Only on Sundays
Waking up in the basement lodgings of Jeff's girlfriend on Sunday morning, we spent a leisurely couple of hours pretending to be civilians again for a brief time. Having left Ft. Dix, New Jersey, for a weekend in DC, we were now looking at the prospect of wrapping up our weekend, and thumbing our way back to the base. Over coffee and sweet rolls, we had a discussion which proved enlightening. I can’t remember the names of either girl, but I do remember what we discussed. Instead of attaching names to the girls, I will refer to them as GF for Jeff’s girlfriend, and RM for room mate.
GF: “So, Mark, what’s it like to learn how to kill people? I mean, that is, if you don’t mind me asking?”
Mark: “Not at all, except that they really don’t focus that much on how to kill people when they are training chaplain’s assistants.” I always loved the reaction I got from people, when I mentioned my military occupational specialty was chaplain’s assistant. I guess most people just did not view me as that kind of guy.
Being a draftee, I had absolutely no input into what job I might perform while in the army. When I received my orders, upon leaving Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, I was assigned this rather unusual occupation, based presumably on my high test scores. The drill sergeants congratulated me, saying, “That is one of the best jobs you can get, because you have only one boss, and the big day is Sunday. The rest of the week, all you do is drive the chaplain around and act as a secretary.
GF: “How do you train to be a chaplain’s assistant? Do you have to go to church a lot?”
Mark: “No, we are in the same classes as company clerks and supply orderlies. The classes are about learning to type and being able to write letters correctly, and handle correspondence. You need to know that stuff to function in any area of office work.”
RM: “Are you afraid you are going to get sent to Vietnam?”
Mark: “I don’t think about it at all; I am to busy trying to cope with the garbage that gets thrown at me every day, to worry about what they are going to dump on me tomorrow.”
Roy: “Besides, chaplain’s assistants are still going to be working for the chaplain, and the last I heard, chaplain aren’t expected to fight. Even in Vietnam, a chaplain’s assistant should be in pretty good shape.”
Jeff: “I heard Larry Palinkas got some insane number in the draft lottery, like three or four, something hideous like that. He was a year behind the rest of us.”
Mark: “I have his address; maybe I’ll drop him a line and tell him to hang in there. I heard they were doing away with the draft, anyway, so maybe he’ll be OK.”
Jeff: “Speaking of draft, I heard there was going to be a protest because students are angry that there are army recruiters on campus. You guys could come and protest the draft in uniform.”
Mark: “When is it?”
Jeff: “Tomorrow at lunchtime in the Student Union.”
Roy: “If we’re here at the protest, then they’re going to be hunting us, because we will be AWOL.”
GF: “What’s that?”
Roy: “Absent without official leave, which is the same as being screwed.”
Mark: “Speaking of which, I think we better get going. If we don’t sign in by midnight, we’ll welcome turning into pumpkins, because then all they can do is make pie out of us. As it is, they can take us out and have us shot.”
Roy: “Do you suppose we’ll run into those hippies we saw yesterday?”
Jeff: “Hippies? Here at Georgetown? Is nothing sacred? What did they say to you?”
Mark: “They saw us getting out of this guy’s car and came over, three of long haired dudes, and two hippie chicks, in long dresses. They were dancing around us, and asking us if we had seen any women or kids to shoot. Luckily, another car stopped and we were able to get out of there. They weren’t threatening us or anything. They were just being hippies. I would rather be in their shoes than mine, so what are we going to do? Get mad? We just laughed at them, and they laid off, and then along came our chariot...”
As we left the house and made our way back out to the main drag, we looked around us at the beautiful city. I do not know if it was the rain from the previous day, or the fact that we were off the base, but everything seemed so alive and fresh. The cherry trees, which often were situated on the medians of the roadways, were exquisite, with their brilliant pink blossoms. The sky was cloudless and blue, the sun warm and bright. There were people, dogs, hippies, kids, motorcycles, buses, trucks cars and taxis all in abundance as we made our way along the road, content to wlak along for a few minutes, before we stuck our thumbs back out.
When we finally did get around to business, we got a ride straight to Baltimore from these two Bolivian guys, driving this tank of a Bonneville. They were impressed with our uniforms and kept asking us how many people we had killed. We were impressed that such a beat-up old Pontiac could still run, and asked them how many guys they had killed with it. They thought that was pretty hilarious. We then got stranded for quite a while and were beginning to regret that walking we did, when we got a ride from an army guy, who was traveling with his wife and two children, all the way to the front sidewalk of the orderly room. That’s just the way it seemed to work whenever I hitch-hiked in uniform. People went out of their way to help a guy out.