He was working on the last couple inches of a fat cigar from both ends and must have started on it early as it was only about 9AM. He took a puff, smoke curling around his head. He shuffled some papers on the desk and sat down.
“Sit down, private Allen.”
I sat. He shuffled the papers some more and looked at the top sheet with my name on it. “Here’s the results of the battery tests you took last week,” he said, cigar smoke drifting from his mouth.
“You did pretty well on them tests. You’re a pretty smart boy. They’d probably make you a platoon point man. Don’t want no rum dummies out there leading a platoon into an ambush. Or maybe a forward artillery observer. Gotta have a man who can read coordinates for a job like that.
But you know what else?” He paused, I waited. He went on, “You qualify for any school the army’s got. Here, look at this list.”
He handed me a dogeared sheaf of papers stapled together military style with the staple parallel to the left edge. I ran my eye down dozens and dozens of entries for cooks, clerks, motor-pool mechanics, radio repairmen, photographers and various electronics technicians, all in alphabetical order not categorized. How to make sense of that? Each entry was followed by a code and a number of weeks duration. I figured, hmm I’m in this mess for two years, a tour in Viet Nam is 52 weeks so any course I sign up for that more than 52 means I won’t have time for a Viet Nam tour. I ran my eye down the last column looking for numbers higher than 52. Silly me.
I found Electronic Countermeasures – 56 weeks; Ground Control Approach Radar – 54 weeks, Weapons Support Radar – 52 weeks.
I’ll take Electronic Counter Measures”
Sorry, officers with security clearance only, that’s what the code says.”
How ‘bout Ground Control Approach Radar?”
The next cycle starts before you finish basic training.”
OK well then Weapons Support Radar.”
That works. There’s a cycle starting at Ft. Monmouth NJ two weeks after you finish training here.”
I’ll take it.”
OK we’ll just fill out the paperwork and you’ll be in the next cycle. Sign here.”
I picked up the pen. “Oh, one more thing,” said the sergeant; smoke curling out of his nose, “It’ll cost you another year.”
By this time I was completely hooked on the idea that I was not going to be a platoon point man and that I was not going to “The Nam.” But another year! That really sucks but then so does jungle infantry. I signed.
A coupe of months after MLK was assassinated and I was drafted, our platoon went on bivouac. This was like a boy scout camping trip but using army equipment that wasn’t bought surplus on second avenue. It was the same stuff, heavy and indestructible but with the addition of M14 rifles. In our M1952 rucksacks we each carried a shelter-half. This was tent, pup, m1941A, Olive Drab shade no. 7, in army nomenclature; some rope and some tent stakes. If you carefully buttoned together the halves and made sure the flap was in place it usually would not leak.