I embraced my mom for probably the second-to-last time, all the while wishing both of my parents all the best for the rest of their life. Focusing my attention on the direction of life away from home, I turned to smile at my mother and my father and I saw my mother crying (what else does a mother do when her kids leave?). My father balanced the way-too-sweet moment by adding a badly-needed dash of a vinegar stare. Then he popped his newspaper— CRACK — returning to snarl over the stock exchange.
“Nice, Dad… maybe I’ll get killed fighting in the next armed conflict. You can hang up a photo of me wearing my class-A ceremonial (Greens) dress-up uniform.”
My father could intentionally invite over people that he didn’t know just to hear their kind words and see the nods and expressions of true-Blue American approval. He would have to work on his fake sorrow and tenderness and offer his guests a litany of precious prose about me before anyone would gift him reprieve from his role as an enflamed, cracked a***ole to all those around him.
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“Yep, that’s my Geo,” he would later say. “He was a real whipper-snapper in high school football. Then he became a real killin’ machine where they put him in front for attacks against the hardest factions of the North Vietnamese Army.”
I would suppress my desire to mention that the Vietnam War had been over by the time I made it to the Army. Nonetheless, I always turned into a camouflaged dynamo when my dad got his mouth shifted into overdrive when he got to slobbering about what a hero I was supposed to have been, always leaving out the parts where I wouldn’t make my bed or mow the lawn.
First days in the Army’s boot camp
I reported to SeaTac Airport to join up with a bunch of kiddos gathered to make the flight with me to Fort Jackson with an intermediate stop to Ft. Benning, GA. The leg of the journey from Ft. Jackson to Ft. Benning was orchestrated intentionally to ensure the would-be recruits would be miserable, drunk from lack of sleep, their teddy bears stripped from their clutches; how would they ever possibly stay safe without the teddies?
When we arrived at Ft. Jackson, I held an expressionless face while the bus was turned upside down by a band of flaming-mad drill instructors. They shook the buses and all the raw recruits flipped and tumbled out of the buses onto the tarmac.
“Remove all your personal possessions and bag them up. Keep your ID card with you — do not ever become separated from your ID card for the rest of the time you are here, hooah?”
“Hooah!” We all responded in genuine, earnest, and resounding fear.
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I couldn’t believe some of the s**t some people brought with them to their new lives… some appear to have tried to bring all of their old lives along with them to their new lives.
A drill sergeant pulled out an electric hair dryer from some dweeb’s kit bag. “Planning on keeping up with all the latest hairstyles while you are here, maggot? Maybe we can get Liberace to swing by once a month and critique your locks — cut it off immediately!” he told him
“Really, sergeant? Really do I just throw it away?” the dweeb replied. “Just like I told the homes to throw away his boom-box.” I laughed, he cried.
I had shown up wearing a pair of work coveralls, or culotte panier as we all called them from back home in Cajun Country. “I don’t know where you people think you are but you’re in the Army now — your not behind a plow, right, Private Hand??” a drill instructor shouted at me.
And of course, anyone that bore Michael Jackson paraphernalia was immediately on the ground doing more floor exercises than he was physically capable of doing.
On the first night, lying horizontal in my bunk, I analyzed the day’s events.
“These people are really just all in my way. I want them out of here lest they impeded my path to the Big Army, but I will deal with them in my own time… after the sun comes up, that maggot-ass sun!” I told myself.
Maggot-ass was the first profane phase of many that I learned immediately in the Army; that list would eventually grow until it dwarfed the legions of Rome.
By almighty God and with Honor,
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yankee papa says
At MCRD Receiving Barracks…arrived after dark of course… Historically some recruits would be there for several days while recruit “series” forming up (four platoons…) But since I arrived June 12, 1968 when Vietnam still in full swing… it only took three hours for an entire series to be processed and turned over to D.I.’s…
During the “contraband” confiscation process, I couldn’t see what was happening since everybody standing facing cubicle… But I heard a lot… “Knives!” (Clatter…) “Firearms!”… (One isolated “clunk…”) “Condoms!” (And so it went…)
Steve Balestrieri says
Another awesome story in a legion of them Geo. Outstanding. Or as I said before my Army days, “It was wicked pissah!” Keep them going bro.
Joy B says
Did your Drill Instructors hold a disco burning party? That could have been fun.
george e. hand iv says
No, Ms. Joie… not that I am aware.
What was it with father’s and not showing much emotion back in the day? It must be generational baggage that was passed down to them. My dad was the same, but he has mellowed in his old age.
I love how your focus and drive was on the end goal and others are just in your way, not many young kids have that same focus and drive these days.
Loved this article, thanks Geo.
Haha, I loved this write, Geo. Beetle Bailey was a favorite of mine growing up. I smiled instantly when I saw it this morning. “And of course, anyone that bore Michael Jackson paraphernalia was immediately on the ground doing more floor exercises than he was physically capable of doing.” LOL, I never cared for Michael Jackson’s music. Thinking back to the music that was popular during Vietnam, and my thoughts (though my thoughts may be wrong) that drill sergeants during the 80s may have been Vietnam Veterans and the music of that time was far different I could see why they were handed out extra floor exercises.
It has been about eight years since I read my first George. E. Hand IV article.
Keep up the wonderful articles, my friend.