|Fort Riley Soldiers represent various periods in the Army's history during a ceremony commemorating the Army's 232nd birthday June 14|
US Army photo by April Blackmon (Source)
While I am still planning on posting about the battle of Kham Duc, a battle in which our very own Virgil Xenophon was involved as an F-4 GIB*, all that reading about Vietnam took me back to those years, my formative years if you will. So that post will be later, I can't say when. But it will happen. Eventually.
The Vietnam War was America's first Long War, a conflict which seemed to last years with no end in sight. It was the war I grew up with, the war it looked like I would eventually be involved with.
In 1971 I was in college, had a draft card and everything, no deferment though, I was classified as "1A" - I was in the pool of potential draftees. But by that date, the number of men being pulled in was lessening with each passing year. So the government had a lottery of sorts, there was an annual (IIRC) drawing by which one received a draft number. The draw was based on one's date of birth. The higher the number received, the better.
My number was 201, mind you that's out of 365 (as I recall). The odds of my being drafted into the Army were slim to none.
At the time I was attending a military school, the "Nation's oldest private military academy," some of you will know exactly which school I'm talking about ([cough] Marcus [cough]).
College however, was not my thing. It's amazing what a detriment to studying a new-found love of getting intoxicated can be. Beer and I were very good friends in college. My books and I were barely speaking.
Another factor which lead me to believe that college wasn't working for me is that I was majoring in Modern Languages. At an engineering school. I may have been the only student in that major. At least my advanced classes were severely underpopulated. As in two students, me and some local high school kid.
Try sitting all the way in the back when there are only two of you. Not gonna happen. Believe me, I tried.
So after a year I notified my father that I would not be returning to college for my sophomore year.
"The Hell you won't," spoke the patriarch.
"Dad, it would be a waste of my time and your money for me to return to school." spoke Your Humble Scribe.
I'm sure there was more to the discussion than that, bottom line was, Yours Truly needed to find more gainful employment than the summer job I had. They were willing to let me stay on but being a handy-man was not what I wanted to do. Also factory work paid more.
One thing I will say about my freshman year experience, Army ROTC more than prepared me for Air Force Basic Training. When your company commander thinks that there is nothing better than to run forever (or so it seemed) for morning PT, then your standard Air Force mile and a half is nothing.
Oh, I also learned how to throw a grenade and how to stab dummies with a bayonet tipped rifle. Loads of fun. Of course, in real life dummies won't hold still long enough to be stabbed with a bayonet tipped rifle. But then again, how many of us carry around a bayonet tipped rifle?
Now in 1972 the Vietnam War was starting to wind down, President Nixon had cut troop levels and we were bombing the crap out of Hanoi and Haiphong with great effect. (Don't believe me, ask anyone who was in the Hanoi Hilton during that time period...)
Peace talks were on going and in 1973 a cease fire was agreed on.
Also in 1973, I had been working in a factory for a while. While I was a member of the proletariat, I did not control the means of production. Not even close. The life of a working man was becoming a bit wearisome. The pay was good, I didn't have a lot of expenses and I was having a pretty good time. But life felt, I dunno, empty and devoid of meaning.
So I resolved that I would join the Army. My Dad, my grandfather and my great-grandfather had all been in the Army. Whereas my two older male cousins had been in the Air Force, I was determined to continue the Army tradition in the family.
Went to the recruiter's office, talked to the nice sergeant and was scheduled to take a battery of tests. They didn't have the ASVAB** back then, each service had it's own set of tests. I took the Army's battery of tests and after an intervening period the recruiter called to tell me that he had my results. He was pretty excited.
At that time in our history, people were not lining up to join. When I got to the recruiter's office he explained that I could have any job in the Army.
"Cool. I want to be the Army Chief of Staff." I said, with a grin, of course.
"Well, you know, you need to start at the bottom son, but with..." he started.
"I know Sergeant, I was kidding."
He looked at me oddly then continued by asking me what I was interested in doing in the Army.
"Tanks, Sergeant. I want to be in armor."
The good fellow was beside himself with delight. Like I said, people were not exactly lining up to join. Those that were, weren't desirous of going into the combat arms. (Infantry, cavalry, armor, artillery - you know guys who actually get to shoot at the enemy. Yes, the enemy shoots back but when you're young you don't think on that much.)
That's when the recruiter started getting a little, shall we say, pushy. Seems he already had me signing up, taking the oath and shipping off to Basic. I told him that I needed to think on all this for a while.
He wasn't thrilled but hey, what could he do?
I did return to the recruiter's office, about two months later. There I discovered that the old sergeant had been replaced by a new sergeant. We sat down to talk.
"I'm ready to sign up Sergeant." I offered.
"Great! What do you want to do in the Army? I see by your test scores that you're qualified for any job you want. So what's it gonna be?"
"Armor," says I, "I want to drive a tank. Maybe someday command one."
"Um, er. Well..."
"What's the problem Sarge?" says I, detecting that something was amiss.
"Son, you're too smart to go into the combat arms."
"Yup, too smart. You should be an MGM-51 Shillelagh missile technician. We have a crying need for those right now. You'd be a perfect fit with your scores." The good sergeant was nearly bouncing up and down in his chair he was so excited.
"Hmm, let me think on that for a couple of days."
I did return in a couple of days, to find that the recruiter was out of town. A different sergeant was in the office. I told him that I didn't want to be a missile technician in the Army. I wanted to be a tanker.
"Well, you're awfully smart to be a tanker," he exclaimed, "if you don't want to be a missile technician, how'd you like to be a helicopter pilot?"
"Uh, my eyesight is pretty bad Sarge."
"Not to worry! We can get a waiver for you."
"Let me take a few days to think on that Sarge."
Which I did. I talked to the older brother of a friend of mine, he had been a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. He laughed when I told him the Army's intent.
"Hell yeah they can waiver that. They are desperate for helicopter pilots. They let too many go when the war started to wind down. Best think hard on that one. What happens if you're in the air and something goes wrong with your glasses? Like they fall off, like they fog up? What then?"
Yeah, I might be able to tell the difference between the ground and the air in nice weather. Cloud things up and a bit and I'm lucky if I can see the tips of my fingers!
So back to the recruiter's I went, the old guy was back, there was no mention of flying helicopters. I was, however, regaled with tales of how great it would be to be a Shillelagh missile technician.
"Sarge, if I want to be a technician, I'll join the Air Force."
Which I did, about six months later.
The Army could have had me, all I wanted was tanks.
But things worked out for the best I think.
|Two F-15 Eagles from the Massachusetts Air National Guard's 102nd Fighter Wing fly a combat air patrol mission over|
New York City in support of Operation Noble Eagle. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lt. Col. Bill Ramsay)
I have no regrets.
|US F-4 Phantom and Norwegian F-5 Freedom Fighter (USAF Photo by SSgt. Marvin Lynchard)|
* GIB = Guy In Back, the back seater / RIO /WSO. That is, the guy not flying the aircraft. I have seen the term "200 pound self-loading ballast" used in reference to the GIB. But only by front seaters, aka pilots, aka aviators, aka "stick actuators," aka "Stick-Throttle Interconnects," aka "Nose Gunners," and other colorful terms. (More here.)
** ASVAB = Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. This set of tests is (from what I understand) what everybody takes these days in order to determine their suitability / aptitude for military service.