Being a proud 64-year-old veteran of the U.S. Army 1972-1974, and an American Legion member, I was compelled to respond for this story.
We were six West Bend guys, drafted into the Army in October 1972. The Vietnam War was starting to wind down. My number was 90, so I pretty much knew I would likely be drafted and evading the draft was definitely not in the DNA. Living in the greatest country in the world, this was my duty if called upon.
When we had to go, we took the plane to Fort Polk, La., because Fort Leonardwood, Mo., was full. Fort Polk was huge and I pretty much remembered a lot of sand and pine trees. Let’s face it, in basic training, for pretty much all the guys it’s probably the first time in your life you are away from your family for an extended period of time. You learn to work, play, eat, march, exercise and whatever else together as a team. You do your job and the drill sergeant does theirs. It’s simple. For me, not being a hunter or gun collector, qualifying with the M-16 was a challenge. Tossing the hand grenade was a little nerve-racking too. The exercising and physical fitness part was actually kind of fun for me. I am pretty fit, and I love sports and played sports my whole life. The food was a little challenging, particularly okra and grits. Okra had the consistency of “snot” and grits, even though it look like cream of wheat, had no taste no matter what you put on it.
Friendships that I made while in basic training were unforgettable. Whether they were from the South, North, East or West Coast, we were all in the “same boat." We were all trying to survive and get through the experience. My best friend was to this day, his appearance, if he’s married, or quite honestly, if he’s still alive, a great guy. The “Gut Truck” selling food was also “unique” to say the least. The phone booths, to make those calls to home, were also special. That is, if you had enough money (no cellphones back then).