National Guard Camp

 

Every Memorial Day, I feel a twinge of guilt. High school and college deferments, plus a high lottery number, kept me out of harm’s way at a time when 648,500 guys my age were drafted and sent to Southeast Asia. Draftees accounted for 25% of the troops in country and 30.4% of the combat deaths in Vietnam.

National Guard Camp

In 1975, I talked my boss at The Palm Beach Post into letting me do a story on the local West Palm Beach National Guard unit’s summer training camping at Camp Blanding, Florida. I wanted 10 days; he said he could only spare me for five, and that I’d have to do it on the cheap. That was hurdle one.

The  company commander said he’d have to clear it with the Higher Ups, but they’d love the coverage. I could ride up in the convoy and catch a ride back with someone who needed to come back to town about the time I did. That was hurdle two.

I explained in an earlier story that two days before we were going to leave, I got a call from the Master Sergeant saying that I could go to the camp, but that I couldn’t ride in the convoy. I’d have to go POV (Privately Owned Vehicle). That was going to nix the story because of expenses. You’ll have to read this story to see me in uniform and hear how I got to ride in the convoy.

Long-haired guardsmen

Several of the men in the unit wore wigs to cover up their long civilian hair.

The Mobile Riverine Force Association has lots of interesting information on the war. The MRFA site says that only 6,140 National Guardsmen saw duty in Vietnam, out of 2,594,000 personnel who served within the borders of the country between 1965 and 1973 (101 died).

Mixture of ages

The unit had a mix of ages, ranging from college boys to men sporting gray hair. One man wore jump wings on his cap and sported tattoos on his arms listing almost every major battle in the Pacific during World War II. All of the guys took the field exercises seriously, but you could look at the way some of the guys moved through the palmetto bushes and be pretty sure this wasn’t their first time in a jungle.

Other Memorial Day and memorial stories

Photo gallery of National Guard portraits

One of these days I’ll publish more general shots of life in the camp. For Memorial Day, though, I decided to concentrate on portraits of the guys. I’m pretty pleased with some of them. Of course, it’s a lot easier to play combat photographer when there’s no danger of getting shot. Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side of the image to move through the gallery.

Draft Cards

I ran across a box with a bunch of my old press cards and other credentials. Stapled together was a stack of my old Draft Cards. I wrote earlier about my first meeting with Lola B. Gilbert when I went to register for the Draft. I’m pretty sure I didn’t make a good impression.

For those of you who have forgotten or were female or who are too young to remember the Selective Service, the most important thing on the card was the two or three letters that showed up at the end of the line, “is classified in Class ______.”

Draft Classifications

  • 1SH – My first classification. Student deferred by statute (High School). Induction can be deferred either until graduation or until reaching the age of 20. (As soon as you took an educational deferment, your eligibility was extended to age 35. That sounded like forever. You’d be in a wheelchair by that time, you thought.)
  • 2S – Registrant deferred because of collegiate study. Deferment lasted either until graduation or until the registrant reached the age of 24.
  • 1A – The next letter would be to schedule your draft physical. Depending on what happened there, you could get a letter that started out “Greetings” from the President of the United States telling you that you were the lucky recipient of an all-expenses-paid vacation in Southeast Asia.

1Y and 4F cards are missing

Two critical cards are kicking around, but weren’t with these.

After I showed up at my draft physical with a note from a doctor, I was given a temporary 1Y classification. That meant that I was available for military service, but qualified only in case of war or national emergency. It was usually given to registrants with medical conditions that were limiting, but not disabling. (My doctor said I had a possible ulcer and was being treated.)

(I used to repeat the old joke that I held a 4P classification: in case of war, I was a hostage.)

Before I was called back for a follow-up physical, the first Draft Lottery was held in 1969. For once, I held the winning ticket. My birth date was drawn as Number 258, which all but assured that I wouldn’t be called.

The board, recognizing that, classified me as 4F. At least, I HOPE that’s why. The 4F classification had carried some stigma because it meant that you didn’t meet established physical, mental or moral standards.

Me and the National Guard

I eventually ended up in uniform, anyway.

I wanted to do a story on the local guard unit going to Camp Blanding for summer training. The company commander gave me his blessing and I thought I was all set. A couple days before we were to leave, however, I got a call from the Master Sergeant, who said that the Higher Ups ruled that I couldn’t ride in the convoy. I’d have to get there POV (privately owned vehicle).

“We can work it out”

West Palm Beach National Guard unit at Camp Blanding summer campI expressed disappointment. That’s when I learned that there’s The Brass, and then there’s the guys who get ‘er done.

He said, “I’ve got it all worked out. Come on by and get fitted for a uniform. You’ll look like everybody else. Nobody’ll know.”

“Sarge, I worked really hard to NOT wear a uniform. I REALLY don’t want to wear a prison uniform. How much trouble can I get into if I’m caught?”

“Don’t worry. You won’t get caught.”

So, I showed up, drew my uniform and an instant promotion to E6. “That’s high enough that nobody will mess with you, but not so high somebody will salute you and get you all confused,” he explained.

As soon as the jeep stopped rolling, I jumped back into civvies for the rest of the week. I DID get to keep everything but the helmet, though.

Click here to see photos from National Guard camp. There are a few I really like.

H&H Building, Draft Board and Dentist

I don’t have a whole lot of pleasant memories of the Himmelberger & Harrison Building – better known to natives as the H & H Building.

When I was about six, I needed to have a cavity filled. It was my first visit to a dentist’s office. I don’t remember the dentist’s name nor exactly where his office was in the H & H Building. What I do know is that he wasn’t anything like the dentists we go to these days with their high-speed, water-cooled drills, their pain blockers and soothing music.

This guy, I swear, used a drill that had to have been foot-powered like an old-fashioned treadle sewing machine. It wasn’t a drill so much as a jackhammer.

To this day I am dental-phobic. I’m so rigid, that the only thing that touches the chair is the back of my head and my heels. I even tense up in a barber chair because it reminds me of the ordeal.

A visit to the Cape Convention & Visitors Bureau

While I was in town this spring, I stopped by the H & H Building to see if the Cape Convention & Visitors Bureau would be interested in buying an ad on CapeCentralHigh. What would be a better fit than a blog getting Boomers all excited about coming back to Cape for high school reunions?

It was a very nice visit, but I walked out empty-handed. Well, truth be told, I came out worse than empty-handed. I offered to run a free ad for the Story-Telling Festival to show how well we could drive traffic to their site and I bought a T-shirt from them.

South East Missouri Trust Co

While wandering around their office, I spotted a cool old safe in the corner left over from when the office was the South East Missouri Trust Co. That’s the third safe I’ve discovered in Cape left over from the 20s and 30s.

Yale Time Lock was cleaned and guaranteed

This one still had stickers dating back to pre-Depression days guaranteeing the Yale Time Lock had been properly cleaned and serviced.

After I left the office, I shot a few more pictures of the lobby area.

Staircase led to the Draft Board

I remember that staircase. I walked up it to register with the Draft Board when I turned 18. I didn’t get off to a good start with Draft Clerk Miss Lolla B. Gilbert. I guess I should back up to explain that I have lousy handwriting. Despite my Dad’s best efforts, my cursive was illegible. I got in the habit of printing anything I wanted to read, and even that was a struggle to decipher.

When I had finished filling out part of the paperwork, Miss Gilbert grabbed it and said in an offended tone, “You PRINTED. You were supposed to sign.”

Not wanting to make her any more distressed, I picked up the form and scrawled my signature.

Even more offended now, she said, “I can’t read that.”

“Mam, that’s why I printed it.”

“You didn’t list any scars”

I won’t say she was exactly mollified, but she didn’t say anything else until she got down to the bottom of the form. “You didn’t list any distinguishing marks or scars.”

I guess I had a lucky childhood, because I had escaped any disfiguring injures, so far as I could recall. The silence grew between us.

Finally, inspiration struck. “I cut my finger once,” I said hopefully.

“Where? Show me.”

The mailbox where she mailed the letter

And then, as I curled the middle finger of my left hand to show her the cut, I hoped that she would take the gesture in the spirit in which it was intended.

I’ve often wondered if Miss Gilbert had an evil grin on her face when she sent me the letter to report for the draft physical that would have given me an all-expense-paid vacation to beautiful Southeast Asia, had I not come in Number 258 in the 1969 Draft Lottery.

Historical side note: The Southeast Missourian ran a story about the two 19-year-olds who were at the ends of the spectrum when birthdates were drawn in the Dec. 1, 1969, Draft Lottery. Gary Wayne Hurt, 1030 West Cape Rock Dr., was born April 24, the second date selected in the lottery.

Lonnie Lee Brockmire, 1826 Woodlawn, celebrates his birthday on Feb. 26, the second to last date drawn. If you’d like to look up what your Draft Lottery number was, follow this link to the list in The Missourian.

If you’d like to see what the H & H Building looked like in 1966, it shows up in the background of a fender-bender in this post.

Photo Gallery from H & H Building

Here are some additional photos from the H & H Building. Click on any picture to make it larger, then click on the left or right side to move through the gallery.

Copyright © Ken Steinhoff. All rights reserved.