Thank you, Army, for your service

I don’t speak much about my two years in the United States Army. It’s as if, sometimes, it never existed. When, point in fact, it not only existed, it was the beginning and the ending of me.

I was having a tough time in 1972. I was skipping out on landlords. Stealing money from my parents. I had been arrested for small things a couple dozen times. All arrests were related to alcohol. No thievery or violence. Just DUIs, unpaid parking tickets, reckless driving, drunk in public. Stuff like that.

A rebel without a cause, as they say, except my rebellion wasn’t against anybody or anything that required an ounce of maturity or accountability. I was a silly, little, immature boy who liked – nay, loved – to drink. Unwilling, of course, to accept responsibility for the actions my love caused. I was not good at accepting responsibility, unless, of course, I thought it benefited me. Then, I was the first to stand up and be counted. Most of the time stealing credit from those who actually deserved it.

Otherwise: Blame others. Or, if you have to, like to the cops, blame yourself, but with mitigating circumstances; always mitigating circumstances: “Guilty, your Honor, but with an explanation.”

Anyway, I had just been fired from one of the many jobs I was way under-qualified. I was a Burn’s security guard working the graveyard shift at the old Union 76 headquarters building downtown Los Angeles.

I had no money. I was lazy, selfish, disloyal, as earlier mentioned, immature, and had a whale of a drinking problem. I was 22.

So, what does a guy like me do under those circumstances? Enlist in the United States Army, of course. Silly question. Only problem there was the Army didn’t seem to want me either. They didn’t like my few brushes with the law enforcement community in our great nation.

They did make me an offer, however. My recruiter said if I could get responsible citizens to write letters of recommendation that indicated I would be a good private in the Army, they would revisit the whole idea.

I went around doing just that. In fact, it was easy to get people to recommend to the Army to take me away for a while. Real easy. The next thing you know, I’m off to basic training at Ford Ord in Monterey. Best place in the planet to do basic, trust me.

I don’t want to bore you any more than I already have, but the Vietnam War was winding down; trying to find a way to surrender with dignity or “peace with honor,” I think the phrase was at the time. And I was almost immediately in trouble yet again while still in basic training.

Seems I got drunk one Sunday at the bowling alley and decided to tell the base commander, who I accidentally bumped into, what was wrong with This Man’s Army.

The Army doesn’t suffer fools, let me tell you, and especially snot-nosed kids with a big mouth that produces a particularly disgusting whine. This gentleman, and he was a gentleman, gave me a few suggestions that if I didn’t instantly undertake to accomplish , I would be court-marshaled and imprisoned with a rather large significant other until Jupiter became beach-front property.

That was the first in a series of lessons that only the military can dispense.

Two years later, when the Vietnam War actually ended in 1975, I was honorably discharged, even with a couple of ribbons and letters of commendation.  All you had to do to get these letters and/or ribbons was look alert, stay dressed in public, and behave with a modicum of decorum , but still, I did get them. Others got the real medals because they deserved them. I don’t mean to belittle mine, they’re dear to me. And an honor.

And not only did I receive an honorable discharge from the United States Army, I received training, and an education – graduate-level, if you please – as a paralegal, court bailiff, investigator for either the defense or the prosecutor. Yes, I worked both sides of the aisle.

Also, the Army taught me how to live.

It is a cliché, but it is so true in my case: I went in a boy and came out a man. Soon after discharge, I quit drinking for the last time. I have not had a drop since. I attended San Diego State University on the G.I. Bill. and graduated with honors.

I have been married to the same woman for the past 24 years. We’ve been together for more than 25. We have two grown sons. Both attending college, working, and doing well.

Oh, by they way, I pay my bills now on time. I act the way an adult should act, most of the time, anyway, because I am an adult.

I served in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps of the 8th Infantry Division of the United States Army from 1973-1975.  As I said at the top, it was the beginning and the ending of me. Thank you, Army.


About stevewhitmore

Former award-winning newspaperman and broadcast journalist, both radio and TV, spanning three decades. Army-trained paralegal, court bailiff and prosecutor's lead investigator for the 8th Infantry Division's Judge Advocate General's Corp., Mainz, Germany. 1973-1975.
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One Response to Thank you, Army, for your service

  1. Maria says:

    Wow…..I just ran into your story! I’m an active Army member who works with retiree’s and was looking into a thank you letter to write. All I can tell you is….be proud of service, it changed your life as it has changed all of us who have voluntarilly served our Country! Thank you for your service! 🙂

    SSG Garcia

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