Mr. Wheatley is a fucker.
I met with the principal, who was young and ambitious and taking command of a new facility in the inner city. It was at the height of the civil rights movement in the city and he knew this was a great opportunity for him and his career. As far as he was concerned, because I had taught in Africa for two years, I was exactly what he needed, and I could do anything.
What I did not know, and he did not share with me, was that the Special Education position he was assigning me meant, at that time, a class of students who did not fit mainly for discipline problems in the other classes.
What he did not know, and I did not know, was that that teaching in Northern Nigeria had spoiled me for what was in store for me as a teacher in America.
Mr. Wheatley is a fucker.
It was scrawled in an awkward print on the black board of my classroom. At least the spelling and grammar were correct so I must have been doing something right, I thought at the time.
They also serve . . . who serve
Having completed my contract for the 196566 academic year in Tacoma and having received an offer to renew it and extend my deferment, I decided that teaching, at least based on my experience in Tacoma, was not for me.
For some time it had bothered me that it seemed like only the under-privileged could not get deferments, and were being sent to Vietnam. So that summer I volunteered for the draft. I took someone elses place.
I completed basic training at Fort Lewis, Washington in December of 1966, and, because of myopia, was assigned to the Signal Corps. The Signal Corps, not the infantry! What luck!
In the Signal Corps
This is as far as the trucks go, someone called out.
The other Signal Corps recruits and I jumped out of the back of the two-and-a-half-ton trucks deuce and halfs as we called them onto the rocky dry creek bed that led up into the piney woods of the Superstition Mountains that framed the distant horizon from our base at Fort Huachuca, Arizona.
We got into yet another formation and met our new section chief, a Special Forces Sergeant. We were now guerillas in the Country of Arizan, which was friendly to the United States, and which was being invaded by troops from a hostile nation to the north. We were sworn in and given headbands with the letters ALA printed on them. Considering my background it was ironic, but far from being devout followers of Allah, we were now soldiers in the Arizan Liberation Army.
Our job for the next month was to work with a Special Forces A team. A twelve-man elite Army unit that parachuted in the darkness to the Landing Zone where we held flashlights pointed toward the C-130 Hercules. We were going back to school and the forest would be our classroom. Sticks, pinecones and pieces of string were our visual aids. Our vocabularies were supplemented with new terms like D-Z, (Drop Zone) time on target, recon patrol and counter insurgents. We learned how to set up ambushes, how to practice field medicine, how to move tactically and how to live off the land. This was the Signal Corps!
With Charlie Company at Chu Lai
When I volunteered for the draft I knew that I would be sent to Vietnam, and nine months later I arrived at Chu Lai in July of 1967. It was then I learned that my unit, Charlie Company, 37th Signal Battalion, 1st Signal Brigade had been assigned to the Marine Corps Division that was operating in the area. I was a Communications Specialist.
Imagine a beautiful beach, a stretch of one lane highway, then a few acres of sand that edged up to a triple canopy forest. Thats all you could see unless you looked closer for the spider hole in the sandy area that served as our entry and exit; other than that there was no evidence of our presence. Once inside the spider hole you entered a state of the art (for that time) communications and command center. As such we were a vital communications link and target. We were in constant peril of being overrun. At night mortars and Russian-made 122 mm rockets would shell us, and trip flares would go off indicating that someone was in the perimeter or was it a cow? Nearby almost an entire Company of the 173rd Airborne Division had been wiped out in an ambush.
But our ace in the hole was the Spooky Ships that we could call in if we were being overrun. Their gattling guns would make a high-pitched whine and fire would come from the sky. No one inside a football-sized field could survive their fire.
The Peace Corps & War Corps
There was one shining moment at Chu Lai when the goals of the Peace Corps and War Corps came together, at least for me. Three of us soldiers were taking a walk in the sun patrolling Chu Lai beach. We entered a small shack that had a sign Cold Cokes. Just then we saw a man throw a Vietnamese woman across the room, and jump over the makeshift bar to pummel her more.
Stop it, we ordered.
She Viet Cong, she Viet Cong! She must die, said the uniformed Asian man who was throttling her.
Leave her alone, we demanded. He gave us a defiant look, but there were three of us with weapons. He left the shack cursing us. Maybe she was Viet Cong. I will never know, but I am still forever grateful that we intervened.