillusioned and frightened, I mentally prepared myself for what could be the adventure of a lifetime.
As Terry and I sat on the still warm sand, watching the sun seemingly disappear into the far reaches of the lake, a red stain of light being washed toward us on the water, I kissed the nape of her neck, my tongue tasting her saltiness. I continued my upward and forward movements until our lips met and we lay down upon the soft sand. I began running my hands over the length of her supple body, deviating from my journey only long enough to untie her bikini top and slide her bottoms down her long, silky legs. As she removed my swim trunks, her head following her hands downward, I kept hearing a far away voice. The voice was imploring me to 'get up, get up!' I felt a tug and began falling until my face hit something solid.
"Get up, get up! You have fifteen minutes to get ready and be down in that parking lot or you'll be in a world of hurt."
I was back to reality. The dream I was having had dissipated when I was physically removed from my bed. Day two of basic training was about to begin.
Quickly, I stood up and began to make my bunk. It was going to be a project to be ready on time because Lincoln really tore my bed apart when he threw me on the floor. I sure hoped I didn't have an erection when he awakened me or I'd probably have to endure his questions about why I had an unauthorized hard on. That thought made me laugh in the face of my misery.
After making my bunk, I had about seven minutes to shave, get dressed and run down the stairs, meaning lots of extra pushups if I was late. Nearly falling, I raced down the stairs and out onto the parking lot, taking my position in the ranks. I was the last one out and it was going to be bad.
Sergeant Mains broke ranks, grabbed me by the front of my fatigue shirt and half walked- half dragged me to a point where the entire platoon could see me.
"You all see this fatboy here?" he shouted, shaking me around like a rag doll.
"Sergeant, yes, sergeant!" they all screamed in unison.
"Thank him sometime soon for being late. He just cost you all fifty pushups. Everybody get down and give me fifty. Move!"
All of us dropped into position, counting out fifty pushups, many of them with one of the cadre grinding my face into the macadam by pushing downward on the back of my head with his foot, scratching my glasses in the process. It took me a long time, but I finally managed to finish, even though I was last, again.
Drill Sergeant Lincoln strode over to me, put his arm around my shoulder and in a fatherly tone said, "Taylor, you had one honest to God boner this morning. Were you dreaming about your honey back home, if a fatboy like you could have a honey?" He removed his arm from my shoulder and continued his verbal harassment, only louder now. "Maybe you like boys? Do you like boys, fatboy?"
"No, drill sergeant!" I exclaimed, my emotions showing like a movie on a screen for everyone to see.
"Taylor, would you like to tell us about your sweetie back home so that we can get a little wood, too?" The training instructors began rubbing their crotches.
"No, drill sergeant," I replied, feeling utterly embarrassed and humiliated in front of these men who were now snickering. I hoped they would not have to endure this form of mortification during the next eight weeks.
"Get back in line, Taylor."
I hustled back into ranks, feeling like a whipped dog, hearing whispered threats from behind me; trying to remember the voices for future reference.
"Whomever has a girlfriend or wife, raise your hands?"
There were only three guys who didn't raise their hands. Of course, they were singled out as being homosexuals, the cadre requiring them to give them fifty for being queer. I had a feeling that this was done to take the pressure off me, and I was sure I wouldn't have to worry about the veiled warning either. Somehow they would find something out about everyone in the platoon.
It was now time for a leisurely run of two miles before breakfast.
When they ushered us into the mess hall, it was eat everything or eat nothing. I was so afraid that I was going to barf, and since my heart was still racing, I elected not to eat anything. I didn't want to give them an excuse to abuse me again so soon after the last time. I was learning quickly about self-preservation.
After those who chose to eat, finished, we were marched to a macadam lot upon which stood a raised platform. An AI, assistant instructor, was standing on the platform watching us arrive, looking totally bored.
We spread out in lines, facing the sergeant on the platform. He was about to explain each exercise we needed to learn--the army's Daily Dozen. Over the ensuing weeks, we would do up to fifty repetitions of each exercise, sometimes several times a day, but today we would be spared from doing too many reps, since we had to learn the exercises first. After completing the twelve strenuous exercises, we were given a short break, perhaps five minutes.
Lincoln cried out, "Smoke 'em if you got 'em."
After finishing a cigarette, the smokers disposed of them in the same manner; shred the paper and the tobacco, allowing the air to catch the particles and disburse them and then place the filter in our pockets to toss away later.
The next order of business was classroom instruction covering a wide variety of military subjects. Outside instruction continued with close order drill- learning how to perform various movements with our rifles, the art of marching in unison and the distinct command for each function.
By lunchtime I was starving, but there was one obstacle in the way prior to entering the mess hall-the horizontal ladder. The object of this exercise was to grab each rung of the ladder and swing from one end to the other like a monkey. I could never master this exercise, but I was always able to swing through a few rungs before my strength ebbed.
I went inside, grabbed a tray and they piled food on it. We almost always had a potato, vegetables, and mystery meat along with salad, fruit, milk and water. Usually there was also some kind of dessert on the menu. Eating with reckless abandon, I finished my meal in short order, not even tasting the food, just getting it to that empty space as quickly as possible.
In the afternoon, we began receiving instruction on the most important piece of equipment a soldier possessed--his rifle, the M-14. The instructor stood on a stage in front of the classroom while our cadre moved about the room, helping us whenever we had a problem. Understanding your weapon and how it disassembled and reassembled was so important to a soldier's survival that they did not bust our asses when we made a mistake; instead, they guided us through the proper way of doing things. We placed our rifles on the table in front of us and, as the instructor began breaking his down, we followed suit until our own weapons were in many pieces and groupings. As the instructor reassembled his weapon, so did we. We kept repeating these movements several times that day. We would break down our weapons many times more during basic.
Classroom instruction was through for the day and we were once again treated to some PT, just in case we needed to burn off a few more calories.
When dinner was finished, we were marched back to the company area for a few minutes of pep talk by our platoon sergeant, SFC John Long.
Sergeant First Class Long was a very large man, indeed. He had a stocky build, was perhaps forty years old and his voice was gruff and raspy. A combat veteran of both Korea and Vietnam, he wore his dress greens to that evening's 'sermon', since he had been at a meeting prior to this little gathering. His uniform was impeccable, adorned by three rows of ribbons, including the Silver Star, which is the third highest award for valor, on the top row. The ribbons were just beneath his CIB, Combat Infantryman's Badge. I knew it was his second award due to the star above the rifle. The six, slanted yellow hash marks on his left sleeve showed eighteen years of service and the combat patch on his right sleeve was the 9th Infantry 'Cookie' Division. That nickname was given because the patch looked like a multi-colored store-bought cookie.
After his talk about tomorrow's coming adventures, we were dismissed to finally get at our gear and store it properly. We were taught to hang all fatigue sets with the left sleeve facing out, all buttons buttoned. Underwear and socks were to be kept in the footlocker in a prescribed manner. Boots and low quarters were placed under the bunk with the toes pointed out, even with the edge of the bed frame.
We learned how to spit-shine our shoes and boots; shoes were totally shined, while boots were only spit-shined on the toes and heels, until the pores in the leather were closed and a mirror shine appeared.
There was a little time to write home, or if you were inclined to wait in line, use the phone. I was dying to call Terry, but I really needed to get my shit in order or these sadistic bastards would bust on me again. I sat on the floor, since we were only allowed to use the bed for sleeping, lost in my thoughts, spit-shining my boots when Lincoln entered the bay, immediately bringing us to attention.
"Men, today you had to do fifty because Taylor was so slow. If you don't want fifty tomorrow, I suggest that you help get fatboy squared away." He turned and walked out without saying another word.
"Guys," I pleaded, "I'm really sorry about today and I know I'll do better?" Even as I was speaking, they merely looked at me in disgust, not even wanting to acknowledge me. I had gotten the cold shoulder all day long, and I didn't know how long they would hold a grudge. I figured I should just let it go and see what tomorrow would bring.
The next three or four days actually went very smoothly. I was always in formation on time and didn't give the cadre too much to bust me for, except for that damn horizontal ladder. I had even tried doing it after meals instead of smoking a cigarette. I knew they would eventually berate me for my inability to complete the exercise.
My weight seemed to be going down some because I had to adjust my web belt, and my fatigue pants were a little bit loose on me.
We began to learn more about, not only the physical side of the military, but also the scope of knowledge we needed to possess in order to survive in a war. Mental acuity was something I had not considered I was lacking in, but in reality, I didn't know much abut the outdoors, such as what plants were edible or how to properly treat the bites of insects and reptiles, both poisonous and non-poisonous. How does one navigate by using the stars or distant objects? Much of this information was only touched upon and would be taught in detail as we moved along the path of training.
A new exercise was added to the mix. The forty-yard low crawl was a test of endurance and speed. One had to get down on one's belly and using arms and legs, staying flat to the ground, slither like a reptile for forty yards as quickly as possible. We did this exercise in a sand pit on a twenty-yard long piece of canvas about three feet wide. Had we not been wearing long sleeves, I believe the canvas would have ripped our elbows and knees to shreds; the material was that course.
For the next two weeks we continued to practice our army drill, physical training, and rifle drill, to include the bayonet.
The drill instructor would shout, "What is the spirit of the bayonet?"
"To kill. GRRRRR!" we would growl.
We learned how to thrust and parry, deflecting our enemy's rifle and bayonet and ultimately sticking him in the process of close combat. Our opponent was a wooden device which had a simulated weapon pointed toward us. As we attacked, we'd knock the 'weapon' out of the way of our charge and then bury our bayonets in the straw filled sack with a human silhouette painted on it.
During the third week of training, we would march out to the range where the object was to fire at pop-up targets set up from fifty to three hundred meters out. Even though I rarely handled a weapon in my youth, only going deer hunting twice since my twelfth birthday, I seemed to have a knack for hitting my targets and, since my shooting was good, they kind of laid off of my not quite up to par physical strengths. I always hit the maximum amount of targets, or if paper targets were used, my grouping would be able to fit inside the area of a silver dollar.
I was also progressing physically, because I had lost more weight and gained more wind, enabling me to run faster. I was certain I had lost fifteen or twenty pounds in three weeks.
One night in the barracks, Drill Sergeant Lincoln had us gather together.
"Men, today was my last day as your drill instructor. I will be leaving you to go back to Vietnam for my second tour. I felt that as a career infantryman, it was my duty to go back." He turned and walked back to his room.
We all wondered what was going to happen to our platoon if he wasn't going to be there. I wondered if the drill sergeant position would be filled by one of our own cadre, or if a new sergeant would be brought in to finish our training. Lincoln just left us hanging. I knew we would not see him the next day at all, since he waited until the last possible moment to tell us about his decision.
After readying my gear for the next day and taking a shower, I wrote a letter to my folks and one to Terry. I hoped I would do well next week and earn a pass home for the weekend. One night, when I was finally able to get a call through, I told her that I might be coming home and I wanted to see her so badly it hurt. When I told her about the dream I had on my first night, she laughed and exclaimed, "That must have really hurt!" Hopefully, we would take a ride up to the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania and spend the night at a nice resort. Finally, I grew tired and, fifteen minutes before lights out, I crawled into my bed and was out as soon as my head hit the pillow.
Posted March 5, 2011
No text was provided for this review.