Yeah, I went to high school in the Sixties and Yeah, the Vietnam War was in full swing, but like most teenagers, I didn’t seem to notice. You could see the war on the news every night, but it didn’t really register. The news was just something my father watched while I waited for Bonanza to come on. I don’t know what is was about that show, I just had to watch it. I would sneak out of my room in the middle of my homework just to get a peek. There where a lot of good westerns on TV during this time: ‘Have Gun, Will Travel’, ‘The Rifleman’,’Paladin’, ‘Gunsmoke’ ( Oh that Miss Kitty, hubba-hubba.), ‘Wagon Train’ w/Ward Bond, my second favorite ‘Maverick’ and who could forget a young Clint Eastwood as Rowdy Yates in ‘Rawhide’ [ insert sound of cracking whip here ]. That Clint is still kicking-it around the movies. Of course classic 60’s westerns don’t have anything to do with how I got to Hawaii, but you’ve got to admit, Miss Kitty was a hottie.
High school for me wasn’t much of a challenge, so I developed some poor study habits. Who am I kidding, I didn’t study at all. I memorized the material at hand and held it in my brain just long enough to spew it back out on a test. Don’t get me wrong, I got good grades and was an Honor Student, but at the end of every summer vacation I was just like all my teenage peers; ‘Dumb as a Stump’. This bad habit did not serve me well my first year of college in 1966. Seems that college professors actually want you to produce. I kept dropping classes so as not to get a failing grade and before I knew it, I was below the minimum 12 hours that allowed me to kept my draft deferment. Oops!
I went to a junior college for a couple of years but the damage was already done. Uncle Sam was hot to put a rifle in my hands. During those two years I practiced my writing skills and sent in massive amounts of forms on which I basically stated that I was ‘unfit’ to serve for any number of reasons.
1) Illness: If there was a new disease going around, I told them I had it. I tried bad heart, flat feet and even blindness ( when they tested me for that I failed ). You name it, I was willing to give it a go.
2) Religion: I claimed to belong to every sect, cult, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist; Hell!.., I would have told them I was a druid and that my ‘best friend’ was an oak tree that I talked to every night. I was willing to say anything if I thought it would help. Basically, what I wanted to impress upon the draft board was; That for religious & personal reasons, I was forbidden to travel to a foreign land and shoot a ‘perfectly nice stranger’. A person that I’m sure if I was to meet under different circumstances, would be sharing a cold beer with me and talking about motorcycles in no time at all.
3) Mental Incompetence: Man, you can go just about anywhere with this one, and I did. Plus, I already admitted that every summer I got dumber ( Hey!, that rhymed ). I had been out of school for three summers, so I was peaking in the dumb department. None of my efforts seemed to matter at the time, and that’s why I was inducted into the United States Army on January 20th,1969. Yup…, I got drafted. ( SHUCKS )
This is usually the time when I start to weep quietly to myself, but because this is a written story, the effect would be lost, so I will press on ( maybe I’ll put a few drops of water on each copy of the book ). Not to dwell on the fact that by July 1969, I was fully trained and on my way to Vietnam, but Hells-Bells, they trained me to blow things up, disarm booby traps and shoot guns, all kinds of guns ( sorry Sarge, weapons ). I’m sure all this training would come in handy if I decided to move to Detroit someday ( on a positive note, I did get to see the moon landing in the bowling alley at the Oakland California, Army Transfer Station. Way to go Neil ). What happened next is one for the ages, or at least a good short story.
The Army had around 500,000 troops in Vietnam in 1969 and Oakland was where they boarded buses to go to Travis Air Force Base and take a United Airlines DC-8 on a little overseas trip. I arrived from Ontario, in Southern California, where I had said good-by to my entire family of six, and various aunts & uncles. Because I was in the infantry and trained as a M-60 machine gunner, the general feeling was; ‘So long son, it’s been good to know you’. I wasn’t all that thrilled with the situation either, so I started to develop a bad attitude. Actually, my bad attitude started when I was put in the infantry, I was just now perfecting it.
Oakland was a very busy place with anywhere from 10-15 thousand troops milling about. Seems I got lost in the shuffle ( ie., they didn’t have any orders for me to go anywhere ). Most soldiers were there for a day maybe two and off they went. I was there a week and it wasn’t getting any better. I hung out in the administration building trying to figure out what the SNAFU was ( Situation Normal All F**ked Up ). What I learned was that my last duty station, Fort Ord California, had released me to Oakland, and Oakland had released me to go to…, well nowhere. I was in a state of limbo. Ready to go, but the question was: “Where?” The first week grew into a second week and it seemed I was not alone in the limbo department. There were now five of us. All had different training, radio man, cook, helicopter mechanic and a lineman. They tried to keep us locked up in the day room because we were ‘floating’. One day we escaped and headed for the building where everybody got on the bus. We had stamped papers releasing us to go but with a blank destination. Very dangerous.
It hasn’t been very long since you started reading this story so you may recall the title. Yup…, it was Aloha for the five of us. Of course the gang had chosen me as their leader, so one day while we were hanging out on our bunks in a giant warehouse and eating sandwiches out of machines, an announcement came over the PA system: “We need five guys with orders for Honolulu to come up to the desk. The bus will be leaving soon”. I yelled at my crew to grab their stuff and follow me. A nice Sargent gave our blank orders a quick look and asked; “Where are your orders for Hawaii?” “We lost them Sarge”, I told him convincingly. He told us we would get replacement orders after we got to our duty station, so we got on the bus, then the plane and just like that, we found ourselves at Hickam Air Force Base, Honolulu, Hawaii. The next question on our collective minds was: “What do we do now?” Of course, I had a plan.
I told the boys; “I say we go downtown, pool our money and get an apartment”. This idea was met with the big question of the day; “Technically, aren’t we AWOL?” “From where?”, was my reply. Here we stand with all the other Army guys that we rode on the plane with, we all have on our little green Army outfits, and we are standing on military soil. AWOL, heck! The simple fact that we are here will be enough to convince somebody that this is where we are supposed to be. This line of reasoning made sense to everybody, so in lieu of getting an apartment, we all boarded the buses for Schofield Barracks, located in about the center of the island of Oahu.
As we stood in the hot sun and humidity on the grassy area outside the ‘Quad’, everybody was assigned a duty station, except the five of us. A very nice Second Lieutenant asked us for our orders. “Don’t have any sir”, was our reply. We were told to go ‘hang out’ in an abandoned barracks and they would get back to us the next day. Three weeks later, and yes we were massively hung-over from going into town every night, someone found us asleep around noon and asked; “What are you guys doing here?”. “Waiting Sir!”, was our collective reply. Who ever it was, told us to get dressed and come down to the parade ground. Our days of going into town every night and listening to Don Ho sing ‘Tiny Bubbles’ had come to an end ( I did learn how to drink bourbon though ). They asked us what our training was and assigned us to various units. I was transferred downtown to Fort Shafter and I can tell you for a fact, that I was in Honolulu, Hawaii for 18 months pending orders ( They never found me Mabel ). I worked nights in an air-conditioned office with a view of Pearl Harbor, and during the day I worked on my tan, swam and played tennis. My first job was in data processing and then I receipted classified documents for a couple of “Bird Colonels”. Eventually I got an apartment in the area near the University of Hawaii and went back to school during the day. My French teacher even played tennis ( NICE! )
In November of 1970, I was honorably discharged as an E-5 Sargent, and flown back to Southern California where I moved in with my mom and little sister in Solana Beach, a small town on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, about 20 miles north of San Diego. Because of my rank, the Army even shipped my BMW car, surfboard, fins/mask/snorkel, tennis racquets, skim-board, boggie-board &…., well you get the idea. After all, I had been living in Hawaii for one and a half years and I had lots of stuff. I bought a 1965 BSA motorcycle with my ‘get-out’ pay, and rode up & down the Coast Highway, stopping only to grab a cold beer or watch the sunset. Yes my friends, life was sweet once again. Ahh……
I have told this tale, I mean true story, to any number of guys that were in the Army at the time and everybody wants to know; “How did you do it?, I mean REALLY MAN!, How did you get away with it?” Well, some people are good and some people are lucky. I’m the kind of person that is a little of both. If you want the longer version, buy me a beer, or two, and I will be happy to expand upon my life of bodysurfing on Hawaii’s North Shore.
“Time it was & what a time it was”, by Leo