My Army Beginnings – 1972

Ghost Town

26 Sep 1972. I had been in the Army 12 days.

We were talking in the Facebook Group today about stories of our Drill Sergeants we knew in the military, and I mentioned mine. Thought I would reprint it here, and of course I can’t just mention that without mentioning a bit more.

I’m really easy to spot in the above picture of all those shaven heads, once you know my background.

I had been called right from KP – that’s Kitchen Police for you civilians – for this picture. I had to take off my apron.

Yes, apron. And you could see where the flour hit below the apron.

I don’t think the Army makes soldiers do KP any more. 

The wiry drill sergeant – 3rd from the left front row – a staff sergeant just back from Vietnam, gave us a short and unforgettable introduction on our first day.


I learned early on that it was best to not attract their attention, and to stay in the middle of formations.

The other drill sergeant, 5th from the left, was his assistant. He was a buck sergeant – a  3 stripe – and the funny thing was, one of the recruits outranked him. If you were in Vietnam and showed any kind of aptitude and initiative, weren’t a screw-up, rank came pretty fast.

Anyway he was a recruit and a staff sergeant – the same as Drill Sgt Claiborne. He actually outranked the other drill sgt.

Apparently he left the Army after coming back from Vietnam and later wanted to reup – that’s reenlist for you civilians.

The Army, in its infinite wisdom, let him keep his rank but made him go through this again.

I was the 2nd to last group to be drafted.

Four months from the time I graduated from college I got my notice. I think the popular perception is that all draftees hated the military – after all, they didn’t enlist. I believe that this Command Sergeant Major (that’s pretty high for the enlisted ranks), was drafted the same month and year I was, September 1972. He retired after 39 years.

I seriously considered staying in when my service was about to end. After 46 years, I still miss the camaraderie.

I was proud to wear the uniform, and I believe my Army time, humble that it was as an E-4 (corporal) , was a highlight of my life.

But, for those who have no idea what it was like to be drafted, I’ll fill you in. After getting your notice, you had to report to a reception station for a physical. I suppose I could write a post just on this subject, as I found some humor in it. I reported to the Oakland Reception Station downtown, and, like 100 others, walked around in my underwear all day stopping at various stations, such as hearing. Just think about walking in your underwear all day in a huge, multistory building.

They then had you line up, drop your drawers and “spread your cheeks”. Now let me tell you there was always one who got the wrong message and spread the wrong cheeks.

When the medic walked behind us along with a flashlight peering into each of our….ugh, well, let’s keep this on the family level – anyway it was all I could do to keep from bursting out laughing.

Well, as you have surmised, I passed the physical and got a notice to report on September 14 at our (then) downtown post office. The bus was going to leave at 0500.

My mother, certain that this would be the last time she ever saw me, asked what I wanted for a “last supper” and I picked tortillas and lamb chops.

Yeah, I know.

Well, that night I got sick, either from the strange dinner selection or just nerves but at 0400 my father showed up in his bathrobe to take me down to the main post office.

And who should greet us but about 100 Vietnam protesters, all waving signs and saying that we didn’t have to go.

Let me tell you, it was a somber time as we all entered the bus – not one decided to drop out.

As for me, with a family who has had someone in arms since the Revolutionary War, the thought of shirking my duty was alien to me.

One of the last things my father told me was advice his uncle, who was in the cavalry when they actually rode horses, told him when he enlisted in 1942:

Keep your mouth shut and your bowels open“.  Don’t know what the bowels part had to do with it but keeping my mouth shut unless addressed served me well.

And my father, who was very sparing in his compliments, said as I entered the bus that “They’re getting a good man“. Of the handful of compliments I got in his life, I remembered that against the backdrop.

Back to Oakland we went and who should greet us but a Marine First LT.

Now I have never seen this officially but I was told at the height of Vietnam at the reception station you would count off by 2s – all 1’s would step forward.

Half would go into the Marines, the other half Army.

Like I say, I have never read this officially but the Marine was there. And in any group, there is always at least 1 screw-up and one apparently didn’t know what the Marine meant when he said “line up”. (We were too green to know what “fall in” meant. )

So the Marine told us about the “10% Rule“, directed at this miscreant.

Never heard of it?

In any population sample, in any endeavor, 10% will fark it up for the other 90%. 

I always remembered that.

It seems to hold true. Although I mentioned this to one cynic, and she thought it was closer to 20%.

Well, all of us were slated for the Army and in the late afternoon, a bus would take us to Ft Ord, about 100 or so miles down on the Monterey Peninsula. It was dark when we got there, and the first Army scene from Stripes was pretty much what we saw. Of course no one was dumb enough to emulate Bill Murray’s character 😉

This barber scene was pretty accurate, too. Except we all knew what to expect.

I mean, look at us up there.

I haven’t even gotten to the drill sgt story but it is getting late. I’ll have a few for you.

Part 2 is here.


Filed under Army, Vietnam

2 responses to “My Army Beginnings – 1972

  1. Pingback: Fort Ord 1972 – Basic Training | The Lexicans

  2. Pingback: Things I’ve Learned Along the Way | The Lexicans

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