It just occurred to me that having a blog is a little like having a soap box. I don’t have to always hold forth about bicycles, and today I was looking back on my service in the U.S. Army as a 1LT and how different it is today compared with that period of my life.
I was attending Jacksonville University in 1969 when I received a “Greetings from the President of the United States” otherwise known as a draft notice! I, not the best student to start with and occupied with my own photography business (the school photographer for four years and weddings and photos of couples at dances and little league teams) I had been forced to attend an extra year. I had switched my major from business to German – remember we were SE distributors for Arnold Schwinn and Co. and I figured learning German would help us buy product from Europe as Schwinn was beginning, even then, to import parts….mostly from Germany and mostly from Union Sils van de Loo….where I had worked as an apprentice (Praktikant) in 1966 – however there were not enough students taking German to fill the classes so they were cancelled and I had to switch back to business. Ergo one extra year.
To be able to finish that extra year I applied for a “120 day delay extension” and in 1969 I graduated and headed to the Army recruiting station in downtown Jacksonville. The recruiter was from North Carolina and had a southern accent similar to Gomer Pyle. “Looky here” he drawled “You’re a college graduate. You outa go on to O.C.S.” Well I’d avoided the Viet Nam War successfully for five years but now with 500,000 troops still there my options had run out. “How long does it last?” I inquired “Waaal it lasts six months” he intoned. “Great, sign me up for that” I answered and followed it up with “What is it?”
First two months at Ft. Dix in N.J. and two months at Ft. Leonard Wood in MO., and, oh joy, I’m in Combat Engineers. On to Officer Candidate School at Ft. Belvoir in VA arriving in October on my birthday. I’d never seen snow. I would write to my parents in Jacksonville and they would say it was in the eighties. 1969’ in Virginia, that year, was the coldest on record since Valley Forge. The Potomac froze solid. I was reminded years later of one vets admonition: “When you are in O.C.S. you’d give a million dollars to get out and later you’d give a million dollars for the experience”. So true.
As the end of a year of training approached I was ready to: build bridges, blow up bridges, lay mine fields, take up mine fields, lay out landing strips, build roads, read maps….you name it. I’d gone in the Army at 240 LBS and now at 162 LBS I was ready! However, as often happens in the Army (after all that training to become a Combat Engineer in Viet Nam) they didn’t need any Engineers and I ended up in Military Intelligence. After six weeks training at Ft. Holabird in Baltimore I was now a Military Intelligence Officer. I took advantage of a program to go “Voluntary Indefinite” whereby you would sign in to stay in the military forever and for one year you could choose (which they sometimes honored) where to be assigned and then…..Viet Nam! Alright! So I ended up spending two years in Munich Germany sitting behind a desk at the 66th MI Headquarters. Richard Nixon started bombing Haiphong the war in Asia began to wind down, and the Army had a “Reduction in Force” which, three months from making Captain, I eagerly signed. And just like that I was out! Should I have stayed in or joined my father in the bicycle business, as I did? I’ll let y’all decide that.
I remember going, in civilian clothes on leave from O.C.S., to a bar in Georgetown, D.C. When I sat down at the bar people on each side got up and moved away (short hair was the giveaway). Back then we were baby killers and although I ended up as a “Viet Nam Era Veteran” that label always hurt. I lost associates in that conflict and I didn’t appreciate them dying in vain. I visited the Viet Nam memorable this year, for the first time, and that really brought it home that they didn’t die for nothing.
No one ever thanked me or anyone for our service back then, but they do now, almost everywhere, and frankly it feels a little strange.