the re-runs keep on coming this summer. this particular one first appeared almost three years ago. originally it was a two part story. this time around i’m running it as one part. it is what it was and it’s more of my history and yours as well. life throws you knuckle curve balls that can sometimes change everything. even if you just stand there flat footed and watch the ball dance by. there are also odd circumstances in history/life that occur in which you are part but just a minor footnote. also, in case you haven’t noticed it, life can deal out irony like nobodies business. thanks for reading.
gentlemen the marines are drafting this month
it had already been a bad morning. a very bad morning. however, those seven words sent an electric shock through the hundred or so plus odd souls in the downtown los angeles army induction center, circa dec 1969. things were bad but they were just about to go completely sideways. but i’m getting ahead of myself.
that december day was the second time i’d been drafted by uncle sam. i’d received an induction notice back in may of the same year. i’d managed to get out of that one. i was still in school and actually doing ok for a change. meaning good grades. hell, i was even on the dean’s list. the school got me out of it but warned me if i didn’t go to another school in the fall i’d be history. i’d already spent one of my lifetimes going to that local community college. three years to graduate from a two year school. it was a good thing i drifted into the theatre department. it meant good grades and a sorta reprieve from the inevitable.
yes, it was inevitable. it was all written a few months before i was born in 1948. harry truman re-signed the draft law act and i was doomed while still in my mother’s womb. oh, sure i could have gone to canada but that really wasn’t an option. my father, my uncles, and my godfather. yeah, my godfather, a lucky to be alive heavily decorated big time ww2 combat vet and at the time still in the army. my dad’s best friend. get the picture? doubtful in these weird times.
there were other various ways to avoid the draft. some of which must have worked or the folks in the draft resistance centers wouldn’t have told you about them. though most of the stuff wasn’t something i’d like to try and pull off. say, like crapping in your pants and peeing in them as well for a week or so before your induction physical. that riff was supposed to work as quickly as it took them to get you out of the building. something i didn’t think any sane person could manage. there was another one not quite as bad. it involved a rotten fish, some thread, a needle, and the guts to string the thread through the fish then leave it there to rot along with the fish. after a few days you would take the needle and thread then somehow or another run it through your knee. either one it didn’t matter. this made for an interesting infection in your knee and with the string left there it made for an even more interesting x-ray. no, i don’t think so. thanks, anyway.
another way to avoid the draft if you could come up with $300 or $400 there were doctors that could get you out. maybe. that was the catch, it was only a maybe. however, $300 back in those days might as well have been $100,000 today. plus my folks were just working class stiffs and salt of the earth types. not much cash at that time and one of the reasons i went to the community college to start with. oh, i had some cash but it would have wiped me out. better to just go with some odds and roll the dice. then see what happens. youth, guile, and bluster.
i’d worked through the summer. sorta. i spent a lot of time at the beach or just dicking about. the fall rolled around and i had no plans for school. i was just going to totally lay around and wait for my next draft notice. my parents weren’t happy about this so called plan but then nothing much they could do about it other than bitch. especially when i told them why would anyone want to hire someone who might get drafted next month? i wouldn’t. that usually kept them out of my hair for a few weeks at a time.
the first or second week of november i got my second draft notice. i recall just sitting in the den holding the unopened letter. it wasn’t a pleasant experience.
the swan song of my civilian life was seeing the rolling stones at the forum in inglewood. the infamous 3am show where mick laments he should have brought along his toothbrush. it had been scheduled for much earlier in the evening as the second show of the night. the first show got started several hours late and things just snowballed from there on out. my girlfriend at the time did manage to score peter fonda’s autograph. i finally made it home after the sun had been up for awhile.
just as a drift since i haven’t drifted yet…that particular girlfriend’s parents hated me. i would be in her college dorm room fucking her or she would be giving me head and the phone would ring and it would be her parents or older brother telling her to dump me. the call would go on and on. we would just lay there naked while they ranted on about me. i didn’t care about the call, her brother, or her parents. she swallowed. then she would make some tea to clear her palette as it were. hey, older brother, listen to this. yes, well, my bad.
the fatal morning finally arrived. it was an early morning ride in the dark from de onta out to san berdoo and the swing auditorium for the draft call cattle call. the first stop of the day. the first stop in what was to become an almost two year long living breathing real life twilight zone episode.
it was a sad farewell. parents hugging kids. girlfriends crying. parents crying. young men trying not to cry. it was a sea of misery. then it came time to board the buses for the trip to downtown l.a. a long silent ride in the early morning darkness. private thoughts and prayers hung in the air like a thick fog.
once into the induction center it was the standard army cluster fuck. sorta. take your clothes off put em back on take em off again and wander around naked for awhile going here going there seeing that doctor getting a needle stuck in a vein. yeah, that deal went down with army medics. probably just out of medic school. medics who got lucky when they were sent to the induction center and not nam. at least for the moment.
standing naked in a line with a bunch of other naked guys is no fun. but standing in that line and watching some guy trying to hit pay dirt with a dull seemingly square needle was even worse. i have never seen anything like it. stab, miss, stab again, miss again. no more stabbing just twist the fucker around until the vein was popped and blood drawn. an amazing sight. some of the more feint hearted souls actually passed out watching that action being played out right there before them in living and breathing color.
after the probing and stuff we were given some sort of written test. i don’t recall anything that was on it. though it would play into what was to come later in the morning.
then came time to sit and wait. a game we would all come to play very well. a game that i can still play today. at some point or another we were taken into a room, 30 or 40 of us at a time. it was in this room we heard those fateful words, gentlemen, the marines are drafting this month.
it was more or less fine and dandy we were going to be stuck in the army for a couple of years. well, not fine and dandy but we were at some sort of peace with ourselves and the whole deal. however, this card from the bottom of the deck was more than any sane person could take. suddenly things got even more grim. i’d heard stories about marine corps boot camp from ex-marines during that time period and it’s something i had no wish to experience. the army experience would be more than enough, thank you.
the army officer who had made that statement let it sink in for a few seconds. not that it hadn’t already shaken everyone of us to the core. in those few seconds i came to the realization, that fuck it, i’m going out the open window if i hear my name and the marine corps mentioned in the same sentence.
sure the open window was 4 or 5 floors up from the street but what’s your point? i didn’t care. there were no windows on the lower floors as my friend, jwfh, pointed out and reminded me of yesterday. they had all been bricked over. all of the escape routes covered. either by bricks or army corporals whose sole mission was not to let anyone out of the building. i guess they didn’t think anyone would be fool hardy enough to take a dive from the 4th floor. yeah, well, think again.
they had taken all of our folders and put them in stacks on a a table at the front of the room. each stack had a separate number and letter code. we all had a number and letter code on our folders. say like 6c or 3a. i don’t recall what mine was. plus, i have no idea just how they came up with that number letter code. something to do with mental and psychical shape i’m sure.
after the stacks were completed the officer announced that the marines needed say, 4 6c’s. so the sargent randomly picked 4 folders from the 6c pile. those names were called out and the young men were told to go wait outside in the seating area. then he told the sargent the marines needed 6 3a’s. more random picking and more very very sad young men told to go wait outside. a different number of folders was selected from each of the piles. it wasn’t over until it was over. the group was thinned out by maybe a third and those among us who’s name hadn’t been called were then given the induction oath by the same officer. you’re in the army now.
once that was completed we were told to go wait outside and another group was called into the room. sitting outside, i have never seen more forlorn faces in my life than the faces on those poor guys who were going to go down to pendleton and marine corps boot camp. on the other hand those of us who hadn’t been ‘selected’ were almost ecstatic. go figure.
we waited around until the marines got what they wanted. we were given a bible, a box lunch, some toiletries then we boarded more buses for a 10 hour ride up to ft ord, on the monterrey peninsula. we were supposed to stop for restroom breaks and an evening meal but the driver was having none of that. there would be no one jumping ship or the bus on his watch. no, sir.
we arrived at ft ord around 11pm or later. exhausted and wired in that weird way. life was to become very very different for us all very very soon.
i do not mean to disparage the marine corps. no way. the story is true and was what it was in those times. pure and simple. without the marine corps we would all be in a bigger fix than we are already in. thankfully, there are those among us who still heed the the call of duty, honor, and country. may god bless them one and all. hopefully, some of those blessings will slop over to the rest of us.
i make no apologies for my time in the army or my time in vietnam. it was a sorta righteous deal that went askew. big time. shit happens. it will never be 1941 again. ever. however, that doesn’t mean some sort of applied force someplace is not warranted. iraq seems to be another vietnam. in the last 40 years it’s the only thing teddy kennedy ever got right. pure and simple.
the main problem with vietnam was we just up and left. a sad bad choice. left them to die by the millions. left them to die or worse in the re-education camps. re-education camps right out of mao and the chinese in the 60’s and 70’s. packing up and leaving without finishing the job was bad juju if there ever was bad juju. that bad karma continues to haunt this once great nation. the worst and nastiest re-education camp in vietnam? the old macv advisory 48 compound in ham tan. the place where i spent my year.