In March 1969, I was drafted into the Army as one of more than 36,000 drafted nationwide. After having spent a week at Fort Jackson, S.C., taking tests, shots and getting uniforms, I was sent to Fort Gordon, Ga., for eight weeks of basic training.
As our bus entered the post and turned the corner toward our basic training company, I vividly remember a drill sergeant, Sgt. Breeden, in the middle of the street yelling at the approaching bus of new recruits. He was waving his arms, using some choice language and giving directives, even before the bus had stopped. This continued after we got off the bus, grabbing our duffle bags and standing at full attention.
Another sergeant, Sgt. McGahee, stood in front of me and proceeded to pull two whiskers from my face. "Do you see this?" he asked. I said I did. "I don't want to see this again," he said.
The next morning I shaved down, up and sideways to avoid having a similar incident. Of course, my face was the color of a peach, but I avoided the wrath of the drill sergeant. The drill sergeant assigned to our platoon was Sgt. Tucker, who in our minds was the meanest person imaginable.
But by the end of our eight weeks of grueling training, Sgt. Tucker was the best drill sergeant you could have ever hoped for. He trained us properly and prepared the majority of us for what was ahead. By August 1969, I was in the rice paddies of the Mekong Delta of South Vietnam with the 9th Infantry Division. At that point, I longed for the days of basic training.