Saturday, June 13, 2009

Always, Always Volunteer

The last bit of advice my Dad gave me when I enlisted in 1972 was "Volunteer. Don't listen to those [other soldiers--expletives deleted]." So I did. In basic training when no one else's hand went up, I volunteered to be one of the Latrine Queens--the name given to those who clean the bathrooms. Jersey, one of the smart guys, also raised his hand for this job and smiled when he saw me volunteer also. I got hassled right away. My roommate, 'Bama, said "What in the Hell did you do that for Guss? Have you lost your damn mind since breakfast?" I shrugged. I did not feel smart at the time. Three days later I felt absolutely brilliant. Everyone except the latrine queens and the buffer crew went for a 10-mile, 4am road march in a 50-degree Texas February rain. Jersey and I had to stay back and clean the latrines for an inspection by some higher command.

When the soggy marchers got back they had to stay outside until the inspection was over. Jersey and I and the buffer team smiled and waved at the rest of the platoon. 'Bama later conceded that Yankees weren't so damned dumb after all.

So I have continued to volunteer. Yesterday when we got ready to load the buses to go to the airport in Kuwait, they asked for seven sergeants to be (I am not making this up) Pushers and Counters. The Counters count the soldiers getting on the bus and eventually on the plane. The Pushers keep them moving to get the buses and planes loaded and unloaded. I was a counter, so I counted to 160 three different times as everyone walked past me. I stood out in the sun longer than everyone else, but we were already out for a long time. When we got to the airport, I was stationed at the bottom of the ramp to count the soldiers as they boarded our DC-10 to America. But before I started my final count, the ground crew told the pushers, counters and the officer and NCO in charge of the plane to drop their bags on seats--at the front of the plane! It turns out the pushers and counters got the business class seats. In this old plane, the business class seats are not as good as new planes, but they WAY better than regular seats.

When I volunteered, a couple of sergeants standing behind said under their breaths almost together, "Ain't no f-in way. . ." Seemed like a good trade to me. I slept for almost half of the 15 hours we were in the air.

Just a note on nicknames. When I went through basic the first time the forty recruits in our platoon were from almost as many states, hence the state nicknames. 'Bama, my bunkmate in basic introduced himself as "Leonard Norwood from Sawyerville, Alabama, population 53. I had me a job down the road at an A&P store, but it closed down so here I am. Sawyerville is just down the state highway from Talledega, the biggest racetrack in the world. Did you know. . ." He went on like that for the rest of the basic. By the time I went home on leave after basic training, I had lost my Boston accent forever and spoke with a drawl. 'Bama, Jersey and I went to tech school at Lowry AF Base in Denver and remained buddies. A month later my Dad, my sister Jean and Jean's best friend Mary drove my car--a 1969 Torino Cobra--all the way to Denver. If I remember correctly Jersey wanted to be my brother-in-law as soon as he met Jean and 'Bama was hopelessly in love with Mary.
The last time I spoke to 'Bama he was on disability leave from the railroad and wanted me to come down and see a race at Talledega with him. He is married with grown kids, so he did not wait for Mary to come back to Denver.

Who Fights Our Wars: Marine Veteran on a Local Train

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