Appointment In Samara

Back when there was the selective service draft many of us used to our about our chances of being drafted.  The thought of having to spend time in the Army was not a very pleasant one since one was obligated to three years service and Vietnam was just starting to enlarge in scope.  As I recall the news of the day, 1965 was the great turning point when the United states was sending far more military personnel and materials to that southeast Asian country.  Fact was, one either went to college and applied for the usual student deferment or got married and had one or two children quickly.  Everyone else was fair game for the selective service boards.  Then came the lottery for the draft and a low number mean you were going to serve your country if you were sans deferment.  But just before that time I had been drafted so I never had a number.  On the other hand one of the guys in school was deathly afraid of being drafted.

Junior, as he was known to the small world of community, had managed to get accepted to some vary small liberal arts college in upstate New York.  I remember him waiving his acceptance letter all over school.  “John, Bill.  Hey Peter.  Yo, Bob.  Look what I got.  I got accepted to Podunk U in Uncas New York.  Too bad about you suckers.”  Yeah, too bad about us suckers.  Peter was going to a state teachers college next year on a football scholarship.  Bob was getting married to his sweetheart at the end of summer and going to work for his father in construction.  Bob and I were going to take our chances.  Neither one of us had bothered to apply for college since we were graduating with the bare minimum C and our collective SAT scores wouldn’t have been high enough to gain entrance to a junior college.  Amazing how things changed in the seventies.  So we had to endure Junior’s great triumph until graduation.

Ours was a small town, not rural enough to be a farm community but not close enough to be city folk.  If we wanted excitement then it was off to the big city and tangle with whatever big city boys we might run across.  Junior had done that a couple of years ago and decided that he was more afraid of getting hurt than he was in need of excitement.  As long as he was with a large group, say half a dozen or more guys from the football and wrestling team then he was willing to take part as a peripheral participant.  Junior’s problem wasn’t that he lacked size, for he was a big guy, over six feet and close to two hundred pounds.  No, he was the youngest of four brothers who were all larger than himself and had made reputations on the football field or wrestling mats.  Pecking order made him meek.  Now Bob and I were over six feet and close to two hundred pounds but we weren’t exactly Mohammad Ali when it came to fighting.  Neither one of us was psychologically made that way, you know what I mean?

Now Junior was good in track and on the basketball court, sports that were non contact.  So it wasn’t for lack of ability that he avoided direct one on one contact.  He simply didn’t have what we use to call heart.  He was used to being dominated by his brothers that he simply lack the confidence to stand up for himself.  So he wanted no part of the Army.  I think the Marines would have cause him an immediate heart attack, to tell the truth.  I mean, speaking form experience, service life is no bed of roses.  I mean, maybe if you went into the Air Force like my cousin did, then sure, life there wasn’t too hard.  But Junior wasn’t much for getting dirty.  And let me tell you, Army is about getting dirty, unless you luck out and get one of those soft jobs in company headquarters or over in supply.  No, Junior just wasn’t going to run the risk of facing undue hardship if he could help it.

Of course you know the story by now,  Yep, Bob and I got called up the same day in late June.  Maybe we should have enlisted so as we could have has choice and not chance.  We got chance and the chance card said: “Go directly to the infantry, do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars.”  Of course the Army made sure to keep Bob and I in separate companies lest we conspire to commiserate our lack of luck.  No, we would have to do that with complete strangers, wouldn’t you know.  So we passed a very hot summer in basic training and then off to AIT, or for those of you who don’t like abbreviations, Advanced Infantry School.  Well, we became full fledged dog faces, got the stripe of PFC, that’s private first class, to prove it.  But you ani’t nothing if you ain’t at least a corporal, as we were nothing.  and as nothings, we fount ourselves on a MATS aircraft, that’s Military Air Transport, headed to the land of hell, Vietnam.  We spent the last of 1966 and most of 1967 serving our time in hell, like all the other dog faces.  Our mission, Mr Phelps, was to play tag with the North Vietnamese Army regulars who had the silly idea of attacking Da Nang Air Base.  Bob got hit a couple of times, the last one was pretty bad and he spent the rest of his enlistment in and out of Army hospitals.  Me, as luck would have it, I spent three hundred and sixty six day in country without a single scratch or medal.  they shipped me back to the US to Huntsville where I stood guard on some warehouse that contained missiles or some such stuff.  At least I could attend U of Maryland taking courses on base.  It was a start towards reclaiming my self respect academically and the stepping stone to attending college.

And Junior?  Well, he never was an academic grind.  He was put on probation his first semester and the second semester he was out, expelled for poor grades.  Where upon the selective service board was immediately informed and his name drawn for enlistment that June.  His college attendance might had stood him a chance for OCS, that’s Officer Candidate School, but the friendly sergeants were unimpressed by his lack of leadership.  So off to AIT he went and then he became a replacement for a company in Vietnam.  I understand from my contacts back home than he was in Hue during the Tet Offensive.  Of course he came back in a box with a purple heart for his mother to keep in her keepsake box.  Oh the officer I hear, was quite poetic about Junior’s sacrifice.  And they awarded him a purple heart for his sacrifice.  Seems he was on a truck headed for Hue when it came under fire.  Direct hit and that’s all she wrote.  Well, ain’t that life.


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