Written by Steve Flaugher
In 1965, me and most of the guys from my graduating class, went to Cincinnati to take a physical for the draft. We were a group of young, cocky kids participating in a rite of passage that back then was the norm for young men living in the United States. When we were finished, the Officer in charge told us to enjoy our summer because next summer we would be in a military uniform.
Well the next summer came around and so did a letter from Uncle Sam. I was to report to the Federal Building in downtown Cincinnati on August 28, 1966. I had been officially drafted into the U.S. Army. My best friend Harold had received the same letter
There we were, two best friends, two brand new soldiers, headed for Fort Jackson, South Carolina. We were proud and so were our classmates. Not a single one of us even considered running to Canada. We were willing to do our part for the country we loved.
We were driven by bus to the Greater Cincinnati Airport. None of us had ever been on an airplane and the excitement was evident. We arrived at Fort Jackson where we were housed in a big tent. Three days later, we were sent to a basic training company, D82.
Introductions were made to our company commander and a first sergeant. I’ll never forget that first sergeant. Sergeant Pacheco was from Puerto Rico and his favorite thing to say was “I’ll be a son of a bitch.”
Harold and I were split up. I was placed in the first platoon and Harold was in the second platoon. It was now time to meet our platoon sergeants, E6 O’Dell and E5 Whitmill. Sergeant O’Dell was always yelling at us to do this or do that. No matter how hard we tried, he was never satisfied. On the other hand, Sergeant Whitmill was just the opposite. He was laid-back and easy-going. I guess if I had been in the Army as long as he had and only achieved the rank E5, I’d probably be laid back too.
We quickly learned our daily routine. Every morning it was the same thing; go to formation then get some chow then get in formation again and get ready to run a couple of miles. You better not jump out of formation on a run or you could be sure there would be a Sergeant ready to put a boot in your butt. You could also be sure those two Sergeants were carefully keeping track of which recruit needed to start basic training all over again. No one wanted to be that guy.
It must have been about the third week of basic training on one of our morning runs, that I saw the bowling alley. Well, me and Harold liked to bowl, so that evening after chow, I went over to the second platoon to see Harold. I asked if he was up to bowling a few games. Harold liked the idea and so to the bowling alley we went. Since no one told us we couldn’t go, we were pretty sure it was all right.
We discovered that the bowling was cheap plus there was a bonus: cheap, cold beer! Harold and I were feeling rather good and thought maybe this Army thing wasn’t going to be so bad after all. After a couple games of bowling and a few too many beers, we made it back to the company area just in time for headcount. After three or four nights of bowling, we found out that we were not allowed to leave the company area.
The days ran one into another. They were filled with endless orders: polish your boots, keep your footlocker clean, run five miles, exercise and exercise some more, clean your barracks and stay out of trouble.
At the beginning of week five, at the morning formation, Sergeant O’Dell was missing. He had completely lost his voice from yelling at us so much. Now Sergeant Whitmill was in charge of barking out the endless stream of orders. Our days were filled with cleaning the barracks, attending all formations, shining our boots, cleaning our M-14, qualifying on the rifle range, learning about night vision, learning your general orders, and learning your chain of command. You never wanted to forget the chain of command!
Finally, it was the day of graduation from basic. I was very proud I had completed my basic training and I was soldier in the U.S. Army. I had orders to go to Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland while Harold was sent to advanced infantry training. We each followed a different path in the Army and didn’t see each other again until we were out of the service. Both of us were sent to Vietnam and thankfully we both came home alive.
Mixed in with all the memories we have of our time in the Army, are the memories of Fort Jackson, Sergeant O’Dell, a bowling alley and cold, cheap beer.