Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Lieberman, Lamont, Bush, Israel, Iraq, Vietnam, Justice: Part Three

Lieberman, Lamont, Bush, Israel, Iraq, Vietnam, Justice: PART THREE

It soon became apparent after I returned to the US in July 1964 from my stint in the Peace Corps in India that I was going to be drafted into the Army. I found work as a graphic designer at Dow Jones but by January 1965, I had to go into military service. I was inducted on January 20, 1965, the day of Lyndon Baines Johnson’s inauguration as President. He had defeated Barry Goldwater in the November 1964 elections. In his campaigning, Johnson promised to get out of Vietnam. Yeah, right!

Educated, affluent young men were running for cover to avoid the draft and going to Vietnam. Men like President Bush, Vice President Cheney and former President Clinton. When in the Peace Corps, volunteers like myself were made to understand that serving in the Peace Corps was no substitute for the draft and possible induction into the military after serving as a volunteer was possible. The Peace Corps was only four years old in 1965 and I felt I didn’t want to dishonor my PC service by dodging the draft. Many told me I was being foolish.

I went through basic and signal school, both at Fort Gordon, Georgia. I was almost strangled to death by a devotee of Haiti’s Papa "Doc" Duvalier in basic. I found it funny that in Peace Corps training, we had to run the mile in seven minutes, but in Army basic training, we had to do it in eight minutes. Signal school was eight weeks long with a class graduating every week. For the first six weeks, the graduating classes went to Korea. For the seventh week they announced that they didn’t know where this class was going. In everyone’s mind it was Vietnam. And sure enough, after I graduated I learned that that class did go to Vietnam. At the graduation ceremony for my eighth week, they announced we were going to Germany, if you can believe that.

I found the military to be just as educating as the Peace Corps, populated by some very dedicated soldiers. These were people that would defend us, and I found them impressive, draftees and enlisted men particularly. The non-commisioned officers at the E-6 and E-7 level and up were very dedicated to their jobs. Men like First Sergeant Russell Pearl Painter, Jr. served us well. The officers at the second and first lieutenant level were like children. I still remember Lieutenant Huber leaning against the wall reading his comic books. He did it all the time.

In the Army I learned small and very important lessons. An example of a small lesson is that when crossing the choppy Atlantic in a troop ship and you hear someone beginning to throw up just behind you in a ship’s corridor, walk faster. The biggest lesson of all was that almost none of the enlisted men had gone to college or graduated from college. In my company of 150 enlisted men in Germany, only one was a college graduate. Me. I felt that these youngsters were being sacrificed by those college kids that had run like cowards to avoid serving in the military.

I was stationed in Darmstadt, Germany. If I sat on a park bench in the town square, invariably an elderly German would get up and move away. American soldiers were that popular with them. German men about our age would attempt to pick fights with us on trains because American soldiers didn’t speak German. I dated an American woman for a while and I took her to a chamber music concert in downtown Darmstadt. The Germans in the audience were very pleased to have us there. We were the only Americans in the audience. You just can’t take the Peace Corps out of a former volunteer.

The Enlisted Men’s Club was up a steep hill through the woods. Almost every night we would attempt to navigate ourselves down that hill carrying a glass of beer. Most of those glasses never made it. For Thanksgiving 1965, we held a party in my five man barrack’s room. It was all drinking, no cranberry sauce in sight. Suddenly a taxi pulled up and the company drunk, Joe, weaved out of the cab and yelled up to our second floor windows: "What’s happening?" Someone yelled down about the party and told him if he wanted to come, he had to bring something. Joe brought several Mince Meat pies. Every man at that party threw up that night, some on their pillows. I have not eaten a Mince Meat pie since.

The Vietnam War was in full swing while I was in Germany. Several young troops in my company and battalion volunteered to be transferred to Vietnam. The usual reason was that someone was making time with his girlfriend back home, and if he volunteered to leave Germany to report to Vietnam, he got to go home for 30 days first to kick that guy’s butt. I always yelled at them: "Yah, but after the 30 day leave, you go to Vietnam.!!!" I never persuaded any of them not to do it. Even though I didn’t know their names then, I wanted the Bushes, Cheneys and Clintons to go to Vietnam. Not the 18 year-old soldiers safely tucked away in Germany.

I made Sergeant E-5 about three months before my tour of duty was over. I also made some good friends as I had in the Peace Corps. One of my Army buddies was my best man at my wedding in 1972.

By December 31, 1966 when I was released from active duty at Fort Dix, transported to Grand Central Station in New York City and asked how many babies I had killed in Vietnam on the train home, I knew that I had a unique perspective on serving your country. That ultimately led me to found Southfarm Press to publish military history and memoirs and be an advocate for soldiers and veterans.

By the way, did you know that yesterday, August 15th, was the 61st anniversary of V-J Day? Did you also know that none of our POWs, our guys held for years as slave laborers by the Japanese for three to four years, never received compensation from the Japanese or the American government. POWs of the Japanese from Canada, the Netherlands, Australia and Britain were all compensated by their home governments because the Japanese wouldn’t. Not our government, the bastards. I’ll wrap this up in my fourth and last installment, tying in Lieberman, Lamont, Iraq and Israel. Most of all I want you to understand what I mean when I say justice..—Walter Haan,


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