<Photo: “Me at Basic Training, Ft. Ord in 1969″>
Happy Veteran’s Day! Yes, it’s a holiday, which is great. But let’s not lose sight of what this day truly celebrates – THANK YOU to all the veteran’s out there for your service!
I’m sending out a special Happy Veteran’s day wish to my dad who got his draft notice in 1968. I dug up some old photos of my dad from his Army days to share with you I was going to just post the photos with captions but then I called my dad and it pretty much turned into an interview. lol … it totally brought me back to my childhood when my dad would tell us these stories at the dinner table. As I grew older, we would go on loooong adventures (to Halape, Waimanu Valley and others) I would force my dad to tell us these stories because they transported me to another place and time – and deflected from the physical pain I was feeling on those hikes! ha ha!
So here it goes… Part 1 of Walter Clyde Dudley Junior’s military memoir This blog post doubles as documentation of Dudley oral history!
In his own words – kind of – was typing as fast as I could! …
I got my draft notice in the fall of 1968. My mom received it in North Carolina, so instead of waiting for her to mail it to Hawaii, I went straight down to Fort DeRussy to enlist. I think it’s a museum now, but back then it was an active army base. I had my physical, took the test, signed the paper and reported for duty on February 3rd 1969.
A bunch of my friends saw me off at airport in Honolulu. I was wearing an aloha shirt and had lei around my neck. I landed in San Francisco and then caught a bus to Treasure Island . That’s when they split everyone up. The marines were sent off in one direction, navy sent off somewhere else and the army guys were sent to Ft. Ord.
We got on the bus early that morning. When we arrived onto the base all of the drill sergeants, wearing their smokey bear hats were lined up waiting for us.
I was the only person wearing flowers.
Remember this is a time where the “flower children” were war protesters, so the drill sergeants had “fun” with me. I did push ups all morning. I was straight faced and serious on the outside but on the inside I was smiling. I thought it was pretty funny and it took the pressure off of everyone else.
We were then put in the holding company where we waited for a few days while they cut our hair, issued uniforms and then assigned us to our basic training company. You spend the first two months in basic training. We all gathered – 200 of us standing in front of this huge building. The drill sergeants were all lined up in front of us. The head drill sergeant, Sgt. Mantoya had shoulders practically as broad as he was tall. He was a good man at heart, a brave soldier with a chest full of ribbons – and he had a sense of humor…
Sgt. Mantoya got in front of all of us and yelled, “If you never graduated from high school fall out!” That meant all of those guys could leave and go in the building. They left and he lectured the rest of us about how the Army expects more from us. Then he yells “If you never graduated from college fall out!” Those guys left to go in the building too and by now there are about 10 guys left standing outside. He then comes up to us and whispers, “You know why you’re standing here? Because if you so f*$%ing smart why are you in the army?”… and had us drop and do 100 push ups. <Walter laughs> I thought, “I’m gonna enjoy suffering under him.” He was tough on us, but he was fair and honest and boy it was an interesting start to that journey.
I remember we used to have to sleep with the windows open in the middle of winter. Spinal meningitis was going around and had killed some people. It was highly contagious and since we were in such close quarters opening the windows was the “solution.” No one caught or died from spinal meningitis that winter but two guys actually died from pneumonia. (RIP)
The physicality of basic training was really hard for most guys… but for me, being older, the hardest thing was we weren’t allowed to have books. The sergeant would say “If you want to read something write a letter home to your mother and read it before you send it!”
I volunteered to clean the colonel’s office along with 8 other guys. The other guys did it for brownie points, but I knew there were things I could read in there. I offered to shine the guys boots if they would let me spend less time cleaning so that I could read Time Magazine. One day I read a story about a US war ship that had been captured by the North Koreans. They imprisoned the sailors and told the commanding officer they would execute his men one-by-one, starting with the youngest, if he didn’t tell them stuff. The commanding officer ended up telling them stuff – and that story made an impression on me.
At the end of training each company picked an outstanding trainee. I was chosen to represent my company and was interviewed by the board of officers. They asked me what I would do if I were taken captive and interrogated… the rule of course is to keep US secrets at all costs… but because of that story I had read, I said that I would find it difficult to uphold that pledge if I were put in a situation similar to the one I had read about. They went silent and I could tell they were being introspective at that moment. To this day, I think that’s the question that earned me the American Spirit of Honor Medal.
To be continued…
The American Spirit of Honor Medal is awarded to an outstanding trainee chosen from all of the basic training companies on the base.
From Wikipedia: The American Spirit Honor Medal is a medallion provided by the Citizens Committee for the Army, Navy and Air Force, Inc. It has been accepted for use in basic training as an award for the display of outstanding qualities of leadership best expressing the American spirit—honor, initiative, loyalty, and high example to comrades in arms; and as a means of promoting closer relationship between the Armed Forces and the civil communities in which the training divisions and centers are located.
It is a bronze medallion, 1 3/8 inches in diameter, on the obverse side a sunburst with the American eagle rampant, superimposed. Around the perimeter are the words “American Spirit Honor Medal” and in an interior circle the motto of the Citizens Committee for the Army, Navy, and Air Force, Inc.: “Serve with Heart, Head, and Hand”. On the reverse side, is a torch with the words For High Example to Comrades in Arms”.
The American Spirit Honor Medal is awarded to trainees of the United States Army who have had no prior military service. It is awarded upon completion of basic training or one station unit training to not more than one trainee out of the graduating group at each training center or unit.