We trainees gathered at a train station. I shuffled over to five recruits discussing life before bondage. Within a few minutes a tall blond teenager wearing a purple turtleneck sweater turned to me and asked, "What were you in civilian life?"
"Happy!" I replied with a broad smile while looking up at PVT Russell 'Rusty' Holland, a teenager about six-feet-four-inches tall. "I worked in a shipyard - submarines."
"U S or R A?" asked Rusty. Our service numbers began with a prefix: RA for Regular Army enlisted personnel; US for drafted, Unhappy Slaves.
Embarrassed, I glanced down and murmured, "R A."
"Romeo over there is R A, too, "said the giant, pointing at a guy chatting to a young girl. "The judge gave him a choice: the army or prison."
"Tough decision!" I glanced over to the criminal wearing a black leather jacket and resembling Victor Franko, a character played by John Cassavetes in The Dirty Dozen.
"What did he do?"
"Grand theft auto," Rusty informed me as a train moved toward us. Due to the loud hissing and screeching noises the train made while slowing down, he raised his voice enough to be heard. "Romeo stold a '66 Corvette."
Romeo and his gun moll embraced, staring into each other's eyes before kissing passionately. Molly lifted a leg back up, a nice shaped leg on a very attractive girl.
I think my Martha would've been there to kiss me good-by too if she didn't have to work in that damn toy factory. Pleasing me didn't seem to be on her agenda. Even after I was drafted she still refused to go on a date without wearing her girdle. Other than a way to keep me away from her forbidden region, she didn't need it.
George Medeiros, barely over five-feet-five, said, "I wonder why girls raise their leg when kissing."
"It might be her psychical stimulation member, rising to the occasion," I speculated.
A uniformed sergeant got off the train and strutted up to our Second Louie. After a brief chat, the junior officer departed. Our new overseer herded us onto the train.
I don't know if it was called a cabin, stateroom or sleeping room, but it had a small table and enough seats for four to play poker. I noticed one empty, so I settled in and made it mine during our entire trip to South Carolina. Lucky at cards, unlucky at love, fit me to a T. My three invited guess, Rusty, George, and an old man, Daniel Thibault, age 26, all lost a few bucks to their host, lucky me. Leaving home with a new deck of cards paid off.
My guess being married with children protected Old Man Dan from being drafted at a younger age. I'm confident that slow talker from Maine didn't get a college deferment, the preferred way of avoiding legalized slavery. If I had known I might be drafted, I certainly would've enrolled in the cheapest nearby college I could find. Duh! A shedload of soon-to-be disgruntled draftees fled to Canada. Too cold for me! Mexico? Too dangerous given that I read "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre".
Dan, after losing all his money, doped me out of twenty bucks. Certainly not the first or last loan I made foolishly thinking there's a remote possibility of getting it back. My photo belongs next to the phrase "There's a sucker born every minute."
By nightfall we arrived at Fort Jackson.
Before sunrise we marched to the mess hall. In front of the entrance, a sergeant told us, "Shut up, eat up, and show up in front of your barracks by 0700."
Breakfast in a word: yucky! In two words: it sucked! In four words: unfit for human consumption! In fairness to my captors, I guess many of my fellow detainees enjoyed the powdered eggs, powdered milk and imitation orange juice. I did eat more than my share of undercooked bacon and wet, soggy French toast. A boy's gotta eat when a boy's hungry. That awful food might be part of the training process. It did get a little better.
Day one of processing began with that infamous buzz cut. It took less than a minute. I had to pay a civilian barber eighty cents for what resembled a 'five o'clock shadow' on my head. My light brown hair and blue eyes might've been the only things some girls thought were appealing about me. Well, until I got them alone on the back seat of my car, I thought.
Young Rusty still looked good without his blond hair. Romeo, our known criminal, without his dark thick wavy hair no longer reminded me of John Cassavetes.
The army issued clothing that came with a large green duffle bag. Almost everything was green including our underwear and handkerchiefs.
I can't recall the number of lectures and aptitude tests. There were a lot of them. Finally, on October 30th, LTC Kilby shot us in the arm with a jet gun injector. My Immunization Record shows vaccines to prevent Typhoid, Tetanus Toxoid, Typhus, Polio Trivalent and the Flu. Only one soldier, Patrick Maloney, passed out after taking one or two steps. He lived and survived Fort Gordon.
On October thirty-first we were transferred to Fort Gordon for eight weeks of basic training. Our forty-eight-inmate bunkroom had a TV mounted high in a corner. It worked, but I only recall watching Laugh-In. It must've aired at 8 PM (2000 hours) because all lights were out by 2100 hours. At that time CPL Brown, a young Steve Harvey look-alike with smaller lips and no moustache, stood in the doorway to his small room and yelled, "Lights out!"
Before 0500 the phrase 'rise and shine' woke me from a dream involving Tuesday Weld or a nightmare comparable to Stalag 17. That loud and annoying wakeup quote was repeated often. We were prisoners. There was only one known criminal, Romeo. If we escaped, we would be hunted down and possibly shot for desertion akin to that other reclassified draftee, PVT Eddie Slovik. Excluding the loss of freedom, being overworked and underpaid, it wasn't that bad, but still a bit more like prisoners or slaves than on the job trainees. I doubt if we were free men by any definition.
The law, 1915.88(d)(1)(i), demanded employers to provide toilet privacy at all times. "When a toilet facility contains more than one toilet, each toilet shall occupy a separate compartment with a door and walls or partitions that are sufficiently high to ensure privacy."
That "Do as I say, not as I do" behavior common among our policymakers comes into play. We had no privacy - notta! Our long row of toilets, spaced about two feet apart, didn't even have a small partition, let alone a stall with a door required outside of prisons and barracks. Part of our training included treating us inhumanly or was our government so poor it couldn't afford partitions between toilet bowls?
We were NOT animals. Do not believe Darwin until it's explained why all monkeys didn't evolve and still can't speak. It does make me wonder what Italian, Japanese, Eskimo, and Swedish monkeys looked like prior to evolving into humans. What a surprise it must've been to the grandparents still swinging from the trees. All we gots to do now is figure out when those human monkeys gained the gift of gab.
It was illegal to use tear gas "as a method of warfare" against women and children, but no big deal gassing drafted teenagers. Calling it a method to prove gas masks work properly isn't logical. Trust me; we were willing to take their word for it and go without the risk of lung damage. Instead, SSG Alvin W. Floyd, a drill instructor, ordered us to enter a gas chamber filled with gas. Shortly later he ordered us to take off our masks for thirty seconds. Although I disliked Floyd at that moment, it saddened me recently to read about his death in Vietnam, killed by a rocket propelled grenade on April 2, 1970. Alvin Winslow Floyd was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (Posthumously).
My basic training experience differed from what I had watched on TV and at the movies. Yeah, we were marching and running daily and drill instructors constantly yelled, "Get down and give me ten", but no hitting or spraying spit onto our faces due to standing too close for comfort while screaming orders.
Nothing happened to me for refusing an order - no hitting, no spitting and no prison time. I presume PVT Vincent Faison thought it would be funny if I acted lovey-dovey with my weapon too. Faison had to hug and kiss his firearm in front of our platoon. I wasn't about to. Anyhow, after romancing his rifle Faison blamed me for it hitting the ground. I guess he lied just for laughs. In no way do I suspect animosity - we were friends. My favorite onlooker, Vincent Faison, had laughed at all my witticism during our first week of BT. I must have made three or four quips that he and perhaps only one or two others thought were funny.
Possibly some of us, white boys, looked alike to CPL Brown. That large black drill instructor took a couple of steps away from Faison and stood directly in front of me, no yelling or spitting while ordering PVT Carter to hug, kiss and tell his rifle he loves it. I just stared back at my drill instructor.
Faison realized Brown's mistake and told him my name's Gannon - not Carter. Brown leaned forward, squinting at my last name sewed onto my green fatigues. Then he gave me the order, repeating it several times. I refused to capitulate, not saying a word. Ultimately he gave up and walked away. Then he went on to teach us things to do with our M14 rifle that didn't involve romantic gestures.
So much for that likely myth about punishments meted out for disobeying any order given by a superior. Granted, the majority of recruits would carry out orders - no matter what. Sometimes even sensible directives during training were ignored without any effort to comply.
Stephen Kline, a heavy cigarette smoker, time after time stopped jogging and sat on the ground during our mile runs. Other than some screaming and a little name calling, I never observed any reprimands or hitting or spitting. I recall looking back and seeing Kline sitting at ease and lighting up a Lucky a few times. I'm sure on the big movie screen that cigarette would be knocked out of his mouth in a heartbeat. Perhaps the tobacco lobbyists ruled over our military leaders. That might explain that popular military phrase 'Smoke 'em if you got 'em'. An order shouted more than a dozen times every day during my basic training.
Now and then the movies might get it right. The blanket party scene in Full Metal Jacket comes to mind, but the only one I witnessed involved only four thugs and they used their fists, not a bar of soap wrapped in a pillowcase as depicted in that flick. We had one sleep attack in our barrack. Hosey, our largest and strongest trainee, held a blanket over the upper torso and acne covered face of a short chubby kid while three bushwhackers clobbered his flabby body.
"Punch his face, Fuster," Hosey said to the attacker standing by his side.
Franklin Fuster socked pudgy boy twice, on target, prior to running to his bunk directly above mine. The victim sobbed until he went back to sleep.
Tom Hosey, our big bully, died in combat seven months later - possible bad karma for what he did to a defenseless kid.
According to a military report, in Vietnam Tom's company came under intense automatic weapons fire from Viet Cong in an enemy bunker complex. His Company commander and squad leaders were wounded during the first few moments of contact. Completely disregarding his own safety, Tom attempted to reorganize his squad for an assault on the enemy bunkers. Jumping up from his concealed position, Tom aggressively charged the fortifications. Private Hosey maintained contact with the enemy until he was fatally wounded by the hostile fire. The Silver and Bronze Stars were awarded to him posthumously. The Tommy Bryan Hosey Memorial Highway in Mississippi was named in honor of him.
I heard the sleeping target was suspected of stealing candy out of one of his attacker's footlocker. It's kinda ironic since Fuster had stolen my army dress hat. In fact, I turned him in to First Sergeant Earl Shaffer. He didn't give a muck. Many years later I read 1SG Shaffer was fatally wounded as he began to render medical aid to another soldier in Vietnam a few weeks after Peter Garms died from a grenade accident.
Fuster, in possession of my size 6 3/4 peaked cap, was issued a size 7 for his large round head. That didn't matter to 1SG Shaffer; so I dealt with the sneak thief myself.
Franklin Fuster, a draftee from Puerto Rico, and I shared a shelf above our clothing rack. When I pushed my hat back to my side, where it belonged, Fuster approached me. We exchanged loud criticisms. I started it by calling him a thief. Before I knew it, three Puerto Ricans stood by his side. It was like a scene out of West Side Story. I, Baby Ron, stood waiting for some Jets to help make it a fair brawl. My gang, smoking cigarettes and watching from afar while Fuster, an uglier version of Chino, and his sharks were ready to rumble.
"Jets!" I almost groaned, glancing at my fellow American inmates. Faison, my good-buddy lying on the bunk across from mine, just grinned at me like a Black Cheshire Cat. My other band of comrades waited patiently for the battle to commence. I disappointed them by going to bed. It was just a hat! Muck it!
Orders involving right and left confused Peter Garms. If the DI shouted right face, Peter turned to his left. If the DI yelled left shoulder arms, Peter's rifle landed against his right shoulder. One morning SFC Griffin said, "Anyone who thinks he's not going to Vietnam raise your right hand."
Peter's left hand went up immediately. After noticing the rest of us with our hands up, he held up his other hand.
Griffin smiled. "At Ease! Smoke 'em if you got 'em." Our senior DI strolled away, shaking his head while murmuring, "Wishful thinkers!"
I turned to Peter. "Maybe you took your oath with the wrong hand - a possible way out of the army."
My mannerism and expressions probably made Faison smile. Peter just looked at me with a big smile. He didn't say a word. I don't recollect hearing him talk to anyone. I recall him grinning most of the time, never saying a word. As far as I'm concerned Peter was proof it wasn't possible to fail basic training back in 1967. He didn't come close to passing the hand-over-hand trips across the horizontal bars. We were required to go down and back numerous times in less than a minute to pass. Poor Peter usually just hung on a bar with both hands and never made it to the end. I doubt if he ever ran the mile within the allotted time required. If he had failed BT, he might've been living by the end of the following year. PFC Peter Garms, a Finance Specialist, died on his third day in Vietnam. During a training exercise the hand grenade he was ordered to throw went off too soon.
After week 6 of BT I spent many nights playing chess in CPL Brown's room. Our senior drill instructor, SFC Griffin, hosted a few poker games in his room. About that time we were given the green-light to visit the enlisted men's club to sample their 3.2% alcohol beer. Underage drinking, gambling, and visiting nearby prostitutes were a few perks of being in the military. I heard some of the local working girls off base charged only ten dollars for their services. That could've been a rumor, but their whereabouts were declared off-limits and conveniently posted on bulletin boards - kinda like those yellow pages in a phone book.
SFC Griffin and other DIs, drill instructors, would lead us in song daily, while marching in unison. They would sing the words in bold letters and we would chant the words in italics: You had a good home but you left, You're right, Jody was there when you left, You're right, Ain't no use in goin back, You're right, Jody's got your girl in the sack, You're right, Sound off! One, two, Sound off! Three, four, Bring it on down, One, two, three, four, one, two...three, four.
We trotted in step to different songs. After the DI sang the following lyrics, we repeated them: I don't know but I've been told, Eskimo Pussy is mighty cold. Then we had to sing that sales pitch song in an attempt to make us do something foolish: I wanna be an airborne ranger, living a life of danger.
At first a lot of time involved shinning our boots and brass belt buckles. Our footlockers had to be neat and the contents arranged in order, but nowhere near as time consuming as polishing two items for morning inspections.
Shooting was fun. First, we were taught how to zero our M14, which meant to adjust the rifle's sights for accuracy after firing 3 shots at a small target 25 meters away. Then we had a week of practice before qualifications. The M14's remarkable precision would enable me to hit a dime 25 meters away. I might've been able to hit a barn 10 feet away with that awful M16, an inferior weapon a couple of pounds lighter than the superior M14. Training us with the M14 and then issuing us a M16, an inaccurate weapon with a serious jamming problem, in a combat zone probably made sense to someone. Perhaps the manufacturing and sales of the M16 had a bit to do with it.
Final testing with the M14 began inside a foxhole, called the supported phase because the rifle is rested on a sandbag. Within 20 seconds I took out four popup silhouettes too far to my right front - not intended for me. Misses! Eventually my brain employed enabling me to knock down 28 single targets, easily. No misses! Then out of the foxhole for the unsupported phase, standing, knelling and lying on the ground.
The final firing phase involved multiple targets popping up at the same time. A total of 28 targets - our position started with unsupported and ended in the foxhole, the easiest. Too bad the stiff from another company refused to hand me the magazine holding 16 rounds before and during my allotted time to shoot at popup targets. I have no idea why he didn't pass me the ammo.
Moments after climbing out of the foxhole I informed an officer about the mishap. He examined my chart and informed me it didn't matter: I had enough points for expert. The lieutenant marched away without questioning the retard who retarded my chances to win the High Marksman trophy. I did manage to bag the PCPT trophy.
As an incentive, CPT Boose promised a three day pass and fifty bucks to the high scorer of our final Physical Combat Proficiency Test. It consisted of five undertakings: Run, Dodge and Jump, Grenade Throw, 40-Yard Low Crawl, Horizontal Ladder, and a Mile Run. I scored 494 out of a possible 500. If I had run the mile in six minutes or less, I would have had a perfect score. I did receive a small statuette of a man flexing his muscles, but NO fifty bucks and NO three days off. Although there were over a 198 witnesses to the captain's pledge, I didn't have a legal bitch according to our army lawyer. I did have a lawsuit when they attempted to change my guaranteed training.
Military Police? No way! I ain't gonna be an army cop. No electrical schooling as promised in writing then set me free. I didn't care for their communistic lifestyle. Supposedly my one arrest for possession of alcohol by an underage person prevented me from obtaining a confidential security clearance required for my Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) training. I wasn't buying that baloney since I already had a confidential clearance when I worked on nuclear powered submarines. The same government rejects or gives the go-ahead. Their bluff didn't work. Eventually I received my orders for Ft. Belvoir, VA.