For many years I have been telling my Army Story. Almost always, I have been told that this story needs to be a book or movie or something. Finally, I am taking this first attempt to document the experience. Once I have this complete, we will see what, if anything comes of it.
For now, please enjoy my Army Story – Titled “Just My Luck”
My wonderful roommate and great percussionist, Doug Auwarter is one of the few things I really miss about my time in the Army Band. He is a wonderful friend and just one of those people you would want to have with you if you were in the “Cash Cab”. Doug has extensive knowledge in just about everything. I recently saw this post on Facebook, just after Memorial Day, by Doug that I would like to share with all of you.
“Today, because of Memorial Day, I’ve been thinking about my time in the service. In 1970, I was drafted against my will – I absolutely wanted no part of the military. I was vigorously opposed to the war in Viet Nam and was very conflicted about serving in the army. But serve I did and actually, I benefitted in pretty much every way. (More on that later.) Basic training was grueling. Most of the inductees were overweight – the American norm, then, as now. So we had rigorous physical training and were frequently shoved to the ground by the drill sergeants if they felt we weren’t trying hard enough. Up to this time in my life, I never hated anyone so much as “I did that cadre. They rationalized their treatment of us by claiming that they were toughening us up for battle and turning us into fighting machines who wouldn’t question orders. I’m sure they believed this; nevertheless, these were some sadistic SoBs. Fortunately, after a brief time in basic training, I was granted a band audition. I passed with flying colors and was told I’d be assigned to the band at Fort Dix, New Jersey as soon as I was out of basic in 7 more weeks. However, as fate would have it, that slot was filled, but my orders as a bandsman were already cut, so I was sent to the Naval School of Music in Little Creek, VA, near Norfolk”.
“I was so glad to be out of basic training, but this was almost as bad. We had enforced practice for hours on very basic fundamentals that I had mastered by the time I was 12 years old. Some of our immediate administrative superiors were smug jerks who frequently reminded us that we were lucky we weren’t pulling triggers in Viet Nam. My teacher, however, was a good guy whose level of playing really wasn’t much beyond mine. We got along great and our “lessons” were a little haven from the rest of military life. Fortune again found me, as the Naval School of Music was very overcrowded, so they decide to let those of us whose audition scores were higher than we necessary to graduate go to assigned band units. We were asked to pick our two top choices for stateside and overseas. For stateside, I picked Fort Sam Houston because it was near San Antonio, which I liked, and Fort Leavenworth because it was close to home. For overseas, I picked Puerto Rico and Hawaii because they were warm. In typical Army fashion, I was assigned to Berlin”.
“But the 298th Army Band in Berlin turned out to be a Godsend. I loved Berlin and made deep, enduring friendships with people, some of whom, I’m still in touch with. The one blemish was our commanding officer, who will go nameless – a complete jerk; a martinet with very little in the way of musical talent or skills. But he loved singling out people to harass, which he did with relish. Fortunately, we were eventually assigned a First Sergeant who figured out how to keep him in check”.
“So how did all this benefit me? When I was drafted at the age of 20, I was hanging onto adolescence for dear life. I was the most immature, irresponsible, entitled (and oblivious to all of it) “kid” who breathed air. The army kicked my ass in many ways, but most of all by making me understand that there was a whole lot in the world that I had no control over. If I wanted to survive and thrive, I’d have to get over myself and improve my lot through perseverance, because the universe, much to my chagrin, owed me nothing. Whatever good that would befall me would happen because I worked to make it happen. I also learned that we each aren’t much without others to support us with their friendship and to show us the way forward. In basic training, I was going to get my butt kicked and there really wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. The same was true with what followed, but I learned that I could make things better by doing my part to improve my lot and not expect the world to hand me a better deal. I grew up a lot during those two years and I can’t imagine how I would have turned out otherwise. I’m especially grateful to my friends and sergeants (who became my friends, too) who were so important in getting me through that time. Also, being in Berlin, we were encouraged to visit East Berlin and I saw what a truly oppressive government were like. This, in no way, made me appreciate Richard Nixon, but I was grateful that we could at least vote out politicians who were undeserving of our support. I’ve been back to Berlin recently and it reinforced the importance of good government and leadership. The former East Berlin is a beautiful place today and I became emotional seeing it doing so well. I am grateful in every way for my time of service. I’d not be the person I am without it”.