March 1965, I had made 18 but never registered for the draft. Viet Nam was raging. After weeks of my mother fervently imploring me to register, afraid that “they were going to come and get me”–I didn’t have to ask and she didn’t have to say who “they” were. I finally went down to the draft board and after admitting I had not complied with the law, was told to come back the next day and “we’re going to deal with you”.
I immediately went down to the Custom House, where all the military recruiters were. I said I wanted to sign up but I didn’t want to go to Viet Nam. Of course the officer was amused. Responding to his laughter, I said I was sure there were some jobs the Army had that they didn’t use in Nam and I wanted one of those jobs.
“Oh, you have to pass a test to get one of those jobs.”
“Well, give me the test,” I fearlessly replied.
That’s how I ended up at Fort Bliss, in El Paso, Texas, were I was trained in electronic maintenance for the Nike Hercules nuclear missile, which they only had in three places: Texas, Germany, and South Korea.
Less than eight months later, before sunrise, I and numerous other GI’s (by the way, GI stands for “government issue”) stood on the deck of the last troop ship that went from San Francisco to Pusan, at the southern tip of South Korea, after that, the carriers were deployed to Viet Nam. I ventured forth on a day-long, train trip up the peninsula to about fifty miles below the DMZ, the demilitarized border zone separating “the communist north from the democratic south” of Korea.
Eventually during my three-year deployment I was trained in “radiological, biological and chemical warfare” plus the use of the standard M1-rifle, the .45 caliber hand gun, and the fifty caliber machine gun. By the time I mustered out of the Army, I had attained the rank of E-5 sergeant and was well-versed on the path to being a specialized killing machine.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in April of 1968, I was discharged in early June of 1968. Despite my rise through the ranks–I even had my own room in the barracks and didn’t have to do bothersome morning and afternoon roll calls, nor odious manual labor duties–nevertheless, the Black Power movement was calling and I was more than ready to get out of the Army, besides, although I had been well-trained in warfare (from hand-to-hand combat to guided missile nuclear warfare), I was, nevertheless, principally opposed to the Viet Nam war.
A fascinating film of that era is the anti-war documentary “Sir! No Sir!” available on Netflix.
By the time I made 21, yours truly was “ready for the revolution”–or so I thought.
By the new millennium in 2000 I had literally traveled around the world, including: Japan and China in the Far East–Shanghai is a fascinating mashup of East meets West; the mountaintop Citadel in Haiti, down to the upside-down Hilton in Port of Spain, Trinidad; as well as bunches of places in between throughout the Caribbean–Barbados was my favorite, partially because of the ninety-plus degree of literacy on the island; the war conflicted, Central American country of Nicaragua in support of the Sandinista regime; and England, France and Germany (which despite its Nazi past and reputation, I found myself enjoying and learning from far more than I anticipated).
I had friends, comrades and fellow travelers worldwide. Moreover, the literature I consumed was global in outlook while being specific in location. I truly believed in and was comfortable with the maxim attributed to African-descendent, formerly-enslaved Publius Terentius Afer, aka Terence, a Roman-era playwright: “I am human, and I think nothing human is alien to me”.