Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Fifty years

Fifty years is a long time. Five decades. Break it down: in months fifty years is 600 months; in weeks it is 2600 weeks; in days (give or take, depending on Leap Year), it is an astounding 18,250 days!

Fifty years ago today, November 30, 1966, I entered the U.S. Army as a Private E-1. It wasn’t voluntary; I was drafted.

I had my pre-induction physical in July of that year, and five months later was finally sucked into the system. During the time between the two events I lived in denial. I thought I would get some sort of last-minute reprieve, but the closer November 30 came the more I came to the acceptance that there would be no divine intervention. I was indeed doomed to two years of active duty in the U.S. Army.

There were some benefits; after I was released in November, 1968, I went home and  a month later got married. I was able to use my GI Bill money for schooling. Two years ago when I went to Home Depot to buy a washer and dryer the saleslady asked, “Are you a veteran?” I said I was. She said, "Good, I can give you a discount.” I don’t remember how much the discount was, but if my two years active duty could save me a few bucks decades later, well then, that’s fine with me.

On Veteran’s Day 2016 I got a free entree from Mimi’s Restaurant. They didn’t even ask to see proof I was a veteran.

I had my share of nightmares the first few years after my discharge. In dreams I would be drafted again and I would be loudly cursing and telling officers and sergeants to stick it up their asses, I wasn’t going to go! Brave talk, but just a dream. In my waking life I wasn’t going anywhere near the Army, and they wouldn’t want me, anyway. It took me me a few years for the dreams to end.

I have written before in this blog that I have a near-irrational fear of being accused of something I didn’t do, and going to jail or prison for it. That paranoia may have grown from my experience of being drafted. The Army wasn’t exactly like jail: there were no iron bars, but there were other similarities, especially in the first two months. All activities were regulated, even being marched to the mess hall for our meals. We were not allowed to have any clothes other than our uniforms, so if we went over the hill we could be easily spotted and rounded up.

Hmmm. That is something to think about! But being regulated en masse goes back to kindergarten, when we obeyed the teacher’s orders. Sit down, be quiet, reading time, exercise time. We have all been through it.

Still, there was a feeling when I got the last day of my active duty Army “service,” I did have a sense of an iron gate creaking open, and being able to walk out into freedom.

It sounds like a contradiction, but now that it is long over and done, I am proud to be considered a veteran. I don’t necessarily feel like a “true” veteran, like the guys who faced an enemy. I spent most of my Army career at a typewriter in Germany doing a clerk job, but my Honorable Discharge, in a frame on my wall, says I am a veteran. No matter how I feel about my service it is more than some people who have held the office of President of the United States. I have one up on men like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and now Donald Trump. Commander in chief is much more grand than Private E-1, as I became when I entered the Army fifty years ago today, but I went through something none of those men went through, and so, yes, I am proud of that.

(For my 40th anniversary recollection of my first day,18, 250 — give or take — days ago, which I remember distinctly, unlike yesterday, which is a blur, go to “Draft Day”, posted November 30, 2006.)


DEMiller said...

Good story. I registered for the draft, but was not called to serve, so I feel like I did my duty, too. I won't get any benefits, though.

Postino said...

Dave, you did what the law required of you. I was surprised years later to find out that several men I knew never registered for the draft. That would not have happened with me, because my mother called the draft board several times to see when I'd be called up. If I hadn't registered Mom would have ratted me out, inadvertently or not, anyway!