– From Army Basic to A. I. T. – Advanced Individual Training – #3

To say that army basic training is ‘basic’ is an over-simplification of the term. It is anything but basic. What you need to do is take individuals who think independently, act independently and, for the most part, question everything and turn them into a cohesive unit who think as a unit, act as a unit and do things when told and ask questions later.

Think of yourself in combat. I know that’s asking a lot of some of you but try anyway. Your life is on the line 24/7 when you are in the line of fire. You have to trust the guy or girl next to you with your life because, like it or not, that is what’s at stake here. Should anyone in your command whether you’re in a squad on patrol. A platoon on an interdiction or a company strength search and destroy mission. If anyone says “Hit it.” or “Drop.” or “Take cover.” the only dead person is going to the guy, or girl, who says “Huh?” and doesn’t react.

Think of the cartoon where a hunter is out looking to bag a turkey. He’s calling out with the gobble, gobble, gobble thing trying to get some stupid turkey to stick his head up over some fallen tree trunk and then BLAM, turkey dinner. The soldier who doesn’t react fast enough……… is that turkey. Understand now?

This is what “basic training” is all about. Taking the individual out of the civilian and putting the team member into the soldier. It’s the only means of survival when you are in combat. You have to think, act and respond like a team. Everyone has to trust everyone else to be on the same page or the whole thing would and, most probably will , fall apart.

Basic training involves physical training, basic hand to hand combat, bayonet training, marksmanship and weapons care, first aid, camouflage  and concealment, running, lots of running and marching, lots of marching which, by-the-way, is the single most important part of all the training and here’s why. It is a subtle way of teaching troops how to move as a unit. Stay in step and react to orders or, in this case, directions as a unit.

Everyone moves as a unit at the same time, in the same direction, without question, they just do it. This results in lives saved in combat. Very simple, very basic, seems almost silly when they’re being taught the moves on the parade ground and, they are never really told why it is so necessary. It’s the least strenuous or mentally taxing of all the training they receive yet it is the single most important training they receive that will  possibly save their lives or that of their fellow soldiers.

I wonder just how many former or current soldiers realize the importance of Drill and Ceremony when it comes to combat. It would be interesting to hear from some of you and get your opinions.

After basic, we all got our orders for whatever was to come next. My buddy and I had volunteered for airborne infantry so we were pretty sure where we were headed. Everyone else in our training platoon, not so much.

The army or, the military in general, is not known for their logical disbursement of their available troops. Former mechanics, instead of going to the motor pool, would end up cooks. Guys with some college would end up not in a training brigade but in the infantry. High school drop-outs would end up with the technical jobs and anyone with a medical background was liable to end up as a supply clerk. There was no rhyme or reason to their selection process. It was like they used a dart board and a blind man to arrange the assignments.

Phil and I, like I said, volunteered for airborne infantry so, naturally, Phil went to the Signal Corp to learn how to run a radio and send morse code and I went to Military Police school to learn how to become a cop. We both dropped our request for airborne when we arrived at Fort Gordon Georgia. What was to become our home for the next two and a half months.

It’s funny, I don’t remember much about my M.P. training. We took classes on military law, self-defense hand to hand training, how to drive the new light-weight jeeps aggressively while still being safe, weapons training with our new best friend the .45 cal. semi-automatic pistol and, of course, P.T. (physical training), there was always that.

Unlike Fort Ord in California, we were allowed to go to the PX (Post Exchange) on our off duty hours and drink their 3-2 beer. When we left Fort Ord we had also left behind the meningitis scare. The 3-2 beer was half the potency of regular beer but it tasted good just the same. After tree months anything that even vaguely resembled beer (sort of like Coors Light today) tasted good.

One afternoon, while I was enjoying yet another weak-ass beer at the PX, who should walk in but my old buddy Phil. We caught up on what was happening in our corner of the camp and Phil told me he had run into Dennis Portlance and Larry Ferguson. They were both here at Fort Gordon for more specialized training. These two guys were friends of ours from high school and Dennis and I had taken a short but eye-opening detour to Alaska and the university in Fairbanks. More about that in a later post.

We all decided to get a week-end pass and go see the sights of downtown Augusta, Georgia. Which, shortly after our arrival downtown, we decided to re-name Disgusta, Georgia. Man, what a let down. We walked around for a very short period of time and then, rather dejected, we decided to get a hotel room and just sit and talk the night away.

In our wanderings we came upon the, you guessed it, The Augusta Hotel. What else, right? Now, if memory serves me right, Augusta was a dry city. In-other-words, no booze to be purchased or served. Another let down. I called room service just out of curiosity and asked if he, the night clerk, knew where we might obtain a couple bottles of adult beverages. He told us that he could get whatever we wanted. It was a courtesy of the hotel. Things were looking up.

Phil was a scotch drinker so I assume that was his beverage of choice. Dennis I remember being partial to Crown Royal from our time in Alaska. Larry wasn’t much of a drinker but I know he got something and I got a bottle of Southern Comfort. Big mistake, as I was to find out later.

The desk clerk delivered the bottles and we paid the price plus a pretty good tip as I recall. Then the clerk asked if we wanted anything else. Just some ice if you’ve got it. Down the hall, he motioned. Still he stood there. Again we asked what he wanted. We thought it was a bigger tip. We were wrong.

He asked, “What about the girls?”

“What about what girls?” we asked.

He said, “Well, if you’re going to have a party, don’t you want some girls here?”

“Nah, I said, we’re just a bunch of high school buddies looking to get a little  drunk going. That’s all.” “Besides, we don’t know any girls around here.”

The clerk kind of rolled his eyes and said, “Suit yourselves.” Then walked away.

For the next couple of hours he kept calling our room asking, “Do you want I should send the girls up yet?”

As disappointed as we were in Augusta, Georgia circa 1966 as a whole, I can imagine how “special” their hookers might have been back then. There was a lot of traffic going through training at that time so, I would imagine there was a lot of traffic going through, well, you fill in the blanks.

The night at the Augusta Hotel passed slow enough for all four of us to get thoroughly hammered. That sweet concoction that is Southern Comfort was anything but a comfort. My stomach was churning and my head spinning at an alarming rate. If I had one of those beanie caps on with the propeller on top, I could have flown non-stop to L.A. in record time.

I don’t know when it happened but I received a call from the porcelain god and he beckoned me to join him in the bathroom. I did as I was instructed, assumed the position and promptly emptied the contents of my stomach  into the waiting commode (aka. the porcelain god). The trouble is, I passed out with my head still in the darn thing. It was a darned good thing that Phil wasn’t as drunk as I was because he heard this blub-blub-blub coming from the bathroom and staggered into investigate. There was his old high school buddy, Me, drowning in the toilet.

There’s a letter every parent would be proud as peaches to get, huh? Dear Mr. and Mrs. Binkley, We are sorry to inform you that your son, Edward, drown in his own puke at the Augusta Hotel in downtown Augusta, Georgia the night of, etc., etc., etc. Thank-you Phil, I mean it.

I’m sorry to say that the four of us didn’t see each other again for some time after that. I don’t think any of us, especially me, was ready for a re-match at the Augusta any time soon. Dennis and Phil, eventually ended up across the pond in Vietnam. Larry and I were luckier. We did our tours stateside. The important thing is, we all survived our tours and eventually got back together. Well, not all at once but we’re working on that. At least we are all now in touch. Thank God for e-mail.

Okay, let’s see. I graduated from basic training on November 11, 1966 and was flown via Standard Airlines (military charter) to Augusta, Georgia. I started training, went to the PX, ran into Phil , had the unfortunate drunk at the hotel. Oh yes, Christmas. We had Christmas leave that lasted through New Years. I think we had to report back on the 3rd or 4th of January, 1967.

It was about three days before Christmas and everyone was getting ready to go home for the holidays. For some, it would be the last. For others, it would be the last normal Christmas they would ever spend anywhere.

I was going home to Chicago to spend my last civilian (sort of civilian) Christmas with my dad and step-mom. I traveled by Greyhound bus from Augusta to Chicago. A twenty-eight (28) hour trip made better only by the fact that the driver insisted I ride in the front right hand seat (more leg room) and that a pretty girl sit next to me (a bonus any way you look at it). I think it had something to do with my being in uniform and going home for the holidays. Maybe the bus driver was ex-military or his son was in the service or something along those lines.

Christmas was fun and it was good to see my dad and Mickey (his wife) again. I didn’t know when or if I would see them in the future because at that point, I had no idea what the future held in store for me. As-a-matter-of-fact, I didn’t think too much about my future because I didn’t think I still had one. Things didn’t look good over in Vietnam and we were hearing about the body-counts both ours and their and it was anything but encouraging. This wasn’t something I wanted to think about while on leave but, one night, my dad had watched something on the news that got him fired up.

We were sitting at the dinner table discussing whatever and dad mentioned this thing he saw on TV. He was talking about the troops over there (in Nam) and calling them young punks over and over again. My step-mom tried to defuse the situation by saying, “Oh Walt, you don’t mean that.”

“The hell I don’t.” he would say, “Why those young punks over there, why they think………..” Then I cut him off.

“Dad, just shut up. You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.” I said, “By-the-way, it’s the young punks over there that are protecting you old fat asses over here.”

It was out before I knew it. The color drained from my dads face as he got up out of his chair very slowly. He pushed his chair back and slowly walked from his end of the table to mine. I couldn’t move. It was like my ass was set in cement. Dad drew his left hand back and back-handed me across the mouth sending me flying off the chair, across the short expanse to the cast iron wall heater where my head met said heater and made a sound like that of a gong.

Hurt? Oh hell yes. Did I deserve it? Yes. Did I ever do it again? No way. Discussing is one thing but to disrespect your parents is something else entirely. After discussing it further, my dad apologized to me for what he said about the young troops. He did not, however, apologize for knocking me into next week. For that, no apology was necessary.

The rest of my leave was pretty uneventful. Except for one thing. I went to a Polish wedding with a friend of my step-mothers who was older than I but we were closer in age so….. Anyway, I didn’t have anything dressy to wear so I had to wear my dress green uniform. I think we danced some slow dances. I wasn’t much of a dancer back then. They announced that they were going to have a twist contest. It was 1966 and Chubby Checker with his Twist was still pretty hot then. This gal I was with talked me into entering so we did and, low and behold, we won. Who would have guessed that the only service man in the joint would win the contest? Go figure, huh?

After the holidays and the long bus ride back to Fort Gordon, we completed our training. The barracks we were assigned to were the old World War II wooden two-story style that had coal-burning furnaces in a small room that was part of the structure. There were dozens and dozens of these barracks and each had a coal-burning furnace. It was so cold there that standing fire watch (feeding the flame, in-other-words) was the best way to keep warm. It was, however, hard to stay awake. A lot of the guys would go in there, sleep and never stoke the fire at all. Then, when the next guy went to stand his fire watch, he would have to build the flame back up to normal again.

It was a dirty job and there were, like I said, dozens and dozens of these things going at once. The whole base was covered in soot and smoke. Everything smelled like coal dust. But, it could have been worse.

The guys in Signal training had to sleep in tents with little pot-bellied stoves in each tent. Four guys to a tent. Give me the old barracks anytime.

When we were about to graduate, we were all given our orders for our permanent duty stations. I couldn’t look. I just knew mine said Vietnam or some tropical paradise like that.

When I opened my orders they read Metz, France. “Metz, France, where’s that?”, I asked.

The company first sergeant assured me that his was a prime assignment. The French were less than happy about having us as guests in their country any longer and we were in the process of getting out with as little fan-fare as possible. Therefore, any troop serving embassy duty, which I was slated for, would not be staying on a military reservation. We would, in fact, be staying in hotels. We would not be ‘allowed’ to wear uniforms. We would have to wear civilian suits and ties. We could not carry exposed weapons. We would have to carry concealed weapons in a shoulder holster. And the final straw. We would not be expected to eat military food. We would get an allowance so we could eat in restaurants. Damn it all to hell. What do they expect from us anyway? Anyone would think this was a vacation, not a deployment.

“UH, YEAH ! !”

Metz, France was right on the northern edge of France and adjoined the southern part of Germany. Maybe during the Second World War, not such a good place for an American soldier to be but, now, some twenty-two years later. It was an ideal place for an American soldier to be. Especially if he didn’t look like a soldier.

Well, this was not to be. Unfortunately, I got pneumonia. It was a couple of days before we were to ship out to our debarkation points and we were standing one of our last, if not the last formation. I remember it was very cold and we were standing at attention behind the barracks before going into the mess hall for breakfast. It was still dark and, did I mention, very cold. I remember the first sergeant coming down the steps from his office with some papers and having us go to at ease and then …………….. nothing.

I woke up several hours later in the base hospital. There was this beautiful nurse, a lieutenant, standing beside my bed. I saw her name tag and it read Lt. Green. I asked her first name and she said Misses. So much for that. Besides, she was an officer but, brother, was she ever cute.

She told me that I had passed out in morning formation and was brought straight here.  I told her I didn’t remember much. She said that was all right, there were plenty of guys who saw the whole thing. That made me feel much better.

She told me that I had pneumonia and that I would be a guest at their establishment for the next ten days. I said, “No, no, I can’t be here that long. You see I’m leaving for France tomorrow. I’ve gotta get out of here.”

“I’m afraid not.” she said, “If they haven’t already, they’re going to have to give your orders to someone else.They normally don’t hang on to them very long.”

I’m thinking to myself, “Well, could this day get any better or what?”

They did, in fact, give my orders to a red-headed Irishman named Pat Dimegard. I found out later that he punched his commanding officer and ended up in the stockade. What a waist of some really good orders.

After getting released from the hospital and returned to duty, the first sergeant gave me my new orders, along with an apology for having to give my other orders away. These orders were not for Vietnam either. I, along with a lot of other guys, were going to Sandia Base, Albuquerque, New Mexico. This was a Defense Atomic Support Agency base (whatever that means) and we were all to get Top Secret clearances. Maybe. Those that didn’t would be moving on.

We all went back to that same strip outside of August and boarded yet another Standard Airlines military charter. This one, however, was not a four engine jet like before. This was an old four engine prop job. Not turbo-prop, just gasoline, internal combustion engines of the World War II variety. Very exciting, yes?

Knowing a bit about aircraft, I knew enough to pick a seat over the wing. It’s a pivot point and gives the best ride. I looked at the right-wing just below my window and noticed a trail of oil from the cowling on the inside engine. Being the old gas engines, you had to expect some of that so I was not really concerned.

The cockpit crew consisted of  the pilot in the left seat, the co-pilot in the right seat and the flight engineer in the center behind the engine throttle console on a drop-down seat in the middle. When the pilot advances the throttles on take-off, it is the flight engineers job to place his hand over that of the pilots to insure the throttles are full forward and stay that way incase the pilot needs to remove his hand for any reason. A fail-safe, if you will.

If the cockpit doors could be left open today, you would still see the co-pilot (since many modern commercial aircraft only have two pilots now) place his left hand over the pilots for the very same reason.

Anyway, we were getting ready for departure. Oh, let me mention this about the flight crew. The pilot was a middle-aged man with graying hair. The co-pilot was a younger man probably in his late twenties or so. But the flight engineer. His hair was pure white.

Now there’s a couple of ways to look at that. Maybe the white hair indicates a long, illustrious career in aviation that gives him the experience and knowledge to give everyone on board that confident feeling that everything will be just fine.

OR, seein’s how it’s just twenty some odd years after the second world war, perhaps this gentleman has had one too many flights over the flack riddled skies of Germany. Perhaps that pure white hair indicates he ws scared out of his wits and is now a basket-case worthy of closer observation by a profession staff with white coats.

Either way, the door on this aircraft is closed. The engines are started and we are beginning to taxi out for take-off. “Our Father who art in heaven ……… etc.”

I’m watching the flight crew, especially the white-haired guy, as the throttles go forward and we start to pick up speed. As the nose wheel rotates into the take-off attitude, I notice, out of the corner of my eye, the oil streak on the inboard engine is moving. There is a steady stream of oil moving back to and over the trailing edge of the main wing. Each engine has several gallons of oil so, at that rate we could stay in the air for hours and hours. No problem. I relax.

We seem to be flying pretty low. Probably between 7 and 9,000 feet. Just low enough not to have to pressurize the cabin. There’s a better view from this altitude anyway. Normally the cabin pressure is right around 8,000 feet anyway so we are just about right on.

I looked out to see the progress of the stream of oil and notice it has acquired a friend. There is a second stream of oil coming from the other side of the cowling now. I’m not so worried about running out of oil now as I am of fire. I decide to get the flight engineers attention and tell him of my concerns.

The flight attendant got the engineer and he took a look and declared it normal. Uh, huh. Normal?!?!

Well, that was all I could do so I just continued to watch the flow of oil as we continued our flight. I watched the oil as it flowed past the window and over the edge of the wing. More and more oil when, I noticed something else. Oh why can’t I just sleep like everyone else??

Where the wing root joins the fuselage there is a faring that wraps around that joint to make it more aerodynamic. It tapers from the fuselage to the top of the wing and is fastened there by rivets. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

You see, before being drafted into the army, I worked for Douglas Aircraft as, yup, a riveter on DC-9’s. I worked in fuselage joining were different sections of the aircraft are joined together to form the whole airframe.

Anyway, I noticed some rivets missing in the faring that I didn’t remember being missing before but then, I really didn’t count them. I just didn’t recall any vacancies. No open holes, you know?

As the flight progressed and, fortunately, we were only going to somewhere in Texas where we would be transferring to another plane before continuing on to Albuquerque, we continued to lose more rivets. Structurally we were fine (I think) but losing rivets anywhere is not a good thing. It’s not the ones that you see that will kill you. It’s the ones you don’t know about.

After much oil loss and several rivets popping, we landed somewhere in Texas with a thump and a screech of tires. I was thinking about telling the flight crew about the missing rivets and second oil leak but to what avail?

“Oh that? It’s normal. Nothing to worry about I’m sure.” I could just hear it plain as day.

We got on yet another Standard Airliner to complete our journey. This one was a Convair 880. A very streamlined four engine pure jet of which not many were made. The most unusual thing about the 880 were the tanks on the top of each wing just behind each engine. They resembled military drop tanks but were carried on top of the wing and not under them which has always been the military way. It was a beautiful plane and very comfortable to travel in. This time I sat in an aisle seat and closed my eyes. I figured whatever was to happen would happen whether I saw it first or not. It was a very pleasant trip.

If you see a veteran give him a smile and shake his hand. Say thank-you for a job well done. It was you know?

Have a very nice day!

Ed B.

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– Having A Pity Party Here –

For the last several days I have been having a very unsuccessful pity party for myself. Unsuccessful, says I , because I was the only one who came.

I am starting, starting mind you, to figure out that this pity party thing was all wrong. I was feeling sorry for myself because I didn’t get the desired reaction from my daughters about their Christmas presents. By ‘the desired reaction’ I mean they weren’t enthusiastic enough, they weren’t jumping up and down with joy, screaming with glee and adoration for me, the gift giver. Pretty self-consumed and selfish in general, huh? Yeah, I thought so.

Well, I’m sorry. I really am. I was unfair and I now know it. Up to yesterday though, you couldn’t have convinced me of that with a baseball bat.

You see, I gave them all books. Not just any books mind you. They were books I had written for them. Well, that’s not exactly true. I wrote them for me as well but they were primarily for them.

I’m beginning to see that too much of anything is not good. Yes, I’ve known that for many, many years but when it comes to something that you take great pleasure in doing and great pride in accomplishing, it’s hard to see the harm you are doing by forcing it down someone elses throat. Like I said, I’m beginning to understand now.

My primary problem is time. We, all of us, never know when ours will run out. Will it be today, tonight, next week or twenty years from now? There’s only One who knows the answer to that question and He ain’t sayin’. It’s a surprise.

I’m a very emotional person. I am a sentimentalist as well and I, as Johnny Carson would say, hark back to the old days and relive, in my mind and now on paper, those times and places where I found the most joy. Or, where the most joy found me.

As I write and read and re-read these stories, I go back in time. My senses are tuned to the sights, sounds and smells that surrounded me then and it is as if I’m there once more. It’s all so real and alive that, when I finish the story, it’s like I was there all over again. That’s what I want for my girls to feel. That’s what I want everyone and anyone who takes the time to read my stories to feel. If I can accomplish this in some small way, I’ll be happy. At least for a while or until I feel the need to throw myself another pity party. It could happen.

Have a great day and a very Happy and Safe New Year!

Ed B.

– Is Confusion A State Of Mind -or are there kids involved?

Most of the time, I am the proud parent of three lovely and loving grown daughters. When they were younger I expected them to surprise me with actions that were, shall we say, unusual. Not that of an adult because, well, they were not adults yet. Now they are all three well into adulthood and still, I am being surprised on a disturbingly regular basis.

Now, maybe it’s just me that has this problem. It may very well be that my daughters are perfectly normal and I am the one suffering from whatever it is that is affecting me. It could very well be that I have too much time on my hands to think of such things and everything is just fine Sherwood Forest. No need to call in Robin Hood and his band of merry men.

It occurred to me, some time ago actually, that I wanted to become a writer. This happened in high school some forty-eight (48) years ago. Just about the time I was flunking out of English for the first time. Needless to say I did nothing with those desires except ignore them. Oh, I wrote some sappy poetry which, when I read it now, brings forth the phrase, “What was I thinking?”

Since then things have gotten a little better. I laid off the writing for decades and concentrated on reading. It really helps to see how the experts do it. You know the ones I refer to? The published authors.

I’m not necessarily referring to Shakespeare. I mean who writes like that anymore? Other than William, whoever wrote like that then? Dickens is fine. Tolstoy and those other guys, their fine but the ones I am referring to are Hemingway, Steinbeck, Wouk, Koontz, Cussler and Clancy. Now there’s a group of writers to admire. Among many others, of course.

I do not, let me repeat that, I do not place myself anywhere within that group of distinguished gentlemen and authors. Oh but if I could. Compared to them, I am but a hack. A pure wanabe of the lowest denomination by comparison but, I will say this. I am passionate about my writing. I feel I have something to contribute in several arenas but my greatest love is my history. My life and times. When I lived and how I grew up. What I saw and how it effected me. These are the things I want to share with the world, if-you-will, and my children and their children to follow. There-in lies the problem.

I feel my children are taking this all for granted. That they do not truly appreciate what it is I am trying desperately to impart to them. A way to look into the past on a very personal basis. A look into the past through my eyes guided by their questions. When I am gone, they will have no one to ask these of. It will be left up to history to answer these most important of questions and history doesn’t know me that well.

We all take things that are at our fingertips today for granted. We never realize just how fragile and irreplaceable time is until it’s run out and then it’s way too late.

I know how I felt when my mom died. I wanted so many questions answered and it was too late. I sworn that I wouldn’t let that happen with my dad and guess what, it happened again. I am now trying desperately to remember all that had happened in my youth and put it into some sort of story form so my children and their children have at least some of those questions answered but, I need their help and they, as much as they may try, just really don’t care that much. They are now like I was then. There’s always tomorrow.

“Well my darlings, their isn’t always a tomorrow. Sometimes all we have is today and all the tomorrows that life has to offer is not worth one yesterday of regret.”

I wish you all a very Happy and Safe New Year!

Tell someone you love just that and mean it. Hold someones hand and squeeze it a little tighter. When you hug someone, let it last a few seconds longer. Life is precious. Love is a gift. Share life and give love. It’s a reward in itself.

Have a great day!  See you next year.

Ed B.

– In The Beginning – There Was The Draft – #1

My youngest daughter, who is now on the backside of twenty-three, wants me to add a few stories about my time in the army. There are some I find humorous and that could be because they happened to me. You, on-the-other-hand, might find them boring. For my daughter’s sake, I’ll take that chance.

When my friend, Phil, and I decided to volunteer for the draft in 1966, the Vietnam war was just getting into high gear. The U. S. of A. was drafting, not only, into the U.S. Army but into the Marine Corp. as well. A fact that, at the time, we were unaware. We had no idea that we may, without our consent, be drafted into the marines.

Let me back up a couple of days to an incident that happened just prior to my induction date. I was out celebrating my soon to come stint in the army with another friend of mine from work. A mister Dale Dunbar. Quite a character in his own right and tough as nails to boot. He kept an old car sitting in the street outside of his parents house just to beat on. That’s right, to beat on. He would take out his frustrations on the car with his fists, his feet or whatever was handy at the time. This guy was, like I said, tough as nails but one of the nicest guys you would ever want to know. When he was happy, that is.

Anyway, when Dale found out I was going into the service, one of us suggested that we go out and have a farewell drink (or ten). Which we did in grand fashion. You see, Dale didn’t like the service. He wasn’t what you would call a team player and didn’t take orders well. Hell, he didn’t take suggestions well either.

Again, I digress. One day Dale and I were playing hooky from work and we got to talking about the service. Dale was emphatic about not wanting anything at all to do with military life and had heard from somewhere that if you got an Exhibition of Speed ticket, you would become exempt from the draft. This, even at my tender age of eighteen, I found a little bit of a stretch. The fact remained that Dale believed it and that was all that mattered.

As we were driving around in his 1958 Chevy Bel Air 2-door hardtop with a 348 V-8, three deuces and a three speed, we happened to pull up beside a Long Beach cop car with two of Long Beaches finest inside. Dale looked at me and said, “Watch this.”

As the light changed to green Dale revved that 348 to God only knows what and popped the clutch. My heart sank into my stomach and we were off. I looked back to where the cop car had been sitting and saw nothing but an ever-growing cloud of dense white smoke from the rear tires of Dales car. This was the true definition of Exhibition of Speed. It isn’t exactly speeding because you are not exactly exceeding the speed limit, yet. You are, however, exhibiting speed by burning rubber from a standing start.

Anyway, as we were pulling away from the light and depositing more smoke down the road, along with a fairly large patch of rubber as well, the cop car slowly emerged from the cloud of smoke with its red lights flashing and siren blaring. It was in hot pursuit, of us.

Dale turned onto a residential street because he didn’t want to make the chase too easy for the cops. He made a right turn then a left then another right and then pulled into some strangers garage who just happened to leave his door up and we waited for the cops to catch up so Dale could get his ticket and become exempt from the draft.

We could hear the cop car getting closer and I just knew we were going to jail. Dale got out and leaned against the trunk of his car. As the cops car rounded the corner, Dale started waving. They just ignored him and continued on by with lights and siren still blaring as they faded into the distance. Dale was not amused. To say he was pissed would have been an understatement of the highest magnitude. He started yelling and jumping up and down like a mad man right there in front of that strangers house and with his car still in the strangers garage.

When Dale was like that you were better off not laughing but, I couldn’t help it. I started to laugh. I think it was more of a nervous laugh if anything seeing how we weren’t arrested for evading. But, it was funny and finally Dale came around and laughed a little as well. He was still pissed though and I’m sure that car out front of his house got a real work-out that evening.

Anyhow, back to the night in question. Dale and I went out drinking and as teenagers, we all know that can never lead to any good. Tonight was to be no different. After consuming our fair share of alcohol, we decided to go to Oscars Drive-In on the traffic circle for a cup of coffee and something to eat. You know, so we could become wide awake drunks?

On the way, I happened across a little sports car with three sailors in it. As we were going around the traffic circle I, apparently ran them off the road or crowded them or something. Anyway it was my fault and I thought I should apologize. Dale didn’t think that was a good idea but, being me, I did it anyway.

There was a teen dance club right next to Oscars called the Cinnamon Cinder and I saw the sports car pull on to the street next to it so I followed. I pulled in behind the little car as the driver got out. There was another sailor in the passenger’s seat and one in the rumble seat or whatever you call that space back there.

I exited my vehicle from the driver’s side and went to meet the other guy halfway. Dale waited in the car.

Paul Newman said it best in -Cool Hand Luke- when he said, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

Apparently the driver of the sports car was not in an apologetic nor a communicative mood. As soon as I was within range, he let me have it. He knocked what was left of my consciousness into next week. The front seat passenger, not wanting to be left out, thought that he might as well get in on the fun so he grabbed something out of the back seat, proceeded out into the road and started smacking me on the back of the head with it.

Just for the record, this was all related to me a couple of days later by Dale. That night, everything was a bit fuzzy, if you know what I mean.

Back to my dilemma. Dale saw I was not going down. Just why, neither of us knew. It would have been better for me if I had gone down. It was like I was rooted in cement and couldn’t fall.

After Dale got done laughing, he decided to help. I guess the scene was pretty funny from his point of view. There was one guy in front punching me in the face knocking my head backwards and the other guy in back with a club or something knocking it back forward. Afterward, Dale said it looked like something out of a cartoon.

When the third guy decided to get out (his one and only mistake), Dale had FINALLY seen enough and came to my rescue. He grabbed the third guy mid stride, spun him around on to the hood of my car and hit him in the face. Just once and he went down like a rock. Then Dale took notice of the other two and made short work of them as well.

Dale helped me back to the car and, of course, I insisted on driving. I looked at Dale and the first thing I remember saying is, “Where did all that blood come from?” Dale said, “Don’t worry, it’s the other guys.” Then he said, “But all that blood on you, that’s yours.”

I looked down at my once clean light green sweater and matching green khaki pants and saw that they were in fact covered with blood and it was getting worse. I noticed that I was coughing up blood and there seemed to be something wrong with my front tooth.

Dale said, “We have to get you to a hospital.” “No way, I said, I’m hungry, Let’s go to Norms and get something to eat.” Dale looked at me like I had just lost what was left of my mind but then shrugged and said, “Okay, let’s go.”

It was after one in the morning, I was bleeding like a stuck pig and covered in my own blood, Dale was covered in someone elses blood and we were going to a very public restaurant in downtown Long Beach, California. What could go wrong there???

As we pulled into the parking lot at Norms, Dale noticed about three or four squad cars parked unmanned but ready for action. He said, “Maybe this ain’t such a good idea. Maybe we should go somewhere else.”

“No, I said, I want a Denver omelet and I want it here.” Again,Dale just shrugged and we went in.

To coin a phrase from the old Mad Magazine and Alfred E. Newman, to be exact. “What Me Worry?”

As we walked into the restaurant we headed straight to the rear where, low-and-behold, sat six or eight of Long Beaches finest at a very large circular booth. Not one of them looked up at us.

The wait staff, the cooks, dish washers, buss boys and the manager all gathered around us wondering what the hell had happened.

The manager or someone (not the cops) asked if there was an accident. “Are you two all right? Can we get you anything?” they all inquired.

The waitresses got wet towels and started cleaning me up some while Dale went into the bathroom to wash his arms and hands which were covered with someones blood.  We already knew where the blood on me came from.

The manager went to the table where the cops were sitting. They were already getting up and heading for the front of the restaurant to pay up and get out.

“Aren’t you going to do something for these guys? Take a report or something?” As far as I know they just paid up and left. They couldn’t get out of there fast enough. They didn’t want anything to do with us or any explanation of any sort. Out of sight, out of mind.

The manager, again, asked if we wanted or needed anything. I answered in the affirmative. I wanted a Denver omelet and a cup of coffee. The manager looked puzzled, then looked at the cook who smiled and said, “Coming right up.”

Dale and I finished our meals, which were on the house by-the-way, and then headed home. That was the last meal I had for some time that wasn’t a bit uncomfortable to eat. That front tooth thing was not just my imagination. It was all too real, as I was about to find out.

When we left the restaurant, I drove Dale home to his parents place in North Long Beach. I was living with my mom at the time and she lived in East Long Beach. So, being battered, bloodied and bruised and in no shape to be driving anywhere, I decided to drop in on Phil at his parents house which was less than a mile or so away.

When I got there I was met with gasps, ooh’s and aah’s and a million questions. Phil’s dad, who was FBI or something like that had the most questions. Phil’s mom and grandma wanted to feed me and Phil’s two sisters were just curious. Phil thought it was hilarious and all I wanted to do was sleep and forget the whole thing ever happened. Oh, and the other thing I didn’t want to do was tell my mom.

Well, the telling my mom part didn’t go well because Phil’s dad got to her first and told her I didn’t want to talk to her. This was only sort of true. I didn’t want to talk to her at that particular moment in time not ever like Phil’s dad made it sound. Mom and I finally did talk and resolved everything. She didn’t much care for Phil’s dad after that.

Now, back to our induction into the army thing. I really got off track that time, huh? We, Phil and I, were about to become G.I.’s. That’s Government Issue for you uninitiated types. It matters not which branch of the service you served in, Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force or the Coast Guard, when you are once sworn in you become G.I. – Government Issue.

I can’t remember just who dropped us off at the induction center in downtown L.A. or if we were transported there by a government vehicle. I guess it doesn’t matter. We arrived just the same.

All we had were the basic necessities. A change of underwear, socks and our toiletries in, what was called and AWOL bag. One small zippered bag with two plastic handles made of canvas. That would be all we would need until we reached out basic training unit. There we would be issued everything else we needed for the next two years.

Phil and I and the other inductees got our introduction to the military by standing in our very first of many lines just after entering the front door. There is a saying in the service, “Hurry up and wait.” Just about everything you do in the service is at the double time. In other words, you’re running. It’s double time here and wait in this line. Then its double time there and wait in that line. Then double time back to the first place to wait in yet another line. “Hurry up and wait. Hurry up and wait.” It’s the Army way of life.

After being poked and prodded through one line after another by everyone and his brother, we finally got to the dental part of the exam. The dentist took one look at my loose front tooth and the multiple cuts on the inside of my mouth, not to mention the ring of knots on the crown of my head and said, “We’ll have to declare you unfit at this time. We’ll have you come back when everything is healed.”

I looked at Phil, shrugged my shoulders and started to walk away when he reached out and grabbed hold of my shoulder. He looked at the dentist and said something to the effect, “Hey, we’re going in on the buddy plan. If I go, he goes.” Compelling argument, no? The doc must have thought so because he stamped my papers “Fit for Duty” and away we went. Phil smiled. I still found smiling a bit difficult.

When we got to the swearing-in part, they had us form two separate lines leading down a narrow hallway. There was a blue line on the left and a yellow line on the right. Phil was in the blue line and I was right beside him in the yellow line. We talked as the line moved forward and we noticed that there was a folding divider screen thing blocking the hall. The blue line was heading through a door on the left and the yellow through a door on the right.

As we got closer to the doors Phil said to jump over to his line. I didn’t see the point. We would both come out the other side after being sworn in so what’s the difference. After much conversation, I found someone who would let me crowd into the blue line. Phil was happy.

The closer we got to the doors the more we could hear grumbling coming from the other side of the divider. We couldn’t quite make out what was being said but we could tell that some of the guys on that side were not happy campers at all.

We went through the door four or six at a time, I think, raised our right hands and were proclaimed to be government property or, in the army, whatever.

The new recruits, of which I was now one, all slapped each other on the backs as we all exited back into the narrow hallway and resumed our positions on the blue line. It was then we found out what all the bitching and moaning was about. The guys in the yellow line, which is where I would have been if not for Phil’s insistence, were all drafted into the Marine Corp.

As Maxwell Smart would have said, “They missed me by.. that .. much!”

There was little time to relax after the induction center. We were loaded on board three or four chartered buses and headed north to the Beautiful Monterey Bay Peninsula. Which we would never see, by-the-way. There was a meningitis outbreak at Fort Ord and this restricted us to the training area only. There was to be no passes for us. And, we didn’t know it then but no liberty after basic training as well. There was a crunch on and they needed bodies quickly. Maybe that was a poor choice of words but, you get the picture.

It was a long but fairly leisurely bus ride but not many of us got any sleep. We were too busy thinking about the next eight weeks. What would it be like, the training and all? Would we make it or be washed out? Would we be tough enough? This was for real. We weren’t playing soldier and shouting bang-bang. This was going to be for all the marbles.

We arrived somewhere around 3 o-clock in the morning and then the fun began. We were introduced to our first D.I. (drill instructor) after exiting the buses to shouts and profanity like you can only imagine. They called us everything but human beings. Phil and I were R.O.T.C. (Reserve Officers Training Corp) from high school so this didn’t come as a complete shock to us. Others were not so fortunate and paid a heavy price. Push-ups at 3 a.m. on the wet tarmac in your civilian clothes is never fun but they learned. Some the hard way but, they learned. The D.I.’s mean what they say and you never, ever laugh at them.

We had formations, shots, tests, more formations, more shots, more tests, we had gear issued and carried it forever, we were assigned temporary quarters and shown how to make a bed the military way (we were not allowed to sleep in them however), more formations and, I think, more shots, another formation, there may have been some food somewhere in that mix but don’t quote me on it and then we were allowed a couple hours of sleep before we were assigned to our training units up on the rock.

I know, I know, that was one hell of a run-on sentence but that was the way it felt back then. One never-ending sequence of events that went on and on forever. And that, my friends, was just the beginning!

I’ll tell you more later. But, until then, thank a soldier for his service. That goes a long way, trust me.

Have a great day!

– Thinking? – Who’s Thinking? –

Sometimes I wonder, after reading or re-reading what I have just written, what, exactly, was I thinking when I wrote that??

I am, almost, never tempted to trash anything I have written because, at the time, it reflected how I felt about a certain subject whether it be a person, place or thing. You know, the Noun family.

I’m a believer in God but sometimes I sound like the quintessential atheist and I’m not at all. I like to ask questions and get answers, that’s all. I like to stir up a good conversation once in a while. Have a little debate on certain subjects and see what you and others think, you know? How else do we learn?

I’ve tried having these discussions in bars and I think we all know how those turned out. The rule of thumb is, “Never discuss religion, politics or sex from a bar stool.” Now, I can almost understand the first two, religion and politics but the third, sex. I mean, come on.

As for politics, everyone who knows me is pretty sure I’m a moderate republican and they would be correct. This does not mean that I agree with everything the republicans say and do. That would be a democrat. They agree with everything their party does and says because they are told to. “Think not for yourself when your party can think for you.” It’s statements like that that make the ban on politics in barrooms a little more understandable.

Yeah, I like stirring the pot, getting people a little worked up, so-to-speak. I find they are much more interesting to talk to when they’re a little fired up. As long as I know when to stop stirring. We don’t want things getting too out of hand, now do we?

Really, all I wanted to do was get you to read this so you might want to go back and read some of my other stuff so we can discuss those as well. I’m wordwon and I have a blog under “Opinions and People” and this one under “Life and Times”.

I once complained about not getting enough comments to my blogs and then I received one saying, and I quote, “People are supposed to comment?”, end quote.

My succinct answer, “YUP!”

Have a great day!

– Basket-Weave Reindeer-

Basket-weave reindeer

On fresh melting snow

With Christmas now over

And nowhere to go

Santa’s retired

For a long winters sleep

The covers tucked under

His rosy red cheeks

The elves start their planning

For next Christmas eve

When Santa, once more

On his sleigh will he leave

On Dasher, on Dancer

On Vixen away

We all get to rest

Until next Christmas day.

HAPPY  NEW  YEAR ! !  One and all.

12/30/09 – Ed B.

– Basic Training – Army Style – #2

September 6, 1966

I had just been drafted into the United States Army for a two-year stint. Was I going to war because we had a doozy going in Southeast Asia. Vietnam, to-be-exact. Would I get duty in Europe or, maybe, Korea? Would I be stationed state side? I mean, there were jobs enough for everyone. The military establishment was growing by leaps and bounds and only a relatively small portion would be combat troops. Most would be support or logistics, right?

First things first. We had to successfully make it through basic training or it was all a moot point, correct? It was make it or go home with a less than glorious discharge.

No one wanted to go home with a medical discharge that would state you couldn’t keep up with the other guys for whatever reason. No one wanted to go home labeled a trouble maker and get a dishonorable discharge. That stays with you forever. And, certainly, no one wanted a Section 8. Psychologically unfit for duty. Man, who would want to get stuck with that one?

Yeah, well that was the extreme. Once you went through the battery of tests, both physical and mental, the military was pretty sure they got it right. If they, for some strange reason, missed something, it would show up eventually. Unfortunately, sometimes it showed up too late. You can diagnose the problem and still lose the patient.

The basic training company that Phil and I went to was D-1-1. That’s D- Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Training Brigade and we were the 1st platoon.

Since Phil and I were both ex-R.O.T.C. in high school, the D. I. or Drill Instructor gave me the temporary rank of Sergeant and Phil the temporary rank of Corporal. This afforded us the privilege of sleeping not in the squad bay with all of the rest o f the troops but in separate rooms.

There was one room for the guide-on bearer, Buzz Sheridan, the only National Guardsman in the whole company, who was also a temporary sergeant and me, the acting platoon sergeant. Then there was a separate room for the four squad leaders, Phil McWilliams, Richard DeLucca, Clarence Champion and, I’m sorry I forgot his first name but his last name is Cruz, who were all acting corporals. They were, and I hope still are, a great bunch of guys.

I’m sorry, also, that I was unable to keep track of the guys in my first ever military outfit. I had the guys each write their names on our platoon picture but, unfortunately, it got lost some years ago. Phil found his and sent me a copy which I now treasure. Unfortunately, his does not have the names on the back as did mine.

I remember some of the guys by name if only by their last. I remember all of them by their faces. All the young faces that stare back at me through time. My own included.

We had quite an eclectic group in our platoon. It covered the gambit from highly educated to high school to drop out, both out of school and, since it was the sixties, from society in general. All-in-all, they were the best platoon going.

When it came to awards, we, the 1st Platoon, got the ones that counted. Physical training #1, marksmanship #1, drill #1, basic combat skills #1, anything and everything …….. except house-keeping. Try as we might, house-keeping just wasn’t our thing. Taking the big picture into consideration, I think everything else we exceeded at was of far great importance. In the long run, that is.

Anyone who has won a battle with a broom and dust pan, raise your hand!

There are many guys who, like I said, I remember by their last names or by their faces alone but there is one guy who will always stay with me because he was quite a character.

He was a tall skinny black kid with glasses who was naturally funny and, in general, a joy to be around. He was not, how should I say, well-coordinated. The young man I refer to is Huey Walton and, Huey, if you read this or someone you know tells you about it, I mean this in the most endearing of terms. Believe me.

Huey went on a few of our first training outing and we, his squad leader, the drill instructor and me, noticed that Huey was having trouble negotiating some of the obstacles and wasn’t handling the calisthenics very well either. Marching was not his forte and a distant runner with pack, he was not.

The drill instructor suggested that perhaps Huey would be better off on K.P. (that’s Kitchen Police for those of you not initiated), permanently. He was going to bring our over-all score down and those 1st places are important to the D.I.’s as well as to us.

So, if there was nothing physical about the days activities, Huey would come along and watch a movie or take a class. But, should anything physical be required, Huey would be relegated to K.P. for the duration.

As the eight weeks of  basic training continued, Huey saw very like of the actual training but was becoming quite good in the kitchen not just at washing dishes and clearing tables but at cooking as well. I guess the cooks took a liking to Huey, which, as I said earlier, was quite easy to do. Huey, on-the-other-hand, hated K.P. and everything that went with it. He could hardly wait for graduation day so he could go to his permanent duty station and away from that blasted kitchen.

Soon enough graduation day came. Parents, wives and friends came for the event. We all dressed in our dress greens and marched out to the parade grounds. Heads held high and really strutting our stuff, we were all so proud I’m surprised the brass buttons stayed on our tunics.

After the ceremony was over and all the good-byes were said, the Platoon Sergeant gathered us all together in the squad bay to give us our orders. Phil and I signed up for airborne and took special P.T. (physical training) every morning before the rest of the company even got up. Then, we would do the regular P.T. with the rest of the company. What was called “The Daily Dozen”. I was in great shape then.

Anyway, when I got my orders I expected to go infantry. Surprise, I was going to be a cop. Military Police School, Fort Gordon, Georgia. Phil was going to Fort Gordon as well but he was going to be a radio operator or Signal, as it was called.

The list went on and on. Some of the guys went to infantry, some to armor, artillery, transportation and then there was Huey Walton. Huey, who hated K.P. with all his heart and soul. Huey, who was looking forward to no more than just getting out of this company and on to somewhere else. He didn’t care where just anywhere but here. Huey was going nowhere. The powers that be had made him a cook and, to make things worse if that is even possible, he would be staying right there at D-1-1.

That was the last time I saw any of the guys in my training platoon, except for my close friend Phil. I have often wondered how they are doing today. If any of them became casualties of the war that lasted way too long. Even though I may not remember the names, they were and are very important to me.

I remember one incident in particular that happened the last week of basic training. I had a disagreement with our D.I. in training, Sgt. Keyes and he demoted me to guide-on bearer. He made Buzz a squad leader and put Clarence A. Champion, a now former squad leader, in charge of the platoon in my place.

Buzz handed me the guide-on and I took my place to the right of the first squad leader. Champion took my old spot in front of the platoon. When the command was given to bring the formation to attention, Champion did an about face to face the platoon, came to attention and waited to echo the command given by the first sergeant. The first sergeant called the company to attention and each platoon sergeant repeated the command for his own platoon. Platoons 2 through 4 snapped to attention like a well oiled machine. First platoon stood rigidly at at ease. The only people to come to attention was Champion and myself. The rest of the platoon didn’t budge.

Sergeant Keyes was so mad I thought he was going to rupture an artery. He stormed up to me saying, “What’s the meaning of this. Binkley, you’re in real trouble this time.” I told him I had nothing to do with it. It wasn’t my fault.

He turned to Champion and said “Get this platoon to attention NOW!”

Champion was flustered to say the least but he gave it another try. Still, the ranks didn’t move. They remained at ease as before. You could start to hear snickering coming from the other platoons who were trying to see what was going on. I even saw a couple of the other D.I.’s choking back a smile.

Sgt. Keyes was livid and yelling at the platoon to obey Champions order to come to attention. Still they didn’t move. Finally, Sgt. Keyes came back to me and said, “Binkley, you get this platoon to attention right now or else.”

“Yes Sgt. Keyes.” I replied and stepped out in front of MY platoon. I said something like, “Men, there has been a change in command and you must follow Sgt. Champions orders.” I followed that with, “1st Platoon, Attention!!” You could have heard a pin drop after that platoon came to attention. It was perfect.

I turned to Sgt. Keyes, saluted and said, “1st Platoon is at attention and awaiting further orders.” I didn’t wait for an answering salute because I didn’t think one was forth-coming. I just returned to my new station as guide-on bearer and came to attention myself. There was a short round of applause from the other platoons which was soon quieted by their D.I.’s.

After the formation was dismissed, one of the D.I.’s from the 2nd or 3rd platoon, a Sgt. Smith, came up to me and said, “I have never seen that before in basic training. Such loyalty is rare even in combat.” then he said, “I would be proud to have you in any unit I commanded.” and he shook my hand.

Yes, it was only the beginning. It was just the start of my two years in the service but it was a grand way to begin. There will be more.

Remember a soldier if you know one. They’re always thinking of you.

Have a great day!