It's late for Veterans Day, but here's a post from my favorite baker, Joe DeRozier, about the way it's been for a lot of new recruits in a lot of lonely places.
I was sitting in my living room, just waiting.
Mom was busy doing things around the house that didn't really have to be done, while my sister calmly sat on the couch. Dad had to work. He asked if I wanted him to stay to see me off, but I knew he hated to miss work. He WOULD have had I asked, but I'm not sure if I could have handled saying goodbye to him.
Mom had cut my hair a day earlier. It was long and I didn't want to draw attention to myself in basic training. I kept grabbing the back of my neck because it felt strange not to have hair back there.
We didn't speak, really. I was waiting for my recruiter to pull up to take me to the bus station in Green Bay.
I pulled my things together and said my goodbyes to everyone, being careful not to look my sister in the eyes.
My recruiter and I spoke in the car during that hour long drive. I asked questions that were vaguely answered. He honestly didn't know the answers, but gave me enough for pacification.
We got to the bus stop. I had never been on a bus. He handed me my ticket, and told me that I was the last stop.
It takes about two hours from Green Bay to Milwaukee, but by bus it was about four. Four hours to sit and think...
I had just graduated high school and had no idea what I wanted to do. College was out of the question and I wasn't sure about the local factories. The military seemed to be a good idea. I got the job I wanted, travel, and decent pay...but now I was scared....and alone.
No cell phones to text my friends. No one to tell me it was okay and I'd be fine....just yesterday's Green Bay Press Gazette....
On the bus I engaged in one of my favorite pastimes of people watching. These were not the same people I grew up with; no one wanted to sit by me and talk. I would have liked that...anything to stop thinking....
It seemed we stopped a thousand times. Towns I had never visited. Some got on, some got off.
A young guy, maybe a few years older than I, had a boombox. He was very respectful and played it softly. Music was changing, I noticed. Hard rock was getting softer, more keyboards, psychedelic.
We got to Milwaukee. He'd told me, last stop, I remembered. It was getting dark. I was the last one on the bus. The driver pulled into the bus terminal and shut down for the night. Dang it...I jump out and have to ask directions to the Howard Johnson Hotel. It isn't far...
I got inside and checked in. I had never been to a hotel. They give me directions to my room. I got up there, laid my things out, and sat. I didn't know what I was supposed to do.
Suddenly the phone rang. It was someone with MEPS. They'd do a wake-up call at four am. Be in the lobby by five. No problem since I won't sleep a wink. Okay. I knew what was next, just nothing after.....
I stared out the window at Milwaukee. I liked the lights.... I ventured outside. I didn't know where I was going or what to even look for. I stayed close to the hotel. I went back. I tried to find someone in the lobby in the same situation that I was in. No one... I went back to the room and turned on the three-channel TV... I wonder if Dad is out of work yet.... is he thinking about me?
I lay on top of the bed and tried to sleep. I'm not sure if I ever got that wake-up call at four, because I was downstairs by that time.
The lobby slowly filled up.
Where were all these people last night?
I talked to a few of them. No one was very festive. Maybe the time, maybe the environment...maybe my breath...
We were herded into giant classrooms...we had a ton of paperwork that we mindlessly signed and dated. No one knew what we were signing and no one questioned it.
My belongings were always on my lap... I was afraid to let them out of my sight. A small connection to home, I guess.
It still felt weird on my neck...
We were set up in groups of 12, more or less. We were taken from one room to another. We were physically tested on everything from eyesight to hearing to reflexes to walking around like a duck in our underwear. A full room of young men, in their undies, walking like ducks. The humor didn't escape me but it didn't seem appropriate to bring to their attention how funny it looked.
I don't know if it was the same group I had been in or not, but we were separated again and given plane tickets to St. Louis.
One young man was put in charge, Phil Arndt (my spelling is probably incorrect). He was the first guy to really talk to me. He corralled us and got us into the plane. He sat next to me.
Phil was my first friend in the army..... great guy. I hope he's doing well...