Volunteering for Vietnam


It’s been a busy week, and I haven’t had time to sit down and write a column. Here is another of my dad’s Navy stories from a book that we are writing, based on his 20-year Naval career. This book is a work in progress. Some stories are in the first person and some of them are in the third person. I don’t yet have a clear vision of exactly how I want this book to look. For now, here is a story about my dad begging to go to Vietnam.

In 1974, I was going to school in Memphis, Tenn. and I hated it. Not Memphis itself, but the job I’d been talked into by my recruiter. I didn’t want to be an aircraft electrician. I just wasn’t happy. I was away from family; my dad had just died. I was depressed. I’m not sure that I would have been happy with any job that I might have chosen. One day, I decided to see what I could do about getting out of the class. I went to see someone in the personnel department to beg them to take me out of this class. I wanted to be an aircraft mechanic, not an electrician.

“I don’t want to be an electrician, ma’am, I want to be an aircraft mechanic. Isn’t there something you can do to get me into a new class?” I asked.

“You scored much too high on your entrance exams,” the woman told me. “You ought to be shooting much higher than mechanic. I’m not going to switch your classes.”

“Well, send me to Vietnam then. I’m not interested in being an electrician. It’s just a hobby, not something I want to do all day, everyday,” I said. “I’m good with weapons. Let me go to Vietnam.”

I thought being on a riverboat behind a machine gun would just be alright. It would certainly, in my eyes, be better than sitting around fixing electrical problems on airplanes. After all, I did join the Navy during a war. Why shouldn’t I be where the action was? They ended up taking me out of the class I didn’t want to be in.

I hung around the barracks for a couple weeks and then came my orders. Naples, Italy! What? Humph! That’s not Vietnam. I was disappointed, to say the least. Upon looking into my orders, I was told, “You must be crazy to want to go to Vietnam. Nobody volunteers for that.”

Looking back on it now, I can say with almost certainty that my dad dying had a lot to do with my willingness to go to war. None of my brothers came to watch me graduate basic training and neither did my mother. In my eyes, they had abandoned me, just as my dad had. Why not go to war? I didn’t have a death wish, really, I just wanted my family, or anyone, I guess, to notice the good I was doing. What greater thing than to fight for our great nation? I had a good career and was given early retirement with full benefits.

Reach Kathleen Guill at 580-379-0588, ext. 2602.

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Reach Kathleen Guill at 580-379-0588, ext. 2602.

Reach Kathleen Guill at 580-379-0588, ext. 2602.

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