Novel – DRAFTED – Chapter 12

CHAPTER TWELVE

Sergeant Wolinski says the Army places significant importance on protecting its bases, which must be why he keeps assigning me to guard duty. After all, who other than me has the skills necessary to thwart an Albanian sneak attack on Fort Dix, New Jersey?

I knew wearing a heavy green winter coat, gloves and a flaps-down wool Army hat made me look like a geek, but I planned to stay warm on guard duty tonight, no matter what the fashion cost. We were issued our M-1s with a five-shell clip, loaded into a truck, and after a ten-minute ride came to a halt near the ammo dump. “Your post, Eli,” called out the driver.

The duty officer walked to the back of the truck. “All right Eli, do you remember your standing orders?”

“I had the cheeseburger, side of fries, and a cherry coke.”

“I’m not crazy about being here either, but there is the right way, the wrong way and the…”

“Yeah, yeah, the Army way. I must stand my post until relieved, or blown up, or a hangnail causes me extreme pain.”

“You’d better not screw this up.”

“What are they going to do, draft me? Whoops, too late. I’m not supposed to be here.”

“Everybody on the base has heard your hard luck story.”

“I’m going to keep on bitching until they let me out. I’m not going to die in Vietnam.”

“Nobody wants to die in Vietnam. But you’ve got your duty to God and country.”

“I’m as patriotic as the next guy, but what does Vietnam have to do with God or the United States. I hear they’re all Buddhist over there. That lying draft board cheated me out of two years of my life and I want ’em back.”

“Tell it to the chaplain. Now stand your post. I’ll be back at zero three hundred with your relief.”

“Thanks for the sympathy.”

“You’re welcome. Remember the password?”

“Snow White.”

I reluctantly took my place inside the compound. The duty officer gave me a farewell salute, locked the gate behind me, and then headed off to post the rest of the guards.

Looking around the ammo dump, I was surrounded by a ten-foot high barbwire fence strung between thick wooden posts and topped off with concertina wire coiled like a Slinky along the top. Concertina wire is a nasty barrier with thin razor blade edges that will slice you into little pieces if you try to cross it.

I loaded my weapon and assumed my post next to a solid twenty by thirty metal bunker buried under several feet of dirt. A path surrounded the mound, worn bare over the years by the guard walking his post. A pipe sticking out of the dirt served as a ventilation shaft for a free-standing stove inside the bunker. I had an involuntary shiver and thought about how nice it would be to be inside and start a fire.

I had no idea why the compound needed guarding in the first place because the bunker appeared impossible to breach. The hundreds of ammo boxes stacked inside were secured behind a heavy metal door welded to four-inch thick metal bars and fastened with genuine Yale locks to deeply buried cement posts.

No way anyone could gain entrance without a key or a tank. If somebody showed up with a key–they were authorized. If they showed up with a tank–I sure as hell wouldn’t stand in their way.

The full moon provided some natural light, augmented by two overhead lights–one in the back near the bunker door and one in the front near the compound entrance. A box mounted on the front light pole contained a ring-down phone that connected the ammo dump to the guard duty shack.

I had arrived at twenty-one hundred, so according to my watch, I had five hours left of freezing my ass off. The temperature continued to drop, and based on the number of my nearly frostbitten fingers and toes, the temperature had to be near zero. I paced back and forth, hugging myself and clapping my hands together to keep the circulation going.

Another two hours passed and I hadn’t seen a soul. The Army had built the Fort Dix ammo dump in the most desolate part of the base, so there wasn’t even the occasional passing car to break up the monotony. I could picture the duty officer coming back and finding my corpse, stiff as a board, rifle frozen to my fingers.

A little after midnight, I finally saw something move–a car’s headlights, headed my way, weaving back and forth like a drunken sailor. Suddenly the lights went out, but I could still hear the engine running. Thanks to the moonlight, I could make out the faint shape of a Jeep creeping toward my position.

I got down off the hill and crouched in the shadows between the overhead lights and the bunker. The jeep stopped about two hundred yards from the gate and two figures climbed out. One caught his foot on the jeep’s door frame and cried out, after falling hard to the ground. I thought about calling the duty officer on the phone but was afraid if I stepped out from the shadows I would lose the element of surprise.

I could see the breath of the approaching men. The shortest of the pair kept panting and tripping on the uneven ground. They reached the outer wire and instead of cutting it, the taller man looked around, and then unlocked the gate with a key. The shorter man spoke. “Carlos, what are you doing with a key to the ammo dump and where the hell is the guard?” I swore that Shorty, as I decided to call him, sounded drunk.

“Quiet, sir,” said Carlos. “The guard might be asleep and we don’t want to wake him.”

“Why would you think that?”

“Uh, sir, because the new trainees never stay awake past midnight at this remote post.”

That answer seemed to satisfy Shorty. I knew what the Army expected of me and what my standing orders required… surrender the password…or else.

The two men stepped into the front lamp post circle of light, dressed in camouflage, each carrying a .45 caliber pistol, and wearing black face. Shaking from nervousness, but mainly the cold, I saw Shorty stumble, run into an empty trash barrel and curse again. Carlos raised his finger to his lip, “Will you please try to be quiet?”

I thought, who could sleep with all that noise? I stepped out of the bunker shadows and pointed my loaded M-1 at the intruders. “Halt, who goes there?” I must have surprised them because Shorty clutched his chest like he had a sudden heart attack.

“Jesus Christ, Private, you scared the shit out of me. What do you mean sneaking up on us like that?”

“I’m not the one breaking into the ammo dump, Shorty. Here’s the drill, I say, halt who goes there, and you tell me the password.”

“Do you have any idea who I am?” Shorty asks.

“I don’t care who you are, Mr. booze-breath. If you don’t tell me the password, I’m going to shoot you.”

“Don’t be stupid. I am the training division commander, Colonel Clark…and I don’t need the password.”

“Hit the dirt or prepare to meet your maker.” I put a round in the chamber.

“Holy shit,” said Carlos, assuming the prone position at my feet. The Colonel stared at me, with hate burning in his eyes.

“I will not lay in the dirt for some stupid, lowly trainee.”

I shot the ground six inches from Clark’s right foot and then pointed it at his nose. “These are live rounds, Shorty.” Clark hit the ground pretty fast for an old guy, cursing all the way. “I will have your balls for breakfast,” snarled the Colonel.

“You have a rather exotic palate,” I said. Keeping my rifle trained on the pair, I backed up and grabbed the phone. “Wait until the duty officer hears I caught two drunks breaking into the ammo dump. They’ll make me a hero; maybe my picture and story in the New York Times.”

Carlos shook his head as if to say to Shorty, better not let that happen. Clark fumed but realized Carlos might be right, so he calmed down. “One second, son.”

“Yes?”

“Let’s not be hasty. I realize you’re just doing your duty. I got upset because you startled us.”

“Keep talking,” I said.

“Put down the phone and allow me to show you some I.D.”

“Colonel Clark, if that’s really your name, what the hell are you doing at the ammo dump after midnight and why don’t you know the password?”

“I don’t know the goddamn password,” Clark said through clenched teeth.

The duty officer’s voice came on the phone. “Eli, what’s wrong? Why are you calling the guard shack?”

I covered the mouthpiece with my glove while cradling the phone under my chin and keeping the rifle pointed in the Colonel’s direction. “What’s in it for me? I’m not supposed to be here. Can you have me discharged out of the Army?”

Flames shot out of Clark’s eyes. “Are you crazy?” He once again regained control. This guy was an emotional roller coaster. Then he added in a calm voice, “If you’ll hang up the phone, we can certainly discuss it.”

“Eli,” said the duty officer. “Is everything all right?”

“Give me a second.”

Covering the phone again, I said to my captives, “Let’s see that I.D.” They opened their wallets. “Toss them over.” I let the phone dangle while I verified the information.

I stuck the I.D. cards into my pocket, retrieved the phone and told the duty officer, “Sorry sir, I thought I should test the line to make sure it works…in case, I spotted any trouble.” I winked at the two prone men.

“Excellent initiative, Jones,” said the duty officer. “I’ll note that in the log.”

I hung up. “You can stand up now.”

Handing them back their I.D.s, I kept my finger on the trigger. “Let’s talk.”

“You don’t really expect to be discharged out of the Army, do you?” Clark asked.

“Why not?” I explained my unique situation to the Colonel.

“I can look into it. How about a more immediate reward for your silence…like some time off from basic…maybe a little R&R?”

“Getting discharged is the most important thing, but sure, what’s wrong with having a little fun, although Sergeant Wolinski isn’t going to like it.”

“He works for me. What did you have in mind?”

“How about a weekend pass to New York City for me, Sarah, Tex, Steve, and Sam…plus a car, so we can travel in style.”

“Is Sarah your girl back home?” The Colonel asked, smiling.

“Nope, she is this very fine nurse I met here, built like a brick shithouse. I’m hoping to get lucky if you know what I mean.”

“Sarah is a nurse on this base?” For some reason, the Colonel started turning red again.

“Yeah, why?”

“If you think I will let you take my daughter away for the weekend, you’re crazy!”

“Sarah is your daughter, huh? I can’t believe you two are related. Is it a deal or not? I can always call the duty officer back.” I reached for the phone.

“All right,” Clark conceded sputtering. He used every ounce of willpower to avoid taking a swing at me. “What’s your name, Private?”

“Eli Jones, sir. May I call you dad?”

“No, you may not. Remember, if I ever find out that you leaked a single word about this, I will ship you out to Vietnam so fast it will make your head spin. Do you understand?”

“Got it, sir. Let’s make the pass for next weekend, so I have time to ask Sarah and you can find me a car.”

“A car! You expect me to find you a car!” Clark struggled to compose himself. “All right, fine, how about a brand new Cadillac–right, Carlos?”

“Oh no, sir, not my Cadillac,” Carlos asked, already knowing the answer.

The Colonel turned back to me. “Is that all?”

“Yep…you’re free to go now. You don’t even have to tell me why you were here. I’m sure it was for a good reason.”

“Thanks–as if I needed your approval.” The Colonel stormed toward the gate with Carlos on his heels, like a faithful puppy dog.

“Pleasure doing business with you,” I shouted at the rapidly retreating figures.

“Shut up, Jones,” the colonel’s voice floated back, but he never turned around.

****

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Book Series – Drafted – Chapter Ten

Tex strolled into Company ‘C’ headquarters. “Hey, Professor, how’s it hanging?”

“Straight as an arrow, a little to the left, thanks for asking.”

“Whoa, too much information. Did you obtain what I asked about?” Tex slipped him a $100 bill.

The Professor nodded. “You bet. I dug up all kinds of dirt on Eli’s draft board. He’s not the first questionable draftee by any means. Look at this article in Life Magazine.”

Tex flipped through the marked pages and the rest of the information. “This is great. I want you to put all this stuff into an envelope and mail it to my daddy. In a couple of days, I’ll call him and make something happen.

“Eli is lucky to have a friend like you.”

“I’m just making this world a better place for my buddies.”

 #

Sarah started her day the same as she always did since becoming an Army nurse. Up at the crack of dawn, a quick shower, then after donning her crisp, white nurse’s uniform, she drove her assigned jeep to the base hospital, arriving at oh-seven-hundred hours.

Just inside the entrance, she grimaced at the hand-colored picture of the stern-faced base commander, General Herbert Wolf, with his pencil-thin mustache, hanging next to a photograph of the commander-in-chief, President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Sarah hurried along the black and white square floor tiles, past the functional plain gray walls, until she reached the elevator, which she took to the sixth-floor nurse’s station.

She signed in, picked up her chart and began her morning rounds, starting with sickbay. Military procedure called for all soldiers, even if dying, to rise up when revelry sounded at oh-six-hundred hours, make their hospital bed, and then sit in the hard wooden chair beside it until the doctor or nurse showed up. It didn’t make any sense, but it didn’t have to…this was the Army.

Sarah picked up a tray with a bottle of aspirin and several small paper cups filled with pink Cool-Aid and entered the “upper respiratory infection” ward. She got her usual amount of whistles and woo woos. “Okay, boys, you all behave now.” She turned away so they couldn’t see her smile, secretly pleased that her package still delivered.

The soldiers each wore a blue hospital pajama bottom and a white T-shirt with his last name stenciled in black letters on the front. Sarah handed each one, in turn, an aspirin and a cup of pink panther piss–the affectionate name given by the patients to the administered Cool-aid drink.

“What’s the chance of getting some penicillin or anti-biotic, darling?” One soldier asked.

“Slim to none,” said Sarah, “but you boys will be just fine.” She drew out the word “fine” at the end, which gave away her birth state of Georgia, although she hadn’t lived there for more than ten years now. It didn’t make much sense to Sarah to keep forty men locked up in one big room with no ventilation, coughing on each other like crazy, and spreading germs, but she accepted it as hospital policy, along with not distributing any penicillin.

The doctor arrived at the upper respiratory infection ward right after Sarah finished handing out the cool-aid and aspirin. He started his examinations with the first soldier on the right side of the room. The man held up his T-shirt, while the physician listened to his breathing with a stethoscope. If the Doc heard a raspy sound, “One more day of bed rest.” If the lungs sounded clear, “back to duty.”

The fifth soldier being examined leaned close and whispered, “Doc, please let me out of here or give me some penicillin. I am going to die in this crappy room unless I can escape from all these sick people and sleep.” He slipped a twenty-dollar bill into the doctor’s pocket.

The doctor smiled and announced, “Nurse, release this soldier with a three-day pass.” The other patients moaned in envy as the happy man ran out the door shouting, “I’m free! I’m free!

Doc finished up and hurried out the door, nurturing the hope of another round of golf before night fell or the fall weather turned nasty. Sarah gathered up all the empty cups in a plastic bag and tossed them down a trash chute outside the ward entrance, and walked back to the nurse’s station to write up the morning report. She thought Free car, free housing, surrounded by single men, and they still pay me every month. Nope, not a bad life at all.

Mary, one of the other nurses on duty, asked Sarah. “So, how did the inoculations go with the new soldiers the other day?”

“Well, the usual number of macho guys fainted and we played Florence Nightingale. One rather cute, funny young man did catch my eye and…”

Mary interrupted. “Be careful now, you know the rules about dating trainees, and your father would go ballistic.”

“I’m over twenty-one, so it’s none of his business…and I’ve done nothing with Eli…yet.”

“You are so bad! Is that his name, Eli?”

“Yep, first one I ever met. Wonder what he’s doing now.”

#

Eli, along with the rest of Bravo Company, shuffled out of the barracks and into the cold morning for reveille. “Watch where you walking,” growled Sam, as Horowitz stepped on his foot for the third time.

“Where in the hell’s the flag,” muttered Steve, squinting toward the center of the field as he raised his hand in the salute.

Wolinski, as usual, had his face in mine. “Did you shave this morning, Private Jones? And take off those damn sunglasses!”

“You still need to send me to the eye doctor.”

“You always come up with an excuse. Ask the Professor.”

Wolinski walked up to Horowitz. “You are a slob. Your uniform is a mess and your shirt isn’t tucked in properly. What did you do, rub dirt on those boots? I want to see my face reflected in those toes.”

“Yes, Drill Sergeant.” Harry meekly replied.

Wolinski looked disgusted. “And grow yourself a pair of balls.”

This particular morning, the needle got stuck again, and the same reveille passage kept playing over and over. We eventually got tired of waiting, gave up, and wandered off to breakfast.

#

Wolinski pretty much stayed in a foul mood 24 hours a day. After his latest tirade, he had Bravo platoon assigned to kitchen police for five straight days with no sign of a reprieve. I hated KP. It consisted of the worse jobs in the mess hall, like peeling hundreds of potatoes until your fingers bled or facing a sink overflowing with endless greasy pots and pans that never came clean.

“I’ll bet Sarge is upset because our platoon has the worst marks in the whole battalion on the firing range,” said Sam.

I agreed. “I’m putting together a plan about how we can improve our shooting and convince Sarge to give us a break.”

“What is it?”

“You’ll find out real soon…”

#

We were sitting around the barracks killing a half-hour before our next training class. Steve snored away on his bunk while the platoon radio played a song called “Cherry Cherry” by a new singer-songwriter named Neil Diamond. Sam sat on his footlocker reading a letter from home while I plotted how to sneak past Sarge to see Sarah again.

Suddenly the door slammed open and in stormed Wolinski. The Professor followed three-feet behind with a yellow number-two pencil in one hand and a clipboard in the other. Private Horowitz, the first soldier in the first bunk on the north end of the building, announced “Platoon, attention.”

“Louder, you idiot,” commanded Wolinski.

“Attention?” Horowitz tried again.

“What did you say, Horowitz?” Tex asked, and then spotting Sarge, he yelled, “PLATOON, ATTENTION!” Steve sat straight up in his top bunk, fell hard to the floor, and then hobbled up next to me–still in his stocking feet.

“Prepare for inspection,” announced the Professor. “Open up your lockers and then wait at the foot of your bunk.” His job was to follow Sarge around the room and mark down each discovered infraction on his clipboard.

Sarge began with Horowitz. He sat aside the upper tray in his footlocker and then started tearing things out of the bottom and throwing them in a random pattern around the room. “Unauthorized,” noted Sarge, heaving a pair of blue bunny slippers into the air, which luckily Tex saw coming and ducked in time.

Sarge moved next to Horowitz’s wall locker, where he spied a full-length poster hung inside the door. “No pin-ups allowed,” Sarge said, ripping it down. But before tossing it, he took a closer look at the blow-up photo of an elderly woman with a round face, short hair, and dark business suit. “Who the hell is this, your mother?”

“It’s Golda Meir, Sarge,” said Harry.

“Who?”

“She’ll soon be the new premier of Israel and my hero. You know, Golda’s of Russian descent.”

Sarge crumpled up the poster and threw it to the floor. “No political or commie posters either. Write that down.” The Professor scribbled on his paper, Golda Meir, and then drew a line through it.

“Clean up this mess,” Sarge commanded Horowitz.

“Yes, Drill Sergeant,” Horowitz replied.

Turning to Tex, Sarge said, “This area isn’t too bad, Private Riley.”

“Thank you, Sarge. I hired a soldier to come in and tidy up twice a week.”

Sarge frowned. “Well, your area might be in order, but you are in terrible shape. Stand up straight. Suck in that gut.” Sarge slapped Tex in the stomach with the back of his hand–reacting when he hit something hard. “What the hell have you got under there?”

Sarge pulled Tex’s shirt out and discovered a brown money belt, stuffed full of $100 bills. “My God, there must be $5,000 here. What’s with all the cash?”

“I don’t normally carry that much, but I just got a care package from home.”

“Most soldiers receive brownies. I don’t like you, Riley. You’re some goddamn Army reserve puke who bought his way out of serving. Just because you’re rich doesn’t make you a better man. Professor, mark him down for guard duty.”

The Professor started writing on his chart, but when the Sarge turned away to leave, Tex slipped the clerk one of those Franklin bills. The Professor smiled, slipped it discretely into his pocket, and began vigorously erasing Tex’s name.

Sarge arrived at my bunk. “Eli, other than your footlocker display, this area is a disgrace. Your bed looks slept in.”

“Oh no, Sergeant, I stood beside it all night.”

“Try again.” Sarge grabbed the edge of the mattress and shoved my blankets, sheets, and pillow onto the floor. He tried to pick up my toothbrush from its proper spot, but it didn’t move. Sarge gave it another yank and the whole display came out in his hand. “Tell me you didn’t glue your toothbrush to the towel.”

“Okay, I didn’t glue my toiletries to the towel. That would be as stupid as laying it out in a display.”

Sarge sneered. “Professor, mark down this smart ass for guard duty for the next three nights.”

The Professor shrugged…what can I do?

By the time Sarge tore up every display on the first and second floor, the barracks looked like a small tornado had hit it. “You have one hour to clean up this mess and dispose of any unauthorized items. Following the cleanup, I want you in full combat gear and ready for a ten-mile run. You are all lazy sons-of-bitches and I have been too soft on you pond scum. That is going to change.” He turned and stormed out.

Sam said, “Damn if this is easy, what’s his version of hard?”

Tex said, “That man’s got a burr under his saddle for sure. Come on, guys, let’s get to work.”

*********************************************************************************

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Book Series — DRAFTED — Chapter 9

CHAPTER NINE

The next day we got up at our normal oh-six-hundred hours, packed up everything we owned in our duffel bag (the Army had found a place for me to store my guitar, golf clubs, and tennis racquet until after basic training). We waited in formation while an officer read the new platoon assignments. They assigned Steve, Tex and me to Sergeant Wolinski, along with several new guys.

Soon as they called out the last soldier assign to our platoon, Wolinski went to work.

“You are the sorriest bunch of recruits to ever stand before me. They had to drag the bottom of the barrel to come with this bunch of misfits. How in the hell am I supposed to whip you pussies into shape? I’m no goddamn miracle worker. If you maintain any hope of graduating, then for the next seven weeks, remember, I am your god, mother, and priest all rolled into one. You don’t walk, talk, think or take a shit unless I tell you to. IS THAT CLEAR?”

“YES, DRILL SERGEANT!”

“Wonder where he wants us to take our shit?” I whispered to Tex, who only smiled, but in his row, a five-foot-three, rotund, Jewish-looking soldier, wearing an ill-fitting uniform and black round horn-rimmed glasses, broke out laughing.

Wolinski roared over and stood in front of the still chuckling, overweight recruit, “I told you attention. Lock those knees and stand up straight.”

“I am at attention, sir, my uniform is at ease.”

“Sir,” Sarge exploded. “Do I look like a fuckin wimpy officer to you? Now sound off like you’ve got a pair.”

“Yes, drill sergeant,” said the draftee in the same meek voice.

“What’s your name, dick-wad?

“Horowitz, sir. Private Harry Horowitz.”

“Well, Horowitz, it is going to give me great pleasure to grind your pansy, chubby-cheeked little body into the ground. Now drop down and give me fifty.”

“I don’t carry that much cash on me. Would you take a check?”

Wolinski went nose-to-nose with Horowitz. “No, you stupid shit…do fifty push-ups and count ’em out.”

“Fifty pushups, sir,” Horowitz said, his voice shaking, “I can’t do five.”

Sarge exploded. “NO THINKING! I told you maggots not to think. I give an order, you obey without question. I say jump, you say how high. IS THAT CLEAR? …AND QUIT CALLING ME, SIR. I WORK FOR A LIVING!”

“YES, DRILL SERGEANT!” We all shouted.

“Now, Horowitz, are you going to start doing pushups, or do I have to beat you to death with this rod.”

Harry took a deep breath and bellowed as loud as he could, “YES, DRILL SERGEANT!”

Horowitz dropped to the ground and strained to push his body off the ground, but his big stomach and short arms made it impossible. He started his quivering mound of flesh rocking back and forth, resembling a turtle on its back, struggling to right itself. It was the funniest damn thing I’d ever seen. Every time he pitched forward, Horowitz let out a whoosh and shouted, “One,” followed by “Drill Sergeant.” Even Wolinski had to turn away.

We eventually lost the front two rows to gales of laughter, which got worst when Harry looked up, his glasses perched precariously on the end of his nose. Sarge seized the opportunity to harass the rest of us. “You jokers think he is so damn funny, drop down and join him.”

“YES, DRILL SERGEANT!” We shouted in unison.

When we started knocking them out, I couldn’t resist asking the guy next to me, “Hey buddy, is that a pushup or did you lose your girl?”

With the whole platoon soon laughing so hard that tears ran down our faces, Sarge went ballistic. “Jones, you are a goddamn smartass. Pick up your duffel bag and put it over your head and hold it there until I tell you to drop it. The rest of you worthless piles of dung…ON YOUR FEET! Forget riding on a bus to your new quarters, we’re going to run. Sling those bags. RIGHT FACE! No, Horowitz, the other way. Jones, start running clockwise around the formation with your bag held high above your head–and don’t you dare drop it. DOUBLE-TIME, MARCH” The platoon moaned but moved out on command.

Sweat rolled down my forehead, and stung my eyes, as I jogged around the formation. I reached exhaustion after the first mile, but wouldn’t quit. Whenever Wolinski looked my way, I managed to give him a smile–no satisfaction from me, you bastard.

Some of the platoon members weren’t going to make it. Their heavy duffel bag kept swinging into their bodies and knocking them down. Wolinski finally called the platoon to a halt. Most fell to the ground, gasping for air. I dropped my bag, bent forward, and took long deep breaths, trying not to heave. My arms shook. No way I could have lasted much longer.

“You pukes had better take this training seriously. What you learn here just might save your sorry ass in Vietnam. Now form up ranks. Eli, back in line.”

We did as requested–without laughter this time–and arrived without further incident at our new barracks. A thin, pasty-white gentleman entered soon after, wearing Harry Potter-type glasses and carrying an official-looking clipboard. He announced, “Bravo platoon, I’m the Professor, company clerk, and the person to see if you want anything. When I call out your name, come forward and pick up a set of name tags for your lockers–Pat Riley?”

“Here, y’all,” said Tex in his southwestern drawl.

“Steve Butler?”

“Here.”

“Harry Horowitz?”

“I’m Horowitz,” the pushup champ said, sticking his head out from behind his bunk.

“Stand up when the Professor calls your name.” I joked.

“I am standing up.” Harry protested.

“And you must be Eli.” The Professor handed me my tags.

“Why did you guys laugh at me?” Harry asked as he joined the gang gathered at the foot of Steve’s bunk.

“Sorry, Harry,” said Tex. “Your pushups were too much to watch.”

“I guess I did appear pretty silly.”

“So, what’s your story, Harry?” asked the Professor. “Did your mother want you to join the Army to become a man too?”

“Heavens, no, I’m in the New York National Guard. After basic, I’m headed home to work in my father’s jewelry store.”

I smacked myself in the head. “Why didn’t I get in the National Guard?”

“Because somebody better connected took all the open spots,” said one of the new guys, a handsome Afro-American, standing nearly six-foot-two, very muscular, and weighing about two-ten.

“Greetings, fellow draftee,” I said. “Who might you be?”

“Samuel Goodwyn, if it’s any of your goddamn business.”

“Take it easy, my friend. Tex and Harry here may have beaten the system, but Steve and I are in the same stinking, sinking boat as you.”

“If we were in a boat together, you’d probably make me row.”

“Not in a thousand years,” I said.

“Me neither,” frowned Steve, “Who rained on your parade?”

“An unproportionate number of black men are dying in Vietnam…and right before I start my junior year at the University of Alabama, they draft my sorry ass into the Army. Can’t say I’m real happy about it.”

“Wait a minute,” I said, “are you the two-time, all-American, pro-scouted, a thousand yards a season, Sam Goodwyn?”

“You know me?”

“Are you kidding? Everybody in America knows you.”

“Yeah, well, the Army doesn’t give a rat’s ass about football,” said Sam. Nobody disagreed.

Our discussion broke up when Sarge ordered us outside to draw our weapons so we could practice close order drill. Off we went at a trot. “Listen up pond scum. When I sing out a line, you repeat it each time your left foot hits the ground. Ready? I don’t know, but I’ve been told.”

“I don’t know, but I’ve been told.” The platoon responded.

“Eskimo pussy’s mighty cold.”

“Eskimo pussy’s mighty cold.”

“Sound off.”

“Sound off.”

“Bring it on down–now you say…”

We nailed it on the first try, “One, two, three, four…one-two…three-four!”

Holy cow, Bravo Platoon, Charlie Company, running and singing at the same time. Next, we’d try simultaneously rubbing our stomachs and patting our heads. Our talent knew no bounds.

We sang another verse. “G.I beans and G.I gravy, gee I wished I’d join the Navy.” This time, a few guys harmonized. Sarge said we were “sounding good.”

We arrived six blocks later at the armory, a brick building with bars on all the windows. Inside we formed a line against the wall across from a metal mesh cage. They kept the rifles stored in double-deck gun racks behind a locked metal door. The sergeant had each trainee go into the cage one at a time and return with a bolt-action rifle with a wooden stock and a simple v-notch sight.

Once we all had a weapon, Wolinski stood in front of the platoon and demonstrated our new toy. “This is the M-1 carbine. It is an accurate weapon when used properly and will kill you dead anywhere within 100 to 250 yards. In combat, this baby is your favorite mistress–you will sleep with it, eat with it, and keep it by your side at all times.”

“Hey, Sarge,” said Steve. “This isn’t the gun they show on TV.”

“No oatmeal for brains, it isn’t. That weapon is an M-16–a fine killing machine that rarely jams. But first you need to learn how to break the M-1 down, reassemble it, and qualify with the weapon on the firing range, then you’ll train on the M-16. But in the meantime, understand this, the M-1 is a rifle, not a gun.”

“What’s the difference, Sarge?” Tex asked.

“I’m going to teach you a poem, so you’ll never forget. This is my rifle.” Sarge held it aloft. “This is my gun.” He grabbed his crotch. “This is for shooting.” He pumped the rifle up and down twice. “This is for fun.” Sarge squeezed his crotch twice. “All right you guys try it.”

Sarge was right. I would never forget the difference between a gun and a rifle, or he might force us to do the stupid poem and hand motions a second time.

Wolinski continued the training. “Okay, men, let’s learn some basic rifle commands. When I say dress right, extend your right arm, and turn your head right–everybody except the last man in line, who keeps his head forward. At the same time, all, except the first man, start shuffling right until your fingertips touch your buddy’s shoulder. When I say “ready front,” drop your arm and face forward. Got it?”

From the confused looks on the faces around me, I could see disaster coming, but Sarge pressed on. “Platoon, attention. Dress right, dress!”

You could only describe what followed as a first-class clusterfuck. Rifles dropped, soldiers crashed into each other, and when some guys stuck out their left hand instead of their right, they poked the eyes of guys that turned the correct way. Horowitz managed to launch his rifle in a nice arc that terminated with a thud into the back of Tex’s helmet, thereby knocking the tall recruit to the ground.

“STOP!” Wolinski screamed. The veins on his neck popped out like a weightlifter hoisting 600 pounds. We all froze in our ridiculous individual poses. Sarge pushed his way through to Harry and shook him like a terrier shakes a rat until Horowitz began to cry. “You are the dumbest fuck I have ever met.”

“Take it easy Sarge,” I said. “He made a mistake.”

Without warning, he turned and smacked me across the face with the back of his hand. “Shut up, Jones.”

The slap stung and made my jaw ache. I fought a powerful urge to hit him back–instead, settling for the most hateful stare I could muster.

When Tex recovered, the platoon managed to move an arms-length apart, execute a right should arm, a left face, becoming ready to move out. For the next several hours, we practiced left face, right face, about face, to the rear march, right and left shoulder arms and parade rest until Wolinski looked satisfied.

By the time we finished our evening chores of buffing the floors and cleaning the latrines, we were ready to hit the sack. Somebody had a transistor radio tuned to WABC in New York City and the singsong voice of deejay, Cousin Brucie. He introduced “Sunshine Superman” by Donovan and the rocking bass line soon had everybody in the barracks humming along.

Lying in our bunks, I said to Steve, “Sarge has always been mean, but today we witnessed his cruel side.”

“Harry is still upset, and I can’t believe he backhanded you.”

“The man is crazy.”

“Isn’t what he did illegal or something?” Steve asked.

“I don’t know, but he’d better not try it again–even if he does catch me sneaking out of the barracks.”

Steve shook his head. “Oh, no…what are you planning now?”

“I want to see Sarah again.”

“Is she the nurse you met when we got our shots?”

“Yeah, I’m going to ask her to play doctor.”

“You’ll never sneak past Wolinski.”

I grinned at Steve. “Wanna bet?”

***************************************************************************

Want to read the whole story?

2nd-edition-2016

 

Drafted (2017)- Chapter Eight

The bright overhead lights, combined with Wolinski yelling in my ear, rudely woke me. “Get your lazy ass out of bed. This isn’t summer camp. Every swinging dick shit, shower, shave, and be outside in uniform in ten minutes.”

Ten minutes? I can’t get one eye open in ten minutes. “What the hell time is it?”

“Oh-six-hundred hours, college puke–practically mid-morning,” Sarge said. “Now get going!”

I rolled out of bed, narrowly missing getting my head crushed by Steve leaping from the top bunk at the same time. As the other recruits raced toward the bathroom with toilet kit and towel in hand, I started groping in my footlocker for my prescription lenses.

“What are you looking for?” Steve asked.

“Help me find my sunglasses.”

“Sunglasses? Are you crazy? It’s pitch black outside.”

“I can’t put my contacts in yet. My eyes are still bloodshot from yesterday.”

By the time I found my glasses and reached the head, the ten available sinks were already filled with recruits shaving, or spitting out toothpaste. The open shower area featured another dozen bare-ass boys scrubbing under streaming nozzles. The rest of the gang were taking a leak at the six-foot long open trough or making poo in the white porcelain stalls. Steve and I waited for an opening.

We didn’t make it in ten minutes. “Nice of you to join us,” yelled Wolinski. Then he spotted my sunglasses. “What are you…some kind of goddamn celebrity?”

“Yeah, I’m Greta Garbo. These are prescription.” I yawned and pulled out the eye doctor’s note. “Here’s an officer’s excuse.”

“You just look for ways to piss me off, don’t you? I’m going to make your life so miserable…”

“Shucks, Sarge, you don’t have to treat me special. I am already blessed by the mere warmth of your presence.”

“Shut up, Jones.”

The sun still hadn’t come up yet. I could barely make out all the soldiers standing around a parade ground where Sarge had called our platoon to a halt. A distant shadow in the center of the open area shouted “Battalion!”

A second, closer figure, hollered, “Company!”

Wolinski followed with “Platoon!”

Then the first shadow man yelled again, “Atten-hut.”

With that command, 180 soldiers snapped to attention. This required a leap of faith on our part because we had to assume that “Atten-hut” and “Attention” were the same word. We repeated the process, but this time, the commander said, “Hand Salute,” as they hoisted the American flag.

Each soldier raised his right hand to his baseball cap brim. After twenty seconds of silence, we heard a needle skip, at earsplitting volume, work its way across a record; and then repetitively thump, thump, thump when it reached the inside ring. “Damn it,” cursed our unseen disc jockey through the four bullhorn speakers mounted on poles surrounding the parade ground. He tried again. The needle hit the groove and a bugle blared out the strains of reveille amidst the pops and crackles of a well-worn recording.

At the conclusion of the music, shadow man yelled “Two.” Two what I wondered, but dropped my salute with the others. Wolinski told us “At Ease” and showed us how to stand with our feet shoulder width apart and our hands behind our backs–one hand holding the opposite wrist.

This is at ease? I reminisced. No, at ease is leaning back in my lifeguard chair with the warm sun on my body, checking out the babes, and watching a colorful butterfly flap his wings while perched on my big toe. Sarge’s voice brought me back to reality.

“Tomorrow you will receive your final platoon assignments, and begin basic infantry training. Some of you will stay with me. Others will be assigned to different barracks. You jokers have any questions?”

“I’m going to miss you, Sarge,” I said.

“Oh no, Jones…I made sure you were assigned to my platoon.”

Lucky me, I thought, as Wolinski escorted us once again to chow.

When everyone finished eating, Sarge marched us to a building that resembled a high school gymnasium. “At ease,” grumbled Wolinski, “Smoke ’em if you got ’em…and don’t forget to field strip your butts.”

“Oh, I like the sound of that,” said one soldier.

“Who is that guy?” Steve asked.

“Not sure, but I suggest not dropping the soap in the shower when he’s around.”

We entered the gym and joined a lengthy green military conga line that terminated at a gauntlet of medical corpsmen, three on a side, each holding a pneumatic needle gun with a small glass vial of medicine sitting on top. The corpsmen looked really bored doing 200 guys without a break, one right after another. I prayed they were changing the needle often, or it would be very dull by our turn.

Thirty minutes later, we were told to take off our fatigue shirt and roll up our T-shirt sleeves on both sides–like the hoods used to do in high school. I watched one man jerk when he felt the gun, causing the needle to punch a series of holes across his arm and leave a trail of blood in its wake. Ugh!

I have been never too keen on getting shots. Once as a kid, during a free polio vaccination, a nurse hit a muscle and broke the needle off in my arm. It happened at the Clark County health clinic in 110-degree heat with no air conditioning. I’m standing there in pain while the staff frantically looked for something to pull it out. A janitor finally produced a pair of pliers and removed the three-inch sliver of metal, followed by a spurt of blood. I made it to the top of the stairs before fainting dead away.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one appearing woozy today. A dozen cots had been set up on the far side of the gym and a lovely group of Army nurses attended several prone soldiers.

A loud, tall, skinny drink of water just ahead of me in line temporarily distracted my attention from the nurses. “This ain’t nothing to worry ’bout. Why my grandfather fought at the Alamo. Now there was a good fight. I’ve had wildcats scratch me worst then this while inspecting our oil wells. No little bitty shot can scare any Texan worth his salt. Bring it on. Hook ’em horns.” He extended his arms and fingers in a University of Texas pose.

One glance at old Tex’s round baby face and I could tell he was scared shitless, but to his credit, he never dropped his bravado. “Everything is going to be just fine. Trust me, boys.” Tex turned to the first medic and held a single bill aloft. “One hundred dollars for whoever does the best job.”

“Yes sir,” the corpsmen responded in unison and proceeded to ease him through the line, using regular needles instead of the guns. Of course, they switched right back after Tex went through. One guy almost shot me twice in the side of the head. You can’t blame them. A hundred bucks is nearly a whole month’s salary for a lot of soldiers.

Tex said, “See, not so bad.” Then his eyes rolled back and he fainted dead away. Fortunately, we caught him, before he dashed out his brains on the gym floor.

A nurse came over, knelt down, and felt Tex’s pulse. “Please pick him up and put him on that empty cot over there.”

“Where’s my hundred?” One of the corpsmen cried out.

“You’ll have to wait until he’s conscious,” I yelled back.

The nurse laughed. I asked her, “So, what’s your name?”

“Lieutenant Clark,” she said, “and thanks for helping.”

Lieutenant Clark was blond, about five-foot-five, with very shapely legs and dressed in a white nurse’s uniform and cap. She had small features, but full lips and a slightly upturned nose. I could easily be in love and couldn’t help staring as she applied a cold compress to Tex’s forehead.

“Why don’t you take a picture, it’ll last longer,” she smiled.

“I would if I had a camera, and then keep it next to my heart always,” I replied.

“Aren’t you the smooth talker? It couldn’t have been that long since you’ve been with a woman.”

“No, it hasn’t, but all others pale in comparison. Do you think I could visit you sometime and maybe share an ice cream cone, or a shower?”

She laughed again. “Maybe…after your hair grows back, cue ball.” She patted me where my hair used to be. Embarrassed, I started to respond but got interrupted when Tex opened his eyes and sat up.

“What happened?” Tex asked. “Everything went black.”

“You bit the dust, but this pretty little filly brought you back to life,” I said.

“How are you, soldier?” Sara asked.

“I’m just fine, ma’am,” Tex replied. “Let me give you a hundred for taking such exquisite care of me.”

“Not necessary…besides, these two gentlemen are the ones who kept you from cracking your skull open.”

Tex reached into his pocket and pulled out the biggest roll of hundred-dollar bills I had ever seen. “Well then, here’s a hundred for each of you too.”

“Why not,” said Steve, taking the bill offered. I did the same.

“There’s plenty more where that came from.” He extended his hand to me. “Howdy, I’m Pat Riley from Midlands, Texas, and the richest, orneriest, best lookin’, son-of-a-gun west of the Mississippi. You two guys are my new best friends.”

“Thanks, Tex,” I said. “Hope you don’t faint the first time Charlie takes a shot at you. He might miss and hit me.”

“Hell, I’m not going to Vietnam, boy. Senator Lucas got me in the Texas National Guard. I do my eight weeks here, one meeting a month, two weeks at camp each summer, and in five years, I’m a free man.”

“Son-of-a-bitch, why didn’t I think of that?” I related to Tex and Sarah my draft board story of woe.

“Look, partner,” proposed Tex, “If you keep me out of trouble for the rest of basic training, I’ll see what Senator Lucas can do for you.”

“Why would a Texas Senator help me?” I asked.

“If my daddy said so, Senator Lucas would run naked through the streets of Dallas crying, Save the Alamo.”

“Pat, I believe you’re right. We are going to be best friends.”

I said goodbye to Sara, with a promise to see her later, and then we went outside to wait for the others to finish. I suggested Tex use some of his cash to make sure he got assigned to Sergeant Wolinski so I could keep an eye on him. Tex said he’d make the arrangements with the Professor.

“Who’s that?” Steve asked.

Tex explained, “He’s our company clerk. He got the nickname because he holds a Ph.D. in English.”

“What the heck is he doing in the Army?” I asked.

Tex said, “That’s the good part of the story. The Professor had always been a mama’s boy–you know, thirty years old, a virgin, and still living at home. One day, his mom kicks him out and tells him, time to become a man. So, instead of moving into an apartment and getting laid, he has a brain fart and joins the Army. After he failed basic training three times straight, the Army assigned him permanently to Fort Dix as a clerk.”

“Unbelievable,” said Steve.

Wolinski had begun gathering his flock, so we bid Tex adios, and rejoined our platoon. After chow, we got fitted for our class “A” dress uniforms and issued our combat web harness complete with canteen, ammo pouch, compass, and rain poncho. Sarge next marched us to the Post Exchange (PX) to pick up a few personal supplies.

Later after lights out, Steve said, “You know, Eli, so far the Army isn’t so bad. We’re paid a salary, given three square meals a day, free housing, clothing and laundry service, and all we have to do is sit around or stand in line.”

“Yeah, just like prison. And someday soon, somebody, somewhere, will order you to kill another human being, before they kill you.”

Steve sighed, “Oh yeah, I forgot about that part.”

2nd-edition-2016

Drafted (2016)- Chapter Seven

The hissing of air brakes woke me. My wristwatch said five in the morning and my grumbling stomach yelled for food. I shook Steve, still racked out in the seat beside me.

“Come on sweetheart,” he said, with his eyes still closed. “Let’s cuddle a few minutes longer.”

I wanted to put my arm around him to see what he would do but decided instead to shake him again. Disoriented, Steve cracked opened one eye; very disappointed to see me instead of his girlfriend.

I said, “Good morning, Sunshine. According to the entry sign, this is beautiful Fort Dix, United States Combat Training Center and Home of the Ultimate Weapon. Wait, we can’t be at the right place–I’m a bleeder.”

We didn’t have long to ponder our fate because a scowling, darkly-tanned soldier, closely resembling a giant sequoia, with limbs and trunk as thick and strong, climbed on the bus. Our welcoming committee of one, wearing fatigues, a Smoky the Bear hat, and carrying a bullet-tipped swagger stick, stood at the front and loudly announced. “Ladies, this is basic infantry training and my name is Sergeant Wolinski. My job during the next eight weeks is to turn you pansy, out-of-shape, knock-kneed, pigeon-toed, brain-dead civilians into a finely tuned, physically fit, fighting machine. Now I’m sure the last few hours have been rough and you’re confused, tired and hungry–am I right?”

We nodded–what an understanding man.

“I DON”T CARE!” Wolinski’s voice blew us back into our seats. “You’ve got two minutes to hustle your sorry butts off this bus, grab your gear, and fall into formation in front of that welcome sign. “NOW MOVE!”

A slight hesitation, then thirty guys tried to cram into the aisle and out the door at the same time. Wolinski stood at the exit, encouraging each man as he stepped off the bus, by screaming, “MOVE, MOVE, MOVE!”

Sarge would alternate his supportive words. “HAUL TAIL, YOU MAGGOT!” Or my personal favorite. “GET GOING, OR I’LL STICK MY BOOT SO FAR UP YOUR ASS IT WILL COME OUT YOUR NOSE!”

We scrambled off the bus, claimed our baggage from the civilian driver (who seemed very amused by all this), and somehow made it into a ragged-looking bunch–our best collective guess as to what constituted a formation. Wolinski continued his tirade. “Straighten up those lines. Stand at attention when I’m talking to you, eyes forward shoulders back and heels together. Count off by fours, starting with the front row, the first man on the left.”

When we finished, Wolinski went eyeball-to-eyeball with a tall, gangly recruit. “What’s your name, boy?”

“Jimmy Krackindowbrinsky.”

“Not now it isn’t. Anybody with more than 13 letters in their last name gets called Alphabet. Is that okay with you–Private Alphabet?”

“Yes, Sergeant.”

Wolinski worked his way down the line, yelling insults at each guy. He reached Steve. “What are you staring at boy? You find me attractive? You want to ask me out?”

“No,” said Steve.

“NO WHAT?” screamed Wolinski.

“NO WAY!” Steve screamed back.

“NO, Drill Sergeant,” corrected Wolinski.

“NO WAY, Drill Sergeant,” mimicked Steve.

“From now on every time I tell you clowns something, I want you to respond with either, yes, drill sergeant, or no, drill sergeant. Is that clear?”

I raised my hand. “So, which is it, Sarge?”

“Which is what?”

“Yes or no?”

“Yes or no…what?” He demanded.

“Exactly,”

“Yes or no, drill sergeant,” he repeated.

“That’s what I’m trying to find out.”

“Are you stupid?” Wolinski’s eyes bulged from the pressure.

“I’m not the one having trouble answering the question.”

“What question?”

“What question, drill sergeant–remember what you just told us.”

“I’m the drill sergeant, you idiot. I don’t have to say drill sergeant!”

“Well, that doesn’t seem fair.”

Wolinski grabbed me under my arms and lifted me until my feet no longer touched the ground. He hissed in my ear, “Look shit for brains, I hate a smartass. If you ever make fun of me again, I will bury you where they can’t find the body.” Sarge returned me to earth and barked out, “Pick up your gear. And thanks to Private…”

“Jones,” I volunteered.

“Thanks to Private Dickhead, you are going to run the final half mile to the barracks. Platoon left face. DOUBLE-TIME, MARCH!”

I managed to pick up my suitcase, tennis racquet, guitar, and golf clubs just as all the guys faced the same direction at the same time. Sarge called cadence, shouting out a number each time our left foot hit the ground. We arrived shortly without losing anything or anybody, which I’ll bet disappointed Wolinski. Nobody threw up, but all the guys were wheezing, coughing, and bent over from the effort. “Single file, on my command, enter the building, pick out a bunk and locker and then remain standing next to it at attention. MOVE OUT!”

We scrambled up the steps and through a screen door into a two-level, wooden barracks painted white with a dark roof. The building measured about sixty-by-thirty feet with several windows on both sides. There were rows of steel bunk beds perpendicular to the walls with accompanying green wall and foot lockers. A six-foot wide aisle ran down the middle and lead to a large bathroom/shower unit at the end. Steve and I grabbed the first open bunks, just past a wooden post, and threw our gear down. Wolinski strutted in last, acting like the cock of the walk. “Everyone find a spot?”

“YES, DRILL SERGEANT!” We shouted with glee.

“Secure your gear in your locker, and then fall back outside for chow.”

I raised my hand. “My stuff won’t fit in this little footlocker…uh, drill sergeant.”

Wolinski glanced at my guitar, golf clubs, and tennis racquet. “Where in the hell do you think you are–a resort hotel?”

I scratched my head. “Why do people keep asking me that?”

“GET YOUR ASS OUTSIDE!” Wolinski bellowed.

I threw everything on the lower bunk and sprinted out the door.

Once assembled, we headed out, marching past several barracks identical to ours, until we arrived at the mess hall. The cook seemed nicer than the one at the induction center, and he even smiled at us once–out of pity, I’m sure. Our gourmet breakfast consisted of runny, clear, uncooked eggs, sunny side up, burnt toast, mostly raw, chewy bacon, and a warm glass of orange-tinted water flavored with powdered Tang. I picked up my plate and sniffed the food. “My eggs are staring at me.”

“Think of all the weight we’ll lose.” Steve offered.

I agreed. “Gandhi got more calories than this.”

After swallowing what we could stomach, Wolinski dragged us back outside.

“Okay boys, time for your first G.I. Joe haircut.” I cringed. A pair of scissors had not touched my beautiful shoulder-length mane in four years. We marched to the nearest barber pole. Sarge said, “Line up, single file on the sidewalk starting with Private Jones. He looked at me and laughed like the wicked witch of the west. “Be sure to tell them how you’d like it.”

With a heavy heart, I opened the screen door and sat down in the first barber chair. An enlisted man came out of the back, put a cotton sheet over my clothes, and produced a huge electric clipper–the size Australians use to shear sheep. “Just take a little off the sides,” I hopefully requested.

“No problem,” says the barber with a snicker, and then proceeds to cut a path down the middle of my head, within a centimeter of my scalp.

“Careful, you lout!” I cried.

“Sorry sir, let me even that out.” The brute then cut a similar path next to the first one, and so forth, until my entire head had been shaved to mere peach fuzz.

I cursed my assassin. “May a crazed guitarist twang your sister.”

As I exited, the platoon stared at my missing mane with their mouths agape. “Oh my God,” said one soldier, shading his eyes from the glare, “Is that a Yul Brenner cut?”

After each new recruit took his turn getting scalped, Wolinski marched us to our next destination–another white wooden building with a sign that read, “Supply Depot.” We lined up and entered the poorly lit structure that smelled strongly of mothballs. A disinterested clerk handed me an empty duffel bag that I was supposed to take to each station and fill with Army clothing. I didn’t have to worry about color coordination because everything came in olive drab. Apparently, fit didn’t matter either because each clerk would hand me whatever size lay on the closest shelf. No place for Beau Brummel in this man’s Army.

We marched back to our barracks, put our new duds away, and then headed for lunch. My spirits had slightly recovered from this morning’s shearing–even though my head had become several hat sizes smaller. At least now I wouldn’t have to waste any time brushing my hair. I rubbed my hand on top of my head and gave a long sigh. Bastards!

That afternoon we filled out more paperwork, got more military gear, and took more tests. At five p.m. we returned to the barracks carrying our latest issue, an olive drab blanket, white sheets, and a pillowcase. Having been mostly awake since yesterday and ridden more than 800 miles on a bus, I was more than ready for the day to end. Instead, Wolinski announces bed-making training.

Now, my mother tried unsuccessfully asked me to make my bed for several years, but Wolinski turned out to be a different kind of mother. He picked my lower bunk to demonstrate the Army way of folding hospital corners and pulling the sheets and blanket as tight as possible.

“Thanks, Sarge,” I said after he finished. “I’m so tired, I think I’ll skip dinner and go right to sleep.” I flopped down on the bunk and closed my eyes.

Wolinski screamed, “MOVE YOU YO-YO!”

Leaping up, I banged my head on the upper bunk and then stood in pain watching Sarge tear up his good work and throw it on the floor.

Sarge ordered, “Now, I want each one of you pecker-heads to make those beds so tight I can bounce a quarter on them…before you go to chow.”

“Who cares,” I cried. “I’ll sleep on the bare mattress.”

Wolinski shoved me against my wall locker. “There’s the right way, the wrong way, and the Army way. Got it numb nuts?”

“Got it,” I grumbled and began remaking my bed.

Steve whispered, “Boy, Eli, you sure know how to make friends.”

“I’m beginning to dislike this guy.”

“I’m betting he’s not too fond of you either.”

Skipping supper turned out not to be an option, but at least, Wolinski left us alone afterward. Steve and I brushed our teeth and were in bed before they gave the nine o’clock command for lights out.

Small patches of moonlight shone on the scrubbed wooden floor as I lay there trying to picture the gang at Silver Lake. I wondered. How in the blazes did I go from king of the world to bottom of the heap in less than 48 hours?

Steve peered down from the top bunk. “Homesick?”

“I miss Karen.”

“At least, you were getting laid. My girlfriend kept insisting on marriage before sex. For Christ sake, do you realize I could die a virgin?”

“Forget about dying. It’s only the first day.”

“I know we’ll have to go to ‘Nam. I’ve heard you’re damn lucky if you can make it six months in the bush without stepping on a mine or getting shot.”

I frowned. “Not everybody gets hurt, do they?”

“Don’t you pay attention to the news? The media takes great delight in describing painful ways soldiers are killed in Vietnam. The Viet Cong hide sharpened, shit-covered bamboo in deep pits, and if you don’t die from the puncture wounds, you die from the infection. They also hang bamboo stakes in trees hooked to a trip wire, so when released, it swings down and perforates your face.”

“Okay, I get the idea. You can croak a thousand different nasty ways. Thanks for eliminating my image of Karen in a bathing suit.”

“You weren’t going to flog the flagpole, were you? I could be seriously hurt if you shook me out of bed from this height.”

“Shut up you moron and go to sleep. I’ll bet morning comes real early around here.”

2nd-edition-2016

Drafted (2016)- Chapter Six

Dad drove me to the Springfield induction center. “I’ll put your car in storage while you’re gone,” he said in a husky voice.

I got my stuff out of the trunk. We stood beside the car looking at each other for the longest time–an awkward moment, like at the end of a first date, when you don’t know if you should kiss the girl, or just leave quickly and avoid the rejection. There were similar scenes all around us with mothers, fathers, girlfriends…all saying goodbye…nobody wanting to let go. I gave him a final bear hug. “Love you too, dad.”

My father is not very emotional, but a tear appeared, and then another. “Take care of yourself son. Watch your back.”

“Goodbye father,” I managed to mumble, getting a little misty myself watching him drive away. With a heavy sigh, I went inside.

Several fellow draftees already stood in a long line leading to a burly sergeant seated behind a desk, busy checking off names and directing new recruits to the next station. I joined the cue and started shuffling forward, pushing my suitcase with my foot, while holding my guitar in one hand, and my draft notice in the other. My tennis racquet and golf clubs were slung over my shoulder. I finally reached the sergeant and held out my letter.

He looked up and exclaimed, “Sweet Mary Mother of God.”

“Nope, Eli Jones. Is this where I check in?”

“What do you think this is–a hotel?”

“What do I win if I guess right?”

“Oh, a smart ass,” the sergeant growled. “You’re damn lucky I don’t beat you to a pulp.” He ripped the letter from my hand. “Now before I change my mind, take all your crap, stuff it in a locker, and then report on the double to classroom number five.”

I sat down on the corner of his desk, “Any chance of me going home instead?” I beat a hasty retreat when smoke began to pour out of his ears.

After storing my gear, I arrived at a large open atrium, lit mainly by a dirty skylight from above, and climbed a set of stairs to the second floor. I located the correct room, entered, and squeezed into an antique one-piece wooden desk–obtained, I’m guessing, from a torn down one-room schoolhouse. Next to me sat a familiar-looking, skinny guy, about my height, with red hair and a lot of freckles. We exchanged introductions, and he turned out to be Steve Butler, a guy I had met at a high school tennis match a few years before.

“So, what do we do here?” I asked him.

“We’re supposed to take an Army intelligence test–like you need brains to be a soldier,” said Steve.

“Yeah, isn’t that an oxymoron–putting Army and intelligence in the same sentence?” We chuckled at our cleverness.

The testing sergeant arrived, took his place up front and then barked out, “All right, take a seat.” I watched in amazement as one recruit picked up the nearest chair/desk and started toward the door. “Okay, wise guy, put it back, and listen up.”

Without taking a breath, in an unintelligible monotone, he raced through the following statement: “This is the Army intelligence test. You are allowed 25 minutes to complete it. Don’t leave the room and remain absolutely silent at all times. Be sure to use a number two pencil to mark the correct answer in each box. There will be no cheating allowed. If I see your eyes on somebody else’s paper I will rip your test into tiny pieces, make you eat it, and pound you into the ground. Answer all of the questions. Do not leave any section blank. Do not open your test booklets until I tell you to begin. Are there any questions?”

I raised my hand. “Could you please repeat that again…a lot slower?”

Our host smiled, walked over to my desk, and bellowed the same speech even faster than before. With my ears ringing like an angry phone, I wilted and sank a little lower in my chair.

“Before we begin,” the sergeant continued, “is there anyone here that can’t read?”

Steve leaned over and whispered to me. “What moron over 18 can’t read?”

We stopped snickering when a huge mass rose silently behind us and blocked out the sun. Over our shoulder stood a pair of 300-pound frowning giants, who resembled starting tackles for the Chicago Bears. Luckily, the sergeant escorted them out of the room before Steve and I became the Springfield induction center’s first casualties.

The sergeant returned and passed out the test booklets, an answer sheet, and the aforementioned number two pencils. Checking the wall clock, he announced, “It’s eleven hundred hours. You are alloted until 1155 to finish. Go.”

Steve and I were done in less than ten minutes and spent the rest of the time staring at flies on the ceiling and our navels because we didn’t want the Sergeant to make us eat our test. At last, he said, “Time’s up. Put down your pencils, close your booklets, and report to the mess hall downstairs. You’ve got one hour for chow.”

We made our way downstairs and stood in yet another long line. Steve asked, “Why do you suppose they call this a mess hall, instead of a cafeteria?”

I suggested, “Maybe it has something to do with the food presentation.”

We grabbed some aluminum silverware and a tray. The aging cook serving the food had a potbelly and a previously broken nose. He wore a too-small white T-shirt covered by a full-length apron, but no protective covering over his stringy, greasy hair. His right arm sported a full-length tattoo of a mostly-naked woman, called Daisy, and a lit cigarette hung from his mouth that periodically dropped ashes into the food.

The guy ahead of me held out his tray, Sarge tossed him a burnt piece of toast and then slopped on an overflowing spoonful of runny, gray-colored gravy with tiny brown flecks. The accompanying aroma reminded me of passing too close to a rendering plant in the summertime.

I felt nauseous. Steve looked on with the same disgusted face that I had. When it was my turn, Sarge growled, “Hold out your tray.” Instinctively, I clutched it tighter to my chest. “What is that stuff…and is it toxic?” I asked.

The cook smiled, “Creamed chipped beef on toast is an Army specialty that we fondly call SOS or shit on a shingle.”

“Sounds delicious, but I’ll pass. Is there a salad bar?”

“What do you think this is–a hotel?”

“You’re the second person to ask me that today.”

“Take it or go hungry,” he exploded.

I held out my tray. Sarge heaped up an extra portion of slop over the blackest, coldest piece of toast he could find with two flicks of his cigarette to top it off.

I whispered to Steve. “Obviously, you don’t want to piss off the help.”

We grabbed a couple slices of white bread, a glass of watered-down iced tea and found an empty table.

“What are we doing here, Eli?” Steve moaned.

“Don’t know about you, but I got drafted.”

Steve lamented, “I had just gotten my college degree, a new job, a steady girlfriend, and my own apartment. I had plans, you know.”

“Army doesn’t care. They nailed me in the middle of my undergraduate degree.”

“You should protest.”

“I did…and see where it got me.”

We finished lunch and reported to the next station. A pimpled-faced medic ushered us into a drafty room and told us to take off our clothes, hang them on the hooks on the back wall, and then stand behind a yellow line. Not a pretty picture–twenty naked, fat, tall, skinny, short, white, brown and black guys all standing in a row–visually proving that not all men are created equal.

A weary-looking doctor entered, and starting with the guy on the left, told the guy to take a deep breath and hold it while he thumped on the man’s chest in three places and listened through his stethoscope.

Pulling on a rubber glove, Doc started over, grabbing the first man’s balls in his hand. “Turn your head and cough.” After finishing that charming little procedure on the rest of us, he discarded the first rubber glove, put on a fresh one, dipped his index finger in a jar of Vaseline, and announced, “Turn around, bend over, grab your cheeks and spread ’em.”

You guessed it. One draftee bent over, stuck a finger in each side of his mouth and pulled his cheeks as far apart as he could. The doctor shook his head. “No, son, your other cheeks.”

This got everybody laughing. We looked rather funny anyway with our head on the ground, ass in the air, and the doctor sticking his finger up each man’s wazoo. Soon the wisecracks started…

“We must stop meeting like this.”

“Warm up those hands.”

“Do you do rear end alignments?”

“Are things looking up?”

“Do you enjoy working in a dead-end job?”

“I bet you never forget a face.”

“Are you sure it’s okay to do this on the first date?”

The doctor never laughed, because I’m sure he’d heard it all a hundred times before. In a monotone, he told us to put on our clothes and move to the next station.

A series of tests followed, including jogging on a treadmill with electrodes taped to my chest, giving blood and urine samples, plus getting measured and weighed. While a cute nurse took my blood pressure, I hit on her. “Being this close to a beautiful woman is bound to throw off my reading, don’t you think?” She never smiled. Doesn’t anybody in the Army have a sense of humor?

I ended up in the eye doctor’s office, still a bit uncomfortable because I had leftover petroleum jelly in my underwear. I figured the ophthalmologist remained my best opportunity to be rejected; so, I decided to go for broke, when he requested, “Take out your contacts, so I can test your uncorrected vision.”

Like a blind man, I stumbled over and started touching his face. “I want to remember the man who helped me return to civilian life.”

“Nice try. Sit in the chair and read line ten on the chart.”

“What chair? What chart? Keep talking, so I can follow your voice and find you. Do you offer an eye chart in Braille?”

“Look, you still have to go in the Army, even if you need lenses the thickness of a Coke bottle bottom.”

“Glasses, I don’t need any stinking glasses. I need a dog. Does the Army provide Seeing Eye dogs? Can the dogs go into combat? What if I shoot one of my own men? What if I shoot the dog? You wouldn’t want that on your conscience.”

“Sorry, but I’ve heard it all before,” he stated, unmoved. “And you can’t wear your contacts 18 hours a day.”

I protested. “But the only other thing I own is my prescription sunglasses that I use when lifeguarding.”

“Those will do until the Army can make a new pair of regular glasses. I’ll give you a note. By the way, you need to see the psychologist. The intelligence test you took this morning had some discrepancies.”

My heart leaped with joy!

In the hallway outside the shrink’s office, I messed up my hair and assumed my best wild-eyed look. Taking a deep breath, I opened the door. The doctor sat behind a desk working a crossword puzzle. “Name?” he asked, as I entered.

“Eli Jones,” I gave a nervous laugh. “Crazy as they come.”

“I reviewed your test and you missed every single question. What do you think about that?”

“Oh, no,” I cried. “You promised! I want to kill, kill, and kill again.”

“Sure you do. It would take a very clever person to get all the questions wrong. Good effort, son, but you’re in the Army now. Go to the first floor and wait until called.” As I walked out, head hung down, the shrink asked, “By the way, do you know a seven-letter word for bad luck?”

“Yeah,” I said, “DRAFTED.”

I wandered downstairs to the waiting area, which had all the charm of an abandoned bus station. Steve waved me over to the bench where he was sitting. “How did it go?”

“Crappy, I passed everything with flying colors.”

He shook his head, “Yeah, me too. Wonder what happens now?”

“I’m afraid to find out.”

Thirty minutes later, a bored-looking private walked up with a clipboard. “Listen up. When you hear your name called, go to the big conference room at the end of the hallway. Wait there until Lieutenant Perkins arrives for the swearing in ceremony. If I don’t call your name, see me afterward.”

Steve and I chanted a silent mantra together. Don’t call my name. Don’t call my name. Don’t call my name. No such luck. With morale dangerously low, we followed the rest of the sorry mob to the conference room.

We didn’t wait long until a way-too-cheerful officer came bounding into the room and introduced himself as Lieutenant Perkins. “Gentleman, please rise, raise your right hand and repeat after me.”

Everyone came to their feet and most put their right hand in the air. “No men, your other right hand,” Perkins pointed out to those in error. “I, state your name, do solemnly swear,” the Lieutenant paused and waited for us to repeat, so we did. “I, state your name, do swear…”

“Uh…no, each of you should say your individual name. Okay? Let’s try it again.” This time, we got it right.

“I, Eli J. Jones, do solemnly swear to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America, defending this country’s flag, people, and property with my life if need be, and to obey all direct orders without question from my superiors. So help me God.”

I hung my head. No turning back. Why don’t you just shoot me now and get it over with?

Lieutenant Perkins beamed. “Congratulations men, you’re now in the United States Army. By the way, any of you who crossed your fingers behind your back while taking the oath (how could he see that from way up front?), it doesn’t matter. You’re still a soldier for the next two years.” Perkins continued. “Please be seated until your orders are cut, and then you will be magically transported to basic training.”

Steve said, “This guy sounds like a tram guide at Disneyland.”

Sgt. Smith arrived about thirty minutes later, divided us into groups, and handed out our papers. Steve and I were both assigned to Fort Dix, New Jersey, where suicide is redundant. Smith told us to gather up our personal belongings, and board the number nine bus at the back of the building. I couldn’t believe we were going to spend the next twelve to fourteen hours riding on a bus. My bad day had turned into a nightmare.

“Are you going on vacation?” Steve asked when he saw me dragging my golf bag, tennis racquet, guitar, and luggage across the lobby floor.

“Does this seem like a vacation? I just like to maintain my things about me when venturing into the unknown.” Steve chuckled and helped me get my stuff through the double doors. He carried only a small duffel bag.

Outside, we came face-to-face with a group of Wittenberg University students protesting the war. An attractive, blond-haired girl, wearing a fringed buckskin jacket, and carrying a make love, not war sign, smiled and motioned for me to come closer. As I approached, I hoped she might want to wish me luck, and maybe offer a goodbye kiss, but instead, she spat at me and hissed, “Baby killer.”

Stunned, I started to reply–I’m not a killer. I’m a college student just like you. But, three military policemen with nightsticks stepped between us to stop any trouble.

“Get back with the others, son,” said one of the MPs.

The Greyhound driver took my gear and threw it into one of the underneath compartments. I climbed the steps, walked down the aisle and sat down next to Steve. As the bus slowly pulled out of the station, the protesters continued raising their fists and shouting obscenities at us, while fighting with the MPs, who were busy pushing the students further away from the induction center. I shook my head and said to Steve, “When did you and I become the bad guys?”

The bus turned onto the Old National Road and headed out of town, leaving Springfield and our previous lives behind. Neither of us felt like talking, so I stared out the window watching the little towns slide by until I fell asleep somewhere in West Virginia.

2nd-edition-2016

Drafted (2016)- Chapter Five

“My appeal went well,” I told Karen and John, “Except for the part where they turned me down and dragged me screaming out of the room. This bastard Willie, who apparently runs the draft board, ignored every word I said.” They listened in disbelief as I related my sad story.

“Now will you consider Canada?” John asked when I had finished.

“Don’t forget marriage and a baby,” Karen added.

“Why don’t I marry in Canada, produce a baby, and declare myself a homo? It won’t help. This man is pure evil–if you’re breathing, then you’re dead meat. There is no place to hide.”

“What will you do?” Karen asked.

“I want to get drunk and feel sorry for myself.”

John lit up. “So what do we do when we’re feeling blue?”

“LIFEGUARD PARTY,” Karen and I said in sync.

“I’ll spread the word and reserve the party cabin for tomorrow night.” John offered.

The party cabin is a 1930s dance hall built into the hillside overlooking Silver Lake. It features a significant screened-in, semi-circular porch on stilts that takes advantage of the steady cool breezes coming out of the valley. Inside there is plenty of space for dancing, ten picnic tables for sitting, and at the east end, a classic bar, with a converted horse trough for icing down the beer. A dusty moose head hangs on the north wall with a lacy bra from some previous soiree dangling permanently from one of the antlers.

When John got married last year, we rented the cabin for his bachelor blowout, so nobody would try to drive home drunk. Our plan would have been perfect if Larry, one of the ushers, hadn’t found where we hid his car keys, and managed, while searching in town for more ice, to crash into the back of a parked car. “The guy was moving like a turtle,” Larry later explained after we bailed him out.

People come from miles around for our infamous nighttime lifeguard soirees, mainly because of a convenient nearby forest, where couples can slip away for a fun time. Yep, at Silver Lake, if you kick the bushes during a lifeguard party, they’re likely to kick you back!

When we arrived later that night, the party was already in full swing. The live band, playing “Double Shot of My Baby’s Love” had the crowd rocking, so Karen grabbed my hand and pulled me onto the dance floor. We found a small open spot and joined the others, shuffling and rhythmically twitching our bodies, in a ritualistic mating dance that goes back to the dawn of time.

Several beers later, I had achieved totally wasted, along with most of the other party people, but Karen remained raring to go. “Uh oh,” she observed, looking at my droopy eyes, “You’re getting that sleepy, about to pass out look. Let’s grab some fresh air before you’re no good to me at all.”

Karen dragged me outside. “Okay, lover boy. “What’s your pleasure tonight? Most of the best bushes will be gone by now. Want to try the high dive?”

“Oh no,” I shook my head. “Last time we almost bounced to our death.”

“I know, let’s take out a canoe. It will be so romantic on the lake in the moonlight.”

Doing the horizontal mambo in an unstable canoe was nuts, but I agreed anyway. We walked down the hill to the beach, grabbed a couple of paddles, and shoved off. With no headwind, it didn’t take us long to find a secluded spot. We moved together to cuddle. “I’m going to miss you,” I said.

Karen kissed me long and hard. “Ditto.”

One of her shoulder straps had fallen. I kissed the side of her neck and then worked my way down her shoulder. Karen moaned. I pulled off my T-shirt, slid my hand under her skirt, and removed her lace panties. Karen blew into my ear and unbuckled my jeans. I slid off her other shoulder strap and her dress fell in a heap to the bottom of our craft. We crashed together like rams in mating season. Our locked bodies’ energetic locomotion started the canoe rhythmically rocking, and before we knew it, our un-seaworthy vessel flipped over.

Karen got in one brief scream before we hit the dark, cold water. Shivering, she asked. “What are we going to do now?” Looking at her, the semi-submerged canoe, and our nakedness–I couldn’t help it–I began laughing. “This is not funny,” Karen insisted, but I saw a smile sneak onto her luscious lips.

“Oh yes, it is. We are treading water in the middle of a lake, our clothes are gone, and I have a major boner–having recently suffered from coitus interrupt us.”

Karen giggled. “Poor baby, let me fix that.” She swam over and put me in a very interesting lifeguard carry.

“I don’t remember this from the Red Cross manual,” I said, as we paddled our way across the lake.

“Sure you do. This is the tired swimmers carry, designed for a non-panicking, cooperative victim. The instructions say–lay on your back. Spread your legs. Put your hands on my shoulders and relax.”

She had it right, just like the picture in the manual (except for the relax part). But, I’ll bet the Red Cross never had this version in mind.

We arrived at the shore and after a quick glance around to make sure we were alone, we jumped up and streaked into the guard shack. After drying off and sharing one more naked, lingering kiss, we got dressed using the spare bathing suits and jackets we kept in our lockers.

Karen wrapped her arms around me. “I love you, Eli.”

“I love you too, Karen, and don’t worry about me; I’ll sort out this draft business.”

“I don’t want you hurt.”

“I’m very good at hide and seek.”

“That’s not funny,” she said.

I agreed. “Come on, let me take you home.”

We hiked back up the hill to the party cabin and found a few diehards still awake; sitting around, guzzling beer, and singing one of our favorite drinking songs.

“Now I am a member of the Souse family,

The best family that ever came over from old Germany,

There’s the Highland Dutch and the Lowland Dutch,

The Rotterdam Dutch and the goddamn Dutch,

Singing glorious, glorious, one keg of beer for the four of us,

Glory be that there are no more of us,

For one of us could drink it all alone,

All alone, all alone, glory be that there are no more of us,

For one of us could drink it all alone (damn near)!”

Why is it whenever people get drunk, they think they can sing? Wincing at the discordant melody coming from the lousy, but enthusiastic, choir, we declined the invitation to join them and the nearby howling dogs.

#

Between working and seeing Karen every night until she went back to college, the next sixty days flew by. My dad tried to intervene with the draft board on my behalf but had no more luck than I did. In fact, my father, who never loses his temper, shook Willie so hard the prick’s false teeth fell out. Willie didn’t press charges only because my dad had been a decorated WW II veteran.

I had run out of time and options.

My last night at home, I spent with my family. “Make sure you take enough warm clothes,” mother sniffled. “You never know where they might send you for basic training and it’s already mid-October.”

“Don’t worry, mother. The Army provides you with food, clothing, and shelter, plus they pay you $100 a month just to let people take shots at you.” She did not look amused. “I’ll be fine. In fact, I hear that Army bases have a lot of recreational facilities, so I plan to take along my tennis racquet and golf clubs.”

My father smiled. “I wouldn’t count on too much free time in basic training.”

My twelve-year-old brother asked the question on everyone’s mind. “Are you going to die?”

My fake smile melted. “Not if I can help it. Maybe the war will end, or I won’t be sent to Vietnam. We can always hope.” I tried to sound positive for my family’s sake, but knew I was being pulled down a path to a place I didn’t want to go.

2nd-edition-2016