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Published: September 3rd 2013
LOW CRAWL“YOU’RE IN THE ARMY NOW……
Nobody could low crawl faster then me. My pal Burl Lyles made sure I got plenty of special instruction.
You’re not behind the plow,
You’re digging a ditch,
You son of a bitch,
You’re in the army now”
I joined the army on the buddy system with my best friend Mark B Thobe at the Induction Center in Los Angeles on September 12, 1967. The President of the United States was Lyndon Baines Johnson from Texas. He was the most corrupt Democrat who ever lived. His wife, Lady Bird, was a major stockholder in the Bell Aircraft Corporation. Bell was the company that manufactured combat helicopters for the army. The war in Vietnam had been steadily increasing since the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was passed by Congress.
On August 4, 1965 communist North Vietnamese gunboats had attacked one of our destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin and it led to the resolution. It was later disclosed during the Nixon Administration, in what we’re being called the Pentagon Papers that no such attack ever occurred. It was just a lie that Johnson used to get public and Congressional support for his nefarious war profiteering
FRANK HILLEY AND MIKE BURNS
Frank Hilley on left. Mike Burns jumping.
scheme. The resolution was a war powers act that gave the President, as Commander in Chief, authority to escalate the war by decree. Unknown to us the war in Vietnam was about to escalate on a massive scale and Lady Bird was going to make millions of dollars.
War is good business, invest your son. We didn’t know anything about the politics of war and didn’t care. Thobe wanted to escape from an uncomfortable domestic situation with his dad, and I was suffering from a broken heart due to a recent break up with the lovely Barbara Ann Victorino.
We enlisted to avoid being drafted and sent to Vietnam, to be able to choose our own course of military training, to take advantage of the buddy system, and because by enlisting we would become part of the Regular Army. Soldiers who were drafted went into the U. S. Army and soldiers who enlisted went into the regular army. It was all the same army, of course, but the distinction was that you could reenlist into the regular army without a break in service if you chose to make a military career. The buddy system
SGT MICHAEL McCALEB
Look up "Bad Ass" in the dictionary. You might find this picture.
was an enlistment inducement that allowed friends to go through Basic Combat Training together. Thobe and I chose to go to the Heavy Equipment Operators School so that we would have a career to fall back on, if need be, as civilians. We fell for that old “Choice, Not Chance” bullshit the recruiters gave us and off we went to Basic Training up at Fort Ord, California.
Four busloads of us went up from the induction center in Los Angeles to the army post near Monterey, CA. Two of the busses were loaded with young black men who were charged with looting during the 1964 Watts Riot and had chosen to join the army rather than go to prison. One of the white kids had dropped out of the public school system to pursue a lucrative career as a drug dealer. He had been drafted and hired an attorney to get him out of the service, but he became a medic and went to Vietnam. I suspect he performed miracles of valor, became a doctor in civilian life and raised a passel of industrious kids; but then again maybe not. He was self- taught, and an avid
What?..... What hell, pay attention fool.
reader, and he excelled at most things but getting out of the bed in the morning. Soon as his bare feet hit the cold floor in the morning he started in cursing the army and denouncing his attorney. Thobe and I both liked him, his name was Mike Burns. He endeared himself to us by accidentally shitting in his hat on the first day we got our uniforms.
Before basic training could even start all of us raw recruits had to spend a week getting uniforms issued, getting haircuts, getting immunizations, and doing a myriad of administrative chores. Some of us were already married and had to make payroll decisions for dependents. When Private Earl Aldridge was asked if he was married he said that, “Well, my wife is married, but I’m not”. Apparently he had been going through divorce proceedings and decided to join the army to prevent his wife from absconding with his estate. Soldiers cannot be sued in a civilian court. Aldridge did not have a pot to piss in but as long as he stayed in the army his wife couldn’t even get his piss.
We had to send all
LT WHITNEY, FIRST PLATOON AND LT LESNIAK, CO
LT Whitney on left was the first platoon training officer. LT Lesniak was our company commander.
of our civilian clothes back home to make running away more difficult. Another of the white kids, Private George Thatcher, had gotten his girlfriend pregnant and was pursued to Fort Ord by her angry parents and forced into marriage by the Provost Marshal. A week later another pregnant girlfriend showed up looking for Private Thatcher, but the poor devil was already married. Two weeks later a third pregnant girlfriend showed up looking for him. Private Thatcher made it through basic training, went off to jump school at Fort Benning, and was finally killed in Vietnam. Apparently he thought he couldn’t be drafted if he had some dependents.
Another white kid wanted badly to serve his country, and had passed all rudimentary physical requirements, but nobody at the induction center had noticed he was wearing an elevated shoe. One of his legs was four inches longer than the other. He was given a General Discharge and kicked out of the army before basic training was half over. The army did not accommodate the handicapped with special footgear.
All of us were issued cheap shoes that gave us flat feet. It was more war profiteering. Another
Me, gramma, and Thobe at Uncle George's house on the day we graduated from Basic Combat Training at Fort Ord.
of the white kids brought an infection of crab lice into the army. Before long it had become an epidemic within our whole company. Every one of us had to go through the lice treatment, including our cadre, the officers, and their dependents. It was a simple treatment, but it was painful. We had to shave off half of our body hair, squirt lighter fluid on the remaining hairy part and light it on fire. When the lice ran out from the fire we could stab them with an ice pick. It was the only way to kill them. They were hearty little buggers.
Private Dan Leaf got himself drafted out of dental college. He was a licensed dentist but every soldier had to go to basic training. That was the hard rule. On the day that Private Leaf completed basic training he received his commission as a captain in the medical corps and outranked our company commander. Leaf endeared himself to our entire platoon on the day we received our gear and uniforms and were learning to set up a footlocker. He politely asked our drill sergeant when we were going to be issued pajamas. Soldiers have two ways of sleeping, and only two: with their skivvies on, or with their skivvies off. Our drill sergeant, Michael McCaleb, was a magnificent fellow who scared the pee waddling out of us all at first but we learned soldiering from him, and discipline, and how to work together, and most importantly how to be men instead of boys.
On the rung below Sergeant McCaleb stood Corporal Stafford. Stafford was kind of a strutting rooster; stringy and tough and hilarious in his self-importance. Stafford came into the army from the deepest backwoods of West Virginia. He spoke with an accent that none of us could understand. Whenever he said anything at all one of us would be bound to say, “Do what, cawprul”? That always pissed him off a little. He would turn red in the face, and invariably he would respond with the exact same words, “What? What, hell, pay attention, fool”. He had a 300 pound wife that was homely as sin, but she adored him and they had a passel of unruly red haired youngsters. Two of them were always in dirty diapers. His wife dropped him off each morning in a blue 1957 Pontiac station wagon that had bald tires and a rotten muffler.
On the rung above Sergeant McCaleb stood the Senior Drill Instructor, Sergeant Burl Lyles. Old Burl had a much nicer car than Stafford did. One day he drove it out to our training area at the close combat course. Our reputation for lice had gotten around by then and the instructors there prudently declined to train us. They all managed to find duty elsewhere that day. Old Burl made us police up all of the trash we could find in the whole area and throw it in the truck of his Oldsmobile. One of us found a dead skunk and threw it in his car. I kind of liked Old Burl, but he was certifiably crazy. He had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from a previous tour in Vietnam although back then nobody knew about that disease or how to treat it.
The oldest recruit in our company was named Private Daniel MacPherson. He was 34 years old and had been in the air force before, but he could not make in it civilian life because he was epileptic and could not hold a job. One day MacPherson fell to the ground in a grand mal seizure. Old Burl freaked out and ordered the men in MacPherson’s squad to gather around and urinate on him. Lieutenant Whitney quickly put a stop to it, got some care for MacPherson, and reported the incident. A few days later Old Burl went off again with some blood stained clothing he had brought in to show us that he had taken from the corpse of Viet Cong guerilla he had killed during the war. That was enough. Old Burl was relieved of duty and replaced with a new Senior Drill Instructor named Sergeant Berry. MacPherson was given a medical discharge. The whole sad thing started with the skunk. It smelled like death to Old Burl.
Our company commander was a first lieutenant named Alan P. Lesniak. He later got promoted to Captain and sent to Vietnam. He was commanding an artillery battery at a remote firebase that was about to get overrun. To save his men he called down an airstrike on his own position and was awarded the Silver Star. I read about that action in The Stars and Stripes and was proud of him. The Stars and Stripes was a military newspaper that was chock full of brainwashing propaganda. It was a trick our military leaders learned from Nazi Germany in WWII.
The rifle that we were given to train with, qualify as shooters with, and learn the code of arms and bayonet tactics with was the venerable old M-14. It was a superb weapon in terms of reliability, accuracy, and ruggedness but it was not the weapon that our war profiteers and their henchmen in the Pentagon gave us to fight with in Vietnam. What we got there was the M-16. It was a smaller and lighter rifle that fired smaller and cheaper ammunition, but at a higher rate of fire. It was nowhere near as accurate and it jammed easily. Thousands of our soldiers were lost needlessly because of it, but war is good business. Invest your son.
Basic training at Fort Ord was easier than it was at other posts where it was being done. Fort Ord was small and all of the training sites and rifle ranges were close by. The distances we had to march were short. We could not march anywhere off post because of an outbreak of spinal meningitis that kept us quarantined.
Basic training at Fort Ord was done in the Third Brigade. My uncle, George Oliver, happened to be the commanding officer of the Fourth Brigade at Fort Ord. He was the ranking colonel in the entire army until he retired ten years later. My cousin, Marilyn, used to bake cookies for me to share with my pals. She would give the cookies to her dad and he turned them over to his brigade sergeant major who personally carried them down to the first sergeant of my company. The first sergeant personally gave them to me during mail call. Those cookies were treated with great respect and once it was known who my uncle was nobody dared give me any trouble.
When Thobe and I graduated from basic training we marched in a parade in front of a viewing stand where my uncle, my parents and my grandparents sat in positions of honor. My uncle was dearly fond of a parade. Thobe and I were the only guys allowed out of the company area on graduation day due to the quarantine and I got an overnight pass to spend with my family. Marilyn drove Thobe and I around the post in her dad’s car and everyone saluted us. They thought we were the commanders of the Fourth Brigade. Marilyn started in sending cookies to Thobe too after that day.
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