It was mid-fall when I enlisted. The country was gearing up for winter. The press here in the States were gearing up for the Presidential elections. Across the pond in 'Nam they were gearing up for another TET.
This years TET had devastated the optimistic view most Americans had that although the war was moving very slowly we were still winning.
Accepting all the blame for the domestic disruption caused by the war, President Johnson had already announced he would not be running for a second term. Both Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King had been assassinated. General Westmoreland had been fired as V'nam Commander-In-Chief and promoted to Army Chief of Staff. and both Governor George Wallace and Senator Eugene McCarthy had won a few impressive Democratic primaries.
But by August it was Vice-President Hubert Humphrey who emerged as Richard Nixon's unsuccessful contender to the title fight. Humphrey was the Democrat's inevitable choice. Vice-Presidents usually are.
In his campaign speeches Humphrey had promised to end the war. He felt our stalemate with North V'nam had already done enough damage to American integrity, international interests, and internal tranquility. Nixon, diametrically opposite in view, vowed to continue the war. He felt it would be wrong to permit a pip-squeak country the size of Texas to force us into another Korea-like compromise. For Nixon, and those who thought like him, it was humiliating for America, well into its technological stage of national development, to let North V'nam, just barely entering its agricultural stage, make our contest for victory a difficult one. Nixon felt we simply needed to re-approach North V'namese aggression from a different angle. His campaign platform was, "America needed new leadership in the war."
On election day in early November most Americans chose to agree with him. With the support of ultra-conservatives in government, the military-industrial complex, and millions of middle-class Americans who also believed Nixon's propaganda that Humphrey's election would put drug-crazed left-wing radicals into the White House, Nixon won by a landslide. His election guaranteed another year, at the very least, of continued hostilities.
Naturally, some of my new comrades-in-arms were very disappointed. The majority of inductees in my Basic Training class were draftees. To them, America had dropped the ball on the length of one of its wars. This one was going on too long.
I, on the other hand, was excited. I had enlisted. I decided the military was my best option for steady employment, vocational training, and a positive reference on a future job resume.
Filing out of the Eighth Street induction center, we were met at the door of our bus by a smiling First Lieutenant whose job was to accompany us to Fort Ord. Introduced to us by a Sergeant as our "Military Custodian", the Lieutenant asked that we think of him as our "Tour Guide."
Using the excuse that the bars covering all the windows were there to keep anti-war protesters out, it didn't take the cynical perspective of a draftee to figure out the bars were there to make sure they stayed in.
To keep us occupied on our long ride up the coast the Lieutenant opened the floor to suggestions on what we might do to entertain ourselves. One of the draftees sarcastically suggested we sing camp songs. The Lieutenant laughed, everyone else said no. Another draftee suggested the driver stop the bus and we all get out and go home. Everyone laughed at that one, but the Lieutenant said no. Then, uninvitedly, our driver suggested that we have a contest to see who could come up with the best epitaph for our tombstones. No one laughed at that one, but strangely enough, everyone agreed. Reaching into his pocket, the Lieutenant pulled out a half-used bar of Mennen Speedstick. "This," he told us, "will be first prize."
Thinking over our ideas for a 1/2-hour or so, everyone was asked to recite the message they wanted to be remembered for. After each slogan was yelled out, a winner was voted. With the majority of inductees on board being draftees, the winning epitaph was no surprise. It was, "The Lord Giveth and Uncle Sam Taketh Away." My choice, voted by the Lieutenant and the other three enlistees on board as being the best was, "Here Lies An Enlisted Man. He Traded His Basketball For An M-16."
Arriving well after dark the ride to Fort Ord took 11 hours. With the exception of the Inductee Receiving Station (IRS), the lights in all the other buildings were off.
Although the distance between Los Angeles and Fort Ord was only three hundred and fifty miles, the driver took the longest possible route to get us there. He must have been getting paid by the hour.
Fatigued and stiff from sitting down all day, we were greeted by a dozen, wide-eyed and hyper Drill Sergeants who appeared to have been waiting breathlessly for us. Having advance knowledge of our arrival, they had slept all day. Before the wheels stopped rolling and the doors opened completely, half of them leaped aboard yelling, pushing, and kicking at us to get off. The other half waited outside to herd us into a rag-tag formation.
After lining us up shoulder-to-shoulder, we were ordered to stand at attention, or our version of it. None of us had ever been forced to stand motionless until permission was given to move. Looking like the disorganized and disheveled civilians we were, the DI's then instructed us at the top of their lungs the "military version" of standing at attention.
"Eyes forward, back straight, chest out, chin parallel to the ground, knees slightly bent, and thumbs touching forefingers across the side-seams of our pants."
Although most of us wore jackets or sweaters, and the DI's only shirts, we shook for the next hour-and-a-half while standing stiff in the wet mist and frigid ocean breeze blowing in off the Pacific Ocean. Fort Ord sat directly on the California coast and it had been raining all across the Monterey Bay that day. The icy wind and drizzle chilling our bones reminded us how nice it was to have lived in Los Angeles.
The DI's pretended to ignore the cold with ease. In later days I discovered that in order for them to feel they had commanded our respect, or fear, they felt they had to appear super-human. Although some of the older draftees on the bus accused me of being naive for enlisting, I wasn't swept away by the Army so much that I failed to notice that when the DI's paused between their screaming they also shook when the wind whipped around their ears and across their chests.
After the DI's were satisfied we got the general idea how to stand at attention, we were ordered to empty our pockets and over-night bags on the wet ground. We were informed, "No one will be allowed to enter the barracks until everyone's belongings have been inspected and removed of all remnants of civilian life.
You're in the army now! You don't need your clothes, your shoes, your wallets, or your radios. and you can throw away those pictures of your girlfriends because it's ten o'clock back home and by now Jody's probably got your girl tucked away in his bed and bangin' her brains out!" Jody, I learned, was the universal name for "the other man."
Needless to say, the words were depressing to the guys who left girlfriends or wives behind. I made myself a promise I would remain single until my discharge in three years. Later on, as I transferred from one training post to another, then onto V'nam, I was glad I did. A lot of Dear John letters came in from wives and girlfriends who turned out to be less loyal than they pretended.
During the next 4 hours we were chemical showered for parasites, paraded from one location to another to collect equipment, and stripped-searched for drugs. Because there had been a recent rash of drug overdose cases showing up at the Post Hospital, we were stripped-searched a couple dozen more times over the next few days and shifted from one barrack to another. The order to pack up and move always came without warning. Sometimes you might get caught in the shower, other times during the middle of the night. On two occasions, when returning to the barrack after chow, we discovered the MP's had stuffed our belongings into our duffel bags and tossed them out the window onto the wet pavement. We were told the reason for the moves was "to prevent drug carriers from finding secure places under the floors or in the heating vents to hide their stash." One draftee, who'd been arrested once for driving without a license, compared our "Army welcome" to being processed into a county jail.
Shortly after 2 a.m. we were finally allowed to check into our dark and damp barracks only to be awakened in another 3 hours to begin the process of formally entering the Army. We were told our 1st lesson was to learn that "being tired" was unrecognized by the Army. Rest to our DI's was interpreted as doing our exercises indoors rather than outside.
During the next 4 days our heads were shaved, our bodies fitted with over-sized clothing, and our arms and butts stung with a dozen vaccinations. It was while receiving our inoculations that I encountered my 1st experience with racism and hypocrisy in the Army.
Using the newly-invented high-pressure injection guns, the medics, all of whom were white, found it humorous to slash the arms of the black inductees when injecting them. To use the pressure-guns without causing injury they had to be precisely aimed; pressing the point of the barrel straight into the ball of the shoulder. Turning the gun barrel, even slightly, shot the liquid spray across the surface of the skin opening a deep gash. The mixture of several vaccines burning in an open wound left you with an agonizing sore for a month.
Several of the black inductees received inch-long gashes across their shoulders that refused to heal completely for the duration of Basic Training. When they complained to the DI's that there appeared to be a conspiracy among the white medics to cut them they were told the problem was "not with the medics" but with them. "You jerks must have moved or something!"
When they pointed out that blacks were the only ones being slashed, one of the DI's replied, "You assholes are the ones who are racist because you're trying to make a couple of accidents appear to be race-related."
Naturally, I wasn't satisfied with his answer. Partly because it sounded like a cop-out and partly because the blood running down my arm shouldn't have been there because I knew I stood perfectly still.
The Army's official policy on race was similar to its policy on individuals. It said there were no you's or I's, no blacks or whites. It said we were all one color, Olive-Drab green. It said there were no New Yorkers or Californians in the Army. It said we were all Americans. It said once we took the Oath of Allegiance the Army only recognized 4 ethnic backgrounds. They were, Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine. But when I looked around I saw no black officers, very few Latinos, and even fewer Asians. So few, you could count the total number of all minority officers on the fingers of both hands.
Knowing my eyes nor the pain in my arm were deceiving me, I realized the Army had lied. But knowing I had signed up for 3 years I realized I was going to have to make an immediate decision whether or not I was going to let their lie ruin my outlook, or whether I was going to fly above it. I decided that if the Army was going to let racism be one of its problems, it could. But it wasn't going to be one of mine. I decided that for the next 3 years I would wear only one hat, my own.
My decision turned out to be the right one. It relieved me of a lot of needless concern trying to prove something as a black, accomplish something as an 18 year-old, or fulfill something as an American. I reasoned it would be a whole lot easier for me to try doing my 3-year tour slightly better than the best I could do. I saw nothing to gain if I fought with a racist supervisor, and my self-respect to lose if I played "Uncle Tom". Unfortunately, I would later have to accept that even when a person tried to do his best in the Army, getting your superiors to overlook your religion, age, or race was a lot more difficult than getting yourself to ignore them. Still, I would persist. From this point on I was working for me, not the Army.
Of all the initial processing, the 2-and-a-half days of written tests were the most tedious and tense. Quizzed on every subject known to man, the tests decided what military professions we would be assigned Advanced Individual Training (AIT) after completing Basic. We took reading, writing, dexterity, vision, history, language, IQ, cognizance, spelling, philosophy, and psychology tests. We were examined for our knowledge of mechanical tools, engine parts, electrical components, kitchen utensils, Morse code, camera equipment, nuclear technology, lab machines, office equipment, construction, brick masonry, engineering, and a dozen or so other occupational skills.
The test disliked most by the draftees was one that measured our judgment ability. Naturally, the questions were of a tactical nature and designed to demonstrate how we would handle certain combat situations. One such questions was, "What would you do if you were in command of a squad of men stuck behind enemy lines and surrounded on all 4 sides?"
A. Surrender? B. Fight it out? C. Radio for help? D. Lay low and wait for a chance to sneak away?
Some of the inductees who were afraid of being assigned to infantry duty hoped that answering "A" would make them appear cowardly, therefore exclude them from "grunt school." Others thought that if they answered "B" the Army would think they were too crazy to entrust the safety of other men. Others answered "C" hoping the Army would think they were too insecure to handle situations on their own. I chose to answer "D". Thinking that response was the most intelligent, my hope was that I might get selected for Officers Candidate School (OCS). Unfortunately, I failed both the question and a qualifying General Testing (GT) score of 110. The correct answer was "C". I ended up with a GT score or 103.
After our testing was completed the only thing left to do was wait for our Basic Training camp to be readied. During that last day and-a-half we were ordered to perform what seemed to be an unending chore of picking up the millions of discarded cigarette butts lining the sidewalks and roads on Fort Ord. The Army called this chore "police call". We, however, chose to call it the "butt hunt". This was because whenever you looked up from the ground you were looking right into the butt of a guy in front of you.
Naturally those of us who didn't smoke hated police calls and thought it unfair to make non-smokers participate. One draftee got so upset he wrote home and complained to his mother. She wrote her Congressman who in turn passed the complaint to the Defense Department (DOD). DOD then ordered the Department of the Army (DOA) to exempt the specified trainee from police call duty. When the order got down to the company the DI's ordered all complainers to pull latrine duty using tooth brushes while the rest of the company went out on police call. This lesson taught me never to complain in the Army.
Pre-Basic orientation seemed to have been designed to make our processing as uncomfortable as possible. On some occasions we were organized into formations by height, on others by weight. During the testing process we were sometimes seated alphabetically, on others, reverse alphabetized. It soon became obvious we were being shuffled and re-shuffled to remove any sense of anticipation of what we might expect our next exercise or activity to be. By the time we were trucked into our Basic Training camp on the morning of our 5th day, we had been turned inside out and upside down so many times our new home for the next 8 weeks, Headquarters Company, was the 1st sign of consistency we had encountered since arriving.
In the coming weeks we would become so disoriented, the time of day or the location of our next activity became irrelevant. On some nights we were kept up well past 11pm and awakened as early as 3am. Sometimes it seemed as if we'd just closed our eyes when we were kicked out of bed to begin another full day of training.
Later we learned that our being rushed around and deprived of sleep was by design. From a lesson the U.S. Army learned during the Korean war, we were told that many captured Chinese troops didn't know they were even in Korea or how long they'd been there. Dazed, some even believed they were still in China and fighting against the Russians. The Army, unable to get usable information out of them, since none had any to give, decided to incorporate "disorientation conditioning" in its Basic Training program. Although some of the draftees thought it was to make them more manageable, our DI's claimed it would help us to realistically feign ignorance if we ever become POW's. They believed, "Any man who couldn't bull---- an enemy interrogator wasn't an Army man. He was Air Force, Navy, or Marine."
Arriving at Headquarters Company on a hay-littered cattle truck, we were yanked off and lined up shoulder-to-shoulder. Ordered to stand at attention, we were visually inspected by a company Drill Sergeant and asked to identify ourselves. If our names didn't meet his approval, we were assigned new names which were either comedic distortions of our real names or exaggerated descriptions of our most-prominent physical features. For example, an enlistee named Arnie Dahlgren became Arnie Dog Grin, Hornung became Horny, and Armstrong became Armpit. A trainee with a large nose was called Pinocchio. Another with long arms was renamed The Ape Man.
When coming to me the DI tossed my name around for fun. Unable to come up with something witty, he called another DI over.
"What d'you make of this guy?" The 1st DI pointed to me.
The other DI looked at my face then began laughing.
"His lips remind me of a joke I heard yesterday."
"Oh yeah," the 1st DI smiled. "I'd like to hear it."
The tone of his voice indicated he'd heard it before but wanted it repeated for my benefit.
"What about it "Lips", he looked me in the eye, "you wanna hear it too?"
Figuring I might as well go along with the game, I shot back, "Yes Drill Sergeant!"
Upon my reply the 1st DI jumped all over me, spraying saliva in my face.
"You flea-bitten bag of dog ----! Who said you could talk when you're standing at attention?"
Surprised, I started to apologize, but caught myself.
Straightening himself up, he asked the 2nd DI to tell his joke. This was obviously a well-rehearsed routine they performed regularly.
Still smiling, the 2nd DI looked me in the eye again and began the joke.
"It's about 2 alligators that liked to eat Negroes. Although both of them were the same species, one of the alligators was confused because the other alligator was twice his size."
Pausing, he stopped to asked me why that was. Remembering not to speak, I stared straight ahead.
"I'll tell you why, Lips," he continued, "it's because the little alligator used to sneak up behind his Negroes and scare the ---- out 'em before gobbling them down."
Trying to control his laughter, the 1st DI added his part.
"And what did the big alligator say to that?"
"He told the little alligator he should never scare the ---- out of his Negroes because all he had left were lips and tennis shoes!"
Both DI's then busted up. Noticing a smile growing on my face the 1st DI abruptly broke his laughter and jumped all over me again. It was apparent his laughter, that seemed authentic, was also part of their act.
"You know," the 2nd DI pointed, still laughing. "I think we'll call you Alligator Bait! You'll like that won't you?"
"Yeah, he'll like it!" the 1st DI agreed.
I replied with a smile, "Yes Drill Sergeant!"
Moving on to the next man, I was relieved I wouldn't have to stare them in the eye anymore. 3 weeks later my name was changed to Lips Lancaster. After showing off during the overhead bars exercise during our fitness training by doing them backwards and 2 at a time, the 1st DI "honored" me by comparing my agility to Burt Lancaster's performance in "The Crimson Pirate."
With the exception of my lips, and another black trainee who was said to have an extraordinarily large penis, ethnic caricatures were usually avoided. However, in his case, the DI's named him WGD. WGD was short for White Girl's Delight.
After our naming session was completed, we were all informed that unless we were called by our true names, our new names, or simply "Hey You!", we were always to respond if a DI yelled "Maggot." On a daily basis we were reminded, "If you want to find a trainee's place on the Army's totem pole, you have to lift it out of the ground and look in the hole."
Next we were ordered to report any physical impairments we felt might inhibit our performing drills and exercises. All "factory rejects", as our DI's called them, were ordered to go to a nearby building where a DI was seated with a pile of forms for them to list their disabilities. I was shocked to see more than half the formation break out in a rush.
All of the men turned out to be draftees who had been unable to convince the doctors during their pre-induction physicals that they should be given medical waivers from active duty. Obviously having failed in that attempt, they were now hoping to at least reduce the amount of work they'd have to do in Basic, and for the next 2 years.
Expecting this reaction, the DI's were well-prepared. Inspecting every complaint, from a burst appendix to water on the brain, they eliminated one after another until all but 2 were back in formation in a short time. The 2 true disabilities, one with a metal spike holding his knee together, and the other with a plate in his skull, were permitted to file for medical discharges. The draftee with the metal plate got his injury as an aerial gymnast for Barnum and Bailey's Circus. He now performed as a fire-breather and sword swallower. On some nights, prior to his discharge being approved, he did his fire-breathing act using lighter fluid.
Some of us wondered how either man ever made it past their pre-induction physicals. We later learned the Draft Board was receiving so many requests for medical deferments they recently began a new policy of inducting everyone, then allow the those with valid disabilities to file for a medical discharge. Since active duty and former servicemen were taken out of the Selective Service System computers, the Draft Board was spared having to review new applications or re-review those who were previously deferred.
Because several draftees refused to give up trying for a medical discharge, the Army ordered them to undergo exhaustive physicals to make sure their specific complaint, and everything else, tested healthy. Military policy read that unless a valid medical disability was released before his 91st day of consecutive duty the government would have to pay him a lifetime disability allowance. Very few people were lucky enough to make it past the deadline. Those that did grabbed their money and ran.
After the 2 rejects were sent to the company's administration building to fill out a battery of additional forms, the rest of us were taken on a quick forced-march around the perimeter of the company area 4 consecutive times. The repeated trips were meant to "unmistakably impress" upon us a 1-foot wide solid white line that marked the outer boundary of the company area. On our 4th pass we were stopped and ordered to place the toes of our boots on the edge of the white line. We were then instructed to take 1 step forward across the line, do an about-face, then step back. This, we were told, was the 1st and last time our feet were ever to touch or cross this line for the remainder of our Basic Training cycle. To be caught on the other side, without permission, meant instant court martial.
With the exception of 5 privileged trainees, or "privies", no one ever left the company, outside of going to other training sites on the base. The 5 privies were former NCO's who had re-enlisted after a short hiatus, or new recruits who had already been accepted and scheduled for OCS prior to enlisting. On Saturday nights they were given passes to go to Fort Ord's stripper club, Stillwell Hall, or one of the NCO clubs. 2 even boasted of having their own off-post apartments. Modifying a line from George Orwell's "Animal Farm", our Senior DI would often say, "All the maggots are equal, but some of the maggots are more equal."
About the size of 2 city-sized square blocks, Headquarters Company was comprised of 8 trainee barracks, only 5 of which were used. There was also a Day Room, which we were not allowed to enter, Mess Hall, Supply Room, and Orderly Room. The Day Room was the company recreational facility that housed reading material, game tables, candy and beverage machines, music listening rooms, and quiet cubicles for solitude. The Orderly Room housed the Commanding Officer's, First Sergeant's, and company administrative offices.
Renamed "Stalag 17" by the trainees, Headquarters Company was to be our new home for the next 8 weeks. The only contact we had with the outside world was the mail we received from home. Personal radios were confiscated the 1st day and not returned until the end of our 5th week. Newspapers and periodic news magazines were also unavailable. A local newspaper machine stood outside the Orderly Room but when the CO caught a draftee sneaking over to buy a copy, he ordered one of his staff to steal all the newspapers every morning, provoking the distributor to eventually remove the machine.
Visitors were restricted to wives who could only be seen during certain limited hours on Sundays. Unless there was an emergency in the family, other relatives were not allowed to visit until graduation day, our 8th week.
Except for the privies mentioned earlier, married trainees were not allowed conjugal meetings. The CO, stated the reason for this DOA regulation was because of "the possible introduction and epidemic spread of VD." Needless to say, married GI's loudly objected. They replied it would bother them a lot more if they got VD from their wives, whom they hadn't had sex with since being inducted, than any epidemic the Army might have to deal with.
Unknown to the rest of the company, the privies and their wives were allowed to visit in the Day Room's private cubicles. It was only by accident one Sunday that their meeting ground was discovered. Several trainees had pried-open a back window and slithered inside to raid the candy machines. Hearing what they called "funny noises" coming from the 2nd floor they tiptoed up to find 2 privies and their wives in sleeping bags on the floor.
Littered with broken soda bottles, empty cans, and other debris, the visiting area was held on a gravel-covered vacant field just across the street from the Orderly Room. The field served as a parking lot during weekdays.
The field was overseen by 2 DI's. One who sat atop an elevated lifeguard station with a panoramic view, and the other who stood across the street to search the trainees as they came back to the company.
Small packages brought by their wives containing personal hygiene items, cookies, and paperback novels were inspected before they were allowed in. The inspections, which detailed even the cutting open of cakes, were supposedly necessary "to prevent drugs being smuggled in."
During my Basic Training cycle, drugs were blamed for 2 attempted suicides and a 1/2 dozen or so trainees brought up on charges for "gross intoxication." In each case, however, none of the drugs were smuggled in by outsiders. Ironically, they were all supplied by the Army pharmacy.
In order to get the drugs trainees would report themselves out on sick call by feigning a variety of illnesses or ailments, any of which they knew would get them a prescription for one of 2 very commonly dispensed medications, Darvon and Seconal.
A GI complaining of a cold or an annoying muscular discomfort would receive a prescription for Darvon. Complaining of restlessness or insomnia, he would be prescribed Seconal.
Darvon capsules had 2 components. 1 was an off-white powdery substance that acted as an aspirin-like buffering agent to depress the toxicity of the 2nd more active component, a rock-hard pea-shaped pellet nicknamed "the jewel" in street vernacular. The jewel, when separated from its buffering agent was said to have a mildly intoxicating effect. Although a single jewel "got people where they wanted to be", the guys who were caught under the influence had taken 3 or 4. (1)
Renamed "Reds" for their appearance, Seconal tablets were dispensed almost without regard to their widely known street use as a "safe" narcotic. Used as "downers" to depress the stress of the demanding and unrelenting physical training, there were more Reds circulating the company than rumors about what was currently going on in V'nam. and 'Nam was on most everyone's mind most of the time.
The Drill Instructor of my platoon, a 24 year-old draftee who had just been awarded the Good Conduct Medal, also had succeeded in keeping his fondness of marijuana from the company command. On occasion he would invite several "select" trainees into his private room to enjoy what they called "the herbs of the Earth."
Entering Basic in October, the Monterey Bay was usually warm during the day but always cold at night. With only 2 sheet-weight blankets, central heating that rarely worked, and the windows opened 6-inches from the top and bottom to maintain the flow of air because the threat of contracting spinal meningitis was high, we froze. To keep warm, some of us kept an extra set of clothes under our blankets. Of course that meant being fast enough to get out of them if a surprise inspection was called at 3 am. The Army's "dress code" for sleep wear was "skivies and T-shirt."
We were told the Army's reason for forcing us to endure the chill was to "condition us to handle frigid winters in places like West Germany." But having lived through 17 icy winters in Chicago, then enjoying a full year of summer in Los Angeles, my later volunteering to serve in 'Nam was greatly influenced by its tropical weather.
Looking at the old pre-World War II barracks we were housed in was like looking back into time. With the exception of a new heating system that rarely worked the barracks hadn't changed much since then. The floors had been waxed, stripped, and re-waxed about a million times since then. and the men that performed those "GI party" cleanup chores had been replaced almost as often.
The dozen coats of paint applied over the last 30 years did little to disguise the barrack's antiquity. Deeply etched into some of the wood panels framing their exteriors were the legacies of 3 generations of GI's who had trained in them and gone off to war. From WWII there were quotes from "Willie and Joe", and the famous inscription, "Kilroy was here." From the Korean War there was the full text of a song roasting Harry Truman. It read,
"MacArthur's boys are being sent to their graves,
to let Truman keep alive the North he wants to save.
Let us fight, let us win, let us kick some ass,
and make those ----ing Reds, a ------- thing of the past."
From the early days of V'nam were sayings like,
"Gonna be a dog-gone fool and replace the French at Dien Bien Phu." And,
"Going to 'Nam in 1960. Won't be back til 196WON!"
On the billboard outside the Day Room were framed photographs of GI's taken during the early 40's who would soon be on their way to Europe or the Pacific. Sitting on their barrack steps, the buildings around them looked just as they did today. 1 of the photos was inscribed,
"We will always remember Fort Ord. Here we spent the hardest 13 weeks of our lives."
Basic Training was 5 weeks longer in those days. Our senior DI informed us the cycle had been shortened for 2 reasons. He said the Army had learned a great deal about training men since that time and the war in V'nam needed as much cannon fodder as America could send, ASAP!
It was apparent the term "cannon fodder" applied to V'nam just as it did to the Napoleonic wars where it originated. Although it's definition, "the stuff used up in war" described how expendable soldiers have been since men began making war, the phrase seemed particularly applicable while looking at the pictures of other soldiers who went to war. Their faces didn't look too much different than ours. The only thing that seemed to change were the uniforms.
Aside from the barracks, a number of old vehicles, and some of our training equipment, there were only a few physical reminders of WWII and Korea in our camp. There was, however, a large number of antique concepts and attitudes. One of those attitudes was the way we were being prepared for duty in V'nam. Like the men who posed for the old WW II photographs on our Day Room bulletin board, our training was geared too strongly on the conventional approach of fighting war. Tactical deployment, organization, and procedure were all based on contesting an enemy army the same way Western armies have fought their wars since the beginning of the century. I found the Army's adherence to those antiquated methods long outdated.
Just before enlisting in the Army, I had seen the movie "The Green Berets." Discovering the Army had an elite unit that believed in fighting war the way it should be fought, "by kicking-ass without a lot of bureaucratic bull----", I saw the film 5 times in as many days. I was impressed by their unconventional, guerrilla-like tactics. Not only did the film motivate me to enlist, any argument I had against joining up earlier suddenly disappeared.
Produced by actor John Wayne, "The Green Berets" dramatized the Viet Cong over-run of a remote Special Forces outpost in the northern I Corp section of South V'nam during TET '67.
The real battle, (actually one of several), was said to have been devastating to the morale of not only the U.S. Army Special Force's 5th Group assigned to the Republic of V'nam, but to all the Special Forces groups stationed worldwide. Critics stated the film simulated Special Forces life in V'nam fairly accurately. V'nam veterans coming home from the war said it was a joke. (2)
Just before enlisting I did a little research on the Special Forces. I wanted to make sure it was the organization John Wayne's film made it appear. I learned that, in principle, Special Forces units had been around for a long time before they became a permanently established entity. During the Revolutionary War George Washington commissioned several small groups of "irregulars" to tackle British bases his conventional troops were unable to penetrate. During the course of future wars, later Presidents and Generals provided special training of "Ranger" groups who could do limited-duty service in situations requiring small, precision-operating units. These groups were also given limited life spans. At the end of a conflict period they were always dissolved and the men in them transferred back into their conventional regiments.
However, after Pearl Harbor, the concept of Special Forces changed. Under the influence of William J. "Wild Bill" Donovan, Aaron Bank, Lucien Conein, William Colby, and others in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), uniformed military "agents" served in clandestine operations.
Because of Fidel Castro's disturbing success in Cuba, and the growing conflict in V'nam, President Kennedy directed the Army to enhance its guerrilla warfare capability. Allocating hundreds of thousands of dollars to build a permanent headquarters and expand the Airborne Ranger training facilities at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Kennedy's designation of the Special Forces to be known as The Green Berets gave them a whole new status in the Army. It was his hope their elite service could be called upon to strike in lightning response to any worldwide emergency the regular army was unable to handle.
Recruited from airborne units, Special Forces officers were trained in the martial arts, survival techniques, executive protection, industrial complex destruction, special weapons, and foreign government takeover. Composed of individuals home-grown on determination and raw courage, the Green Berets embodied a spirit and will to succeed not only required but desperately needed by the American military who was discovering that war after Korea could no longer be waged on the huge conventional scale of World War II.
Organized in squads of 13-man teams, each member, or "technician" as they preferred to be called, was highly skilled in a combat Military Occupational Specialty (MOS), and cross-trained in a secondary offensive-oriented MOS in the event he needed to support the loss of another team member. One man handled demolitions, another interrogations, another communications, another light-weapons, etc. Each member was also required to have a working knowledge of the native language of the country he was assigned to.
In the beginning chapter of a Special Forces training manual, the "psychological agility" of the Green Beret was compared with the men in Winston Churchill's elite bodyguard unit. Churchill's bodyguards were said to be men who wouldn't hesitate to shoot their own grandmothers should she demonstrate even the slightest threat against his safety. The Green Berets were said to be men who possessed this same kind of icy objectivity, "except they would go on to interrogate their entire families for possible conspiratorial involvement."
Because they missed out on the Cuban revolution, and an opportunity to combat Castro's chief guerrilla strategist Che Guevarra, they welcomed the assignment to train, advise, and accompany the Bolivian Special Forces troops who captured and executed Guevarra in 1967. The Green Beret was said to view war and America's enemies very clinically. After identifying mercenaries they shot them point blank. They saw this as the only way to permanently prevent terrorists from coming back later to haunt us.
Although their name became a household word after Barry Sadler's release of a highly popular ballad in the winter of 1965, by the time I entered the Army the Green Berets had shrunken in stature to a shadow of their former prominence. In the short span of only 6 years their size and prestige had been reduced by enemies they would never have believed they were at war with. One of those enemies was their work. The need for extreme secrecy in the covert missions had robbed them of the public reward they were entitled to for settling several "world crises" still classified Top Secret.
Another enemy was the reduction of funding over the previous 5 years because of America's need to support another one of John Kennedy's priorities, the Space Program. For almost a decade America had been trying to catch up with the Russian's in space while at the same time trying to stay ahead of their influence on the ground in V'nam. (3)
Their worst enemy was the U.S. Army itself. Conventional Army General's were said to harbor deep resentment for the Green Beret's for "stealing" their best men. Also, Regular Army divisions like the 101st Airborne, the 4th Infantry, the 1st Cavalry, and the 82nd Airborne just to name a few, had powerful military lobbies pushing to keep their units in active, attention-getting operations. and with Colonel being the highest rank an officer could obtain as head of a Special Forces Group, Green Beret units in V'nam were being relegated to sacrificial-type operations that left few survivors to award unit citations. A century ago Napoleon's army may have traveled on its stomach, but in 20th century America, the military traveled on its headlines. (4)
And finally, the death of John Kennedy. The desire he had to develop an elite fighting force all but died with him on November 22, 1963. Although the Green Berets survived as an organization the active support they needed from a patronizing and lobbying President was severely diminished.
I didn't get to see many Green Berets while in Basic Training. The few that I did get a glimpse of appeared thin and over-worked. I didn't realize until I arrived in 'Nam 9 months later that a GI didn't have to be in constant combat to get wasted. There were a combination of other hazards that were just as detrimental. The poor quality of food, the malaria, the band-aid level of medical care, and the exhausting climate could slowly rot you away just as quickly as a bullet could explode your heart. Either way you would be just as dead.
When seeing a stoop-shouldered Green Beret passing through our company area from time to time, I began to wonder if my enlisting in the Army just to earn one of their special hats was really worth the work it took to get one, and the dues the Army would later ask me to pay to keep it. I was lucky to learn ahead of time that even though the Special Forces training school in Fort Bragg was said to be the most grueling and demanding military academy in the world, getting that beret was a great deal easier than keeping it on.
Since 1964 the VC had a standing reward of 50 dollars and 2 weeks R and R to any its soldiers who brought in a blood-stained green beret. Because of that, the Green Beret's had established in their code of honor a sworn commitment they would never forsake their "sacred cloth" to an enemy. In cases of imminent death Green Berets were known to burn the symbol of their trade along with the American flag to prevent their desecration.
However, the more I learned about V'nam, the more I realized sacrificing myself to the VC was not worth it. Thinking about my decision to enlist, to become a Green Beret, and to serve my country to the ends of its needs, were set against my learning more and more about the current chaotic state of the Army and the betrayed cause of the war. The commitment the Green Beret's had made to the pursuit of peace and democratic freedom in V'nam was exemplary, but their assignment to an already betrayed cause in support of a corrupt foreign regime made their organization suffer the way America as a whole would soon suffer.
Again I was reminded of the words my brother had spoken several years prior about the war being over by the time he reached 18. His visits to me over the next 8 weeks would continually bring them to mind. He had enlisted in the Army 7 months prior and was assigned as a Company Clerk in one of Fort Ord's administrative company's. (5)
My most vivid recollection of those words occurred one day while attending one of many TV classroom training sessions. Aware that my generation was the 1st real mass-television generation to evolve, and that practically everything impressionable we hadn't encountered in real life had come to us over the "boob tube", the Army used close-circuit TV, or "Visual Aids" as they called them, to provide a good part of our combat preparation. Our DI's would say these visual aids might one day "help us to survive the war we would soon have the pleasure of being entertained by."
Most of the films were boring because the Army's approach on subjects like drug abuse or personal hygiene were elementary and appeared to have been prepared for 3rd-graders. Some of the films tried to convince marijuana smokers that "weed makes you hallucinate and turns your semen into jelly." Other films took lengthy detail to illustrate the "correct way" of applying roll-on deodorant or how to "lock" the zipper on your trousers so you wouldn't embarrass the Army while in uniform.
Although most V'nam veterans would say very little of what they learned in Basic helped them survive the war, every one would say our classroom sessions were a very welcome break from the forced marches, pole climbing, belly crawling, and dust-eating.
During today's +his training session we were shown a captured VC film photographed by civilian North V'namese cameramen. Copies of this film, we were informed, were said to have been used in the VC's jungle Basic Training camps to train their new soldiers on how best to fight their enemy, us. It seemed the V'namese, having been exposed to Western technology, also found the value in utilizing it.
We were told there were only a limited number of prints of this film and each was registered with its own serial number. We were told it was highly confidential and for "Military Personnel Eyes Only." This explained why an officer was present. This was the 1st time an officer attended one of our classes. Apparently enlisted men were not trusted with the films security. The officer's 1st order was to watch the film closely, then forget it existed.
Showing signs of being crudely photographed and developed, the film had captured a real-life, action-packed assault by a U.S. Marine detachment attacking a VC jungle encampment.
Although the film was in black and white and shot from a single camera angle, not the graphic blood-red color shot from multiple angles shown to the American public on the nightly news, I was reminded of the newsreels Huntley and Brinkley had narrated in 1965. True, the war was the same, but this time it was the VC press who angled and zoomed their telephoto lenses on what appeared to be a foolish frontal attack by Marine commanders whose strategy didn't appear to be very bright. The only difference between this film and the one's shot by American journalists was the VC film didn't show the young Marines winning the battle as we saw on the news in neatly edited, censored, and "Approved For Broadcast" segments inserted between toothpaste and aspirin commercials. This unabridged and shocking film showed the Marines in unabridged reality, losing and dying. and because the film was this revealing, the public would never see it. This explained the well-guarded care the Army applied to its exposure. If the network news ever got hold of this film Americans would probably have loudly demanded the Marine commanders involved in the battle be court-martialed and an immediate withdrawal of every GI in V'nam.
Carrying ammo boxes, bandoleers, backpacks, spades, mess kits, canteens, and machetes, dozens of Marines holding their M-14's at port-arms could be seen through the VC camera lens popping up now and then on the distant horizon. 50 yards or so behind the front-line a 1/2-dozen helicopters landed with more Marines pouring out. (7) Appearing to abandon their passengers, the choppers would immediately take off again. Some of us wondered what kind of war this was where the guys who ferried you to battle didn't hang around long enough to make sure you got out of it okay. Later on, when we got to 'Nam, we learned it was better to have your cab driver park his taxi where it wouldn't get its tires blown off so it would be in shape to come back to pick you up when you needed it.
Scattering for cover from the ground debris caused by the gale-force fan of the chopper blades and the VC bullets being fired at them, many of those young Marines never made it up to the front. and unknown to the one's who were lucky enough to make it, a lot of them would not be jumping back on-board their choppers as lively as they jumped off. Not only were they outnumbered by the VC, clad only in their traditional uniform of black silk pajamas, their commanders had made a number of serious tactical mistakes.
Contrasting sharply with the golden straw-covered field they needed to cross to get to the VC, the Marines green, leaf-print cammies were made more obvious by their use of small dark tree branches and shrubbery protruding from rubber bands tied to their helmets. Even if their commanders had thought of having their men chamelionize their appearance as they moved between changing terrains, the VC displayed brilliance in forcing their opponents to enter contrasting cover.
Their movement restricted by their heavy backpacks, inhibiting field gear, and baggy clothing the Marines were correctly dressed for WWII's "Battle of the Bulge", but mistakenly over-outfitted for the 120 degree sunshine and dense humidity of tropical V'nam.
On the film's faint sound track we could hear the Marines whooping and yelling what they thought, and were taught, to be intimidating combat growls. (6) In reality, their phony and lame sounding battle cries did more to indicate their own fear than they did to frighten the VC, who probably thought the Americans were out playing one of their childhood games, Cowboys and Indians.
Making intermittent charges toward the VC, the Marines advanced 4 or 5 running steps then quickly hit the ground. After re-orienting themselves, or resting for a moment, they'd get up again and charge a few more feet. Although this film was shown to us early in our Basic Training it was easy to identify which Marines hitting the ground had exercised the "battle dive" maneuver we were being taught, and which were diving as a result of having been shot. During the course of the short film, and probably short battle, well over 30% of the Marines were felled by the VC.
The Marines could be seen firing their heavy M-14's frequently in random directions as if they had ammo to waste, or were unable to determine exactly where the VC positions were. When the NVA cameramen panned on their own troops hiding in trenches, the VC wore no field gear and did not appear to have an excess of ammunition. Aided by the Marine's contrasting background and war whoops, they easily located our troops and were making almost every shot count. Although quick and alert, the VC appeared completely unafraid. Peeking out just long enough to cap-off a couple of well aimed rounds, they would duck back down and smile as they congratulated each other by slapping hands every time one successfully knocked down an approaching GI.
As this must have been a very sad day in the lives of the Marines engaged in this undated battle, the VC appeared to be having the time of their's. To us watching the film, this different, but more accurate picture of the war was very gloomy, frustrating, and humiliating. To see the American military descend to a level no higher than that of battle suicide, and at the same time realize that we would soon become an active part of this throw-away war, was a disappointment very difficult to describe.
Our eyes glued to the TV monitors, it became acutely evident that intelligent planning was not the American battle strategy used in that firefight. and if this one small battle reflected in any way our overall strategy in V'nam, then it was completely obvious why we were continually losing ground in the war and even more obvious why so many GI's were coming back home in flagged-draped wooden boxes.
While I watched the film my thoughts ran back to an article I read in Life Magazine while in high school. The article covered an interview between then-President John F. Kennedy and former 5-Star General Douglas MacArthur. It reported that Kennedy, in researching a decision whether to escalate or de-escalate our involvement in V'nam, had asked MacArthur to come to the White House, attend a few classified briefings, then give his advice. To Kennedy's surprise the old "blood-and-guts hawk" he thought would encourage escalation was vehemently against it.
The chief argument MacArthur raised against escalation was "the numbers factor". The American military, he told Kennedy, lacked the manpower to sustain a protracted engagement with a nation possessing an almost unlimited supply, even though our weapons were better.
The film confirmed MacArthur's conclusion. Even with all the equipment we took into battle we still weren't qualified to fight North V'nam. Simple attrition would have meant our eventual defeat.
And since we couldn't outlast the enemy man for man, MacArthur told Kennedy, the only way to neutralize their aggression would be to exterminate them in massive numbers and hope they lost morale and capitulated long before 80% of their army had been annihilated. That, of course, meant going nuclear. But lacking any justification for repeating Nagasaki and Hiroshima, he emphasized, the nuclear option couldn't be exercised. That left the only 2 alternatives, eventually lose the fight on the ground, or get the hell out.
As the film continue to roll, and the Marine's continued to die, it was apparent the decision to continue the war was a bad one. The military's confidence that it could eventually win the war ignored the simple fact that we lacked the tactical skill to do so. Recalling MacArthur's estimation in 1945 that we would lose a 1/2-million men invading Japan was indicative that the military simply did not know how to fight a Pacific war. The bitter defeat in this film showed we had learned little since then.
When the film ended a brief 10 minute discussion was permitted following the reading of an official analysis of the battle. 1st, it was pointed out with emphasis, that even though America had suffered an embarrassing defeat it was the Marines, not the Army, who lost the battle. The implication, of course, was that the Army would have performed better.
2nd, a list of what the Army felt were the reasons why the Marines lost was read. They were, poor marksmanship, weak grenade throwing proficiency, and inaccurate mortar firing. Poor hand-to-hand combat wasn't included because the Marines never got close enough to physically threaten the VC. No mention was made of faulty leadership.
Many of the trainees disagreed with the analysis. They felt the true reasons for the battle's failure were poor command, poor deployment, an unrealistic assessment of actually attaining victory, and a lack of basic common sense by the officers in charge.
The Lieutenant, who had no combat experience and appeared to be only a couple years older than us, strongly disagreed. Talking at length to outline why those arguments were unacceptable it became apparent we were losing the war because our officers failed to take responsibility.
The discussion ended when the Lieutenant, growing angry, recorded the names of the trainees who argued the strongest. Knowing the danger of being labeled a troublemaker or anti-military everyone remained silent until the class was dismissed. Enlistees knew the danger was worse for them. A draftee's specialized training was determined by unit procurement requisitions. But an enlistee, who committed to serving an extra year, could lose the option of choosing the job the wanted. (9)
In the absence of our DI's the discussion continued amongst ourselves after we were released for our lunch break. One of the 1st questions we asked ourselves was why did the Marines charge headstrong into a situation they must have observed was not only futile but suicidal? We had to conclude the answer was in the training they, and we, were receiving. Training that dictated a strict demand for unquestioned subservience to command.
Although the draftees in the class seemed to handle both the film and the Lieutenant's bad attitude with relative ease, as if they had known what to expect, I was blown away. Along with the other enlistees I was forced to take a closer look at the Army we had been led to believe was the most efficient military organization in the world. It began to dawn on us that because of the cheap training aids, the assembly-line combat instruction, the sadistic attitudes of our DI's, and the unwillingness of an officer to even listen to the viewpoint of an enlisted man had made this supposedly sophisticated American fighting machine grossly inefficient. and some of leaders we were supposed to trust were nothing more than grown up, unprincipled, Boy Scouts allowed to carry real guns.
It was later on while serving in V'nam that I learned the military's adamant rule "rank makes right" being drilled into the minds of its OCS students, was what brought about the greatest number of officers being assassinated or injured by their enlisted men during any previous war in American history. (10)
During the V'nam era, the open communication between the Brass and enlisted men was like that of a divorced couple bitterly contesting property or custody rights. The Army insisted they owned you, lock, stock, and navel. But the young inductees, educated since childhood on the Bill of Rights and the '60's vociferous demand for human rights, declared they as the custodians of their lives and flesh.
Some of the older DI's who entered the Army during or just after the Korean conflict would confide in us that the Basic Training cycles in their day were easier to endure and that all ranks got along a lot better. The mood, they said, was more to train, encourage, and support. and the natural order of business in their day was cooperation.
We were told that before the V'nam buildup an enlisted man could address an officer by his rank. In today's Army enlisted men were being prosecuted if they addressed officers, in or out of uniform, as anything but "Sir".
Senior enlisted men were partly responsible for the ill-will junior enlisted men (JEMS) developed toward the Officer Corps. During Basic we were encouraged to respect Field-Grade officers and strictly avoid Company-Grade officers. Company-grade Officers were projected as petty bureaucrats who took pleasure in harassing enlisted men. However, when reference was made to a Field-Grade or General officer, careful detail was given to inform us of any combat experience the officer had and emphasis was given to his "deep respect" for enlisted men. (8)
As our training matured we learned there were 2 reasons why our DI's patronized senior officers. One, having served longer, older Sergeants were openly bitter that even though they knew more about how to get things done junior officers were quick to remind them officers were in command. and 2, because senior enlisted men could only be promoted by senior officers our DI's felt no need to encourage respect for a man who could do them no good.
Staff officers at DOA were aware of these feelings and even though they permitted field officers to use them to their advantage they insisted that billeting, social gatherings, and official duties for officers and enlisted men be kept separate. The Army believed that by preventing excess contact between the 2 groups, contempt bred by familiarity would be prevented. The Army wanted nothing to get in the way of enlisted men having respect for officers. and respect (or fear) of Command was thought to be the best way of getting a GI to follow their officers orders. But because there were so many college graduates being drafted, a Private with a Bachelors Degree found it difficult to respect a Captain with only an Associates Degree or Colonel with none at all. The enlisted men coming into the Army during the late '60's simply ignored the self-imposed regality of the Commissioned ranks.
The American military establishment, I quickly learned, was much like the American corporate establishment. It premised itself on a chain-of-command structure that, in effect, stated if someone had more rank than you it was because he or she had certain qualities other than just higher skill, education, or training.
With the exception of the West Pointers I met during my 3-year tour, many officers I met even went further to treat enlisted men as ignobles who lacked the intellectual capacity of ever attaining command-level skills. As a result West Point officers, some of whom entered the Army as 1st Lieutenants or Captains, were generally respected by enlisted men because they rarely displayed snobbery. They didn't have to, they were "company men". OCS officers, however, entering the Army as 2nd Lieutenants, generally tended to be conceited, pompous, and arrogant. They appeared to view their new commissions, and the fact that they were conferred by act of Congress, as mandates to lord over anyone with less rank.
Although it was good that OCS graduates had to share Basic and AIT with the men they would later command, it was unfortunate there wasn't some kind of review process that monitored their personalities. OCS Cadets displaying excessive egocentricity should have been identified and removed.
The Commanding Officer of my Basic Training, an OCS graduate, was a classic example. I spoke to him only once during my entire 8 weeks. I had been ordered to his office to be reprimanded for not having a poncho in my backpack during a recent field outing. The reprimand was made a permanent part of my 201 file, I was fined 35 dollars, 1/3 my monthly pay, and confined to my barrack for 2 weeks. (12)
While in the CO's office I was allowed only 1 statement, that was: "Private Coleman reporting, Sir!" After reading his charges against me I was ordered not to speak because he had pre-determined any statement I offered in my defense would be a lie. For 20 minutes I was forced stand at attention while he ranted and raved, calling me everything from "a stupid jerk" to "a waste of the Army's time". I didn't regret so much loaning my poncho out as I did enlisting. Had I known the Army might consider me a waste of time after only 3 weeks I would have chosen another service to invest the next 3 years of my life.
The military further asserted that any questioning, contradiction, or refusal by a subordinate to obey the (intellectually) superior authority of an officer was akin to treason and punishable by the harshest means allowable. Democracy, according to the military, ended upon entry.
What the military was apparently trying to accomplish, but slowly losing the battle on, was a training program for V'nam-destined troops designed to instill a code of discipline which, in effect, would make the individual GI more afraid of the Army's punitive system than a face-to-face confrontation with the enemy.
But the military mistakenly misread the psychology of the anti-war GI. It wasn't a fear of the enemy's face a more educated and peace-conscious GI was concerned about, it was his annoyance over the loss of his Constitutional protection in the Army.
Of course, the more the nation's civilian youth protested the war all across the country, the more the military sought, using harsh threats and real punishment, to gain control over the anti-war youth it was inducting. and the more the new personnel rebelled against the Army's attempt to insert a ring in their noses, the more the Army strained to pull it harder instead of re-rationalizing their approach toward dealing with a newer kind of soldier, whom they feared would all turn out to be like Andy Stapp. Andy Stapp was a former Army corporal who headed a civilian organization calling for enlisted men to unionize.
Many of the inductees in my Basic Training class believed, as I came to accept, that if the American Army were a privately run corporation it would have folded from inefficiency a long time ago if not for its perpetually-guaranteed government funding and its slave-level labor. In attempting to make gullible sheep of its flock, the military began to defeat itself in its war in V'nam before most of their troops even got there.
To better prepare its future "emissaries of international justice", as we were sometimes called, Basic Training company commanders were challenged by the DOA to produce soldiers with higher combat test scores in rifle fire, grenade throwing, and hand-to-hand. To better equip us to handle the physical stress of the Southeast Asian climate, we were tested in Physical Proficiency and Physical Fitness (PPPF). That training included an unending number of daily push-ups, chin-ups, running, snake crawling, obstacle course negotiation, rope climbing, crossbar hanging, knee-squats, and jumping jacks.
The DOA's plan, and hope, was that the greater the number of combat proficient soldiers coming out of Basic Training, the better their overall performance in V'nam.
Basic Training CO's carried out their job assignments by competing against each other for better unit scores, not necessarily for better combat proficiency. They instructed their DI's to prepare us for the tests and nothing more. and although the DOA required 2 PPPF tests, mid-term and end-term, Headquarters Company was tested weekly.
The weekly tests were designed to identify individuals who required more specific training in weak areas and measure those improvements on a timely basis, thereby making us as test-worthy as possible for the 2 DOA exams. Test excellence was desired for the sake of test excellence. Test excellence did not guarantee combat excellence because the high test scores we achieved were under ideal, not combat conditions.
It didn't take the draftees in the company long to realize that the better they performed in the combat testing areas the greater their chances of being assigned to high-risk infantry company's in V'nam. So in order to reduce their chances of being assigned as a grunt they made great efforts to score as low as they could. Their lack of effort, however, was to no avail because the experienced DI's rewarded those who produced low test scores, (which reflected their inability to encourage or coerce better scores), with a recommendation for infantry school, hence 'Nam anyway.
The only thing a draftee could do to avoid V'nam was to stay in school as long as he could. This was the only benefit draftees in the V'nam era had over draftees in previous wars. Immediately upon induction during World War II, and partly during the Korean conflict, GI's were assigned to permanent units. The policy of keeping GI's together throughout their entire tour of duty was to insure the greatest amount of instinctive combat unanimity and loyalty as possible. Unfortunately, the policy was abandoned after Korea as part of a general phase-down after WWII for sake of a more economical training program. During the V'nam era a GI might take his Basic Training with unattached Brigade, his Advanced Infantry Training with the 82nd Airborne Division but, upon arrival in V'nam, find himself assigned to the 101st Airborne. His loyalties and orientation to a new, unfamiliar organization were confused and fragmented. His performance suffered accordingly.
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