Friday, November 17, 2017

Vietnam -- Legacies begin to mature

I'm not one for complaining. Only people with time on their hands have the luxury of doing that.

What I will say is there was no room for a 200 mile per hour brain in a 30 mile per hour state side, just do your time and get out assignment.

So you leave Vietnam with your entire body on 24 hour alert and get assigned to the United States Army Intelligence Center and School. Thrown into a 71T20 MOS -- thank you Craig Geis --you suddenly are forced to stand down, learn a new job and try to understand your reason for having to have a Top Secret Crypto clearance.

The smell of burning human waist is replaced by the scent of female perfume, you hear more women's voices than you have heard in a year in a minute. Your mind sends you flying under the table at the slightest unannounced bang or pop around you. You trust no one.

Not even yourself.

You come back to the states but you're still over there and you have no friends. Everyone thinks your strange. A bit off color. Slightly out in left field. Definitely, a loner.

You are.

You're a Vietnam Vet.

Fresh out of round pegs fitting in square holes. Seeing, smelling and touching more lives and crap in ten minutes than the whole of the soldiers your working with have ever seen or will never see.

You have the right to be strange. You also have the right to learn how to deal with and work on the fact that you're back in the States and in a job position just as challenging as the one you left in Vietnam. You just have to settle down and settle in.

Still, in the back of your mind, there are deep mental wounds that will follow you to the grave.

These soldiers actually slept in beds with springs and a mattress!

You stop asking for the Monday dose of the malaria pill, when you would get assigned a weapon and start marveling at the wide assortment of mess hall food. Life in the Stateside world of the US Army does have its perks and female assets.

But just when you're thinking everything is starting to come together, you get told the US Army Intelligence Center and School is moving from Fort Holabird, MD to Fort Huachuca, AZ.

"Isn't that in the desert?, I asked upon hearing I would be part of the advanced party.

I pictured sand dunes, scorpions and sidewinders.

Later, I would include, copperheads, large centipedes, black widow spiders, and tarantulas.

All my fears were sadly disappointed as I got off the airplane at Tucson International Airport, 

While a desert environment, nothing like the images I had conjured up. And while it seemed a bit out of line, I was glad I brought my sweaters and overcoats with me. The high was 74 in Tucson.  It would be 66 at Fort Huachuca.

Not as cold as it was at Fort Holabird -- that damp cold winter air I grew up in but a dry kind of cold that turned out just as dangerous to be exposed to.

Perhaps the most notable aspect of the move was we were taking over an old hospital area where the movie Caption Newman MD was filmed.

Capt. Newman (Gregory Peck) is a kindhearted military psychiatrist who decides whether disturbed soldiers are ready to return to combat in World War II. Of special concern to him are a war hero (Bobby Darin) plagued by guilt for the death of his friend, a commander whose casualties weigh heavily on his conscience and a captain rendered catatonic after hiding in a basement in Nazi Germany for a year. While Newman tries to mend their psyches, he has ethical doubts about returning them to battle.

It had an all star cast including Tony Curtis, Angie Dickinson, Bobby Daren and Robert Duvall.

A many of the illnesses depicted in the movie we lump together today as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

You can see the entire hospital area from the air in the beginning of the movie.  Sadly, today, the only thing left is the motor pool.  The Army tore the rest of it down.

So there I was staring at another blank slate -- not knowing about the hospital that was once used for a famous movie -- wondering what the rest of my time in the Army would be in this god forsaken place and hoping my epitaph wouldn't find me at Boot Hill by the time it was all over.

You know the strange thing about going with the flow, embracing every job, every detail with a positive attitude, life returns the favor.

In the up coming months, I would meet SP4s with PhDs, and one with a degree in Architecture who advised me to not go into that field because all he could get is a bartender job. And one civilian by the name of Jim Hughes who was a GS13, a good friend and my boss.

I inherited 450 Adler typewriters, took over the job of contracted products such as IBM Selectric typewriters, recorded and maintained all of our spy equipment, running the equipment over for routine maintenance and maintaining our logistical supply room.

How much better can your job get, right?

It got even better -- or worse, depending on your point of view -- and then a lot better.

Joseph Pickard, the architect and I were given a building and told to remodel it. You get two architects together, throw in a LT hell bent on creating tie dies for the windows, you're going to come up with one of the weirdest, coolest buildings.

It was called Country Joe And The Fish. Its walls were black, the ceiling international orange, we decked it out with black lights, used the tops from old foot lockers as ash trays, turned a few upside down and placed some 3/4 inch plywood on the top for a band stage.

We did have a large parachute in the center but the fire marshal told us to take it down. I don't know how the band heard about us but they sent us a plaque.

Now, you're probably wondering who allowed us to do all of this. It was our Battalion CO who was one of the coolest and "hip" men I have ever met in the Army.

One night he decided to have a tell me what is on your mind night. The climax of the night was a PFC who was now working with me who said, "In all honesty, Sir, Not only do I don't want to be here. I hate wearing the uniform."

Well a West Point Officer lost it. "That's it, I can't take this anymore," he yelled, as he flew out of the building as thought shot out of a cannon.

The Colonel waited a minute and then said, "I don't know who that was but he better have a letter of apology or a left of resignation on my desk in the morning."

The men gave the Colonel a standing ovation.

He said three words after that "Settle down, gentlemen." They did and the room got so quite you could have heard a pin drop.

I honestly think, for a lot of the men who had a negative attitude towards the military and their superiors changed dramatically for the good that night.

But a lot of West Point Officers think it was the darkest moment in the history of USAICS.

What was historic was the honorable Stanley Rogers Resor, then Secretary Of Defense visited our building and signed his name in the center of the building.

There are sometimes when I do the craziest, I know it was wrong, things. Like the time I was on KP duty and an E-6 had an emergency and he needed someone to get some money to his wife and he had no transportation. Technically, I didn't either as my CO told me not to drive my motorcycle until I got a valid drivers license. He begged with tears running down his eyes.

I'm a real sap for self destruction. Bottom line, the First Sergeant saw me and, well while I saved the day, I didn't save mine.

One month later, in May, I was promoted to E-5 and I had my motorcycle license.

In June, the school officially came on line and I just bought a brand new 650cc Yamaha. I was really tied of having Harleys blowing past me while I'm red lining a 350cc just to get it up to 65. It was fun blowing Harleys off the line. Sure, they could catch me and still blow past me. I just liked having fun with my Yamaha when the light turned green..

Also, USAICS officially opened its doors to a small group of women with GT scores that passed the top end of my motorcycle -- clocked doing 120 once. I got, how should I say this, intimately cozy with two. One introduced me to the other. That other had a GT Score of 150. I married the one with a GT score of 150. And have been married to her ever since. Her name was Mary Annar Garner.

There were some rocky moments. Like when I was told to report to a mean ass looking E-8 from the Marines who told me to stop dating her or I would be put in orders to Korea. Not kidding.

Or the time two CID men in civilian clothes were sitting in the area where I worked and asked me if I knew PFC Mary Garner. After I said yes, they told me she had gotten beat up and that it was a racial issue and to not retaliate.

I sighed in relief their interest was not with my interest in her but how I would react. "So how bad did she get beat up."

"She's got some bumps and bruises.  Nothing she won't get over in a few days."

"Gentlemen, I can assure you that while I am sorry that she got beat up and I will be with her after work, I have no interest in any kind of retaliation."

"That's all we wanted to hear."

Next thing I know, I'm on orders to go to Korea. We had two options.  Get married or get married after I got back from Korean.

We got married.

Remember the PFC I told you about who didn't want to wear his uniform? He was my best man and the girl who worked for me, SP4 Shelly Dillon, she was the best women. We got married on August 27th, 1970. The same day a rather famous Photo-journalist died: Margaret Bourke-White.

A name and a reputation I learned about after I left the military in 1979 which we both paralleled with some eerie similarities.

Anyway, for then next couple of weeks after getting married, I leaned out the 450 Adler typewriters to 10 and I donated some of my black and whites images of some cacti to the school library.

When Richard Nixon decided to shorten my time in my service contract from May 1st to December 1st, with only 60 days left, the Army decided that I needed to train my replacements.

That's right, that is a s at the end of the word.

A Lieutenant took over the job of contracted products such as IBM Selectric typewriters

An E-6  was tasked with the job maintaining our logistical supply room.

An E-5 recorded and maintained all of our spy equipment

An E-4 took on running the equipment over for routine maintenance

As for me, I was awarded a Soldiers Medal and a handshake when I ETSed.

I would have preferred a Rolex.

What I missed the most was the whine of the Cobra turbine, the throaty sound the Cobra makes in the sky, the whoosh sound rockets while hurtling towards ground zero, and the resulting thunder generated by the explosions of the rockets as the reach their target.

Its the notion that as a combat soldier you are part of a bigger picture and a key player in its success that gets ratcheted down when you come home to stateside duty with all its politics weaved into every moment.

USAICS was not the 101st Airborne Division.   

Anyway, Fort Hucahuca means thunder mountain. So, I guess a got a slice of what I missed. But for as long as I live, I know the difference between the way men become in a combat zone and the way man who have never been there.  I'd use the word "pansies" as a descriptor and comparison. But I know the real battle scared soldiers, the 11Bs used the same word on us.

Its is all relative. Its all Army and as I said earlier, the strange thing about going with the flow, embracing every job, every detail with a positive attitude, life returns the favor.


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