Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Reminiscing about my time in the U.S. Army on Veteran's Day

Yes! That's me in the center, leaning on the howitzer wheel.

My daughter said "Happy Veteran's Day Daddy" and I replied "Thank You."
She came back with "NO! Thank You for your service Mister."
I can't say what I was feeling right then but it felt good somehow.

Later that morning, my sister, Phyllis called me before she headed out to work and wished me a Happy Veteran's Day too. That was very unusual. I liked it. She's a great sister.

I began to think about my time in the Army. Since then I've gotten special recognition many times on Veteran's Day. If it wasn't during a church service it came from some total stranger who happened to notice the black hat I had on that read "ARMY" across the front. I've liked that hat ever since my wife gave it to me this past spring. I recalled recently while we were eating at our favorite Pizza place, this one man spoke to me and commented about my attire. He said "I like your hat and shirt combination...are you really that patriotic? "Clear down to my bones" I replied. He liked my response too. I was wearing that Army hat and a white T-shirt with "AMERICA" in red-white and blue colors included in the design.

I hated that I didn't have a flag to fly out front today. The wind had reduced my last one to tattered shreds and I finally had to retire it. Haven't gotten around to replacing it yet. I am seriously considering one of those twenty foot flagpoles that Sunsetter Awnings is always clogging up my in-box with on a regular basis. That sure would be nice for days like this. If I had all the say about it, I would install some lights at the base of it and keep Old Glory flying all the time. That image stirs something within me every time I see it.

NO! I didn't see any combat, but at the age of nineteen years I enlisted and volunteered three years of my life in service to my country. That period was at a time when the Berlin Crisis was causing us to be called out on "ALERTS" repeatedly and any one of those events could have taken us into harms way. It was also the beginning of the Vietnam era and bullets were flying around over there in Southeast Asia. Most of us understood that we could be deployed to some critical/dangerous area at a moment's notice. Yeah! It was a risky time to be in the military.

I recall the day they posted a notice on the Battery bulletin board informing everyone that the Army had need of individuals with a 115-IQ or better to be trained for helicopter pilot service in southeast asia. I inquired as to what was going on over there. One trooper told me I had better forget about it. I know it's tempting he said; getting to return to the states for all that training and if you make it through, you will be made a Warrant Officer, qualified to fly those Huey's (or Hewey's) and see plenty of exciting duty. Yeah! Exciting alright. There are bullets flying around over there and men are dying right now even when it's not a declared war - YET! I had a 118-IQ and might just qualify but I thought better of looking into it any deeper. Does that make me sound like a coward? I hope not but if the shoe fits, I'll wear it. I'll go if my country calls me but I already volunteered to serve and so far, the Army wants me where I am or they would change it.

Basic training in Fort Knox, Kentucky. Advanced Individual Training in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, learning all about artillery. The Army went back on their promise to give me the kind of training I asked for should I decide to volunteer and pass the tests for said training. I had a 96% overall grade on all the tests they gave me. I wanted Engineers, Heavy Equipment and they gave me Artillery pieces to handle, not bulldozers and backhoes. I was pissed.

When I arrived in Germany, the First Sargeant was in dire need of a Battery Clerk and that required typing as a skill. He asked if either I or the man with me knew how to type. I lied and said I did but the truth was I had one year of typing in high school. That was good enough for him. He told the man with me to take my duffel bag upstairs with him and told me to come with him. He took me to vacant room next door, showed the typewriter I was to use and put me typing up some supply records. I was a natural! I took to all those new duties like a duck to water and in no time, I was the First Sargeant's main man. I had responsibility for the duty roster, the supply room records, all special orders that needed typing and run on the memeograph machine. I was also made the liason between the main personal office and our unit and give duty as the Postal Clerk. I did it all. I learned quickly how to suck-up to the NCO's and all officers of the unit. The Inspector General and I become fast friends not long after when he made his first inspection of our unit. He gave my work his seal of approval and I was off and running. A private when I arrived and a Specialist forth class in no time; that's equal to a Corporal in most military branches.

The commanding officer, exec officer and First Sargent received fresh, hot cups of coffee just the way they liked it first thing upon their arrival at headquarters building. I extended that service to the highest ranking NCO's sometime later. Got to grease the wheels of progress if you want to get ahead I often heard said. I believed I understood what was meant by that saying and implemented it as best I knew how.

I kept my nose clean, did my best in every assignment given me and was rewarded for my efforts. Weekend passes were common. A good friend of mine over in the personel office had an Opel car. We took trips within reach of a two day pass. It was great. My favorite passtime was roller skating at the post roller rink or seeing a movie at the post theater. I also played some great cards over at the EM Club, got involved in photography, learning to use my new 35 milimeter camera, developing the film I exposed and making prints; black and white of course. I participated in ping-pong and pool in our rec-room and eventually had the responsibility of running the unit snack-bar. I was accumulating all kinds of respect and power for an Sp-4.

Look! If one soldier controlled the duty roster, the unit mail and the unit snack-bar, they had others by the testes, so to speak. I knew what influence I possessed and used it to maximum personal benefit. I would have made a wonderful Non-Com. Why was it no one that mattered could see it?

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