Okay, I'm being hard on myself. These were all important functions, especially delivering the mail. Mail was one of the greatest morale boosters to young men in combat far from home. Someone had to do it. Indeed, the vast majority of soldiers never see combat. They support the combat arms – Infantry, Artillery, and Armor – with everything they need to move, shoot, and communicate. Without these troops, the battle would be lost. However, it seems a waste of all that infantry training to post me to the rear to shuffle papers.
I suppose that I was chosen for service in the Adjutant General Corps because of my age and education. However, with a degree in law, posting to the Military Police would have made more sense, wouldn't it?
The full import of the assignment didn't hit me until I reported to, Colonel Bell, the G1 – the member of the general staff responsible for all administrative matters – for the 9th Infantry Division in Vietnam. Opening my 201 (personnel) file, his eyes lit up when he saw my MOS (Military Occupational Skill) listed as 1542 – Platoon Leader. They were always short of qualified platoon leaders. However, his gaze dimmed when his sergeant leaned closer and pointed out that another MOS was listed: 2210 – Personnel Officer – and that I had been assigned to the division to serve in the Adjutant General's Office. He shrugged and ordered his sergeant to escort me to their offices. Although I served Colonel Bell well during my year in Vietnam (he often came to me bypassing the AG to get things done), I never forgot his disappointment that day.
Still worse is the sense of guilt that I bear to this day – survivor's guilt. My classmates went on to serve as infantry officers while I braved paper cuts on their behalf. I even had the horror of writing to one of their young wives to announce his death in combat. I met her when her husband came to tell me that our Tactical Officer wanted to see me at our graduation dance. He brought her to our room when he came with the summons.
We were marched to a classroom at 06:00 (6 a.m.) on the day of our graduation to be sworn in. We had been discharged from enlisted service the day before. Thus, we were civilians for twenty-four hours.
The father of one of my classmates was an Army colonel and he had the honor of swearing us in as second lieutenants. And to think, just the day before, many of us couldn't even spell “lieutenant.” The battalion sergeant-major saluted each of us as we exited the classroom. We returned the salute and handed him a dollar as is the custom with your first salute. The money was used for a party for the enlisted cadre who had supported us. Maybe we should have given more. A little less than half who began with us graduated.
Very few failed Officer Candidate School. The vast majority quit. Our tactical officers found our weakness – physical, emotional, or academic – and preyed on it during the entire six months trying to make us quit.
I still remember vividly running back to the barracks to get ready for the graduation ceremony after we were sworn in. My feet barely touched the ground for more than a mile. A note waited for me commanding my presence at the post finance office to square away a discrepancy in my records. I borrowed a Corvair from a classmate so that I could get there and back quickly.
When I got into the car after taking care of business at the finance office, I reached for the gear shift lever and it was missing. There was an automatic shifter on the dash. Strange. I could have sworn that it had a manual transmission. As I drove away, I saw another Corvair of the same color. I stopped and looked at it momentarily, then backed up, parked and locked the car I was driving. I discovered the other car had a manual transmission and the key worked. That's the one I drove back to the barracks.
Ultimately, I wasn't a very good "chairborne" ranger. I bridled at the posting, and made life miserable for my superiors who seemed quite content with their lot in the military. I sneaked away against orders to play infantry officer - or plain infantryman - whenever I could get away with it, and the Army was happy to release me from active duty when we began abandoning our commitment to a free Vietnam.