Grandma Comes To Hollywood

10 Feb

Hollywood Grandma518

Back in 1979 over 60 years after she was first married, back in 1919, my grandmother came out to visit me in Los Angeles, California, where I moved and got married in 1971.

Grandma and Grandpa500

My grandfather had died in 1961, so grandma flew out on her own to see her great grandchildren.

Hollywood Grandma515

I took her to go see the stars on Hollywood Blvd. and even went to Grauman’s Chinese theater.

Hollywood Grandma516

From the Pony Express Post Office To The U. S. Postal Service of the 21st Century Part Two

3 Feb 01 Handcolored group364

From the Pony Express Post Office To The U. S. Postal Service of the 21st Century Part Two

By: Bob Gersztyn

All Photography: Copyright Bob Gersztyn

01 Handcolored group364


After I made regular at the Royal Oak, Michigan GMF (General Mail Facility), in the Summer of 1985, I bid on a graveyard shift job from 2030 hrs. to 0500 hrs., which I got and it worked out perfectly for me. If I got to bed by 6:00 AM I would be up at 12 Noon to spend time with the family and eat before I had to go back. After I was in my second year, we knew that we wanted to move back to the West Coast, because that’s where our heart was at. I sent letters out in early 1986 to GMF’s in Sacramento, California, as well as Eugene, Salem and Portland, Oregon. Salem, Oregon contacted me and I accepted their offer and was to report for work on July 5, 1986.


02 Mailhandlers306

I worked at the Salem, Oregon 973 GMF from July 1986 until I retired in May 2004, as a mail handler. During the 18 years that I worked at the Salem office, the post office I went through many changes along with the postal service. The U.S.P.S. had already gone through many changes since I first began working in Birmingham, Michigan, which were necessitated as a result of the strike in March 1970. The strike took place after the postal reorganization act was passed by Congress and the U. S,. Postal Service was created for the first time, with a board of governors headed up by the postmaster general, like the corporate business model. They in turn were ultimately governed by a postal committee in Congress, so any major changes like postage increases, pay raises, major expenditures, exceeding the budget and downsizing had to be approved by the committee and voted on in Congress.

03 Cancellling


The post office was guaranteed by the constitution of the United States and everyone knows that Benjamin Franklin was the first Postmaster General.. However, most people do not know that initially the post office was controlled by whatever political party was in power and everyone from the Postmaster General to your ordinary postman was subject to political appointment and vulnerable to election results. As I mentioned earlier President Garfield was responsible for implementing the civil service exam system that based appointments on merit rather than political payback. So now it became an entirely new entity that used the existing one as it transformed itself.

04 Cancelling

The lesson that Nixon and the political powers learned by the strike was that you can’t send novices in to do work that requires extensive training. At the time of the strike in March 1970 the old post office was completely manual in sorting the mail, which required as long as 3 months of training to become proficient at, with a 90% failure rate. So automation in the post office was born out of necessity rather than just innovation. When I got to Los Angeles they were talking about the post office of the future, which would be comprised of machines that would sort the mail right down the individual carrier routes. The mail carriers would no longer have to take 3 hours to sort their mail, but would receive it in order of delivery, which would allow the routes to increase in size, therefore reducing the amount of mail carriers needed to deliver the mail.

05 OCR402

When I came back to the post office in 1984 they were just beginning the 2nd generation of letter sorting machines. The first generation were begun before I quit in 1976 and were called LSM’s (Letter Sorting Machines). The way that most worked was you had 12 positions with 9 digit keyboards and an operator at each console with 2 people pulling the sorted mail from the back of the machines and putting it into the carrier routed trays. They would rotate positions every half hour and the goal was to sort 60 letters a minute. The old manual way averaged 20 letters per minute, but when the new OCR (Optical Character Reader) began to be implemented it was capable of sorting over 600 letters per minute, with only 2 operators. However, the OCR was new and began to be used in the largest plants first, to test it out and along with the OCR came the BCS (Bar Code Sorter).

06 OCR405

They had just received the first OCR and BCS at the Troy, Michigan SCF 480 plant when I started working there in November 1984 and when I arrived in Salem, Oregon in July 1986 they were talking about getting one by the end of the year. They had 6 LSM’s in Michigan, but only had 2 in Salem, since the population was much less. It really didn’t matter to me, because I was a mail handler and not a clerk and clerks ran the automated sorters. I mainly worked on the dock loading and unloading trucks with mail coming and going everywhere to and from SCF 973 cities and other SCF officesΒ like Portland, Eugene, Seattle, San Francisco, Bend, Salt Lake City and dozens of others.

07 Motley Dock Crew

Over the 18 years that I worked at Salem, until I retired in 2004, I had a variety of jobs that I bid on covering nearly every mail handler position. Even if I didn’t bid on a job, I would sometimes have to do it if I was the only one available who knew how to do it. This was the case with being the Dock Tech. When a mail handler performed the job as a dock tech it was level 5 pay, but when a clerk did it as an expeditor, it was level 6. However, they are both one in the same job. There was supposed to be a level 6 clerk expeditor with a Level 5 mailhandler group leader, but in Salem the clerks relinquished their position and allowed the mailhandlers to completely handle the dock.

08  010 Breakdown

The dock is its own world at a mail processing facility, with dock workers are separate from inside workers and in some of the larger facilities consider inside workers consider them as a lower caste. The dock is intimidating to those who are unfamiliar with it, and in some offices the supervisors won’t ever go to the dock unless they are called. I learned to be an expeditor in Michigan, because I had to fill in for one for 2 hours, until the midnight shift began. Initially I volunteered to learn the job, after no one else wanted it. This should have been my first clue that it was once again a mistake to volunteer. However, it was the reason why they wanted me to come to Salem, because Kent Corwin, the weekend dock tech was going to be off for a year because of some medical issue.

09 Bob & Dale

When I got to Salem I began on tour III and Kevin McGrory was the tour superintendent. I worked in 010 breakdown and assisted on the dock as needed, except for Saturday and Sunday, when I was the only person on the dock until 2200 hrs. and was responsible for all the incoming and outgoing mail for the 973 zip code. Sure a supervisor was ultimately in charge and sitting in the office inside, but unless there was a problem the dock tech was on their own. I made regular in only 2 months and ended up as the equipment operator on tour I, a year later, with Ron Francisco as the tour supervisor.

010 Grateful Dead Collage

I channeled my frustrations from leaving the ministry into power lifting during the 1980’s, until I had a couple of serious injuries and operations. Then I decided to concentrate on photography, since that was my passion during the 1970’s. I photographed the power lifting meets that I lifted in and sold prints to interested competitors. I wanted to shoot rock concerts so I tried to get connected with a publication and ended up being hired by the Pentacle Theater as their house photographer for the year of 1991. Since I was working the 2330 to 0800 graveyard shift at the post office at the time, I had no problem being available to photograph the evening rehearsals. Then I processed the film and developed prints to hang in the lobby, along with selling prints to the actors and director, if they wanted them.

011 Grateful Dead Concert Eugene, Oregon 1994

Then, as if an answer to prayer or fanaticizing, one day in 1993 a connection to rock concert press credentials showed up at the Salem post office, in the form of a transfer from New Jersey named John Gordon. John was a “Deadhead” and claimed that he had connections to the Grateful Dead business office, that ran everything. He wanted me to go with him to see the Dead play in Eugene, Oregon and gave me the connection’s phone number. I ended up photographing the show from the press pit, with a milk crate to elevate me, shoulder to shoulder with photographers from Rolling Stone and the Oregonian. I thought that it was ironic that the Grateful Dead were the band that got me started in music journalism, after I found out that Phil Lesh, the bass player worked for the post office in San Francisco, when the Dead were starting out and still needed day jobs to pay the rent.

012 Dock412

The post office was always going through some sort of restructuring or reorganization, as it continued to try and keep up with technological progress. One of them took place in 1992 when (Carvin’) Marvin Runyon became the postmaster general and completely restructured the SCF offices and took the top position away from the city postmaster that the plant was located in and created a new position called the plant manager. Postal employees from every craft and managerial position were relocated, as part of the reorganization.

013 Mailhandlers Dan307

I became the equipment operator on tour I in the beginning of 1988, with Dale Brockelman the dock tech. My job was to drive the forklift and mule to load and unload mail to and from SCF 973. The dock had 22 dock stalls, but at the time of the busiest morning dispatch there were no more than a dozen in use. Only the 1st 6 stalls were deep enough for semi trailers, the rest were for small bobtails, other than the last 3, which were normally used for the large city bobtails. I did that job for 6 years until Dale Brockelman became the Tour III dock tech and I became the Tour I dock tech in 1995. I kept the job for a little over a year, and then bid on the city belt inside the building.

014 Bob Gersztyn Sunday Dock Tech

The city belt job began at 2200 hrs. and ended at 0630 hrs. The job was sorting all the SPR’s (small parcels and large enveloped that were kicked out of the automated machinery. The breakdowns were for the city routes of 97301, 02 & 06, 03 & 05, 07, 08 and 09, along with large holdouts, like Willamette University, Statehouse, Rehab and about a dozen others. The first city dispatch was at 0500 hrs., until the auxiliary DCU (Detached Carrier Unit) office was built for the Hollywood and City carriers, which left at 0300 hrs.. I kept that job until 1998 when I got a chance to bid on a split shift job that was 3 days Sat, Sun and Mon. on tour II, from 0600 hrs. to 1430 hrs. and 2 days, Thurs. and Frid., working Midnight to 0830 hrs.. That job involved mainly working on the dock as the dock tech on the weekends, setting up the areas inside on Monday and working in area any that I was needed on Thursday and Friday. Over the years I leaned and performed every mail handler job that existed at the post office in Salem, Oregon.

015 Amy & Shawn's Wedding Family 2009 #2

The post office was my day job, as they say, but I never considered it my purpose in life. It was just the way that I paid the bills as I lived my life the way that I wanted. I was married and had 7 children, which took much of my time when I wasn’t working. However, the reason why I worked the graveyard shift for 15 years was because the only thing that you do between Midnight and 0800 hrs. is sleep, so if I could do that during the day, when my kids were in school, then I could spend time with them in the evening before I went to work.

016 Bono of U2 reaching out to crowd

After the Grateful Dead concert in 1994 things began to move quickly in the rock & roll journalism world. By 1995 I obtained press credentials with a Grateful Dead magazine called Duprees Diamond News. When Jerry Garcia the leader of the Grateful Dead, died in August 1995, it didn’t diminish their popularity but made them even bigger legends. For the rest of the decade I became a rock & roll photographer and journalist for a half dozen publications and was published by another dozen at least once. I photographed, reviewed and interviewed artists ranging from bo Diddley, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones to Alanis Morissette, the Smashing Pumpkins, Rage Against The Machine, U2Β and the Jars of Clay to name some of over a hundred artists and festivals that I covered before I retired in 2004. At the same time that I obtained complimentary tickets, back stage passes and photo passes, I brought my children and friends that worked at the post office with me to enjoy the show and spend time with them experiencing something that we all loved, music.


In 2004 I retired from the post office but from the early 1990’s to the time that I retired I took thousands of photographs of my friends and co-workers at the Salem, Oregon mail processing plant. I mentioned earlier about the continual reorganization of the postal service. Our SCF 973 office was reduced in status to an AO (Associate Office) instead. during the late 1990’s. Then in 2013, 9 years after I retired the entire office was shut down as downsizing and consolidation continued. All the mail processing equipment and processing employees were moved up to the Portland, Oregon facility. The unions are always fighting with the fiscal conservatives about privatization of the postal service and step by step and piece by piece changes have taken place over the decades since I went on strike and walked out with the Birmingham, Michigan mail carriers in March 1970.

17 Pony Express Logo#3376


More postal photographs by Bob Gersztyn


From the Pony Express Post Office To The U. S. Postal Service of the 21st Century Part One

31 Jan

Pony Express Logo#3376From the Pony Express Post Office To The U. S. Postal Service of the 21st Century Part One

By: Bob Gersztyn

Back in November 1969, only 3 months after Woodstock, I took the civil service exam that President Garfield established back in 1883 before he was assassinated, to do away with awarding postal positions based on what party won the election. Instead it was based on either merit or the test score that you received after taking the postal exam. Veterans got five extra points, and in Detroit where I took the exam all you needed was a passing score to get hired. I wanted to work in one of the suburbs and one of the richest was Birmingham, which was my first choice, with Warren my home town being the second.

9th FA Missile Group

My first exposure to postal work came when I was in the army at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. I became the mail clerk for 9th FA Msl. Gp., along with being the unit’s armorer and carpenter. I had to get a top secret clearance, since I would be receiving and delivering sensitive documents as part of my job. I enjoyed sorting and delivering the mail and getting to read everyone’s magazines, but I didn’t consider working for the post office until September 1969, when I decided to drop out of school and get a good paying job.

By the beginning of March 1970 I was called for an interview at the Birmingham post office and was hired as a mail carrier starting the following Monday. The week after I started the Birmingham Letter Carriers union (NALC) joined the Wildcat strike that began in New York and I walked out with them. Detroit was a union town, and my dad had been on strike from the auto plant many times during my childhood, so I was naively putting my new job in jeopardy thinking that I was doing the right thing, Fortunately, after President Nixon sent in the national guard and they realized that they couldn’t make heads or tails of what to do or do it fast enough, he gave in and all strikers received amnesty.

I started at station II, in Birmingham, which was comprised of all the city routes. The station manager was Don James and I began as a PTF, which is a part time flexible, that was not guaranteed more than 2 hours a day, if they were actually brought in. However, all PTF’s worked 50 to 60 plus hours a week, with overtime. After two months I was transferred to station I, which had all the rural routes and covered the city of Bloomfield Hills and included the Franklin station. Station I was more undisciplined than Station II, with an alcoholic manager in charge.

The carrier’s ran Station I, and when the manager would come out of his office to try and tell the carriers what to do, one of the guys would tell him to go back to his office before they beat the shit out of him. The union steward and many of the other carriers liked to smoke pot during their lunch break, but one day he took some LSD that he got from one of the other carriers that was a part time drug dealer. He sat in his vehicle hallucinating until he didn’t show up for lunch and his best friend came looking for him. Half a dozen carriers broke up his route and delivered it on overtime, to keep him from getting in trouble.

When I made regular, I bid on an auxiliary route at Station II and had 5 different routes that I serviced on the rotating days that the carriers were off. It was a pleasure to deliver mail in Birmingham because it was such an upscale community where everything was clean and well kept. After I started working at the post office I found out that I could transfer anywhere in the country if there was an opening, after I was employed for a year. I wanted to move out to the West Coast to either San Francisco or Los Angeles, so I started to enquire how to do it, from the NALC union president, Pete Pistole. He told me that he was from Georgia and transferred to Los Angeles and then Michigan.

I ended up trading with a carrier from Los Angeles, so my girlfriend, Kathy, who also dreamed of moving to the West Coast, and I left Michigan in June 1971. Pete Pistole told me to forget everything that I learned in Birmingham, because, he said, there is no other office that is as corrupt and out of control as Birmingham. He told me that in Los Angeles they run things by the book and there was no overtime. When I arrived in L. A., I ended up getting assigned in North East L.A. at the Eagle Rock station, in the 90041 zip code. They ran a tight ship and after being used to flat as a pancake Michigan, the hills of L. A. presented a challenge at first since most of the routes were park and loop foot delivery. However, I soon got used to it, but then I discovered the smog, which left my lungs feeling like I smoked 3 packs of cigarettes, and I quit smoking in 1969.

At the same time Congress had passed the bill creating the U. S. Postal Service and that was being implemented. They were going to begin to use computer technology to help sort the mail using sorting machines that Pitney Bowes, Borroughs Corp and IBM built. This would eliminate all the memorization that took 3 months of training to accomplish and also make replacing workers relatively easy, thus eliminating threat of a strike. The first of these machines was the LSM (Letter Sorting Machine) produced by Borroughs corporation. The earliest appearance of this technology was in the 1950’s and early 1960’s although the ideas were formulated in the 1920’s.

U. S. Mail Logo

By 1974 I was taking photography classes at Pasadena City college and I knew that I had to use my G.I. Bill by 1978 or lose it. So I became a part time regular mail handler at Worldway Postal Center on the corner of Sepulveda and Century Blvd, by the airport, while I attended school full time at L.I.F.E. Bible college and I resigned from the post office in 1976, but shortly after our first move to Oregon, I was reinstated as a mail carrier in Newport, but decided to resign again after only 2 months. Then in November 1984 I was reinstated as a mail handler at the Royal Oak SCF 480 mail processing plant in Troy, Michigan.

Troy GMF214

To Be Continued

If you want to see some of the thousands of photographs that I took at the Salem post office during my 18 years there, go to Facebook and click on the open facebook page the “973-postal gang”

Black Gospel Restoration Project

29 Jan

Black Gospel 390


My friend and former editor Robert Darden is a professor of journalism at Baylor University. His love of Black Gospel music led him to write 3 books on Black Gospel music and begin the Black Gospel Restoration Project at Baylor University. The link to that is:

He was also the gospel music editor for Billboard magazine for a decade before he became the Senior Editor for the World Famous Religious Satire magazine, the Wittenburg Door.

Wittenburg Door292




I realize that some would consider being the editor of the Wittenburg Door as a step down from Billboard, but as a professor of journalism he used it to vet and develop religious satire writers and journalists who would then help infiltrate the Christian church with humor that would helpΒ expose hypocritical and mercenary ministers who fulfilled Jesus’sΒ warning about wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Black Gospel 391

Besides all that Robert Darden is a musician who understands his subject from a multitude of different angles that present themselvesΒ in his volumes of amazing gospel music stories.








My Last Trip To L.A. Part Six

21 Jan

My Last Trip To L.A. Part Six

By: Bob Gersztyn

All Photography copyright Bob Gersztyn

59 Jartran

We arrived at the same time that the Detroit Tigers were in the World Series, which they won.Β Don Henley releasedΒ “The Boys of Summer,” which was our homecoming song. Then weΒ lived with my mother in her condominium, until we finally worked out a deal with Jartran, where we paid the estimated repair cost of the trailer axle, of around $800.00, so all our possessions would be returned. Kathy was pregnant again for the 6th time and my best friend from high school, Jerry DeClark offered to rent me his mothers now vacant rental house that was coincidentally located on Los Angeles street, in Warren, Michigan, just across from Fitzgerald high school that I graduated from nearly 20 years earlier. We moved in just after Halloween and I had a month to paint the garage for the first month’s rent before the snow started.

60 Los Angeles Street Warren Michigan

Jerry DeClark was my best friend in high school and after, and we spent most every free moment together talking about life and love, until I got drafted into the army in August 1966. He was a tackle on the football team and towered over me. After I was discharged from the army in August 1968, Jerrry got married and was attending Eastern Michigan University and majored in accounting. I became a hippie and made new friends and eventually moved to Los Angeles, California. Jerry got divorced, dropped out of college a quarter away from graduation and became a millwright in a steel mill. Now he was remarried, but was still responsible for his under 18 year old daughter from his first marriage, who was attending Fitzgerald high school. Fitzgerald was now a reflection of the youth culture of the 1980’s as reflected inΒ its graffiti, Β . What the MC5 and Stooges were in 1969, the Sex Pistols were in 1985,Β .

61 Fitzgerald reduced314

I applied for different jobs, but wasn’t getting anywhere, and contacted Safety-Kleen about getting back with them, when someone mentioned that since I was a veteran and former postal employee that I had lifetime re-instatement rights. So I went to the Royal Oak, Michigan office, which controlled the 480 SCF (Sectional Center Facility) and applied for re-instatement. The Post Office was my original source of revenue when I first became independent from my parents. I was given a choice of being re-instated as a carrier, clerk or mail handler, so I chose mail handler and was assigned to the Royal Oak GMF, located in Troy, Michigan, which processed and delivered all the mail for SCF (Sectional Center Facility) 480 zip code.

62 Troy GMFedit214

I hated the Post Office, because it was so big, impersonal and military like in its operation, but after 13 years of life as an adult with a wife and 5 children to support, I now had a totally different perspective on things. Sure it was a giant machine that could care less about you as a person, but as long as you did your job, you would be rewarded with an hourly wage that allowed you to support your family and work overtime if you wanted extra. By 1986 I had all my bills paid and had enough money saved to move back to the West Coast, since we believed that Michigan was not where God wanted us to plant our family.

63 Detroit316

I applied for a transfer with the U. S. Postal Service to Sacramento, California along with Medford, Eugene, Salem and Portland, Oregon in March 1986. By April the Salem, Oregon Post Office contacted me and said that they wanted me to begin working there no later than July 1, 1986. So I began preparing for the cross country move, once again. I was a veteran cross country mover, so it didn’t even phase me, since this time we rented the largest Hertz truck that they had and was guaranteed a good job at my new destination.

64 Detroit315

While we were back in Michigan, I began to evaluate the entire 13 years that I had spent on the West Coast and where I was at now in relation to my ministry and artistic expression. In retrospect I realized that there were 3 consistent items that endured everything. They were the exploration of the spiritual dimension, music and photography. While in Michigan I discovered a new musical pied piper, who ended up impacting my life with his music as much as Bob Dylan. His name was Bruce Cockburn and I first heard of him in the Wittenburg Door back in 1980, when we first began our time of wandering in the wilderness. There was a used record store on 9 Mile Rd. near I-75 that I went to regularly to buy used albums for $3.00 each. They had almost all of Bruce Cockburn’s albums up to that time, on vinyl 33 rpm records, since CD’s were just beginning to come out.

65 Bruce Cockburn 1997 - Port, OR #10


Cockburn had been making solo albums since the early 1970’s and became a born again Christian in 1975, and his music became the way that he expressed his faith. “Lord of the Starfield’s” was his first Christian song. However, he wasn’t a gospel singer like Chuck Girard or Keith Green, but his music was very political and rich in social commentary in the tradition of the folk singers like Woodie Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs. At the same time his music was spiritually impacting, because the lyrics and melodies elicited parallel thoughts and emotions in my own life and became part of the sound track that accompanied it.

66 Bruce Cockburn 1992 - Handcolored #15

At this time I still only purchased Christian music, even though I listened to secular FM rock radio in Detroit, like WABX. Just before we moved to Salem, Oregon, Bob Dylan came to Detroit, with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers as both a co-headliner and his backup band. I purchased tickets before I found out that had to be in route to Oregon at that time. So with great disappointment I sold my ticket. I had never seen Bob Dylan in person, up to this point and thought about the concert on my 2400 mile drive across North America to Oregon. I looked at my watch as we crossed the border from Utah to Idaho at the time that the concert was to begin back in Michigan and drank in the irrigated landscape.Β

67 Bob Dylan #4

I continued to read voraciously, as I had always done and two of the most influential books from this time period were, “Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah,” by Richard Bach, whose way of thinking ran parallel to the direction I was moving in. At the same time I read “Sell and Resell Your Photographs,” by: Rohn Engh, which was a crash course in the world of stock photography. After that I began to approach photography as a journalist and began to submit my images for publication at the same time that we moved back to Oregon for the 3rd and final time.

68 Welcome To Oregon


I didn’t begin working at the post office in Salem until the 5th of July, so we had a few days to find a house to rent, move in and get settled. Many states have a city named Salem, because it comes from the Hebrew word Shalom, which means “peace, wholeness or completeness.” These were all desirable spiritual attributes, so it was with great excitement and anticipation that we started our new life in the Pacific Northwest. After 6 years of restless travel, totaling 11,000 miles from 7 different major moves we could finally rest.

69 Salem328

Of course once we were back in Oregon and it was only 1000 miles from Salem to Los Angeles, we had to take a quick trip down there to see our friends. I could drive on I-5 all the way and we actually made it back to Salem that time in only 13 1/2 hours. Our love for L.A. made it hard to leave and stay away, but at the same time we knew that we wanted a clean and wholesome environment to raise our family without having to worry about them getting shot on the way home from school. Of course that was back in the 1980’s before school shootings, even in Oregon became common. If you wait long enough, a cultural phenomenon that originates in L.A. will finally makes its way across the U.S. and into all of the cities of everyday America.

70 Pasadena Freeway off York Blvd overpass

To Be Continued








Drafted Into The Army Part One

15 Jan

Drafted Into The Army Part One

By: Bob Gersztyn

All Photography Copyright Bob Gersztyn

After I graduated from Fitzgerald high school in 1965, I got a job in the auto industry as a wood pattern maker in a non-union shop. I liked the work and took apprenticeship classes at Macomb County Community College, while I tried to get a job in a union shop that paid three times what I was making and had a draft deferment. However, before that happened, I got my draft notice and was scheduled to report for duty on Monday, August 15, 1966, at 6:45 A.M. at the Macomb County Draft Board. The songs that kept going over and over in my head were “Billy and Sue” by B.J. Thomas and “The Ballad of the Green Beret,” by Sgt. Barry Sadler.


Draft Notice


My Dad drove me down to the induction center and I joined the crowd of guys waiting on the sidewalk as buses began to park at the curb in front of the induction center. Induction center employees directed us to what bus to board and we were taken to the train station in Detroit, where we boarded a passenger train. Some of the guys, like Dan Boser and Alex Seibert that I went to school with got drafted at the same time as me. We played poker for nickels and dimes until we got to our changeover in Cincinnati, Ohio, where we boarded a train headed to Louisville, Kentucky. When we got to Louisville, there were buses waiting to take us to our final destination, Ft. Knox, where the gold depository for the USA was located. It was just featured in the latest James Bond thriller, “Goldfinger.”

We arrived at the reception center in the late afternoon and had our hair cut and were issued uniforms that we changed into before we headed to the mess hall for chow. We hadn’t eaten since we had sandwiches on the train, so we were starving and they had spaghetti and meatballs with buttered French bread and salad, with ice cream and chocolate cake for desert. After we ate our Drill Instructor (DI) told us that we would be awakened at 0400 hours for PT, before breakfast and processing. So after putting all our things away in the wall locker and foot locker next to our bunks, according to the instructions of our DI we took showers, got cleaned up and hit the sack.

53Cleanup Detail Inside


The lights came on and I heard shouting, as I opened my eyes and jumped out of bed, when the bellowing DI strode down the center aisle between the rows of double stacked bunks. By 0415 hrs. we were dressed our bunks were made up and we were assembled in formation in the street outside the barracks, along with dozens of other barracks. We began by marching in formation for about 30 minutes, until we arrived at an open area where we were instructed by the DI on a four foot high platform to space ourselves two arms lengths from each other both front and back. Then we began to do Physical Training (PT), beginning with 50 Jumping Jacks, 30 squat thrusts and 25 pushups. After repeating the cycle three times we regrouped into our original formations and began to march, until we broke into double time and then back to marching, until we finally arrived at the mess hall at 0600 hrs. for breakfast.

We spent a week in the reception center and learned and were equipped with everything that was needed by a soldier beginning basic training. On Monday the next week we were divided up into Platoons that were assigned to Basic Training E Company, 9th Battalion, under 3rd Brigade. I was assigned to 4th Platoon, which was made up of four 12 man squads, under the command of an acting corporal from out of our ranks. These were usually Regular Army (RA) volunteers, who were gung ho, rather than unenthusiastic Draftees (US). There was also an acting Sergeant, that was 2nd in command of the entire Platoon, after the DI, from our ranks.

54 Basic Platoon288


In our case it was Billy Johnson, who was the oldest member of our unit at the age of 25. He was a night club singer and just got divorced, which made him eligible for the draft, not even a year before he would have been too old, at 26. Most of us were 19 years old, but there were some 18 and even one 17 year old enlistee. They were usually either gung ho crazy or juvenile delinquents given a choice of detention or the army. Everybody was pairing up with a buddy to hang out with during any free time that we got, on the weekends. Alex Seibert and I became best friends, out of necessity and we went bowling, got drunk and argued. Alex and I both attended school together since 3rd grade at St. Marks Elementary and later Fitzgerald high school.

Each week was made up of PT, marching, classes and training in how to kill the enemy. The overweight and badly out of shape individuals had a harder time than jocks or lean construction workers and factory employees. The weekly discipline and routine left little time for anything but concentrating on graduating from basic training. However, on the weekends all hell broke loose after a half workday on Saturday. Most trainees were able to avoid confrontations with the MP’s, but occasionally there would be someone who wanted to push the envelope, but it only got them bad time in the stockade and then additional time in basic training, since they had to start all over, so it was a no win situation, but then we were a generation of rebels.


55Old Buddies


On late Sunday afternoon, September 11, 1966 my buddy Alex Seibert and I got back to our Company area after shooting a few lines of bowling and splitting a 6 pack of 16 ounce 3.2 Coors, There was a guy with a Polaroid camera asking everyone if they wanted him to take a photo of them for a buck. I always liked photos, so I gave him $1.00 and he took a photo of Alex and myself. In 2014 I posted an article about my time in the army, which included a dozen photographs that I took and were taken of me. One of them was the Polaroid of Alex and me. In December 2014 a movie studio in Atlanta, Georgia, contacted me about using the image for an upcoming Robert Di Nero film, titled “Dirty Grandpa.” . They also wanted to use two other images that were of me alone, but to use the one of Alex and me, I had to obtain a model release for the film company. With the internet it was easy to find the information that I needed and I got hold of my old buddy Alex.



56Attention #1

After 8 weeks of Basic Training I graduated somewhere in the middle of my class, but then what was the reward for being in the top of the class? Going to Ft. Polk, Louisiana for Infantry AIT and then getting shipped to Vietnam for a 13 month tour. I was assigned to the 593rd Engineering Company located at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, with a Carpenter 51B20 MOS, but I was too young and stupid to accept the gift that I was just offered.

Instead I bitched and whined that I wanted to go to airborne school, until the NCO in charge of training reassignments told me that i didn’t have enough time left and would have to at least sign up for a one year extension. To hell with that I thought, since what I knew about the army by now was enough to discourage prolonging my enlistment. Since I had been bugging the training NCO about going airborne, he thought of me when a vacancy opened up for replacing the company armorer, who was ETSing.


I jumped at the opportunity, since it meant that I would be ED (exempt from all extra duty, since it was a critical headquarters squad position. The armorer school was right on base at Ft. Sill and only lasted 3 weeks. We learned everything there was to know about 2nd echelon maintenance and repair of standard unit weapons. The weapons included 45 Caliber Colt pistols, M-14 and M-16 rifles, M-60 and 50 caliber machine guns, Bazooka, grenade and rocket launchers. We had to break down and reassemble every weapon in a time limit as part of our testing. I could take apart and reassemble a Colt 45 blindfolded in under a minute by the time that I graduated.

58Bob with M60

To Be Continued.

My Last Trip To L.A. Part Five

12 Jan

My Last Trip To L.A. Part Five

By: Bob Gersztyn

All Photography Copyright by Bob Gersztyn

41 Wittenburg Door293

One of the things that I didn’t explain in the last four earlier installments of this series was all the information that I was processing in my brain from the time that I quit all drugs and alcohol in 1971 until I had my first beer in 10 years in 1981. The reason why I think that it’s important to point out that I was as stone cold sober as a judge is expected to be, was because I was a member of a born again holiness movement in the Protestant Pentecostal church, and eventually became an ordained minister of the Foursquare church.

42 LIFE 1978(8)

The Foursquare church was at the epicenter of the Jesus movement, because its biggest churches were either Foursquare ministers like Jack Hayford or former Foursquare ministers like Chuck Smith. It was started by the most influential female minister of the 20th century, Aimee Semple McPherson. McPherson was the creator of church theatrics with here illustrated sermons that were like stage plays depicting her teachings. I knew nothing about this at the time of my conversion, but when I learned it, I saw that it was the reason why a Christianized version of rock & roll was so easily incorporated into its liturgy and as entertainment.

43 Bernie Federman Band

After I became involved with the Highland Park Neighborhood Church (HPNC) and did everything that I could to insure that my path was straight and true, I went through all my books, records and other possessions looking for anything that might cause me to stumble in my walk with the Lord. I had a record collection of over 300 albums and a library consisting of about 50 books. I either destroyed or sold my record albums, until I had about 20 left that I decided were not going to cause me to stumble. Then at the used record store I traded my albums for classical albums at a 3 for 1 exchange. I threw away all the novels, like “From Here To Eternity” by James Jones to “Sexus” by Henry Miller.

44 From Here To Eternity295

I immediately began to attend classes that were offered at HPNC and purchased the books that they were based on. I remember John Stott was a popular author and then there was Hal Lindsey, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Bob Larson and many others. Plus I was reading books about Christian heroes, like George Muller, Reese Howells and John Wesley. At the same time I was relentlessly reading the Bible from cover to cover so often that I was wearing the Bibles out and worked my way from the Jerusalem Bible, which was Catholic, to “The New King James” to the Old “King James Version” and finally the “New American Standard Version” (NASV). I spent the day working as a letter carrier for the U. S. Postal Service, and memorized scripture while I delivered my route.

45 Jerusalem Bible296

It was at that point that I enrolled in L.I.F.E. Bible college in the Echo Park District of Los Angeles, that Aimee Semple McPherson founded in the late 1920’s. I had already attended Macomb County Community College for 1 1/2 years before I began to take photography classes at Pasadena City College, until I enrolled full time at L.I.F.E. Bible college in 1975. I studied the Bible in English, Greek and Hebrew along with theology, homiletics, and classes on every book of the entire Bible. At the same time I was reading Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.


I attended Bible college while I worked on staff at HPNC, under Mark Ballard. Then after I graduated and was licensed and ordained I began to attend California State University at Los Angeles (CSULA). I wanted to get a Masters Degree in history so I could support myself as a college teacher, because I already understood that I wouldn’t be able to support my family with the ministry, unless God provided a miracle.

47 Plutarch298

So I took classes in 1979 and 1980 from Dr. Pratt and Dr. Malik, covering the Early Middle Ages, Ancient Roman History, Ancient Greek History, Ancient Egyptian History, The Alexandrian Age, New Testament History and Ancient Semitic and Ancient Mesopotamian History. was reading Plutarch, Tacitus, Marcus Aurelias, Augustine, Paul Tillich and dozens of others as well as the History of Christianity from the beginning to the Reformation.ΒΒ Β Β At the same time that I was filling my mind with all this information I was only listening to Christian music by Christian artists, unless I was in an environment that had secular music, like at the mall in a record store or sometimes on my AM radio in the car.

48 Christian History299

By the end of the 1970’s, just before I moved to Oregon for the first time, I was listening to secular music on my portable radio, in my church office. I only listened to KZLA, which was the first Easy Listening station in L.A, back in 1979. They played songs like Baker Street by Jerry Rafferty.Β or The Sultans of Swing by Dire StraitsΒ , but the final clincher that determined that it was okay to listen to was the conversion ofΒ Dylan.

49 Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan was the prophet of the 1960’s, who I abandoned on an LSD trip back in 1969, but whose influence led me to my eventual decision to follow Jesus Christ and abandon the ways of the world. Now he was born again and was walking on both sides of the aisle as his new fans embraced him and his old fans either booed him, as they had before or accepted that it was Dylan and it would only last 3 albums. He now professed his faith in Jesus Christ and was ultimately touched by the Jesus movement that he helped create. .

50 wittenburg door301

Then there was the Wittenburg Door magazine, that Diana, the church secretary and good friend gave me as a birthday present in 1979. I read each issue from cover to cover and it exploded my mind beyond anything that I had previously experienced. If Laverne Campbell, my original Pastor and major influence in Christianity endorsed it, then it must be okay. So it was with all this information being assimilated and integrated into my life that I began my Exodus journey that used the story of Jonah for its second motif. In my case, Ninevah was Oregon and my wife and children experienced my flight and tribulation with me.

51 Wittenburg Door291

To be continued.


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