When I was 20, I got a temporary job with the University of Tennessee’s Army ROTC department. One of their secretaries was on maternity leave and someone was needed to fill in for six weeks.
I was a hippie.
The head of the department was a very handsome colonel with graying hair, blue eyes and chiseled features.
The other secretary and I thought he looked like a movie star. He also scared the heck out of me.
My first day on the job, I answered the phone, a call for the colonel. When I said he was out of the office, the man on the other end of the line cheerfully said he’d call back later. I took down his name but no number.
When the colonel picked up his messages, he came storming into my office. “Did he leave a number?,” he bellowed.
No, I said.
“This was a very important call. Never take a call again without getting a number!” he shouted and stomped out.
I was young, on the verge of 21, and it had been a long summer with little asked of me. I hadn’t answered to anyone during my last break before adulthood. A bellowing Army officer was not what I was used to.
I burst into tears as soon as he left the room.
Then I pulled myself together.
I turned 21 while I worked at ROTC. The night of my birthday I drank tequila and stood on top of my friend’s kitchen table while our friends, who were in a band, sang Happy Birthday. We laughed and talked until it was light outside, then I had to pull myself together and go to work. Obviously, I didn’t do a very good job.
“Did you get the license number of the bus that hit you?,” a major asked when he saw me.
“I had my 21st birthday party last night,” I said, and he smiled. It was the beginning of a friendship.
After work, I hung out with my hippie friends doing things that hippies do.
From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., I wore dresses and typed documents and filed papers, all pertaining to the U.S. Army.
The ROTC boys who stopped by to talk were going to graduate soon. They would be commissioned second lieutenants and sent out into a world unsettled and uncertain. Who knew when the next war would start?
I came to like the colonel. The major became my champion, asking if I’d be interested in an ROTC scholarship.
Though the Paris Peace Accord had been signed earlier in the year, and our troops were coming home, Vietnam and its costs still weighed heavily.
I’d seen what it had done to my ex-boyfriend David, to my friend, Ducky. Their lives ended in Vietnam, but they didn’t die.
I was never anti-soldier, only anti-war, and my time at ROTC made me more of a Peacenik.
I’d seen the fresh faces of the next wave; I wanted them to live and grow old just as I planned to do.
Jan Hearne is the Press Tempo editor. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.