I enlisted in the Army in the spring of 1968 under the “Delay Entry Program”, which simply meant that I would graduate from high school and be inducted sometime in the summer. I had planned to stay in my hometown through the summer, running hard and fast, and be inducted in August. By the time July rolled around I was ready to go. So, I took a bus to Oklahoma City, was sworn in and then it was off to Fort Polk, Louisiana, or “Fort Puke, in the state of Louseyanna.”
To this very day, I can see my mother standing in the middle of 9th Street in Duncan, Oklahoma waving as the bus carrying me, her sweet son, off to the Army. In another year, I would see the same heart-sick look, as I stepped out of the airport terminal and on to a plane, beginning my journey to Vietnam. Mothers have the hardest task of all with regard to young warrior-poets.
What I did not realize about the delay entry program is that they placed you in the Army Reserves, while you were waiting to go in. They then discharged you from the Reserves and inducted you into the Army. So, my records showed that I had “prior military service” even though I had never gone anywhere or done anything.
Having “prior military service,” I was given the personnel records of 21 other draftees, put on a bus to Will Roger’s International Airport (OKC), flown to Love Field (Dallas-Fort Worth), and on to Fort Polk. When given the records, it was made very, very clear that every one of those “swinging dicks” had better arrive in Fort Polk with me, or it was “going to be my ass!” Now remember, I was 18 years of age, and just graduated from high school—I was “green, green, green.” I also had a quickly developing friendship with a guy named John Amico from OKC. John was one of those people others would follow anywhere. So when he said, “Pick up your stuff and follow, George” the picked up their stuff and followed George. All 22 of us arrived at the “Processing Center” early, early the morning of July 4th, 1968.
We bumped around in the Processing Center for about a week. I knew absolutely nothing about dismounted drill or marching, or anything. But, I had seemed to have inherited not only my 22 people, but a whole platoon of folks. We had one guy who was ROTC, and after I fell the platoon into formation, I let him march us to wherever it was we were to go. It was haircuts (burrrrr), clothes, class, testing, physical, dentist, work details; marching and waiting, marching and waiting.
After being responsible for 21 other people who did not want to be in the Army, and then inheriting a whole platoon of similar feeling people, I was certain that all I wanted to do in Basic Training was blend, blend, blend.