In 1969, the United States drafted 283,586 young men into military service. I was one of them. I remember receiving a letter that started out with, “Greetings from the President of the United States.” It went on to provide a date to report for my pre-induction physical. In our area, we were ordered to report to a building in downtown L.A. I passed the physical requirements so the waiting began. In 1969, the U.S. Marines needed recruits. I was told the process went something like this, ” Every third man step forward! You are now in the U.S. Marine Corps!” At the time, that didn’t seem like something I wanted to happen.
So, I decided to join the Army through the Delay Entry Program to become a radio teletype operator. I went through a series of tests, one of which was the Morse Code test. I remember being the only male in the room being tested. Apparently, they were headed for jobs other than being radio operators.
I was sworn in and ordered to report on August 26, 1969, at the same downtown L.A. office to begin my service. I found out I was being sent to basic training at Ft. Bliss (El Paso), Texas. Most Californians were sent to Ft. Ord near Monterey. When I arrived at Ft. Bliss, we spent a week waiting for our Basic Training to begin.
Basic Training was a life changing experience. It took us from being civilians to trained basic infantry soldiers in 8 weeks. They did this through training, lots of physical conditioning, and a dose of intimidation. I graduated from Basic Training on Halloween, October 31, 1969.
After Basic, I was transferred to Ft. Huachuca (Sierra Vista), Arizona to attend the High Speed Radio Telegraph school. Since I was already a ham radio operator, I passed the Morse Code requirements before school actually started. I was able to do this during additional practice sessions held on Saturdays. Most of the students didn’t know Morse Code so they found the learning process challenging. I believe the training lasted 10 weeks, and I think the Morse Code requirement was to be able to send and receive messages at 15 words a minute. The final test was to receive our recorded sending.
Besides Morse Code, we were trained on proper message handling, radio operation and maintenance, and about antenna systems.
I did very well in the school, and almost became an instructor at the school. I am glad I didn’t, because the Army closed the school soon after I graduated.
My next duty station was at Ft. Gordon (Augusta), Georgia to attend the Radio Teletype Operator School. There we learned to operate truck mounted radio equipment, erect antennas, and handle teletype and voice messages. I also did very well in that school and was promoted to the rank of Specialist 4 (E-4).
After completing my training at Ft. Gordon, I took a 30 day leave and visited home before shipping out to my next duty station in South Korea. I was assigned to the B Battery, 1st Battalion, 17th Artillery. It had three M110 8 inch self propelled Howitzer artillery units. The radio teletype equipment I had was mounted on a 1 1/4 ton truck. I was a one man section, and the slot was for a Sargeant E-5. They asked me if I wanted to be an E-5, and I said yes. At that point, I had only been in the Army for ten and a half months. So they waived Time in Service and Time in Rank. I soon learned being an E-5 was the lowest ranking NCO (Non Commissioned Officer), which meant I was given lots of extra duties.
Part way through my tour in South Korea, our unit was turned over to the ROK (Republic of Korea) Army. I was transferred to I Corps Artillery Headquarters at Camp St. Barbara.