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!