It was July 1962 when I enlisted into the Army. A bunch of us left from Philadelphia by train for Ft. Jackson, S.C. And, of course, a lot of rumors about the Army were going around the train, everything from how much the M1 kicked to the square needles the Army used to give shots. I was a hunter, so the kick from the M1 didn’t bother me. But the square needles got my attention. When we arrived, it was extremely hot and muggy, like 106 degrees. And we were double-timed everywhere we went and soaked with sweat.
First stop was to the barber shop – long lines and in the sun. The sergeant said to wait in line and not leave it. He wasn’t very big, but when he said “Stay in line!” he had a way of putting fear into us. There was a soda machine nearby, and a lot of guys opted to make a run for it. I finally gave in, too. Wouldn’t you know, the sergeant was yelling “*^&@#*!” from right behind me. A chill went down my back as I quickly made it back to the line, standing high and dry except for the sweat.
Next was a jog “double time” over to the mess hall for lunch. The sergeant marched us in, and I was delighted when he said to take all we wanted to eat but make sure our plate was clean when finished. Again, I had no problem with that because that was the same rule in my home- don’t waste food!
My mother made the best rice pudding you ever tasted. And when I saw it there for dessert, I promptly piled it onto my plate. The sergeant was standing across from me, watching our table. I dug into my pile of rice pudding and took a big mouthful. To my horror, it was not rice pudding but cottage cheese which I hated. I was gagging just to keep it down. With the sergeant watching, I had to eat it all and struggled to keep it down. To this day, I don’t eat anything unless I know for sure what it is.
Finally, at the end of the day, the worst day of my life, I really felt down and got a drink at the PX. I sat down on the stoop of the barracks, thinking about how I was going to get through the next three years. And after I thought it over, I said “Ok. If this is the way it’s going to be, and millions of guys did it before me, and millions will after me, I can do it, too. Bring it on!”