Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Honorable Discharge

Two score and seven years ago, {or 47 years for those of you who might not know that a score is 20 years}, I was released from the United States Army, and resumed my life as a civilian. I had been drafted in late 1966, and I spent one year, 11 months and 10 days as a soldier.

A series of events had caused me to be drafted, and then it became time to get on with my life.

I did, and here I am.

I have here my Honorable Discharge from the United States Army as proof that I did what I was told to do, and stuck out the whole time. (Note: I did put my pseudonym on the digital copy of the document, and redacted my service number. I don’t want someone reading this and stealing my identity, something we never thought about in those days.) You might notice that it says I was actually discharged on November 29, 1972, because that was six years, minus one day, from the time I became a soldier. In those days an enlistment was actually six years. Two years active duty, two years active Army Reserve, and two years inactive Reserve. Because of Vietnam the Army Reserves were all filled up with folks avoiding the draft, so there was no room in those Reserve units. Despite the law, it became four years inactive Reserve.

It does not matter now. It is all over.

A year or so ago I ran into one of my old Army friends. Ralph and I have known each other since the day we entered the Army. There were six guys I was with, all of us from the same hometown, who for some reason — maybe our cards got stuck together — did our entire hitch together. But Ralph is the one I have seen the most over the years. Always by accident, but when we do see each other we have watched each other grow older, grayer and fatter. On running into him in a restaurant he said, "Did you know ol' Dick M. died?” No, I did not, and told him so.

I asked him, “Did you know Wally T. died?” Wally had died at age 52, in April, 2000. “No, I didn’t know that,” Ralph said. Ralph added, “Do you know that Johnny W. has really bad diabetes, and has had several toes cut off?”

“No,” I said, “I did not know that.” Dick M., Wally T., and Johnny W. were members of our group of six. At one time in the mid-seventies Johnny had lived just a couple of blocks from me, but had moved before 1980, and I had not seen him since.

After Ralph and I shook hands and parted company I went home and checked out the obituaries online. There was no obit for Dick M., but two of his brothers were listed as having died. What I found out online was Dick M. was listed as the owner of a car repair shop, the same shop his uncle had started years before, and where Dick had worked when he got drafted.

Another couple of months later I ran into Ralph grocery shopping. I told Ralph about Dick M., saying I thought Ralph was mistaken. Dick was not dead.  Ralph seemed a bit shocked. I said what I had read online was that Dick M. had closed his auto repair business and petitioned the city council to rezone the property to a single family dwelling, so he could live there. The council thought it was fine, as long as he promised to clean all of the cars out of the yard. Ralph’s only answer to that was “Huh!” Then he said, “Did you know Johnny W. finally died from complications of diabetes?” No, I did not know that. So, remembering how Ralph sometimes got things confused I looked online and this time Ralph was correct: I found Johnny’s obituary.

In the first couple of years after we all received our Honorable Discharges when we ran into each other we passed the time talking about being married and our jobs. We also reminisced about our days in the Army together. Once, early on when I ran into Ralph we were in a store. It was December or January. I was talking to him about our nights in Germany, of being on guard duty in the middle of winter. He said, “Yeah, that was a lot of fun.” I said, “Freezing our asses off at 2:00 in morning was fun to you?” He laughed, as did some other customers in the store. My voice carries.

For some reason Ralph and I seem to occasionally be in the same place at the same time. That isn’t true of anyone else I know. I never run into old friends from high school. Once in a while I see someone I worked with at the school district, but high school, no. The fact that I graduated from high school 50 years ago (Class of '65) is probably the reason. Some of my friends have died. One high school buddy called me 20 years ago to tell me he was the boss of a printing plant in the Midwest where the Victoria’s Secret catalogs were produced. I never heard from him again, and can’t find him on Facebook (I’d like to get on the mailing list for those catalogs). Maybe he’s dead now, too. Another old friend called me up out of the blue just before I retired, and when we got through the pleasantries and how-ya-doin’s he revealed the purpose of his call was to ask if I knew where he could find a job. I gave him what information I could, but I never heard from him again, either.

The further away I get from high school the less it matters. It was such a long time ago. The same holds true for my time in the Army. There was a time a few years ago when I wrote several posts for this blog about some of my Army experiences. When I was finished I just did not do much thinking about them again.

It is almost like I never went to high school, except I have my yearbooks and my high school diploma as evidence I did. The Army is the same. On a day like today, Veterans Day, it is kind of nice to hear “Thank you for your service,” but for me, a peacetime soldier in a wartime Army, who was never in combat, or shot at by an enemy, the experience is becoming somewhat vague. I don’t think much about it except on days like today (I was released from active duty on this day, Veterans Day, November 11, 1968) or when I look on my wall and see that framed Honorable Discharge.

Oh, and when I bump into Ralph in the grocery store.

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