OPINION
Published on April 1, 2013 By Big Fat Daddy In Misc

 

There was a split in our platoon:  the Support Platoon of the 2nd Squadron, 14th Armored Cavalry Regiment (or "Fuel and Lube", as everyone referred to it),  stationed in the little spa town of Bad Kissingen so far north in Bavaria it was almost in Franconia.  The split was one of age.  I got there early in December of 1964 when I was still 17.  At the time, the Selective Service was drafting young men at age 21 years, six months.  Plus any older men who had lost their deferred status through divorce or dropping out of school or whatever.  But a lot of young guys would enlist right out of high school to avoid having the draft tag them later on...plus there was the GI Bill and the chance to travel...and there were no wars going on in the early sixties, so there were some upsides to enlisting in your teens.

But like I said, it created an age rift in most units.   The senior NCOs in our Squadron were almost all Korean War vets and many were WWII vets.  The junior NCOs were almost all too young to have been in Korea.  This generated a corps of young sergeants who were eager to prove themselves  worthy of their stripes and a corps of senior NCOs who didn't believe any of them were worthy to be called "sergeant".  

 The new privates coming into a unit were teens out of school about 18 years old or the draftees averaging about 22 years old or more.  It may not sound like much of a difference, but it was.  Remember, this was pre-hippies, pre-Vietnam, pre-war protests, pre-free love, and pre-just about everything else you associate with the sixties.  The difference between a teen and a twenty-something was pronounced.

It doesn't matter if it is college, military, or any other reason young men leave home;  once out there, they believe they are rebels, free spirits, grown-up.  In most cases they aren't.  They are kids, susceptable to the influences of any other guy they deem to be "cool".  They follow the cool guys.  They want to be in a cool group.  And they will do some pretty dumb stuff to secure a spot in one of those groups. 

I was lucky;  for a while anyway.  The senior guy in my room in the barracks was a PFC who was 37 years old.  He had been a Staff Sergeant, but that's another story.  His name was Walt and he influenced me to stay pretty squared away.  I got along well with some of the other older guys, too.  There were only a few soldiers my age in the platoon then, and none of them were very impressive. So for the first couple of months, things were relatively calm.

Then we started getting replacements in.  Probably six or seven in the space of about two weeks.  Only two of them were draftees;  the rest were late teens.   And that's when things just about reached critical mass.   Suddenly there was more Rock and Roll and less Country being played in the rooms, more noisy card games and more running around in underwear and wrestling and pillow fights and crawling back from the club or downtown completely blotto.

There was a big difference between the kinds of things I learned from the older guys, and the younger ones: things like how to drive my assigned truck correctly and efficiently, how to care for my equipment, how to preform preventative maintenance on my vehicle, how to pitch in and help others who had a hard job to do,  and stuff like that.  The things I learned from the younger crowd included things like: how to stand on the running board and relieve yourself during a long convoy, how to avoid work, where to hide from the platoon sergeant,  and other stuff like that.  

One of the most irresponsible things I learned was how to make a tremendous backfire from my truck.  At that time most of our trucks were gas-powered.  There were a couple of diesel- powered trucks but they were for the more experienced drivers.  Anyway, on flat ground or going downhill (it works going uphill, too but you lose too much momentum doing it) if you turn the ignition switch off for a second or two, then turn it back on...BAM! You get a huge backfire and a blue flame about a foot long!  The longer you leave it off, the bigger the backfire is, but that was too scary.  The wickedest part of this knowledge, and it's use, is the fact that on the old gas-burning trucks, the exhaust pipe came out from under the frame on the passenger side of the truck at a point just between the rear axles and pointed out to the side.  It was about three feet off the ground.  If you timed it right, you could scare the crud out of pedestrians andbicyclists. We drove on narrow little country roads through tiny villages.  One day the truck I was following let off a backfire that blew a kid off his bike off the road and into a river.  I know.  We should have gone to jail.

We would get packs of cigarettes in our C-rations then, a small pack with about five or six cigarettes in it.  We would take the cigarettes out and throw the empty packs out to school kids in the villages.  We could watch the fights break out in our rear-view mirrors as the kids vied for the packs only to find them empty.  Worked with chocolate bars and gum, too.  We would put the gum wrappers back together and carefully put them back into the sleeves and fill up the package.

Sixteen years later the government sent me to a "Counter-terrorist Driving Course" conducted by the Air Force.  They taught us to do what was called a "Boot-Leg Turn"...a 180-degree turn done at about fifty miles-per-hour.  You stomp on the emergency brake and spin the steering wheel.  The back wheels lock up and the back of the car swings around on its own axis and you power out of it as you line up the way you came.  But Milliken had taught me to do that at the Wildflecken Ammo Dump in a two-and-a-half-ton truck loaded with ammunition when I was 18!  Of course, the folks who ran the Ammo Supply Point didn't care for that much.

Most of the dirty deeds I learned that year were taught to me by my buddy, "Rat" Erickson.  Milliken was my "special driving skills" instructor, Shroeder was my "dirty dance" instructor, and Larson taught me a lot of things that he knew that were just wrong.  

We didn't think of what we were doing as "bad"...just fun...or funny.  I know that many of the guys would have moved mountains to help the German folks if there was a "real" problem, we just didn't see ourselves as being the problem.  

I was only at BK for a year, and in that year I also learned a lot about soldiering that helped me survive the next year...in Vietnam.  But I had to "unlearn" a lot of things that the fellas taught me in BK.  The time for dirty deeds was over (the VC were much harsher and more talented with their dirty deeds) and the time for growing up had come. 

BK3 001

Me and Rat (me on left)

BK2 001

Me (on left again) and Schroeder

BK 001

Me and the sorriest truck in the platoon

RVN 001

me at the compound at Gia Dinh, Vietnam, Republic of

I was born in San Diego...but I grew up in Vietnam...


Comments
on Apr 05, 2013

Sounds like you had to grow up fast.  But yea, while I was not in the army, I still did stupid things when I was 17 as well.

on Apr 07, 2013

Thanks for stopping by, Doc.   Yep, never underestimate the stupidity of the 17 year old American male.

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