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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFP2026WEoI and “The Ballad of the Green Beret,” by Sgt. Barry Sadler. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5WJJVSE_BE


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.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6D1nK7q2i8I

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. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_SXJ18EkNw


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.” http://www.imdb.com/media/rm2351687168/tt1860213?ref_=tt_ov_i . 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.


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