For me. That war got me pulled me off the street just in time. It kicked me in my flabby ass and stood me up. It broke the descending trajectory I was in and most likely saved my life. When other young men had designs on marriage or college, I watched from the outside. No interest.
I was hanging with dangerous people, experimenting with drugs and was an alcoholic for at least five years by then. I was going nowhere in a hurry. With a bullet, as they say.
In 1966, I was a machinist’s apprentice and had a government deferment. I was safe. But my drinking and carousing got me fired and the government’s bullseye became firmly affixed to my back. When my “Greetings” letter from the government arrived, I was ready for a hospital, not a barracks.
I was finally drafted. At 19 I weighed 190 pounds. I should have been 165. I was soft, flabby, chest congested and didn’t know a push-up from a pull-up. I vomited every day for weeks. They damn near killed me.
The change came weeks later during a six mile run. Something was different. The run didn’t feel fast enough to me for some reason. I started to run backwards. Then the guy next to me started. We looked at each other in amazement. What was this? Then the grass drills started to seem like fun. (I said started, OK?)
We all smoked during those days but we were leaner, faster, confident and coordinated. Then we started to get neat. Daily inspections will do that to you. You got your shit together.
The olive drab started to fit better. Tight in the right places. When we partied on weekends we would practice facing movements and even foot race each other. The change had come.
Eighteen months later, I stepped off a plane in Boston after a year in Vietnam. I’ll never forget the look on my mother’s face when she looked up at my tanned face. She held on to my arm for dear life. I was her man.
In an alternate universe she wouldn’t have been looking at me with such unabashed pride, she would have been posting bail.