On a springlike evening just as the sun was beginning to fall, I was on what seemed to be an old base, replete with World War II barracks that were both offices and dorm rooms for the college students. In the military you were privacy to some antiquated housing and furnishings but comparatively, the Air Force was light years ahead of other branches.
In any regard this is a reasonable facsimile of dorm life back in the 60s and 70s and some back as far as the 1950s. It is hard to imagine that our new dorms in Basic Training were the new dorms then (1974) and are the old dorms of yesteryear. Confused? Me too!
The Dorms above were those new-old dorms and the new ones today are very nice. Almost too nice. The second floor overhang is where we did PE and was also close to the Chow Hall (We called it the dining halls because we were more sophicated, lol). Anyhow, our first day was about 11PM and like in the movie ‘Stripes’ the old stodgy Sergeants had the most pleasant things to say.
While we were waiting to go into the chow hall the TIs went in for awhile, ostensibly to find good things to say to us when they got back. But all of a sudden we had two black guys in line who were dancing and clapping and changing rows. I snickered and marveled at their nerve or stupidity. I can’t believe they didn’t get caught! It was kind of like ‘Soul Train’.
And like in ‘Full Metal Jacket’, we had such great give and take with the Drill Instructors, or we called them TIs or Training Instructors in the Chair Force. The banter was light and convivial as we drank tea and did bird-watching. It was almost like we were bestest friends and most TIs wanted to adopt us because we were the finest bunch of recruits they ever saw.
Then I woke-up, and yes they (The TIs) took out their wrath on the aluminum trash cans and told us how much we stunk. I even had the pleasure of discussing facial hair and the need to shave. I had a face like a baby’s behind. I looked like the smaller end of the height scale amongst 7th or 8th graders than a new recruit. Even the foot lockers stood taller and menacing.
There were no private Jokers in our flight, instead we were all Private Pyle. With our shorn and shaved domes, we looked like Vin Diesel without the muscles. And while they were strongly encouraged not to kill us, they found other ways of making us feel like spineless-soft-bodied flesh-eating larvae in the noon day sun (maggots). I think they took a class on how to jam their cute little TI hats into our face. I still have entrance and exit wounds from those hats and dreams of reveille or the girl I used to have in upstate NY.
I never knew I had biological family and friends in basic because our Instructor told us he was family! Literally! He was our parents, our friends, family and girl friends. No wonder they were cranky at 4A.M.! After breakfast we swam along the Euphrates with 300 lbs of gear, against the flow! Okay, that might be a little stretch or maybe a war story. The war in Vietnam was coming to a conclusion and not ending well for people in the south part of that country.
As Adrian Cronauer said, “It was hot, damn hot”. With our canteens full of Perrier Water and Fig Newtons hidden in our lids (hats) even SEALS didn’t mess with us. I had a lot of freckles then and was what you youngins refer to as Gingers. So basically we were hardcore, like a bunch of newborn fetuses dressed in green, we marched or tried to, to the strains of Mozart and Tiny Tim.
One of the more fun ventures were the shots (vaccinations) that were delivered by a kind of air gun loaded with testosterone and Viagra. No wonder that trees were not safe and off-limits to us. Now I know why we had to stay off the grass.
And at night we had girls and partied late into the night. Okay, more accurately we had letters from our hot chicks (if you were lucky) and got to shine our shoes and the GI Parties were not co-ed! We learned how to wax floors and fold our underwear. Those beds were made with hospital corners and if they were not done right, the hospital was a very real possibility.
When we started molting and changing from maggots to gadflys, we were getting salty and irascible. To give us a pass meant to go watch a movie on base or go and frolick with the natives in San Antonio and watch a movie.. We took pictures and discovered four-lettered words but couldn’t use them on base or against our family (The TIs).
But all good things must end and just when we were having fun. Remember back then too many civilians hated our troops so while our facilities are better now, so is the frame of mind and the acceptance of our communities.