September reminds people of many different things: like school starting, football, fall weather, Labor Day weekends and other memories.
For me, two Septembers stick out in my mind. The most important was when my son was born and the second was the Septem?ber I enlisted in the U.S. Army.
Now, my sons? birth is an interesting story, but this time I think I?ll tell you about my first week in the Army.
In 1964, I had been in college for over two years nonstop?summer, winter, spring since three days after I finished high school?and I was getting a little burned out.
I had signed a contract to act in an independent movie starting in August but one of the money backers pulled out and the movie was not going to be shot for at least a year.
Since I hadn?t enrolled for the fall semester of college, I was informed by the local Selective Service Board that I had lost my student deferment and would be drafted within the next 60 days.
At that time, there were three main reasons you could be deferred from the draft: if you were a full-time student, married, or had a physical or mental problem.
By not falling into any of those categories, my number was coming up pretty quick. If I enlisted I could pick the school I would be sent to after basic training instead of letting the Army decide, so I signed up.
I had been told the Army had a rather warped sense of priorities when it came to school assignments, and later found that to be very true. I met two college graduates that had been assigned to the school for cooks, so you never could tell what was going to happen!
I received a packet of paperwork and a one-way bus ticket in the mail. One morning five of us from Marion County boarded a bus to the Kansas City Induction Center.
Once we arrived, we were instructed to get into a line so they could process us into the Center. After we had all been checked in?there were about 200 of us from a four-state area?we were broken down into groups of 50. Each group was taken to different stations where our hearing, sight, blood pressure and other physical tests were conducted.
Now to say that these tests were not very intensive would be a gross understatement. There was a saying at the time: ?If he can breathe and walk at the same time?he?s in.?
However, there were always a few people who would go to extreme measures to be disqualified from military service. If you were missing a trigger finger or thumb on your right hand, if you were missing a big toe, had flat feet or high blood pressure, you were dismissed.
I?m sorry to say that there were a few guys that purposely inflicted those problems on their bodies to get out of serving their country. There was even a kid that showed up wearing pink silk panties!
All day long the staff treated us like a herd of cattle because to them we were just a lot of numbers that had to be processed before they could go home.
But I think the most degrading moment was when they had 50 of us standing in line, buck naked, and had us all bend at the waist, reach back, and spread our cheeks while a doctor went behind us with a flashlight and checked us for hemorrhoids!
If we had a shred of dignity left, it flew out the window at that moment.
Finally, after we had been declared A-1 Army material and sworn in, a lot of us were loaded onto a bus and shipped to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., to start basic training. We arrived late at night and were marched to our barracks in a loose formation.
The barracks we stayed in were wooden and built during the World War. Not WW II, but WW I, and they were firetraps! We had to have someone stay awake all night because we were told that if the building caught fire, it would only take 30 seconds to be totally engulfed in flames.
It was also heated by a coal furnace that was almost as old as the building. We would wake up in the morning with coal dust in our spit that we had inhaled during the night. New barracks were being built on the post, but there weren?t enough of them yet so we had to stay in the old ones. Lucky us!
The next morning we were allowed to sleep in until 6 a.m. That was the last time we slept that late for the next eight weeks. They marched us to breakfast (only 15 minutes to eat) and then we visited the barber.
I had been told that it was not a good idea to have long hair when you went to Basic so a week before, I had my hair cut in a crew cut. The Army barbers cut very little off my head, but oh, the poor guys who showed up with Elvis-style long hair. By the time the barbers finished with them they looked like someone had tried to shave their heads with a dull knife!
Next was clothing issue, where we received all our Army clothing?both summer and winter?and a box for our civilian clothing to be sent back to our families. The only clothing worn for the next eight weeks would be Army-issued clothing.
After that there was aptitude testing, rifle issue and a thousand other things while you were running from one spot to the next with drill instructors screaming in your ear all the time.
All the DIs had their own favorite sayings like: ?You only have five minutes left to eat so you better swallow it now and chew it later!? or ?There?s a right way, a wrong way and the Army way. You WILL do it the Army way!?
The days started to blur together, but before long you turn around and it?s over. We survived basic training. It?s the only training that every enlisted man or woman has to complete.
We all have stories about basic training?just ask any vet.