I enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1969. I had dropped out of college a few months earlier and I was sure the draft board had its eye on me. In those days, a healthy young man was likely to be drafted into the infantry if he didn’t enlist first. It was a scary time.
Because I enlisted, I could choose the training I would receive after basic training. Everyone goes through basic training. Enlisting would not guarantee any posting, just the training. I opted for training with water craft, because I was mightily impressed with the speed boats that patrolled the Mekong River. I did not learn until much later that the boats were operated by the U.S. Navy. So my training, in the Army, was with landing craft and tugboats. I never set foot on a patrol boat.
Wherever I was stationed, as soon my commanders discovered I could type, I could spell, I could write and I had a couple years of college they gave me a desk in an air-conditioned office and made me a clerk.
In an eight-year stint with the Army, I worked in several mundane clerical positions. For awhile, I checked cargo as it was off-loaded from ships. I was a legal clerk, a post office clerk, a ration control clerk and a logistics specialist.
No dangerous service, but I did go to Thailand, Korea, Vietnam, Japan, Germany and several posts in the USA.
On Memorial Day this year, I went to the car wash after a 1,000-mile journey through bug country. The teenager who greeted me at the kiosk asked if I were a veteran. “Why, yes. I am.” I said. He whipped out his special card, swiped it, and punched in the best car wash available. “Thank you for your service,” he said. “Thank you,” I replied.
Looking back on my service, nearly 40 years ago, it doesn’t seem as onerous now as it did then. Today, it seems a relatively easy, but boring, eight years of my life.
Of course, at the time, I railed against “the man,” and any authority figure. I smoked my share of dope and made my supervisors unhappy. I rode a motorcycle and carried a saddle bag in formation. They hated me. But I could type. And I could spell. They needed me. So they tolerated me.
When I came back from Vietnam, there were no brass bands, not that I wished for them. My return was low-key. No drama.
Today, I suspect there may be some hoopla for veterans returning from overseas service. And, at least hereabouts, there are free car washes. And, it seems, there are people who don’t ignore veterans. That is good.
I really have no wish for brass bands, no need to be in the spotlight for my service. Nonetheless, it felt good to get a top-of-the-line car wash. It didn’t clean off all the bugs, but it was good.
I hope Memorial Day was good for you.
The Rev. Jeff Briere is minister of Holston Valley Unitarian Universalist Church.