It was February 1971. Fort Campbell Kentucky, Home of the 101st Airborne! Elvis was even here!
So, here I was, a 19 year old draftee on KP. Oddly, I didn’t mind the Kitchen Police, “discipline!” I was use to doing dishes and such at home ever since I could remember. Back then, it was “Yes, Mom, I’ll get it done!” Now here, it was “Yes sir!”, even to a lowly Mess-Hall Private!
It wasn’t long into the day that my thoughts of home were broken by the Head Cook. “Where the Hell is your partner?” he asked. I didn’t know. I wasn’t paying attention.
While peeling potatoes and dreaming of home, the other nameless, hairless, and humiliated guy, had slipped off. “Go find him!” I was told. Not here in the kitchen. Not here in the Mess Hall. Not in the back receiving area.
Found him. Sort of. He was just here in one of the street corner phone booths, cornerstones for connecting to the sanity of home, before they carted him away to the hospital.
Yeah, he was here, slumped in a pool of blood. He had cut his wrists. He must have had enough. He must not have liked the realization that he was now, nothing more than an interchangeable part, disposable, replaceable.
I didn't get to say good luck as they drove off. I then headed back to the kitchen, picking up where I left off. After the meals were made, the troops fed, and the kitchen and hall cleaned that day, I headed for my bunk.
As I lay there, staring up into the upper springs of nothingness, I realized that my world would be forever changed.
The next day the First Sergeant Major held a formation. He instructed us on the “proper” way to cut our wrists so there would be no mistakes. The pool of dark blood remained in that phone booth for awhile. A reminder that things can go wrong.
Yes, my world was changing.