05 September 2004

Good Soldier Outlier: Induction

The Army recruiter in Charlottesville had sent word to the induction center at Richmond that he was sending them a couple of hippies. But my brother and I had shaved off our beards and trimmed our hair before arriving there.

We entered the Army on the same day in April 1969. My brother, younger but more precocious than I, had dropped out of high school, and then finished his GED in the States. After I had dropped out of college, we had whimsically decided to head for Mexico in my little Studebaker Lark, with hardly enough cash to pay for the gas.

We were broke by the time we got to New Orleans, so we worked as day laborers until the engine broke down. Dad would only send us money to fix it if we promised to come back home--which we did, and then began negotiating with the local Army recruiter. After taking a battery of aptitude tests, I signed up for language school and my brother for warrant officer flight school--flying helicopters.

Somewhere on the induction questionnaire I had tried to salve my pacifist conscience by opining that I was signing up for language school in hopes of eventually helping to increase international understanding rather than making war--or words to that effect. Well, somebody must have actually looked over our answers, because my brother and I were both called in for questioning, separately, and forced to affirm that we would indeed obey orders.

After the usual induction procedures--standing in line nearly naked while medics jammed their fingers into our crotches and asked us to turn aside and cough; holding our arms still so the immunization guns wouldn't draw blood; demonstrating whether or not our bare feet were flat--we were herded onto a train, me as far as Ft. Benning, GA, my brother to Ft. Polk, LA.

I had grown up riding trains in Japan, but this was only my second train ride in the U.S. (The first was from Martinsburg, WV, to San Francisco, CA, on the way to Japan when I was one year old.) People were playing dollar-ante poker at the far end of the car; while we were playing nickel-ante poker at our end. I was on a winning streak, but my brother was the one losing the most, and I had to extend him credit. Whenever I was up a few dollars, I would buy a round of beers.

The next morning we got off the train at Columbus, GA, some of us more broke than others, and waited for the bus from Ft. Benning to come pick us up. When a Drill Sergeant finally arrived, one trouble-seeking punk from Georgia asked him whether Drill Sergeants worked bankers' hours. He later paid dearly for that remark.

We were still innocent then of how fearsome a Drill Instructor (DI) could be, but we would begin to find out as soon as we reached the other end of that bus ride.

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