Recently my middle grandson shared with me his desire to join the Coast Guard when he graduates high school this year.
As I watched him sitting at the kitchen table surrounded by the mountain of paperwork he was required to fill out for his application, a memory came to mind.
Fort Brag, North Carolina, January 2nd 1968, my 1st day of basic training. Forty-eight hours prior, I was a 19 year old long haired Italian American kid, hanging out on the street corners of West Philadelphia singing doo wop with the boys watching the girls walk by.
Stepping off the train at Fort Brag was in answer to my draft notice, the Merry Christmas letter I received in December 1967. Although the names and the clarity of their faces have faded, the commanding influence of the two African American Drill Sergeants who greeted us on the first day of basic training remains embedded in my memory.
Young and raw, as new recruits, we struggled with the stride and strut of learning how to march as the Drill Sergeants quickly stepped us to one of the freshly white painted buildings that would be our barracks.
Standing in the street, stumbling into rag tag formation, we assembled to attention. Now, in total control I could hear each Drill Sergeant walking through our ranks barking commands in cadence as one by one they picked us apart.
The first was an overweight black kid. A Drill Sergeant stood in front of him and in a clear resounding voice I heard him say-"YOU ARE A PIG!" In a choreographed move he pulled him out of rank and instructed him to run around our formation loudly repeating the words "I Am A Pigm, I Am A Pig"!
Yes, it was funny. Any one the Drill Sergeants saw laughing, (three or four), had to run around the formation yelling "Here Pig. Here Pig."
Next, the Drill Sergeants pulled out the big kids and the scrawny kids with four or five doing push-ups as the pig and his chasers continued to run around our formation. I forget where I stood in the ranks of the young guys I would spend the next eight weeks with.
Yet, it wasn't long before a Drill Sergeant stood in front of me. I could feel his breath and his spit on my skin as he loudly questioned the stubble of hair on my face. Before I could answer he snatched me out of formation pulling me by my collar until my nose was against the white-washed barracks wall.
It was a bright, chilly day with the sun behind our backs. I could clearly see and was now starring at the shadow of my head against the barracks wall. I heard a crack of thunder as his hand smacked the wall next to my shadow. His words snapped out, "This is your mirror"! For half a second I thought to myself.--"Mirror"? His command to me.--"SHAVE"!
Today, I have a beard. When I see my shadow If I listen closely, behind me I can still hear the pig and his chasers.