The job was going so well and we were getting a little ahead so we decided to relax our guard and let a child come if it would. It did. We began to worry when we began to tally up the expense of the actual childbirth itself and then we got a suggestion from Toni’s father, Chuck.
“It sounds like you really like electronics. Why not get in on some of the leading edge stuff and get about six months of intensive training in the Army. The last Basic Training will be given in April at Fort Bliss (El Paso). After eight weeks of Basic Training you will go right into the electronics school. The Army will pick up the expense of childbirth and the Army will guarantee it all in writing before you sign up. You will never have to leave El Paso. They are expanding the draft anyway, it would be a pre-emptive move.”
So, I decided to re-invent myself as a soldier.
Chuck notified the Army and set up the paper work. I took the physical and I weighed 118 lbs. Then I took the aptitude tests and I couldn’t believe what happened next. A Marine and an Air Force recruiter asked for an interview and each one wanted me to switch to their branch. I had made a perfect score in electronics and mechanical aptitude and 99% in math and had no other score lower than 95%. They had not often seen such high scores and were trying hard to enlist me. They offered officer’s school, flight training, and anything else they were allowed to bargain with. What they didn’t know was that I had a mentor in my pocket that was worth more than anyone could offer me. The Marine recruiter wanted to weigh me in 48 hours after I’d eaten all the bananas I could hold to make their weight limit. You see, I was still a little guy.
I was sworn in at the downtown recruiting office and everyone received their orders as a group. I received my orders as the only one going to Fort Bliss. Everything was working as promised. It was the very last Basic Training group that Fort Bliss would give, ever.
Chuck was a good mentor. He tipped me off on everything. He was right about the draft. There were guys with several years of college and a pharmacy student with four years schooling. There were some white and black kids from the deep south and they didn’t have a clue about anything.
They took a day to get us into our uniforms before trying to get us into training; there were some guys still drifting in. Our uniforms really looked sad. They were baggy fatigues with a soft fatigue hat. They gave us brown boots and brown shoes and a bottle of black dye and told us to make them all black. If you have to put names on things, we were the last of the brown shoe army.
Then, one morning I heard the magic question I had been waiting for. “Does anyone here know how to type?” I raised my hand and the pharmacist didn’t know what to do. He had been told never to volunteer for anything. Bad advice! I was then told to leave the group and see what the First Sergeant wanted. He wanted me to update the ARs (Army Regulations). They were woefully out of date and the new changes had not been inserted into the binder. While tidying up, I ran across the section about weekend passes. It said “Any enlisted man is entitled to a weekend pass if not on the weekend duty roster.” Well, I was an enlisted man wasn’t I? I filled out the form and submitted it.
The First Sergeant squinted at me and handed it to the Battery Commander who commented, “You must have read the book too. What else can you do?”
“I can fix the radio and the TV in the day room.”
“Where are you going to go on this pass?”
“Home with my wife and take her to Church on Sunday.”
“Okay,” he said, “Keep your head down.”
I went home most weekends. Toni drove my TV repair panel truck to the barracks and picked me up on Friday evenings. I kept my head down, but one weekend the Drill Sergeant went looking for me and couldn’t find me. He went ballistic when he found out. He had never heard of such a thing for a Basic trainee. The next weekend I cleaned up the field kitchen and the next I had guard duty.
Guard duty turned out to be fun. Chuck had coached me and we went to the store where senior non-coms and officers bought their replacement uniforms and got a really nice set of replacement fatigues and had them tailored to fit and the sleeves cut an inch short. We also got another pair of combat boots that were very shiny and really black, not dyed black. We topped it off with an officer’s blocked fatigue hat that fit really well. We then went to a specialty laundry and had the whole thing double starched and pressed with all the pockets stuck down including the pants. We were ready for guard mount.
Everybody is supposed to look their best for guard mount, but in Basic Training where everybody sends their fatigues to the quartermaster’s laundry, everybody looks like they have been stuffed in a duffel bag for a week, except me.
The Captain who stood before the formation of guards was the loudest I had ever heard. He strode down the line and stopped in front of me. He passed four others with barely a glance.
“What is the 18th general order?”
“There is no 18th general order, SIR!”
He then asked for all the general orders in backwards sequence. I got them all without blinking. He looked down and then up and his hand moved towards my rifle. I dropped it on the ground and stood at attention while he picked it up. I can thank Sam Donaldson for that one. I was never able to drop my rifle on Sam. The Captain was supposed to offer to clean my rifle since it was his responsibility to grab it and my responsibility to let go. Then he quietly leaned forward in a low voice and asked, “Are you Chuck’s son-in-law?”
“Yes, Sir.” I said in a low voice.
I didn’t have to guard the jackrabbits that night, but since I was designated ‘supernumerary’ I had the privilege of cleaning the Battalion Commander’s bathroom early the next morning and he had the privilege of checking me out. He said I looked pretty good for a Basic trainee.
Chuck asked me later what happened on guard mount. I told him I dropped the rifle on the officer. “Did he clean it?”
“Nope, he offered, but I let him off the hook. He was really embarrassed. Did you know that guy?”
Basic training was not that easy. The Drill Sergeant is god and he was angry with me because I seemed to have such good luck and so he tried to even out my karma. His name was Shackleford; which seemed strange because he was an Arizona Indian. He was the toughest human being I had ever met. While we were struggling to carry our packs on a five mile forced march, he was carrying the same pack and going up and down the line shouting and cursing at us. He even said some ugly things about my pregnant wife; which made me want to kill him. Going up and down the column almost tripled the length of the march for him but he seemed to have ten times the endurance of us young guys and he was over 40.
Eventually some of the guys broke. A white Southern guy was ragging on a black Southern guy on a night march. The black guy pulled his bayonet and ran his tormenter through the gut. He almost died. A lot of his internals were cut up and he had A-negative blood. We were way out in the desert so getting him to surgery was an all night affair. They were going to court martial the black kid but when they found out he was only 15 they discharged him rather than embarrass themselves over the situation.
At the end of the first eight weeks of Basic, most of the guys were assigned to do advanced Basic Training at some other base depending on whether they were infantry, artillery, or tank corp. Since I was not taking that second eight weeks they gave me three weeks off to be with Toni while she had the baby. It was a good delivery and we named the baby Dee Anna.
I had worried about the delivery because Toni had done something risky in her seventh month. It was my third prophesy thing. Toni was crazy about horses. The Tucson move had put us close to race tracks and riding stables and we rode in the Catalina foothills near our apartment. Soon after coming back to El Paso she met someone with a horse. Having that familiar flash I asked her not to ride that horse. On one of my weekends at home I noticed she was limping. You guessed it. So did I.
We were living in the duplex next to my parent’s house and so we had lots of help from Mom and Toni’s family. It was a two bedroom unit and we had set up the second bedroom as my TV shop. I painted the panel truck refrigerator white and put a sign on the side that said, ‘Goodman’s TV Repair’.
I had been building my own oscilloscopes and TV test equipment from kits while in Tucson and had found a cabinet for the TV that I built.
Toni was now settled in with the baby and I could start Nike Ajax Anti Aircraft Missile School. My reputation had preceded me and the school director said he wanted to start me in a class that had already been in session for 6 weeks. If it didn’t work out then they would make adjustments and move me back or forward. I was a little apprehensive when they walked me into a room where they were already taking a written test and asked me to try the test. It seemed easy enough and I thought I got them all right. When the test scores came back I had missed one. I called on the instructor and challenged his call on the wrong answer. It was a true/false question about a circuit that named the impedances it consisted of. They listed three. I said it was false because there was another impedance not mentioned. I was taken from the class before the department head to repeat my challenge.
“You are correct, but that is not the answer that we will accept. You know more than your instructor, but to have order in the class you must accept my ruling. We have not taught that part of the course yet.” Déjà vu, this reminded me of that English professor. I was experiencing fuzzy reality.
Word got around that I was a wise guy so many instructors set logic traps for me; which helped keep me awake. Army classes are so boring that a lot of older guys fall asleep. It was permissible to stand up in class if you could not stay awake. I graduated in the top 5%; which was a lot better than I had done in high school.
When it was time to branch to a specialty I went to the radar and computer maintenance school. I was totally fascinated by this new technology and the actual application of math that I had never understood. My head could get into the computer and feel the math of tracking a plane and missile at the same time, and steering the missile to intercept and explode at the exact point where the shrapnel would shred the plane. I began to dream analog computer logic.
When the school was finished it was time to accept assignments. Nike missile batteries were being sent to Greenland, Alaska, Korea, Formosa (Taiwan), Guam, and Okinawa. I didn’t want to go to any of those places. I wanted to stay in school and chase bugs. Chasing bugs is the act of fixing a computer that the instructor has sabotaged. It’s a great game. There were a number of systems set up in a training park that were used for chasing bugs. The only problem was that sometimes a system failed and it wasn’t a bug put in by an instructor. Some of the guys couldn’t fix them and so they called me. The tubes in these analog computers were the same kind used in many popular TV sets and I carried them in my TV repair truck. If it was a computer problem, I had the part with me and could replace it. The technician would order the government part and swap my tube out and give it to me later. I did it for the pure joy of chasing real bugs but I built up a lot of good will with the school staff.
My mentor, Chuck, showed my how to dodge assignments. Some of the guys were assigned to the school and wanted to go someplace besides El Paso. I, on the other hand, knew how to enjoy El Paso and wanted to stick around. Whenever I got an assignment to someplace like Alaska or Okinawa I would shop around the park for someone that wanted to go there. Then I would type up the transfer forms for both of us, staple them together and request a switch. I had to do that three times. Finally they gave up. After a while there were too many people trained to fill the posts I was trained for and I got transferred to the motor pool. Yech! The indignity!
I drove 2-½ ton trucks into the desert firing range to support foreign troops that were going to have their own missile battalions in Turkey, Italy, and Formosa. The Nike Hercules is a larger two stage nuclear missile with a cluster of four solid booster rockets for the first stage. All four are supposed to be ignited at the same time to get the last stage up to speed and altitude. One day the Italians only connected one or two up and when they launched, the rocket spun off the end of the launcher and spun like a pinwheel on the ground wiping up the launch pads. It was pretty exciting to witness, almost like being in a war.
Mostly it was boring and I practiced backing up and parking a 70 foot flatbed semi-trailer truck in the motor pool. Once I had to change a tire and I proved the old trick of loosening stuck lug nuts by spraying them with Coca Cola. Honestly, it works.
I went looking for another job. I saw a two way radio mounted on a jeep and asked who repaired the radio. I found a Master Sergeant who was a few months shy of retirement and needed a larger group to command in order to raise his rank to E7 (Super Sergeant). He took me on as a radio repairman and since I had a military driving license, I could drive the commander’s vehicle which had the big radio rig. The only other radios he had were a few walkie-talkies that never seemed to be checked out. There wasn’t a lot to do so I took some Morse code classes and discovered I didn’t have a discerning ear for code.
I saw a curious thing while driving the umpire vehicle at Hueco Tanks Bivouac area. It was a reserve unit and some of the soldiers had mustaches painted on like Groucho Marx. As civilians they did not wear mustaches but their service ID cards showed them with mustaches so they had to paint them on to be ‘Regulation Correct’.
I continued to be a student of Army Regulations and I discovered that all the leave that I did not take because I had nowhere to go would allow me to get out early based on having to meet a scheduled event like spring planting, start of school, etc. In the last six months of my enlistment, I began to compile a list of employers who might need my new skills. I had pretty well picked the two finalists before I put in for my early out. They were IBM and Remington Rand UNIVAC. I went with UNIVAC because they promised me more schooling. The school would be in Ilion, New York.
Now I have to digress for about 18 months. Things were going well and Dee Anna was thriving and cute as could be. I was called as Elder’s Quorum First Councilor at Church, Toni sang in the Church choir. My good friend Will had dissolved his marriage and decided to embrace Mormonism since we had so many discussions at work. Will had finished his apprenticeship and as a journeyman printer had worked in Los Angeles and San Francisco as working vacations.
One day, Toni told me that an old friend she had known in Germany, a fellow Army brat, was going to be passing through El Paso and wanted to see her for old times sake. I had mixed emotions about that but I could see she really wanted to see him again. I asked her to meet him in a public place and maybe take another friend along if she was uncomfortable about me being there. We checked to see if Will was available. He was, and offered to drive.
The first day she was back at a reasonable hour. The next day she was out ‘til 4 AM and she smelled like a Mexican bar. I was very upset. She was very defensive. Our relationship never recovered from that. Within days she asked for a divorce and suggested that I should be the one to care for Dee Anna since my mother was next door and could help me. I was shook to my foundation. I didn’t have a clue what had happened. I could tell she was feeling a lot of guilt but she did not want to discuss anything. I asked her to talk to our Bishop. She did. My anger mounted and I began to play on her guilt. She developed stomach pains and I moved out to my parents house.
Chuck was pretty upset, too. We were in the TV business together. Her family turned against her. She found a place to stay and took a job as a night dispatcher for a security firm. In 60 days it was all over. The divorce was final. I had custody of Dee. I was still in the Army and not coping well. I asked to see a shrink. My life had been violated. I was the first divorced person in my family and felt very ashamed.
“He that won't be counseled can't be helped.”
– Ben Franklin
The Army shrink was a Puerto Rican Second Lieutenant who did not seem to understand English, much less the anguish that I had. I wanted out of the Army. He did not understand. “Why do you want out of the Army? You don’t have a wife now. You could really have a good time.” Well, that was a waste of time. I still felt bad. What good is a shrink anyway?
Strange things began to happen. I saw my Elders Quorum President on the front page of the daily paper. He was an Army Captain and had been arrested in conjunction with a hot check ring. It was his job to provide forged IDs to the gang. He was to be turned over to the military for court martial after pleading guilty. I was stunned! This was a man who I trusted. He had a wife and lovely family. His wife was suffering great anguish and she remained in El Paso and waited a year for him to be released.
Then another man at Church, who was a physician, cornered me to tell me that he was fed up with medicine. “I can only help one out of ten. Ninety percent of the people who come to me in my office will get well in ten days even if I do nothing. I cannot keep up the act. I am going to leave my practice and my family.” He had a lovely wife and five daughters and he went back to MIT to get a math degree.