"Mail" reading on May 21st
- Hi everyone,As requested, here's my reading from May 21st.Have a good Memorial Day.Don
May 21, 2008
1962: Almost three years of my six-year National Guard enlistment were behind me. First, there had been six months duty at Fort Bliss , Texas . Now I was spending every other Sunday and two weeks each summer at a Nike missile launching site in Marlton NJ . But it beat being drafted for two years and then doing two additional years of weekly Reserve drills and summer camps.
The Cold War was at its peak, and our mission at the missile site was to help defend the greater Philadelphia area in case of an aircraft or missile attack. Consequently, there was little chance of being activated for anything else. Relatively speaking, it was good duty. Nike missiles, by the way, were named for the Greek goddess of victory, not for the sneaker. I wonder if all those guys wearing Nikes know they are wearing shoes named for a girl?
Then near the end of my third year, the government obsoleted the Nike missiles and closed most of the launching sites, including ours in Marlton. Our entire unit was reassigned to an Army Reserve infantry unit in Pitman NJ . Not good news. We were now foot soldiers -- cannon fodder -- and at the top of the list to be activated. Plus, we were newcomers to the infantry unit, so we got the worst assignments.
When I first enlisted in 1959, I signed a contract to do six years of service, but for some bureaucratic reason, each year we all had to be conditionally discharged and reenlist. If we wanted to, we could apply for another unit. As our anniversaries came up, most of us from the old Nike unit were finding better alternatives and weren’t reenlisting in the infantry unit. I was no exception; I found a better unit closer to home in Runnemede , NJ .
Until you reenlisted, your name was automatically put in an Army Reserve Control Group. It's sort of a holding pen. You didn't go to drills, but it counted as good time against your six years. I’d learned from my buddies that with a little foot-dragging you could stretch it into a two- or three-month vacation. Here's how it worked.
A few weeks after your discharge, a yellow card arrives in the mail saying:
You have been placed in an Army Reserve Control Group. Sign and send back this card in 30 days confirming that it reached you and that this is your current address. If you don't send it back you could be drafted back.
I promptly signed it and sent it back.
About a month later an official letter arrives saying:
You have 30 days to join an active Army Reserve or National Guard unit. Find one and join it now. If you don't, you could be drafted back into the Army for two years.
Knowing what was coming, I did nothing.
Thirty days later, a third envelope came in the mail. In it was a list of Army Reserve units and an unfriendly letter that said:
You must pick one of these units and join it now, or we'll assign you to one. The only exceptions are:
(a) If you live more than 100 miles from the nearest reserve unit
(b) If for economic or other reasons it would be an extreme hardship
(c) If you are going to school at least three nights a week
Exceptions? This was news. I didn’t know there could be exceptions. My actual situation was that I commuted to work 110 miles round-trip from Collingswood NJ to just north of Princeton NJ . Going to evening drills at the Runnemede unit would be an additional 30 mile round-trip in the other direction; plus, my job required extra hours, sometimes working into the evening. Lastly, I was going to night school two nights a week in Philadelphia . I didn't quite qualify on any one point but I partially qualified on all three. I summed up the situation, just as it was, and sent it off in the mail.
In a few weeks, I got an official reply which said:
"With regard to your request for deferment from duty due to employment in critical defense work your request has been denied unless you can provide additional supporting documentation."
Critical defense work? Who said that? Not me. Hmmm...supporting documentation, huh? Every week without going to a drill was a good week. With nothing to lose, I mailed them a very short letter saying that supporting documentation would follow.
I heard nothing, so I did nothing. A year passed and I got another yellow card, and another one the year after that. I faithfully signed them and sent them back. But I wasn't entirely off the hook. I knew guys in a Control Group could be called up anytime for anything, with little or no notice. I sweated this as the months ticked slowly by.
Then, in my final year, 1965, Vietnam escalated. By now, we had two daughters, my career had begun to take off, and we had a nice house in Willingboro NJ . The thought of getting recalled, not for drills and summer camp, but for combat duty crept into the picture. I could think of nothing worse.
Then in August, two important things happened. First, President Lyndon B. Johnson came on television and said that, for starters, he was ordering 50,000 more troops to Vietnam immediately, and while mothers will cry and wives will weep, we will support the war and do whatever it takes.
Second, five days later an official envelope came in the mail from the U.S. Army Reserve Control Group. With shaking hands I opened it. Inside was my final, unconditional, Honorable Discharge, right on schedule.
God bless all those who had to go,
and bless the memory of those who didn't come back.
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