One day in late 1965:
A 19-½ year old kid from Oklahoma gets a Draft Notice from Uncle Sam. Not being really into the War thing, he makes a conscious decision to seek a way of avoiding it. Not by hightailing it to Canada, joining the National Guard, or feigning some excuse, but by enlisting in the Navy. A draft dodger with Honor?
Well, his Grandfather lost his right hand in France in WWI, his father served in WWII, so it was understood that when your country calls, you go. Your country is good, right? And always on the proper side of Good vs. Evil. (Well usually at least!). He had reservations about why we were in another country so far away, and the reasons for being there seemed a bit vague, but convinced that all the press was true, he had a profound duty to serve in some fashion.
While discussing options with his Navy Recruiter, in Liberal KS, he mentions that while not a conscientious objector, he would prefer not to be put in a position of having to cause harm to any one. The Recruiters eyes sparkle, and he introduces the kid to the Hospital Corpsman rating in the Navy. (Great, yeah, I can help people! And having been sickly in my early years, this would be repayment for services rendered.)
“Okay, young man, I will guarantee you E-2 out of boot camp, you’ll make rate fast; and I will guarantee you “A” School after boot camp. You’ll be on your way!”, and he smiles broadly as he says this. Gee, sounded like a great deal to me… sign me up! A four-year hitch, but what the hell, I beat the Nam! (I bet the SOB’s still chuckling to himself.)
Now… I’m in seventh heaven. I have coolly figured out how to beat the draft, and not wind up in the Army in VietNam! Not bad for a naïve kid from Oklahoma, huh? It was an exhilarating feeling, however there were still some lingering thoughts of… “What have I gotten myself into?”
January 27th, 1966
Off to Kansas City, and the induction center. Passed with flying colors! Far out! Took the oath, and bingo…. did things ever change! Now people have a whole different attitude towards me. What the hey? “OK, Hospitalman Recruit ….do this, do that, go to door so and so, get in line, cough, bend over and spread ‘em! Have you ever been a member of the Communist Party (What? They don’t even have that in Oklahoma do they?), the SDS, or other subversive organization?”
This only foreshadowed the dark things to come!
I was shepherded onto a train with a cabin for sleeping, and off to Los Angeles, then San Diego. I vaguely remember I was on the train with another recruit by the name of Tobias. I remember we decided to have a drink, but being underage, could not even buy a beer. We noted however, that the Micrin mouthwash had alcohol content, so…well… Huge error in our planning! This stuff left us sober, but with a real queasiness in our stomachs.
I was met at the train by some characters in funny suits, and shuttled by bus ( it seems there were bars on the windows?), to NRTC San Diego. Instantly, I get this feeling all is not right in the world. People telling me how to stand at attention, get in this line, bag that, etc. Uh-oh! Oh, well, go along with the program, you skated VietNam remember! All identifying regalia of “civiliandom” were confiscated, and a new issue of clothing and gear was provided.
Soon enough, we sheep were shorn, and everyone looked almost the same. Inoculations for presumably every disease and malady known to mankind since the stone ages were the order of the day. An eye exam of course. Hey, I wear Coke bottle bottoms already! Glasses off, read the chart. Sir, the recruit cannot see the chart. Step forward. Sir, the recruit still cannot see the chart. Repeat. Eventually, 2/3 of the way up to the chart I could see the largest letter.
Dungarees and blue ball caps (White hats came later), which also make dandy floatation devices we were to learn along the way. Some really crappy boots to be shined to a high gloss, and what the f***? A 1903 Springfield bolt-action rifle? “Whoa dude…. I think I mentioned something to my recruiter about this; can we discuss this a little? What is this Brasso stuff? You want me to polish this gun? Hey, gun barrels are supposed to be blued, not polished…. Hell, they’ll rust. What do you mean it best not? Hmmm, something is rotten in Denmark here! How come the gun barrel is plugged? Seems like a dangerous situation to me!”
Where the hell are the laundry machines? Do what? Hey, this is America…. We don’t do our laundry with a brush on a concrete slab with a little pail of water! And where are the clothespins… how are we supposed to hang them on the lines to dry? A WHAT? Clothes Stop? Sir, this is just a little skinny piece of rope! Square Knot… now what the hell is a square knot? Space them out at interval on the clothesline? You people are nuts! And now we gotta stand guard all night on a stupid clothesline?
And “Halt who goes there?”…. Oh give me a break! Scuttlebutt? Oh, you mean the water fountain. Smoking lamp lit? Don’t you have electric lights here? Hell we had that even back on the farm. Oh, you mean we can actually have a cigarette now? Alrighty then! Huh? 3 minutes…you can’t enjoy a smoke in three minutes! What are you, some kind of sadists?”
Well, we learned to spit and polish, … brass in particular, and boots, and our rifle, and the floors, walls, windows, doors, and our little lockers…. and the “head”… funny name for a bathroom! Of course it was a nice touch, considering the two hole’r we had back on the farm. We also learned how to form up as a company, march, do the umpteen count manual of arms… hoo boy was that a mother to learn, at least for some of us. General Orders? Hadn’t planned on staying in that long, and don’t they call them Admirals in the Navy? Hmm, Blue Jackets Manual?… now we had Yellowjackets back home… but no manual for them. We just used Raid!