Editor’s note: What a better way to celebrate the Military Appreciation Month than with some “Why I Joined” stories?
I vividly remember my fifth year of life on Earth. I found myself in kindergarten learning the Pledge of Allegiance, which was my right hand and which was my left hand, the capital city of the state of Oklahoma (easy one), and where things like honey and milk come from. We all, of course, know now that those things come from the store.
We had a stupid show we put on for family members who came to school one day and sat and gawked at us as we performed. We sat in a row and, beginning at one end, each kiddo stood up and spewed a one-liner of wisdom. At my turn, I stood and announced that the capital of Oklahoma was Oklahoma… City.
The girl to my right was rough; that is, the teacher had trouble finding something that the gal could repeat. She was just… pretty slow… and struggled with everything. Finally, the teacher gave her the righthand-lefthand line. On cue, she was to stand and hold up her right and then left arm and announce them both.
When I finished with my contribution to our state capital city, she went next. She did not fully stand up nor raised her arms. Rather, she slung one hand, raised the other up at the elbow, and quickly muttered:
“This’ my right han this’ my lef hand,” and went back to her chair before her knees even locked out.
I noticed too that she had gotten them both wrong: she hadn’t held the correct hands up for right and left. Oh, well… there was a 50 percent margin of error there, to her defense. Me, I had 49 chances to get my statement wrong.
When it was over my four-year-old brother came up to me sheepishly, put his hand on my shoulder, and said:
“George, I just want you to know I’m very proud of you,” barely stumbling and choking through the words. I looked immediately up at my mother who quickly jerked her glance elsewhere. I thanked my young brother for his kind and original words.
The was a game we played in kindergarten. It was based on a short film we had watched about the occupations of grownups. In the film, there were doctors, spacemen (astronauts), milkmen — those today would get shot dead right on folks’ porches — policemen, firemen, farmers, dentists…
There were not many jobs going on for women in those days. They got to be nurses, telephone switchboard operators, or shut-the-hell-ups. Then, of course, they also got to be milkman assistants, policeman assistants, fireman assistants, farmer assistants, and dental assistants. Women just were hardly even people back then, much the same as they hardly are today in the Levant.
I had a rare gift when I was five years old. I already knew what I wanted to be when I grew up — an infantry soldier who carried a rifle. When we played our career game we went around the room and each kid had to stand up and say what they wanted to be when they grew up. I was confused because mine wasn’t in the film — the thing I wanted to be when I grew up wasn’t in the film.
Was I striving to be something that didn’t exist? Did infantry soldiers even exist? DID I EXIST?? Kindergarten is a beautiful thing, but it just phuqt me up and confused the bejesus out of me in a few ways. Like, I never knew why I had to lay on a mat on the floor every day after lunch for an hour with my eyes wide open while my peers around me slept like corpses.
Going around the room we all stood up one-by-one. Yeah, yeah… I get it: doctor, nurse, fireman, nurse, policeman, nurse, milkman (loser!), nurse… oh, shit me; it’s my turn. I stood knowing that an infantry solder did not exist (because of the film), so I had to pick one.
“Eeny meeny my-knee moe,” — we had learned to select in kindergarten too — naw, naw, naw… I’ll just be a Goddamned spaceman for Christ’s sake. No, that kid with the runny nose and impossibly thick glasses already picked that. I’m not going to space with that punk.
“I want to be an infantry soldier!”
Well, the room clammed up, alright. Just got so quiet you could hear a cricket drop in there. That dumbass girl who didn’t know her right from her left hand or her ass from her mouth started crying.
“What did say, Georgie?” the teacher started in on me.
“Oh hell,” I panicked, “what rhymes with infantry soldier that was on that cock-a-doody film?!?”
“A spaceman… I said I wanted to be a spaceman and go to outer space with ah… four-eyed drippy faucet there.”
“Oh, how nice… kids, Georgie wants to be a spaceman and go to outer space with Bobbie Kreezle — isn’t that exciting?
“Yyyyeeeeeeessssss, Mrs. Milacheck.”
I had my career path figured out at five years old. I was guilty of no pretense. I wanted to be an infantry soldier — not a general or a fighter pilot or a tank commander — just an infantry soldier carrying a single rifle. If I ran ahead with that rifle the rest of the men in my unit would be motivated and empowered to pick their rifles up and run with me.
“Where in Judas Paste are we running to?”
“I don’t know, Joe… I’m just following that mug upfront with the rifle.”
I was a little bit shy about my desire to be “just” an infantryman. I knew it wasn’t just one helluva strive. It’s not like I was after being the next Lee Iacocca, but I knew what I wanted to do. Even at the army recruiter’s office, I got cold feet and just couldn’t spit it out to him that I wanted to be an infantry soldier.
I looked at the list of job specialties and I picked 12B, Combat Engineer. But the recruiter did me a favor and bamboozled me into choosing something else.
“Sorry pal, no openings in Combat Engineers — all full up. But ah… there are some openings in the infantry if yooz interested.”
A flash of thrill swept me: “Awww… darn! Well, shucks… I reckon I’ll take that-there infantry.”
That was how it played out for me. Funny how those things work out. There were no regrets for my part. I was elated that it had worked out in, what I deemed, as my favor. I soon was on a jetliner, packed with other brothers and sisters, headed to the U.S. Army.
“Hey, man… what are you comin’ in for; what are you going to be in the Army?” My seatmate inquired.
“Uh, a combat… field medical… surgeon doctor… guy…” I still had that minor pride issue to sort through.
By Almighty God and with honor,