October 1969, Fort Bragg, North Carolina – one of my fondest memories was in the pugil stick training pit. This consisted of two men with helmets and pads and a stick with soft pads on each end. You were to hit your opponent unmercifully until your drill instructor(DI) said stop. Needless to say, the drill instructors let some bouts go on a bit too long at times. Now picture this – maybe 30 or 40 guys, sitting around a saw dust pit, whooping and hollering for their buddy to knock the opponent to his knees or the DI to yell “That’s enough!” My shining moment was fast approaching. I was suited up, helmet on, pads adjusted, stick in hand, looking at the man I was ready to do war with. And scared as hell. The training Commander, a captain, told me to strike the DI in the back of the head as hard as I could. I thought I’d killed him! But he was up and coming at me with vengeance in his eyes. I really respected this man, but he was coming at me like a bull with nothing but red in his eyes. He was an E-6, fresh back from Vietnam. If that wasn’t enough, I had witnessed him a few days earlier take down a trainee in the bayonet pit who tried to stab him. He did it so quickly we all just stared in amazement. He calmed the guy down, helped him up, and talked to him like a father to a son. Then I heard my training commander yell, “Sergeant, don’t touch that man. I told him to do it!”
My no-so-fondest memory was a friend I made for life in Basic. When two men had to pair off for training, it was always Ric and Rick. He was my squad leader, and I supported him along with everybody else in his squad. He was very much wise beyond his age of only 20. About six weeks into our eight-week cycle, we had a classroom session in which each trainee had to state which direction he wanted to go in this man’s Army. Rick wanted to go to Fort Rucker, Alabama to fly helicopters. I tried to talk him out of it, but his mind was made up. In a mere 15 months, Rick was gone due to a horrific Chinook accident.