DRAFTEE You are in the Army now!
On October 11, 1966 two busloads of Hunt County young men left the Greenville bus station for the trip to Dallas. I remember seeing guys from all around the county who I had competed against in high school athletics. There was an air of anticipation and excitement like going to a carnival. I have been told that the number drafted in October of 1966 was the largest since the early 50s for Korea.
At the induction center people were packed in everywhere. The physical exam was a joke—if you were breathing you were in the Army. Then on to academic testing for a battery of tests that lasted for the remainder of the day. At the end of the day names were called out of who had “qualified.” Two of our group of five had unpaid traffic tickets and were sent home to pay their fines but they were in the Army. The three of us who remained stayed in Dallas that night because it was too late to catch a flight.
The three of us decided to go to the state fair that night to pass the time. I had attended the fair many times. For all those years I had seen others win teddy bears with ease but I never could. On this night—the night before reporting for basic training—I tossed a coin into a saucer and won a big black and white bear. On our way out of the fairgrounds I gave the bear away to a little boy. I guess I made his day.
The next morning a group of about twenty recruits were sent to the airport in Dallas, Love Field, to catch a flight to Ft Polk, Louisiana. I had never flown. I had never been to Love Field. I had never seen a pay restroom. When we got to the airport I had to go to the restroom. It cost a dime to get into a stall…I didn’t have a dime. I crawled under, took care of business, crawled out, and hurried to catch up with the group. The Army had already opened my eyes to the ways of the big world and I was still in Dallas.
The plane we flew on was a DC-3 two prop (well used) airplane. All the seats were full of inductees going to Ft Polk. After all, who else would be going there? The plane taxied to the end of the runway and revved up the engines until it was shaking. The trip down the runway seemed like it lasted way too long and when we left the ground I think we almost clipped the TV antennas of the houses north of Love Field.
Ft Polk had been shut down shortly after WWII and reopened to train troops for Vietnam. The buildings, streets, and equipment showed signs of neglect after twenty years of non-use. The indoctrination started at the arrival center. We were yelled at and herded around like cattle. We received our Army uniforms and equipment. Everyone lined up in single file and went through a building that smelled like moth balls. The total Army make over from boots to caps and everything in between was issued. We were in the Army now. The next day we were loaded onto trucks and transported to our training company.
We three friends went through basic in the same training company. It was good to have a familiar face close by although we could not talk to each other very often. I was in great physical condition so the running, crawling, and other physical activities did not faze me. However, the hazing, the harsh criticism, and humiliation was difficult to take. It was the Army psychological system. We left training thinking we were soldiers. Almost all of the trainees were from North Texas and Southern Oklahoma. One friend I made in basic was Tim Rhodes. Tim was married and on the only weekend his family could visit he was assigned K.P. I did the honorable thing. I agreed to take the weekend duty for him so he could be with his wife and family. Tim was killed in Vietnam in August of ‘67. He was the first person I knew who died in Nam. In mid-December ‘66 we graduated from basic training.
The day of graduation was supposed to be a parade where we recruits would march in review for a high-ranking officer who was retiring. Thousands of us were in rank at the parade field standing in cold freezing rain waiting for the officer to arrive. We stood for what seemed like hours but apparently the weather was too harsh for the guest of honor. We did not march in review but only marched back to our barracks. The drill sergeant who had been our nemeses for over two months congratulated us and wished us good luck. Early on the training a recruit was killing time by tossing rocks. The drill sergeant caught him and made him put a rock in his pocket. The sergeant said, “If I ask for the rock you had better have it.” On this last day of training the sergeant ask for the rock. The trainee still had it and probably still does.
I was actually a little sad to leave and went away with a sense of satisfaction for completing the training. I don’t know how we did it or exactly who but we all crowded into my brother-in-law’s 65 Chevy for the long ride home. I was home on leave for Christmas before reporting for advanced training.
Of the five that left Celeste together in October, two of us were assigned to medic training after basic. One was sent to Tiger Land (Vietnam special training from the beginning). One became a helicopter mechanic and one went to artillery. All except the one who trained in artillery served in Vietnam. I was relieved that I had not been assigned to infantry. I had no idea what a medic’s duties were but I would soon find out.
Continue to Chapter 3