The Writers Voice
The Other Casualty of War - Chapter Four
By the time I turned 17, I began to feel as if I needed something or someone to help get my act together. I wasn't able to hold a job and doing robberies and B&E’s (breaking and entering) couldn’t keep a steady cash flow coming in. Seems we’d be rich one day and, the next we’d be scraping to buy cigarettes.
The United States Army, I thought, would be a good place to start. After all, a couple of friends joined and they seemed to be doing pretty well. My current brother-in-law had joined and when he came home on leave, I was impressed with the changes I had seen in him. However, he had not yet gone to Vietnam.
I went to the recruiter and he said because I was only 17 years old, I'd need my parent's permission to join. I took all the tests to see what I was qualified for. They told me I'd make a good clerk, and the recruiter guaranteed I'd get into that school. I thought, "School? Man, I didn’t want anymore school, but, well, all right." I'd do it. I didn’t think I needed it…hell, look at all the professions I already had under my belt!
I went and spoke to my mother and stepfather to tell them I wanted to join the service. My mother was against the idea, and my stepfather was for it, especially when I said I'd send home an allotment for them. I don’t think my parents, like many others, were quite aware of the situation in Vietnam. I know I wasn’t.
My parents finally gave their consent, and I signed the papers, took the oath, and the next day I got on a train at South Station in Boston headed for Basic Training. I thought I’d be going to Fort Dix, New Jersey. That’s what the recruiter told me anyway. Nope! It sure wasn’t New Jersey! I was speeding my way to Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
Although I was alone on the train, I was excited about what lay in store for me. I could feel a sense of pride building in me. Wearing the uniform would surely impress girls. Most of the passengers seemed to be going on vacations or business trips, not many, or so I thought, were going to Fort Jackson.
We pulled into Richmond, Virginia, first. While we sat there waiting, some women came on board and sold us a box lunch for one dollar. When I opened it up I was pleasantly surprised to find some homemade fried chicken, a biscuit, potato salad and a small soda. I can distinctly remember how delicious it was. When the train pulled into the station, somewhere in South Carolina, there were busses waiting for new soldiers, like myself. I guess there were more guys on the train headed for Fort Jackson than I had thought! The busses were packed with kids, just like me.
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