After Basic Training
Traditionally, after basic training, the Army gives soldiers a thirty-day leave. For us, this happen in the midst of an airline strike. By this time, I knew that when I returned to Fort Riley I would be in an infantry unit. Several of us, enough to nearly fill a bus, took a Greyhound from Kansas, home to California. It was a long trip going through the hot weather of the western states. During the trip, we passed around liquor and I imbibed. I considered drinking a masculine activity and I wanted others to think of me as a very masculine soldier. Moreover, I wanted to bolster my own sense of masculinity. One morning I took a drink of vodka, for the rest of the trip I had a stomachache. So much for my young image of masculinity.
There was, on the bus, a young soldier, a buck sergeant wearing a three stripe chevron on the shoulder of his dress khaki uniform shirt. He wore a 1st Cavalry Division insignia on the other shoulder. The 1st Cav was already in Vietnam. In ’65 and ’66 they had seen heavy combat and had taken many casualties, particularly in the Ia Drang Valley. The Ia Drang was the first major battle between Viet Cong and American forces. This young sergeant wore a Combat Infantrymen’s Badge (CIB) on his chest along with a few ribbons. The CIB, in particular, denoted that he had seen infantry combat. The Combat Infantryman’s Badge is a silver badge containing, in the foreground, a three inch long by half inch wide blue rectangular box that itself contains a silver rifle. The background is a two inch long silver wreath that protrudes about three-eighth inch above and below the blue box. The wreath is placed eqidistant from each end of the blue box. This quiet young man with his CIB rode along with us new “green” soldiers. I, along with others, was somewhat in awe of this young serious looking and unsmiling sergeant. Three of us new untested infantry soldiers approached this man and attempted to ask him about his experience in Vietnam. He said something about the year in Vietnam being a year without sleep. Then he cut us short looking at us with a sad yet angry countenance. In an almost off hand, but severe voice he said, “you can have that fuckin’ war!” He said nothing more then turned and walked back to his seat.
That encounter left me feeling somewhat afraid and confused. I grew up with John Wayne WWII movies, other war movies, and the television series Victory at Sea that glorified the American infantry soldier in both life and death. The media definitely did not portray our WWII soldiers with the dour countenance and attitude of this soldier. TV, movies, and the culture itself portrayed them as heroes. I was shocked at his obviously angry demeanor and attitude toward the war. This incident readied me for the disillusionment with the war in Vietnam that I developed early on during my one-year tour.