Sunday, January 20, 2008

Why I joined the Navy

In 1966 I began my senior year of high school. I hadn't expected to be doing that. In spring of '66 I finished the 10th grade in Killeen, Texas, after two years as a 9th grader. I had quit school in the 9th grade in Austin, Texas and after about 4-5 months of working full-time decided that going back to school sounded like more fun than working for a living. My family moved to Sinton, Texas and I went back to school as a 9th grader again.

In the summer of 1966 we moved to Baton Rouge, LA. When I showed up to register for school I discovered that my transcripts didn't show me as a previous dropout, it just showed all F's for that first time through the 9th grade. In Louisiana a year in school is a year in school, Bingo, I was a senior. I never was a high school junior.

Also the only senior course I took was PE. All the courses I took where junior courses. And I'm pretty sure I was the only senior who didn't have a study hall, I had to take a full load of courses in order to have enough credits to graduate (they had some standards). Because my course load was mostly junior courses most of my friends my senior year were juniors. That had an effect on my decisions about the draft, and for those of us who graduated from high school in 1967, thinking about the draft was an important part of our day. My friends being juniors impacted my thinking in that I didn't really have any close friends facing the same immediate threat and didn't explore my options as widely as I might have otherwise.

In particular I didn't explore the idea of getting a draft deferment by going to college. My parents hadn't gone to college and throughout school my teachers and counselors had very actively tried to discourage me from an education (I was kind of a trouble maker) so I just didn't think of college as a realistic option. That turned out to have been a huge mistake, but that's the way it was.

My first thought was a simple solution. I could join the Army Reserves. My daddy was a 1st Sgt in the local Army Reserve unit and was a full time civilian employee of the unit. There was a long waiting list to join the Reserve but my Daddy was the guy who maintained that list. How tough could that be. Hey, if George Bush's daddy could get him in the Texas Guard certainly my daddy could get me in the Reserves.

Well, since my daddy was a complete asshole that didn't work out as planned. He refused to help me get into the Reserves. I'll never forgive him for that, not ever. But, it was just the way it was and I was going to have to deal with it.

One of my close friends had a next door neighbor who was a couple years older than me and a hippie type. She was very up to date on the anti-war movement stuff. It was from her that I learned about the prospects of just going to Canada. That's what I decided to do. I did two things. I started working as much as I could, saving as much money as I could. And I bought a new car, a 1967 VW bug.

The car, of course, was to get me to Canada reliably, and the money was to live on until I could figure out how to get work in Canada. I expected to have about $1,000 in cash by the time I graduated from high school, which was substantial in 1967.

I didn't know anybody in Canada, didn't have any connections to anybody in Canada, but I just really didn't want to get drafted.

My mother came up with an alternative. She found a newspaper article that described a Navy Reserve program that involved 1 year of Active Reserve, 2 years of Active Duty, and 3 years of Inactive Reserve. They had film clips of Vietnam action on Huntley/Brinkley every night and I didn't recall any film clips of dead sailors, so I checked it out and signed up in November 1966. I was 17, a senior in high school.

They had a 12 day boot camp program for Navy Reservists that I went through during Christmas Vacation from high school. We had weekly drills, 3 hours every Wednesday evening.

The Navy requires correspondence course completion and a test for promotions. The major activity in the weekly drills was completion of the correspondence course requirements for promotion to E3. By the time my one year of drills was completed (which included the 2 week book camp and a 2 week summer cruise in San Francisco Bay) I was an E3 and had completed the correspondence course requirements for promotion to E4 (personnelman 3rd class)

This posted started out as a Why I didn't Stay in the Navy post, prompted by this. But it's getting longer than I intended, so I've changed the title and I'll finish it up later.

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