19 May 2013
You Can Buy Me A Beer
The minute the photographer (maroon polyester sport coat & grey Sansabelts) triggered the shutter release, I turned to watch a car drive by. I remember wishing, in that exact moment, that I was in that car and leaving what was, up to that point in my life, the biggest mistake I ever made. I like to tell folks who are curious about what the Army's like, "It's as close as you can get to being in jail."
Basic training started 37 years ago today. Put another terrifying way...when I entered the service, 1940 was 36 years ago. You always wore a uniform flying commercial...not because you were required to... but because some WWII veteran would buy you a beer or two at the airport bar in Atlanta. The saying back then was, if you die and go to Hell, you'll have a stop over in Atlanta. I listened to their stories and I saw some eyes well up. Like mine sometimes do... when I tell a story today. Maybe that comes with being over 50.
Thoughts of the Army are complicated. When watching the light show of tracer ball on a night range during basic training -- A moment of clarity dawned on me. I realized I could easily be on the receiving end. Not the best motivation for an infantryman. When starting any training, all I wanted to know was, "When is this over? What's the date?" As long as I had a date - you could shit on my head all you wanted - just so I knew I was leaving by a certain square on the calender.
What I loved? We were all in the same boat. That's really what comradeship is all about...an equality of being screwed or what was called, "BOHICA." Bend Over Here It Comes Again. About the only place I feel a sharing of misery in civilian life is being stuck in traffic.
After a couple of years I started to happily settle into Army life. But mysteries persisted. I knew highly honorable and ethical men...who slept with their best friend's wives. There was this law that you didn't plank another soldier's wife but 'horny' always seemed to get in the way. Consequently, Army life was a huge soap opera with loads of messy divorces and spousal abuse...on both sides. A man I worked with, the incomparably cool, Sergeant Knight, would come to work with cuts and bruises. He would tell us he fell, he cut himself, he tripped...One day he disappeared and we would learn his wife, who was the origin of his many injuries, almost killed him.
I heard nightmares of Vietnam veterans in the field. It got to the point where you heard the screaming, knew what it was and rolled over under a mosquito bar... giving it no more thought than what was for breakfast. What I can see now, not then, but now...we were all part of a thing bigger than ourselves. You took the good with the bad but in the end...we were contributing to something important. It's hard to feel the same way about selling insurance.
So if you see me in the airport -- don't thank me for my service. Buy me a beer and I'll tell you a story.