Friday, March 17, 2006

A Memory of October 1970

An attempt by an Ethical Spectacle reader to reconstruct faded memories of a 1970 funeral / protest in New York for one of the Kent State dead prompts a few memories of my own from that era.

In about October of 1970 I was a Spec 4 in the US Army, having enlisted in early January for no better reason than being immature and at loose ends. I had dropped out of high school in Guatemala, and had come to the States to make my fortune. A couple of dead end months as a minimum wage stock clerk at Burdines department store in Miami led me to the Army.

I had already been spared one deployment to Vietnam as a consequence of messing up the schedule by changing my mind about volunteering for Airborne training. Every swinging dick in my AIT company went to Vietnam except for those of us slated for Airborne training, but I wound up being assigned to the S3 of an armored training brigade at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

An aside: It's a small world. It turned out that the previous brigade commander was the father of one of my friends in Guatemala. He was the military attache at the US Embassy while his daughter and I were part of the same group of friends at the American School of Guatemala.

Anyway, it was about October of 1970, and I once again had orders to deploy to Vietnam. My MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) was 71B, Clerk Typist, but I was going to Vietnam with some other MOS to drive supply convoys all over the country. I felt strongly that I was going over there to be hurt or killed in an ambush somewhere.

So I took a month's leave and went back to Guatemala, where I gave away all of my civilian possessions and spent all of my money. I lived it up for a month, frequently taking my friends to poolside breakfasts of steak, eggs, black beans, tortillas and beer at the Biltmore Hotel, or spending days on the black sand beach at Likin on Guatemala's Pacific coast, generally having a great time until the moment came to go.

My orders were to report to Fort Lewis, Washington, on a certain date at a specific time. However, it so happened that guerrillas in El Salvador had placed bombs at the airport in San Salvador, which delayed my flight by about 15 hours.

I eventually arrived at Fort Lewis, six hours late. I still find it incredible, but it turned out that three hours after my scheduled arrival time, three hours before the time I actually arrived at Fort Lewis, a message had come down from on high ordering that people with my MOS no longer be deployed to Vietnam. Broke my heart let me tell you.

Instead of going to Vietnam to face danger, I wound up spending three years stationed at Fort Lawton, in the beautiful Magnolia area of Seattle, overlooking Puget Sound in one direction, Ballard Locks in another, and the Seattle Center in yet another.

So, thanks to Salvadoran guerrillas for saving me from Vietnam! Were it not for their airport bombs, I would almost certainly have wound up driving convoys around the countryside of Vietnam rather than enjoying a truly choice assignment in Seattle.

I am a very lucky person. What more can I say?

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