Tim Henrich (unedited – not in CALLED TO SERVE)
When Tim got out of the Army he used his GI bill to get certified as a teacher and get MS degrees from Indiana University and later a Ph.D. from Texas A&M University at College Station. He is an exercise physiologist and works at University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas. He sees a lot of old Army buddies that stayed in Texas. He writes, “It’s hard to go back and pick up because everything is different once you are away for a few years.” He goes on to say, “I have two advisees who are amputees and basically got ambushed. War now is about shooting people in the back. Same goes for gangs. They don’t fight they shoot people in the back.”
My draft story is unusual because I was eligible for the draft twice. The first time I got my “greetings” in August of 1966 for a September 6th physical. I had already had a physical shortly after I turned 18 so at that time you knew the second letter was that you were on your way. My dad drove me down to the Santa Ana Bowl and I boarded a bus for Los Angeles around 5 AM. We got to the station in LA and there were about 12 floors of people awaiting induction; Marines, Air Force officer candidates, you name it. I was soon to learn that I was a “US” and they called for all the “US’s” to be there. “US” at that time was at the beginning of my serial number which I was to repeat thousands of times during training. We were distinguished from RA (Regular Army – guys that enlisted for 3 or more years), NG for National Guard and ER for Enlisted Reserves.
We took our physicals and took tests and rode the bus to Ft. Ord arriving there in time to sleep for 2 hours before getting up to start our day at the Reception Company – which for us lasted nearly 2 weeks. My dad visited me at the Reception Company and was worried. Even at that point (being a World War II vet) he did not think the government had the will to win the war.
We went up on the hill the Friday before training started. In the Reception Company I met a friend of mine whose father did not get him out of the draft. He was affluent, exceptionally so, and was assigned to West Point to train for swimming for the Army. I might add that many of my friends who went to junior college and finished less than 60 hours in two years were “overlooked,” but it wasn’t until later that I found out about how your mole or something trivial could get you out of the draft. At that time a local board selected those to go and if you were a fine young man with good breeding you might never get drafted (until the lottery came and the war became very unpopular).
In basic training we had a lot of African American GI’s and the SDI (Senior Drill Instructor) had no tolerance for anyone. He called every black trainee degrading names, kicked them in the butt and told them there would be no “niggers” in his company. He kicked this guy in the butt so hard he fell down. He was a tough guy.
We had a DI (Drill Instructor) who had graduated from my high school about 4 years before me. Apparently they could look at the records and he came to me and asked me if I went to Santa Ana High. He took an interest in me, taught me a lot of hand to hand combat, some martial arts and told me that with my vision and thick glasses that I would have to be twice as good as everyone to stay alive. I found his sister last year, but SSG (Staff Sergeant) Yurzarry had been had by the Orange (killed by Agent Orange). We qualified with the M14 and the DI’s told us that a lot of people would die from dirty M16s. They told us to get an M14 when we got over there because it was dependable.
I was not “a young man of good breeding,” but I did have a bleeding abscess on my foot which they tried to stitch while I was in training. The wound came from a cut on my foot that went from the skin to the bone and they put about 300 6-0 sutures inside which never dissolved. I spent a lot of basic training with a cast on my foot, but they got me through to the end. Every two weeks the podiatrist would poke and prod my bleeding foot then stitch it up. Nothing worked and the wound stayed open.
Graduation week I got orders to leave the Army because of my foot, but I had a physical every so often just to make sure I was still injured. I returned to college, work and swimming teams. I got my degree and grew up a lot during the next couple of years. Life was good, but I still had a physical every so often.
Finally my last suture came out and I was again classified 1-A. I was not in the lottery. I was still under the control of the local board. I ended up joining the Army after college and was in for about 4 plus years. I had a great job, got great experience and was discharged with my sanity and all my limbs. The GI bill got me to my Ph.D. and now I have some GI’s as my advisees. It’s my turn to watch their backs now and help them navigate the education bureaucracy. The time in the Army involved some of the most difficult and physically demanding work I had ever experienced. I did better and could survive things better after having a college degree. I know a lot of people who were in the Army and were not really suited for it – were physically and mentally weak. They needed to be doing some other national service instead of going to war. Even with my bad foot I had to carry packs and equipment for my platoon mates. Same thing the second time.
I did Modern Pentathlon at Fort Sam Houston for my time in the Army. We traveled to Eastern Europe and Russia proper. I could see it was an inept and alcoholic regime and the only thing to be feared was Brezhnev getting too drunk and pushing the button. Their sports equipment was faulty in every way. We traded levis for caviar. About one in ten of their fencing blades was excellent in its temper and balance. But you wanted to make the first choices from bundles of 250 blades. A pair of levis that fit the keeper of the blades always did it.
One time we went to Poland and a young border guard tore apart all of my luggage and my kit. He found foot powder and everyone came over as he screamed hysterically. Slowly he poured it our on his hand and put his tongue on it. I signaled to the old guard and pointed to my foot and everyone laughed. So they threw my luggage all over the airport, dumped out the powder, smeared toothpaste all over my clothes and just made a mess. The older guard put the tips of his fingers on the side of his neck with his hand straight – which is the sign that means he is an alcoholic. Such adventures.
I will tell you one thing: had Sergeant Barnes been my platoon sergeant in Vietnam he would have had a terrible accident and I would have been the one to provide the accident if no one else had volunteered. It’s because of idiots like this that we veterans have such a bad name. He did not realize the Vietcong were forcing villagers to hide them and supply them with food.
We ruined their country for nothing. There was no Tonkin Incident – that was a farce and LBJ, well, he got what he deserved for pushing the war to the brink. MACKNam (Robert McNamara – Secretary of Defense) was also a jerk, micromanaging the war, having the B-52’s ingress and egress on the same headings so the missiles just sat and waited. I don’t think JFK would have had the half a million man build up. I think he would have gotten out.
That’s my take on it and my dad was right. They were afraid to win the war. I feel a bit weird about the two times in the Army. I also had horrible vision, but there were a lot more people less capable than me that should have never been in the Army. Too many Sergeant Barnes types, that’s for sure. I was physically very tough, but the bleeding in my foot would have been bad in Vietnam. Still they could have sent me to Germany like a lot of other guys. Oh, well, that is how life turns out.