Back in 1967 I received two, count ’em – two, different notices to show up at the Induction Center in Newark, NJ; with two very different sets of results.
My first appearance was more like a Three Stooges movie than anything else. Previously, I had been a student at Potomac Horse Center in Gaithersburg, Maryland. My only goal in life back then was to be a riding instructor and stable manager. And then one day I had a lesson on a three year old Thoroughbred named Great Turk. Did I ever mention that I hate all things Turkish with the exception of Turkish Delight? That horse is the reason.
To make a long story short I parted company with Great Turk at his insistence, his very strong insistence. They tell me that when I came off him and was at the top of my arc I was at least fifteen feet in the air. I landed nearly twenty feet from where he had started bucking. That is why I appeared for my first physical in Newark in a full torso soft brace, X-rays in hand, and could barely take my outer clothes off.
I enjoyed the bus ride home just as much as I had enjoyed the ride up, bouncing around with half of the muscles in my body ripped to shreds. Freedom, for most of a year.
But then the second notice came and I tried everything to get out of being drafted, at least everything a poor kid from South Jersey could think of. First came trying to enlist in the Coast Guard since the training center was about fifteen miles from home. Little did I know how many Coast Guards were to serve in the Brown Water Navy on the Mekong River.
After that proved impossible (the waiting list was over a year long) I tried the Air Force. Again, no deal. Then came the Navy – with equal results. That left very few options; the Army and the Marine Corps.
No, Canada was not an option. After all, Canada was that pink blob at the top of the map, home of Sergeant Preston and his sled dogs, Esquimos and not much more. Remember, this was the Fall of 1966 and I had been educated in a slightly less than top notched public school.
Now the Marine Corps was not an option. Don’t get me wrong, I have the absolute utmost respect for Jarheads. My old man had served in the Corps for eighteen years including tours in the Dominican Republic with “Chesty” puller (who he hated with a passion), Shanghai, and at Parris Island where he taught hand-to-hand combat. This last point is important to remember because he made a point of telling me I could do anything I wanted with my life but if I every joined the Marine Corps I had an appointment with him for an hour of “training” out behind the house.
That, of course, left The United States Army. This wasn’t “An Army of One” Army but an Army that would take anyone who was breathing. After all, they needed bodies. Lotsa bodies! Vietnam bound bodies!
So off the the recruiter I went and I listened very carefully, I know I did. I remember it very well. “Well, young man, there is an alternative. Have you ever heard of the United States Army Security Agency? No? Well the first thing you have to know is that there is no United States Army Security Agency in Vietnam. Of course the enlistment for ASA is four years instead of two but just think about the trade-offs.”
Of course not, silly, but there were Radio Research Units in Vietnam and they had been there almost from the beginning. Check The Wall for the name William G. Davis for whom Davis Station in Saigon was named. Somehow the recruiting sergeant had forgotten this.
So there I was, sitting on the bus bound for Newark for the second time, signed up for four years of active service but with my recruiting sergeant’s word that there was no ASA in Vietnam.
Six months to the day later I landed in Bien Hoa but that is another story.