Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

Just got back from the Indianapolis 500. Took over 200 photos. While sorting them I saw images of these two fine men.

While walking around the infield prior to the race there were representatives from all branches of the military. They were to be on the track prior to the start for an honors ceremony. The IMS and the city of Indianapolis go all out to honor the military during the weekend from the Saturday parade through race day and to remember the ones who have passed.

When I saw the sarge he had the appearance of a stereotypical soldier. I approached him and asked if I could take a photo. He asked why and I told him because he looked like a real soldier. He smiled and said he WAS a career soldier and a photo was fine with him. I thanked him for what he does, shook his hand. It was a lump in the throat moment.

As I walked on I came across this sailor. Again, to me he looked so much as you would expect a sailor to look with the bleach whites, the ribbons and such. It's common to see soldiers and marines here in the midwest but sailors are rare, especially officers. He seemed flattered that I would want a photo. I thanked him as well.

As a kid there was a time when every man capable of serving had to enlist for two years. My dad prepared me for it saying that everyone, even Elvis had to go into the service. It was fine to me. Travel, camping and fabulous toys to play with. Then came Vietnam. I was in high school and saw the war images on television so it all became less glamorous. Then there were anti war protests and chickensh!t lefties bashing the military, meeting them at airports spitting on them, you know, the baby killer remarks and all. It mattered to me a lot at the time. How brave men were drafted, went to fight, saw their buddies die and when they returned these azzholes disrespected them. It helped shape my appreciation and respect for them even more.

Then came my turn. In 1972 while attending an art school in Chicago but still living in Indiana I got a letter from the defense department requesting my presence at a warehouse in the west loop for my military physical. A friend and I had the same date so we went together to Hammond IN to get on a military bus to be transported downtown. At that time there was a military draft lottery. They drew birthdays and ranked the dates each year. The news media would cover the lottery and the rankings were published. I drew # 18, when I was 18 years old. If your number was under 100 you were sure to be drafted, over 100 your chances were less and if your lotto number was over 200 it was less likely one would be drafted.

Some of my friends (who had higher numbers than I did) decided to enlist in the reserves. This meant that one would be on safe, active duty in the states for two years and then serve two more years as weekend warriors with a one month duty each summer. Some enlisted in the Navy because the Navy didn't have much of a combat presence in Vietnam. I decided to take my chances. If I was drafted I was going in. The war was winding down so I figured if I was drafted by the time I had been through training my chances of seeing combat were low, at least that's what I did to convince myself of not dodging the draft or running off to Canada. Another option was to walk in and enlist. In doing so one would serve a four year term but most who enlisted spent time in Germany, Japan or Korea, avoiding combat zones. Not for me, two years would have been enough.

At the warehouse we registered and were processed. There were many colored lines painted on the floor with arrows. We were told to "follow the (insert color here) line" and proceed to the next station.

Urine tests, blood tests, hearing, eyes, they did everything. We took IQ tests, filled out forms and the ordeal took the entire day.

Some wiseguys had taken drugs and did everything they could do to fail the exams. Some talked about it openly. What they didn't know was if they failed a test they were put up in a fleabag motel on the west side, sequestered, and tested again the next day.

We got on the bus had headed back to Indiana. Two weeks later in the mail came my draft card listing me as 1-A. It appeared as if I was going into the military when the letter told me to call a phone number if I intended on being out of town for more than three days. My dad, who was a staunch conservative, told me that he would help me if I didn't want to go. His comment floored me since I knew how he would cuss out the "filthy *#!**dam*(&@" peacenik hippies" demonstrating on television. I told him thanks, but no. If they wanted me I was going and no way would I sign up for the reserves. I would take my chances. A month or so went by and President Nixon decided to end the draft, preferring to go with an all volunteer military. He earned my vote in the first election I was eligible to vote in.

To this day I always felt as if I missed out on something not being in the military. I would see reserve units driving in convoys during the summertime going on training mission and it left me with an empty feeling. I always liked camping, guns and fun toys.

To any current or former member of the military who may read this you have my total respect. Thank you for all you do.


Snakeye said...

That was an enjoyable recounting you told. Of course, I wasn't around back then and have never had to deal with a draft at all.

I tend to like the all-volunteer way, because then people are somewhat motivated to do the job (and even then you get some duds!).

Then again, you got countries like Israel where EVERYONE puts in at least 4 years into the military... even your hot super-model chicks... and they're military is renowned for the crazy offensives they pull off with success.

So who knows. But hey, for me, I dunno what I'd do if I wasn't in the military... I've always wanted it since I was like 3 (even though I have more than my share of gripes about it at times).

But thanks, Gerry - both for the shoutout and your interesting recounting of your youth.

SK8 said...

Good story, honestly told. Timing is everything, they say...

Chris from Colorado said...


How could I forget the draft lottery. I was working at Steinberg & Baum, and we had a radio station on in the stockroom, and they were announcing the birthday and numbers as they got updates. This was a heavy day. My birthday finally got announced and my number was 356. Had it been as low as yours, and other guys I knew, I would have been in the same boat as you.

From time to time, I think how as kids, we all played 'war' and had little army men and toy guns and also didn't have a clue what could be ahead for us. We just played with the toys that we asked for.

The military we have today has my total respect and I support our troops. And as you said, thank you for all you do.

Annie said...

Don't forget to support the military families, too. We daughters, sisters, wives, & moms sacrifice in a whole other way...

Good post, Gerry. Thanks for the photos. Hope you had fun at the 500.