Drafted Into The Army Part Two

16 Feb

Drafted Into The Army Part Two
By: Bob Gersztyn
All Photography Copyright Bob Gersztyn

 

#1 593rd Engineering Company
Since I was now in headquarters platoon, I was authorized a private room that only held two double bunks, but I was the only resident for about two months, which was unheard of in the army. In April 1967, George Odell transferred into the 593rd and became my roommate. George was a weight lifter and got me to begin training with him. We became good friends and did everything together, including going to town, to a place called the Gallery, which featured folk music and beer. George was two years older than me and had been attending college with a deferment from the draft. Then his fiancΓ©` cheated on him with his best friend and he dropped out of college and welcomed the draft to take him away for a while to think and figure out what he wanted to do with the rest of his life, now that his heart was broken.

 

 
We went to the gym to train three times a week, but since George was a radio operator, sometimes he had to accompany Captain Bowman, the CO (Commanding Officer), and I worked out alone. George and I would sit around having discussions about the changing culture, religion, politics, literature and whatever else we wanted, while we drank cans of beer. He convinced me that it was okay to smoke pot, after he told me that he had at Ft. Ord, in California. He convinced me that movies like Reefer Madness that they showed in school was a complete lie. Then in July I went home to Detroit on two weeks pre scheduled leave. While I was gone, the 593rd Engineering Company was involved with war maneuvers that headquarters gave orders for. I had to train a temporary replacement to replace me in the arms room, while I was on leave.

 

 
While I was on leave and the 593rd went on maneuvers for three days there was a fatality, from live ammo getting issued rather than blanks. The 593rd was driving in a convoy, when they were ambushed by the 225th Maintenance Company. Ironically the fatality had just returned from a thirteen month tour in Vietnam a few weeks earlier, and I assigned him his weapon and gas mask. The officer in charge of the ammo was Lt. Lovelace and he was charged and brought to trail in a court martial, but was acquitted. Later our paths would cross in 9th Group.

593rd Arms Room
When I got back from leave in Michigan, riots broke out in Detroit and the entire post was on lockdown as the National Guard was activated and troops were deployed to Michigan. After the riots ended and things got back to normal, I was called to the orderly room because Captain Bowman wanted to talk to me about his gas mask. When I took over the arms room as the company armorer the inventory was short one gas mask, so Captain Bowman donated his personal mask to complete the inventory, with the condition that he would be given his mask whenever we were required to use them. This was because there were special optical inserts to replace his glasses that he wore. You can’t wear glasses with a gas mask, because it would break the seal. However, I forgot to tell my replacement and he issued the Captain’s mask to someone else who took out the optical inserts and they were now missing.

 

 
Captain Bowman told me that if I didn’t find his glasses that my ass was grass. I found my replacement and asked him what he knew. He said that he looked for the glasses, but they weren’t anywhere to be found and then his orders to Germany were cancelled. A week later I got orders to report to personnel for reassignment. When I got there the clerk told me that I was being reassigned to 9th Field Artillery and Missile Group (9th FA Msl. Gp) and was to report there immediately.

Tankersley and Herbert
When I arrived at the 9th Gp. barracks, it was one of the older cinder block buildings, like the one that the 593rd moved from, in December 1966. The First Sergeant was a jolly white haired lifer, who was just over a month short of his E.T.S.. The unit was just getting a new commanding officer, who was only a 2nd Lieutenant, ready to be promoted to 1st Lieutenant. So I transferred in on the ground floor of an evolving unit. It was August 1967, also known as the Summer of Love in San Francisco and Burn Baby Burn in Detroit and Newark.

 

 
The personnel that occupied the barracks of 9th Group were different from the ones in the 593rd. The 593rd was comprised of construction workers, while 9th Group was made up of clerks and unassigned soldiers from every M.O.S.. The barracks of the 593rd resonated with the music of Motown, Glen Campbell and the Righteous Brothers, while the windows rattled to the sounds of Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles and Bob Dylan in 9th Group. The first week that I was in 9th Group, I was approached by some of the members, who asked me if I was a head? I didn’t know what the term meant so they told me that it identified the hippie type pot smokers. I told them that I wasn’t but that I’d like to smoke pot if they had some.

Newbold and Gersztyn
9th Group only had 5 Colt 45 pistols in their arms room, so they didn’t need a full time armorer, so they used my Engineer M.O.S., which was carpenter and made me the R&U man (Repair and Utility), which is the equivalent of building maintenance. I had to build book shelves, or stands to support swamp coolers or repair broken venetian blinds and unplug plugged up sinks and toilets. Then when the mail clerk E.T.S.’d, they sent me to mail clerk school and after I passed the test, they made me the unit mail clerk as well. So for the next year, until I was finally discharged in August 1968, 9th Group was my home and I made an entirely new batch of friends.

Guys in the Barracks

To Be Continued

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