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Mark's E-mail address

Monday, November 7, 2011

Military Madness-Ft. Dix: # 1: Bonds Like That Should Not Be Broken

This is one in a series of narratives from my military experiences, set during Advanced Individual Training in Fort Dix, New Jersey, in 1972. 

Bonds Like That Should Not Be Broken
JT mentioned the other day that she didn’t know that I had ever been to DC.  While I was stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey, in April of 1972, I hitch-hiked there with a fellow recruit named Roy Turvey, to see my friend Jeff Ruch.  Jeff was a student at Georgetown U and had written me twice, inviting me to stop in, if I was ever in that neck of the woods.  He ended the second letter by writing, “You have been to school (and other things) with me longer than any other human being.  Bonds like that should not be broken.  Come up and see me, you son of a b***h.”
So Roy and I decided to leave one  Friday night, after our classes were over, and the trainees had been dismissed.  We had been advised to don our Dress Greens while traveling to facilitate progress, so we signed off the base about five o’clock, without even knowing which direction we should travel, and stuck our thumbs out.  About thirty seconds later this old guy pulled over, hollering in a thin, reedy voice, “Hop in.  Let’s get you where you need to be.”  Though his ultimate destination was in the opposite direction, he took us to a main intersection, gave us general directions and a map.  As we piled out, he was laughing and wagging his head as he hollered out again, “You boys take care and have fun.  Dang me, but I had fun when I was your age.”
Roy had had a good idea, based on his experience back in his home state of Oregon.  He had brought a roll of masking tape from the office, which we then proceeded to tear off in strips to form the letters DC on his AWOL bag, and DIX on mine.
As we were about to find out, everyone on the East Coast during the Vietnam conflict, had a brother in the military, or a cousin, nephew, homie, or husband.  So the decision to travel in uniform, which was against my principles, worked well, and with one exception, we never had to wait more than five minutes for a ride.  That included the thirteen rides we got on the way to DC, and the one ride we got on the return trip.
So we stuck out our thumbs again and got a ride all the way to Baltimore, before being dropped off on the outskirts.  We found a Micky D’s and grabbed a meal.  For most of my life, I wouldn’t be caught dead or alive in one of those, but I realize now, as amazing as it sounds, that Micky’s represented an upgrade over military chow.  It was not complicated, not to mention the fact that if we could stay overnight in a double room at a Holiday Inn for sixteen dollars, we could probably have eaten at Micky’s for about a buck apiece.
What I remember about this dining experience, is talking with two older women, who were sitting at the table adjacent to ours.  The conversation was very comfortable.
“Oh, I am so happy you sat down next to us. I saw you come in, and I said to Sal, here, ‘Isn’t he the spittin’ image of my Dan?’” 
“Is Dan your son, Ma’am?”
“Yes, and he’s in the army too.  He’s in Vietnam, but he’s coming home in just ten weeks.  Where are you stationed?”
“Fort Dix, Ma’am.” 
“Oh stop calling me Ma’am.  I’m Suzy and this is Sally.  What are you doin’ in Baltimore, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Not at all.  We’re going to DC to see a friend of mine at Georgetown.”
“Well, that’s nice.  I just think it’s amazing that you young people today are so responsible.  Look at you in that uniform.  Do you mind me asking you what the biggest reason is that you are in uniform today?”  She was smiling radiantly.
“Not at all, Ma’am.  I was drafted.”
“Oh.”  She seemed a trifle disconcerted at the information.  
Sal got into the act.  “Tell him about Dan.”  Turning to me, she did just that.  “Her Danny got a medal.  He was injured over there, and he got a Purple Heart.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.  Not that he got a medal-that he got hurt.” I smiled broadly.
“I understood what you meant, and besides, he wasn’t hurt bad, and they treated him real good.  I’m just so proud of him.  I’m proud of you boys too.  You are a credit to your country.”
I felt embarrassed, but I recognized that her words were genuine, and reflected the attitude of the East Coast, rather than that of California.  Out in liberal California, you would never hitch-hike in uniform, because the native folk have an aversion to women-killers and baby-rapers, which is all they see when they see an army uniform.
We had finished eating by now, so we said our good-byes, and cruised back out front, where we stuck out our thumbs again, and ended up getting picked up by a guy about our age, driving a Chevelle, with a sick sound system.  We listened to Spirit’s “The Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus,” at an eardrum-shattering decibel, while he took into the center of Baltimore.  Thanking him, we had just time to grab our bags and stick out a thumb, when another guy, this one with a little kid, pulled over and let us scramble in.
Upon finding out that we were looking for a place to stay, he said, “Well, I know you’re not from around here, or you wouldn’t have been standing on The Block.”
“The Block?  What’s that?”
“Part of town that you need to avoid.  There’s no good going to come from there, isn’t that right, Kiddo?”  He ruffled his son’s hair.  “Let’s get you to some places that you can choose among to get a room.”  
 Roy and I nodded enthusiastically, agreeing that avoiding The Block was just fine with us.  We had seen enough of places where there was precious little good to be found, to want to stay in another one by choice.  We slid into the back seat, and shut the door.  Drive on, James.

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