The Day I Joined the Air Force – Part One

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There is a prelude to this story.  I grew up with a father who was abusive.  He was six feet four inches tall and weighed 210 lbs.  I was five foot eight inches tall and weighed 145 lbs.  He had been a professional boxer with 21 wins and two losses.  I lived in fear of him for many years.  During high school, I seldom dated.  I never went to a single high school dance or prom.  Shortly after the end of my high school years in 1964, I finally found a girl whom I liked.  She also seemed to like me.  We dated a few times and I planned a Saturday night out with her.  I had my own car and had funded my own expenses ever since I was sixteen.  I had just turned 18 in the September of 1964.

I arrived home late Saturday afternoon.  It was the first week of October (the day of my planned date) and my father was sitting at the dining room table with a couple of friends.  He said he needed a fourth for a game of pinochle.  I did not want to play since my father hated to lose and I knew he would blame me if we did.  Nevertheless, my father demanded that I be his partner and so I sat down with his two friends for a few games.  Sure enough, we lost the first game and my father started to complain about my play and that I had really screwed up the plays.  We started the second game and he started right in again complaining about my play.  I finally had enough of his berating me and I simply said, “I quit.”  He blew his usual fuse and told me that I was grounded and that I should go to my room.

I went up to bed and woke up about 2 AM in the morning.  I don’t think I ever went to sleep.  I packed a few things in a bag and climbed out my bedroom window.  I went over to a friend’s house and knocked on the door.  Bobby Fandetti (AKA Rock) came to the door.  He was surprised but he let me in.  I told him that I needed a place to stay for the night.  He said fine and that I could sleep on the couch.

The next morning, I told Bob I was going down to military row (where all the military recruiters had their office) and that I was going to join the military.  Bob gave me a ride and I made him promise not to tell anyone where I had gone or that I had stayed the night with him.

I knew I had no chance of getting into any college.  I had poor grades and no money.  I had two arrests.  The first for breaking and entry (a stupid robbery with six other guys from my corner) and the second for a fight leading to an assault and battery charge.  Fortunately, both offenses were sealed since they had occurred before I turned eighteen.

Upon getting down to Providence, Bob dropped me off and left.  I had twenty dollars with me and a few clothes.  I walked down the block looking in the various military recruitment centers.  The recruiters were desperate and would have taken a warm body since the Vietnam war was in full swing.  I started looking at the various uniforms in the windows.  My biggest criteria concerned in which uniform would I have the best chance of getting laid.

marines

I did not like the Marine uniforms.  They seemed too gaudy.  Navy was out since their uniforms looked silly to me.  They were bell bottoms before bell bottoms became in.  The Army uniforms seemed too drab.  Green was never my favorite color.  Then I saw the Air Force uniforms.  They reminded me of my high school colors which were blue and gray. It was an immediate hit.  I could see myself scoring lots of babes in this cool uniform.

navy

At the time this all occurred, my father was an American Legion Post commander.  He was a decorated and disabled WW II veteran.  He saw service in Patton’s Third Army as a tank guard.  He won a Purple Heart for his combat injuries.  My father hated communists and had drilled me with the evilness of communists.  My motto when I went into the military was “Kill a commie for Christ.”

army uniform

The recruiter did all he could to make my day.  He was friendly and helpful and gave me a coke and some snacks.  I had to take a test called ASVAB that he said would determine which job I got.  I did not really care which job since I thought that I could get into some combat group and go to Vietnam to kill some “commie gooks.”  I got an AFSC or Air Force Service Code as a Nuclear Weapons Specialist.  For some reason, this was later changed to a 30352 code as an AC&W Radar Technician and I was switched from going to military training in Chanute, Kansas to Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Mississippi.  But first, every Air Force recruit had to go to basic training at Lackland AFB just outside San Antonio, Texas.

air force

However, I was not in the military yet.  I had a bunch of papers to sign and then they sent me by car to an induction center where many other branches of the military also went.  At this center I was going to get a physical.  I remember fifty or more guys all in this big hall and all of us told to strip naked.  A few physicians then went around checking everybody out with a stethoscope.  Guys with obvious impairments were told to get dressed and go home.  Finally, about a half of the original guys were still there.  We were told to put our civvies back on and then we would be sworn in.  We went into another room, where we repeated some oaths and the Pledge of Allegiance.  We were now in the United States Military.

swearing in

I was then sent by commercial bus from Providence to New Jersey.  From the bus terminal I got a ride to the Newark Airport.  At the airport, I somehow (I do not remember how) met some other Air Force recruits.  We had all been given vouchers for ten dollars or so for meals while waiting for our flight to Texas.  We decided to go to a café at the airport for supper.   When we got seated the waitress came around with a menu.  We told her that we had these meal vouchers.  As we ordered. it appeared that even if the price of a meal was less than our vouchers, there were items that we (for unknown reasons) could not purchase with our vouchers.  I got pissed, since I felt we were being ripped off.  I gave my voucher away and left.

I had my twenty dollars and I went in search of another dinner venue.  The airport had this upscale dining area and I went in and seated myself down.  I was surprised that I was the only diner in the room at the time.  The waiter came and he gave me a menu.  On it was a boiled lobster dinner for $18.99.  I thought “Hell, I am going out in style.”  I had never had a boiled lobster dinner in a restaurant although I had caught and eaten many lobsters in Rhode Island.

boiled-lobster-dinner-CNH3FH

The lobster came and I put a bib around my neck and proceeded to eat the lobster.  I was quite adept at cracking lobster shells (having lived in R.I. from my 11th to 18th year of life).  After I was finished with dinner, I noticed a bowl with water and a lemon floating on it.  I was staring at the bowl thinking it might be some weird soup.  The waiter noticed my gaze and came over and very quietly asked me if I knew what it was for.  I said no and he told me that it was to wash my fingers in.  I will never forget his kindness for not embarrassing me or my own lack of knowledge of good etiquette.  This would come back many times to embarrass me in my later years even after I had obtained my Ph.D. degree from the University of Minnesota.

I then rejoined the other recruits and we waited rather silently for the plane that would take us to our new lives.

To Be Continued:

Autobiographies from the Dead – Ed the Soldier

For the next several weeks, my blogs are going to consist of “autobiographies” written by some very special people.  They have one thing in common.  They are all dead.  Some have a burial place and some were simply discarded like pieces of trash.  Their stories will be told by the deceased themselves.  They cry out from the fields, rivers and graveyards to speak.  I have heard their cries.  They want me to tell their stories to you.  They want you to know what their living and dying was for.  This week, Ed will tell you the story of his life and death.

Ed the Soldier

My soldier squadI was brave and loyal.  I gave my all for the corp.  I was taught to respect and obey authority.  Right or wrong, it was my job to follow orders.  I never questioned my assignments.  I never questioned my Sargent or my Captain.  As was said in the famous poem, “mine was to do or die and not to question why.”   I am looking now at my body and those of my nine squad members.  We had one medic, three guys with M-16’s, one guy with an MGL-140, one guy with a Barrett .338 Lapua Magnum, one guy with an MPIM/SRAW rocket, one radio guy or in this case a radio gal, Sarge our Squad Leader and of course me also carrying a good old US issue M-16 along with a bunch of grenades.

Iran_Iraq_War_Dead_SoldiersIt looks like my arms and chest have been shot full of holes.  However, I think it was the two bullets that caught me in my brain which finished me off.  My head looks like it was stuck in a meat grinder.  Most of my squad does not look much better.  There are a few guys minus heads, some missing legs and others missing body parts.  A good jig saw puzzler could not put us all back together again.  I can’t believe the number of bullets that hit us.  One minute we were joking around and the next minute it sounded like a Fourth of July celebration.  The difference being that we were the targets and the bullets and rockets were lighting us up instead of the sky.  What happened to our vaunted Intel?

recruitingI enlisted right out of high school.  I did not want to go to college and I could not think of anything else to do.  I went down to my Army recruiting office and was scheduled immediately with an appointment.  I did not have to wait long.  About thirty minutes later, a well-dressed very sharp looking soldier came out of an office to greet me.  “Son” he said, “You have come to the right place. We will fix you up so that you can serve your country and really make a difference in the world.  Do you want your parents and friends to look up to you?  Do you want to be get laid more than you could ever dream possible?  Do you want to be a real hero and not some phony cardboard actor hero, then just sign right here.”

“My boy, you have just saved the free world.  Welcome to the US Army.” 

After basic training, they said I had been selected for a tour in Iraq.  They said it would be easy soldiers with chidren 2duty.  It would just be some mopping up operations and nothing really tough.  The really tough stuff had been done months before.  And besides that, the “ragheads” could not shoot straight so we had nothing to worry about.  Each day we went out on patrol to a different village or a different part of the same village.  They all looked alike.  Some of the Soldiers with childrenlocals seemed friendly, but most just ignored us.  Kids would come over and ask us for candy or cigarettes when they would see us walking.  We were taught to trust no one but after a while you got to know certain kids and you would give them candy or sometimes some money.

The women really kept to themselves.  You hardly ever saw any on the street and if you did they were always covered from head to toe.  We were not allowed to have any alcohol as it is illegal in Muslim countries.  There wasn’t much to do all day long soldiers on reconexcept when we were on patrol.  Most of the fun we had was out in the villages.  We loved to play pranks on each other.  On one patrol, one of the guys had hid behind a wall and as we started to walk by, he threw a dummy grenade at us.  We scattered like rabbits and waited for it to go off.  After a few seconds, we could hear laughter coming from behind the wall.  We soon realized that it was one of our guys.  He was laughing so hard, it gave him cramps.  It took us weeks but we figured out how to get even with him.  I guess we were always really wound up when out on patrol, so it was not hard to find something to break up the tension.  Often it would involve shooting at anything that seemed sinister or menacing.

The Soldiers of Company F

The Soldiers of Company F “Blues Platoon,” 3rd Assault Helicopter Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, move forward, almost shoulder to shoulder, with live ammo while practicing team movement drills at an Advanced Close Quarters Marksmanship course at Camp Beuhring, Kuwait, May 13. The ACQM course is meant to sharpen the Soldiers skills before moving north to support Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The day we got it was like any other day, nothing unusual about it.  It was bright, sunny and warm.  We had an assignment to check out a village that had been quiet for some time.  We were on foot patrol.  Ten of us joking and clowning around.  Some kids had just run by and yelled “Go home Americans” at us.  We threw some candy at them and laughed as they scrambled to pick it up.  As we turned the corner of a street, we saw some quick movement in a doorway and some guys running across the roof tops.  We raised our rifles to fire but it was too late.  The grenades and RPG’s burst all around us and then the AK 47 fire started.  We never had a chance.  There must have been about fifty of them.  We never thought that there were that many bad guys left.  One by one we went down.  I never even got off a round.

I can see them now.  They are picking over our bodies.  They are taking cash, weapons, armor and anything else of value.  The little kids are there too.  They are kicking us in the heads or what is left of our heads.  I even saw one kid who I thought was my friend (I gave him many snicker bars) come running up and kick me in my head.   He then took out his wiener and pissed on me.   It seems like a holiday for them.  They are all so happy.  Like one big celebration.  They are laughing and patting each other on the back.  I can hear one guy in English saying:  “I guess these fucking Americans will go home now.”  Another one replied:  “Yeah, home or Jahannam.”

I know I was supposed to be a hero.  I thought I was making the world safe for democracy.  Where did it all go wrong?  Looking down at our bodies now, it does not seem like we really accomplished much.  It looks like they would have been happier if we had never come.  I guess I might be a hero when my body comes back to Ohio.  I never got laid either.

soldiers in casketsI can’t hang around here much longer.   I can’t bear the sadness.  It is time to leave.  I was brought up as a good Christian.   I am sure that there must be a reason for all this.  My pastor said “God’s ways are unknowable.”   I am going to go find God.  I am sure he can tell me what this was all for.

Time for Questions:

Do we fight for the right reasons?  Do we simply fight the wars that our leaders tell us we should?  Do we question whether we should fight or negotiate?  Are we fighting wars for gold or for justice?  Can we be proud that we are the “land of the free and the home of the brave?”  Are we fighting for the rights of humanity or for our own National pride?  Do you question authority or do you simply go along?

Life is just beginning.

The following excerpt is from “War is a Racket” by Major General Smedley Butler.  General Butler was one of the most highly decorated soldiers in WWI.  He won two Medal of Honor and at the time of his death was the most decorated Marine in United States history. 

WAR is a racket. It always has been.

It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

In the World War [I] a mere handful garnered the profits of the conflict. At least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the United States during the World War. That many admitted their huge blood gains in their income tax returns. How many other war millionaires falsified their tax returns no one knows.

How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench? How many of them knew what it meant to go hungry in a rat-infested dug-out? How many of them spent sleepless, frightened nights, ducking shells and shrapnel and machine gun bullets? How many of them parried a bayonet thrust of an enemy? How many of them were wounded or killed in battle?

Out of war nations acquire additional territory, if they are victorious. They just take it. This newly acquired territory promptly is exploited by the few — the selfsame few who wrung dollars out of blood in the war. The general public shoulders the bill.

And what is this bill?

This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all its attendant miseries. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations.

 

 

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