Fifty five years ago at this very minute, I struggled to open my right eye. The pain was unbearable. I made a phlegmy, raspy noise and pulled the covers over my head. It hurt to think.
I was still in the clothes I would be wearing for the next four days. I had on cranberry pants and a wine stained yellow Ban-lon shirt.
The letter from the draft board was laying next to the bed with a beer can on it
My room was right off the kitchen and I could hear the rest of my tribe, all eleven of them, readying for their day.
This was my “Garden of Gesthemane” moment. I was praying for someone, anyone, to take this cup from me. Because today was the day, September 16, 1966, when my life would end.
It was the first day of my unsought military career.
My poor mother was a wreck. Vietnam was all day, every day. The atrocities and casualty count was the lead story on all three major networks.
Now, her oldest and unwisest, was heading off to slaughter. The one who couldn’t even find his shoes that morning.
Oh, the agony that woman endured.
My father, my eternal nemesis, was home that day with his face buried in the newspaper. Trying not to make a snide remark that would provoke my mother.
Once I mooched a few cigarettes and bus fare, I staggered down the back stairs to my darkest fate.
After vomiting in the neighbor’s bushes, I walked to the bus stop at the end of my street and got on my first connection to the South Boston Naval Yard Induction Center.
My life, at that point, was over.
The induction center that day, looked like a rock concert. There was wall-to-wall confusion, fist fights and lines everywhere.
In a few hours, we would be hastily sworn in and were told that from that moment on, we were “Government Issue.”
After a riotous, rebellious, and drunken five day train ride to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, we were taken off our passenger cars by MP’s using night sticks.
Then we were given ponchos so we could stand out in the rain all day waiting to be processed.
This was one of the largest drafts of the war. Thousands of train cars linked from Boston to Columbia, South Carolina. Masses of unwilling victims who didn’t want to be there.
Everything from the engine to the caboose showed signs of wreckage.
In return, they spent that first week letting us know who was boss.
The demons those sons-a bitches wrenched from my body didn’t go without a fight. I bled, I ached, I cried, I begged for mercy, They would have none of it. They ran us, marched us, grass drilled us and pushed us to the limits of our already threatened sanity.
The cruelty knew no bounds. Relentless.
I could actually sleep standing up.
About six weeks in, the fever started to break. Formations formed quicker and we instinctively knew our “military” left from our right.
Six mile runs seemed shorter and muscles stopped aching. There was less bitching, our fatigues started to fit better and we stood up straighter.
There was even less groaning when “Double Time” was called, and hardly anyone was lining up for sick call.
Fast forward to today. I rise from slumber before daylight with a clear head and a plan. I make my bed before I hit the loo.
I hit the coffee button then I grab my sneakers.
I am organized and dangerous.
I have a tight belly, strong legs and a healthy constitution.
At 75, I have the body of a teenager.
And I spend no time wondering what my life would be like if I hadn’t had that incredible experience.
It’s just too painful to contemplate.