Reflections of a Veteran


Thought might occur why I didn’t write this article for publication in November’s FV edition for Veteran’s Day. I’m a veteran. Two years-nine months-fifteen days. Still capable of reciting my serial number at any given time. Perhaps followed by a “Yes Sir!!!” …Why?... Well, I’d never really given much thought to being a veteran. Only in the last year or so.

In the “60’s,” when I’d somehow attained the ripe old age of 18, I had to sign up for “the draft.” All able bodied male types. Women excluded. Requirement under law we lived with. Law requiring satisfaction before next phase of a guy’s life could begin.

1962. Age 19. Vietnam, spot on a world map. Somewhere in Far East a conflict was heating up. A political theory from John Foster Dulles’ State Department. Fly on my wall. First year of college. University of Maine, though still not prepared for next step on my learning curve after five years preparation. Read “attention deficit disorder” or just not interested in plane geometry and algebra.

Home one November weekend for long day of deer hunting and late of night partying. Just happened to discover a telephone pole on my way home. Family’s Jeep station wagon totaled. Father’s advice around 2 AM: “I think, my boy, it’s time for a life change.”

We were greeted by a gorgeous, sweeping view of the Austrian Alps. Scenery was conservatively... spectacular.

Options were limited. Get a job. Doing what? Stay in college. Grades borderline. Thought about enlisting in Navy for the photography course. Talked with a veteran friend, ex- Air Force, I’d worked with in Park Service. He said to me, “ That fourth year might be the longest you’ve ever spent in your life.” I took his advice.

Monday I paid a visit to Army Recruiting. Signed up for an obscure branch: Army Security Agency. Enlistment sergeant practically guaranteed I’d be in civilian clothes doing embassy duty. Someone’s joke. He was happy. Probably made his quota for the month.

January second. Last party, night before. Bus tickets in hand. Headed on my way to Ft. Dix, New Jersey. “Uneasy.”.. a mild description. Cross New York City at night on a subway included. Hit a bunk at Dix sometime after one AM.

Basic training was difficult for about 3 days. Keep mouth shut. Low profile. Bunk tight enough to bounce a quarter on the one issued blanket, winter or summer. Pay attention to platoon sergeant Beardsley and understand his every wish a command.

Army green. Everything except the mess kit was Army green. Camo was thankfully a known entity in my previous life. Enjoyed the outdoors and hunting. Picked along with several others as possible truck driver. First test passed, I drove while company marched. Interesting mess hall (where we dined). 10-12 minutes to load the stainless tray, sit, eat, and be out the door and back in formation. Grew up fast.

End of three months and “graduation.” Proud as I’d ever been in my entire life. Flew the “yellow bird” back to Trenton for a week’s home leave before Radio Op course at Ft. Devens, Mass. Probably did some partying but mostly enjoyed mother’s southern cooking and seeing my family in a closer way.

Beer in town or “on the economy” (off base) 15 cents a half liter. On post at the NCO club, beer was ten cents and hard liquor fifty cents. Occasional half price nights.

Ft. Devens, west of Boston was six months of learning to “zero beat” (tuning a radio signal) and learning morse code. Included of course, couple times partying in Boston, although hitchhiked home most weekends. Always wore our uniforms back and forth. Easier to get rides. Generally hitched at night. One memorable late night trip, State Troopers gave my buddy and me drop-offs from Kittery to Bangor. Dad would often pick us up in Bangor for last leg.

Nine months from Enlistment I was facing aft in a DC something or other prop plane doing all it could to make Frankfurt, Germany with a refueling and miniscule rest stop in the Azores, (wherever the hell that is). From Frankfurt, assigned to Bad Aibling bei Rosenheim, Bavaria, and an ex-German Luftwaffe Base. New home away from home. Two and a half years. Had no clue then how lucky I was nor fortunate. Most difficult part of the assignment...working shifts, and even that carried certain “bennies” (new word for my vocabulary).

Radio operator. Copying Russian and East German radio, teletype, and morse code transmissions for study by NSA (National Security Administration). “Mids, Swings, and Days.” Thirty days leave/year, two or three days off, however the “week” fell. Compensatory time for having to work shifts. More days off if we had extra men on the roster. Usually the case. And, “ Allied Section Europe” our playground. A guy on our shift engineered time off to fly back to “the states.” No leave. Stayed 2 weeks. No one missed him. We signed Richard, later known as “Tricky Dick”, in ...or out... whenever situation required.

Coming out of Ops, especially in the morning, we were greeted by a gorgeous, sweeping view of the Austrian Alps. Scenery was conservatively... spectacular.

We stood our watches, did our duty, however simple, saluted officers, saluted the lowering of the colors, learned patriotism. There when President Kennedy was assassinated. Kept on “High Alert” and wondered would life ever be the same.

Occasionally we were thanked by the French, Belgians, Dutch, and surprisingly Bavarian Germans as well. Learned with pride what it is to be an American. And yes, we played and partied hard. Beer in town or “on the economy” (off base) 15 cents a half liter. On post at the NCO club, beer was ten cents and hard liquor fifty cents. Occasional half price nights.

Overseas pay was an extra $8, base $48/month. Survivability. Difficult to save, so I worked as well: tending bar, cutting hair (saving my buddies from skin jobs at the on-post “barbershop”). Also smuggled and sold, as many did, cigarettes, peanut butter, Listerine, anything for cash from the PX. Cigarettes were a dollar fifty/carton. In Austria sold for ten dollars. Time, they’d be passed along their route to the “Iron Curtain”, $24/carton.

“Ungloeblich” Unbelievable tour. Had a “warm bed ski apartment in Kitzbuhel. I married the cutest Austrian girl imaginable. Mother and Dad came over and we circum-naved Europe for a month. Skiied and traveled any free time off, then had to pay for 15 days “extra leave” when I mustered out... $1.50/day. Bought a 50’s vintage VW for $200 when I got there. Sold it later for $200, having left a trail of oil over various roads of Europe. Motor oil was also inexpensive.

Yes, I am a veteran. I served the greatest experiment the world has ever known and I am... very proud to be a veteran. I was one of the lucky to have missed Vietnam. My generation’s war. Would that my children and others could know this feeling and respect today. Best decision I ever made.

• R E C I P E •



Very handy to keep frozen for the holidays and those “Oh Jeez” moments.

2 T. Dijon-style mustard
2 C. Chicken Broth
3 oz. Blanched almonds (slivered and lt. toasted)
6 T. Dry white wine or vermouth
2 T. Butter
2 T. Sherry
1/4-1/2 Cup Heavy Cream
3 T. Shallots (minced)
Salt and white pepper to taste

First melt butter in a sauce pan and saute’ shallots until tender. Stir in white wine and reduce until it forms a glaze...about 2 minutes. Add broth and reduce by half. Stir in remaining ingredients, and bring to a boil. Taste and adjust seasonings. Can be prepared up to a week ahead or frozen up to six months. Serve in a chafing dish and dunk cooked cauliflower, pork or seafood. Fabulous with pork, poultry, beef or veal for an entree sauce.