Monday, September 8, 2014

In the Army Now

Continuing my memoirs - Son of a Sharecropper.  This chapter explores being drafted,  Basic Training, and Army schools to deployment to Viet Nam.

In the Army Now


My draft board caught up with me in 1969. Early that year I dropped out of Case Tech. I had hoped to take courses at a community college in the Cleveland, OH area until I could get back into Case. During that Spring, I worked at Harshsaw Chemical as a lab assistant. At that same time, I was called for my draft physical exam.

It was obvious, the draft board was not going to give me a deferment for attending the community college. I hired on as a trainee at Avco Electronics near Cincinnati, OH. They were designing NASA satellites. They assured me they could get me an employment deferment. For the first few weeks, I lived at the Sigma Chi House at U of Cincinnati.

The deferment did not come through on the Ohio Science Review Board. Word was that a secretary did not file the papers. Not sure if that was true – or of the company did not want to fight it. Anyway, living in Cincinnati, I received my induction letter with 1 week one week notice!. The US Postal Service had not properly forwarded the letter. I had filed all of the proper “change of address”, the Post Office just ignored it and returned the draft notice and finally forwarded again by my draft board.

So, I found a fraternity brother at U of C that helped me pack up my apartment and move me to parents house in Wisconsin. As this was taking place, I got word that my maternal grandfather had died. His funeral scheduled for the day before my induction.

As you can imagine, I did not have time to think much about pending military service. Neither did my parents have any time to realize that their son was off to the Army. But, then, like most major events in my life, I rolled with the punches, did what I had to do, and get on with things.

Basic Training

On July 1, 1969, I boarded a bus from Kenosha to the Milwaukee induction center. I don't remember much about that day in Milwaukee. We were sworn into the military. The highlight of the day was being told that the Marines were not drafting that month and all of us were on our way to Fort Campbell for basic training.

That day was also the first day the military started using Social Security Number as our service number. There was also a 2 letter designation with the service number. For the Army – US were draftees, RA for Regular Army (enlistees), NG was for National Guard, and AR was for Army Reserve.

I had no idea what to wear for induction. I was way overdressed in a jacket & tie. Unfortunately, this was the only clothes I had for nearly a week. One of the early lessons in the Army is there are things called “Zero-Week”. That's when you are kept doing busy work until your training begins. Zero-Week at Fort Campbell including things like tests, PT, lots of forms, uniform issue, and getting your dog tags.

I had a problem with my dog tags. The ones they first issued me showed my blood type of “O+”. Having donating blood, I knew that was wrong – that my blood is “O-”. This could cause a big problem for me. My Drill Sargent first said it was no problem – they would eventually get the error corrected. I told him that it needed to be changed immediately because if given blood of anything other than O- could kill me. They quickly made the changes.

I was assigned to 4th Platoon, Alpha Company, 9th Battalion, Second Training Brigade. Our Drill Sargent was Sgt Blackshear. As far as Drill Sargents went, he was a pretty good one. We had guys from 18 to 24 years old. The younger ones seemed to cause more of the problems. At almost 22, I was one of the older guys. Do remember we had at least one “blanket party” to straighten out one of the troublemakers in our platoon.

No matter how good you kept your nose clean, someone in the platoon or company screwed up – just enough for a Drill Sargent ordering punishment. Favorite one was low-crawling under our barracks, generally following a heavy rain so we were crawling in mud. Adding insult to injury, the next day we had to wear the same uniform!

If you feared shots (immunizations) Basic Training cured you of that. At least it did for me. Whether you had received immunizations previously, the Army made sure by hitting you again. We all had our international immunization record book. One time we got 3 at once! One Corp-man hit one arm with a needle. Another hit you with two immunization guns. Of course, right from that, it was time for PT so that your muscles did not get stiff!

I was “selected” as a road guard for my platoon. My position for marching was front row, right flank. That meant that when the platoon ahead of us passed, I had to double time up ahead to the end of the previous platoon. Then, I stood blocking cross traffic until my platoon passed. Port Arms most of the time. Had to bring the rifle up to “”Order Arms” if an officer vehicle was at the crossing. I persevered as my Drill Sargent promised me E-2 out of Basic Training if I stuck with it.

Another important item in Basic Training was the talk given by the Chaplain. He was recruiting for future Chaplain Assistants. During his presentation, he outlined the duties of and requirements for Army Chaplain Assistant. I had not told ANYONE about my ham radio license – I did not want to carry a radio in the jungles. Rumors were that the Army liked to assign college graduates (and those nearly graduated) assigned to the infantry, hoping to get them to sign up of OCS (Officer Candidate School). I did not see myself as an infantry office. The job of Chaplain Assistant sounded pretty good. I could be service my fellow soldiers, and not be out hunting an “enemy”.

Chaplain Assistant was the only MOS that we had to ASK for assignment. The Chaplain cautioned that the while there were many benefits of being a Chaplain Assistant, It was also nearly a guarantee that you serve a tour in Viet Nam.

I joined the company “Drill and Ceremony” team. At basic, we carried the M-14 rifle – great for D&C, heavy for carrying during training. All M-16s all went to Viet Nam. Qualified “Sharpshooter” in my rifle test. Tried to be the model trainee.
The first moon landing was a special day for us in Basic Training. The day room was opened and training suspended so we could watch the landing!

Graduated basic training. My orders indicated that I was on course to becoming a Chaplain Assistant. Promoted to Private E-2 and “shipped” out to Fort Dix, NJ for clerk school.

This seems to be a good place to talk about the uniforms we were issued. They basically were fatigues, khakis, and dress greens. Underwear was white t-shirt and white boxer drawers.
Fatigues were OD (olive drab) long sleeve shirts, 4-pocket work pants, black cloth belt with brass buckle, black leather boots, and OD ball cap. Only if category 1 heat was called, we could roll up our sleeves and “un-blouse” shirts and pants. Un-blousing meant shirt tails were allow un-tucked and the pant legs were un-tucked from the boots. During basic training, “blousing rubbers” were not allowed. Once past basic, they were allowed.

Khakis were a summer-weight uniform often worn in place of dress uniform. Short sleeve khaki shirt, flat front khaki pants, black belt with brass buckle, dress black socks and dress black shoes.
(Sometimes, this uniform was worn with bloused boots.)  Head gear could be the garrison cap or the service cap (we called it the saucer cap).

Dress Greens were our Class A uniform. Green tunic (suit coat), green dress pants, khaki/green dress shirt, narrow black tie, black belt with brass buckle, black socks and black dress shoes. Once again, head cover could be garrison cap or service cap.

There were a couple of things that were key about uniform inspections (in addition to the cleanliness and press of the uniform). Shoe/boot polish was a bit item. Shine of the brass belt buckle and insignia, and the “gig line”. The gig line was the line of your shirt placket, belt buckle, and pants fly. The gig line was so crucial, almost 45 years later, I seem to try lining up my shirt, belt, and fly!

Advanced Training

My time at Fort Dix (which we affectionately called “Fort Ding-a-ling”) was 4 week school to learn the Army forms, proper letter layouts, and regular typing exercises and test. I never took typing in high school. In college I developed my own method of typing. It was a combination of touch-typing and “hunt-and-peck”. One of the first days at clerk school, the instructor stopped and watch me typing. There was a typing test and I passed with my system. The instructor told me “I have no idea how you are typing – there is no system I know of. But since you could pass Army proficiency test, I am not going to try to change you”.

Clerk school (10A20? – cannot find this code in Google search) was pretty routine and boring. Part of clerk school including jeep driving class – including driving in convoy. As the driver, we were schooled on how to perform routing maintenance on our jeep. Being on the Chaplain Assistant program, I was exempt from extra duties. Our spare time was spent at the chapel.

Most of the time, we marched to/from class under the direction of a Corporal. I guess we were talking to much in ranks, Our Corporal yelled “Drop it”. Being just out of basic, we though he meant dropped to the ground and assume the push-up position. He ask “What the $%^# are you doing? Trying to get me in trouble? He did not have authority to order “calisthenics”.

Looking through my slides, I found a photo of me in uniform with my cousin Mike Zvoda. Apparently I had a overnight or weekend pass from school at Fort Dix. I visited my Aunt & Uncle in Gettysburg, PA. It would have been the first time any of my family had seen me since induction.

On to Chaplain Assistant School 71M20) in Fort Hamilton, NY. The fort entrance was under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in New York City. This was pretty good duty. Almost any night we wanted, specially weekends, we could got into the city a pick up movie or theater tickets. I was able to watch “1776” (SRO), “You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown” (off Broadway), “Mame”, and others.

At Fort Hamilton, we were told that the top half of our class would get a double promotion out of Chaplain Assistant school. That was an incentive to do well in school! I graduated in the top 10% of my class. Remember that I left basic Training as E-2. After Chaplain Assistant school I was promoted to PFC E3 for one day. The next day I got orders for Specialist 4 E-4.

Here comes another of those “zero weeks”. My orders out of Chaplain Assistant School was to Viet Nam. After a week “chilling” at Fort Hamilton, I went down to Fort Dix for a week of RVN (Republic of Viet Nam) training. This was supposed to prepare us for special problems with posting at a war zone. During that week, we trained with the AR16 – which would be out firearm in 'Nam. I qualified “Expert” with the auto-rifle.

The day I was returning to Fort Hamilton prior to leave, was a national day of protest against the Viet Nam war. We were cautioned to stay in the subway system from the bus station to Fort Hamilton – and did not dally.

Finally, in November, I went home to Wisconsin for leave.

2 weeks+ of leave

I don't remember much of the details of that 2 week+ leave. I just remember that it was filled with visits with family, photos in my uniforms, and a few evenings at Klondike Korners for beers and games of Uker.

One thing I did NOT do was to go out to the bar in uniform. A high school friend of mine had made that mistake. He suffered a beating at one of the area “beer bars” at the hands of his “friends” because of his uniform.

My parents and I did not dwell on the topic of me heading off to war. I think it helped that one of my my dad's brother had served in WWII and a brother of my mom served in Korea. Me, I was rolling with the punches accepted it my duty to serve.

Next stop was Oakland Army Base for processing and shipment to Viet Nam. Only spent a couple nights at Oakland. At Oakland, we were issued our jungle fatigues. Once again I was spared any routine duty – assigned to the chaplain. On the evening of December 11th, I boarded a plane from Travis Air Force Base bound for Viet Nam with refueling stops in Hawaii and Japan.


Top - my graduation class in Basic Training,  I think I am the one on the top row next to the right end. 

Drawing - military uniform "gig line".

Middle - In my Class A uniform.  I was visiting my Aunt & Uncle in Gettysburg, PA. Overnight or weekend pass from Fort Dix.  With me is my cousin Mike Zvoda and his dog (Charlie?)

Bottom - In my fatigues with the farm dog "Trixie" at home in Wisconsin. I was on leave before deployment to Viet Nam

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