Although I was not sent to Vietnam, a lot from that era is still raw with me. Doesn’t take much to bring it back up.
Some months ago, PBS I believe, ran a program on the life of Janis Joplin. A friend of mine of many years says that I tend to be obsessive. I never considered myself as such, but with a bit of reflection, I tend to agree. I will dig and dig learning about things that interest me.
Anyway subsequent to the program I come to learn that someone from her old band – Big Brother & The Holding Company – was having a talk about Janis in Vallejo and I am all ready to get a ticket and attend.
Then I notice on Facebook he proudly shows an old poster of theirs with the caption F.T.A. And I think of my time at Ft Ord during basic training, thinking of the guys that went through there never to come home.
Anyway until the last few years, I used to attend the Monterey Historic Races annually. And there are several ways to get to the track – I always took the back way. It winds through much of what was Ft. Ord, now with boarded up old WW2 era buildings and barbed wire fences warning you to not trespass because of un-exploded ordnance. Plus there are “newer” barracks built during Vietnam.
They did a lot of mortar practice there, on a base that was second in size only to the Marine base at Camp Pendleton. At one time, Ft Ord was a city onto itself. The PX was the size of a modern box store.
It was along the coast – until a few years ago driving down Highway 1 into Monterey you could still see miles of rifle ranges. I can remember one guy at the range who was such a bad shot the sergeant said, “Herbie, you couldn’t hit the Pacific Ocean if you tried!”
I had, shortly after my 1st day there (2nd day) learned all about basic training and the need for camouflage and adaptation. Meaning don’t stand out and let the drill sergeants (in my case, Drill Sgt Claiborne (I’ve been in the Army 22 years and that’s allllllll you gotta know!) learn your name. It was just a movie, but this guy learned the hard way.
Meaning keep your mouth shut and always – always – get in the middle of a formation. Never – Never – volunteer.
That served me very well until one fine afternoon at the range we are ready to double time back to the barracks and we are in formation.
The Sgt says, “First 2 rows take 2 steps forward! Fall out!”
“Last 2 rows take 2 steps backward! Fall out!”
So suddenly there I was with 10 others, exposed and wondering what was going on.
“All right – you remaining – how many of you have driver’s licenses? ”
About 5 of us, trying to make the best of what seemed to be a deteriorating situation, raise our hands.
“OK, you non drivers, fall out – and you drivers follow me – I’ll show you what you are going to drive!”
I was getting a sinking feeling.
Anyway he shows us our vehicle and it is a huge broom – about 6′ long, with a leather harness that each would put around our shoulders. We were to “drive” this up and down the range collecting expended brass.
And I had to laugh – they got me finally.
Each morning you’d assemble in front of the barracks at 05:00 or so and wait for chow. With the cool ocean air half the guys were always coughing and had sore throats. And Ft Ord had just gone though a bout of spinal meningitis . Apparently they had several episodes as this was just a year or so prior to my being there. And the initial symptoms were a sore throat. Although in 24 hours you’d usually be dead.
So every morning the 1st Sgt would call out to our formation, “Sick lame and lazy fall out!” Virtually all of us chose to roll the dice and remain in formation.
What memories I have there. I did eventually volunteer for a few things in the Army – things that mattered – but that is another story. This article brought them back.
I wonder what Lex would say knowing his ship was being scrapped.
I think I know…