Free Or Not To Be Free? Part I


     I remember someone yelling very loudly, a voice I didn’t recognize, as my foggy brain fought to revive itself from a whole 2 hours of sleep, “Come on recruits get out of those racks and hit the deck, you’re in the Army now”! Then it all started coming back to me. Now I remembered the day before, the physical, the pledging to serve my country, the arrival at the Fort Knox reception area at 3:00 a.m. I looked at my watch, it was 4:30, for a second I wished I was back at home, Dad wouldn’t have woken me this early. ” Get dressed, get those racks made, and fall out on the white line in front of the barracks in 15 minutes”! I remembered the old song, You’re in the army now, up behind the plow! BOY, was I ever!


     Three days earlier;


     I didn’t know what to expect leaving home at such a young age. Everything was so strange to me, especially the fact that I didn’t have my father to answer to. I was free! Finally free from his authoritarian method of parenting me. My attitude was a hasty one as I would soon find out. No one is ever free of something or someone telling them how to conduct themselves. I had been wanting this for quite some time. Asking, pleading, and finally forcing him into releasing his grip on me, and letting me go and be free. Free to make my own decisions, free to go and do what I felt like doing and not what I was told to do. But yet there was something that just wasn’t right about the whole thing. I wasn’t quite sure but now that I look back I think it was fear. Yes, that is what it was, fear of the unknown!


     I was attempting to be my own man but did not know how to be one, because, I was still only a boy being pulled into a world of men. It was just a few short days ago that I had been expelled from high school for non-attendance. My father had denied my wishes to let me quit school and be on my own. He was a man of great inner strength and believed that a person would only achieve success through education. He managed to stay in school through the war to end all wars, WWII, and graduate high school. I could not see his vision for me at the time and it would be years later before I did.


     After all, what did he know? I knew what I wanted and was going after it. It was 1968 kids were quitting school all the time leaving home, and doing what they wanted to do. At least my idea was a noble one. I couldn’t see how staying in school would help me get there. So I forced his hand and started skipping school every day until I was expelled. He had no choice then but to let me go against his better judgment. I could see the disappointment on his face when he told me what was going to happen. He then gave me two choices; I could get a job and pay him room and board each week or he would sign for me to go in the Army as he had for my older brother. 


      It wasn’t a choice for me, I had been wanting to join the Army when I was old enough since age ten. When I told him I would join I could see the worry on his face. Probably because we had just heard my brother had orders to go to Vietnam, and now there was a chance that he would have two sons in danger. I wasn’t worried though, after all, I was 17 years old and nothing was going to happen to me, it only happened to the other person.


      That very day my father took me to the post office where the recruiting office was. I thought it would take about a week for the whole process to take place, but it was only 3 days. They had me take an aptitude test that qualified me for enlistment and MOS (Military Occupation Specialty) selection. Because I was joining I was allowed to request any MOS of interest that was within my aptitude test scores. I chose MOS 36k20 Pole Lineman. I was told to report back the next day where I would be put on a bus for Detroit for my physical and if I passed I would be sworn in and would leave there for boot camp. I don’t remember what I was thinking at the time, I should have been worried, but I wasn’t, only excited. That night I went to my friends to say goodbye and tell them I was leaving. My father was kind of quiet and didn’t have much to say that night, and neither did I.


     The next day my father drove me down to the bus station to meet the recruiter. To get my ticket and last-minute instructions. We didn’t talk much on the way and as I was boarding the only thing I remember him saying was to take care and to write when I could, and gave me $10.00 for the trip. As I boarded the Greyhound bus for the three-hour-plus trip, I remember thinking; “ this is it, I can’t change my mind now, this is part of being a man, making a decision, and sticking to it”.

This was the start of being my boss, nobody would be telling me what to do from now on, or so I thought. The trip was long but the scenery was magnificent in March, most of the snow was gone and plant life was starting to come to life already. There were scheduled stops along the way in Grand Rapids, Lansing, and a few smaller towns that I don’t recall their names now. At each stop, new young men would board the bus, and I would watch as they said goodbye to loved ones and wonder what fatherly advice had they received. Finally, we arrived in Detroit at the bus station, where a man in uniform gave us directions to the Pick-Fort Shelby Hotel which was about a block away, where we would check in and be assigned a room to share with another inductee. At the hotel, we were given meal tickets for supper and breakfast the next day and told that breakfast started at 6:00 am and to not be late. Seems like I remember having a hamburger, fries, and a Coke for supper that night. My roommate was older than me, but we got along great and watched TV until around two in the morning. A big mistake. I fell asleep quickly. We were awakened by a loud banging on our door at 5:00 am and shouting that it was time to rise and shine. After showering and getting ready for the day we rushed down to the dining room and had a hurried breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, juice, and coffee. I woofed down everything but the coffee. As we left the dining room we were ushered outside and into a bus bound for the induction center. 


     The induction center was a huge building, with medical screens set up in cubicles everywhere. I don’t remember a lot of the particulars that day except that the only way to describe it is that it looked like “organized chaos”. 

Upon arrival, we all fell in line where directed, some of us to start our physicals and others to do the seemingly endless paperwork. Needless to say, it would be a long day of medical poking and prodding with seemingly endless questions about the health of relatives. At long last, we somehow endured the events of the day. ushered into a room to await word on our status. Names were called out and individuals were directed to wait in their perspective service areas. Some had been medically deferred and were released to go home. Just about all of us who enlisted in the Army were heading to Fort Knox, Kentucky. Those of us who passed their physicals were then led to a room where we all at the same time swore the oath of enlistment. We were then asked to take one step forward. I didn’t see anyone who didn’t. It was the 13th of March 1968. It soon became apparent to me that any notions of being free to make my own choices were going to have to be on hold for the next three years.


Next Post:  Fort Knox


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