Friday, August 21, 2009

That was then, this is now

I arrived in Washington D.C. in 1972 as a shiny new private E-2 newly minted from boot camp at Ft. Jackson, S.C. I had been caught in the last draft call in the Vietnam War and 50,000 of us were sent off to basic training around the country. While we were in double-timing out to the ranges every day, the Nixon Administration announced that an agreement had been reached on the Paris Peace Accords effectively ending the war.

So here were 50,000 newly trained draftees with no place to go (home was not an option). During the first week of training, all of us new guys were given skill proficiency tests. On the typing test, I scored 19 words per minute (I could do 45 but didn't want to blow the test). I would have qualified as a clerk typist at 12. At 19 wpm, I was a typing superstar and a couple drill sergeants glommed on to me to do their paperwork. So it was only logical that when I finished basic the Army would send me to it's world wide center for typists...D.C.

I was given temporary quarters at the in some World War II area barracks at South Post at Fort Myers, near the Pentagon and next to Arlington National Cemetery. (In fact, they tore down South Post and it's now part of the cemetery...very near where the Iraq and Afghanistan casualties are buried.) I was eventually assigned to the Military Awards Branch in The Adjutant General's Office in a sprawling complex of glass and steel at L'Enfant Plaza. In the meantime, I ran errands for NCOs, which often meant trips to the Pentagon.

On one such trip, I was sent to deliver some papers to an office in the Pentagon basement.

At the time, my brother was career Army, an SFC stationed at Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo. He had been due to transfer to Germany but he had been waiting for his orders for more than 90 days. He asked if I could help. I told him that I was just an E-2 and what could I do?

But on that last trip to the Pentagon, I saw a brown Army issue desk with a sign hanging from the ceiling that said "Enlisted Personnel Transfers." Behind the desk, was a very pleasant, middle-aged woman (civilian). I asked her if this is where the orders are cut for overseas transfers. Lo and behold, it was. I gave her my brother's name. She rifled through a pile of brown folders a about 18 inches tall. Near the bottom was my brother's folder. She pulled it out and put it on top. He had his orders a week later.

That was then, this is now.

We are rolling up on 90 days on Mark's GI Bill benefits. I suspect his name is at the bottom of some computer queue in D.C. Our task now is finding that person at the VA who could wander over to some clerk's desk and move Mark's name to the top of the list. Regrettably, it will probably take a call from my Congressional representative to do that.

Some things don't change much. Even in 30 years.

1 comment:

ABNPOPPA said...


I have a quick one on VA Educational Benefits. Several months AFTER I graduated from college, compliments of Uncle Sam, I received a letter from Old Uncle who stated he over paid me. I owed him over $900. Now is 1977, if you remember that was a chunk of change. I wrote back explaining I A. It was not my fault (it wasn't), B. Was yet to be employed in my career field, C. Did not have the money.

Several weeks later I received a letter saying my debt had been canceled. It was signed by some 2Lt. Now I don't know what happened to the Lt. but I'll be he signed many a letter like that before he got caught and transferred. Probably never made it past 2Lt. but I sure was happy. Hopefully Mark will get a big check just in time to buy a nice Christmas present!!