A WOUNDED SOLDIER
The army was about as tough on me as the orphanage, but at least in the military service they had a good reason for being tough. It was to save your life or the lives of others in case of war, but I just could not get the hang of this army thing.
When was I ever going to get the chance to be free? All I ever wanted out of life was just to be ‘free,’ just for a little while - just one time, so I could think for myself without everyone telling me when I could or could not eat or go to the damn bathroom. I just wanted a little freedom for a while, so I could do what I wanted and learn to not be afraid anymore. Well, I made the best of it, so I thought. I kept my big mouth shut and did as I was told, just as I had always done while in the orphanages, juvenile halls, reform schools and jails.
One day, that all changed for me when I was on leave and walking around in downtown Fairbanks. I walked into the Northward Building and happened to see this girl walking out of the Alaska National Bank. She was very nice looking so jokingly; I asked her if I could buy her dinner. She laughed and told me she was very tired, because she had worked all day. I reached over, picked her up and started carrying her down the street.
"What are you doing, you crazy nut?” she yelled.
"I'm carrying you to dinner because you are tired," I said.
We ate dinner in a nice restaurant and I asked her if I could see her again sometime. She told me that she did not date "nutty people," but that she might call me sometime if I gave her my number. I returned to the base hospital where I worked as a medic in the delivery room, started doing my daily chores and did not think any more about her.
I did have a very good feeling after meeting her. After all, there were about 20 men for every woman in that town, so getting to have dinner with a pretty woman was a privilege in Alaska. Besides, I still could not believe that I had approached her, as I was always the shy type. Nevertheless, this was going to be a feeling that would be my downfall.
About an hour later, I received a message to report to Captain Hubbard's office and I did as requested. First Sergeant Vaughn told me that I had a phone call, which happened to be from the same girl that I had taken to dinner.
“Is this the nut?” she asked when I answered.
"I guess," I replied.
She laughed and we agreed to meet me the next day at the military bus stop near the pawnshop on Third Avenue. We met that next evening and I was hooked forever, so I thought. I never wanted to go back to the army base, ever again. I just wanted to be with her all the time and she was all I could think about. I had never known a woman who was that kind and gentle to me before. I did return to the base later that evening, but I could not or would not concentrate on my work. All I could think about and all that mattered then was that I had to have that warm feeling that this girl made me feel inside myself.
That is what I kept telling myself, three months later as they closed the stockade door behind me and I began serving my prison sentence consisting of "six months of hard labor" for disobeying any and all orders that were given to me. I had never worked so hard in all my life and cut down so many damn trees or chopped up so many damn logs. I guess, because they had nothing else for us to do. I will never forget walking out onto that main yard that first morning and seeing all that barbed wire on the top of the fences.
As we stood in single file, the bugle sounded and everyone stood at attention as the American flag was being raised up the pole. I raised my hand to salute the flag and another prisoner immediately pushed it away from my head. "A prisoner cannot salute the flag," he said.
I was a prisoner and prisoners were not allowed to raise their hand to the flag. That was worse than being in the stockade itself and that really hurt me way deep down inside. I did not understand why I could not salute.
"I'm still an American, even if I did do something wrong." I thought.
I did not think you could ever lose the right to be an American, but I guess I was wrong.
I was released early, because of my "good behavior." Why would I not be? Being very good at being locked up was all that I had ever known anyway. Jails, prisons and orphanages were the only homes I had ever known. When you are locked up, you just stop living and thinking and doing. You just breathe, until it is all over. Then you turn your mind back on and continued on with life.
When I walked out of the stockade, I immediately turned around and saluted the flag - the same flag that just the day before, I was forbidden to salute and it felt very, very good. I felt sort of free after being released that time, but not all the way free. Freedom doesn't work like that.
I returned to Bassett Army Hospital in Fairbanks with a whole new attitude. I was determined that I was going to show Captain Hubbard and Sergeant Vaughn just how good I could perform. I was going to show both of them that I could be a good soldier and that I could follow orders better than anyone else in the unit.
Well, that attitude didn't last very long. Right off the bat, Captain Hubbard told me what a low life I was. He said he was going to have me transferred to a brigade unit and sent off to a field unit somewhere. I told him that I had learned a good lesson while in the stockade and that I was willing to stay on the base, work hard and make something of myself. The captain made it very clear to me that all I was good for was cutting down trees and cleaning the toilets.
For the next two months I kept my mouth shut and followed every order to the tee. I cleaned toilet after toilet after toilet, just like in the orphanage and I did not complain one time. I became very upset when I was transferred off the maternity ward and made to wax the ambulances everyday. I had once again, become nothing more than a thing - just a robot walking around without a mind, just like in the orphanage.
The head nurse reported me to the major, telling him that I was always making the women patients laugh by telling them jokes and that she felt it was a bad thing to do, as many of the women had received stitches after having given birth. I really liked my job at the hospital and I love making the women laugh when bringing them their newborn babies.
I was only 17 years old and was doing a very important job, working in the delivery room, nursery and on the ward. I would help the women feed their babies, clean themselves and teach the women how to wash their breasts and nipples before feeding their babies. I never had one dirty thought, even though many of the guys at the barracks asked me about it. I told them that after a while you might as well be working at a car wash, washing cars. After a while, it was just ‘a job.’ I think the biggest part of it all, at that young age is called having respect for other people, especially for ladies.
That was the final straw for me. I once again began leaving the army base everyday after work, just like before and going back to town to see that same girl who worked at the bank, who several months later became pregnant.
Late one afternoon, I returned from downtown and walked into my room, which was located on the first floor of the barracks. As soon as I walked in, my roommate, a small guy named Curry, came running at me calling me a "son-of-a-bitch" and swinging his fists. I asked him what the hell was wrong with him, but he seemed to have gone totally crazy and was swinging wildly in every direction. I had no choice but to fight or be injured. By the time it was all over, Curry was a bloody mess, as were the walls, door and beds. There was blood everywhere.
We were both taken to the office and asked, “What the hell is going on with you two fellows?” I told the First Sergeant that I had no idea why this had occurred. I told him exactly what happened after I walked into the room and that was all I knew about the situation. Several minutes later, I was called into Captain Hubbard's office and told that I was restricted to the barracks. I was not to leave under any circumstances, not even to go to work at the hospital. The next day, I was called back into his office and told that I would be discharged within two weeks. I would be given an ‘undesirable discharge.’
Three weeks later, I was standing outside of Fort Lewis, Washington in civilian clothing holding an, ‘undesirable discharge’ in my hand - something I am very ashamed of, even to this day. I have always wondered if I really gave it my best shot or if the cards were just stacked against me. I just could not stand living in America and never being free, not even for a moment. Yet here I was, a soldier expected to die to protect freedom and honor -something I had never been allowed to feel. Boy, was I one screwed up cookie, but I did learn that none of us are ever really free, even in America. There are rules and regulations that must be adhered to by everyone for the welfare of the country as a whole. I sure wish I had known then, what I know now. Maybe I could be a little more proud of myself today.