June 16, 2021- Fifty-two years ago, I reported to the Reception Station, at the Massachusetts National Guard Armory, and began what would be thirty months of service in the United States Army. It was all hard for me, back then, for just as a life-toughened fellow soldier told me, ten months later- I hadn’t really had a hard day in my life, up to that point.
Basic Training, at Fort Jackson, SC, was in retrospect, not all that hard. I missed Combat Fire training, by getting stuck in a book. Sergeant First Class Santiago, when I asked to make the training up, told me, “Where you’re going, you won’t need this stuff.” I’m so glad he turned out to be right. Had circumstances been different, though, and combat come my way, I would have figured it out in a hurry. When it was time to qualify on the rifle range, someone misaligned my scope, and I missed the first four shots. Sergeant Braithwaite shook his head, took the rifle and corrected the sights. I got the remaining 16 shots, which made me a Marksman, the lowest category, but still a passing score. As with Combat Fire, grenades and bayonet, I never needed to use the M16, for anything other than training exercises. I passed the Physical Training and General 3 tests, with flying colours-and felt like it was the first time in my life that I’d done anything right. First Sergeant Elam, a bitter man, tried to cut me down, but I could see right through his jabs.
Army Postal Training, at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, followed. Then, there were postings at Fort Myer,VA; Long Binh and Cholon, VietNam and I was home by January 2, 1972, to resume my college studies. The biggest things I learned, from the Armed Forces were loyalty, perseverance, commitment and ingenuity. Those have stood me in good stead, for well over 50 years.
Loyalty does not mean subservience. I picked that up from one Corporal J. Eggebrecht, a hard-as-nails Physical Training instructor, and nobody’s fool. Eggebrecht razzed me, constantly and directly, but I could see every point he made-and it was a good part of what made boy into man; though at the time, Jim would’ve rolled on the ground laughing at the thought of me being full grown. The same was true of Mack Gray and Ted Wescott, two other drill instructors. Fifty-two years later, Paul Elam was wrong and his underlings were right on the money.
I am loyal to family, friends, community, nation and planet. I will never swear fealty to an individual, nor will I ever again ask “How high?”, when someone says “Jump”. This is something that one person on the periphery of my life, right now, is bound to learn to his chagrin. It’ll be best for him, in the long run, and for me, immediately.