It was in the first night of my military service that I learned cockroaches could fly. I am from the Northwoods where cockroaches are light on the ground, so it was somewhat of a shock to be standing at attention at two in the morning with a group of dazed men, hearing a thwwwwwwwwp, and seeing a pterodactyl-sized chitinous-armored bug fly over our heads and attach itself to the wall.
That was right before we heard the slow clic-tap, clic-tap, clic-tap of the drill sergeant drawing out his entrance from behind. I think I was more frightened of the miniature dinosaur, which was now extending its wings in a menacing fashion.
They called us a Rainbow Flight because we all wore variously colored civilian clothes and still had long hair. I had a small sack with toothbrush, some spare underwear, shaving kit, that sort of thing. I had, I think, about twenty bucks, which I then (and, given the way things are going, soon will again) regarded as a small fortune. These consisted of my worldly possessions, except for some spare clothes and some books my mom had.
There are two scents that still bring me back. Packaged rough blankets (I don’t know how else to describe it; wool blankets processed cheaply?), and Pinesol. Maybe the memories are triggered by my amygdala: every other behavior apparently is.
Only time I ever caught the attention of the TI was when I accidentally mentioned the name of another unit. He heard this and made all fifty of us rush outside, form up, then rush back upstairs, form up by our bunks, rush back outside, and so forth, about five or six times in all. Turns out our TI hated the TI that ran the other unit.
My first base was Kelly, right next door to Lackland, a major disappointment. Or at least I thought it was at the time. It did allow the Blonde Bombshell to make her way south and get hitched up (she has now served a longer term of service than I did with my Uncle Sam).
Now we had no money but at no time did we ever feel poor. And when I say “no money”, I mean no money. I think the yearly salary then was around $7,100. From which came the rent, groceries, the car, and so on. We didn’t live in the swankiest section of town. The Air Force charmingly picked up the tab for our Number One son, but this was still in the days hospitals didn’t marshal teams of experts to attend a birth.
I became expert at floor buffing, two-deck pinochle, and soldering. Not soldiering: soldering. Very different skill.
After three years of this, off to Kadena and the 1962 Communications Group. The cockroaches were bigger there than in San Antonio. Plus there were deadly slugs, deadly spiders, and a deadly snake called a habu. I never heard of anybody dying from the spiders or snakes, but every now and then a Marine would kick over after being challenged to eat a slug. Or to go swimming in the surf after a typhoon, an especially interesting experience since Okinawa is made of coral. We always thanked God for the Marines—and thanked God we weren’t one of them.
The Navy picked up the tab for Number Two son.
I tooled around Japan and Korea where I first formed the conviction that the human race is insane. I think Sister Dorothy tried to impart this valuable knowledge earlier, but I was stubborn and rebellious and didn’t realize that I was part of the problem.
Once or twice “activists” from mainland Japan came down to protest war and the military. One time they had just enough people to link hands around Kadena. We lived out by the fence and were warned not to go near them, but they seemed friendly enough. Protesting is almost always a social outing with a picnic atmosphere. Of course, this was in the late ’80s and most Japanese probably now think differently.
After we decided to get out, I typed—on a typewriter—maybe 100 letters to various companies asking for a job. Every single one of them wrote back to say No Thanks (every life has constants). Which was but proper and civilized. Those days are gone.
That was me. How many vets do we have here?