Monday, August 20, 2007
In The Navy: Part I
Some might question the wisdom of what I did. All I can say in my defense is: 1) I was only 17 and knew no better and 2) I was a small-town lad from North Dakota who'd never seen the sea.
What did I do? I hated the idea of the military draft every bit as much then as I do now, and for just about the same reasons. My high school pal Richard Nordrum went to Winnipeg to avoid the draft, and for whatever other reasons remain closely held. He remains there to this day, and by all accounts, does not regret his decision. I, rather than be drafted into the Army, joined the Navy.
There are certain benefits to volunteering rather than being drafted, one of which is a (kind of) choice of work rating, and the training that comes with it. I knew I wanted to work in construction, so my first choice was Equipment Operator in the Seabees. My second choice was Engineman, which is simply a mechanic. Since I was already a frustrated hot rodder (Frustration coming from a chronic lack of money), the thought of becoming a mechanic wasn't the worst possible fate.
I went to Engineman School in Great Lakes, Ill. It was a very good school, and I learned a lot--some of which I apply to this day while working on my own cars.
It was during this period that I made several hitchhiking trips from Waukegan to Grand Forks on weekend liberties.
It was oddly prophetic that in 1962, we had three VietNamese petty officers in our class. I didn't even know what VietNam was, beyond being able to locate it on a map. These fellas, and others that attended other classes, were part of the early aid program that the US was giving to South VietNam in those early months before we entered the war militarily.
The only name I remember of the three guys is Choe Pyong Su, an Engineman 1st Class. He was the elder of the group; around thirty at the time. We all spent some time together, drinking beer and talking about ourselves. They were planning to go back home and kick some commie ass, they said.
I hope they did. I hope they're still alive.
I always thought, and still think that our intervention in VietNam's struggle was none of our (America's) business, but that didn't keep me from picking sides. The US government really did South VietNam dirty by accelerating the war to such a high degree, then walking away. South VietNam got screwed as much by the US government as by the North VietNam dictatorship. A lot of good people died needlessly.
They've killed Freedom! Those bastards!