Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Thanksgiving Day

You didn't know it but today is Thanksgiving... or at least for me.

It was on this date many years ago (before the internet even) that I entered the military.  I was in serious danger of getting drafted so I signed up to be in the Army Reserves, which is a six year commitment including six months of active duty. 

On October 16th I was ordered to report to Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri to begin Basic Training.  For an uncoordinated geeky kid who didn't want to touch a rifle much less fire it and clean it and hated the cold, this was the ultimate nightmare.  I barely graduated Basic Training.  

And I made a vow at the time.  I said, "As the years go by and memories fade most people tend to forget the bad stuff and remember the good.  You look back and say, "Aw, it wasn't that bad." Well, no matter how much or little I retain, always remember this:  It WAS that bad." 

So on October 16th, every year I stop and give thanks that wherever I am and whatever I'm doing, whether I'm stuck in traffic or wrestling with a tough script, or in a dentist's chair -- it's still way better than what I was doing in 1970. 

And here's the other thing:  The reason I was in such danger of being drafted (and thus sent to Vietnam) was because in the Draft Lottery my number was 4 (out of 366).  At the time I thought I was the unluckiest son of a bitch on the planet.  But you know what?  It was a BLESSING.

Why?

If I hadn't been in the army I never would have met my writing partner, David Isaacs.  He was ultimately assigned to my reserve unit and we met in Army summer camp.  I never could have written MASH if I hadn't had a military background and really understood the culture and its thinking.  And MASH was our big turning point.  I probably would have had a much less successful career without MASH (or more likely -- no career at all). 

So today is Thanksgiving Day.  Thanks that I was in the Army.  And thanks that I'm not in the Army.

I imagine we all have our own individual Thanksgiving Days.  I'm still trying to organize a parade for mine.

22 comments :

Fitz said...

My story is of the same era but opposite in many ways. Graduated college the month of the Tet Offensive. No reserve spots were available and I knew I was going to be drafted. I decided to enlist in the Navy for four years to control my destiny rather than be drafted to march through rice paddies. In a way we made the same decision. While I was in boot camp they held the draft lottery. I was 350th. Oh well. I do have a better memory of the service. The Navy is the most sensible of the services. You do your job and keep your head down and it’s not too bad. Learned a lot about group interaction there.

VP81955 said...

Thanks for the thought, Ken.

blinky said...

My draft lottery was 2 in 1970 which cemented my desire to get a college education. I got the last deferment. The closest I got to Vietnam was seeing Good Morning Viet Nam.

Gus Hinrich said...

Had a draft scare the next year. My number was 135 & went for a draft physical in May. Made plans to join the Navy. Held on to that till the end of the year & they stopped at 133. Phew!! (Numbers may not be exact. It's been a while. They did stop 2 short of mine.)
Additionally, I was born at Fort Leonard Wood in 1951.
Lotta connections.

Boomska316 said...

Friday Question:Hypothetically, if you could have any kind of Thanksgiving Parade what would it be? Would you keep it pretty much the same or would you make drastic changes?

Janet Ybarra said...

It's great that you have such a positive attitude about all this. It really speaks to the kind of person you are and more people (myself included) should look to you as an inspiration.

My question is: Do youand David get together for "Thanksgiving Dinner," so to speak?

Keith Nichols said...

When I reported for the pre-induction army physical, they discovered that I was suffering bone spurs. Great panic ensued, and they immediately stamped me 4F and put me in quarantine till a bus came along to take me home. At that time, it was theorized that the condition could metastasize to the brain, although it is only recently that evidence of that has appeared.

Robert Brauer said...

Ken, I thought for a minute after seeing the title that you had turned Canadian! They already had their Thanksgiving on October 8th.

Cowboy Surfer said...

Coming this fall to NBC - UNRESERVED - When two zany, would be comedy writers accidently get left behind as their army reserve unit ships out for duty, the two military misfits are forced to take command of the base and lead a new class of recruits on a wild, laugh packed adventure of national insecurity...Followed by an all new Rowan and Martins Laugh-In...

Rich said...

Preston Sturges once said that a great way to think about a comic plot is, "The best thing that could happen turns out to be the worst thing, and the worst thing the best thing." (See "The Great McGinty" for proof). All that said, my number was 244 and I'm very happy I didn't go to Vietnam in 1971, especially when I found out from Robert McNamara in his memoir "In Retrospect" that he told LBJ in 1966 (!!!) that the war couldn't be won.

Tammy said...

Heh, I know what you mean. Whenever I'm nervous about starting something new (degree, job etc.), I think "at least I'm not joining the army again". Basic training is such a shock (as intended, I suppose). People bark orders at you all day, there are strict rules about everything, and like Ken says, if you're uncoordinated - good luck. But the worst part is how trapped you feel - you know they've got you and there's nothing you can do about it (well, you can take the Klinger route, but I didn't consider that an option).

Thankfully, the rest of my service was much better, and I met a lot of great people. So I too am greatful for the experience (which I never ever would have had if it were up to me).

Mike Bloodworth said...

What's your thanksgiving dinner? "$#@* on a shingle?"
M.B.

Cap'n Bob said...

You call that cold? I was at Fort Leonard Wood in January and February. It was so cold the water froze in your canteen. It was so cold that if you did have flowing water you could flick it at someone and it would freeze in the air before it reached them. And the geniuses in charge wanted us to have the windows open in the barracks at night.

With all due respect, six months in the Reserves doesn't begin to cover the true Army experience.

JKT said...

Hey! I was sent to Ft Leonard Wood in October, 2001, for Basic Training. I know the buildings had been around for a long while, so maybe we were in the same barracks. And probably eating the same food.

My fondest memory- every morning during our runs, they would play "Proud to be an American" by Lee Greenwood on the speakers around base. I am pretty sure they were conditioning us to withstand torture.

(also- longtime reader, first time poster- keep up the great work!)

Carol said...

I love this so much. And I'm glad you didn't get shipped off to Vietnam.

PJ said...

LOL, JKT may stay. He/she is funny.

I have made a list of reasons I left/things I didn't like at the end of all my previous jobs, just so I didn't get all misty and think "It wasn't that bad."

YEKIMI said...

All I can remember is that they were talking about ending the draft around the time I would have been eligible. I was sweating bullets hoping that they'd end it before I had to register. Six months before that would have happened, it ended. Instead I almost ended up in the Navy by choice, mostly for the free schooling. I had taken some sort of entrance test [hey, it's been over 40 years]. The next week at school I saw my recruiter and a big shot Navy officer come marching into the school and next thing I hear is my name being called over the PA to come to the office. I figured "Shit, they found out about my Russian ancestors!" Instead the Navy brass told me that I had gotten the highest score on the test than anyone in the country had gotten in the last four years. My 2nd thought was "Just how stupid were these other people taking this test?" They told me I would be able to skip basic training, they would put me right into officer candidate school immediately upon graduation. The principal and guidance counselors were looking at me like I had grown a second head and probably thinking "REALLY? HIM?!?" My mother was dead set against it [being as the Vietnam War for the most part was just about over.] Came down to a job I had applied for and the Navy. Told them if I hadn't got a call from the job before I was to leave to be sworn in, I would join the Navy. A day before, the job I had applied for called and I took that instead. Made my mom real happy, but over the years probably the stupidest thing I did was turn the Navy down.

Mike Bloodworth said...

I like it. Sounds a lot funnier that most real sitcoms.
M.B.

Brian said...

Good story about how something that seems bad at the time turns out to be good for you later.

Friday question: Wondering what your thoughts are on "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel"

Brian

thirteen said...

Robert Heinlein once wrote that, if you got killed in the Navy, you'd probably been warm and dry up to that point, and you had a full belly. I have higher standards, but I do see his point.

My own Thanksgiving Day is the day I moved out on my own. I call it Independence Day, though.

norm said...

What did that job get you?
About 1969....I shipped out in the Navy before the draft notice got to me....right decision spent 3.5 years in Italy๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜…

HerselfinDublin said...

I call these kinds of things "Elvis's Bike". Apparently when he was a kid Elvis Presley really really wanted a bike for his birthday. But his parents were poor and couldn't afford it. So they got him a second hand guitar instead. Imagine if he had gotten the bike?
Sometimes not getting what you want is the best thing that ever happened to you.