I must be getting old. I see things; I hear things; then memories are evoked and scenes from my past are replayed in my mind for days. The other day I was reading an article in Harper's that reminded me of my military days.
I received my draft noticed directing me to report to the induction station in Los Angeles on Dec 1, 1965. I arrived at 8:00am, kissed Dorothy good-bye and walked across the street to 1100 S. Broadway and began the first of many experiences of military bureaucracy. We signed papers, then waited. Signed more papers, then waited some more. And although just a few weeks earlier we had undergone an extensive physical exam, we went through another abbreviated version of the same exam. Late in the afternoon I and about 120 other draftees boarded three buses and headed toward Fort Ord, Monterey, California. We arrived late at night.
The buses had no sooner ground to a halt at the Ft. Ord reception center when a big black sergeant stepped aboard, formidable in his starched fatigues, spit shined boots, and polished helmet. He started shouting orders which we didn't understand in our nervous fear, but we stumbled off the bus and were herded to a place outside a storage facility where we were issued a mattress, sheets, two blankets, shaving gear, and a small New Testament. We carried all that stuff to old wooden fire trap barracks, made our beds, fell into them and tried to sleep, but were kept awake by the sound of machine gun fire heard in the distance -basic training in progress for a group that arrived before us-- and our own worry and fear of the unknown. As I look back on those times I realize that the worst part of any ordeal we find ourselves in, takes place inside our heads. I wish I had known that then. I lay awake that night listening to the gunfire, homesick, and fearing Vietnam. (to be continued)