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Never A Hero
By Richard DeSoto
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Richard DeSoto
All right reserved.
Chapter OneClose the door there's a draft
The development of a well-run organization begins with the hiring of the right people at the right time. My employment with the United States Government actually began in the summer of 1966. I had graduated from high school in 1965 and had been attending a local junior college and worked the 3PM to 11PM shift for the Ford Motor Company assembly plant in South Chicago. This job afforded me the opportunity to pay for my college tuition, have fun times with my girlfriend, and repair my car, a 1958 Chevy Del Ray. With my girlfriend, Chrissie, who would later become my wife, things were good. The summer was beautiful and life was good but there was uncertainty in the air. The 1960's were some awful troubling times. The murder of our President in 1963, the civil rights issues with the race riots of the mid to late 60's, along with the Vietnam War only reinforced that we lived in a confusing world. The world was on edge and the possibility of nuclear warfare with Russia and a huge Chinese army certainly put a scare into our political leaders. But for me, I thought if I could only keep my grades up, I could continue to get my draft deferment. With a government issued draft deferment it would not matter what was happening in other parts of the world, I would be safe at home.
My life and thoughts were focused on just a small part of this huge world centered on my hometown of Calumet City, Illinois and I had absolutely no desire to learn about Asian politics. In retrospect, school, even at Chicago City Junior College with the Black Panthers recruiting young black men while roaming the halls of the school, seemed only somewhat safer than the jungles of Vietnam. I remember a day that a Black Panther shot a black student in the hallway at school. Apparently the young man did not want to join the Black Panther party. I remember walking down the hallway and hearing what I thought was someone slamming a locker door. The bang was long and it echoed through the hallway of the school. This was followed by a rush of students running in my direction. A student had just been shot. Needless to say, I cut my last class of the day and went home to my father who wanted to know why I wasn't in school. But that is really another story that should be left for another day.
It was standard practice for all eighteen year olds to take a physical to determine if they were physically fit for military service. This was commonly referred to as the "Draft.". That summer, several of my former high school classmates and I left the friendly and quiet suburbs of Calumet City, Illinois to make the trip to downtown Chicago. We had been selected for a pre-induction physical. There was about eight of us that went together. This included a fellow by the name of Frank Montella. Frank could not pass a physical on his best day but he had to go anyway, he was 18 years old and had received a notice like all of us. We drove to downtown Chicago in a few cars. The Vietnam War was in full swing. The military needed everyone and anyone that could walk or crawl. It was important to the military to demonstrate that the United States could produce a large army in a short time. Well everyone and anyone pretty much included Frank, who was born with a clubfoot and could barely walk. He was a really nice guy but it was obvious that he would never pass a physical examination.
Upon arrival at the make-shift military clinic we were herded into rooms and the military version of nurses, proceeded to move us from one room to the other room. The military doctors were well versed on what needed to be done. They quickly ordered all of us to line up, and the "turn our heads and the cough" routine began. All of us, including Frank, spent the morning being stuck with needles and probed in various body parts that I can now only appreciate each year as I grow older and take my annual physical with Doctor Matza (Dr. Matza has since passed away and I miss our conversations). We all passed our physical in little to no time but we also began to learn what to expect under the military's hurry up and wait policy. Well we all passed the physical except for Frank. For some reason the military doctors did not want to acknowledge that Frank could not run when in reality he could barely walk. They had taken Frank to a side room away from the other potential recruits to see if they could find a way to get him to pass his physical and make him eligible for the military draft. They just did not want to let him go home without passing the physical. My guess is that the doctors must have had some military order or quota that gave them a bonus based on the number of men they approved. My second guess would be that they were not truly military doctors; but they had recently graduated from some foreign medical school in the Caribbean, and had no clue about anatomy. Additionally, their depth perception pretty much sucked as they could not diagnosis or recognize the large clubbed foot.
The rest of us passed our physicals and were ready to leave for home, except for Frank. We had no idea where the military doctors had taken him. After some discussion amongst my former high school classmates as to who would be the village idiot and demand to know what happened to Frank, I inquired about his status and was told that he was still being tested. I just could not believe this. Who were these idiots masquerading as doctors? I only had one year of Junior College but I had enough common sense to know that there was no way Frank could possibly pass any physical examination, even a military physical. I made a decision to get to the bottom of this as I knew that they were just harassing Frank. Although I was told that I could not enter the examination rooms, I started looking in each examination room for Frank anyway. I finally found him and he was visibly upset. The doctors kept telling him he was faking and they would not release him until they could prove he could not walk. This got me mad and I told Frank that I would take care of things for him. I told Frank to get dressed and we would just leave. I asked one of the military nurses to see the doctor in charge of this operation. I was determined to give them a piece of my mind and get the hell out of there. One of the doctors appeared at the exam room entrance and I lit into him before he could say a word. After questioning their competencies, past educational experience and generally referring to them as idiots, I demanded that Frank be released so we could go home. They wanted to know who I was and what gave me the authority to demand anything. Basically, I suggested that they could find themselves with some bodily harm and I felt that that was authority enough. Frank had gotten dressed and was sitting on the exam table. I motioned for him to follow me and we left the building. Looking back they must have recognized that I was Officer Material as it did not take me long to takeover the situation. I don't remember ever seeing Frank after that but I am sure he was never called again by the military draft board. But my friends and I were told by the doctors and other military personnel that they would see us again. Right!
A few weeks went by and it was now late August 1966. One afternoon my mother came to me and said I that I had received what looked like an important letter from the United States Government. I asked her what it said and she told me it looked too important for her to open (like I can keep a secret from my mother). I opened the letter and began to read it with just a bit of shock. After reading a few sentences, I remember thinking that I really did not want to work for the federal government. The letter began with "Congratulations". The letter stated words to the effect; "Congratulations, you have been selected by your family, friends, and neighbors to participate in the Armed Services of the United States of America." This was commonly referred to as "the draft". The letter contained various instructions about coming to the draft board and making an appointment for a final induction physical. I had already registered for a full semester of college courses and applied for a renewal of my draft deferment so I really did not see how this could possibly be happening to me. After all I am such a nice guy. My mother wanted to know what this letter said; so I read the letter aloud. I remember turning to my mother and asking my mother if this was her idea? Was she the family member that the letter was referring to? After all, how much more family could she be? Does anyone really think that our government would make up something of such great importance impacting the lives of any young impressionable man? Of course my mother denied that drafting me into the Armed Service was her idea. I re-read the letter and began to think this through. I thought about the letter and told my mother, I bet this was my brother's Jerry's idea. He always was a prankster and I know he wanted the bedroom all for himself. I continued to question my mother, but she insisted she had not called the draft board. So maybe it was my brother Jerry. That Jerry what a jokester!
Several of my high school buddies, the same group that had taken a physical earlier that summer, also received their draft notice. As instructed in our letters we all went to the local draft board in Harvey, Illinois to make our appointments for our induction into the Armed Services of the United States. As I entered the office a woman asked if she could help me. I told her my friends and I had received this letter (which I had in my hand) and that I would like the name of those family members, friends, and neighbors that wanted me in the military. I felt that I should know who they were and why they wanted me out of my home setting. The lady tried to explain that this was simply a form letter but I refused to believe her. As my friends looked on and began to laugh, I proceeded to make a scene, as I demanded to know why the US Government was hiring me, even though I had never filled out a formal application for employment. The more my friends laughed the more I poured it on. A man came up to me and gave me a card with a date for my induction and location and told me to get out. Obviously, he did not find this as entertaining as my friends. So I asked him, does this mean I flunked the employment interview process? Even he started to laugh as he told me to take my card with the information on my induction and leave. We all left together and it was now time to party. There was still plenty of summer left to enjoy. Chicago summers seem way too short; so it was time to party and enjoy one last summer. It would be fall soon and it appeared that I would now be employed by the United States Government.
My life was about to change in just a few short weeks. I began to contemplate my options. I needed to get to school and see if there is anyway that they could contact the draft board on my behalf and let those nice people know that I was enrolled as a full-time student and really did not want to work for the government. I did this but basically I got the too bad too sad routine and they wished me good luck in my new career. OK, at least I got my tuition back from them. Next on the agenda was giving my termination notice to the Ford Motor Company. Ford had a program that if you were drafted, after your service in the military was completed, they would provide you with a priority for rehire. I also was a member of the union by this time and my union seniority would continue during my mandatory two year military commitment. My last day at Ford came and I remember going out to a local bar (remember I am 19 years old not 21) with some of my co-workers to cash my check and have a few beers before heading for a poker game at Bobby Casiano's place. The bartender cashed my payroll check, my friends bought me a couple of beers, and they wished me good luck.
Bobby was one of my best friends in high school and we seemed to do everything together. I got to Bobby's place sometime after midnight and jumped right in to the poker game. Bobby had also received his draft notice and we would both be heading for basic training very soon. We both had this I don't really care attitude. Normally, our poker games were penny, nickel, dime and we limited the bets so no one would get hurt. But this Friday night things would be different. The game started off nickel, dime, quarter (weren't we adventurous) and began to escalate soon thereafter. I had told my Dad and Mom that I would not be coming home after work; so don't wait up for me. They knew that I would be going to Bobby's to play some poker so they did not expect me that night. As I recall, I was holding my own and people were coming and going (those that were losing were going). After a few hours, I started to win big. I can remember just winning one hand after the other. As I continued to win the stakes jumped to quarter, half-dollar, dollar and then no limit on the amount of the raise. I don't really remember how much I had won nor did I count (that's bad luck) but I was winning. Word got out that we had this big poker game going on and people just started coming and going. We played poker all day Saturday and had pizza and beer brought up to Bobby's place. I was having fun but I was really getting tired and wanted to go home. Everyone knew that I was on a winning streak and like all streaks the streak has to end at some point, but not this day. There were players that refused to leave until they lost it all and I had most everyone's money. We played all through Friday night and Saturday. The remaining players would not let me sleep even for a few hours, as no one wanted me to go home with their money; which was now in my possession.
Early Sunday morning I finally convinced the remaining players to take a break and I would take them bowling. I needed a diversion. I thought if I could get them out of Bobby's bedroom / casino I could get them to go home and I could leave. We bowled a few games, which I paid for and then it was back to the poker game. These guys really wanted their money back bad. Somehow I just could not lose and it was getting to the point that I just wanted to quit, if only they would let me. A hand was dealt and I got another full house, three aces and two eights. I discarded the three aces. I had decided that I needed to find a way to lose so I could go home. I remember being dealt three queens to replace my three discarded aces. I looked at disgust at these cards knowing even when I try to lose, I can't (sometimes God just smiles on me and cracks me up). I won this hand and then broke a poker rule and flipped over my discarded three aces. I then told these guys that for the last several hours I have been trying to lose but the cards are just too good. They quit! I packed up my winnings and headed for home.
The look on my father's face as I entered the front door of our house (1134 156th Place) told me I was in deep trouble. He was furious that I had been gone for over two days and he did not know my whereabouts. I let him yell and then he said; "Where the hell have you been?" This was my opening. I told him that I had been playing poker at Bobby's and that I won a considerable amount of money but I don't know how much. Now granted, I had had a few beers over the past two days and there was this one time around Easter that I came home under some very suspicious circumstances which is another story, but this time I was telling the truth. I reached in my pocket and threw my winnings on the table and told him to take what he wants because it really doesn't belong to me. He looked dumbfounded as he stared at the cash on the table. I think his first thought must have been that I robbed a bank or liquor store but I certainly could not have won this money playing poker. I explained everything that happened and I am still not sure he believed me. Again, I told him to take what he wants. I really don't know how much he took, nor did I care then or now, but I was still left with almost $2,000 and I was planning a good time with Chrissie before I had to go play soldier. Now the real reason that I have told you this story is that sometimes God just smiles on me and I really was hoping that he would continue with that smile as I began my military adventures. By the way Chrissie and I had a good time spending some of this money. We had a great dinner with her sister Judy and husband Richard but that is another story about racism that we can worry about later. But now back to the military adventure.
Excerpted from Never A Hero by Richard DeSoto Copyright © 2010 by Richard DeSoto. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents
ContentsForward Never a hero....................vii
Chapter 1 Close the door there's a draft out there....................1
Chapter 2 Training is a good idea....................11
Chapter 3 Road trip....................18
Chapter 4 One last party....................28
Chapter 5 My first mission, Convoy Support....................35
Chapter 6 Duc Lap let the fun begin....................39
Chapter 7 Walk in the park with Hernandez....................47
Chapter 8 When it rains it pours....................55
Chapter 9 Just doing my duty....................58
Chapter 10 The Volcano....................65
Chapter 11 Cambodia....................77
Chapter 12 Cannons vs. Missiles, goodbye friend....................86
Chapter 13 Welcome to LZ Betty, Sandy, & Sherry....................94
Chapter 14 Song Mao for the holidays....................102
Chapter 15 Dog gone it just another walk in the park....................129
Chapter 16 101st Airborne 105mm howitzer....................145
Chapter 17 Lobster and three rounds....................156
Chapter 18 Finally someone who speaks English....................164
Chapter 19 LZ Sandy, Home sweet Home....................175
Chapter 20 More than half way home....................187
Chapter 21 Being an Artillery professional....................202
Chapter 22 War on LZ Sandy....................212
Chapter 23 One last Fire Mission....................220
Chapter 24 End of mission "Good night!"....................249
Chapter 25 Lieutenant DeSoto, Forward Observer pictures....................264
Chapter 26 Jerry Cline, RTO pictures....................272
Chapter 27 Working with the ARVN Army pictures....................282
Chapter 28 LZ Sandy pictures....................289