Updated: Jun 27
| This is the 360th story of Our Life Logs |
Growing up in Pleasant Grove, Texas, in the 1940s, I had an easy life. I was the son of a working mom from the Midwest and a devoted dad that had immigrated to the US from Mexico at an early age. My parents had met at a USO dance during WWII. Dad was born in Mexico, his father, a mining engineer that was from England and was assigned to a project in Pachuca, Mexico. Dad came to the US in 1940 with both a British passport and a Mexican Citizenship. To solidify his status as a US citizen, he volunteered to serve in the US Army. Keep that in mind.
As my high school days came to a close and college was nearing, Mom became more and more excited. She pushed for that all through my school years—it never was “if” you go to college—it was “when” you go to college. She never had the chance to attend college. She was caught in the Depression and had to work to help support her family as soon as she got out of high school. She vowed that her little boy would have that opportunity.
My dad, on the other hand, felt that it was every male citizen’s duty to serve the country that he called home and he looked forward to the day that I would serve my country. However, since my mom pushed college so hard, I went to school and earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing. I knew my father wanted me to go off to serve my country, but I wasn’t quite ready. So, I started a graduate program.
It turned out that fate had a plan plotted out for me that would fulfill my dad’s hopes. The year was 1967. 500,000 troops were sent to Vietnam, with more to come. There was a supply line for those troops people know as the draft.
Mom didn’t want her little boy fighting in a war. Since Dad had fought in WWII, she felt that the family had given enough to freedom. So, college was the answer. Deferment was the only way to stay out of Uncle Sam’s Army. Yet, I soon learned that deferment only lasted while you were a full-time student. Taking a four-hour pottery course while in graduate school with a major in business was not considered “eligible for the deferment.”
So, February of 1967 came along with Uncle Sam trailing behind, urging me to join the Army and see the world. So, off I went to Ft. Folk, Louisiana for basic training. I had reconciled myself by remembering that I had to serve for just two years then I would be able to join the work force and lead a normal corporate life.
Yep, two years…
The first week of basic training consisted of taking general aptitude tests to ultimately see what the Army wanted to do with you. After the initial tests, I was “asked” to take the advance tests to become an officer due to my college degree. The top score was a 160. To get in, you had to score 90, and I scored 160. Next came the SAT, to which I got a near perfect score.
The two scores prompted a call into the company commander’s office where I was asked to become an officer candidate, meaning it could extend my two-year contract to three years. No way. Wanting a career and life outside of the military, I declined. The officers weren’t happy. And that’s when the fun began.
Two hundred people graduated from my basic training company. Then came placement which determined your ranking and pay grade. E1 was the lowest then moved up to E2, E3, and so on. Out of 200, 188 were promoted from E1 to E2 and other 12 remained E1. I was one of the 12. Hmmm. What’s more, out of the 200 graduates, only one was assigned to a combat unit without any advanced training. Can you guess who? All because I refused to become an officer. It was their way to exact revenge. I had never guessed I’d receive such rotten luck for good test scores.
I was given three days to report to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma to join a Howitzer battalion that was getting ready to ship off to Vietnam.
To get the lay of the land, I decided to report a day early. And as luck would have it, I reported to the wrong place: the post headquarters.
There I was, a Private E1 standing on the steps of headquarters, pondering my next move, when I was approached by a helpful warrant officer. He asked to see my orders so he could direct me. Now, get ready for this. While looking at the orders, he noticed my test scores. Later that evening, he had orders cut to reassign me to Battalion headquarters as a personnel clerk. Apparently, they wanted my brain to stay inside my head. It’d be of better use.
Up to that point, the test scores had been working against me. But then the tables turned in my favor and made serving bearable. From that point on, the numbers became an asset instead of a liability.
As a records clerk, I was responsible for processing personnel in and out of the unit. I came in contact with a lot of upper and lower level people, the mix of “lifers” and “two-year guys,” like me.
Now, to a lifer, his 201 Personnel File is important. His entire Army history sits in one brown folder.
My first appreciation of this came when an E8 processed through without his 201 Personnel File because it was lost in his deployment to Vietnam. For over an hour, we talked and I reconstructed his Army history. After he left, I rewrote every post to which he had been assigned and obtained copies of orders, awards, and anything else that would have been in his lost 201 file. It took a month, but I painstakingly created a new 201 file. When I called him in to sign the new form and show him, he cried. Then he told me that since he had a jeep and a driver at his disposal, I could use it for Army business any time I needed it. Turns out, a little luck and doing your damn job go hand in hand.
With access to the Jeep, I started offering to drive any new recruits that were processing or out to make it faster and easier. This solidified my position with the 200 WACs, a position that was very advantageous to a single guy in a strange environment.
So, all was well, and I was actually enjoying the “Army Experience” when it happened…The Levy. Every month, we got a list of names of people that were going to Vietnam. The levy gave us time to notify soldiers, process them out of their unit, and make sure that they had ample time for Vietnam training. Have you guessed what happened? Yep, I was on the list. They were sending me an engineering company to work as a company clerk in the “Boonies.”
I had a chance not to go. The Post Sergeant Major approached me with a proposition. He’d make me the commanding general’s orderly and send me to bartending school to get me off the list. There was my opportunity—a chance to get back into the business world—but I couldn’t do it. Dad had served his country, and I knew I couldn’t wimp out at this point and let him down. So, off I went to the Boonies.
Our first stop was Ft. Lewis, Washington to board a 727 headed to Cam Rahn Bay. As I sat on a plane full of solders headed to war, I wondered how many of them would make the return flight and who would be affected for life. These were kids, mostly. I wondered, how many would really reach manhood and have kids of their own? That was when I knew why my father wanted this for me, the honor of serving my country.
The plane landed in the middle of the night in a strange land right after the first Tet offensive, which was the first major attack after the temporary truce that was cut short by a surprise attack. This was the first major escalation of the war and one the earliest signs that the Vietnam would not be quick and easy. Naturally, people were jittery and on red alert.
We took a C38 transport to Qui Nhon for redeployment to the engineering unit. There sat 50 guys waiting in bleachers at 8:00 in the morning, being called one by one and shuttled to waiting Jeeps or trucks to go to their respective field units.
The 50 in the bleachers turned to 40, to 30, to 20, to 10, to finally just one guy sitting in the bleachers feeling alone and ignored. You guessed it: me.
But then they came for me and I discovered the reason for the long wait. They had reassigned me to their replacement company as a personnel clerk after seeing my file. Once again, the test scores saved the day.
The rest of the Vietnam tour was spent in the somewhat safe confines of the 527th replacement services company. Limited guard duty—little field time—and once again, in a very advantageous place (we even had indoor plumbing). So, I only served two years after all, but I came out with an enormous well of knowledge and lessons that changed how I lived the rest of my life and made me see how important savoring life can be and to take the times life tests you seriously.
As I write this story for you, I’m in my 70s (but whether or not you think that’s old depends on how you look at the numbers). Since the war, I’ve ventured into a business career that involved being a Vice President of a large manufacturing company, I’ve testified in front of a State Senate Judicial Committee, and I’ve topped it all off by becoming an amateur sports announcer. That’s all to say that I’ve lived more stories than I can count, but this one rings loud and clear. Test scores: something that come and go in school that can affect us maybe for a minute or maybe become a life changing element. My test scores not only changed my life— but probably saved it.
Take it or leave it, there are a lot of tests as you go through life. The army showed me the importance of every time life tests you. Any test that I am faced with, any challenge is just something to be taken in stride with normal blood pressure (and hopefully a good night’s sleep before the test). Yep, sometimes, it’s all in the numbers.
This is the story of Bill Dunn
Bill was born in Chicago but moved to Dallas at a young age, so he really is Texas grown but still roots for the Chicago Cubs. After high school, Bill had plans to launch into the corporate world but the Army interrupted his career path. However, his experience wound up providing an insight to the other side of the world and gave him the opportunity to experience life “outside the lines.”
Superman came in a capsule from another planet and Bill jokes that he came from a planet that Superman passed on his way to earth. (Yes—Superman waved as he went by). It was a sign of things to come and that Bill would do something special along the way. A family—yes of course—a career—more than he could have imagined while growing up in Pleasant Grove Texas. He is probably one of the few people that thought about running away to join the circus and actually went to circus school to accomplish that wish. He became an announcer, a showman, and a person willing to try just about everything. He hopes that he leaves his mark on the worked in a positive manner for his family and large circle of friends. He says he’ll never retire. He firmly believes that an object in motion stays in motion.
This story first touched our hearts on June 13, 2019.
| Writer: Bill Dunn | Editor: Colleen Walker |