In 1964 I was a 21-year-old country boy from Hartsville, Ind., near Columbus. I had just graduated from high school in 1961. As many of my friends did, I joined the military, choosing the Army. This was at the height of the Vietnam War. I was sent to Fr. Knox, Ky. for my basic training.
Before leaving, I was told by some of my older friends who had already been to basic training NOT to volunteer for anything OR raise one’s hand. Good advice.
I was one of five chosen to be acting sergeants or squad leaders. The squad leaders had their own rooms above and below the barracks. Mine was above. I was in 3rd platoon, Company C.
One night after lights out, a sergeant from another squad was drunk, walking down the street in front of our barracks. He was making quite a fuss, singing and hollering. I yelled out the upper window, telling him to shut up and go on to his barracks. I did not know he was a “five-striper” and a platoon sergeant.
He yelled back at me and headed into my barracks. I shut off the lights and played asleep. He turned on all the lights, above and below, and ordered everyone out of bed, wanting to know who had yelled at him.
Of course, no one knew but me. I admitted nothing. He told everyone to get dressed, full-field pack, and meet on the street. We got in formation and began to march. It was about 2 a.m. He kept saying “All I need to know is who yelled at me – step forward!” We marched about 20 minutes. I felt guilty that the rest of the platoon had to go through this, so I confessed.
He chewed me out and told me to report to the Commanding Officer (C.O.) at 0600. I didn’t sleep a wink. I knew they would either hang me or give me death by firing squad. Neither one happened.
The C.O. reprimanded me, had a little chuckle, and sent me on my way.
I stayed in the States after basic but always felt guilty I didn’t go to Vietnam.