Troubled times were at hand in 1964. The world was in a
very troubled state between the Communist threat, nuclear proliferation
and developing tensions in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. The conflict in
that region continued to escalate, first under President John F.
Kennedy, then under his successor, President Lyndon Johnson. Regardless
of where you stand politically, these were times of division here at
home in the USA, and the cause of many wounds that still do not heal. I
am known by many as a "flag waver," and I readily admit that I have
always felt that I live in the greatest country in the world! Although I
believe 100% that one owes his allegiance and his service to his
country, this was one situation where countless young American lives
(more than 50,000) were lost for no good reason. Having said that, I
also believe that those young men who served in the military during this
time, and were fortunate to return, deserve our praise, our
understanding, and our total support.
Under the guise of providing assistance to these three
governments, US troops were sent there in what I believe to be a futile
battle against the spread of Communism, and the government sent many of
our soldiers to fight this undeclared war. This country was divided
between those who supported the war, those who resisted and denounced
the war, and those who, regardless of their beliefs, were drafted into
the war by the Selective Service and sent into battle.
While I was in college, I saw deferments being
cancelled, so I made a decision to enlist in the National Guard. If I
had to serve, I was going to serve my way, and minimize the chances of
my being sent to fight a war that, frankly, I could not believe in. I
also knew that the National Guard would not be called to active duty
unless Congress declared a state of war, and that did not seem to be
very likely. At the end of my second year of college, I decided to drop
school temporarily and seek work in the electronics industry while I
awaited my call-up for active duty (basic training).
I was sworn into the Guard on June 1, 1965 at Jamaica
Armory, home of the 104th Field Artillery, and was assigned to the Radar
Section. The irony in this is that my view of the draft situation was
absolutely correct, and I received my draft notice in the mail five days
later! My entry into basic training was supposed to occur within four
months, but those who remember that time also remember that on July 1,
1965, the draft was suddenly raised to 40,000 by President Johnson, and
my entry into basic training was delayed for a year and a half until
January 7, 1967.
Basic training was everything that I"d heard it would
be, but I was prepared for whatever the Army could throw at me in the
way of pressure, mental challenges, etc., and decided to become the
"company clown" in order to survive this experience. Fort Gordon, in
Augusta, GA, was not the ideal place for a kid from Brooklyn, but I made
the most of it.
Sure, I received all of the training necessary to
become a soldier, but I also survived the "brainwashing" process that is
basic training. I must say that I enjoyed most of the experience, but
because of my attitude, was forced to do more pushups that anyone else
in my company of 258 men. Not a problem for me once I began to build my
physical strength, and I must admit that I have never since been in such
terrific physical condition!
After basic training, I was shipped to Fort Sill in Lawton, OK for advanced training as a counter-artillery radar operator where I finished school second in my class. It was a real shot in the arm when my training officer offered me instructor status at the radar school, and I must say that he was surprised that I declined his offer. To me, it seemed imminent that after transferring to regular army status, when all of my time was plotted out, there was no guarantee that I wouldn"t be shipped to "Nam", and in my job, I would be a primary target for the enemy. On July 7, 1967 I was released from active duty and returned to my unit in Jamaica, NY, where I spent the balance of my military time between evening and weekend drills, and two-week active duty tours each summer at Camp Drum near Watertown, NY. In 1969, we were activated during the postal strike, and as a result, I was discharged from the Guard eleven months early on July 1, 1970, having achieved the rank of Staff Sergeant. They offered a promotion to Sergeant First Class if I would "re-up" to no avail- it was time to return to full civilian status.
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