I took a book from my shelf today and a picture fell to the floor from between the pages. I thought at first it was some kind of receipt until I picked it up and flipped it over.
On the right margin written in blue ink was “June 71,” but I knew the instant I picked it up when and where it was taken.
Uncle Sam drafted me in April of that year. One moment I was studying psychology, history, sociology, and badminton at Jefferson State Community College, and it seems like the next moment, I was standing in a warehouse full of guys my age getting our heads shaved.
One of the draftees in our group looked like Fabian with hair as black as anthracite. He asked the barber with pleading eyes if he could leave some length to his hair. The GI barber listened intently and shook his head understandingly. The trainee breathed a sigh of relief until the barber proceeded to buzz the shaver right down the middle of the guy’s scalp. You could almost hear him whimper as the barber finished up and said, “Welcome to the Army.”
The next day we were on a bus headed for our new home in Charlie Company at Fort Campbell Kentucky. It was April 3, and the weather was nice.
I weighed about 150 pounds when I stepped off the bus at the barracks. One of the drill sergeants in the welcoming committee called me chubby.
When June rolled around, we were running all over the state of Kentucky, and it was hotter than Satan wearing spandex.
By the end of basic training in late June, I weighed 135 pounds, and I was in the best shape I’d ever been in. That’s when the picture from the book had been snapped.
Many people complained about the Army, but for me it wasn’t that bad.
Growing up in the rural south, I was already a decent shot with a rifle, and camping came easy for me.
I learned the true meaning of hurry up and wait. While we ran everywhere, we spent half of our time in basic waiting on something.
So, when all was said and done, I found it hard to whine.
Many of the good things that have happened to me in my life were the result of the Army. I learned to follow orders, and I learned when to keep my mouth shut. Both of these skills are invaluable if you plan to stay married. I consider it an honor to have served.
I was lucky in that my tour took me to Central America even though Vietnam was still a hotspot. As it turned out, Panama was like an extended vacation in the tropics except that I had to wear unfortunate clothing.
This coming Monday is Memorial Day and as I write these word’s I remember that a lot of young men and women had a much different experience in the military than I did.
This last decade we have asked a great deal from our troops, who are now volunteers, and many have laid down their lives.
This Memorial Day I’ll hang my American Flag and let it dance proudly in the breeze. I hope you’ll join me in taking a moment to thank those who made it possible.
Rick Watson is a columnist and author. His latest book Life Happens is available on Amazon.com. You can contact him via email: firstname.lastname@example.org