Tuesday, October 13, 2020

My Thanksgiving Day

Friday marks the anniversary of when I had to report to Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.  I won't tell you how many years ago, but it was more than ten. 

Fort Leonard Wood is up in the Ozarks -- DELIVERANCE country. And in the late fall and early winter it gets COLD.   Its nickname was "Little Korea."  

I got into an Armed Forces Radio Reserve Unit once I saw that my draft lottery number was 4 and I'd be drafted and shipped off to Vietnam before they had finished calling out numbers.  The Reserves were a six year commitment.  16 hours of meeting or training a month, two weeks of summer camp, and Basic Training & Advanced Individual Training (roughly a 20 week stretch).  And you could be called up to active duty anytime.  Does that happen?  Ask the Reservists about Korea and Desert Storm.  

The first week I was in there was some flare-up in Jordan and Reservists were called up. The very first week.  So I was petrified for the entire six years.  

Basic Training was an absolute nightmare for me.  Tall, skinny, bespectacled, uncoordinated, not handy, college educated, Jewish -- 7 strikes and you're out.  Even though my name is pronounced Le-Vine (rhyming with wine) the Drill Sgt. couldn't pronounce it and instead I was "Veen, you fuckin' dud." Actually, that was my nickname.  His real name for me was "Veen, you fuckin' dud, I'm gonna run ya every fuckin' where you go."  

I got through it and graduated.  (There were actually some parents who drove down to watch the graduation ceremony.  Mine correctly considered it a joke and stayed home.)  

But I made a vow.  

As the years go by you tend to forget all the miserable moments and indignities, and when someone asks you how it was you say "Oh, it wasn't that bad."   The vow I made to myself as I was leaving Fort Leonard Wood was that no matter what I forgot, always remember: It WAS that bad.

However, I have to say this.  I owe the army a lot.  That draft number was the best thing that could have happened to me.  Without the army I never would have met my writing partner, David Isaacs.  He had just transferred into the unit from Miami.  We never could have written MASH with any authority.  And MASH was our big break. It absolutely launched our career.  

But Basic Training was STILL that bad.  On October 16th (ironically, also a Friday) is when I had to report.  So since I got my honorable discharge I've always designated October 16th as my Thanksgiving Day.  I stop and think that no matter where I am or what's going on in my life, it's better than having to begin Basic Training.  

Even THIS year is better.  

Happy Thanksgiving Day. 


slgc said...

Happy Thanksgiving Ken!

Glenn said...

My dad was drafted in late 1963. He was in basic training when Kennedy was killed, and the whole base shut down for a week. They never really made up for lost time, either. Combine that with the fact that my dad can't shoot a gun with anything close to accuracy, and it probably saved his life. He was never sent overseas. For two years, he stayed in the states, working behind a desk for a few of the higher ups, and was discharged in 1965.

Anonymous said...

Ozarks are lower Midwest.
Deliverance takes place in Georgia

Troy McClure said...

Fun fact about the US military. William Hitler, the half-nephew of Adolf Hitler, served in the US Navy during World War II.

That's right. More Hitlers have served in the US military than Trumps.

Todd Everett said...

As soon as I figured out that their job was to tear you down so they could build you into somebody who’d take orders, it became a lot easier.
I played the game without letting it get to me; volunteered for kp to avoid marching; and at least figuratively tried to carry a broom as often as possible - knowing that before too long, I’d be in the motor pool with Barbelli, Ritzig, Fender, and Doberman.

No said...

Just curious, what years to serve in the army reserve? Before your writing career, I assume.

Both of my grandfathers, thankfully, were never in combat but served stateside. They don't consider it a great experience either, but it least it was a job.

Michael said...

I grew up a Mets fan and remember in the late 60's and early 70's, some of their young players missing time due to their Reserves commitments. Must have been quite an adjustment for them to go back and forth.

maxdebryn said...

Yesterday was Thanksgiving day in Canada.

Aaron said...

As I recall, spring/summer in MO are hot and humid, with regular breaks for tornadoes and/or the most intense thunderstorms I've ever experienced.
There is no good time to go to boot camp, or to MO!
I'm certainly glad you got to meet David, regardless of location, and you survived the basic ordeal and became one of the Mariners' voices cuz when they're down 10+ runs in the 3rd, you could keep my attention, tho I'm sure Fairly was leery of you in your early days. (Hoss was my favorite Cartright.)

Tom Reeder said...

"Thanksgiving" is a good designation for the day you reported for Basic Combat Training, Ken. Mine was a different date, but ever since I have referred to it as "Perspective Day" -- for similar reasons.

Anonymous said...

Ken, I entered active duty on Oct 17, 1972 & discharged 2 yrs later on Oct 16, '74. After being drafted (#76) an enterprising Army recruiter convinced me to "volunteer" for 2yrs w/4 yr reserve commitment after leaving active duty. My basic training was at Ft Ord near the Monterrey peninsula. I would never want to do it again but glad I got thru it. Although there were still troops in Vietnam at that time, no new ones were being sent, presumably because Nixon was facing reelection. Fortunately, I ended up being stationed stateside at a desk job, stationed at Ft Gordon, GA. Overall, the Army was a good experience for me; it gave me a chance to see a part of the country & meet people I wouldn't have otherwise. I was a kid who didn't have much direction & the military time helped me figure out things. By the way, after discharge I never followed up with reserve duty; simply ignored any mailings from different units. In 1978, I received a full discharge & that was that. Enjoyed your account of Basic & glad you & David met. The rest is history!

Brian said...

Thanks for the post. My October 16th was decidedly better ever since 1963, for I and Angela Lansbury celebrate our birthdays...separately (as her legal team has informed me many times over the years).

Janet said...

Happy Thanksgiving, and making it out alive!!

Hey, I have a FQ for you to the degree that you are privy to any of the how's and such: So just how are the studios and the networks producing new episodes for the fall season now, safely? Such that one series production doesn't turn into a super spreader a la the White House??

Sean said...

"Rednecks" have changed a lot in the past 40 to 50 years. Just providing some information you might not have in California is all, as it may help coming to terms with your Vietnam era experience.

A lot of good people fall under that stereotype. And I'm speaking as an outsider, as I'm not included under that sub-heading.


P.S. Still reading after all the Ostraka, but holding no grudge. I still like you Ken and God bless you.

Tom said...

I firmly believe if EVERYONE (save for certain exceptions) had to do two years reserve this country would be in a much better place.

Aaron Sheckley said...

And I firmly believe that forcing people to serve in the military changes the military into something much more akin to slavery than service. Drafting people doesn't enhance their sense of civic duty; a country can get away with it to an extent during a national emergency like war, but forcing military service on unwilling participants is not the way to teach a sense of responsibility to someone. We have a history of draft riots in the US precisely because a lot of people don't like being forced into military service, especially if they perceive that the draft itself is unfairly applied, or that they're being forced into an unpopular and/or pointless conflict. And I'm speaking a veteran of the 82nd Airborne Division. The modern professional army works precisely because it's a volunteer force; filling that force with peacetime draftees who don't want to be there, especially in something like one of the combat arms fields, is a recipe for poor performance and inefficiency of the unit. Teaching someone about responsibility and civic duty is the job of parents, teachers, pastors, etc, not a military fighting force.

Cap'n Bob said...

I was at Fort Leonard Wood for AIT in Jan-Feb 1967. Cold doesn't begin to describe it. If you spit it would freeze in the air.

But I enjoyed Basic Training and was proud to serve. I went to Nam gladly and have no regrets, perhaps because I was in the engineers and it wasn't our job to beat the bush for Charlie. Not that we didn't have casualties, but it wasn't common.

YEKIMI said...

All I can remember is that I was sweating bullets about having to register for the draft and was hoping they would abolish it before I turned 18. Luckily, President Ford did that. Best birthday present I ever received from the government. If I decided to go into the military, I wanted to be able to CHOSE the branch I wanted to serve in, not have the government pick it for me. Later, when President re-instated it, I fell into a "donut hole" of sorts, where I was exempt from having to register for the "new" version.

DrBOP said...

3am, Drill Sargeant comes blasting through the barrack's door.
Marches us outside in our skivvies.
Gives each of us 2 butter knives.
Tells us to assume the combat doggy position (all-fours).

Good times!

Dana King said...

I did my basic at Fort Dix, NJ in January and February of 1980. I went in with no small amount of trepidation, having at least of the five strikes you mentioned going against me. I proceeded to immediately get an upper respiratory infection and couldn't handle the PT. By the end, though, I was glad I went. I did things I didn't know I was capable of and was exposed to people from backgrounds a semi-country boy from Pennsylvania never could have imagined.

Anonymous said...

Happy Thanks Giving Day.
All the best.
Great post Mr. Levine.

Jahn Ghalt said...

It sure looks like your esteemed Drill Sergeant figured out how to torture you - running (!) instead of:

"Drop and give me twenty!"

That probably had a "side effect" - at the end of Basic - you were in good shape (cardio, anyway) - much better than handing out towels and announcing at Woodland basketball games.

stephen catron said...

Nice post

Unknown said...

thank you for your service. As a retired US army guy, now living in Australia and aspiring writer, your story gives me hope.


Wayne said...

thanks for your service.