Monday, November 8, 2010
Did I ever tell ya about the time…………?
Way back in late 1965, while in Basic Training at Ft. Ord, California, I had the somewhat dubious honor to participate in a very unique experience. You see, I was drafted on November 9. Basic Training began a few days later, and the standard at that time called for our group/Company to be tied up with this very intense activity for a total of eight weeks. That would put us into about the middle of January, of 1966. Well, as it happened, Ft. Ord had been in the throes of an epidemic of Meningitis, or something of that nature, since about two years before (maybe more) and this had a real impact on how our Basic Training proceeded. One effect in particular that I can recall is that we had to sleep with all the windows open in our relatively new, cement block construction barracks.
But, the unique thing was that Uncle Sugar, as the Army was fondly referred to (This was only one of the euphemisms that we had for that patch over our left breast, the one with bright yellow letters on a black background that read):
, decided, from way, way up on high that all recruits were to be given some time off for Christmas. I believe that the thinking was that this time off, with deserted barracks all over the post, might help to break the spread of the Meningitis. So, while I no longer recall just how many days this amounted to, I do recall that we were given the opportunity to buy seats on the largest fleet of chartered Greyhound buses ever assembled for one mass movement (OK, I have no idea if this was the largest, but there were a hell of a lot of buses involved). The idea was that Greyhound was going to move however many thousands of us there were from Ft. Ord, all the way up and down the West Coast, and who knows how far inland just for those few days of Christmas holiday, that may have extended into New Year's Eve - but I just don't recall if it did - and, return us!
As I said, I don't remember how many days, but I know that I got back to Seattle on Christmas Eve, sometime after dark, and I think we were back in barracks before New Year's Eve. Now, I have to do one of those segues, sort of a flashback in time, so you can better understand a few things here. I was living in Seattle, with my oldest brother, Mike, at the time I got my Draft notice. By this time, late 1965, most of my high school buddies had either established themselves at various colleges, had jobs, or were otherwise getting on with their lives. Don't ask me how I got caught, but I'll give you a little hint here: I knew the Draft was out there, and I knew there was nothing that I could do about it.
So, even though I had finally gotten a job just days or weeks before the Draft notice came, that made no difference to anybody, except my employer, who was less than thrilled with me. I was able to get in touch with Jim Plante (for some reason, I remember we used to call him 'Plate,' no doubt thinking ourselves clever), one old high school buddy, still in Tacoma, still living with his mother, and working in Tacoma. I do not recall details, but I do know that 'Plate' gave me a very nice sendoff my last night of civilian life (I do remember that we drank what we called boilermakers, where we opened a bottle of Bud, took a healthy swig, and then filled the bottle with vodka). It was decided that I would leave my car with 'Plate' while I went off to the Army (a 1954 Ford like the red one in the ad, below, except mine was blue, and really needed a new paint job):
Jim was going to use the car to get back and forth to his work, and he agreed to fix a couple of things that we knew were wrong with it. First, just to clarify this, back when I bought it dirt cheap, earlier that same year, it featured a conversion from the original automatic transmission on the column, to a floor shift, aka as a "Hurst Kit." This was only a three speed, which was fine, but whoever had done the conversion had reversed the positions of first gear and reverse gear. So, Jim was going to get that fixed. The second problem was that a previous owner had taken out the original bench seat and put in homemade bucket seats, with a homemade center console. When I say homemade, I want you to think crude. So, Jim was to take those out, and find a bench seat.
So, flash ahead, to a day or two before Christmas. Along with a ton of other skinny GI's I boarded a bus at Ft. Ord, and we headed on up the coast. All the way through California, without a lot of stops, 'cause this bus was headed for Seattle, and points north. All the way through Oregon, through Portland, and Olympia, along Interstate 5, and somewhere along the way, it occurred to me that we would arrive in Tacoma just after dark (which occurs pretty early in that part of the world, at that time of the year). So, I asked the driver to let me off in Tacoma, where exactly I no longer recall, but I know it was not downtown, at the bus station. Somehow, I found a phone, and called Jim's home. His mother told me that he was at work, some distance South of where I was located, and I no longer recall how the hell I got to wherever he was.
At some point in time thereafter I did reflect on all this and realize that what I did to Jim was pretty crappy. I interrupted his work, and told him I was there for my car. He gave me the key without any problem, and I took off for Seattle. That means that I left him stranded at work right then, but who knows how he was going to get around once I left with his only wheels. But, I obviously didn't care. Hell, what did I know? I was 19, and free for a few brief hours. I did get some payback shortly thereafter, because I had a flat before I got to the exit for SeaTac Airport. I was able to find a gas station that had a used tire that fit my car, and actually had enough money to buy it and get it mounted (maybe it helped that I was in uniform), and continue on to my brother's house up on top of Queen Anne Hill (north of downtown Seattle). I had been able to call and let my brother know I was on my way. Upon arrival at Mike's, he let me put my car in his garage, and then we took off in his little Ford Falcon, along with his wife and dogs, and headed for "home" for an old-fashioned Dungan Christmas. Think of the old man – our father – drinking himself to oblivion, and passing out with his face in the mashed potatoes. You'd think my mother would have learned, but no, she kept on making mashed potatoes year after year. But, maybe, since this was pretty much the highlight of any family gathering – other than the old man's penchant for beating on her – she figured she didn't want to disappoint the rest of us.
This trip was another adventure after the one I had just completed. We headed over Snoqualmie Pass, through Ellensburg, headed for Moses Lake, where the folks were by then living. Actually, I remember that in the brief time that I had lived there myself, we called it Moses' Hole (don't ask). A blizzard came up, as we headed up the pass, and I remember we had to stop in the snow and put the tire chains in place in order to continue the journey. This would have been well before the summit, and I think we kept the chains on all the rest of the way. We had a mostly uneventful Christmas in Moses Lake, and then, back to Seattle in plenty of time for me to catch my bus to return to Ft. Ord to continue my torture/education/indoctrination more commonly known as Basic Training. I have no idea if this was the same bus, but it was only GI's headed back down the coast.
So, despite all the snow on the ground, off we went, down through Portland again, along through Salem (snow), Eugene, Roseburg (still snow), Grants Pass (lots more snow), all of which made for very slow going, with frequent stops for the road ahead to be cleared. This continued, taking all night, until we came into Medford, sometime in the early afternoon of the following day. At this point, our bus stopped at the little bus station, along with I don't know how many others. The drivers announced that they had all driven as many hours as they were allowed by law, and until or unless the company sent more drivers, we were not going any further. They needed rest, and I certainly can't fault that thinking. So, not knowing what else to do with us (busloads of young, impressionable GI's), they turned us loose on the town.
Literally, within minutes, the bus station was surrounded by carloads of townspeople, especially cars loaded with young, impressionable Medforites of the female persuasion, all of whom were friendly, and didn't mind chatting with us as long as we were willing to do so. GI's were invited into the homes of perfect strangers, where they were fed, and given warmth. Some of us just walked around, looking for a bar or restaurant. Now, I don't know about all of the other GI's, but you may recall that this one was barely 19, and you know that the drinking age on the West Coast was 21. Didn't make any difference, and we couldn't spend what little money we had. Everywhere we went, the locals refused our money. They bought us drinks in the bars, and meals in the restaurants. I personally do not recall ever hearing of any town putting itself out so much for so many GI's with no expectation of any return. This, remember, was late 1965, and vigorous protest against U. S. involvement in Viet Nam was in full swing (see the Wiki timeline here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opposition_to_the_U.S._involvement_in_the_Vietnam_War). GI's were generally looked down upon, and by this time were generally not showing their uniforms in public (we, on this merry trip, of course had no choice; we had no other clothing, for one thing) lest they be cursed or spit upon.
Well, the revelry continued into the night, until the drivers had gotten their eight hours of rest and a meal. Somehow, the word was spread and we all boarded our respective buses again in time to continue our journey back to Ft. Ord, where we then went back into training. For me, Basic Training lasted until sometime towards the end of January, 1966, or maybe early February. Then, I was held over for a number of days, waiting orders (I was to go to Infantry AIT – Advanced Individual Training – as a prerequisite for OCS – Officer Candidate School). The rest of my military history is best left for another tale, another time, like after y'all buy me a few beers.