Sunday, July 12, 2009

Long time passing ...

Some things you think are going to be hard to do turn out to be easy and it works the other way, too.

Moving stuff around this afternoon still trying to bring order to generations of mild chaos I found my late mother's stash of stuff related to my wonderful and remarkably surreal U.S. Army career, including all those letters home. Every one of them.

So I sit down cross-legged in the upstairs hall and says to myself, "Wow. I think I'll read these." I could not do it. I honest-to-God could not bring myself to do it. Back into the closet they went for a while longer.

But I did pick out two snapshots that will at least amuse those who know me.

Frank looking owlish (above), was taken in the dorm at the U.S. Army Intelligence School, then located at Fort Holabird in a Baltimore suburb called Dundalk.

Quite a place, Fort Holabird --- in that era perhaps the most laid-back of the U.S. Army's training establishments. We worked hard and wore green in class, drove out to Fort Mead to qualify with our weapons, did K.P. now and then, but generally were turned loose --- literally. Civilian clothes on base and off, come and go as you please. Weekends in D.C.

From Fort Holabird onward to a brief stay at beautiful Fort Lesley J. McNair in D.C., then Saigon. Scared shitless. But intelligence types soon found out that for the most part others did the shooting, and got shot, for us.

The photo below was taken during January of 1970 --- that's 39 years ago friends --- at the International, a big restaurant in downtown Saigon. The occasion was a party given if I remember correctly by the Vietnamese staff of the Combined Document Exploitation Center (CDEC) for the American and Korean staff. I see by the invitation (yes, my mother saved that, too) the attire was to be "formal" (who did I borrow that tie from?) and that it began at 9:30 p.m. --- late by U.S. standards.

I'm on the right and my good friend Rich Schleifer (God love you Richard wherever you are), on the left.

The food was great, unless memory has failed me, but then the food almost always was great in Saigon since me and my buddies didn't have any place to eat military food and thus were spared it. We ate, as they put it, "on the economy." Somebody said something the other day about how well I handled chopsticks. I've gotta tell you if you were eating on the economy in Vietnam and didn't how to use chopsticks you were in big trouble.

Chopsticks inflicted the only wounds I know of at the big party at the International, though. The International had great chopsticks. Damnfool lieutenant, drunk, decided to steal a set. Stuck 'em down the front of his pants. Not too smart a thing to do, but then no one ever accused that lieutenant of being smart.

Many months later I came home, jerked out of Saigon one day and unceremoniously dropped in Des Moines a few days later. Talk about whiplash.

The end of my tour of duty coincided with the end of my enlistment which was just as well, my buddies told me later, because while we were away the Army Intelligence School and associated agencies had been packed up and shipped to Fort Huachuca, Arizona, no longer quite as laid back and a heck of a lot hotter and drier.

So I went back to Iowa City and got a pointless master's degree because I didn't know what else to do. You didn't tell anyone there you were a Vietnam vet. Vietnam veterans were freaks.

Interesting times, those. By rights I should be dead and I'll be damned if I know why I'm not. Grateful, of course, but ....

1 comment:

Wanda Horn said...

Whenever I get a chance, I say "Thank You" to servicemen and veterans. Thank you, Frank!