Chapter 2
Army Life

The draft had been hanging over my head all through college because educational deferments ended upon graduation and the Vietnam war continued to rage. That dark cloud intensified through the summer and fall of 1969 even while I was having a great time with the job and co-workers at Levy's. There was a glimmer of hope because a new draft lottery system was scheduled to begin in January, 1970. Numbers were assigned to all potential draftees based on shuffled birthdates. My number was in the 300's and was very unlikely to be called. Destiny had other plans, however, and I was among the last to be drafted under the old rules just a month before the new system was put in place.

When it was time to go, I gathered with about 20 other guys on a cold, December 3 morning at a recruiting station in Tucson to be bussed to a station in Phoenix. There, we merged with another group from the Phoenix area and spent the day being given physical exams and the AFQT (Armed Forces Qualifying Test), the military version of an IQ test. A few guys were rejected for medical, criminal or mental deficiencies. My very thin, light body didn't deter the medical officer when I pointed out that my height to weight ratio wasn't even on his charts. "You'll put on 20 lbs. in boot camp," he said (that never happened).

Unfortuately, my AFQT score was the highest in the group, so I was handed a large folder containing all our records and told it was my responsibility to safeguard them and get all the men on the plane. A bus soon pulled up to take us to the Phoenix Sky Harbor airport. Upon arrival, the guys took off in different directions to various parts of the airport. I went to the nearest bar for a beer and pondered how to gather the scattered herd. The solution that arose was to have "the group of draftees going to Ft. Lewis" paged when it was nearing time to board. It worked. Everyone showed up on time at the right gate and we were off to become soldiers.


Fort Lewis

 

Late that night we landed at SeaTac airport between Seattle and Tacoma, Washington. A military bus was waiting to take us to Ft. Lewis for processing into basic training, or "boot camp".

Those first few days included a severe haircut, the issuance of military fatigues, boots, bedding, barracks assignments and a barrage of aptitude tests. This was not my happiest time. At first, we all seemed to look alike. I was so tense that I couldn't crap for a week. I wanted nothing to do with the military and rejected offers to enter Officers Candidate School.

The goal was to be inconspicuous, survive, do my time and get out. Still, an opportunity for creative work came up when the company commander summoned me to his office to ask for advice on how to dress up the post's chapel. I suggested a simulated stained glass window that could be done with transparent paints and leading-in-a-tube.

That led to a pleasant car trip with him to an arts and crafts store in Seattle for supplies. I remember the drive to and from the store through lush, misty forests. I thought, "Gosh, I could really enjoy living here under different circumstances." The project provided a few days of welcome relief from marching and crawling in the rain and mud.

As boot camp wound down we were given a variety of options for the next phase of training. One of those caught my attention—the Defense Information School (DINFOS), where military journalists and broadcasters were trained. The Army would only guarantee assignment to the school if I signed up for an additional year of service, otherwise, they warned, it was a coin toss and I could end up in the infantry, a typical recruiting ploy. I wanted into the school, took the extra year and my status changed from US (drafted) to RA (enlisted). One of my fellow draftees applied without the extra commitment and got in anyhow. He was a gambler.


DINFOS

On March 2, 1970, a group of us arrived at the school in Ft. Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, near Indianapolis. It was a refreshing change from boot camp—a college-like environment with men's and women's dormitories, a large cafeteria (mess hall) and classroom buildings on a compact, tidy campus. A certain level of aptitude test scores was required to qualify for the school, and I found myself thrown together with bright, talented guys from all over the country and various branches of the military. I was no longer the smartest guy in the room. Many, like me, had been drafted soon after college. We also had a few people from the Vietnam military.

Classes began immediately. The first two weeks for everyone included basic journalism and film production classes. We learned how to gather and write news stories and features, and how to conduct, film and edit interviews. The training included splicing together 16mm footage as well as audio recording, editing and dubbing.

After that were two areas of focus—print journalism and radio/tv broadcast journalism. Students had to audition in front of the faculty to be accepted into the radio/tv area. I set inhibitions aside to ham it up at the microphone for the audition. When the laughter subsided they told me I was in.

For the next several weeks we mixed more journalism classes with hands-on training in small state-of-the-art radio and television studios. We rotated through each position every day—from on-air announcer to different cameras to stage director to audio to booth director, etc. There were a total of 11 positions in the television studio and a few in the less complex radio studios. We compiled and wrote our own newscasts from the wire services just as was done in commercial stations. Our programs were broadcast throughout the post as the official news and features just as they would be when we graduated to become, in theory, members of the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS). Although equipment has evolved dramatically since then, the fundamentals of the process remain.

Two notable events for me at DINFOS

First: On May 4, 1970, while I was retrieving news from the wire services to put together my television newscast, reports of the infamous Kent State shootings came through. I stood dumbfounded. I could have been among the students being shot. I could have been among the soldiers doing the shooting. I gathered the stories and broadcast them to the school. At first my classmates thought it was a hoax. As I struggled to keep my composure on camera and continued to read, everyone in the studio realized that this was, indeed, a real event.

Secondly: The finale for us was to create original features for both radio and television, then broadcast them for all to evaluate. I did not have a great touch as a DJ, and managed to stumble through a lackluster, at best, country music radio show with a passing grade. Television was another story. Inspired, I wrote and created graphics for "The Egg"

These are the only existing graphics from the production. The only human presence in the feature was an extreme close-up of the mouth of the announcer, John Elerick, as he read the script. Videotape technology was still expensive and unwieldy at that time and, although our features were taped, my request for a copy was denied.

egg03......egg 01.....egg04......

We had to direct the entire student crew to put our feature on the air. We pulled mine off after a few false starts thanks to guidance and encouragement from the faculty members at my side in the director's booth. The instructors said it was unlike anything done in these classes.

DINFOS was a valuable and memorable experience for me. I can still watch newscasts with special insight about what is going on behind the scenes, especially in the director's booth.

Note from the future:

In 2013, I revisited this idea and made the sketches below to expand on it:

.......

Ecocapsule

Then, this morning, 27May2015, there was a story in the Huffington Post about an "Ecocapsule" that bears a remarkable resemblance to my sketches. As the entire idea became reinvigorated, a follow-up video, The Egg 2, was produced in December, 2015.

The digital revolution now enables a graphic artist to create much more refined productions with a computer work station than I could possibly imagine in 1970.

 


Fort Hood

I graduated from DINFOS, and on May 13, 1970 was on my way to a new assignment at Fort Hood, Texas, along with classmate and good friend, David Mitchell. After a few days of hanging out in a replacement company we were given clerk/typist assignments in different units on the base. Neither of us had the opportunity to work as broadcasters because those choice positions were filled. I was assigned to a department called G-3, the intelligence unit for the 2nd Armored Division.

My job was to help officers prepare staff reports to present to the General. I was given a security clearance so that I could work on documents with various security ratings. The head of the office, Colonel Johnson, was intrigued by my art background. We had many conversations and he shared insights about the military way of life and mind set.

I lived on the 2nd floor of a WWII-vintage barracks along with 20 other guys. There was no privacy. Each floor had a large, multiple shower/ toilet room without stalls or curtains. Toilets were positioned side by side along one wall and shower heads along the other. The buildings were firetraps that could burn to the ground in a few minutes. Some did. I didn't care for barracks life.

I spent a lot of time painting at the crafts facility on the base. That work included a self-portrait, an imaginary scene, "Wading Woman", and a portrait of Judy Mitchell, David's wife. Judy's painting was entered in a traveling military art exhibit and was never returned. I was told it had been given some kind of award. I had promised the painting to David and Judy, so we were disappointed that it had vanished, and no photo of it exists as far as I know. The self-portrait, however, I kept. "Wading Woman" was given to Nick and Livvy McMahill. Nick was my coworker in G-3. We became very good friends and I would often visit them at their off-base home on weekends and holidays.

Self-Portrait

Wading Woman

Early in 1971, I received orders for reassignment to Vietnam. Colonel Johnson offered to use his connections to have the orders rescinded. I declined. I was ready for a new adventure, and the assignment was to the AFRTS facility in Saigon to serve as a broadcast journalist. I talked with a guy who had just returned from the same assignment. He told me to take my golf clubs. I was actually more interested in seeing and reporting first hand what was going on in Vietnam than I was in partying. Besides, I wasn't a great golfer.

 


Goodbye Vietnam

I processed out of Ft. Hood on March 15, 1971, and had two weeks of leave in Tucson before going overseas. While playing flag football with my brother Mickey and a group of his friends, I slipped and landed on my left shoulder. I heard a crack and knew that the clavicle had fractured. I was certain because it had broken ten years earlier while playing flag football in a junior high physical education class.

Mickey took me to the military hospital at Davis Monthan Air Force Base on the outskirts of Tucson where x-rays confirmed the injury. I made a silent vow to avoid contact sports in the future. My Vietnam orders were canceled and I was reassigned to the medical hold unit at Ft. Huachuca, an army base southeast of Tucson. While there, I was given a job in the hospital personnel office as a clerk until the shoulder healed.

The self portrait done at Ft. Hood came back to Tucson with me. I entered it in "The First Four Corners States Biennial of Painting and Sculpture"at the Phoenix Art Museum in May, and it won a purchase prize. The Thunderbird Bank bought it and I never saw it again.

The people in the Ft. Huachuca hospital wanted to keep me working in their office because of my clerical experience in G-3. By then I was growing weary of military life and liked the idea of finishing my service near home. Those plans were thwarted when a directive came from higher headquarters to curtail the tendency of medical companies to grab people from medical hold for their own use. Instead of remaining there, I was reassigned to the Hospital Company at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky. Once again I was given 2 weeks leave between assignments.

On the way to Kentucky I stopped to visit Nick and Livvy in Grand Junction, Colorado. Nick was an accomplished musician. We had many stoned discussions about the similarities between music and painting and we kept in touch after his discharge the year before. I produced a whimsical painting during my stay.

From Grand Junction I drove to Kansas City to visit Annie Andre, a classmate from the University of Arizona. She lived there with Bill, her husband. Annie had been hired by Hallmark Cards and was a rising star. She took me on a tour of the extensive and impressive facility where I saw other former classmates at work, including Gayle Lelo. We had all interviewed with Hallmark while in school. They liked my portfolio, but said my draft status was a problem. New artists go through an extensive training program and they were reluctant to invest in people who might soon be snatched away.


Fort Campbell

I arrived at Ft. Campbell on June 30, 1971. I was a day late but convinced a skeptical Captain that a day of grace was allowed when coming off leave. They assigned me to the personnel office of the Hospital Company where I became the morning report clerk. I was responsible for submitting a report, called DA form 1, by 10 a.m. every morning. It recorded any change of status to any of the personnel assigned to each company or unit and was forwarded to Washington, DC. I prepared reports for Hospital Company officers as well as enlisted men, a WAC (Women's Army Corps) company, and a few smaller attached medical units.

The post had a very fine crafts facility where I spent a lot of free time. The civilian art teacher and coordinator, Roger Evans, provided an abundance of supplies and aid as I continued to paint. He was a gregarious, hard-drinking guy, and once took a group of us to see a live performance of "Jesus Christ Super Star" in Nashville. We also went on excursions throughout the back hills of Kentucky and Tennessee to find examples of folk art. Unfortuately, photos from those adventures are lost.

This painting,"Creatures",won best of show at an exhibit in Kentucky.

I sometimes did charcoal portraits for co-workers

...

 

This image was inspired by the moody colors of the Kentucky forests.

This came right out of the imagination

Some of us lived off-post. This guy was a trailer-mate for awhile.

This was an impression of the Nashville County Fair

The Vietnam war was winding down in 1972 and I was released from active military duty in early September, three months before my three-year commitment was originally supposed to end. I processed out of Ft. Campbell and headed to Bastrop, Texas to visit David and Judy. They weren't home and, according to a note on the door, wouldn't be back for several days. I was restless and didn't want to hang out in Bastrop so kept driving and landed in Denver two days later.

Nick was there with a band he had formed with another of our Army pals, Louis "Toby", then "Quinn" Latham, and a few other musicians from the Denver area. They had just returned from a road trip and were trying to find local gigs. I helped them with silk-screened posters and rented recording equipment to produce a demo tape. Soon, friction in the band escalated, their music suffered, and a month or so after my arrival they were splitting up. In October I left Denver and returned to Tucson.

 

Go to previous
Go to next