Thus, it came as a bit of a shock to find myself cast as “the old man” at twenty-three surrounded in the Army by teenaged recruits. OMG, I was even older than our assistant platoon leader, Staff Sergeant Gore, and the company executive officer, Lieutenant Archembalt! I suspect that this may explain why my perspective of the Army and the War in Vietnam is significantly different from others you may have been exposed to.
Two experiences illustrate the difference.
One afternoon, we were told to drag our footlockers to the end of the barracks and seat ourselves around the closed circuit television. When it flickered on, we found ourselves face-to-face with a legend, one of the new Army Special Forces soldiers – a Green Beret – who proceeded to lecture us on “counterinsurgency.”
I found the lecture to be interesting and well-presented. The Green Beret either understood his subject matter well or was reciting a very well-written script. When it ended, a young recruit seated next to me asked, “Where is Vietnam?”
I took him outside and began drawing maps in the sand with a stick. The rest of the platoon, including our sergeants, joined us. It was but the first of many impromptu lessons I would host to help these young soldiers grasp the conflict we were preparing for.
My second awaking as an “old man” was brought to me by the platoon sergeant.
Note: You may want to stop reading this posting here if you are easily offended by crude language.
Soldier's are famous for the use of the word “fuck.” However, this young man took its use to a whole new level, one that even worried a hardened sergeant. He created neologisms – new words – by inserting “fuck” as an additional syllable with existing words: e.g., “unbe-fucking-lievable,” an emphatic form of “unbelievable.” He didn't do it occasionally. He strung whole sentences together using these, almost constantly.
One day Master Sergeant Dunn cornered me and asked what I thought of the young man's behavior and what he should do about it. Even before I could frame an answer, I was struck by the thought that he was asking me because of my age. He wouldn't ask any other recruit for such advice.
It was at this moment that I fully realized that I was the “old man.” The thought made my head swim inasmuch as it was a totally new experience for me. I was used to being accepted in the company of men much older than myself. I even was used to commanding others older than myself while sailing. Still, it was a complete reversal of roles to be the older man. It prepared me well for my role now that I am generally the older man in almost any group.