Monday, October 25, 2021

Right Back Pocket

Right Back Pocket



That last year before I went into the Army, I got advice. “Go to Canada.” “Get a lawyer.” “Claim some kind of medical problem. I have a friend who…” “Claim you are a conscientious objector.”


I didn’t do any of those things.  In the Summer of 1966, I got the letter that everyone was talking about. It read “Greetings from the President of the United States.”


When I say everyone was talking about it, I am not exaggerating. Every man my age was preoccupied with military service.  My date of induction was October 19, 1966 and during that month 43,000 men were taken into the military.  So, I knew I had lots of company.


In 1965, Mike Vogan, my former college roommate sent me a letter from Vietnam.  He had dropped out of Engineering school at Berkeley and was gobbled up by the draft.  We were not close friends, but as fate would have it, he did me a great kindness.  I think he sent a postcard. It read:


If you get drafted, be sure to get a copy of your college transcript. Fold the transcript up small and tight and put it in a baggy.  Then keep it with you at all times.  There will be a moment when you can use it.”

I was not quite sure what Mike meant. I couldn’t correspond with him.  I had no idea when I would see him again.  I did exactly as he instructed.  When I was indeed drafted, I put the baggy in my right back pocket.  No matter how wet or dirty I got in training, I kept my little talisman safe in my right back pocket.


After basic training in California, I went to combat medic school at Ft. Sam Houston in Texas. Our purpose was to learn how to take care of wounded and sometimes dead soldiers.  We marched from class to class. As always, I would check my right back pocket whenever I put on a clean uniform.  “Was It there?”  It was always there. 


On the day of this story, we marched out of the hot Texas sun in to a huge auditorium. There were perhaps a thousand young men seated in what seemed luxury. We had padded theater style seats. The room was air conditioned. We were warned not to fall asleep. I thought this would be a “Character Guidance” lecture or a “Don’t get VD” lecture. 


 It was to be an important moment for me.  The speaker was a personnel officer who rattled off various qualifications for different jobs. He read off a  huge array of jobs requiring different skills.  I listened carefully.


The Personnel Officer’s exact words were:


“Anyone with a college degree in a behavioral science and 1 year or more experience, come to the front of the stage. And, oh…you need to be able to prove you graduated. We don’t have time to check.”


I reached for my right back pocket and headed down to the stage.  I was not quite sure what they would do with my information, but I had finished my undergraduate work at Berkeley and I had been a probation officer for 1 year. That worked for me.


A month later, I was suddenly put on orders to fly out of Texas to Letterman General Hospital in San Francisco where I was to be a psychology/social work specialist.  My life shifted forever. Thank you, Mike Vogan.


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