Note to Readers: It’s Veteran’s Day!
These days we have a military of volunteers, brave women and men who choose to risk their lives for their country. But back during the Vietnam era, an army of draftees as well as volunteers handled the tasks assigned to it, some heroically, some begrudgingly. And I know there were some not exactly cut out for all the challenges of military life.
And if you’re joining this narrative without having read the preceding two posts on the start of one veteran’s relatively short military career, I’d recommend you drop down to start at Part I.
This is my story, for better or for worse.
Halfway through our Artillery Fire Direction Control training in Oklahoma, a wondrous bit of news surfaces: the graduating class several weeks ahead of us just got its orders, and the entire group is heading to Germany. Even the drill sergeants are surprised by a German shipment of newly-minted soldiers, and rumors run rampant. And just as quickly quashed with assurances that this is a fluke, “they’ll rotate you all into Vietnam after a few months, anyway.”
Now I had been at a German university when ordered back to the States to report for duty earlier that summer. At Ft Lewis I was invited to sign up for a program to become part of a “pacification team” in Vietnam, first spending a year learning Vietnamese. I had turned it down, since there was no doubt that choice would take me to Southeast Asia. Rumor had it that pacification teams went into dangerous areas ahead of the troops, which didn’t sound all that appealing if I still had any other options. And for some reason I held out a feeble hope that luck and circumstance might send me back to Europe.
And here was luck and circumstance knocking at the Ft Sill, Oklahoma door. Perhaps.
After the short-lived excitement of possible alternative destinations for our field duty, the orders for the next graduating class ahead of us came in: all headed to Vietnam, lock, stock and barrel.
Finally, we were told that our company’s orders were in, sitting over at headquarters under lock and key, but we wouldn’t learn what they were for a week. What?
Cue tension-filled music…
In the dead of the night three soldiers approach company headquarters. One flashlight, not clicked on until the last moment. A fellow from Chicago picks locks; “an easy one”, he says. File cabinets are carefully opened and examined as another soldier keeps close watch for the roving guards. The file is found, the orders quickly scanned. The door is re-locked and all is quiet on the Oklahoma front.
At least that’s what I hear happened. Can’t swear to it, you understand.
Word spreads quickly by morning light. The majority of our class has orders for Germany. Six are going to Korea for a brief holdover until rotated into Vietnam. I’m among the lucky six headed to Korea and then on to the war.
Now one thing you heard again and again in the draftee Army was “don’t write Washington, your congressman won’t do you a damned bit of good, and we’ll have your ass in a sling if you do.” That sort of thing.
So I wrote my senator in Washington instead. I explained that, as long as most of my other classmates were headed to Germany, and inasmuch as I had lived there and spoke the language, perhaps it might be reasonable to send our entire class to practice Fire Direction Control in the German field, even if only temporarily. At least until they rotate all of us into Vietnam.
Airmail. Special delivery. Fingers crossed.
A week goes by without a word. Graduation approaches, and I let my family know I’m headed to Korea.
Then a clerk shows up at my classroom and tells the sergeant I’m wanted by the CO. I dutifully head over to company headquarters, and the captain’s reception is very warm. Hot, even. Seems I wrote my senator. Seems the good senator pulls some weight on the Armed Services Committee in Washington. Seems he believes our whole class deserves a trip to Germany. Best use of manpower.
To five of my buddies, I’m a hero.
To my sergeants and officers, something less of one.
But we are all headed east rather than west, and for us draftees, at that moment, it seems a very good thing.
Copyright 2013 Patrick W. O’Bryon