The Winding Road to a College Degree
Having grown up in Huntsville during the 50’s and 60’s, I never considered any occupation other than engineering. From the 10th grade on I always expected go to college and study to be an electrical engineer. In my senior year at Lee I applied to Georgia Tech and Tennessee Tech, and was accepted by both universities. Quickly determining that Georgia Tech was totally out of the price range, I decided that I would go to Tennessee Tech. One month prior to leaving home for my freshman year I discovered that my funding for Tennessee Tech was also deficient, and that I should enroll at UAH asap. The short of it is that I attended UAH for 4 quarters, and like Dink Hollingsworth previously mentioned, I too, received a “2S” draft deferment. At that time, both the school and I were required to submit quarterly enrollment confirmations to the draft board. Early in my fourth quarter at UAH I received a letter directing me to report to Montgomery for my draft physical examination. Upon further investigation, I discovered that UAH had failed to provide the confirmation for that quarter’s enrollment. After passing the physical, I attempted to make the best of the situation. Having received good scores on the aptitude tests I decided the best course of action was to forego the 2-year draft requirement and take a 3-year enlistment, with the written promise to send me to “Microwave Electronics” training.
After Christmas, 1967, I was sent to Ft. Benning, Georgia, for basic training. During the first week, I was asked if I wanted to go to OCS (Officer Candidate School) after basic, but I politely declined upon learning that the Infantry was the only OCS option. After all, I had a “recruiter’s contract” for electronics school! Towards the end of basic training “Tet 68” happened and we were told that no matter what was previously promised, we would all be going to advanced infantry training and quickly on to Vietnam. Upon graduating basic training, and to my surprise, I was given orders to proceed to Ft. Monmouth, NJ for 6 months of Microwave Electronics school. Drill sergeants have a “special” sense of humor!
After graduation, there was good news and bad news. The good news was that, at a little over 8 months in, I was promoted to E-4. The bad news was that I was being sent to Ft. Stewart, Georgia, in the middle of nowhere. A total of 5 of us had been sent to Ft. Stewart and when we arrived we were told that there was no microwave equipment on base and that they would find something for 3 of us, but that the remaining 2 would be sent to Hunter Army Air Field. Going against the standard Army advice of “never volunteer for anything,” I thought that no matter where/what Hunter was, it could not be worse than here … so I volunteered. Turns out that Hunter was an old Air Force SAC base, located at the city limits of Savannah, that had been repurposed to train 19 and 20 year-old Warrant Officers to fly Huey and Cobra helicopters, prior to being sent straight to Vietnam. Great location, fun city, but here again no microwave equipment on base. We were told to report for advanced infantry training in the woodlands and swamps at the far end of the base, to later join a battalion headed to Korea. For the 3 months, we trained 5 days a week. The last week of each month I was issued a 12 gauge shotgun (because I was from Alabama and familiar with shotguns) and ordered to guard the finance building. At that time the Army required each soldier to report in person for pay, on the first day of the month; each payment was made in cash and additional security was required when this extra cash was on hand. In December I received orders to the Oakland Replacement Center, for deployment to Vietnam.
In early January 1969, I arrived at the Long Binh replacement center. Shortly, I was sent to the Regional Communications Group in Cholon (the Chinese section of Saigon). The good news was that there was plenty of microwave equipment in Vietnam, but the bad news was that soldiers were not allowed to maintain / repair it. That job was handled by government contractors that worked for Paige Engineering. A combination of certain attributes (one year of college, no felony crime record and the ability to drive a straight shift) qualified me for a “classified courier” job. I was given a “Top Secret” security clearance and sent up country, to the 361st Signal Battalion. The 361st was responsible for all Long-Lines communications, for ground operations, from Saigon to the DMZ. On arrival at the 361st, I was issued an Army driver’s license, a M16 and a Colt .45 semi-automatic pistol; and told to be available, 24/7.
At any point in time I would be instructed to drive a jeep to a “to be named” classified message center where I would pick up coded messages, log them, secure them and hand deliver them to specified individuals at various base camps in II Corp and III Corp. Basically, this job amounted to “hitchhiking” on any available supply convoy, Huey, C-123, C-130, etc. that could take me in the direction of where I would make my hand deliveries. Many unplanned detours, situations and adventures were encountered during these excursions. I shared bunkers, sand bags and C-Rations with drafted privates, grizzled “lifer” sergeants and West Point officers. Different all, but all were outstanding people in so many ways!
During my 10th month in country, I was given the choice to complete my 12-month tour of duty and subsequently be assigned to Ft. Gordon, GA or extend my tour by 6 additional months and then get out of the Army all together. This many years later it seems somewhat crazy, but at 21 years-old, E-5 pay grade (not having to pay incomes taxes, plus receiving combat and overseas pay), I felt like I could keep doing what I knew how to do for 6 additional months rather than going back to having to spit shine boots, brasso belt buckles, cut my hair and salute “90-day wonder” lieutenants for a year. I accepted another tour and spent a total of 20 months in Vietnam. In late August, 1970, I landed at Ft. Lewis, WA. In a time span of 6 hours I was given a steak & egg breakfast, took a shower, got a new set of dress greens to wear and processed out of the Army. I took a bus to SeaTac airport, got a flight to LA and on into Huntsville. Vietnam to Ft. Lewis in 20 hours; Ft. Lewis to LA to Huntsville in 12 hours. What a culture shock in less than a 48 hour timeframe!
Having had plenty of time to plan during the past 20 months, I knew what my immediate priorities were. I stayed with my mom and dad for two weeks. With money saved in Vietnam, I bought a new 1970 Dodge Challenger (383 Magnum, for $3,400 cash), got a job, a small apartment and moved out. After several months I was ready to use my G.I. Bill benefit and go back to school. I decided that I was a little rusty at studying, so my best choice would be to start college all over again, and start it at Junior College. I enrolled at John C. Calhoun, in Decatur. At first, it was quite strange being a 22-year-old veteran, taking classes with 18 year-olds that were straight out of high school. Soon, I discovered a corner, near the Student Union coffee, where about 15-20 other veterans, like myself, hung out. Things were more comfortable after that. I completed the English Comp, English Lit, World History, etc. prerequisites and then transferred to UAH. Never took a quarter off and graduated in 3 years (1 at JC Calhoun and 2 at UAH). Decided that a Business degree would work this time around and received a BS in Management Science and Economics. I worked a full-time job during all that time and, additionally, the G.I. Bill was like being paid an additional full-time job to go to school. At that time, I could pay my tuition, fees and books with one month’s G.I. Bill check and use the next two month’s check to supplement my day job, for other expenses.
During the second year after coming home I met and married the wonderful lady that’s kept me straight for the past 46 years. It’s been a great ride, and looking back, I don’t think that I would take anything for those early experiences (but would not want to do them again.) I never missed being an electrical engineer, but I did stay in a technical field. Out of college, I first worked for Olivetti Corporation, selling programable electronics. I hated the cold-call selling, but loved the programming part. After a year, my wife and I moved from Huntsville, to a suburb of Atlanta where we both worked as Systems Analysts/Programmers at Lockheed. A few years later I took a job at Hewlett-Packard, where I worked in various IT Management positions for 31 years. Now 6 years retired, I realize the college degree was important in getting my foot in the door, but the learned work ethic and ability to work well with all types of personalities was always what got me through all situations. I owe that to my time in the military, and to my wife.
Dying to Own A Car
John Drummond was talking about cars last week and it made me remember my first car. It was a 1937 Buick hearse.
I paid 25 dollars for it and I was so proud of that hunk of junk! When I brought it home my father told me I could keep it, but I could not park it at the house and I would have to find somewhere else to park it. I worked at Whiteway Trailer Park at the time and Joe Poore let me park it at the back of the park where he had equipment and storage buildings.
I have attached a couple pictures That may explain my father's sentiments about my car.The picture above is what a nice 1937 hearse looked like and the one below is more like mine looked.
John Drummond requested some of the car songs of our high school days should be shared with his classmates while we are remembering the cars of our high school days. Even though this song did not have a car's name in the title, in honor of Mike's first car, this has been selected for this week's issue.
Wikipedia writes, "The teenage tragedy song is a style of ballad in popular music that peaked in popularity in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Examples of the style are also known as "tear jerkers," "death discs" or "splatter platters", among other colorful sobriquets coined by DJs that then passed into vernacular as the songs became popular. Often lamenting teenage death scenarios in melodramatic fashion, these songs were usually sung from the viewpoint of the dead person's sweetheart, as in "Last Kiss" (1964), or another witness to the tragedy, or the dead (or dying) person.
J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers had their first commercial success with "Last Kiss" which was released September 5,1964 . Their cover version reached the Top 10 in October, staying for 8 weeks. It eventually reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, and also earned the band a gold record.
Wilson would continue to record, unsuccessfully, until 1978. He died on October 4, 1991, due to alcoholism caused by business stresses and pain caused from injuries he received in a car wreck while he was on tour with his group. When he died, he was in a nursing home, only 49 years old. Wilson had been cheated out of all the money the record brought in by his label and manager.
Memphis, TN - In keeping with our story lines about colleges, we enter March Madness this week. Here's hoping all of you enjoy the games and don't get too upset. As for me, I won't have a dog in the fight this year unless some strange picks are made.
Editor's Note: recognition of the anticipated snow fall this week in the area, we are proud to feature this photo.
This photo was taken in '67 or '68. We had had a light dusting of snow and there was a quick snowball fight between classes. The me is Jerry Robinson. The photo was taken by Jay Williams, Traveller photographer.
My brother Don (back), my mother, and me and our TV on East Clinton Street.
The Vintage Television
Some New Shows for 1966
From Our Mailbox
Subject: Car Songs
Tommy, as a follow-up to last week's issue about the influence of cars on popular music of our generation, how about spinning for us a few related tunes? Say, for example, "409," "Dead Man's Curve," and "She'll have fun, fun, fun, till her Daddy takes her T-Bird away," or any of your personal favorites.
Subject: Talking about Cars
Tommy, your 390 cu in Ford story reminded me of the Challenger and the trips to JC Calhoun that I mentioned. Most of the other Veterans that I met in the student union, also had new cars and were commuting from Huntsville. This was prior to I-565, but the road was a relatively straight 4-lane, divided highway (it’s been a long time ago, but I believe that it was HWY 20). Traffic was not too heavy in the early mornings and we, still being “adrenalin junkies,” would race each other on our way to school. Once, I took my Challenger to a tire shop to get the Polyglas tires balanced and told the guy doing the balance that the front tires were bouncing a little between 95mph and 110mph, but that they settled down after 115mph.; I was serious, in that I wanted to see if he could re-balance them to take that bounce out, but he just looked at me, rolled his eyes, turned and walked away.