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Background: I had lived in Germany 1959-61 and gone to an Army high school there, and in many ways it was the best time of my life. When I came back to segregated Virgina for senior year, I hated it. After graduating and working over the summer, I went to the University of Virgina (UVA) in Charlottesville. It was a disaster; I wasn't ready and it wasn't ready. The whole place was just one big drunken orgy, plus it was a patrician bastion of snobbery and white supremacy, "the Harvard of the South". White fraternities with real Black slaves. Anyway, I was paying my own way through UVA and I had used up all the money I earned from my summer job. But not being in college meant being drafted, so I enlisted instead so I could go back to Germany.

In this document:

Mommie, Mommy, Judy = My ex-wife Judith Scott.
You, you guys, Peter, Amy = Judy's and my children Peter and Amy da Cruz.
Ludwig = A friend from junior and senior high school in Arlington Va.
Roger Anderson = Army buddy 1963-65.
Kinapic = A rustic "housekeeping cottages" place on a lake in Maine where we used to go every summer when Peter and Amy were little.
—Frank da Cruz <fdc@columbia.edu>
Sections:  [ Training ]   [ Kaiserslautern ]   [ Stuttgart ]   [ Also see: Frankfurt 1959-1961 ]
Galleries:  [ My Army photos 1963-66   [ Roger Anderson's photos ]  

Most recent update: 2 October 2021 19:55:20

The Army – 1963-1966

[SEE GALLERY]

Army basic training portrait
Official photo
My dogtags
My dogtags and P-38 1963

I was in the Army from February 6, 1963, to February 2, 1966. My dad was furious when I dropped out of UVA, I thought he was going to kill me, literally. I had really had enough of him so without telling anybody, I went and joined the Army, and that was the last time I ever saw my family together. I joined the Army because I knew I would be drafted anyway, but if I enlisted I could pick where they sent me. And I picked Germany. Actually it was a bit more complicated… if you enlisted you could pick an overseas AREA (Asia or Europe) and the BRANCH (Infantry, Artillery, or Armor) and so, knowing that all the Armored units in Europe were in Germany, I picked Armor and Europe. For my dogtags I had to put a religion, so I put Sodothic (a made-up religion) on one, and Taoist on the other (compare with my father's WWII dogtags). The other thing with the dogtags is my P-38, explained below. Hey, didn't I get dogtags made for you guys once at the Addison County Fair in Vermont?

Anyway, 1961-62 was just a big gap, a wasteland. I hated Virginia, the cliquishness, segregation, my school, the suburbs, the car culture, everything. I was still angry that my dad had screwed up and got us kicked out of Germany a year early and all I really wanted was to go back, and I did. Pretty amazing my plan actually worked, I might have wound up in Vietnam, which in early 1963 I had barely heard of.

At the beginning of February I visited a nearby Army recruiting office to discuss my options, then a day or two later, very early in the morning, I took a WV&M bus to K Street in DC and then a Greyhound from DC to Baltimore; had breakfast in a diner on Broadway with a guy I met on the bus who was also enlisting, then we took a city bus to Dundalk...

Physical exam, signed the papers, took the oath at Fort Holabird*, 6 February 1963

Reception center at Fort Jackson SC (near Columbia) - about a week

Basic training at Fort Gordon GA (near Augusta) - 8 weeks Company B, 2nd Batallion, 1st Infantry Regiment (where I saw Cubans training for a second invasion that never happened**), Military Occupational Specialty: 111 (Infantry)

A week's leave where I traveled around visiting people and spent a night in jail.

Reconnaisance (scout) training at Fort Knox KY (near Louisville) - 8 weeks New MOS: 112 (Cavalry Scout) Took an overnight bus from DC to Louisville that went through West Virginia on 2-lane Route 50 through the Appalachian mountains to Cincinnati and from there to Louisville on a highway.

It was either at Fort Gordon or Fort Knox, I was invited to go to OCS — Officer Candidate School — so I could be an officer instead of an EM. I had zero desire to be an officer.

A week at Fort Dix NJ waiting for ship to Germany.

USNS Geiger (troop ship) from NYC to Bremerhaven Germany - about a week.

About a year and a half (1963-64) at HQ Troop, 3rd Reconnaissance Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, 7th US Army, Kaiserslautern, Germany (Vogelweh Kaserne, near Hohenecken) with tank range at Grafenwöhr and field maneuvers up to a month long. I had many jobs there ranging from office work (because I could type), motor pool, marriage counselor (really), garbage dump detail, etc. Office work was like Radar in MASH: morning reports, cutting orders, filling out forms, etc, all done by manual typewriter. Motor pool was maintenance of jeeps, armored personnel carriers, and tanks. Also in those days everybody took turns doing guard duty and working in the mess hall (KP = Kitchen Police about one day a month), taking garbage to the dump (for this I drove trucks or stood in the back of them, waist-deep in garbage). Of course everybody also had to do cleaning in the barracks, offices, and other places — scraping, sanding, waxing, and buffing wood and linoleum floors, etc. "Policing" the area around the barracks each morning, picking up beer bottles and cigarette butts. We worked Monday-Friday, plus Saturday mornings. Sometimes instead of working on Saturday morning, we'd have a parade, complete with Army marching band playing Sousa marches and the occasional improbable sentimental song like "Memories". I did good work, I reached the rank of SP4 (Specialist 4). My PMOS (Primary Military Occupational Specialty) was Cavalry Scout, i.e. scouting for tank groups, MOS 112, but I never actually did that after Fort Knox. I also worked as a "personel" specialist (716), orders clerk (711), key punch operator (761)… MOS's have totally changed since the 1960s (several times). The reference for when I was in the Army is US AR 611-201 June 1960, but I can't find a copy.

About a year at 7th US Army HQ in Stuttgart/Vaihingen, Germany, attached to Command and Control Information Systems (CCIS), Resident Study Group (RSG), an early computer prototyping project (1965), with a month's "computer school" in Orléans, France, in April 1965. Not actually *in* Orléans, but in the forest somewhere a few miles from there, along a dirt road. The school was a little group of Quonset huts, some for work, others for barracks, and one as a mess hall. It was almost like camping out. Then back to Stuttgart.

Back to NYC (Brooklyn Navy Yard, Fort Hamilton) by USNS Geiger, another week.

Released February 2, 1966.

Ready Reserves until February 6, 1969 (they never called me up, even though there was a war).

Service number: RA13786982. In 1963 they said I'd never forget it, and so far I haven't). RA means Regular Army as opposed to draftee [US] or National Guard [NG].

* Fort Holabird closed in 1973, no trace remains except a Holabird Avenue.
** About the Cubans… I could hear them speaking Spanish, and their sergeants and officers spoke to them in Spanish, which just does not happen in the US Army. We weren't allowed to get anywhere near them but sometimes it couldn't be avoided. I could see that unlike us, they had no markings whatsoever on their fatigues — no "US ARMY", no name tag, nothing. I mentioned this to Tom Hayden about 2015, when he was writing Listen Yankee, and he put my story at the end of an article he had written on Cuba and the assassination of JFK. Tom died in 2016 and his website tomhayden.com is gone as of 2017. He was a founder and hero of the New Left for nearly fifty years but in his final year he got confused and went "all in for Hillary" because of Trump.

1960s Army organization decoder (approximate)
Unit Sub-units Soldiers Commander
Fire team (Infantry) 4-5 Sergeant
Squad 2 fire teams 9-10 Staff Sergeant
Platoon 2 or more squads 16-40 Lieutenant
Company / Troop* / Battery† 3-5 Platoons 100-200 Captain or Major
Battalion / Squadron* 4-6 Companies 300-100 Lt. Colonel
Brigade / Regiment* 3-5 Battalions 1500-3200 Colonel
Division 2-4 Brigades 10,000-16,000 Major General (2 stars)
Corps 2-5 Divisions 20,000-45,000 Lt. General (3 stars)
Army 2-4 Corps 50,000 or more General (4 stars)
    * Cavalry;   † Artillery

Reference: Survey of U.S. Army Uniforms, Weapons and Accoutrements by David Cole, US. Army Center of Military History.

Click the image below to see a table of US Army ranks in 1963-66, plus some explanation:

Army ranks table screenshot

Reception Center at Fort Jackson, South Carolina

Fort Jackson
Fort Jackson SC 1963
I enlisted in Baltimore, which consisted of a physical exam, signing some papers and taking an oath. Then they put us on a train for Columbia, South Carolina. So far so good. At the train station we boarded a big Army bus for the Reception Center at Fort Jackson, still not so bad. When we pulled in at Fort Jackson, some sergeants came in the bus and started screaming at us... DICKHEADS! GET OUT! GET OUT! MOVE IT! A whole week of this, during which we got our uniforms, boots, and haircuts, and were sent out on work details.

It was quite a shock… The minute you arrive they are yelling at you, insulting you, and making you run everywhere, dickhead. They shave off all your hair, and if you have any cavities they pull the bad teeth out. You have no rights, no privacy; they punish people at random for no reason. They don't let you sleep, they don't let you rest. They give you good food and then don't let you eat it... GET OUT! GET OUT!.

At first I thought I had stumbled into some kind of rogue outfit, but the shouting, profanity, insults, cruelty towards the most vulnerable, the arbitrary punishment and scapegoating, sleep and food deprivation, etc, were standard. Some people couldn't take it, but for me it wasn't much different from "Life With Father". A week of that, then on to Fort Gordon, Georgia, for Basic Training.

Basic Training at Fort Gordon, Georgia

Fort Gordon, like many other southern Army bases (Jackson, Benning, Bragg, Hood, Lee, etc), was — and still is — named after a Confederate general[1]. I don't have any original pictures of my Army training, but these from Google are pretty much how I remember it: the old two-story wooden barracks, M1 rifles left over from WWII, the same uniforms and gas masks...

Fort Gordon
Fort Gordon GA, near Augusta
Basic training
Carrying heavy duffle bags
Basic training
Marching, pitching tents

At Fort Gordon, we were treated the same as at Fort Jackson, but now at least here was a routine. They woke us at 4:00 or 5:00am (or as early as 1:00am if you had KP) and made us stand in formation outside in the cold February air for an hour or two before letting us go for breakfast... and maybe even letting us eat it.

Basic training
Tons of pushups all the time
Every day we had about an hour of calisthenics in the morning, we did pushups and chinups thoughout the day, went on forced marches carrying a lot of heavy stuff, and where we were (Georgia) it was up and down hills made of sand, holding our 9-pound M1 rifles out in front of us for hours at a time. A forced march alternates between walking and running, and everybody has to stay in step. Sometimes we ran the whole way, up to 7 miles without stopping. By the way, the first episode of Band of Brothers (except the parachute part) was a lot like Basic Training at Fort Gordon... it even looked like Fort Gordon.

Basic training
First introduction to the M1 rifle
Most of the time, however, was spent in training: military protocol and terminology, marching, first aid, climbing ropes and walls and barriers, hand-to-hand combat, stabbing rubber tires with bayonets, rifle drill; disassembly, assembly, cleaning, and maintenance of the M1, and eventually shooting them and qualifying in marksmanship. Plus night fighting (and the Monty-Pythonesque "night walk"), sheltering and concealment, hand grenades, rifle-launched grenades, a lotta stuff. Some of this was in classrooms, but most it was outdoors.

Gas chamber
The gas chamber (older photo)
Another noteworthy experience was the gas chamber, where they put you in concentrated tear gas without a gas mask just to know what it does to you, and on another occasion deadly chlorine gas (you enter the chamber with no mask on, holding your breath; then you put on and clear your gas mask and then you breathe). We had mustard gas rubbed on our skin and we learned how to inject ourselves in the thigh with atropine (by actually doing it) in a nerve gas attack. We had obstacle courses, including one where you had to crawl through mud and barbed wire with (they said) live machine gun fire about 3 feet above ground level.

Back in the barracks after dinner in the mess hall, we'd have to be constantly shining our brass and polishing our shoes and boots and also keeping the place clean, because there could be a surprise inspection at any moment, and the tiniest speck of dirt or wrinkle on a bedspread would result in mass punishment. At least once we week we had to strip the wax from the floor and rewax it. Every morning it had to be buffed, but I liked doing that, the buffer is fun. But with all that there might be only 30 minutes of free time for the trainees to write home before lights out.

Some of the drill sergeants were pyschos and alcoholics, like Sergeant Goo (really) who lived with us in the barracks because his wife had thrown him out, and he would usually pass out on floor some time before lights out, but before that he'd be telling the sad tale of his life, always ending with "If the Army wanted you to have a wife, it would issue you one". Others were more straight-arrow and super-tough on physical training. One of these had fought in Korea and he was haunted by how it was the flabby out-of-shape guys who got killed, so he wanted us to come out of Basic with the endurance of Zulus. He told us about his time in Korea towards the end of Basic, the first time he ever sat down with us and just talked instead of barking orders and insults. His name was Sergeant Swenby (pronounced Svimby). His favorite saying (when he wasn't showing his human side) was "Only three things I hate in this world: cold coffee, wet shitpaper, and Got-Damn Trainee!" (the 't' in Got represents a prolonged glottal stop). Instead of saying "everybody" he said "sick, lame, and lazy".

When marching, there was always an NCO (corporal or sergeant) who marched alongside calling cadence. White sergeants like Swenby used a lot of glottal stops... Hut Haw Hut Haw Your Left Right Left (the t's being glottal stops). But Black sergeants were super creative, they'd accentuate the downbeat, make a poem or a song or a chant out of it, make up crazy words, etc, it was almost a pleasure to march with them. Sometimes it would also be call-and-response, like a work song. Thinking back, it was kind of cool how we evolved from a bunch of clumsy stumblebums into a crack marching outfit. Sounds dumb for me of all people to be saying that but there was some satisfaction in it.

At one point we were "asked" to buy US savings bonds. I said no thanks. For that they had me outside all night digging big holes ("six-by's" — six by six by six feet) with a tiny shovel ("entrenching tool") and filling them up again. After a week of that I finally gave in, and later I was glad I did because I had about $1200 when I got out 3 years later, which pretty much paid my first semester's tuition at Columbia.

Most guys were totally cowed by the cadre, but one guy sticks in my mind, he was from NYC, probably Brooklyn; Italian or Jewish. If a cadre told him to "get down and give me fifty" or whatever he'd say "Fuck you, cracker, YOU get down and give ME fifty!" He didn't take abuse from anybody, it was a real eye-opener. The amazing thing was, he pretty much got away with it; he was tough, they respected him. That was one of things that attracted me to NYC.

Rifle range
An Army rifle range 1960s
Other forms of resistence were not so up-front. One day at the firing range… It's like a football field, with us at one end and the targets at the far end. We're laying on our stomachs and shooting at our targets. Our abusive drill sergeant has to poop. The outhouse is about halfway to the targets, but on the left side. As soon as he sat down, bullets were whizzing through the walls just over his head. He came out white as a sheet and didn't have anything to say for a while. It's a good thing he was pooping and not peeing standing up!

I can't remember if the range at Fort Gordon was 100m or 500m, but the targets were so far away you could hardly see them. There was also another range where you had to walk forwards and then shoot cardboard enemies as they popped up.

We had one overnight pass in Basic, so a bunch of us took the bus to Augusta to (what else) go drinking in bars. In those days Augusta was pretty much just a one-street sleazy "strip" full of bars and clip joints. There were six of us, 3 white, 3 black. We probably tried to get into 20 different bars and not one would let us in. We kind of expected it but still... this was a town that depended almost totally on an integrated Army base for its livelihood (yes, they also have the Masters golf tournament there but that's only for a few days each year). Anyway we tried. Then went back to base for some near-bear at the snack bar. That was the closest I ever got to a Freedom Ride because I was in Germany during the real Freedom Rides.

The song that sticks in my head from Basic is "Our Day Will Come" by Ruby and the Romantics. Also "Two Lovers" by Mary Wells; "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" by Bob B. Soxx and The Blue Jeans (early Phil Spector Wall of Sound remake of my first favorite song when I was 1 or 2 years old), and "Walk Like a Man" by the Four Seasons (not because I liked it but it kept going through my head during forced marches when I had an untreated broken bone in my foot). Also whenever we had to "charge", people would always yell, Yabba-Dabba-Doo! from the Flintstones.

References:
  1. Why Does the U.S. Military Celebrate White Supremacy?, New York Times (editorial), 23 May 2020.

Interlude

We had a week or two off after Basic. I took a bus to Charlottesville with a stop in Fayetteville NC to see my old friend from Frankfurt HS, Jerry Jacobs, at Fort Bragg. Called his house, his little brother answered, Jerry had just been killed in a car crash.

Continued to UVA, met up with Ludwig. He said I was totally transformed, all tanned, hard, and muscular with my buzzcut. We went on a road trip in his 1953 Buick (he didn't care much about school). There was a third guy too but can't remember who. We drove diagonally southwest, we had a date with three girls at Hollins College in Johnson City, Tennessee, friends of Ludwig or the other guy, I didn't know them. It was a beautiful drive, kind of like rural Vermont, passing through Lynchburg, Roanoke, Blacksburg, and the rest was pretty much backwoods; about 250 miles all together. We arrived at Hollins in the evening, picked the girls up, drove back to Bristol (which straddles the VA-TN border), bought a case of beer and were drinking it in an empty parking lot in the dark when the police came and arrested all six of us and hauled us off to jail. I think this was in the Virginia half of Bristol. We slept, woke up to a breakfast of hard stale bread, fossilized baloney, and super-harsh coffee in metal cups, were taken across the street to the courthouse where the judge said "Well, y'all look like some nice young boys and girls (i.e. white ones), I'm gonna let you off with warning, but don't ya'll let me catch you in here again, y'heah?"

So far so good. Now to drive the girls back to Hollins. They had missed curfew at school and were afraid they might be in trouble. When we arrived, the entire road that led from the Hollins gate to the buildings was lined with people waiting to see the fallen women after their night of sin (there wasn't any sin, we went straight to jail). We felt awful but since they were immediately taken into custody there was nothing we could do, so we left.

Later I found out the three girls were expelled from Hollins. I didn't even know them. But still, not exactly one of my happier memories. Soon after, following my example, Ludwig dropped out of UVA, was drafted or enlisted in the Army, and wound up in Vietnam. Although I did see him once later on, I don't know anything about his time there. I assume he was in combat because he rose to Staff Sergeant (E6) in only one hitch.

The other thing that happened when I was on leave was that I bought the Martin O-16 that I still have, at Sophocles Pappas in DC. April 1963 for $110 new with my Basic Training pay (I only earned $78 a month but since there was nothing to spend it on I had more than enough for the guitar). I've had it with me wherever I lived ever since.

Armor Training at Fork Knox, Kentucky

Vacation over, I took an overnight bus to Louisville, Kentucky, where Fort Knox is. The bus went along Route 50, a winding mountain road through West Virginia that ends up in the flatlands of Ohio and then the bluegrass of Kentucky.

Now it was time for 8 weeks of Armored Cavalry scout training, which was lots of fun. Once you get past Basic they're not mean to you any more and you have free time and freedom to go anywhere. Fort Knox is HUGE and has about a dozen movie theaters and free buses that take you all over. One Sunday, Roger and I went to four movies, 25 cents each.

Jeep
Jeep training
Jeep with M2
Machine gun mounted on Jeep
Jeep in water
Jeep in water
At Fort Knox I learned how to drive (my parents would not let me drive, for the very good reason that I was drunk all the time). We had 1938 Jeeps — the good kind with the vertical grille, not the tippy 1955 ones with the horizontal grille. They had 50-caliber machine guns mounted on a post; we drove them off the road through every kind of terrain and through water (and you could even drive them under water with a snorkel), and across deep ravines over a couple of rickety boards, in thick dust clouds, shooting blanks from the machine gun and flying through the air… (one time when I was driving and then stopped the jeep, without thinking I reached up to the gun barrel to pull myself up and almost burned my hand off).

M2
.50 caliber machine gun

We learned about azimuths and radians and coordinates, and how to call in artillery fire. We learned to estimate distances and sizes of far-away things and how to orient maps and to navigate by dead reckoning, shadows, and tree-moss. We learned how to classify roads, tunnels, and bridges and how to blow up bridges and railroad tracks. We learned to fire and take apart and put back together every kind of gun the Army had: The WWII M1, the M2 50-caliber machine gun (which is still in use even though it's 100 years old), the M60 machine gun, the M3 45-caliber "grease gun" (submachine gun), the M-1911 45-caliber pistol, the M79 grenade launcher… and we also threw real hand grenades. Every boy's dream! (Seriously, boys are fascinated by this stuff… I never wanted to kill or hurt anybody, but getting to shoot all these guns… what can I say?) The firing range at Fort Knox for the M2 machine guns was 500 yards, five football fields, almost a third of a mile. At that distance, those guns could knock down big trees.

Aryan
He looked like this
The only strange thing that happened at Fort Knox was when one of the cadre, a Corporal Magnus — he looked like the hero of a 1930s Nazi movie, tall, blue eyes, a mane of blond swept-back hair; a perfect Aryan — asked a bunch of us if we wanted to join him for "voluntary special training", a lot of running, sounded OK to me, I liked running. We met after dinner, ran through the woods, up and down hills for miles and miles, then we sat down and he explained how we had to be ready to take to the hills and defend our Freedom when the Communists and Faggots and Niggers took over the government. That's when I noticed that all the people he invited where white. I like to think that all the guys were as creeped out as I was.

Roger Anderson

[See gallery]

Roger Anderson 1965
Roger Anderson 1965
sharonroger.jpg
Sharon Robinson and Roger 1972
Roger Judy Sharon
Roger Judy Sharon in Wyoming
My main friend in the Army was Roger Anderson. We were together the entire time from Reception Center to discharge, which is almost impossible, but I'm pretty sure it it happened. I saw him once later, he spent a week with Mommie and me in 1972 in Wyoming and Colorado (which were "close" to where he lived, in Elko, Nevada). We said goodbye to him one night on a mountain near the Utah border looking down on Junction City, Colorado, the Town that Glows in the Dark (from Uranium tailings). We stayed in touch by mail for 7 or 8 years after that but then lost touch. In the meantime he became a medical doctor and married his wife Patsy. I tried to find him lots of times but he was Google-proof. Then when I started writing this I dug out all my old letters and found Roger's, was reminded that he got his MD at the University of West Virginia in 1975, so knowing that plus his name made it possible to find the last place he worked before he retired but... well, it's a long story.

Berchtesgaden poster
Berchtesgaden poster
Hotel in Berchtesgaden
General Walker Hotel Berchtesgaden
Army lockers
Army bunk and wall locker
Roger's nickname in the Army was Rog-Bod because he was so physical, always doing improbable things with his body like, for example, hopping up on top of his wall locker, which was like eight feet high. We had an R&R one time; the Army sent us to Berchtesgaden for free — ride, hotel, everything. Roger bought skis and ski-boots and did endless ski-practice exercises in the barracks to prepare. I figured if I did that I'd probably break my leg so I just went along for the ride. I think that was the same trip where a German guy (or Austrian) in a Mercedes offered to take us on a two-day tour that included Oberammergau and Innsbrück; the price: one carton of American cigarettes, which we bought for him in the PX for a couple dollars, but was like gold on the German economy. For me, the highlight of the trip was a church in Oberammergau that had the bodies of twelve saints standing erect in glass cases, grotesque skeletons with bits of flesh, scalp, and hair clinging to them wrapped in spendid bejeweled robes.

Elko on the map
Elko on the map
Anyway, Elko is a boom town now because gold was discovered, but in those days nobody ever heard of it. Nevertheless you could see on any map or globe because there was no other town for 500 miles in any direction (well, maybe just one), so New York, Paris, London, Elko.

Roger's family was Swedish; his dad worked for the railroad. Before Roger was born, every day his dad would bring home some railroad ties. When he had enough, he built the house where the family would live. They kept a lot of Swedish traditions, like Christmas morning his sister would appear with candles on her head. One Christmas she sent me a BIG box full of home-made chocolate chip cookies and "fatigmankakkas", a kind of Swedish thing… Let's see if I can describe it… Dough rolled thin, cut in a longish rectangle, then a slit is made toward one end, and the other end is twisted and then pulled through it, sort of like Möbius strip, and then it is baked until it's hard and crunchy and sprinkled with powdered sugar. And the packing material was Cheerios, probably ten big boxes of them! That was one of my most appreciated Christmas presents ever. I guess that happened when she was 24 or 25 (I was 19). She died in January 2020 at age 78 of aortic stenosis.

Sharon Robinson (in the pictures) was a friend of Mommie's and one of my favorite people of all time, we used to see her constantly in the 70s but I don't know what happened to her after that. Once she made me a big thick knitted scarf that I still have.

3rd Armored Cavalry, Kaiserslautern, Germany

3rd Armored Cavalry 1963
L Troop, 3rd Reconnaissance Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, 1963 (I was in HQ Troop - no group picture for us!)
At the end of scout training at Fort Knox we found out where our final posting would be, and mine turned out to be the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Kaiserslautern, Germany, which is in Rheinland-Pfalz, about 66 miles southwest of Frankfurt. Roger too. We were sent to Fort Dix NJ to wait for transportation to Germany. We were there for a week, totally free to wander around and do whatever we wanted. Once day we bought some beer and went in the woods to drink it in a creekbed. Next day I had my last and possibly worst case of poison ivy ever. I couldn't use my hands at all so when it came time to board the troop ship USNS Geiger (T-AP 197), Roger carried my duffle bag and guitar along with his own stuff... and duffel bags are heavy! Thanks, Rog.

Deuce-and-a-half
Deuce-and-a-half truck
As I recall, the crossing was uneventful. We docked in Bremerhaven, took a train to Kaiserslautern, and rode in the open back of a deuce-and-half from the Bahnhof to our new base, Kapaun Kaserne (named after Cavalry Chaplain Emil Kapaun who died in Korea[4,5]) which was in Vogelweh, a suburb of Kaiserslautern, a formerly totally rural region that had been the poorest and least developed part of Germany until 1950 when the Americans came and built massive military installations, many of which are still there. The German spoken in Kaiserslautern was not very different from what I learned in Frankfurt.

I was to find out only 50-some years later that I am descended from farmers who lived in the tiny villages Steinwenden and Krottelbach, that were literally walking distance from my barracks in Vogelweh. They lived there in the late 1600s and early 1700s before emigrating to Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Kapaun Kaserne
Snack Bar and barracks
Kapaun Kaserne
Kapaun Kaserne 1963
When we arrived at the base we were assigned units and quarters. In the Cavalry you don't have companies (like First Company, Second Company), you have troops, like F Troop and L Troop. And you don't have batallions, you have squadrons. Roger and I were assigned to "Headquarters and Headquarters Troop" or HHT, the headquarters of the squadron. We had regular work we did on normal days, plus everybody had to go out in morning and
Kapaun Kaserne
3rd ACR headquarters and barracks
"police the area", meaning pick up all the cigarette butts and beer bottles that had accumulated overnight. Then every so often we had to "move out", sometimes at a moment's notice, to some far away place in the woods for several weeks of maneuvers, usually in horrible weather. Plus there were regularly scheduled shifts of guard duty along the Czech border in guard towers on opposite sides of a raked strip of bare earth with barbed wire. And once a year in February, the whole Squadron went to the Grafenwöhr tank range, also near the Czech border, for tank practice in the bitter cold.

C-Ration
C-ration can
P38
P-38 all-purpose tool (1 inch long)
Shit on a shingle
Shit on a shingle (SOS)
In those days the regular Army was a nice place. They didn't harrass us much and we got a lot of time off. The food in the mess hall was good (despite what you might have heard about "shit on a shingle" — creamed chipped beef on toast — I had that more at home as a kid than I did in the Army). The breakfasts were especially good. You could have anything you wanted for breakfast — eggs any style (and any number of them), waffles, pancakes, french toast, sausages, bacon, toast, buiscuits. But one day a week we had to eat C-Rations (food in olive-drab cans) because there was a huge stockpile from 1948 that had to be finished. We became connoisseurs of the 1948 vintage, among the favorites were scrambled eggs and lima beans, cheese and crackers, "meat" and beans. We opened the cans with our P-38s, just an inch long, the all-purpose tool and friend found on every GI's dog-tag chain.

In spite of the good mess-hall breakfasts many of us often went to the Snack Bar to buy breakfast for a nominal fee, just to be in the presence of the German girls who worked there, and also there was a juke box. The song that was almost always playing was "Where Did Our Love Go" by the Supremes.

The mess hall also made special Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners but one year when we filed in for our Thanksgiving dinner, we got C-Rations! All the turkeys, hundreds of them, had mysteriously disappeared. Army Quartermasters ("procurement specialists") were notoriously corrupt, selling everything from penicillin to Jeeps on the black market. Maybe mess sergeants too! But they weren't all bad. One time we arrived back at base at 3:00am, tired, wet, and miserable after being in field for several weeks in a constant freezing rain. The mess sergeant greeted us with fresh coffee and a huge batch of hot-from-the-oven home-made chocolate-chip cookies. This same sergeant was very fond of his block hat, he never took it off, and consequently it developed quite a grease stain around the rim (the standard thing to say about that was "hey, when you gonna get the oil changed in that hat?"), but the funny part was that every time he bent over a big pot that he was stirring, the hat would fall into it.

Me in 3rd Cavalry 1964
Me at Grafenwöhr in 1964
Grafenwoehr tank range
Grafenwöhr tank range
I joined the Army just 18 years after World War II; it was essentially the same Army with many of the same people and mostly the same uniforms, weapons, vehicles, and gear (and C-rations). Many of my sergeants and mid-level officers were WWII and/or Korean War veterans. In Kaiserslautern, Regimental Sergeant-Major "Hellfire" Deems was a WWI horse cavalry veteran; his service number had less digits than everybody else's. He looked like Joe E. Brown without the funny faces.

Luxembourg American Cemetery
Luxembourg American Cemetery 1964
One time when Roger and I told him we were going to be in Luxembourg while on leave, he *ordered* us to visit the war cemetery there where a lot of his friends were buried. We did; Roger remembers that we saw General Patton's marker there and the Sergeant Major wanted to know all about it. He would drive us crazy but we liked him. He would say things like "Hellfire there da Cruz, when was the last time you had a haircut?" Yesterday, Sergeant Major… "Well, here's a quarter, go get another one." When imitating him, we'd always start every sentence with "Hellfire there" followed by the surname of person he was talking to. That was a tradition passed down over generations of soldiers but in reality we never actually heard him say that. He was 100% Regular Army, he lived and breathed it. One day at the Grafenwöhr tank range in midwinter, 30 degrees below zero, he said "Hellfire there da Cruz, there are some cigarette butts outside the command tent!" Meaning I should go pick them up. I went but they were under a foot of ice! I had to "pick" them up with a pickaxe. In retrospect I wish I had asked him about his experiences; for example, I imagine he might have been in Patton's 3rd Army in 1944.

Army coal stove
Army coal stove
All this was long before any form of clean energy. At Graf and any time we went on maneuvers, heat (if there was to be any) was furnished by coal-burning cast-iron pot-belly stoves. On maneuvers this would be only in the huge CP and mess tents; we'd sleep out in the cold in our pup tents or "shelter-half" shelters. Grafenwöhr had primitive concrete barracks with bare metal cot frames and a pot-belly stove. It was pretty harsh... It was around 30 below zero the whole month (that's what they said but I don't know if it was Fahrenheit or Centigrade but in fact it didn't matter, it's the one place where F and C coincide). We wore super warm clothes all the time, including "Micky Mouse boots" — insulated rubber boots that were so big you looked like you were in a cartoon. They did keep our feet warm; so warm, in fact, that when we went to the barracks to retire for the night and took off our boots, we'd pour out a half liter of sweat onto the concrete floor. We'd load up the stove with coal and we'd climb into our cotton-and-feathers sleeping bags on top of the cold metal racks. Naked! The older NCO veterans of WWII and Korea said it was a big mistake to wear clothes in the sleeping bag. Then at 5:00am when they woke us up, the stove was stone cold and we had to come out of our sacks into -30° stark naked, which is kind of shock at first, get dressed super-fast and go to the mess tent to warm up... giant cups of coffee in tin mugs for that extra-metallic taste, hot breakfast on tin trays.

One night at Graf they threw a surprise party for us, turned the huge mess tent into giant beer hall and everybody could have all the beer they wanted for free. Local German beer. I guess they had a slush fund for this kind of thing.

Lyster bag
Lyster bag
Army mess kit
Army mess kit
Army poncho
Army poncho
In the field we didn't have a bar­racks. Instead, each soldier had a rubberized poncho about six feet square. In fact it was just a big square with snaps around the edges and a hole in the middle with a hood; if it started pouring you could stick your head through the hole and use it as a raincoat but it was more like walking around in a tent. Then at night, you and your buddy could snap your ponchos together and you'd have a waterproof
Army field kitchen
Army field kitchen
pup tent to put your sleeping bags in, hence the term "shelter half". Now that I think of it, there was usually no mess tent in the field; we had to eat in the woods from our mess kits, not on trays. Then after eating we'd have to clean the mess kits by dipping them in a series of 55-gallon drums filled with boiling water. We brought water with us in big tanks towed by 3/4-ton trucks. Enormous "lyster bags" were hung from trees for drinking (filling our canteens) and for washing (in our steel helmets, which also served as toilets).

The prevailing odor around an Army base or bivouac in those days was coal smoke and diesel fumes. Strangely enough, it was not entirely unpleasant.

[See gallery of Hohenecken photos]
Hohenecken
Hohenecken seen from castle 1964
Hohenecken
Hohenecken from castle 1964
Hohenecken 1964
Hohenecken 1975 with castle
Hohenecken Gasthaus
Hohenecken Gasthaus postcard
Judy & die Oma
Die Oma and Judy 1975
Our bar­racks were near Hohen­ecken, a little village that I fell in love with, the Gasthaus of die Oma und der Opa, Gasthaus zum Rathaus, with the ruins of an ancient (1150-1200) castle looming overhead. Neither Hohen­ecken nor the Gasthaus were frequented by GIs, who preferred dimly lit bars downtown in Kaiserslautern, with B-girls and juke boxes. The Gasthaus was a family place with the indescribably delicious home cooking of die Oma (granma). Before or after eating you could walk up through the woods to the castle, which was not some kind of theme park; it was just a ruin in the woods — no signs, no fence, no nothing. The Germans called it Barbarossa's Castle, but it wasn't.

At one point Roger and I registered for a night-school Russian course at the University of Maryland extension on base in Kaiserslautern High School. After class we'd go to Oma's to do our homework over a delicious home-cooked dinner. We would sit at the table by the window in the picture at the bottom right on the postcard. At the lower left is the larger dining room, where once we had a unit banquet for 15-20 people and Oma cooked Rouladen for everybody, which is rolled-up beef with stuffing and gravy.

My corner
My lockers and bunk
APCs
Armored Personnel Carriers at river crossing
Birdie driving APC
Birdie driving APC
Tanker boots
Tanker boots
PS Magazine
PS Magazine
Some random photos I took... My corner of the barracks after I had enough seniority to be by the window, which looks out on the parade ground and if you magnify the photo you can see two armored personnel carriers (APCs) parked, then the forest and the foot of the little mountain that has the castle on it. If you look hard you can see the wall locker says DACRUZ on the door. And the Martin guitar that I still have, miraculously, on top of my my foot locker. My bunk is to the left, made up for inspection (it had to be like this every day except Sunday). Next, some APCs about to cross a river... they can swim! I drove these things a couple times, it's fun. Next, my friend Birdie driving an APC. Finally, my tanker boots. Being in the Cavalry entitled us to wear these instead of the lace-up kind, for extra "readiness" in case of Soviet attack; no tame wasted fiddling with laces.

The color item is a 1964 issue of Will Eisner's PS Magazine, the monthly Preventive Maintenance magazine distributed all over every Army base everywhere, humorously explaining how not to screw up the multitude of little jobs we had to do, especially in the motor pool.

Kapaun Kaserne motor pool
Kapaun Kaserne motor pool
M60 tanks
M60 tanks
M60 tanks on train
M60 tanks on train
In the field
APCs in the field, taking a break
Some random pictures I didn't take, from Walter Elkins' US Army in Germany website; they are all of my unit at the same time I was in it. The motor pool was where all the vehicles (jeeps, trucks, APCs, and tanks) were kept and maintained. About once a month I had motor-pool guard duty, where I had to walk around the perimiter with my rifle all night long, until sunrise. I always expected some KGB (Soviet) or HVA (East German) stringer to come out of the forest and start quizzing me about everything, but that only happened in bars. The M60 tank was the core around which the whole squadron was organized, everything else was in support of the tanks, which took the place of the original cavalry horses. One very cold night we loaded them onto flatbed railroad cars, securing them with heavy chains for the 200-mile trip to the tank range at Grafenwöhr; my gloves were ragged and torn and it was the closest I ever came to serious frostbite. The last picture shows a typical trip to "the field", trips that usually lasted a week or two, living in the woods and for the duration of the exercise.

On war games, we'd sleep in our individual canvas pup tents in sleeping bags (made of cloth and feathers) on top of inflated rubber mattresses, which we'd inflate with jeep exhaust. This was a non-waterproof alternative to the shelter-half method described earlier. I would usually be working in the big CP tent, morning reports or whatever (simulated casualties). One night when I was sleeping a pipsqueak second lieutenant threw a live tear gas canister into my pup tent! You know, to test my readiness...

On a more serious note, once I was kept back from maneuvers for some reason, to hold down the fort or whatever. I was on KP in the mess hall, working in the kitchen, when one of the cooks comes and gives me a bucket and a sponge and sends me to the clipper room at the opposite end, which is where they wash the trays and cups and bowls, and get to work on the wall and the radiator. Because it was simulated combat, even those of us who remained on base were armed and wearing combat gear. Some guys in the clipper room were horsing around... actually I don't know what they were doing, but a gun went off and the bullet exploded a guy's head. I didn't even hear it. The MPs had already come and gone; they had cut out the piece of the plywood wall that had the bullet hole but left behind all blood, brains, skull fragments, scalp and hair on wall, floor, and radiator, and I cleaned it up.

Anyway, field maneuvers could have been fun... They start with a huge convoy of trucks, Jeeps, APCs, and tanks going for hours along narrow secondary roads through small villages and finally entering a forest somewhere and making camp. The way I remember it, every single time it was bright and sunny when we set out, but as we approached our destination there were huge black clouds looming overhead, and when we arrived it was pouring erain, and we lived in rain and mud the whole time.

On another big exercise I didn't go on, when a self-propelled Howitzer was going through a little village, its radio antenna made contact with a power line, which started a fire, which caused the thing to explode and everybody in it was killed.

Milk dispenser
Milk dispenser
Germany was still relatively poor in the early Sixties, and to Germans we Americans — even low-ranking soldiers — seemed immensely wealthy. As late as the early-to-mid Sixties, a lot of Germans were still beggars. A typical incident will illustrate… I was on KP one day, in the mess hall where there were some milk machines, which were loaded with six-gallon containers (plastic bags encased in cardboard boxes about 1x1x2 feet) of white milk and of chocolate milk. Apparently we were overstocked so the mess officer (another pipsqueak Lieutenant) told me to take about 10 of these — sixty gallons of perfectly good fresh milk — out into the courtyard and dump them down the drain. When I got them outside I saw there was German family with small children on the other side of the fence asking for food. I suggested to the Lieutenant that we give them some of the milk. He said no, dump it all down the drain. After some fruitless arguing I told the family in German that the little officer would not let me give them the milk and started pouring it down the drain while the family made horrified sounds. After I finished the first box, I picked up the second box and dropped it at the Lieutenant's feet, where it exploded. He was soaked with milk and shouting at me in his squeaky voice. I wish I had a good ending for this story but honestly, I can't recall what happened after that. I hope I gave some milk to family, but it would have been hard to get it over the high fence — each container was over 40 pounds.

German headline
Kennedy Erschossen
I was at a bar in Kaiserslautern when JFK was killed, with Roger I think. Here's how I explained it to somebody:
B-girls, as you know, were just working girls whose job was simple, you buy them drinks and they sit and talk with you. Of course the waiters bring them fake drinks with no alcohol, so they can do it all night. I found out that JFK was killed from a B-girl at a bar in Kaiserslautern. She had just heard it on German radio, she told me how it happened… his motorcade was going over a bridge, and he was shot from a boat below. She drew a diagram on a beer coaster with a ball-point pen. I wish I had saved the beer coaster. About two minutes later the MPs came crashing in and loaded us on 3/4-ton trucks back to base. We stayed up all night in the barracks with loaded guns and full combat regalia waiting for the Soviet tanks to come rumbling across the Fulda Gap but by midday the next day (Saturday) nothing had happened, so since WWIII didn't start they un-canceled all leaves and passes and Rog and I went to Frankfurt to see if anybody was still there that I knew, and sure enough Virginia Search, who was a cheerleader with my ex-girlfriend was there and since her dad was an NCO she took us the NCO club for lunch, even though Rog and I were only privates. Then we went to check out the high school and in a Felliniesque touch there was a circus underway on the athletic field; an elephant broke loose, crashed down the fence and ran away down Siolistrasse. That night or the next, I was in a station of the new Frankfurt U-Bahn (subway) when a newsboy came running down the steps, screaming the headline "Kennedys Mörder Ermordet!". Kennedy was adored in Germany because he came to Berlin after the Wall went up and said "Ich bin ein Berliner!" Every shop window had a shrine to him and this lasted for many years.
Speaking of B-girls, it was said that in Kaiserslautern (which had a huge proliferation of American military bases), 50% of the German population was on the KGB or HVA payroll, including probably 100% of the B-girls. It was not uncommon for a girl to sit down with you in a bar and start asking questions like… Which Kaserne are you at? Which unit? How many tanks do you have? What kind? Where is the ammunition stored? I always answered all their questions.

Das Spinnrädl
Das Spinnrädl
Not that I only went to bars in Kaiserslautern; there was also one semi-upscale restaurant, Spinnrädl (The Spinning Wheel), dating from 1509, one of the few buildings in the city that wasn't flattened by Allied bombing, that we went to fairly often, even though it was a bit expensive. The menu is written in Dialekt: Lewwerworschtebrot (liverwurst sandwich), Ofenbraten mit Speckböhnscher und Schneebällscher (roast pork with bacon bits and "snowballs"), Handkäse mit Musik (a kind of pungent cheese with onion sauce that makes you fart, which is the music).

Uncle Pete at Frankfurt Book Fair
Uncle Pete at Frankfurt Book Fair
At one point when I was K-Town (as the GIs called it) my uncle Pete and aunt Leila were in Frankfurt for the annual book fair and I went and stayed with them there for a week. I had planned to hitchhike around Holland but it was more fun being with them; they were a truly glamourous and fascinating couple. At one point Pete and I were walking past a milk bar with Beatles music coming out (in 1964 you could hear Komm Gib Mir Deine Hand and Sie Liebt Dich everywhere, as well as the English versions) and he let on that he was a big fan, which shows how different he was from his brother. Pete and Leila urged me to come and visit them in Lebanon; I never did but wish I had.

(I know I said something like this before, but it bears repeating...) Being in the Army was like living in a socialist economy. You worked, and in return all the essentials of life — food, clothing (uniforms), lodging, medical care, even tailoring and laundry — were totally free. Furthermore, in those days there were no corporate concessions on Army bases… no Pizza Huts, McDonalds, Starbucks, big-box stores… Everything was government and nonprofit. Even the food in the mess hall was non-corporate, like the famous "government peanut butter" — no brand names. You were paid a salary but you had no fixed expenses or bills, so you could use your money for whatever you wanted. As a PFC (1963) I earned $99/month, and as an SP4 (1965) $185. Dollars went a long way in postwar Germany, where you could get a good meal in a restaurant for four Marks (a dollar), trolley fare was maybe 15 cents, a half liter of beer was a quarter. The stores and restaurants on the base (PX, snack bar, EM club) were nonprofit and subsidized, and there were tons of facilities available to use for free: gyms, music rooms, pool and ping-pong tables, bowling alleys, running tracks… There were theaters that showed first-run movies, admission 25 cents.

Just a few years later the dollar-Mark exchange rate got so bad that GIs could barely afford to go into town. But staying on the base was still like socialism with nonprofit subsidized housing for dependents, excellent schools for dependent children, nonprofit supermarket ("commissary"), free medical care for the whole family, etc. Besides military people and their families, all this was also open to DAC's — Department of the Army Civilians — such as teachers or, for that matter, my own father (DAC was his CIA cover in Germany). If you have ever lived this way, you see see dog-eat-dog capitalism in a whole different light.

Since all essentials for living were provided, if you lost your entire paycheck on payday in a poker game (as many GIs did) you could still eat, have a place to live, get medical care, and have your laundry done. All without money. (But if you had a family, their food was not free, so it was bad news for a married GI to lose his whole paycheck; nevertheless, it happened a lot.)

Gelterswoog
Gelterswoog
On the far side of Hohenecken was a big swimming hole called Gelterswoog that only Germans went to. One time Roger and I and some other guys went and spent the day swimming and hanging out, and made friends with a lot of Germans… I remember heated discussions among them, "Rolling Stones ist besser!" (pronounced with guttural R and "St" like in "Straße").... "Ne, ne, Beatles ist besser!", back and forth 100 times (this was like 1964). We all agreed to have a big cookout for dinner, a huge bonfire was lit using old rubber tires as fuel. I had my guitar and we were all singing, it turned out I knew a lot of German songs which they thought was pretty remarkable, so I played one after another and all the Germans sang along. Then I started another one, "Ich hatt' einen Kameraden" and a woman wagged her finger at me in a way that meant "Not that one, it's a Nazi song". It wasn't really; it was 150 years old but I guess the Nazis had adopted it so I moved along. (Ironically, I did NOT play "Die Heimat ist weit doch wir sind bereit, wir kämpfen und siegen.... Freeeeei-HEIT!" because I thought it WAS a Nazi song but it turns out to be from the German International Brigades that fought on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil war, oh well...) Anyway it was a pretty atmospheric night, the huge bonfire blazing with a thick black plume of toxic smoke hundreds of feet into the sky… Eventually we wandered back to the base in the dark through the foggy fields and forests and the hole in the back fence.

Kaiserslautern forest
Forest near Kaiserslautern
Roger and I liked to explore; we'd drive around the Rheinland to towns like Lauterecken, Landstuhl, Koblenz, Bad Dürkheim, Hochspeyer, Bad Kreuznach, Worms, Idar-Oberstein, Neustadt, Bingen, Bitburg, Baumholder, Pirmasens, Zweibrücken.... or go on epic hikes in the forests and low-rise mountains around Kaiserslauten. One day, deep in a forest (I think the same day the photo at right was taken), miles from any paved road, we came upon a Displaced Persons camp. It was a big clearing with wooden barracks buildings in it, and a mess hall and some other buildings, like an Army Kaserne, but more rustic, kind of like Kinapic without a lake but with rough-hewn wood barracks instead of houses. Each building was labeled with a nationality, like Ukraine, Poland, Hungary, Romania. These were DPs from WWII. It didn't even occur to me at the time to wonder why there were still DP camps almost twenty years after the war, but most likely they had been Nazis themselves, perhaps in the Ukrainian, Hungarian, Serbian, Croatian, Romanian, Estonian, and other SS divisions and might have faced punishment or death if they were repatriated.

Army friends
Barnes, Munn, and Stewart
Army wall lockers
Barnes on a Sunday
In Kaisers­lautern I had several sets of friends: one, regular guys like Roger, another of Black guys that I made music with in the barracks (one, in particular, who liked to sing Nat King Cole songs with me accompanying), and some "artsy" guys (Barnes, Munn, and Stewart) who liked art and literature and classical music, instead the standard beer, pool, and rock or country music. These guys had all been drafted, of course, and convinced me to join the theater group they were in, where I mainly just built the sets, but one time I was the "orchestra" in a production of A Taste of Honey, which ran a couple weeks. Another play we did was The Fantasticks, but they had a real pianist for that one, not to mention a cast member who had been in the original show in NYC (as the mummy). For some reason, these songs were favorites of the Freedom Riders, they sang them in the buses going south. In New York The Fantasticks ran for 57 years.

Taste of Honey poster 1964
"A Taste of Honey" poster 1964
Taste of Honey program p.1
Program page 1
Taste of Honey program p.2
Program page 2
Taste of Honey program p.3
Program page 3
Taste of Honey program p.4
Program page 4
A Taste of Honey was written by an 18-year-old British girl; it's about working class people in the industrial north of England, interracial romance, mixed-race babies born out of wedlock, gay people, alcoholic mothers, etc, pretty gritty for its time. It was made into a film that sparked the whole British New Wave (and the career of Rita Tushingham), and the Beatles recorded the song too. Kind of subversive for an Army base, but not surprising since Kaiserslautern Community Theater describes itself as "non-profit, non-secret, non-violent, non-militant, non-sectarian theatrical association". The people were a mixture of all ranks, genders, sexual preferences, and races. And "military courtesy" was checked at the door.

The mother and daughter in the play were mother and daughter in real life: Sandi Ramsey (listed as Mrs. Paul Ramsey on the program) and her daughter Connie (listed as Constance Asbury). The mother was horrible and bossy and controlling and high-strung and irrational, and she was forcing Connie to act in the play, which made her miserable and a nervous wreck. Connie was the only girl I had a date with the whole time I was in the Army and all we did on the date was me listen to her talk about her mother. Since I had a somewhat similar experience with my father, I could sympathize. It wasn't really a date, although we had a nice dinner; it was a therapy session. I said just get the heck out as fast as you can, like I did. Who knows, maybe she joined the Army!

Being in a play while in the Army was tricky because you had to be in bed by 10:00pm lights-out bed check but the play ran until after that and it was pretty far away. For staying out late, some people used the old duffle-bag-under the covers trick but it rarely worked. I invented a better trick... Since our room in the barracks had 15-20 people, it would be easy to overlook if one of the beds was missing, especially if you rearranged the other beds so there was no gaping space. So I'd strip my bed, put the bedding in my wall locker, fold up the bed frame, and put it behind the wall locker. The OD (officer on duty who did the bed check) just looked to see if each bed was occupied, but never actually counted them, heh heh.

1949 Volkswagen
1949 VW controls
1949 Volkswagen
1949 Volkswagen (nicer than mine)
Well one time the arty guys all went on leave for a week or two on the Spanish Costa Brava to place called Sitges. When they came back they made it sound so cool that I went there later with two of my regular-guy friends (I can't remember who they were) in the green 1949 VW I bought for $50, which was pretty beat up, doors rusted shut, etc, not shiny like in these photos. You had to get in and out through the sunroof. Not easy to drive either, you had to double-clutch when shifting down, synchromesh didn't come until years later. I actually took some photos of it but the camera was stolen with the film still in it. It had graffiti all over it, hammers and sickles, peace signs, Workers of the World Unite in Russian — Пролетарии всех стран, соединяйтесь! — Nobody ever bothered me about it. Some features of this car: turn signals are in the doorposts between the side windows, they light up and flip up and down with a distinctive whacking noise (the proper automotive term is "semaphores"). Small divided back window. Floor shift. No heater. The little black thing above the driveshaft bump switches between the main gas tank to the reserve tank, so when you run out of gas you can still go another 40 miles. This was in lieu of a gas gauge. At some point in Kaiserslautern the VW conked out and I took off the USAREUR license plates, left it on the side of the Autobahn, and hitchhiked back to base. Around the same time Roger bought a VW of his own, a 1954 that even had a heater.

Guardia Civil
Guardia Civil
To get to Sitges, we drove over the Alps, through Milano and Genoa down to the Mediterranean coast: the Italian, French, and Spanish Rivieras. The Italian resort towns like San Remo were pretty awful, the water full of garbage that stank so bad it was impossible sit in an outdoor café sipping Cinzano. We stopped in Antibes (or was it San Tropez?) hoping to catch a glimpse of Brigitte Bardot. It was a long trip, 1300km; we slept on the beach several times, including once in Spain where we were rousted by scary-looking Guardia Civil, Franco's fascist police with capes, rifles, and shiny black tricornio hats. We spent a few hours driving around Barcelona, a huge, grim, colorless, depressing city in those fascist times, as depicted in the novels of Carlos Ruiz Zafón.

We spent about a week in Sitges, drank way too much — Rioja from bota (wineskin) and porón, endless gallons of sangría, which I never knew about before — but in sober moments I joined in playing flamenco guitar in some of the "caves" frequented by construction workers covered in plaster dust who knew the intricate compás, palmas clapping methods, and also played music with some British proto-hippies I met.

Sitges 1964
Sitges Spain 1964
Sitges 1964
Sitges 1964
British friends in Sitges
British friends
While I was in Sitges I made some pretty good ink drawings including the two on the left; one is a beach scene (in those days Sitges was a fishing village, hence all the boats on the beach), the other is of some British proto-hippies I met in one of the caves (you can see a porón on the shelf). This guy grew up in a pub in Hastings (third image), was bumming around the Mediterranean coast with a band; he showed me how to play "Don't think twice, it's alright"... I didn't know about 9th chords before! The drawings are done mainly with German Rapidograf drafting pens (see more drawings).

NSU Prinz
NSU Prinz (but not the same one)
Meanwhile I went on lots of other excursions with the artsy guys. One of them had bought an NSU Prinz (a tiny German 2-seater that we would cram four people into) and we'd go to places like Worms, Heidelberg, Koblenz, Bad Kreuznach, I forget where else. It was so small that if there was a parking space that was too short to get into by parallel parking, we could just pick it up and drop it in the space. Also one time we went to the Kaiserslautern Stiftskirche (built 1250-1350) for a performance of Bach's St. Matthew's Passion. (I also went to a performance of Bach's Christmas Oratorio at a big church in Stuttgart, probably with Roger; I don't remember doing it but I have the ticket stub so I must have gone.) On another excursion, I forget exactly where to, Mannheim maybe, in winter with a lot of snow on the ground, we were walking around when I stepped off the curb without looking and a car hit me and sent me flying about 10 feet; the lady driving the car was hysterical but I was fine, I landed on a big soft pile of fluffy snow.

Painting of me
Painting of me by Munn (now lost)
Anyway, one day one of my artsy friends came to tell me that they had all been busted for being queer and were being kicked out and sent back to the States. I had no idea they were gay, I barely even knew what gay was. (Not all the artsy crowd were gay, but all the gays were artsy; also some of the gay guys had already gotten out of the Army by the time this happened.)
This guy, by the way, was a white guy from Bulawayo, Rhodesia, John Hugh Stewart-Munn, who got a degree in architecture at the University of Cape Town. He was active in the anti-apartheid movement and had been arrested so many times he had to get out so he came to the USA. But was drafted almost immediately. He said in South Africa they could hold you without charges for 180 days; for anti-apartheid whites, they'd turn you loose and then arrest you again as soon as you stepped on the sidewalk, over and over which happened to him I don't know how many times.)
I spent their last week with them and they showed me their whole world, parties, bars, etc. A whole secret underground world. Then they were gone. I realized that, aside from Ken Nicol (next paragraph), they were the only ones who got sex on a regular basis, or at all. In February 1965 I wrote letters vouching for their fine qualities as workers and human beings. In the end, as Munn reported to me later, "We got General Discharges under Honorable Conditions, and were not reduced to lowest Enlisted Grade, so we got away almost scot-free and except for a slight stain on our reputations we are as good as the next man who served out his misery in full." He went straight to Berkeley where Stewart and Barnes were waiting for him.

Last Supper
"Last Supper" by Munn (I think)
munnbybarnes.jpg
Munn by Barnes
In May 2015, one of the artsy crowd (Stewart) noticed my web stuff and contacted me. He told me Munn had died of AIDS in San Francisco in 1988. Meanwhile it was only recently that I found out that Sitges is the biggest gay destination on the planet. If it was then, I didn't notice. He sent me the Last Supper drawing, which would take a week to explain, but you can see me in it, and Roger, Barnes, Munn, and Stewart. Sergeant Seltzer, top left, was not only a Sergeant in the US Army and a major wheeler-dealer, he was the Mayor of Neustadt! Ken Nicol, butt cheek seen protruding from the clouds at top, left of center, was the only one in the whole place who had a girlfriend, Trudi, whose leg is shown. (The clouds are for people who had already left, the people at bottom were still there. One of the cloud guys is Poage; I visited him when I came to NY, he lived in a bombed out building on East 12th Street near Avenue D that didn't even have any street lights; I went there on my motorcycle.)
References:
  1. 3rd Cavalry Regiment, Wikipedia, accessed 3 March 2020. Wherever the USA was stealing land from Indians or Mexicans, wherever it was invading countries that never posed any threat to the USA, the 3rd ACR was there. The only bright spots were that it fought on the Union side in our Civil War and it fought the Nazis in WWII.
  2. Blood and Steel – The history, customs, and traditions of the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment, Third Cavalry Museum, 2008.
  3. 3d Cavalry Regiment Museum, Fort Hood, Texas.
  4. Kaiserslautern Military Community hosts memorial to Father Emil Kapaun to be awarded Medal of Honor, US Army 21st TSC Public Affairs Office, April 5, 2013.
  5. Medal of Honor recipient and Korean War Soldier accounted for, US Army Public Affairs, 5 March 2021.

7th Army Headquarters, Stuttgart, Germany

Patch Barracks
Patch Barracks Stuttgart-Vaihingen
When a bunch of your friends are "disappeared" by the organization you work for, it kind of spoils the ambiance. Since at this point Roger and I both worked at Regimental headquarters, we saw everything that came in, including a call for volunteers to sign up for computer training in Stuttgart. We transferred ourselves to 7th Army Headquarters. At that point one or the other of us — I forget — was the Regimental orders clerk (Roger says it was me), so we cut the orders knowing the CO would sign anything we put on his desk. We drove to Stuttgart in Roger's VW around Christmas time and it was like driving through a 3D Christmas card.

Bad Dürkheim Weinfest
Bad Dürkheim Weinfest
Bad Dürkheim Weinfest
Bad Dürkheim Weinfest
We were stationed at a big former Nazi military complex in Vaihingen and lived in ex-Nazi barracks (unlike the base at Kaiserslautern, which was postwar) — Patch Barracks, originally Kurmärker Kaserne, constructed around 1936. Stuttgart didn't have much charm, but we drove all over the surrounding area on our days off, mostly liking little rural villages such as Klein­ingersheim, gypsy camps, traveling circuses like Willy Hagenbeck, wine festivals like in Bad Dürkheim (photos by Roger), and when we had some leave we'd go up the Mosel or the Rhein, to Belgium, Luxembourg, and Holland. We liked Klein­ingersheim so much we spent a lot of time there, it was a real country village, the streets were full of manure and hay and chickens, and the Gasthaus there served huge portions of whatever you ordered, and it was dirt cheap. It was perched on the hilltop overlooking the Neckar river, and the slopes were vineyards.

Tübingen Neckarfront
Tübingen with pole boats
Another favorite destination was Tübingen, a picturesque university town, also on the Neckar, about 30km from Stuttgart. Roger and I were fascinated by the many Stocherkähne (pole boats, punts) moored on the riverbank. Anybody could take them out, no charge, no bureaucracy, no nothing. On a typical Spring or Summer day the river would be full of students and other people poling back and forth or just drifting along under the overhanging willows.

Schiller College
Schiller College, Kleiningersheim, 1965
Kleiningersheim was also home to Schiller College, a very small institution occupying a 16th-Century castle (with parts that dated back to the 11th century; not at all unusual in Germany) and specializing in "spend a year in Germany" for students from the US and Britain for immersion in German language and culture. Best of all, at harvest time all the students and faculty worked full time in the vineyards. I got their literature and I was seriously considering going there after the Army, especially since it cost only $1700 for the whole year including room and board and medical care. But the timing was not right; I got out in February but school didn't start until September. By the way I also almost went to SUNY New Palz instead of Columbia because it had trimesters and I could have got an early release from the Army if I was admitted. Can't remember why I didn't do it; at the time I had no plan to go to Columbia. Schiller College moved to Heidelberg in 1983 and now it's like a chain, with branches in different countries.

Dachau stone
Stone from Dachau camp
Dachau ovens
Dachau ovens (Wikipedia)
Camping out
Camping out (Roger's VW)
Another time the Army sent us to Berch­tes­gaden in the high Alps for a week of midwinter R&R. On the way we visited the Dachau concen­tration camp; it's right in the middle of the town, there's no way the residents didn't know what was going on with hordes of people arriving by train all the time and nobody leaving, while the crematorium smokestacks that dominated the skyline constantly pumped out thick smoke.

Berchtesgaden was where Hitler and his friends had lived only 20 years before. While we were there Roger and I climbed the Kehlstein [1800m] to the Eagle's Nest (which I had been to with my family when I was 14), it was the only time I used my expensive German mountain-climbing boots. We had no idea what we were doing and we nearly killed ourselves lots of times. We made it to the top somehow, had tea in the teahouse, but instead of climbing back down we took Hitler's elevator. I still have the boots but they no longer fit because my feet grew three sizes when I started running!

Stuttgart is in Baden-Württemberg in the southwest part of Germany traditionally known as Schwaben, and they speak very differently but Rog and I adapted. The first thing you notice is that they don't say "Guten Tag", they say "Grüß Gott", which they pronounce like "gease gut" (I read somewhere that this greeting arose as a somewhat safe alternative to "Heil Hitler"). But also they have a lot of unique vocabulary, they leave off the last part of words, and they use different verb endings and diminutives. Plus they eat Spätzle with every meal, which were unknown in the Rheinland, at least by me. And unlike in the Rheinland, there were lots of cozy, quiet little Weinstuben (wine bars).

My first "computer" job

Punchcard
Card punched by me at 7th Army CCIS in 1965
IBM 026 Key Punch
IBM 026 Key Punch
In Stuttgart they put me to work in the 7th Army HQ Resident Study Group (RSG) on the Command and Control Information Systems (CCIS) project as a key puncher, serving a roomful of (what seemed to me at the time as) humorless suit-wearing civilian contract program­mers who sat at their desks all day filling in Fortran coding forms. I was also in charge of the giant coffee urn. The boss of the place was a general; I'd never been anywhere near a general before. When we went on maneuvers I'd do the keypunching in the woods, in a big truck trailer full of key punches and verifiers, powered by an automobile-sized gasoline generator on wheels. The computer was an IBM 1401, I never had the least idea what it was being programmed for but I assumed it was some kind of computer-controlled death and destruction, but no, it was just bookkeeping; many years later I heard from Wade Harper who was one of the programmers:
It's hard to believe that we had 12 E6's and 12 E7's, 3 Lt's and 2 or 3 WO to program a computer with JUST 8K of memory. The 1401 was programmed for MRS (Military Report System) in the field. Which was a simple sequential database on tape. 1 block for each report. Each Hq office would submit info in card format which was put to tape as input to MRS. We could hardly program anything with just 8K ram. Every report had to be the same format. No individual calculations. We were barnstorming one day and Jodie Powers wondered if we could somehow put 1 or 2K of code on the tape with each block of data. Then we could individualize each report. So I finally got it programmed and it work very well. We also programmed stuff for garrison work. I had all the conventional ammo in Europe. Spurling (because he spoke German) and I think Jerry Cook, had the marching orders program (in case of war). I don't remember the other projects. We went around to a lot of Battalion headquarters begging for work. I stayed in the Army for 20 years. Then worked as a Systems Programmer on the IBM 360/370 and others until I retired for good in 1996. I was fortunate to learn computer programming in the Army.

Wiring a plugboard
Wiring a plugboard (not me)
Plugboard installed in machine
Plugboard in place

Anyway I became a wizard at key punching, the fastest ever, because I was a 120wpm touch typer and I figured out how to make program cards for the IBM 026 (i.e. RTFM'd). I forget what Roger was doing, I think he may have been a driver for our company commander. Finally they sent me (but not Roger) to Computer School, which was a collection of quonset huts in the forest outside Orléans, where we learned to program the big grey mechanical iron boxes from before there were what we consider to be computers today (Von-Neuman architecture, stored program, etc). This was done by sticking jumper wires into plugboards; see my computing history site for details if you're interested (look for Tabulators and the IBM 407). I was there for about a month. There was a shuttle bus into town; one day I saw the play "Jeanne D'Arc" in the 13th-century Sainte-Croix Cathedral; she attended Mass there and led a force that lifted the English siege during the Hundred Years War (the play was in English, but I don't remember which of the 400 plays about her it was: Schiller, Shaw, Brecht, Anderson...?)

Photos by John Martin:
Me in Stuttgart barracks 1965
Me in Stuttgart barracks 1965
Me in Stuttgart barracks 1965
Me in Stuttgart barracks 1965
Me at unit picnic 1965
Enjoying a unit picnic 1965

Paris

Olympia Press book
An Olympia Press book 1960s
Beatniks
Beatniks under Pont Neuf 1965
While in Orléans I would generally take the train to Paris by myself every weekend where I wandered around and saw everything. I usually stayed in a miserable pensión on the Rue de la Huchette, which was then a miserable, stinky little alley, and now is a gaudy tourist mecca, and at least on one or two occasions I slept under the Pont Neuf, just to be able to say I did… "Down and Out in Paris"… I hung around the West Bank, the intersection of Saint-Michel and Saint-Germaine, headquarters of the Bohemians and Beatniks not long before; the Shakespeare and Company bookstore, which sold "underground" books (books banned in the US: Olympia Press etc), sat in outdoor cafés and even met some people that way… The Luxembourg Gardens, the Tuileries, the Jeu de Paume,
Me at Paris bookstall
Me at Paris bookstall on the Seine 1988
the book stalls along the riverbank (where I discovered Gustav Doré, thumbing through some books), eating at street vendors, etc etc blah blah (my French vocabulary was limited to pomme frites and un fraise de soisson centimes). I walked and walked until my feet hurt too much to walk any more and then I rode on the metro. Paris is one of the few places where I spent time in the 1960s that still looks almost exactly the same, except for all the gentrification. In 1975 I would come back with Mommie, and again in 1988 on a Kermit trip where we were taken to outrageously expensive restaurants such as the one on the Ile de la Cité (near Notre Dame).

Race and Integration in the Army of the early 1960s

"The army of the 1950s was America's most racially and economically egalitarian institution, providing millions with education, technical skills, athletics, and other opportunities" —Brian McAllister Linn, Elvis's Army[9].

Fort Gordon unit 1960s
Fort Gordon, Georgia, unit 1960s
Of course the Army was integrated when I was in it. In fact, it was FIERCELY integrated. Any kind of racist talk or behavior was severely punished. It was a revelation to see white redneck drill sergeants in Georgia excoriating every kind of racism. Also, there was no religious prosyletizing then. Religion was totally voluntary and was not forced on anybody. For that matter, there wasn't any jingoism or anti-communism either. It was totally non-political in my experience. Just people learning and doing their work (or goofing off).

(Obviously racism, jingoism, and anticommunism were taking off in Vietnam when the war got big 1965, but I was never exposed to any of that in Germany.) (Another aside: I never had a German girl friend or even a date with any German girl, hardly any of the white soldiers did. Because German girls preferred to go out with Black GIs[8]. Many of these couples married and a few of them "escaped" to East Germany[7], where they could live together and where they were warmly welcomed, unlike they would have been in the USA.)

(Drug use and Black Power… I saw no drugs the whole time I was in the Army, and there was only one Black guy who was openly hostile to white people. Things changed pretty fast just after I got out.)

I read a book in 2016, "GIs and Fräuleins" by Maria Höhn[2], where I learned a lot of things I never knew before. The 1948 order to integrate the armed forces was met with massive foot-dragging and as late as 1952 most units, including those in Germany, were still totally segregated. Apparently there was a lot of racial conflict within the Army up until about 1960. White (mainly southern) GIs would go into town and demand that their favorite bars put up big signs saying "White only, no colored". Other bars took advantage by putting up "Colored only" signs. This was against German law but they did it anyway, so effectively there was segregation in the small towns around Army bases (but not big cities like Frankfurt), and the Army did nothing to discourage it. Germans justified it by saying they were only doing what the Americans did. The off-base hostility reached such heights that there was an all-out race war in Baumholder in 1955 — gun battles in town between Black and white troops with fatalities — and several others in Kaiserslautern in 1956-57, only 6-7 years before I arrived there in 1963.

The segregation and conflict produced such a huge public relations coup for East Germany and the USSR that the military units were forcibly integrated in 1952 and then finally in the late 1950s the Army put all the segregated establishments in Germany off-limits to GIs, thus effectively integrating them; this was around the same time that Eisenhower enforced integration of Little Rock schools with armed troops. By about 1964, they did the same thing in with segregated establishments the American South — just a year after I was in Augusta GA and could not enter any bar or restaurant with my Black friends.

German dance club 1960s
German dance club 1960s
When Black occupation troops first arrived in 1945, Germans welcomed them and for many Blacks this was their first taste of freedom — to go into any establishment, to interact with other human beings on an equal basis, to not have to fear arrest or worse for failing to act deferentially towards white people. Many thousands of Black GIs stayed in Germany for that reason, many of them married into German families, mostly after discharge. The stories that were spread about Black GIs getting German girls pregnant and going back to the States without them are often misleading; the Army would transfer Black soldiers out when they found out they had a German girlfriend, and the US Consulate would deny the girlfriend a visa. Some Germans were appalled at interracial marriages, but many more were OK with it. My very first job upon arriving at the 3rd Armored Cavalry was "marriage counselor"; I was supposed to make it impossible for GIs to marry German girls, but I did just the opposite so didn't last long in that role. Anyway most applications by Black GIs to marry German girls were refused by the commanding officer.

I went through the Army with a couple a guys from the Alabama outback, one white and the other black. They had grown up in the same little town and had never spoken to one another, but once they were in the Army they became inseperable (I remember on long bus or truck rides, they would sleep cuddled up together). At the end of three years, about to go back home, they told me they had to say goodbye to each other forever.

References - Source material and recommended reading...
  1. MacGregor, Morris J., Integration of the Armed Forces 1940-1965, Office of Military History, United States Army, Washington DC (1981).
  2. Höhn, Maria, GIs and Fräuleins - The German-American Encounter in 1950s West Germany, University of North Carolina Press (2002).
  3. Lemza, John W., American Military Communities in West Germany - Life in the Cold War Badlands, 1945-1990, McFarland & Company (2016).
  4. Dewey Arthur Browder, The Impact of the American Presence on Germans and German-American Grass Roots Relations in Germany, 1950-1960, Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College PhD dissertation (1987), 274 pages.
  5. Grossman, Victor, A Socialist Defector — From Harvard to Karl-Marx-Allee, Monthly Review Press (2019). Defections from East to West were highly publicized; defections in the opposite direction were hushed up but I was in a position to hear about them and this book confirms it.
  6. Adams Earley, Charity, One Woman's Army: A Black Officer Remembers the WAC, Texas A&M University Press (1989). The experiences of the first Black women in the US Army.
  7. Victor Grossman, "African Americans in the German Democratic Republic", in Larry A. Greene and Anke Ortlepp, Germans and African Americans: Two centuries of Exchange, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson (2011).
  8. Damani Partridge, "Exploding Hitler and Americanizing Germany", in Larry A. Greene and Anke Ortlepp, Germans and African Americans: Two centuries of Exchange, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson (2011).
  9. Brian McAllister Linn, Elvis's Army, Harvard University Press (2016).

Consciencious Objecting

"Every war already carries within it the war which will answer it. Every war is answered by a new war, until everything, everything is smashed."Käthe Kollwitz, Nordhausen, Germany, February 21, 1944[1]

Bombing Vietnam
Bombing Vietnam 1965
Dominican Republic invasion 1965
Dominican Republic invasion 1965
While I was at computer school in Orléans in 1965 two things happened, which I learned about from reading the Stars and Stripes and listening to the Armed Forces Network: February-June President Johnson starts massive bombing of Vietnam and by July he was drafting 50,000 kids a month (many of them my friends) to fight there, and while this was happening the United States invaded the Dominican Republic simply because they were trying to reinstate their first democratically-elected president, Juan Bosch, after he had been toppled in a CIA-backed coup.

When I got back to Stuttgart I had access to all the Army Regulations where I worked, and one day while reading through them I discovered an obscure paragraph, AR 635-20, that allowed for somebody already in the Army to become a consciencious objector and apply for a discharge, and I did that because I did not want to be put in a position where I would have to kill people who only wanted to be left alone (or to help others kill them by working in a support role). The regulation stipulated that the only valid basis for conscienscious objection was religious belief, so I had to write the application that way. To do this I had to get a Bible and hunt through it for the good parts (what Jesus said to do and not to do) — no Google in those days! As noted elsewhere, this caused my grandfather no small amount of consternation, since he was an implacable foe of all forms of organized religion (despite having spent his early years as a Catholic priest). If you want to read the application, there's a semi-legible PDF here. Rereading it now, 52 years later, I can see how he might have been gotten the wrong impression.

Nobody in my chain of command had ever seen such a thing before and it took them months to figure out what to do with it; it went all the way up to the Pentagon. In the meantime AR 635-20 said I could not be forced to do anything against my "professed beliefs", which I interpreted to include carrying a gun and saluting, which resulted in quite a few comical moments, and they couldn't hassle me for subscribing to left-wing and counterculture journals like Liberation magazine and Evergreen Review.

Once I walked right past a General, looking him in the eye, without saluting; he didn't say a thing. On the other hand, once I did the same thing to a pipsqueak 2nd Lieutenant and he went ballistic like in a Warner Bros. cartoon and started screaming "Post! Post!" in his high squeeky voice, which was some order he must have learned at lieutenant school but I had no idea what it meant, so I just ignored him and walked on.

I had completely forgotten this, but just now I stumbled on some Army appointment papers... They sent me to a shrink! Now I vaguely remember; the guy mainly just argued with me ("But they're commies!").

But normally the Army in those days was pretty informal, it wasn't snapping to attention and saluting and Rah Rah America. I don't remember anybody I knew, NCOs and officers included (except my CO), giving me a hard time about my CO application. Once on maneuvers in the outback of Schwaben, my platoon was sitting around a campfire at night (campfire = burning gasoline in a #10 can) roasting C-rations and drinking beer and we got to talking about the war in Vietnam. My platoon sergeant was a Korean War veteran (picture him as the actor Brian Dennehy) and it turned out that that war had disgusted him; he said he admired me for what I had done and wished he had done the same thing. Some other guys in my unit actually followed my lead and also applied for CO status; I did the paperwork for them.

On the other hand… There were two Hawaiian guys in my unit, Akino and Barrios. They were straight out of the central casting: fun-loving, gentle, playful, always in good mood, always horsing around, not a mean bone in their bodies. Off duty they wore Hawaiian shirts, sang Hawaiian songs and played ukeleles — they had Martins and they could do a lot more than just strum them. Here is a piece they taught me, "Sushi" (if the link goes bad, look up "sushi ohta-san"):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2f7kyJA0SY

When the Vietnam war exploded in 1965, I was totally shocked when Akino and Barrios volunteered to be transferred to the 25th (Hawaiian) Infantry Division to fight in Vietnam. I said, What do you have against the Vietnamese??? Akino, at least, was Asian (it's the Hawaiianization of a Chinese name). They couldn't explain it, they just wanted to get away from the haoles and be with their own people. I tried really hard to convince them not to, but off they went. Searching The Wall (www.vvmf.org) I'm glad to see that neither of them was killed. (Later I read about the history of the Hawaiian divisions in James Michener's Hawaii book[2] and understood it better.)

Just a couple weeks before my hitch was up, the application came back denied. My immediate commanding officer had recommended disapproval (because he didn't like it), but all the higher level commanders (e.g. of the 7th US Army) recommended approval, all the way the Pentagon, where the Secretary of the Army, Cyrus Vance, wrote that the application "is not favorably considered", no explanation given. But by then I was already short, i.e. on my way out. Since I hadn't broken any laws or Army Regulations, I have an honorable discharge.

References
  1. The Diary and Letters of Kaethe Kollwitz, Northwestern University Press (1955).
  2. James Michener, Hawaii, Random House (1959).

Getting out...

Being short means that you no longer have to do your job because you have countless offices to go and get various things checked off. Short-timers carry a clipboard with all their checkout forms, and nobody bothers them so in effect their last week or two is like a vacation. But even when you're not short, a good trick is: whenever you go outside, carry a clipboard and walk fast, everyone assumes you're doing something important and official so they won't hassle you.

USNS Geiger
USNS Geiger
USNS Geiger
Geiger deck and lifeboats
USNS Geiger
Bunks in the hold
All these years I thought Roger and I came back to the States together, but it turns out he left a few weeks earlier. Anyway I was in the hold of the USNS Geiger with no ventilation over 8 or 10 days in late January - early February in rough seas, sleeping in bunks ten deep with no air, and everybody either smoking or vomiting, probably 500 or 1000 people packed into an airless iron box that was constantly pitching and yawing. Occasionally they showed movies in another airless iron box that was only four feet high. The food was not very good; milk came in half-pint cartons that were frozen solid and everything else was made from reconstituted powder. (The Bunks-in-the-hold photo is from WWII, but shows exactly what the bunks were like.)

They let us up on deck a few times when the weather was good and there were dolphins leaping and playing alongside. When were were almost in NY, there was a huge storm with 60-foot waves and near-hurricane winds and the Geiger was bobbing around like cork. I was so sick I found a way to get out of the hold and onto the fantail, where there was a little balcony cut into the stern of the ship. I held on for dear life to the railing and puked my guts out while at one minute I was looking up at a wave as tall as a mountain, and the next minute the ship was perched on top of it, and the next it slid all the way down into the trough, while the vomit blew back into my face. It didn't matter, I was soaking wet, icing up actually, but at least I was breathing good air. In four crossings, this was only time I ever was sick.

We landed February 2, 1966. Looking at a map I realized just now for the first time that we came in through Long Island Sound. I know that because I remember looking up and seeing a sign that said "125th Street". That must have been when we were going under the Triborough Bridge. We landed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard (which was also a naval port throughout its history) and were bussed from there to Fort Hamilton where I got my walking papers and that was the end of the Army.

I realize that I owe a lot to the Army. I was pretty worthless before I was in it, and it taught me some valuable things. Like, if you have to do something, just go ahead and get it over with, no matter how awful; nothing lasts forever. And like, don't let big messes accumulate, always be cleaning things — "Clean as you go"; it was a good habit to get into that I never had before. Or, do things for yourself instead of expecting somebody else to do them for you. But being in the Army didn't teach me how to get along with and appreciate all different kinds of people from all different places, because I already learned that in Frankfurt — which was also the Army — but for most other people it was an important lesson.

The Army of the early 1960s was almost a microcosm of life itself. It did practically everything to sustain itself except grow food. So we learned the great variety of tasks required in a society, and we did most of them ourselves: cleaning house, yard work, preparing food, picking up trash, taking garbage to the dump, maintaining equipment and vehicles, operating hospitals, schools, stores, and radio stations (that had no ads!), ... Once I even spent spent a few days at Fort Knox building a concrete staircase up a hill. This gave us some respect for people in real life who made their livings in those ways: sanitation crews, cooks, cleaners, mechanics, teachers, nurses, doctors, disk jockeys, truck drivers, construction workers... Conversely, the Army did not include any of our 21st-century gods: corporate CEOs, CIOs, CFOs, hedge-fund managers, commodities traders, currency traders, options traders, arbitrageurs, leveraged-buyout specialists, stockbrokers, portfiolio managers, corporate raiders, vulture capitalists, or anyone else who could become obscenely wealthy without actually doing any productive work.

Kids today grow up in little bubbles as society becomes increasingly compartmentalized by race, religion, social class... and cell phones. I wish the peacetime Army — and the draft — still existed, or something like it — for example, the CCC camps of the 1930s. A few years in a setting like that is a great experience for kids right out of high school: living and working with diverse people from all over the country, learning skills, learning to depend on other people and to be dependable, learning respect for others. Speaking for myself, I was definitely not ready for college after high school, but after the Army I was. I knew how to work.

Obviously I don't favor a draft if it is used to send people to wars of conquest. But some kind of compulsory national service would be an effective antidote to the anomie and aimlessness of 21st-Century American youth, especially if the service was focussed on doing work that was needed (e.g. to fix the infrastructure and save the planet) and helping people who need help, like in the original New Deal.


Most recent update: 2 October 2021 19:55:22