Tales From the Field, pt 1.

At the ripe old age of 19 and one month, I was drafted into the US Army. US 55883443 was another kid from Kansas drafted into the build up that was to be 500,000 soldiers in 1968. Private Petty was sent to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri and pounded into a mold that he gradually fit. There were more tests and shots than most people could understand. The fact that we were given yellow fever, plague, typhoid shots and tetanus boosters should have told anyone that we weren't going to be in a nice place when our training ended. Marching, running, shooting and learning the basics of military life were a 24 hour a day deal for 8 weeks there in the middle of Missouri.
After my short stay there, I was put on a bus and sent to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. The home for wayward "cannon cockers". It was the Army's "Cannon Cocker College" and a really good place to blow up things. Because I had tested well and a board thought I might be able to read a map and live in the jungle, I managed to wrangle an assignment to an Officer Candidate School Preparatory (OCS Prep) class. Step one to becoming an officer. I won't bore you with the details here (later story) but they did everything they could to try to get us to quit. They did not make it fun or easy to go on in that program and being so young, I got my fair share of harassment.
After 8 weeks there I finally arrived in OCS. I found it easier from the harassment side but they were serious about academics and leadership. I had to hide my goof off side and study as well as shine my boots. The OCS Prep stay had me ready for the "spit and polish" side and the gunnery part was easy for me. I graduated from there in July 1967 and was assigned to Fort Irwin, in the middle of the Mojave desert.
I spent about 6 months there helping a hopeless battalion train for Vietnam. It was the blind leading the blinder. Yes, I know that in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is King but there wasn't anybody with anywhere near 20-20 vision in any eye. In fact, the Army had most of the leaders of that unit performing "rectal defilade" (Head up their posterior) and in complete denial that we needed to be somewhere there was anything near a jungle to train in. I'm pretty sure that the Army was busting at the seams about that time so there wasn't any space to train anywhere else. Besides, isn't southern California a good place to train in the fall and winter?
The desert is fine in the night in summer and daytime in winter. In the winter you spend more time putting on or taking off layers of clothes to adjust to the change of temperature. In Kansas if the temperature is going to change more than 30 degrees from high to low they issue a stockman's advisory. It was completely normal for the temperature to change 40 to 50 degrees during a 24 hour period there. The wind always picked up at night and added a wind chill to that cold.
After passing all the tests known to the modern Army the battalion was certified to go to war. We packed and were sent to Vietnam on two slow boats. Yes, I know real sailors called them ships. The USNS Geiger had so little keel it wallowed as it went up and down. It resembled a "turd in a punch bowl" and the up down and side to side just made most of us ready to blow chunks, hurl, talk to Ralph and order Buicks for the entire time we were on that floating pile. Try to trap me on a cruise today and you will find me gone, hiding, playing Magic man and generally not there.
I would love to tell you that in spite of the intense training the 6th Bn, 84th Artillery, 155mm Towed Howitzer battalion was a raging success. Remember the bind part mentioned above? We got our asses handed to us by a mortar crew and the unit never recovered. The only salvation to me was that I was almost immediately transferred (they called it an infusion, kind of like transfusion to keep it alive) to another unit near Pleiku, in the Central Highlands. I started my assignment there as the battalion ammo officer but spent most of my time either flying as an aerial observer or sent out to small units as a forward observer. I will tell you more about that in part 2 and three. Stand by for them...

No comments:

Post a Comment