I had one quarter of school left to complete my degree requirements. In August of 1969 a busload of potential draftees, self included, had been bussed to Denver AAFES (Army Air Force Examining Station) for our pre-induction physical. I passed with flying colors. I returned to school in September 1969 and the Draft Lottery took place in December. My birthday came up a winner as number 135, but there was still hope as rumors began to fly that only the first 120 numbers drawn would be drafted.
I returned home after completing all my degree requirements but was not graduated since my school only held commencement once a year usually in late May or early June. My boss at my summer job which I had held for two consecutive summers was kind enough to hire me back to wait it out. I was working for our City, grooming, lining, and maintaining a baseball park and various softball fields. It was a great job because of my love for both sports.By late February or March I resigned myself to the fact that I would be drafted so I started running and doing other physical exercises to get in better shape. Sure enough in early April after coming home from a beer drinking session about midnight with one of my co-workers age 22 (he was classified 4F because of a HS football knee injury and awaiting entry into law school) my dad was waiting up for me. My dad was World War II Veteran who had served five years in the Army as an infantryman and lived to more or less talk about it. He said, "you better open that letter now." I was still somewhat dazed by the beer but it was my draft notice. I would leave home in ten days. I said goodbye to my Mom, Sis and girlfriend at our home. My dad took me to the bus station. In the car he told me whatever you want while in the Army you will find — drugs, drinking, women, good guys bad guys, gambling etc. I believe you have been brought up in a way that you will always make correct decisions. His eyes welled up as I boarded the bus. That was that.
We arrived in Denver and went through the motions of another physical. Later as a group we went across the street to eat lunch at a Federal Court Building. We got some stares from all the professional people eating in the cafeteria but we already knew our destiny so most of us were passively aggressive. It was our first meal paid for by Uncle Sam so some of the guys really loaded up. Later we were sworn in. The Marine recruiter then came in and stated he was three men short of his quota for the month. He could either hand pick three individuals or he needed three volunteers. Some of the guys had escaped to a nearby liquor store after we were sworn in and bought a couple of six packs of beer. Three of those guys who had been drinking stepped forward. It was called six-pack courage and to this day I thank them for that. I hope they lived to talk about it.
Late in the day about 5:30PM we were told we would be going to Ft Lewis, Washington for our basic training.We were bussed to the Denver airport and flown to Seattle. Upon arrival we reported as a group to the military desk and a bus took us to Fort Lewis. At Fort Lewis our driver, a commercial contractor, got lost and took us to the area where soldiers were being discharged instead of inducted. The cat calls and you’ll be sorry taunts were something I will never forget. Finally at about midnight we started processing in were fed breakfast etc. The next morning after 4 hours sleep we were awakened, processed further with clothing issue, haircuts etc. We then met our DI, a Hispanic madman from El Paso probably already suffering from PTSD. He told us we would never forget his last name and I haven’t. Basic was quite vigorous and challenging. I was lucky in that I was a "mature" 22 while many of the enlistees were 18/19 and somewhat immature. Some had bitten off more than they could chew and they paid a heavy price especially if they could not perform physically. When pulling night watch fire guard you could here some of them whimpering or sobbing as they tried to sleep. I would graduate basic and earn my first stripe. What was hard for me in basicwas the mental torment inflicted upon us rather than the physical. It seemed like some of the guys just couldn’t do things right and everyone would get punished.
A few days before graduation I was told I would be a Field Medic and get further training at Ft Sam Houston, TX. Ft Sam as we called it was a holiday compared to Basic Training. We still lived in old WWII barracks and the heat was stifling. I graduated from Medical training along with about 500 others. Over half immediately got orders for Oakland, CA transfer station and Vietnam. I got orders to return to the hospital unit at Ft Lewis, Washington. It was a great assignment as I was assigned to the Hospital transportation ambulance company at Madigan Hospital. We were responsible for providing medical transportation support for all the training units etc. We would accompany them to all the firing ranges not only for basic trainees but for infantry trainees. We were also responsible for transporting injured Vietnam casualties from McChord AFB to the hospital. That is the closest I would ever get to Vietnam though I was levied twice but never received orders.
In retrospect I grew up a lot because of the military experience. I also cast aside much of "college boy" mentality when I saw some of the injured guys coming back from Vietnam, thinking there but for the grace of God go I. I have profound respect for all Vietnam Era Veterans whether they saw Vietnam or not. Although not fair in many respects, I am proud of my service and all those who I served along with. No regrets, I survived for a purpose and I try to live up to it each day.