Copyright (c) 1980, The Vietnam War Library

Chapter 3 - CANNON FODDER, Part 2

Inductees entering the Army after TET '68 were not all equal. Some could anticipate duty in V'nam immediately upon completing AIT. Others were favored 3 and 4-year enlistees who were groomed into career, or "lifer", slots as trainers or professionals.

Apparently considered expendable by the Army, 80% of the Army guys who went to V'nam never rose higher than Corporal (or E-4). This included a large number of 3-year enlistees and almost all 2-year draftees. The lucky ones the Army considered promising were accelerated through the ranks with the cream of the crop making Staff Sergeant before their first hitch was completed. (1)

Older, military-mature NCO's, jealous because it took them several tours to earn Staff-Sergeant, resisted accepting the new "instant NCO's" into their social circles. Some used their V'nam veteran status to impress and distance themselves from the younger NCO's hot on their tails. The Army considered V'nam duty prestigious.

During my Basic Training cycle there were very few lifers who weren't claiming some personal involvement in one of the celebrated TET '68 firefights that stretched from the DMZ to the Mekong Delta. But as most of the claims were legends only in the minds of the Sergeants who magnified their participation, there was a lot of true heroism and sincere bravery in every one of those bloody battles.

During a VC attack that over-ran one of the northern Green Beret outposts, I lost a personal friend I'd known since pre-school. Fred Oliver, whom I hadn't seen since my brother's 16th birthday, was among those killed. Some of the families of men killed were sent photographs of the men being tortured. The VC obtained the addresses of the families from letters the men carried in their pockets. With confederates working as civilian employees in several of our RVN post offices, The VC were known to use the US Post Office to correspond with agents in the United States, send hate mail to public officials in Washington, send threats to parents of POW's, and solicit anti-war activity from sympathetic supporters in Hollywood and at some of our most prestigious universities.

But to hear any one of our V'nam veteran DI's talk about their 'Nam duty one would think the Army had forced them to come home early, preventing them from "single-handedly winning the war." According to the DI of our 3rd Platoon, "The 101st would've beat the ---- out of Charlie in less than 6 months, but the Army ordered us home so we could save some of the war for you new maggots to enjoy."

Although, to his face, the draftees informed the DI it sure was polite of him and the Army to think of them, in private they stated they wouldn't have minded it one bit if he and all the other DI's went back to make another contribution for democracy's sake.

Most of the 'Nam vets stationed at Fort Ord fell into 3 categories. One category were civilians who used their "preferred status" as former federal employees to get jobs on the Army base after their discharges. Holding low-level Civil Service jobs in the PX's or Supply Offices, they usually had very little to share about their Army or combat experiences. To preserve their job security they were prohibited from making any comments the Army might (even remotely) interpret as being anti-war. But the fact that they were no longer in uniform was enough to indicate they had found active duty, and possible re-assignment to Vietnam, bad news.

Another category were our AIT instructors. Slightly easier to communicate with than our Basic Training DI's, they seemed sincere about wanting to help us survive the war we were "destined to enjoy" by teaching us to perform our trades like skilled craftsmen. But, like the story of the fisherman's whopper, one had to take their war stories with a grain of salt. The more they re-told their stories, the more exaggerated and self-complimentary they grew.

The 3rd category were our Basic Training DI's. Proud of having served in V'nam they were always quick to distinguish the V'nam veteran who actually served in 'Nam, from the Vietnam-era veteran who never spent a day in 'Nam. In later years a small group of V'nam veterans would campaign to have Vietnam-era vets excluded from receiving certain VA benefits. Claiming those special benefits should only be available to those who actually served in combat, the campaign was deservedly unsuccessful.

Our DI's considered war veterans a special breed of soldier far above the GI who never saw combat. and although it made good sense for the DOA to ask actual war veterans to instruct its future combat soldiers, some of our DI's should've been given desk jobs. Not long out of the jungle they tended to measure the level of courage a man might later show under fire by the way he performed the physical and psychological challenges of Basic. Every trainees performance was constantly re-judged on a daily basis by their schizophrenic-like value system. No matter how hard some of us tried to gain their respect, nothing we could do was "man enough".

But despite some of the prima donna's whose military egos grew 10-fold after leaving 'Nam, there were a couple of DI's who looked on (their) V'nam duty more objectively. Occasionally sitting with us around our bunks at night they openly shared their personal ideas about the Army, the war, and the people perpetuating it.

The war, they told us, was being promoted by 3 groups of people. One, several dozen Pentagon-based hawkish Generals who felt it was good for America to always have some portion of its military engaged in active combat. "This was necessary for war experience training and new weapons testing." 2, military-industrialists who's corporations benefited immensely from the sale of military hardware, and later hired retired Generals as high-salaried consultants and liaisons. and 3, a small, select group of career officers who, primarily for reasons of seeking revenge and a desire to release the frustrations they incurred while serving in V'nam during its early years, wanted America to stay in V'nam until we won. Even as late as 1969, when I first arrived in South Vietnam, it was still the desire of every young career-minded officer to get his "war credentials" by taking his first "blood bath" in Vietnam.

Believing very strongly that consistency in intelligence and military activities should not be jeopardized every 4 years by a change in Commander-In-Chief's, we were told it was the pro-war pressure from these 3 groups that kept the V'nam fire burning under each succeeding President. But as the war transferred from President to President, each one imposing his own ideas on how to run and win the war, morale in the Army sunk lower and lower. Sadly, there were little to no constructive ideas coming out of Department of the Army HQ at the Pentagon because virtually every career officer had one objective and that was to keep himself out of Vietnam. Limited only to the single thought process of preserving oneself from injury or death in Vietnam did not leave room in the Army planner's brain on ways to improve morale Army-wide. And very simple solutions such as changing the Army's Class A uniform back to the uniform worn during the Army's greatest war-winning era, World War II, would have greatly improved morale because soldiers would identify with an Army of historical invicibility and then viewed the Vietnam matter as one that could very easily be won as simply as taking an Italian, Japanese or German city. Vietnam was winnable, many had theories on how to win it, but few had ideas on how to get the soldier to want to win, or feel that he could win it... as American soldiers lacked no confidence during World War's I and II. A simple uniform conversion might have instilled that confidence. After all, what soldier would want to embarass the uniform his father war when Hitler, Tojo and Hitler were trounced.

Kennedy, they said, had made changes to Eisenhower's V'nam strategy that left everyone in V'nam confused about where the war was heading. Then Johnson, abruptly taking command, made mid-stream changes in Kennedy's policies. and now Nixon, coming into office facing rising pressures from Congress and the public to either de-escalate our involvement in Southeast Asia or show some dramatic improvement, would be changing Johnson's policies. One DI complained, "The only thing consistent about the war was the fact that it was continuing and not getting any better."

But even though Richard Nixon's inauguration was 2 months away, Lyndon Johnson's photographs were replaced with temporary pictures of Nixon taken out of newspapers and Time magazine. Using an empty 55-gallon oil drum several of the DI's held a firelight ceremony celebrating Nixon's election. Johnson's pictures were used to fuel the fire.

The military, we were told, didn't like Lyndon Johnson. Bitter over his recent surprise visit to Vietnam, they felt he didn't trust them. They were happy he didn't run for re-election fearing he might have turned on the military by appointing an unfriendly Defense Secretary, or worst, publicly blaming them for the war's sluggishness.

Nixon, on the other hand, they loved. They anxiously anticipated him delivering billions of dollars in new technology, equipment, and payroll increases. Both Nixon and the Army, who had the biggest responsibility in Vietnam, received his election as a mandate from the public to go full steam ahead wherever he wanted to go. It's only too bad one of his goals wasn't Hanoi.

During post-election briefings with the military, we were told, Nixon expressed the belief that if the public could see a definite possibility of the war being turned around, and 'the light at the end of the tunnel' irrefutably luminous, growth in public support would increase overnight. Although at first this seemed encouraging to those who would soon be on our way to 'Nam, it was the same old story to those who were already there.

Nixon's way of pacifying both sides of the V'nam argument, we learned, was to create the appearance of an American phase-down while at the same time increasing our capacity to mount larger offensives. He agreed with the Generals that the only way to win the war would be to go after Charlie wherever he hid. and the only way to accomplish this was to draft and train as many bodies as he could get away with.

We were told it was because of this urgent need to rush so many people through Basic Training and into combat-ready positions, that the Army had become impersonalized. "And that's the only thing we can say to you dummies who enlisted with good intentions. Because this chicken---- war is screwing everything up, you'll never get to see what this man's Army was really like."

Nixon, they said, promised to compensate career soldiers whose organizations and responsibilities would increase with the size of the Army he needed. There would be more, promotions, raises, military privileges, and extra benefits. But his need for new personnel, he expressed, was critical and urgent. and he needed the cooperation of the military who would share the credit he would get for finally winning the war.

And true to his promise, speedier promotions and larger operating budgets arrived shortly after he formally took office. In fact, during the next 18 months the pay scale rose 3 times. But when it came to the extra bennies everyone looked forward to, the short list of recipients began and ended with the Officer Corps. There were new fixtures for the Officers Clubs, more maid service for the Bachelor Officer's Quarters, and more clerks to handle some of the paper work officers were responsible for.

Our DI's, who anticipated that happening, complained that promises made in the past always failed to reach the enlisted ranks because officers controlled where the money was spent. "We do all the work," they complained, "and the only thing we get are nickel and dime raises. The CO and his friends sit around on their asses all day long while we have to run up and down hills with you trainees."

After officers, the war and draftees were their next biggest frustrations. It was hearing their frustrations that we learned about the early days of the war. We were told about the "merciless and unpunished murder of civilians" by the VC and NVA. The ambushes of our reconnaissance patrols frequently betrayed by South V'namese troops. the Inquisition-style tortures of American POW's. and "President Kennedy telling us we couldn't shoot back."

Listening to those stories, and seeing the anguished expressions on their faces, we could sense the confusion they felt when ordered not to defend themselves if they were shot at. "But the confusion," one of them said, "only lasted for a short time. Those of us who survived were the one's who said "---- you!" to Kennedy's orders. You can be damn sure we returned fire in massive reply and with extreme prejudice! Charlie found out real ----ing quick that American sitting ducks weren't going to stay sitting for too long!"

Kennedy, they said, was overly concerned that an active defensive posture by the Army might be incorrectly interpreted as an active offensive posture by other nations criticizing America's deployment in Vietnam. According to another DI, who spent 4 years in 'Nam during the early 60's, "Kennedy betrayed us. He cared more about his political life than he did about our real lives."

He went on to say, "We blamed Kennedy for the (dozens of) military advisors killed by the VC." He stated he wouldn't be the least surprised to find out it was the buddies of those advisors who executed Kennedy (in Dallas in 1963) "because of his Catholic turn-the-other-cheek attitude."

He stated, "a lot of people in 'Nam felt that if Kennedy had taken a stronger stand as early as 1962 the war would've been over by the end of '63. Even the CIA told Kennedy to escalate early before it got out of hand. But he didn't listen. He didn't trust them."

Asked why, he replied, "He thought he was bull----ted about (internal affairs in) Cuba and that made him look bad in the Bay of Pigs. So he was afraid that (Allen) Dulles's people at the CIA were bull----ting him again about what was really going on in 'Nam."

He explained that even though Army Special Forces advisors collected the intelligence, "by the time the Chief (of Staff) gave his report to Kennedy, the CIA added their own work to it.

"But what made it so chicken---- was that while Kennedy and Dulles were fighting in air-conditioned offices with memos and words, we were fighting in those ----ing hot, steamy jungles with bullets and machetes.

"There were a lot of GI's in 'Nam who clapped their hands when JFK got blasted. and Johnson was so scared he'd get his brains blown out too, he went along with the military at Tonkin."

Departing on the subject of Kennedy's assassination, the DI seemed to boast. "Kennedy's assassination was no more complicated than a lot of other executive actions being carried out all the time, all over the world. Americans don't hear about most of them because they're usually little guys. The newspapers only find out about the people who make big trouble for us." He listed Congo statesman Patrice Lumumba and South Vietnam's President Ngo Diem as 2 examples.

"(Political) assassinations," he went on, "are always tailored to fit the country they're carried out in. Post-operational details like government investigations, media inquiries, and citizens making accusations about high-level conspiracies are all considered and coordinated in the planning stages before a hit takes place. That's probably why Kennedy got hit just after Diem did, it looked like commies were involved. The timing was perfect."

Claiming there was a J. Edgar Hoover-Vietnam veteran link, he explained away the Warren Commission as having been impaneled to keep the truth from the American public rather than uncover it. "Guys like Gerald Ford were hand-picked to keep things covered up. Can you imagine somebody like Ford having the balls to stand up to that kind of adversity?" (3)

"They decided at the highest levels that if the American public found out who actually killed Kennedy, they would never permit another war like V'nam and the type of men it created. They knew the whole country would go into uncontrollable hysterics if people found out it wasn't some commie renegade who zapped JFK."

Some of us shaking our heads didn't seem to faze him.

"The Generals," he went on, "were afraid that if public opinion was allowed to force changes in foreign policy we might as well close up all our embassies, shut-down the State Department, and -----can the CIA, because the anti-war people would inhibit the military from checking Communist aggression outside our borders later on. We might as well hand the world over to the Soviets on a silver platter."

When he included military Generals into the conspiracy it became obvious he and other senior military people felt that anything important that happened in the world had to involve the military, since the military was their whole world.

Next, they tore into draftees. To them, draftees were the lowest form of life in the universe. They couldn't understand why any American man would even hesitate to enlist during a war, let alone resist. They felt the anti-war movement was a contemporary phenomenon with no roots, no history, and totally unjustified. But the movement did have its roots.

Starting in the early 1950's American's began to change both their Constitution and social consciousness to permit every citizen the legal and moral freedom to express their self-chosen natures. America's exhilaration after winning WWII helped create that mood. During the post-war period no one would have believed the small pockets of counter-culture "Bohemians" spread around the country would evolve into the Beatniks of the 50's and later into the Hippies of the 60's. The social evolution that began with a strong influence on the arts evolved into a strong influence on political thought and social change. By the late 60's the growing counter-culture mood was put into a real-life perspective and real-life practice. The slogan, "If it feels good, do it", exemplified that mood.

Years later called a 'radically new and stimulating social philosophy' by sociologists of the 70's, the slogan was accepted by everyone who had an argument for doing whatever society had traditionally frowned upon, whether it was enjoyable or not. Massive attendance at Love-In's, rock concerts, and protest rally's were occasions where most of these uninhibited "new libertarians" demonstrated their desire to express themselves, to great excess.

Although judged by conservatives as being irrational, drug-demented, and anti-establishment, the free-thinking draftees of 1968 who didn't believe in being told what to do as civilians carried their liberal feelings into the military. When challenged by the regimented format of military life they contested the hierarchy at every opportunity.

Those of us who volunteered for combat duty sympathized with their protest that they shouldn't be forced to serve in the military. and because their protests seemed rational and coherent to us, working side-by-side with them, we also came to realize the resistance they gave the Army wasn't because of any lack of personal or collective integrity, it was the simple fact that they didn't want to participate in the war "one ----ing bit!"

Many of the draftees I met in Basic Training even stated they would gladly go to 'Nam "if we were fighting our own war." and they refused to accept government "propaganda" that American citizens were incapable of determining what was strategically important for the long range view. Or in the Administrations words, "the Big Picture".

The argument most enlistees like myself wanted to present to the DOA against the draft was that the war (effort) would have been best served by only sending over men who wanted to see it won. and if there weren't enough of us to accomplish victory, then the Army should be more honest in trying to convince draftees that winning the war was a necessary and absolute imperative.

Probably the greatest injustice draftees had to bear was their parents claim they lacked the "sacrificial spirit" their fathers had during WWII. Some of our fathers, they said, literally ran out the house to enlist when they heard about Pearl Harbor. Conservative American's were calling their son's unpatriotic or cowardly for not wanting to sacrifice themselves for someone else's freedom.

But looking back to WWII the statistics embarrassingly reflect that even after the Japanese attack on Hawaii, with thousands of Americans killed, conscription was still required to bring in men who weren't motivated by honor or duty to enlist, even when foreign American soil was attacked. (Although Hawaii wasn't a state at the time, our propriety was uncontested and assumed valid.) The only true difference between draftees then and now is a lot fewer WWII draftees continued to resist after they were inducted.

Although older Americans claimed their generation was "more patriotic and moral," our generation had the luxury of being smarter. After more than forty years of public scrutiny into the events that led America in to WWII, today's youth had more historical information to look back on, and no Pearl Harbor-like anguish to get angry about. Today's generation was better educated to objectively examine and correlate the historical causes for America's entry into all of its past wars than our parents generation had available.

The draftees of my generation knew about the questionable sinking of the S.S. Maine that brought us into the Spanish-American war. They knew about British involvement in the German U-boat torpedoing of its own ship, the H.M.S. Lusitania, that forced our participation in WWI. They knew about the suspicions many Congressional leaders had regarding FDR's advance information of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that brought us into WWII. and they knew about the advance intelligence General MacArthur had, knowing his own aggressiveness above the 38th parallel would lead to the Chinese entering the Korean war. (4)

And after adding the questionable disclosures slowly being revealed about the war in V'nam to the facts kept hidden from the public during previous wars, many draftees questioned the sincerity of America's present claims that communist provocations had forced our entry into the V'nam conflict.

It would be several years later, after the war ended, that young Americans would have 2 of their greatest suspicions confirmed about the escalation of America's involvement in Vietnam. One would be the secret White House tapes John Kennedy recorded confirming his intentions to de-escalate the war immediately upon his re-election in 1964. and 2, the greatly exaggerated reports of the North V'namese shelling of a U. S. Navy patrol boat in the Gulf of Tonkin. President Lyndon Johnson used the Tonkin "attack" to elicit public support for American "retribution" and to justify installation of offensive combat troops, ostensibly to protect the large number of advisors who had been in V'nam since 1954.

The military's claim that supreme secrecy was needed to preserve national security kept these incidents from being accurately reported when they occurred. But my generation did not believe the need for "supreme secrecy" was to prevent sensitive information being received by the Communists. Rather, they believed the enemies of State the military wanted to keep the facts from were the Congress and the American public. and being forced to submit to the supervision of men they felt were lying about national security proved to be a mistake history will record as being one of the greatest blunders of our century. Because even now, over 20 years after our entry into Vietnam, Americans who were anti-war in 1964 still distrust a completely different Administration's valid claim of "encroaching communist aggression" now occurring in our own hemisphere.

Along with the millions of anti-war draftees serving between 1965-72, there was also a growing number of career military men who, for various reasons, were also anti-war.

One of those reasons was their concern about the negative effect V'nam was having on the military and the nation. They feared the military's rapidly descending morale and the weakening support from both the Congress and the public would seriously hamper America's ability to quickly respond to a greater, and more determined threat, from the Soviet Union or China in the future. 1 year later, in 1969, the Joint Chief's of Staff would exert pressure on President Nixon to reform the draft system. The system would be 'reversed'. That is, instead of drafting older men from the 24 to 26 year-old range, who rebelled the most (and for all the understandable reasons), younger men, whose immature and insecure personalities would not challenge the military system any where near the degree of men who were forced to leave established families and jobs.

Another reason was they didn't want greater numbers of socialists, non-citizens, illiterates, admitted homosexuals, unionists, racial minorities, and American communists among their ranks. They complained their over-worked security departments were already having to cut corners investigating the backgrounds of thousands of "undesirables." So many, they now needed to draft more attorneys to handle the increasing military crime rate. More doctors to care for the extra self-inflicted injuries. More technical specialists to support the non-technical MOS's. More sociologists to better organize existing facilities. More engineers to construct new ones. and so on.

Both military and Congressional statisticians were reporting irrefutable figures that with the draft the military was "just chasing its own tail." The draft was increasing the size of the military's problems while failing to completely satisfy its (productive) manpower needs. and the professional-grade draftees forced into service, (doctors, lawyers, and dentists, etc), were not re-enlisting at the rate the military needed.

There was also the valid fear that the Soviet KGB might take advantage of the short-cuts in security screening to insert large numbers of deep-cover agents. Because of that fear it was common for anti-war draftees to be suspected, and accused, of being "brainwashed puppets" of (domestic) anti-American organizations, or foreign spies. But it didn't take a genius to realize that real spies would avoid attracting negative attention. After rising in the ranks to command positions, a spy in a General or Admiral's position could do incalculable damage to the American military a half-generation or so later by influencing a more passive role for the American military, in or out of combat.

The fear of having the military penetrated by spies wasn't limited to hostile agents. There was also the fear that inductees working for our allies could also harm the military by diverting our resources. Military commanders working for the Israeli Secret Service, British MI, or other foreign intelligence services might try to influence our supporting an enemy threat to their country.

Because of DOA's paranoia over which inductees were legit and which weren't, we were told the Army had to make "cutting changes" in the quality of our training. Pages of our training manuals were either completely deleted or partially whited-out. Some courses were modularized so that special security clearances were required to attend higher level training.

One example in the combat area that affected everyone was the abbreviated training we got in grenade throwing. Only 3 trainees per (50 man) platoon were permitted to actually throw a grenade. Everyone else had to "get the general idea." The excuse given was that we'd either get more training in infantry AIT, or OJT when we got to 'Nam. This, of course, wasn't fair to the GI who didn't go to an infantry school and the first time he threw a grenade was under fire in Vietnam. Poorly or untrained soldiers don't perform well.

The failure of the Army to adequately train everyone did more to inhibit the ability of serious-minded Vietnam-bound GI's from successfully completing most of their missions than it did to prevent foreign agents from completing theirs. But the uneven mixture of those who wanted the war and those who didn't made for a very upsetting and demoralizing state of military affairs. and the opposing dichotomy forced the military to alter their priorities. They had to give up trying to raise morale and spend all their time trying to maintain control. Officers, trying to force issues with draftees by looking down their noses and displaying an iron-willed "To You I Am God" mentality only found themselves in perpetual battles with greater numbers of resisters coming through the Draft Board turnstiles every month.

The order of the day was no longer the chant of "all for one and one for all," which we were told had been the spirit of battle in past wars. The shift in military personality was now to "look out for Number One," and, "get as much rank as you can" so when an order comes down for someone to pull hazardous duty you wouldn't be low man on the totem pole.

The low state of morale finally turned the military into a collection of super-competitive, self-preservation minded individuals with their own survival, not the nation, as their number one priority. An obligation to "Me, Myself, and I" had replaced "Duty, Honor, and Country".

Unfortunately, always looking out for one's own ass led to a pattern of rank-abuse. In order for a man senior in rank to protect himself from dangerous duty or risky business he had to transfer any orders he received from above down to someone lower to brave. The pass-down then went on to someone else junior in rank until the low man saw only his shadow when he turned around. Rank-abuse existed in every Army unit in V'nam and on every post in the States. and Basic Training companies were the melting pots where the rank-abusers ran unrestrained and the abused had nowhere to escape.

Fortunately, physical abuse wasn't tolerated anywhere in the Army. For the abusers, who where always looking for a way to exercise the dark side of their personality, rank-abuse was usually manifested administratively or psychologically.

Psychological abuse usually involved 2 forms of harassment, mild and harsh. KP, guard duty, or latrine orderly were forms of mild harassment. Threats of prison, guaranteed 'Nam duty, or administrative abuse fell into the harsh category.

Administrative abuse usually involved malevolent alterations of a GI's 201 file, like having his request for family deductions "mis-filed", or having his personnel records "re-routed to Alaska". Any of which meant for enormous inconveniences and emotional stress, not to mention a pain in the ass if your medical records were "lost" and you had to get all your shots over again.

The net effect the Army wanted was to obtain a draftees obedience by getting him to wish he had gone along with the program rather than getting the shaft rammed up his rump, or as our DI's put it, "getting the Green Weenie". and employing the extreme approach in everyone's case, to enlistees as well as those the FBI had to drag in, was designed to make the weak-willed more responsible and the strong-willed more utilizable. Although most enlistees like myself joined up because we sincerely wanted to serve, several draftees converted their 2-year Draft Notices into 3-year enlistment contracts after being convinced by a recruiter that draftees were picked on. As it turned out it didn't matter who you were, our DI's were very fair in treating everyone like convicted felons.

An example of some of the psychological abuse we had to endure in Basic was probably best illustrated in the "Get To Know Yourself Better Sessions" we were subjected to daily. Difficult at first for the victims to endure, they eventually became routine after our first couple of weeks. During these unannounced sessions a member of the "Fat Platoon" was usually selected to stand at attention in front of the assembled company of 200 hundred men and repeat whatever humiliating words a DI could think of at the time. Actually, any GI could anticipate being subjected to public ridicule or harassment for any reason. The usual reasons were, not running as fast as a DI wanted him to, not keeping his back straight while doing push-ups, or not angling his salute in a proper military manner. One trainee had to pull 15 hours of KP simply because his birthday fell on the same day as his DI's.

The Fat Platoon consisted of a group of trainees who, because of their weight, were unable to keep up with the rest of the company during physical maneuvers. To isolate them from "the more productive troops" they were segregated out to a separate platoon housed at the far end of the company.

Everyone not considered "1A stock" by military standards was always placed in separate areas away from 1A's. For example, the homosexual inductees were segregated out to a separate company loosely called the "Fag Battalion." Information about what went on in their unit was kept hush-hush because of the rumored abuses that went on. Our only contact with them was when we might see them marching by our company area in formation. While we carried M-14 rifles during drills, the homosexual company carried brooms. They were required to clean and respect their brooms the same way we had to care for our rifles. (5)

An old-wive's tale, or rather old-Sergeant's tale, was that if you were overweight when you entered Basic Training you'd lose weight. and oppositely, if you were underweight, you'd gain it. The myth was that "this man's Army diet" was so well-balanced, everyone would benefit. But the myth was exactly that: a myth. It was true that most of the overweight did lose weight and most of the underweight did gain. But this was only because the overweight were stingily given less to eat and the underweight got second helpings.

It wasn't that the Army was cheap when it came to feeding its personnel, because every trainee who pulled KP witnessed cooks carrying home cartons of food. and the DI and Officer tables were always abundantly supplied with 2nd and 3rd helpings. The Army made sure the there was enough food to eat, it just wasn't made available to the people who were supposed to eat it. The CO used the excuse of maintaining "strict diet control" for not allowing us more to eat. As a result, literally half of our monthly salary of $97 was spent on raiding the candy machines at night.

As punishment for a lifetime of self-indulgence the Fat Platoon was deprived of the almost negligible privileges the 4 regular platoons were allowed. They were not allowed to go with us on our weekly trips to the PX, and when the rest of the company got off at 8 pm, they were made to belly-crawl across a muddy football-length training field for an additional hour or more. "An exercise," they were told, "befitting a fat maggot."

During the course of any given night we might be pushed out of bed to stand uniform or foot-locker inspections. Demerits were given if our foot lockers weren't organized or our wall lockers in disarray. Regular platoon members could pay off their demerits the following day in push-ups or laps around the company. The Fat Platoon would have to pay for their demerits on the spot. This made for a lot of tired overweight trainees who had a difficult time keeping up even when they got a full nights sleep.

During one inspection a Fat Platoon trainee received a demerit even though he was the only person in the barrack with a perfect foot locker. He was told the demerit was for "refusing to be a team player." For the Fat Platoon, Catch-22 was a way of life.

It was not uncommon for a member of the Fat Platoon to be sliced out of a company formation at any time or place and surrounded by 5 or 6 Drill Instructors at once, each yelling different commands in such rapid succession that any one of them was impossible to understand, let alone perform. On this particular afternoon Bob Krenski was targeted to "Get To Know Himself Better."

Bob was an 18-teen year old, 5-7, 240 pound draftee whose crew cut, Irish-red hair and freckled skin made him look more like a rounded stop sign in OD green Army fatigues.

After reluctantly positioning himself next to the podium in front of the entire company, he was ordered to repeat the words of a particular DI who was known to take great pleasure in thrashing the young mind of a fellow human being.

Rexall Gorman had been a DI for 3 years. This was his 15th Basic Training cycle. Wearing the shoulder patch of the 101st Airborne Division he had served 2 years in V'nam as a tunnel rat. He would often say he had "seen the war the from the worst view: the asshole of the earth."

Gorman was considered by some of the other DI's, as well as us, of being a little off-balanced. His mood changed with the weather. One moment he'd take as much time and patience needed to explain a subject, but the next moment he'd jump down your throat for looking at your watch if he asked you the time. He would sometimes say, "In V'nam I hated gooks. When I came home I hated civilians. and now I hate trainees."

Turning to Bob he snickered a few times then slapped his back to get his attention.

"Repeat after me," Gorman began. "I-am-a-fatty!"

Mocking Bob's inflated frame Gorman stuck out his stomach. Several trainees in the formation laughed.

Embarrassed, Bob refused to repeat him. His red face sank to his chest.

"C'mon, Porky," Gorman bullied with a sarcastic smile, "Just let me hear you say a few simple words and we'll let you go back to your fat little friends in the formation."

Bob remained silent.

Gorman appeared unruffled. He'd done this several hundred times before. He knew he wouldn't get an answer right away.

"C'mon, Porky! What's the deal?"

Bob continue his silence. Gorman's smile began to fade.

"You giving me a hard time in front of all these people, Porky?"

Dropping his smile, Gorman began to appear irritated. Some of us wondered if Bob was playing hard to get or genuinely embarrassed.

Scowling, Gorman yelled directly into Bob's face.

"Godammit you red ball of maggot stew, repeat after me! I--am--a--fatty!"

Tiny beads of saliva rolled down Bob's face but he continued to look away.

Visibly frustrated, Gorman nervously adjusted his Smokey Bear hat and shrugged his shoulders. Jousting the air in front of Bob's chest with his baton he first threatened to punch him with it then pushed it into Bob's ribs.

"You gonna speak mother----er or am I gonna have to climb down your ------- throat and pull the ----ing words out!"

Bob buckled from the force of the baton. Mumbling, he answered Gorman. "I......".

"I can't hear you!" Gorman yelled again, rotating the point of his baton into Bob's side.

Cringing, Bob stuttered, "".

"That wasn't loud enough lard breath!" Gorman barked back.

Squeezing his eyes shut, Bob repeated, "".

"You sound like my sick, old, Aunt Lucy," Gorman taunted as he tea-cupped his arms and shook his head from side to side. "Even she had more balls than you've got!", waving his baton across Bob's crotch.

Feeling the baton brush against his zipper, Bob's eyes opened wide as he backed away. Gorman pushed the baton harder.

Raising his face toward the sky Bob yelled at the top of his lungs. "I AM A FATTY!"

Gorman pulled the baton away and smiled.

" miserable sack of blubber."

Turning to face the formation, he yelled at us.

"You show a mother----er the correct way to do things and you get the results you want. and everyone of you better remember that when you get to the 'Nam. 'Cause Charlie's not going to give in as easily as this tub of jellied----- did!"

Turning back to Bob he pointed his baton at Bob's zipper again.

"Now say this....I am a fatty because my mother gave me too many potatoes to eat!"

Bob repeated him immediately.

"Now say this....And I ate all the potatoes my mother gave me to eat!"

The other DI's were now bursting with laughter.

Pointing his baton where the Fat Platoon stood, Gorman ordered Bob back to the formation.

As Bob waddled off the podium, the humiliation in his face had turned to hate. The abuse had worn past the point of embarrassment.

Perspiration rolling down his face, Gorman turned back toward the formation. Raising his baton in the air, he barked, "You see get yourself a shove a twig up his dick.....then twirl it around. That ----er'll start blabbin' everything!"

Twisting his baton in the air the gleam in Gorman's eyes revealed his mind was back in 'Nam. Jumping down from the podium he yelled for us to come to attention then led us on a 6-mile forced-march to the Post theater.

By the self-satisfied smile on Gorman's face there was no doubt he felt Bob had left the podium a better man. He would probably never realize that not only was Bob's hatred for the Army deepened, but so was every other draftee's. He would also never realize that he helped create a bigger problem for the Army to deal with later as the trainees who witnessed his abuse eventually made their way to Vietnam, where having a bad attitude was the order of the day.

Most of the DI's I saw in Basic were not big men in any sense of the word. None of them looked anything like the healthy actors the DOA used in its recruiting commercials. Several of our DI's were even pot-bellied.

Only 4 of the 8 DI's in Headquarters Company were V'nam vets, our senior DI a Korean vet. All were heavy smokers and drinkers. Some had little formal education and most had little military education beyond their specialized service schools.

Because some of them were openly hostile, it was our impression the Army's prerequisite for DI school must have included having a deeply-rooted inferiority complex that could only express itself through bullying subordinates. and in the Army's predominantly male society, a man with an inferiority complex could always find somebody to take out his frustrations on.

It was my judgment, then and now, that the kind of harassment Bob and others had to endure, under the auspices of instilling military respect and obedience, was nothing more than disguised sadism both permitted and encouraged in the Army. Throughout my 3 years of active duty I could never accept the Army's belief that "military conditioning", using humiliation as a tool, bred better soldiers.

Although it's possible Gorman's bad attitude resulted from some abuse he may have encountered in his Basic Training I don't think his having been to 'Nam contributed to it. During my tour in 'Nam I didn't develop a similar disposition, nor did anyone I serve with. If anything, V'nam developed more of a compulsion in veterans to hurt themselves. My guess was Gorman had a problem before he enlisted. To him the Army was the perfect to place to act out his weirdness without having to worry about anyone call him weird.

After coming home from V'nam many veterans realized it was best they try to avoid any verbal confrontations that might evolve into a physical one. In V'nam it was the natural reflex to maim or kill, quickly, calmly, efficiently, and without remorse or regret. That was the way matters were taken care of over there and all our references to disposing of threatening situations were encoded with those reactions. It took an enormous amount of re-education for many veterans to re-learn that what was permissible in V'nam was still illegal back home. For me, it took almost a year. For other veterans, who went to work for organized crime, a foreign security service, or our's, it was simply a matter of replacing the VC with a new enemy chosen by his employer. Instead of looking for Charlie's face to appear through a bush, the faces of new targets were on photographs in sealed, unmarked envelopes.

One of the curious things I realized while in Basic Training was that it had been my impression, based upon years of media influence, that the American military man was always depicted as being tall, strong, intelligent, brave, and resourceful. Those impressions quickly came apart shortly after my first few days in the Army. None of our DI's were men a younger man could look up to and respect, in or out of the military.

Admittedly, looking honestly at myself, I had to acknowledge that I didn't fit the criteria of the "true military image" either. At 18 I was too young, too thin, and too inexperienced. I was aware, however, that what I did possess was a fervent desire to develop myself to fit that image. But as the weeks went by, I realized my concept of what I believed to be the true military image was not a natural one but one that had been hypnotically inserted by a lifetime of media influence. I was a product of social training that told men my age military service was the fastest way to mature into the American ideal of self-accomplishment.

In sharing those feelings with other enlistees I discovered that similar feelings had motivated them to join. I learned that most recruits, insecure and doubtful of finding a place in what we felt was the chaos of civilian society, tended to look upon military society as a kind of closed-shop, conservative, smaller society that operated under the bonds of a strong, orderly, fraternal structure.

Many of us felt we would be more comfortable in a smaller society where our chances were better of receiving, as well as contributing, something worthwhile during our service. This idea was enhanced by fast-talking Recruiting Sergeants who projected the military as a familial type brotherhood that "worked to protect and support its own."

After enlisting, however, we quickly discovered that the military was simply a smaller version of the chaotic civilian society it resided in. The same dog-eat-dog competitiveness, favoritism, discrimination, drug abuse, perversion, and absence of cordiality from supervisors existed in the military as well. But once in, we couldn't change our minds.

When it came to protesting problems or situations our rank didn't give us the opportunity to change on our own, we discovered there was little protection from superiors who caused those problems. Our legal rights in defending ourselves were negotiable only through the same supervisor who may have been the one putting us under stress and pressure to begin with.

When reconsidering my decision to enlist, I began to realize the incentives an individual chooses to accept in convincing himself that military service is right for him are generally universal in most enlistees and therefore are, as a general rule, definable.

Although during wartime, reasons like "providing for the common defense" and "fighting communism" are promoted by the Establishment as "good" reasons, in reality, most of us cared more about what we were going to get out of the service than what we were going to give it. Our recruiters knew that also. They didn't try to expound establishment views by asking us to join so we could fight communism or support democracy. They tried to convince us that joining the Army would make better men out of us and help to set our lives straight. On my 20th birthday in Vietnam, slightly under a year later, I realized it didn't take a man to fight this war or any war. There were few people in my unit over 21.

One of the things recruiters try to exploit with every prospective enlistee are the "positive" things that he or she may feel the military can do for them. Skill or trade instruction, personal conditioning, (both physical and mental), career references, current and post-military academic benefits, life-support security (medical, dental, financial), or simply finding a safe place to go to get away from an over-crowded or problem-oriented home are a few of the more important reasons recruits use as incentives for enlisting. and the recruiter only has to confirm the idea that the military provides the all-around support comparable to one a dependent would receive from friendly, well-to-do parents.

Although there are astronomical differences in the amount and kinds of benefits officers and enlisted men receive, there are relatively small variations in the incentives for either when deciding to make the military a career.

As a tool to encourage re-enlistments military recruiters need only exploit the life-support security offered by the military, while at the same time reinforce the veteran serviceman's basic insecurity that he would have difficulty successfully supporting himself as a civilian. and recruiters encourage insecurity by asking questions like, "How do you plan to make it on the outside?" or, "Did you know the job market out there is worse now than it's ever been?"

But for those of us who enlisted during the Vietnam-era, no amount of guaranteed security could have made our lives in the Army any better. Realizing the Army wasn't what we thought it was quickly burst a lot of bubbles. The enthusiasm we felt when during our "Dream Sheet" interviews our first day on duty was all but dissipated after only 2 weeks.

The "Dream Sheet" was a lengthy questionnaire the Army used to record an inductees desires, goals, and expectations while on active duty. We were asked where we'd like to be assigned, what training we wanted, how high we wanted to be promoted, etc. The questionnaire was called "Dream Sheet" because requests were rarely granted.

The "Dream Sheet" was renamed "Dream ----" by Basic Training graduates who received orders for AIT schools that were completely different from the one's they requested. I remember telling my interviewer, a 2nd Lieutenant, that I wanted to go to Officers Candidate School (OCS), get a Green Beret, go to parachute school, then volunteer for 2 years in Vietnam. When asked why 2 years instead of one, I told him it would probably take me 2 years to clean up the mess left by the guys coming home.

Hearing each of my answers the Lieutenant shook his head and muttered, "Crazy guy......crazy guy." He must've thought my brain had succumbed to an onslaught of debilitating drugs. But if he did, we was totally wrong. I didn't even know what drugs were. Up until I landed in 'Nam I thought that funny smelling smoke that seemed to be almost everywhere was Chinese incense. Prior to enlisting I caught my brother hiding in a corner of the backyard at home smoking what I thought was a cigarette. When I asked him what that other funny smell was he told me, "Chinese incense." I believed it ever since.

No, there weren't any brain rotting drugs in my head. I was just an over-zealous 18 year-old who, after seeing "The Green Berets", seriously believed Hollywood's version of war was a window to real-life war. I had absorbed so much of "The Green Berets" I even developed ideas of actually becoming a military hero.

It wasn't until my 7th week of Basic did it finally settle in that the Army, war, and I, may not be as compatible as I struggled to believe, despite all the negative things I'd seen up to now. What opened my eyes were 3 films. 2 were recreation films, the other a training film.

The training film was an attempt by the Army's brainwash department to get resistant trainees to "go along with the program" and not contest authority. The only similarity the film had to real Army life was that the actors were wearing authentic Army clothing. The major mistake the Army made was showing the film at the end of our cycle rather than in the beginning. Although the older draftees would have rejected the film in either case, some of the enlistees who were gullible in the beginning were now smart enough to spot a con. (Me excluded, there were still times when I needed a little help.)

The film paralleled the Army tours of 2 draftees. One, played by Johnny Crawford (from "The Rifleman" TV series), is shown progressing through his 2-year duty gobbling up mega-goodies because his philosophy is "Don't rock the boat." He never complains and follows every order.

The other character, an unknown actor named MacDonald, plays the rebellious personality of another draftee who totally resents being drafted and refuses "every inch of the way to accept blind servitude" in the military.

Their sergeants and officers are portrayed as compassionate, understanding, and supportive.

Throughout the film, contrast and comparison is made between Crawford's "good" character and MacDonald's "bad" character. When Crawford reports for KP duty he performs his chores with a smile on his face. Although he lets us know he doesn't like peeling potatoes he peels them anyway, "simply because that's what I was told to do." When MacDonald shows up for KP duty he's pissed-off for having to get up so early and flat-out refuses to do most of his assignments. The chores he does agree to do are done sloppily and incomplete.

When Crawford leaves the Army base on a 3-day pass he takes his childhood sweetheart to museums, G-rated movies, and church socials. Always the perfect gentleman, he reports back for duty bright and early on Monday morning. When MacDonald is refused a pass he promptly "goes over the hill." While AWOL for several weeks he takes a room in a cheap motel, abuses his girlfriend in a variety of X-rated ways, smokes marijuana, gets drunk, uses foul language, and has to be dragged back by the FBI.

Whenever Crawford does something his superiors like he is rewarded with praise and promotion. When MacDonald screws up he is privately counselled by a sympathetic CO who "tries very hard to understand his troopers." MacDonald is disciplined only after repeated belligerency.

When both are sent to V'nam Crawford volunteers for hazardous assignments, supports his comrades, kills lots of VC, gets cited for bravery, and comes home with no bad after-effects. MacDonald refuses to follow orders, makes a shamble of his unit's missions, almost gets his entire company wiped out in a single afternoon, wrangles over war and peace, and comes home freaked-out.

After 2 years of obedient service Crawford is Honorably Discharged having received 5 promotions and a ----load of medals. Because of his great record he's offered a million jobs by a long list of defense contractors.

MacDonald is eventually court-martialed and sent to the "Crossbar Hotel". (Jail). His dead-time has to be made up so he spends an additional year on active duty as a Private. When he's finally released he gets an Undesirable Discharge and goes through the rest of his life being turned away by good employers.

The moral of the story: "Don't rock the boat!"

With 18% of my class being draftees the message was promptly discarded. Only after repeated calls for order did the booing cease.

Comparing the film with reality, the draftees knew the chances of a 2-year draftee receiving 5 promotions were probably a million to one. They knew there were no compassionate sergeants or officers in the Army. The reward for doing something commendable in our company was the privilege of escaping punishment. and weighing whether they'd rather go through life with the stigma of an Undesirable Discharge against the possibility of dying in 'Nam, the decision was an obvious one.

If the Army had set up a booth outside the auditorium offering Undesirable Discharges half the trainees in my class would've been back at home by sundown; their discharge papers tossed into their circular file cabinets.

With help from the older trainees who saw right through the films intent, it suddenly became apparent to me that everything we were being trained or exposed to in Basic was directly or indirectly meant to brainwash us. It was disappointing to realize the U.S. Army was using the same approach to manipulate us as the Nazi's used to get the Jews to go to the concentration camps without resistance, or the communists used to get their troops to think or act a certain way.

Crawford's character was meant to inspire new inductees to be non-resistant, cooperate with the program, and to do as they were told. and if inspiration didn't work, MacDonald's character was meant to scare them into thinking the worst imaginable could happen.

Using reference psychology, the Army's use of Johnny Crawford was to inject a recognizable figure from our past they thought we'd be receptive to. Because both his current character and that of Mark McCain in "The Rifleman" were similar in moral tone, he was perfect for the part. Although reference psychology works in most cases, the Army failed to understand the psychology of the people the film was intended for. Being more perceptive than receptive, some of the men may have idolized Crawford for being a TV star when they were kids, but they didn't consider his goodie-two-shoes TV character to be realistic, much less respectable.

Acknowledging the Army probably didn't expect everyone to fully accept the propaganda and pattern their tour of duty after Crawford's character, the Army's apparent hope was that it would provide some reference point in the mind of an incorrigible and help turn him around sooner or later.

Although it was a little embarrassing for me to admit to myself that up to now I had fallen for a lot of what we were told, and I probably came across as somewhat of a jarhead to the older trainees, what I learned from them gave me a deeper insight into myself.

When analyzing the roots of my motivations to enlist I became aware that the values American society imposed on its males since early childhood were not as valid as we were led to believe. Values such as, associating bravery with volunteering for war, associating honor with having conservative principles, associating tradition with accepting establishment rules, and associating courage with walking head-on into battle, were all taught to be instinctive attributes inherent in all American men. and because a good part of my social training came from church, I made the incorrect association that those values were also approved by God.

I realized America was the country I was born in, not to. I realized that no country, like no man, was always fair, always right, or always keeping with God's laws. (7)

But analyzing and understanding the roots of my motivation to enlist didn't answer the question of their source. That question wasn't answered until several nights later when the company was marched back to the Post Theater to see another film. This time it was for entertainment.

Because we'd be taking our final PPPF exam that weekend, the CO grudgingly accepted our DI's advice that we be permitted a little relaxation to break the last 7 weeks of tension. The movie showing that night was "The Dirty Dozen" starring Lee Marvin.

It was watching the film that I realized where the source of all my values regarding the military and war had come from, Hollywood. But having been in the Army long enough to come to grips with the true nature of war, I realized Hollywood didn't accurately depict true military bravery, courage, honor, and tradition; but by distortion and special effects attempted to encourage them. I realized that it really wasn't Presidents or Generals who motivated men to fight, it was actors. and even though most Hollywood films were made to be entertaining, they could be just as propagandizing to unsuspecting minds as films made with that intent. Then came another discovery.

When the film ended there was a delay in organizing our march back to the company. While we waited we sat through a short string of coming attractions before the movie started again. One of the upcoming films was another Lee Marvin movie, "Paint Your Wagon." It was seeing Lee Marvin leading an angry group of GI's into Germany to blow up Nazi's in one movie, then seeing him singing and skipping through a flower patch with Clint Eastwood in another that made me realize war movies were as much fantasy as musicals were.

It suddenly became clear that an actors military career and mine were 2 very different realities. For song-and-dance men like John Wayne and Johnny Crawford to get blown up or shot in a war movie was no different than falling off a horse in a western or getting a pie thrown at them in a comedy. There was no mistake about it, when you get killed in a real-life war there just aren't any more parts you can play.

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