Book Series — DRAFTED — Chapter 9

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

 

50 States – 50 Countries – Korea

50 States – 50 Countries – Korea

With North Korea in the news, I thought I would share my photos of South Korea during my time there in 1970-71. I spent most of my time in the mountains & valleys just short of the DMZ where small villages, open markets, mud huts, and rice paddies dotted the countryside.

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Harvesting rice…

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Rice paddies…

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Rice on the way to market…

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Open Market…Kimchi (pickled cabbage) is very popular. They bury the extra in large jars in the summer then dig it up to eat in the winter after it had fermented for several months. Avoid public transportation in the winter because everybody eats the stuff…very powerful! They also make a potent rice wine called makkoli.

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Have baby will travel…

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Home and chicken coop all in one. Charcoal bricks under the floor heated the huts in winter.

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That’s me in the hills just south of the Hantan River…

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Hantan River…

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A converted train track in the 70’s, today it is used for a commuter train that runs south to Seoul, the capital. This is crossing the Hantan headed toward Panmunjom, located in North Hwanghae Province. Originally it was a village just north of the de facto border between North and South Korea, where the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement that paused the Korean War was signed.

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One the outposts where soldiers stand guard looking toward the DMZ and North Korea.

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Even 40 years ago a commuter train ran to Seoul from the far north. Looks empty here but the train made 30 stops after we got on at the end stop and the car filled with adults, children, vendors selling food, and livestock (mostly chickens).

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Yes, it gets cold in South Korea and it snows. Lakes, ponds, and rice paddies all freeze over, providing lots of places to ice skate.

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Seoul Train Station

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Ancient Seoul was once a walled city…and is filled with Buddhist temples…

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Seoul Korea 1970-71

Kids loved having their picture taken and practicing their English.

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Traditional papa-san outfit…only seven family names in Korea, the most popular is Kim followed by Lee and Park.

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Anybody remember pay phones?

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Big celebration in this Seoul park as everybody comes out for a book/pamphlet burning of propaganda from North Korea. You can see the pile on the far right before they set it on fire.

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

Richard Allan Jones is an author, actor, musician, and world traveler. You can find his novels, “Drafted” and “Identity Check” on amazon.com.

2nd-edition-2016

50 States – 50 Countries — Oregon

50 States – 50 Countries — Oregon

A new series of photographs we’ve taken from around the globe in our 50 years of traveling…The cover photo is Crater Lake National Park.

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There are many covered bridges in the state…especially around Cottage Grove…

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Miles of rugged coastline including the famous “Haystack” rock…

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The famous Astoria Column built high on a hill overlooking the town and the Columbia River delta …

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The mighty Columbia River was a major route for explorers, passengers, and freight…

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Multnomah Falls is the largest of the many waterfalls east of Portland along the Columbia River…

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Sea otters can be seen eating and frolicking along the shore…

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You might recognize “Mikey’s” home used in the movie “The Goonies,” located in Astoria…

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Oregon is also known for its wide selection of fine wines…

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Don’t miss the expansive Rose Garden in the hills above Portland…

Happy Trails!

Drafted (2017)- Chapter Eight

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