Monday, November 12, 2012

“Today is the anniversary of the first day of the rest of your life...”

That old cliché, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life” was especially true for me forty-four years ago today, November 12, 1968. The day before, by a happy coincidence Veterans Day, was the day I was through with my two-year active duty Army obligation.

On Saturday afternoon, November 9, my friends and fellow Utahns, who had all been together during our Army experience, basic training through our time in Germany, went to the on-duty NCO, Sergeant Peavler and asked if we could sign out and go. We weren’t supposed to leave officially until the next day, but Sarge was full of pity for guys who wanted to get out of there. No use delaying us, he said. “Goodbye, and don’t let the door hit you guys in the asses.” It was in the days before guys gave hugs, thank god.

Goodbye, 4th Armored Division!

We took a train to Frankfurt. It took a while, but we finally got a military flight out Sunday, November 10, and were in Fort Dix, New Jersey for processing about 1:00 A.M. the morning of November 11. We were rushed through because of the holiday. When we were finally released an angry sergeant sent us off with, “If the goddamn barber shop wasn’t closed for the holiday, every one of you shaggy motherf*ckers would be in getting a goddamn haircut!” I looked around, and yep, we all had hair sticking out from under our hats. Sorry to piss you off, Sarge, but …braaaaaccccckkkkk! (sound of loud raspberry.)

My friend, Wally, and I were having a drink at a bar in O’Hare Airport in Chicago in between flights, when Diana Ross and an entourage of a couple of dozen black people in fur coats, all carrying suitcases, were heading down the concourse at a furious clip. Diana Ross was in the front of the bunch leading the charge. They were practically running, and I assumed someone was holding a plane for the group.

By 9:30 P.M. Mountain Time I was home in Salt Lake City. I talked to my mother and brother before crashing. I’d been up a lot of hours since Saturday morning but I didn’t oversleep. On Monday morning I called Sally and drove over to see her.

At the time I didn’t think of it as being the beginning of anything, but rather the end of two years of involuntary servitude. I was a conscript, a draftee, and a reluctant one at that. I went along with it because I thought it was wiser to accept two years in the Army than a couple of years in prison for refusing the draft. I had principles, but my main principle was staying out of jail. As it turned out even during a period of massive deployments to the war in Vietnam my friends and I ended up in Nuremberg, Germany, where we spent the rest of our time.  It was still the Army, unfortunately, but at least I didn’t have any enemy soldiers shooting at me.

When I was discharged I didn’t feel any kind of self-pity that no one thanked me. I was sort of ashamed of being drafted. After all, it was cool to dodge the draft. My friends who had deferments or even a medical reason for staying out were the guys who were going to be staying home stealing my girlfriend, or going to school, or getting a leg up on a career.

Nowadays I’m glad I went. The nightmares of being drafted again stopped a few years after my discharge, and of course I had my marriage, raising a kid, going to work to think about. When I think back on the whole Army experience I believe that my discharge closed out the first part of my life. Everything after that up until retirement from my job was that “rest of my life” from the cliché. I think about those Army days occasionally, and have even written of them. I don’t have any war stories like the guys who were in battle, but then being a veteran doesn’t necessarily mean you have to have those experiences. I can be a veteran even though I sat in an office in Germany for two years typing out reports.

I kept a few things. I kept a couple of the Spec4 patches I wore on my sleeves. A Specialist 4th Class is one step above private, and is about the minimum a guy would earn for two years. The aforementioned Sgt. Peavler put me in for my promotion. So I didn’t come home with any war experiences, no rank, no privileges…but I did come home and start my life.

You can go here to read about the day I was drafted, as well as snicker at a picture of me as a callow youth. Also, here’s a story from our first night in basic training, which is an anecdote I’ve told many times, but to this day is still fresh in my mind.

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