My life has reflected the changes some young men go through when joining and leaving the military. My military experience was from 1970 to 1974. It wasn’t pretty but it turned out alright.
When I was 19 I was anything but the military type. I was a free-spirited musician who played the keyboard around town with a “garage band.”
However in 1969 the Selective Service held a “lottery” to determine what men they would draft first. As you can see on the chart at the lottery site, my birthday, July 3, came in at 115. Since they expected to draft through number 269, my fate was sealed. This was during the Vietnam War.
Instead of waiting to be drafted I joined the Army for three years so that I could pick my job. I picked finance clerk.
I officially entered the Army on January 12, 1970. I was sent from Chicago to Fort Campbell, Kentucky for Basic Training. It was there I met soldiers known as Drill Sergeants.
At that time Drill Sergeants could get physically rough with a “trainee.” They did what they felt they had to do to make a man ready to survive in a war environment. When I left Basic Training eight weeks later I was a lot tougher mentally and physically than when I went in.
From Fort Campbell I went to Fort Knox, Kentucky for clerk training and then to Fort Benjamin Harrison for Finance training.
I can still remember a guy in our class who went to the Personnel Building to see if they knew where he was going. We all watched as he slowly walked back to our building kicking a can. We knew where he was going. He was going to Vietnam. However it only took a second for us to join him in grief when he said, “We’re all going to ‘Nam.”
I was sent to Vietnam for a year.
Once in Vietnam it took about three weeks to adjust to the fear and depression. Even though I was in a rear base, Chu Lai, the base endured constant rocketing by the Viet Cong. Further I was occasionally sent on “Fast Teams.” We would be sent via helicopter out in the jungle to pay troops. It could be dangerous.
From Vietnam I was sent to Fort Jackson, South Carolina for the remainder of my time. I got a 60-day “early out” for joining the Illinois National Guard. I did that because I had met a girl who was “special.” We’ve been married nearly 40 years.
My adjustment from civilian life to military life was fairly easy. I learned to keep my mouth shut and ultimately took pride in the fact that I could excel with respect to military requirements. I actually enjoyed the discipline. Had I not met my future wife I might have stayed in.
However my adjustment back to civilian life was not so easy.
First, I had no respect for any man who had not gone to Vietnam. That was an unfortunate and erroneous generalization.
Yet the real problem for me was I did not take civilian rules seriously. After all, I had lived in an environment where I could have been killed at any moment.
How did that cause trouble for me?
I had a job where I got fired for failing to unlock the safe on time for a retail store. I figured being an hour late didn’t matter since the store didn’t open until an hour later but of course it messed up the store’s operation.
I had a major problem getting to work on time because I couldn’t understand why being a couple of minutes late was a matter of “life or death.”
It took me a couple of years to get over the feeling that businesses made too much out of what I considered minor things. I was lucky I had some understanding bosses.
I guess when you look at my life you will see that something as dramatic as military life and even war are bound to have an impact on a person and as with most experiences, some things will be positive and some will be negative.