E-commerce links for hardcopy of book containing this chapter (DADT 1997).  The hardcopy text is slightly more explicit in a few places.

Narrative summary link for this chapter

See Consolidated Footnotes including new notes since publication

Note: This file is slightly edited for compliance with the 1998 Child OnLine Protection Act (which is now, however, enjoined). For details see adult access (>= age 14).

See Section_01  "S.C."

See Section_02  "Greetings"

See Section_03   "White Resigns"

See Section_04  "Mr. Oread"

See Section_05  "Reception Station Scoops Up College Grads"

See Section_06   "This is Basic Trainin'"

See Section_07   "Prepare to Rush...Rush!"

See Section_08    "Special Training Company"

See Section_09   "A Direct Commission (for a BAD DETAIL MAN)"

See Section_10   "McNamara and Remembrance"

See Section_11   "Safe Place for a Chickenman's Revenge"

See Section_12   "Is the Cold War Really Over?"




       Around 1 A.M. on Friday, February 9, 1968, I peered out of the utility bus window the two-lane blacktop aiming through a southern pine forest.  There was a highway marker like "S.C. 79," and I thought, oh, no, the making-me-into-a-man would start momentarily.  But another sign read, "Columbia 68," and I knew I had another ninety minutes or so to enjoy relative freedom.

     Not that it was easy to get comfortable.  The Army sent us from the Entrance and Examining Station in Richmond down to Fort Jackson on a commercial Trailways bus; but the padded bucket seats had been ripped out and replaced with plastic benches.  You could put your feet up, and your head would brace against a metal armrest.  So there would be no real sleep.


     Tuesday night, three days before, a college friend from GW had come over, and on my last night of freedom we had played some games of chess.  I think I won the last one with White.  I also played a recording, on the 1962 Voice-of-Music stereo, of Haydn's exuberant 104th Symphony, the last classical music I would experience for four months. 

     Wednesday, I took a Greyhound to Richmond, and got there too late to be sworn in.  So the Army put me up in the decrepit Hotel Jefferson (today fully renovated).  I wandered downtown to see Valley of the Dolls, and had just gone to bed when my first assigned Army “buddy” wandered in. I had thought I would have this last night to myself.  He told me he had just gotten married, and resented getting drafted right after graduating from college.  I remember being horrified¾and embarrassed¾when he took off his shirt and revealed a huge chest scar that he claimed had been left from a disfiguring accident involving sulfuric acid in a chemistry lab. The notion of casualty passed through my brain.  In fact, I had once spilled bromine on an index finger in high school, and the sliver burn had taken six months to heal completely.

     Thursday, we took some pencil tests, and then another quick draft-type physical. Some of the recruits were tawdry indeed.  One had walked in off the street, and just said, "I just wanna join the Army," and had no idea what this was all about.  Some sergeant said, "Sign him up for supply."

    Around three in the afternoon, we were sworn in by a Navy officer in a small classroom.  There were perhaps fifty of us, going into all the services, most actually enlisted.  Fortunately, the Marines were no longer drafting.[1]  There was one guy enlisting for his fourth tour, and his fourth service, the Army this time. After swearing us in, the officer immediately warned us about going AWOL, and then congratulated us for being "in the Service."

     We had a couple of hours free, until the bus left.  The recruiting station gave us meal tickets for the Greyhound "Post House."  I actually felt proud to be in the Army, like I had joined something and become bigger, almost like marrying something. Technically, I had enlisted for two years, and would carry a “Regular Army” (RA) rather than draftee (US) service number. And I had worked my way back from “mental illness” to getting my official greetings from Selective Service, even if I had “volunteered” for the draft, by asking them the “SS” to move my name to the top of the heap.  At supper, I sat down next to another recruit, a seventeen-year-old, who actually answered my small-talk with "I joined the Army to git some pussy" (++ derogatory statements about sexual activity ++).  And what had he signed up for?  He had no idea.  I finally got the words, "wire maintenance" out of him.  And this was still four years before Ethernet. This kind of slave-guy made convenient cannon fodder.    

     I finally really did doze off, and when I awakened, the sign now read, "Ft. Jackson  1."  The bus moved down the macadam framed by pine trees like a motorbike in a Tron virtual reality game, then turned an abrupt corner, and the whole presence of the Army knocked me down.  There were perhaps two miles of neat parallel rows of stuff ready for deployment: jeeps, light trucks, wooden barracks, coal bins, and a soldier, with complicated gray-green gear all over his back, his slung rifle pointing toward a cloudy heaven.

     The bus driver took maybe fifteen more minutes finding the Reception Station, and gave me another grace moment to relax in fantasy before facing the demands of the world - but the opening rounds of Total Regimentation went quickly indeed.


     After an hour of Army life, you tend to feel you've been in the Army all your life, like the previous world "on the outside" was really a wet dream (climbing Jacob's Ladder) from which you just awakened.  Actually, the first moments of “reality” were about what I had expected.  A babyfaced teenage corporal yelled orders at us to file into a dingy auditorium, and pick up field jackets.  "You 'fuckers' (++no-goods++) from New York stay in line, or it's right off to the brig."  We counted off, and I was assigned a Company Processing Number, C-307.   We filled out some cards and filed by a balding medic who drew blood to check for VD (just the classics in those days), and then we filed into the mess hall and were fed a mushy breakfast of fried eggs and hominy on aluminum trays, served by gleeful EM (enlisted men), glad not to be in Nam.  Who wants to eat greasy, lumpy eggs at 3 A.M.?

     We waited outside for a few minutes¾it wasn't too cold, perhaps around 40 degrees F., but the air reeked with coal and sulfur.  In a few minutes, a Hispanic NCO (non-commissioned officer) wandered by, and asked, "how many of you mans (sic) has been to college?"

     Everyone had advised keeping the mouth shut to overtures like this, but the guy sounded sincere.  I spoke up. After all, in grad school a colleague had predicted, “they’ll put you in charge of something.”

     Perhaps I was duly rewarded for honesty. Ten minutes later, I was "supervising" the punching of pasteboard nametags in a noisy shop behind the clapboard auditorium.  The other soldiers actually did the work ¾ rotating a disk to the next letter and slamming a press ¾ and I carried the tags over to another desk and manually sorted them.  I enjoyed my thirty minutes of management-class prerogatives and privilege, as if this could be lifelong.  It was almost as if the Army were poking fun at its own hierarchy of command and narrow span of control, a mockery that would take hold in the civilian workplace in grand fashion twenty years later.





     Almost two years later, as I prepared to stop playing soldier and finally become a vigorous, independent grownup at twenty-six, I braved a seedy Newport News, Va. neighborhood a few miles from Ft. Eustis to see the X-rated flick, Greetings, a wonderful and willful satire (both gay and straight) of the counterculture and, especially, the draft. And in the 1996 BBC film Stonewall  we would watch a charismatic “masculine gay” played by Frederick Weller coach his stereotyped drag-queen boyfriend on how to flunk his draft physical, and then see an angry Marine Corps NCO stamp “unfit for military service” on the drag queen’s papers, a few weeks before the riots.

     Military conscription and its “civilian” enforcement agency, the Selective Service System, would provide the fulcrum for most young men’s concern with the Armed Forces. During the 1960’s, compulsory military service provided an electric fence adolescent boys would have to scale to get to enjoy adulthood. Some would be sacrificed like chess pawns ¾ killed or maimed ¾ during their passages. The most gifted or privileged might have a gate opened for them (deferments), or, if recruited, given relatively (or even completely) sheltered non-combatant jobs. Unfit men were “rewarded” by permanent exemption, a practice that amounted to reverse darwinism. And women were not required to risk their lives at all. Only a generation before, they had died often enough merely by bearing children.[2]

     The general public is barely aware that every male is still required to register by mail with the Selective Service System within 30 days of his 18th birthday. The registration requirement ends at age twenty-six. Selective Service information bulletins, available at any post office, emphasize that “registering with Selective Service does not mean that you are joining the military,” but also that “registration provides our country with a means to develop and maintain an accurate list of names and addresses of men who might be called if a return to the draft is authorized.”[3]  Men would be called up by lottery, starting at age twenty. 

     The Selective Service System is still very much alive, if not entirely well, today. Its 1995 Annual Report shows that, while downsized, it survived the worst of the budget cuts for FY 1996, and still employs about 180 civilians, 550 reserve military officers part time, and many “volunteers.”   Selective Service cooperated enthusiastically with my recent Freedom of Information Request, sending me considerable historical information on the various draft status categories even if they suspected I have political aims to put it out of business. The Service, when it sent me my own draft status history, improperly included a sheet showing the handwritten comparable history of a number of other registrants, at least one of whom I remembered from high school.   

     In 1994, the Pentagon did a “bottom-up review” to update the mobilization requirements for Selective Service. The government wants to be able to induct recruits starting thirteen days after a mobilization order, and to accumulate 100,000 recruits within thirty days, should the tactical need for a draft arise. The Pentagon believes the current volunteer force could handle simultaneous conflicts in the Persian Gulf and Korean areas, but waffles a bit when it admits that the volunteer force has never been thoroughly tested under “weapons of mass destruction” such as chemical or tactical nuclear weapons.[4]  The Pentagon has specific concerns about its ability to recruit physicians and nurses, as well as with the general educational level of recruits it can attract. A letter from President Clinton to the Speaker of the House, dated May 18, 1994, reinforces these findings.  Left unstated is the possibility of a large re-emerging communist or nationalist threat from Russia (still possessing undercharged nuclear warheads) should its difficult trend toward democracy and a free market ultimately fail. Without support from the Pentagon (but aided surprisingly by far-right Representative Greg Solomon) President Clinton covertly resisted efforts by moderate House Republicans in 1995 to eliminate the Selective Service system altogether.

     The Selective Service System still vigorously defends the legality of a male-only draft by mentioning the “continued restriction on women performing duties involving direct ground combat.”[5] The Selective Service Law, in 1996, still expresses the old national belief that the survival of our democracy ultimately can require that men, specifically, lay down their lives ahead of women and children.


     Prior to the Persian Gulf  “Desert Storm,” every American war (since the War Between the States[6]) had seen conscription. During the Civil War, wealthy young men in the North could pay $300 for a poorer person to serve in his place. Draft boards became active during World War I, but the Selective Service System of the “modern era,” with its well-known classification system ranging from 1-A (available to serve) to 4-F (unit for physical or “moral” reasons) was established in 1940, about a year after the Nazi Blitzkrieg into Poland.  In 1942, the Selective Service reduced the minimum draft age from 21 to 18 (at that time, one had to be 21 to vote). Hitler, however, conscripted teenage boys and Mussolini drafted men as old as 60![7]  About 80% of all men of draft age served in the military during World War II; for the Vietnam War that portion would drop to 40%.[8]

     Even during World War II, Selective Service maintained a long list of deferments, including student and “essential” occupations (starting with scientists[9]). Conscientious objector status was recognized with variations allowing the possibility of non-combat duty.  Peace Corps or VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) service got a young man at best a temporary deferment; service in these times meant burnt offerings of your bod. The draft boards have always been able to decide who was too “valuable” to be risked on the front lines.

     Today, we forget that marriage - “family values” - was for a long time associated with special rights to avoid or postpone being drafted. From 1948 until 1951, married men living with their families were deferred; after 1951 (when Korea had exploded) most childless husbands were again available for induction. In 1956, an Executive Order established that fathers could only be called after men without kids.

     But President Kennedy would make a public show of wanting to excuse married men from the draft, ironically as part of his nationalist liberal agenda. In September 1963, a new Executive Order provided that 1-A (available for immediate induction) single men and delinquents would be called before 1-A married men, called “Kennedy husbands.”[10]  In August, 1965, shortly after the escalation in Vietnam, President Johnson issued an Executive Order making childless men married after August, 1965 inductable in the same order as single men. In 1973, shortly before conscription was stopped, marital status was removed as an item affecting potential draft selection.

     I was oblivious to most of this, becoming much more preoccupied with the double edges of student deferments, and with whether my past history of mental treatment and statements about latent homosexuality could be used to brand me for life if I was ever called up. The clock was indeed ticking on the student deferments and the draft; first, deferments for graduate students outside of the sciences were ended, and then most deferments were replaced by a lottery system that would begin under Nixon in December 1969 and last until the termination of conscription in 1973 after the peace treaty was signed guaranteeing American withdrawal from Vietnam.


     The other side of “liberal” government’s attempt to prefer “family” men in draft selection would always be its inconsistent but sometimes downright sordid treatment of homosexuals in the military.

     Until shortly before World War II, the military never gave much thought about gays as a nettlesome class of misfitted soldiers; it satisfied itself with punishing homosexual acts. The Navy had developed its notions about “sodomy” from old English seaman’s law; other services had developed their punitive approaches to sodomy from a combination of martial and ecclesiastical law.  In 1919, the Articles of War were amended to make “sodomy” a crime under military law. Assistant Navy Secretary Franklin Roosevelt, however, would approve a purge of gays at a Navy Base in Rhode Island, which went so far as to use sailors to entrap civilians (as well as other seamen).

     As World War II heated up, the mental health industry was selling the military on the notion of homosexuality as a “sickness,” and that homosexuals could be identified and excluded or separated even while still “latent,” before ever being caught in the act.

     Until mid-1941, the Selective Service’s draft boards did the screening for homosexuality and other “psychiatric disorders,” until this responsibility was turned over to the military services themselves, who now ran the induction stations.[11]  At times, Selective Service enjoyed its prerogative to turn over draft records of “mental” rejects to civilian employers.  Ever since, regardless of military anti-gay policies, Selective Service has registered only men and (until 1973) sent them to draft physicals regardless of sexual preference. Were the draft to be reinstated, the same would hold today: gay men would be ordered to report, but women would not.   

     Quickly, the Army and Navy would (somewhat separately) develop complicated regulations and administrative procedures that honored contradictory aims: to punish homosexual acts, to keep in the service straight men who engaged in essentially “prison homosexuality,”[12]  medically evaluate and exclude the sissy “latent homosexuals,” but, as manpower needs intensified, “rehabilitate” and redeploy “reformable” homosexual soldiers after all. With the mental illness paradigm, it was less acceptable (and practical) to imprison gays, and efforts focused on the degree of embarrassment the services could cause with a discharge category, including the notorious “Section 8” discharges for essentially moral turpitude or insanity.  

     At times, the military’s efforts to identify practicing homosexuals became comical (if Gestapo-like and medically wrong-headed), by testing suspect soldiers for their oral “gag” reflex, or ability to achieve erections. In time, however, the military became more concerned with the “personality” issues. A Navy directive in 1944 created for the first time an administrative category of persons with self-declared “homosexual tendencies,” or “latent homosexuals.”[13] The military’s growing preoccupation with homosexual status would help create the climate for my own William and Mary experience, including the Dean’s “understanding” but intolerant attitude. Military correspondence would complain that gays exuded a smugness and superiority complex ¾ artistic, intelligent, cliquish, a special elite rather than a group of town queers ¾ that would undermine unit cohesion.[14]  Induction stations would sometimes question male conscripts about whether they “liked girls.” At the same time, commanders in the field, short of manpower (even as only about 25 percent actually saw combat), often ignored all the regulations about gays. In quieter times, there were sporadic but frightening purges. Marvin Liebman was “hospitalized” and then discharged for when a letter to a gay friend was intercepted.[15] Another soldier was discharged for running a gay newsletter for civilians.

     By 1945, however, the Secretary of War had issued an order reviewing all gay discharges with the idea of deploying men who had not committed any “overt” acts, and the War Department even considered releasing convicted “sodomites” to join units with other military prisoners. When it really needed men, the military was not afraid of stop-loss.  

     After World War II, the emerging Cold War and paranoia of McCarthyism would emphasize driving gays out of civilian government employment and purging other fields (such as entertainment) more than the military. Despite General Eisenhower’s awakening to the presence of lesbians in his field units during the War, he signed as President an Executive Order in 1953, directing  the federal government not to employ those guilty of “sexual perversion.” As a corollary, no person (military or civilian, government employee or private contractor) known to engage in homosexual acts could hold a security clearance.[16]  The circular notion that gays were security risks was fueled in a large part by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s desire to cover up his own homosexuality and relationship with Clyde Tolson.[17]  Circular myth held that effete homosexuals formed underground networks that somehow ruled the world.[18]  In fact, various witch-hunts, especially in the State Department, had, even by 1950,  ferreted out gays by going after those caught in johns or bar raids and offering deals to those who would “name names.” Government astronomer Frank Kameny was called in by his superiors in 1957 and confronted with accusations of his homosexuality by a former boyfriend and then fired. He would live hand-to-mouth for several years, only to become one of the country’s leading gay activists.

     The military services, during the postwar period, would gradually reformulate their regulations. They had just started the uncomfortable process of racial integration, as ordered by a defiant President Truman in 1948,[19] against the advice of commanders who threatened to resign and who complained that white men would not want to bunk with or fight alongside blacks.   There were half-hearted attempts to adopt and maintain a uniform no-homosexuals policy. In 1949 the Department of Defense (DOD) issued a memorandum requiring immediate separation of “known” homosexuals[20]. In 1959, the DOD issued a regulation authorizing (less than honorable) administrative discharges (without court-martials) for “sexual perversion.”  In 1965, a DOD directive allowed servicemembers faced with a less-than-honorable discharge for homosexuality “the chance to present their cases before administrative discharge boards and to be represented by counsel.”[21]  By 1967, there had emerged a Committee to Fight the Exclusion of Homosexuals from the Armed Forces; already young men realized that homosexuality was indeed a dangerous “poison pill” for evading the draft.

     The chain-of-command structure of the Armed Forces, however, gives individual services and commands within them tremendous discretion in interpreting many policy directives. For gays, this tended to encourage the services to rewrite the details of their gay policies to their likings. In 1946, the Army actually experimented with allowing some gays (those not caught in the act) honorable discharges.  In 1949, the Army defined four categories of homosexuals. Class I comprised those who had engaged in overt acts with aggravation, such as force, rape, or involvement of minors. Class II comprised those who had engaged in overt acts with consenting adults, in or out of the military. Class III consisted of those with “homosexual tendencies” like me. Class IV comprised those seen associating with known homosexuals. For Class I, prosecution and prison were required, for Class II, an undesirable discharge was required. For Classes III and IV, general discharges were usually indicated, although a commander was allowed his own discretion in keeping soldiers not believed to have committed acts. Other services maintained regulations requiring separation of those engaging in homosexual acts and even those who stated they were homosexual. The Air Force, however, allowed retention of airmen in cases where a commander believed future homosexual behavior was unlikely.

     The utilitarian approach of the military towards homosexuality and its concerns about the public perception of servicemembers would continue throughout the 1950’s and into the 60’s as public opinion of  the military fractured over the Vietnam War. The Navy would discharge only a third as many men per year during the Korean War as in the year that followed the armistice at Panmunjon.[22]  In 1954, the Navy entrapped and discharged one’s of its most celebrated young physicians, Tom Dooley, when the rumors about his homosexuality became too much; yet Dooley’s humanitarian service in “Indochina” would provide military commanders with a warning preview of the Communist aggression that would eventually lead President Johnson to his crisis over Vietnam.[23] In 1957, the Navy commissioned a study  updating its information on homosexuals in the military. The study report, which became known as the Crittenden Report, found no reason to conclude that homosexual men were inherently unfit for military service or even for security clearances.  The report also contained a rather bizarre section of double-talk which conceded that the military must not progress ahead of the civilian society it served on social issues as sensitive and fundamental as sexuality.[24]

     The looseness of the military’s anti-gay rules and the military’s proclivity to ignore the regulations when it really needed men, would, by the 1970’s, begin to weaken (among more progressive circles) the public credibility of the military’s ban, which the military had always feared it needed to retain public respect. Nixon’s ending of the draft in 1973 and the sudden self-interest of the military in replacing draftees with women (and the military’s quick recognition that women could do the jobs) seemed to contribute to even more softening of the military’s everyday attitude toward gays, and even old-fashioned notions of military machismo. Even so, there were several high-profile cases, such as Navy Ensign Copy Berg[25] and Air Force Sergeant Leonard Matlovich. Berg’s lawyers would actually unearth the Crittenden Report.  In the 1970’s, Judge Giselle would rule, in the Matlovich case, that military policy was illegally ambiguous about when a servicemember must be discharged or could be retained. Matlovich, already well-liked as an instructor in race relations, would eventually win a large settlement and become the subject of a TV movie.

     Throughout the middle Twentieth Century, from World War II through the Vietnam War, the government would capriciously play with its power over the lives of young men. It could draft them to fight into wars ¾ sometimes but not always necessarily fought to protect the freedoms of the rest of us ¾ and then could label and exclude certain young men as morally unfit to too “girlish” to fight and therefore subsequently fair game for exclusion from many areas of civilian life. The Armed Forces’ need for men where there were real wars to fight would, of course, mitigate this temptation to government. Perhaps my comment sounds paranoid, as politicians have always had other hot potatoes to play with besides homosexuality. But, it is still a chilling thought: with a Selective Service in place, the legal right to draft, and a strong political sentiment today that known homosexuals must still be kept out of the military, a future Administration, if sufficiently hostile, could still turn its guns and butter against us “queers.”

     This draft-and-gays conundrum raises a practical, psychological question. Should men (other than those obviously disabled through no fault of their own) be required to prove themselves as “breadwinners” and “protectors” of women and children before they will be respected as individual adults, as well as have their basic political citizenship rights?

     A lot of “old-fashioned” people really believe that all “able-bodied” men do owe such an obligation. But consistent with this belief would be limited but mandatory military service for all men (maybe even women). The Swiss do it. So does Israel, which views the military as a tool of “national socialization”[26] and, until the 1990’s, sometimes allowed homosexual men to live at home rather than in the barracks.       

     Throughout the years following my debacle in college and subsequent “hospitalization,” I would gradually show the world that I was not a parasite. I would be no hero in uniform, but would at least take my turn as a citizen “on call.” Only gradually would I question the moral right of the “state” or of others to demand this of me for their own political purposes.



            White Resigns


     Filmmaker Ken Burns is right.  The sea-change that led to today's schizophrenic society had first been seen in baseball.

     In late 1957, both the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers packed their bags and moved to California, despite that both teams had been winning and drawing well in their legendary inner-city neighborhoods, at their band-box ballparks, the Polo Grounds and Ebbetts Field.[27]

     The worst days of McCarthyism, and the memories of the horrors of war (both World War II and Korea) were receding, and the standard of living was rising.  Residential air conditioning was becoming affordable.  People began to think about themselves (and only then their own families) more.  They began to move where, within their families, they could focus on their own lives and forget the trouble of the world. This meant a gradual flight from the old cities and urban neighborhoods, to the suburbs, and the sunbelt.

     Part of this, of course, was motivated by race. So some families decided they would “legally” segregate themselves by moving away from their old city neighborhoods, and businesses would inevitably follow.  They would try to provide their children culturally homogeneous and prosperous backgrounds rooted in family, financial stability, safety, and cultural simplicity.

     I continued to follow baseball ¾ the “new” Senators in the 1960’s.  I still enjoyed the mere physics of the game, the spectacle of the sliced or pulled batted balls in fight, caroming off outfield “Green Monsters.”  And the team still gave me a geographic identity, as a part of a particular community. The old team had already moved to Minneapolis, but the new one was even more ineptly managed, unable to field a solid batting order or consistent pitching staff.[28]  On long Sunday road doubleheaders, I would wait until late to tune in, as I didn’t want to “know” they were dropping both ends until it was all over.  Washington, despite being "First in War, First in Peace," was a government artifice; it wasn’t a real city.  It claimed no skyscrapers, and real people and real businesses didn't live there.  Today, you hear conservatives say the same thing.  With so many transient residents, management behaved as if nobody cared. District of Columbia residents could not vote for anyone (today they can elect their city council, mayor, and school officials). Still, Washington was home (even though I lived in Arlington), and my connection to it was a modest concession to tribalism.


     But just as professional sports began to reflect the increasingly decentralized personal values of Americans by the late 50's, the Cold War began to push the issue of sexual roles into two directions at the same time. Since Sputknik, the government had, by 1968, become absolutely eager to excuse promising young men from military service if they could carry out critical research or production in chemistry, physics, aeronautical or mechanical engineering, medicine, or, just now barely visible as a career field, computers - and if they remained politically loyal. 

     I saw this as an opportunity.  It seemed, nerds suddenly could be valued as they were and would not have to prove themselves as macho men.  Since I had always liked chemistry (there was a copy of the 1928 edition of Smith's College Chemistry in our home), I decided to go into it. Perhaps my interest was aesthetic; I was fascinated by the colors and textures of various metals and compounds. My father wanted me to stay in the sciences, and let my music and piano playing remain "an avocation," for purely pragmatic, and probably patriotic, motives. A field like chemistry would promise a stable career in, say, manufacturing or perhaps pharmaceuticals, or safer yet, the Federal government.  In the days before William and Mary, I saw chemistry as an anchor into “reality,” a bridge between real recognition and the cheaper attention that comes with self-effacement.  

     At the same time, the likelihood of war, and the need for men to be ready for it, seemed to be increasing.  But now, there were going to be obvious exceptions to the ukase to serve. And the tide was turning from excusing men because of their conventionally expected roles as fathers and husbands to protecting the new model of self-motivated students, scientists, and engineers.

     Everybody believed that young men who didn’t date girls but stayed home with their books, slide-rules, or chemistry sets turned out to be better students.  A major in the hard sciences (at least, as compared to liberal arts or something like music) could, even when carried to graduate school, keep a young man’s bod from getting torn apart or scarred up on the “conventional” battlefield.

     The unfairness of the draft would fuel rapidly growing opposition to the war in Vietnam. President Kennedy had already been asked about the possibility of a volunteer Army, and he had retorted that it would become an "all black Army."  Once Vietnam escalated, however, it became apparent that African-Americans (because the often came from disadvantaged backgrounds and did not qualify for student deferments) would (with the rest of the “working class”) still take a disproportionate share of the casualties. Johnson would try to hide this with his Civil Rights initiatives, his call for a “Great Society,” and affirmative action. Students more radical (and probably morally sensitive) than me started to protest. Soon, the head of the Selective Service would be threatening to pull student deferments for those arrested at war protests. Some students saw the higher moral ground and went to Canada.  A few years later, President Nixon would have the gall to say that these students were the “luckiest and most privileged young men alive.” Well, maybe they were.  My father kept warning me that Hoover’s FBI kept files on dissenters to keep them from getting good jobs after we got around to winning the war.  Lyndon Johnson used both the CIA (illegally, since it is not supposed to spy at home) and FBI to ferret out “communist” support for the anti-war movement; Johnson’s underground “plumber” style activity may have eventually become almost as egregious as Nixon’s would later.[29] The large pool of baby-boomer population allowed Johnson the liberty of considerable duplicity in his draft policy, as he never had to get around to ending undergraduate deferments, at least, despite considerable congressional pressure as early as 1966.  There was never any clear correlation, however, between economic or educational level and attitudes toward involvement in Vietnam.[30]

     A new cultural divide was developing.  Just as society was beginning to realize that discrimination on the basis of race was wrong, a new kind of stratification based not just on race, but more on economic class or background and intelligence was forming, and was becoming legitimate in the eyes of government and the ruling "industrial complex."   The Bell Curve[31] would set up a privileged meritocracy. Getting married and becoming a parent would not necessarily protect you, and adopting conventional family commitments was beginning to count for less.  That animal recklessness that many young men exhibited and which had once been necessary to provide for women and children, as on the American frontier or perhaps today in volunteer fire departments, was now becoming a liability.  If poor young men got drafted and went away to war, big government might take care of their dependents with all those new "Great Society" programs. Still, the privilege of inheritance and, to a large extent, race, seemed a predictor of life and death, and expendability. These circumstances, which I knew to be unjust, could remain hidden even in my own mind.

     The sudden recognition that many young women were capable in science and math (going back to Navy Commander Grace Hopper, who had invented several of today’s programming languages) and the  encouragement for them to pursue science careers, provided me with a welcome excuse for not wanting to court them.  In 1957, a major women's magazine had published an article encouraging young women not to go to college, because they would be denying spaces for the men who were supposed to support them. ("Who would you rather have the degree, you or your husband?")  Our high school Science Honor Society had included one woman.  Women, I thought, wouldn’t need to be supported by men much longer. We could do what we wanted, if we could just win one more war. 

     In retrospect, it seems shocking today that “national liberal,” Democrat government should have been allowed to get away with playing political games with the lives of its young men (often black), for ambiguous foreign policies. Lyndon Johnson’s motive for murder was (we learned twenty years later) apparently something as uncomplicated as not wanting to be the first American President to lose a war in the morning box-scores[32]. Today, government plays with lives in more insidious ways. But, given the currency of World War II, Korea, and more recently the Cuban crisis, it becomes more understandable that respect for young men’s lives in a democracy like ours (or, say, Israel today) would have been relative at best.


     After I left NIH, I lived at home and went to school full time (except I went part time the year I worked for National Bureau of Standards) until I graduated from GW, with honors, in the spring of 1966.  The four years went without incident; I never talked about "it."  Well, not quite.

     During that period, I redirected by career from chemistry to math.  I had been pretty awkward in the lab at work, getting chewed out once for breaking a viscometer.   At night, I was taking notorious Organic Chemistry, and every Wednesday night there was a three-hour lab.  (Organic is the kind of course where, if you don't keep up with the memorization every day, come the first test, you'll get a "big fat 20 just as sure as the sun rises in the east.") We had to finish all our “preps” in the 16 sessions (with no make-ups), and I fell behind quickly.  One night I broke a beaker, and cut the palm of a hand on it.  A chemistry professor gave me first aid to stop the bleeding, putting his arm around me in an embrace of consolation.

     I was already hopelessly behind on the lab assignments, and decided the next day to drop the course and change my major. A couple of weeks later, and a few days before John Kennedy was assassinated, I was sitting in the canteen in GW's "firehouse" student union on G Street, talking to another student about the incident in the chem lab.  That student had just chided me for dropping Organic; "what can you do with a GW Math Degree."  OK, I was now a GW math major, and would listen to 6 PM lectures on what “matrices are good for.” Chemistry, after all, had (in 1963) still seemed to have so much more substance, in a realm of real “things,”  like space ships and other planets.

      I mentioned the chemistry professor’s partial hug of me. The rather homely  student gesticulated and talked about another professor: "He put his arm around me once and I brushed him off. If he does it again, you think I wouldn’t go down to the police station on K Street and swear out a warrant for his arrest as a homosexual?"

     I jumped in my chair, but I dared say nothing!  How can somebody get arrested just for being something?  Or for an innocent, if careless, gesture that suggests, but doesn’t prove, that he might be doing other things in his "private life." I let it pass, though. Even living at home and attending a school with a very practical administration, I sensed a danger.

     Quickly, I would prove my acquaintance wrong on the value of a degree in mathematics.  My last undergraduate summer, 1965, I got a summer job at the Navy's David Taylor Model Basin, doing "scientific" programming in FORTRAN on the IBM-7090.  The IBM 360, which offered less real memory and disk storage than an average desktop personal computer today, had been developed.  These were the days of plug-boards, coding sheets, keypunch machines and one compile-and-go-a-day turnaround.  It was hard to finish anything in one summer. My co-workers were surprisingly full of radical ideas, I thought, for even civilian employees of the military. One African-American talked over race riots moving out my way into the suburbs. Another man, while making jokes about seeing men kissing on K Street or finding hair salons filled with feminine accoutrements, would rail at Johnson’s escalation and his tirades against Vietnamese women and children. There was one older man, an introvert who lived alone in a basement apartment, who would strike up conversations with me and tell tales about the Ann Arbor, Michigan police department watching, through peepholes in men’s room graffiti-defaced stalls, commit homosexual acts.

     Randy Shilts, in fact, reports that it was not unusual for colleges through the mid 1960’s to conduct purges of practicing homosexuals, and for campus police to call in students and force them to “name names” under the threat of flunking out (and getting called up for their draft physicals).  At one school in Illinois, more than 200 students were under investigation in 1965.[33] Even so, most of the expulsions were for admitting (or being “named” in) actual sex acts, not for admitting, as I had, latent homosexual interests.           


     During my undergraduate days, I took up one other avocation (besides music) which would quickly become important: chess.  My father had taught me how to play, and I quickly had learned some of the tactical fork and hurdle tricks and crude opening traps.  My father used to talk about the power of "a pawn and a bishop."  The GW chess club met on Friday afternoons in the Library tower on G Street, and in 1964/65 I quickly became competent enough to be a reasonable "club" player and score some victories in United States Chess Federation (USCF) rated tournaments. A chess game is an ultimate individual struggle, to demonstrate one's "superiority" over another.  One has complete command of and responsibility for one's resources. One's opening repertoire and endgame skill is something like a big league manager's pitching staff.  Yet, as in professional football, "upsets" are common; in any given game between two players reasonably matched, anything can happen.

     My own “career” bears that out. I have never had the time or concentration to become a consistent tournament (as opposed to club) player. As with music, I had too many interests to master just one and gain full recognition for obvious accomplishment.  If I am “on,” I, like a knuckleball pitcher with his “stuff,” can be very difficult for anyone to gain advantage over and beat. I have upset masters and lost to C players[34] in the same tournament! I am one of those players for whom, in any contest, the lower-rated player wins almost half the time, and who often scores better with Black. Playing with White is like having home-field advantage in other “sports”; the privilege of moving first gives one an initiative to “defend.”   Losing with White is like starting out in life with the advantages of good upbringing and still failing. Well, not quite - maybe resigning (particularly as White)  is just a lesson in how good it can feel to yield to a better man.  

    Chess theory development seems to parallel other moral issues  and values in life.  One notion in chess theory is “control of the center.” But when is a pawn center strong, constricting the opponent and keeping his minor pieces separated into isolated detachments on the edges of the board, where they can get picked off? And when, instead, is the pawn center just a sign of over-extension and weakness or congestion behind the lines?  Or, take the notion of initiative, which means control of the course of events. But many games are lost when pressing for “initiative”; one burns bridges,  and leaves a critical square permanently weak as one advances past enemy lines. Taking the initiative means commitment and giving up some options, which one’s opponent can then reclaim in a winning, if reactive, counterattack. Sometimes one plays “positionally” and forces the opponent to declare his intentions first with a bad move.  In purely psychological terms, one could believe “Black is better,” or “less is more.” In the 1960's, “closed openings” (particularly Queen Pawn Openings) were becoming popular; the theory was that building up a position slowly, posing problems for the opponent and giving him the opportunity to self-destruct, is more likely to succeed than direct attack. This became a “moral” dilemma for some players, who preferred the direct attacks in open games (as symbolized by 1 P-K4 with White, and the Sicilian and Kings Indian with Black), as a way of keeping control over their situations, or of asserting their “masculinity.” The more patient (feminine?) players would let their opponents beat themselves.

     The endgame provides another mirror for undeleting life. The King, who has to keep his clothes on modestly early in the game, becomes a formidable fighter on his own, like the scrambling quarterback. Positional advantage often resolves itself as better King position (or “the opposition”) in the endgame.

     Chess games sometimes become ego battles, where the winner feels he has “demonstrated his superiority.”  The deterministic quality of the game (when compared to poker, bridge, and backgammon - but not to Go!) makes players see a contest as a test of personal power, or at least competence.  One friend would become so “addicted” as to flunk out at GW, and get drafted in 1967. He would write to me about his fears of a ground attack on his Signal Corps bunker in Vietnam. Another dropped out, but enlisted in the Army and went to language school and then military intelligence.  

     I spent a lot of time on openings in those days, as I tried to define my own psychological identity by mapping it to the paradigm of the chessboard. The world of sports and games provided a sense of stability; by capturing our rooting interest, it models the “moral” battles of the larger world with sacrifices, stolen bases, field goals, punts, and mates. Chess opening theory, and conceptual understandings of “initiative” and space advantage, would soon change rapidly, especially with the use of computers, as would human social life in general. Deploying a chess opening repertoire for the individual club player came to be like managing a baseball team’s pitching staff. I didn’t like to hear proposals to let the visiting team bat last in baseball, or force openings to be drawn out of a hat in chess tournaments. It will be a personal loss for me if computers ever play chess out; now the IBM supercomputer “Deep Blue” can beat World Champion Kasparov, at least with White.

     Chess, after all, is a model of teamwork - and even “unit cohesion.”                   



     Mt. Oread


     In February 1966, I began working on a Master's in Mathematics at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.  I arrived in the middle of a brutal cold wave, delayed two days by Washington's notorious "Blizzard of ‘66." I would live in a modern high-rise dorm, McCollum Hall, on top of “The Hill,” on the ninth floor in the same room, with its view of the prairies beyond Iowa Street,  for two years.  I wanted to be in a dorm again, and prove I could handle it.  The University would mix graduate students and undergraduates in the dorms, and unlike William and Mary a few years earlier, did not seem to be very interested in monitoring dorm life or behavior with men. Women, however, still observed strict curfews. (The boys were controlled by keeping the girls home, and, according to unfounded rumor, by putting potassium nitrate in the dorm cafeteria food[35].)  At the time, I still had no concept of independent living, with a car or mobility and a private apartment or home.

     Graduate school was a bit of an adjustment.  The courses required a much deeper understanding of the theoretical material, and the ability to apply theorems in new settings, rather than spew the "proofs" (in the spirit of syllogisms of  “statements and reasons” from high school plane geometry) from a textbook or lecture.  A typical blackboard hour examination might comprise four new "theorems" to prove, with solutions not always easily motivated, any more than a chess problem "mate in five" is easily seen.  For recreation, I tried to continue my music with private organ lessons, having been inspired by a young organist I had met at the First Baptist Church. My instructor tried to impress upon me that organ musicianship (at least with baroque music) dealt with levels of volume rather than crescendos.   

      One guy on my floor in the dorm used to brag about "rolling queers" in Kansas City.  He claimed that he would "roll queers" (++solicit homosexuals for sex hit) and them over the head with a lead pipe.++  "Just one less queer left in the world."  In the spring of 1967 there was a knock on my dorm door one afternoon, and couple of stereotyped G-men in gray flannel suits walked in, asking me about him as he had applied for a sensitive Federal job. I snitched, perhaps sadistically applying my own “honor code”; or maybe I thought I was really saving lives.  This is the only time in my life that the “fibbies” have consulted me in a background investigation.

     The second semester there, I had a freshman pre-med roommate. Even he picked up on the homosexual theme, embracing me (with his legs) once in jest and making jokes about a janitor who had supposedly been fired for giving a student an earring. But this time the jokes were really “in fun,” and they never created any real tension. I wasn’t going to let another “William and Mary” happen. The largely female dormitory staff used to say about the student help, “The boys are wonderful.”

     The third semester, I finally had another math graduate student (by request), a physical but normally docile fellow who would scream during his take-home tests, “I cannot work problems!” but he always did. I would try to draw him into debates about the unfairness of the sacrifice required by the draft, and he would answer, “War is war, and anything goes.”  Then how did an international tribunal have legal authority to conduct the Nuremberg trials, I wondered. Why should young men’s lives be regarded expendable?       

     I did become close to several people, and eventually roomed for a semester with a slender engineering student, Rick, who would introduce me to objectivism and the ideals of author Ayn Rand.  We formed a little club that met in the cafeteria, or sometimes in the dorm stereo listening room, and extolled the principle that most accomplishments that make the world work for everyone derive from the initiative and efforts of one person. I read The Fountainhead and my roommate and I, as we talked before going to sleep, would enjoy mapping its characters, the “heroes” and the “second-handers” (like Howard Roark and Peter Keating, respectively) to real people we both knew.  Our discussions got as far as the notion of “self-concept” and the desire to break away from depending on the opinion of others. Rick (enthusiastically heterosexual) may have been the first person to articulate to me the notion that a person should set his own goals, regardless of social approval.  Enlightened “selfishness” had become virtue. The idea that one owed service to others or to, most of all, the state (that is, our country) as an underlying citizenship obligation, was viewed as intrinsically evil. With Rick, and several other friends, I did a bit of traveling out west for the first time, with two trips to the west coast and one to Colorado and to Rick’s parents’ western Kansas ranch.

     More concern about the draft drew out of this little “fraternity” (which did include women). We sponsored informal debates about the draft and deferments, with some speakers insisting that the draft was absolutely immoral. Government has no right to force anyone to give up his life or limb, let alone conscript into what amounted to at least temporary servitude. “Enlightened self-interest” would lead men to volunteer to fight together when their homes and families were really threatened. The University never objected to these forums, since they were always orderly; there was never the unrest that occurred on other campuses.

     Sunday mornings, I would walk a mile into downtown Lawrence and try various mainstream churches, and found the Vietnam War quite a concern, much more than the Bible, especially since the war was resurrecting our concerns about “manhood.” The pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, true to a reputation for funny sermons, gave a long improvisation on our preoccupation with “what it means to be a man,” all the way from the Jacob and Esau story in Genesis to modern James Bond movies, where a “real man” is the kind of guy with the personal connections to keep the bad guys from incinerating the whole planet or knocking the earth out of its orbit.    


     I had been called up for my first draft physical in September 1964, well before major escalations in Vietnam, during the year I was a part-time student and therefore 1-A (which meant, available for immediate induction).  I had once discussed the draft with my individual therapist after leaving N.I.H., and he replied, “I wouldn’t worry about it. You’re being very cooperative with the draft board, and you’re not qualified.”  I didn’t worry too much while working full-time that year; my attitude, after the Cuba crisis and Kennedy assassination, was that if there was any war, they’d throw all their rules out the window anyway. 

     We had been bussed to Richmond, with hundreds of us paraded around in a large bay in front of a red-haired Army "doctor" who threatened us with "state penn."  For some of the men, it must have been humiliating.  Some were overweight, some had obvious handicaps and glaring physical defects (even in the genitalia).  I didn't feel so bad off.

     At that time the Armed Forces questionnaire included, as its last question, a box to check off admitting to "homosexual tendencies."  I did mark it, and wrote a sentence trying to communicate what had happened at William and Mary.  I was pointed to another table, where another “doctor” questioned me only briefly, and I again stated that I had regarded myself as a "latent homosexual."  I actually thought I was being honest. “That’s all I need to know,” the doctor said.  A few weeks later, I received the results, a “4-F” classification, meaning not available for induction under any circumstances. I might as well have been a girl.

     Once Vietnam heated up, however, I knew that something like this on my "record" would foreclose many future jobs.  I would constantly have to explain why I had been excluded from the Army, even as I had recovered from William and Mary well enough to finish college at George Washington, with a 4.0 grade point average. I contacted the draft board, and they agreed to have me re-examined.  In April 1966, I took a second physical, this time in Kansas City.  I actually took a train from Bonner Springs the night before, and spent the night in a YMCA-like "barracks" downtown.

      By 1966, the Armed Forces had dropped any mention of homosexuality on the questionnaire forms.  Unofficially, the policy had become, "don't ask, don't tell."  However, the examination station had a copy of the records from my previous physical.  Once again, there was a very brief interview. “We see you have a history of mental illness,” the doctor said. “I don't know why they called you in.”  But my draft classification was upgraded to “1-Y,” which meant I would be conscripted only in a genuine “national emergency.” As I rode back on the bus, I sat next to an Army PFC (Private First Class) who assured me that Basic really wasn’t too bad, and that he was starting Officer Candidate School (OCS) in thirty days. 

     Finally, in August, 1967, I was examined a third time in Richmond, again by my own request.  There were no “homosexual” questions, and this time the military seemed to have no record of my previous examinations.  I passed easily, and I was classified “2-S” for about a month, and then “1-A” as my matriculation approached.  I never heard very much about young men being turned away for homosexuality. Besides the real fear of post-draft discrimination, many gay men probably felt, as did I, that if they were half-way proud of their sexual feelings, they didn’t want to use them to get out of an obligation. If the war was really wrong, or if the draft was wrong, there were more appropriate things to do - mainly, go to Canada, or possibly apply for conscientious objector status (which was not easy to get unless one had established a long trail of pacifist expressions or certain religious associations).

     As far as I know, no other person ever intentionally got his draft status changed “recovered” from “4-F” all the way back to “1-A” and then went into the military.

     I applied immediately for temporary deferment to finish my MA.  But, later that fall, I "volunteered" to be inducted right after graduation.  I bragged about this to other students in the dorm, who made light of the situation by posting "another" sign on my dorm door, that I would turn into "cannon fodder" once midnight struck (that is, the end of the semester) and Cinderella's stagecoach turned back into a pumpkin. The guys in the dorm seemed totally with me, that I wanted to make some kind of moral point.

     Curiously, the military, while I felt extremely apprehensive about my upcoming “ordeal,” already had created a curious fantasy of honor in my mind. Once I rode home from a weekend excursion on the bus seated next to a sailor, and imagined I had indeed met a new friend. As we talked, I recalled reading stupid things in women’s magazines like, “when there is an emergency, look for anyone wearing a uniform.”


     The view of the Vietnam War that came down to me, and other conservative-minded people, both on campus at the University of Kansas and my summer jobs at the Navy Model Basin, was that this war subtended a very real eventual threat to the United States.  After all, we had been frightened by the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, and the Kennedy assassination (with all the attendant, Oliver-Stone-like rumors surrounding Oswald's connections).  A few students I met at the Model Basin had already worked overseas, and there were loose rumors about intelligence connections for at least one of them.  I had no contact with the war protesters, and as yet did not grasp the indignation of the growing underclass.  I was still a favored child - in left-wing parlance, a privileged character.  America still ought to be the land of opportunity; I had just made a "mistake."  But the "proletariat" could still yank my sheltered life away form me.

     During those days, the mid 60's, government officials would justify our involvement in Vietnam with the so-called “domino theory."  Secretary of State Dean Rusk would pontificate, "we simply cannot allow the North Vietnamese to impose a political solution by force." (The same Dean Rusk would boast, after a notorious CBS broadcast, "The Homosexuals," narrated by Mike Wallace in 1967, that "when we find homosexuals in the State Department, we discharge them.")  During my last summer at the Model Basin, the summer interns were bussed downtown one afternoon and briefed on the war, and asked for opinions about what kinds of events could bring the Chinese or even the Soviets into the war. They seemed to be trying to impress upon us the threat of communism and to sell us on the importance of the War, but it actually seemed like they thought some of us knew something.   All of this came from a "liberal" ¾ call it a "nationalist liberal" ¾ administration, in the terminology of one commentator.[36]

     Also, at the KU campus, a provocative film, The War Game, was shown in 1967, where a scenario was presented in which the Soviets invade along with the North Vietnamese, where tension escalate and eventually lead to nuclear exchange; in a Hiroshima-like scene, a small child is seen saying, "I don't want to do anything."

     I was starting to hear more about the student protests elsewhere, and actually wrote the Associate Pastor at my home First Baptist Church about it from my dorm. He wrote back that we had to trust that Administration officials knew what they were doing. A majority had voted for Lyndon Johnson, after all; in a democracy, we had to do what legitimately elected officials said when there was a peril (aggressive Communism) that could endanger all of us. Barry Goldwater (thanks to the Democrat ads)  brought up images of the black-and-white Hiroshima, Mon Amour.  Of course, none of us knew what was really going on “over there”; we weren’t qualified to know. But we could be made to give our lives if they said so.     

     All of this had me convinced, that to maintain self-respect -- to prove that I didn’t just ride on the generosity of my parents and fortunate upbringing -- I had to attempt to serve.  But I was very concerned about what would happen to me once in the Army.  Since I enjoyed classical music so much, I wondered what being around weapons would do to my hearing (artillery being the worst). Campus doctors simply told me, “Make sure you have your ears irrigated before you join the service.”  Unlike Bill Clinton, I didn't try to get a Reserves spot, and I wasn’t going to leave the country , but if I could get a “safer” non-combat job in the military, I would take it. One graduate student colleague would say, “Bill, you want to serve without really serving.” Had I been getting married and ready to father, like this colleague, I wouldn’t have invented the need to “serve” at all.  

     The Armed Forces are divided into two classes of personnel” commissioned officers, and enlisted persons[37]. Normally, to become an officer, one has to go through some special military program, such as a service academy, a land-grant university ROTC program, or a military OCS.  I had heard that there were direct commissions (not requiring special schooling from enlisted status) for people with advanced degrees in various technical fields.  I called a recruiter and left a message.  One afternoon, I found a message in my dorm mailbox, "there is no direct commission with a degree in mathematics."  (In later years, I would report to a man who had enjoyed a direct commission for a master’s degree in industrial engineering.)  I visited an Army recruiter in Lawrence, a big red-haired, freckled fellow who sounded innocuous at first.  "If you are drafted, you would be taken to the Fort Leonard Wood Reception Station for processing, and to be tested."  It sounded benign. He didn't talk about fighting.  But, regarding OCS, there was only Infantry and Artillery.  "Well, they need leaders of men in combat," he said. "But if you could sign up for three years, I can guarantee you can stay inside as a clerk, doing paperwork for officers." I digressed and inquired about becoming a medic. I wouldn’t have to work unarmed, would I? “No, you’ll carry a small pistol, act like a cop.”  If I wanted to play chicken and not fight like a man, I could just remain a “private in the Army” and rest for a comfortable three years.

     I would even contact the Air Force, and brag about my mathematics background as I looked for a safe slot. The recruiter wrote back, “Maybe you would like to be a navigator.”


     The draft would ultimately affect my teaching assistantship.  My first semester at Kansas, I taught two sections of algebra, the high-school-level “Math 2” course.  This was remedial, not regular college algebra; the grade counted, but the three credit hours were added back into the graduation requirements.

     Algebra invokes the manipulation of symbols as surrogates for numbers or objects. When I was a child, the subject had sounded like a great mystery, doing arithmetic or “figuring” with “letters” rather than numbers. Some people never understand the abstraction, and stay back at the grade school level where you never do your “number work” in ink.

       Nevertheless, I tried to start teaching the course with the logical foundation of definitions and postulates such as the “commutative law” that would support all of the symbolic operations in algebra. Later, I would ask other graduate students to sit in on my teaching - one would lift his hand with baby-language questions starting with “how come...??” ¾ and they would say I was not trying to sell the students on what algebra could do for them. This was a turnabout for me, from the times in high school trigonometry class, everyone thought I would make a good teacher because of my style of working problems in chalk on the blackboard. Now, I already embraced the notion that mathematics modeled everything that happened in life, and was much more dependable than people, even if it left some theoretical problems (like how many pigments it took to “color” a map) unsolved. Mathematics could be a dependable friend, even more dependable than chess. One could reduce any political problem, I already thought, to “logic,” even my lingering doubts about sexuality. This didn’t help me teach my impatient students how to translate those dreaded “story problems” into equations.

     I didn’t take attendance or grade homework, and told the students that study habits were now up to them. Many of the students did very poorly on the “hour examinations” and some openly said they were in school to stay away from the draft.  The abstraction really seemed beyond some of them.  They had trouble even stating definitions (for example, of a polynomial). By spring break, I had given two mimeographed tests (it was more “hip” to write your tests on the blackboard!), and about half the students received "down slips."  I caught one student cheating, having noticed his apparent copying and then compared the test papers.  I confronted him when I gave the tests back; he confessed, and I told him that he would receive an automatic F in the course (although this decision was mine).  Later that day, he called me at the dorm, and begged to come up and talk.  He did.  I sat casually on my twin bed, in underwear, as he pleaded for me to reconsider, and to recognize that failing the course and flunking out might affect his situation when he went into the Army, where he wanted to become a combat journalist.  I would not relent.  The "intimacy" of the encounter was a bit off-putting and probably embarrassing for him, yet it never occurred to me to think about, say, what my legs looked like.

     Neither George Washington nor the University of Kansas had implemented a formal honor code. One English teacher at GW had insisted we return our term papers so that they wouldn’t wind up in “fraternity files.”  I had actually caught students at GW once with a pilfered English exam and reported it to a professor. Generally, students felt more comfortable knowing that exams were proctored.

     Right after spring break, I was called into the mathematics department chairman's office. I remember his words: “we have bad news for you.” I was relieved of my teaching duties, although I was to be paid for the entire semester; a substitute had already been assigned to the class that I was to teach an hour later.  There was no clear explanation, but there had been many complaints about my tests.  The new instructor did honor the “F” I had given for cheating.  During the following academic year, I worked as a research assistant (Fortran programmer) for the physics department, and then was invited to teach the same algebra course again in the fall of 1967, my last semester there.

     At the math department meeting that September, the chairman reminded all the assistant instructors to be sensitive about the Vietnam War, and that in giving out bad grades we might, in the minds of our students, be “dooming” them to combat in Vietnam. “When in doubt,” he lectured, “it is better to be a bit lenient.”  This time, I completed the semester of teaching without incident.  “Boushka, you’ll get to burn ‘em again,” my fellow instructors laughed, but the students did earn some A's and B's this time. I actually graded the finals on the bus as I rode out to Denver to meet my last roommate, Rick, for a final run-around before my transformation into a non-human. The government had actually given me the power to decide, as I graded those papers, who might stay in school or who might wind up on Jacob’s Ladder. True, I had been a “hard math teacher,” but most of the failing students were substandard in most subjects and, to the extent that in those days, college was a ticket to a “professional” career, many of them didn’t belong there - except to stay alive.   

     In January, 1968, I completed the work on my master's, including a rather pedantic thesis on numerical analysis,[38] typed out on my own Royal typewriter, with many mathematical symbols hand drawn in black ink although the typewriter had been equipped with special integral and lambda symbols.  I gave a rather weak oral exam, but in the deliberations afterwards by the “committee,” my upcoming military service was a major controversy. I seemed so satisfied to stop with my master’s.  Already, everybody knew there were no longer enough jobs in college teaching for all the aspiring Ph.D. candidates, previously well motivated by the draft. Universities, under the shadow of Vietnam, were designing end-stage masters’ programs (in sciences) that made their students look good. 



     When I finished school and got back home, I went to another Army recruiter home in Arlington.  "What happens if I just get drafted?" I asked.

     "95%," he said, leaning over. "95% chance you'll get 11-Bravo.  That's Rifleman.  Light weapons infantry. Because that's what we need.  But you can enlist for two years."

     "What happens then?"

     "Still 95%, until you go for three." Choice, not chance, was the Army’s mantra then. Today it’s, “Be all you can be,” if you’re straight. 

     I called his bluff.  The next day, I signed up for two years, to go in on February 7.  I was sent to the local police station, to confirm that I didn't have a record.  I came back, and was given my enlistment contract, and a bus ticket.  I even had an Armed Forces Service Number, which I still remember:  RA11937256.[39]



     God-damn” Reception Station Scoops up College Grads


     I spent six days in the Reception Station. The place was surprisingly disorganized and squalid for a military facility.  The barracks were run down, with peeling paint and warped floors, the open bays cold and drafty with the smell of coal.  The latrines were filthy with feces scum over the toilets, and no hot water.  Amazingly, there had been no attempt to detail recruits into cleaning this mess up; it would have kept us busy and occupied. The Army obviously had the resources to clean up its quarters; it obviously wanted to shock us into accepting primitive living conditions.

     We got only an hour in the sack that first night; just as we hit the bunks, we heard a loudspeaker rousing the GI's (“Government Issues”) in the next barracks, "you're going to Fort Gordon."  It did seem like we were being processed for subordinate life or slavery on another planet.  Friday morning, we were marched to the notorious barber shop.  Actually, the military haircuts were not too bad.  We were allowed to keep about 1/4" of scalp hair, a short crewcut; we didn’t look bald.

     We would sit around on our bunks, and there would be a cacophony of gutter-speech and expletives. "Muvva fucka" (++Extreme profanity ++) seemed to start every jive-sentence.  Suddenly, someone would call out, "formation," as other troops marched by; we would gather our field jackets and ponchos (otherwise we still wore our civilian clothes for a few days) and march to the next "pep talk" or to a meal.

     Actually, once there was a real formation, on Saturday afternoon.  A cold front had come through, and we stood chattering in the rain and wet snow (yes, it snowed four times in South Carolina that February), as some NCO would call out "I need some volunteers."  We would all raise our hands in unison, like we were saluting Chairman Mao.  The idea, of course, was that this was no place to become conspicuous, to remain an individual. 

     Nights, we would take turns on "fire watch."  You would get up for an hour, and stand in a corner, near the coal furnace, with an entrenching tool, and "watch" over your “buddies” while they slept, peacefully. I pretended that I was proctoring an exam as I stood, lost in my own preoccupations and entertained by the stinging aroma of sulfur, and not just fart gas. I didn’t quite see myself as one of America’s “fighting men.”

     In the last couple of days, the pace picked up.  On Monday morning, the temperature dropped to a record low twelve degrees Fahrenheit, and I had lost my gloves.  We were marched to chow, and by the time we reached the mess hall, I was already shivering.  I went through the serving line, but passed out just as I was headed toward a seat.  This is the only time in my life I have ever been unconscious.  As I awoke, I was on the floor, and a mess sergeant was shoving a cup of coffee at me.  "This will help settle your stomach," he said. Had I actually vomited?  An ambulance came, I was imagining that there might be a quick deliverance from this hell.  But the doctors at sick-call quickly pronounced me fit and sent me back.

     Tuesday, we were trucked to the Quartermaster, finally fitted into all our uniforms, and taught how to fold the clothes and stuff them in a duffel-bag.  The aroma of mothballs permeated everything.  The fatigues at first were tight and scratchy on the thighs, but we quickly got used to them.

     But they saved dessert for last.  We were marched to a theater, where were shown films and given presentations about all the different Military Occupational Specialties (MOS's).  The Staff Sergeant would make wisecracks about all of them.  "Computer programming, the school in Indiana is filled up for four months."  "Ordinance (sic), do you really want to be on a bomb squad and get arms and legs and peckers blown off?"  Then, we were given forms to fill out, and list our first three choices.  Fortunately, the form included a space to list our education.  Of course, I put down that I had completed a Master's in Mathematics.

     A few minutes later, the grizzled sergeant, who really did have a lot of power in this area of the Army, bellowed out, "Hey, dunce, you missed a college grad."  I was called over for a brief interview on my background.  It looked like the Army would offer me a good deal in the first inning.



    This is Basic Trainin’ !


     They piled us, now clad in fatigues, packs, boots, and steel pots, into an olive-green canvas truck, closed the drapes to blindfold us, and drove in circles for a while, and then to the other side of the post.

     When the same sunshine broke through the canvas gates - call it an airlock - we were effectively on a different third planet, with no Stargate to return.

     They ordered us to jump out and race into formation and, like Lot's wife, not to look around.  My knee gave way as I plunged four feet to a blacktop, caught a glimpse of eyebrowed barracks, and limped to formation.

     "Hey, soldier, get your head out of your ass," some little sergeant screamed at me.

     In a few seconds, I was somewhere in the vast middle-class of the squad.  "Now, you will stand at attention, perfect, don't move a muscle. This ain't no god-damned reception station; this is Basic Training!... Now, no matter what they told you, from now on, you will address me as, 'Sir.'  Is that clear?"

     "Yes, Sir!"

     In the Reception Station, the NCO's had always screamed, "I work for a living.  I ain't no god-damned officer, I'm a mother fucking sergeant." And we had been told only commissioned officers are addressed with, “Sir!”  So why were they confusing us? Only to escalate our sensation of utter captivity, to impress upon us how far we had to be broken down before we would become interchangeable parts of a fighting machine.

     In my mind I was prattling, the Army is leasing my body for two years.  It doesn't own me. I would impose a mileage limit; I wouldn’t get traded in as mutilated goods.

     Sergeant Hopkins went on.  "Until further notice, you will not leave the confines of the Company Area." This consisted of four two-story wooden “eyebrowed”  barracks, laid down fifty feet apart like crayons, with an asphalt street in front, and exercise area with sand pits and overhead parallel bars, then mess hall, and a “KP alley” (referring to “kitchen police”) on the other side.  We were on "Tank Hill," named for the water tower perhaps a thousand feet in front of us.  A main street went down the hill to the center of the post, with "company areas" laid out on both sides, perpendicular.

     So this was it! I was immersed into regimentation, a loss of freedom, an eclipse of myself. This time, compared to the NIH hospital, I really was imprisoned, ironically because my character was now good enough that I could be trusted to carry a rifle and live with a military unit. It would be a long road to get myself back. I would have to earn it.

     The tension eased as we settled into our barracks.  We were ordered to empty out our duffel bags on the floor, as the cadre inspected for contraband.  I actually got caught with a half-eaten stick of Rolaids. 

     On the way to chow, we were made to process through the overhead ladder - and I just could not do those “friggin’ bars.”  Very quickly the cadre caught on and started jumping all over me.  "Hey, soldier, where you from... how much education you got."  ("Sir, I have a Master's degree in Mathematics.")

     For chow, we would line up, and enter the mess hall five at a time, after the cook called out, "Gim’me five."  They made us call out our service numbers, to “embarrass” the draftees and privileged six-month reservists (ER’s).  The food, served on metal trays, was generally rich and tasty, loaded with fats and cholesterol.  The drill sergeants had already screamed at the fat boys to go easy on the “starches” because a PT (Physical Training) test would come shortly. They expected soldiers to smoke cigarettes, however. On the first day of Drill and Ceremonies, they would show us how to field-strip an expired cigarette.  

     After chow, we had fifteen minutes to make our bunks and get ready for our first inspection, and I panicked.  I just couldn't remember how to make those hospital corners, even though St. Jones, our twenty-year old platoon sergeant, had demonstrated bed-making just before chow.  An African-American named Bill Lee, my upper-bunk mate, did them for me in the last thirty seconds, as he warned me about the “stockade.”

     I got through the inspection, as the assistant platoon sergeant, announced, "Tonight, you will shine your boots, you will shine your low-quarters, and you will clean my barracks."

     I learned quickly, with everything stripped away, to look forward to the smallest of pleasures, like sips at the water fountain.


     Things did calm down the next day, Friday, as we finished getting clothing and equipment.  Friday night, Sgt. Jones came by to demonstrate the proper making of bunks a second time. After mastering hospital corners, you made a dust cover, and the last blanket was folded in thirds, by trial and error, with adjustments by "cunt" "++body++ hairs."  Jones would inspect us every morning during breakfast; a failed bunk wound up on the floor; two would result in an Article 15 (non-judicial punishment).  

          But Saturday was even more interesting. We first received a pep talk from the brigade Sergeant Major. "This morning," he scowled, "a young man walked up to me and pleaded, ‘Sergeant, I want a discharge from the United States Army.’  Now, men, the only way you will get a discharge is to fulfill the two years if you were drafted, or three or more years if you enlisted."

     Again, if you were male, you owed your country your body for two years before you had the right to be an adult.  And “telling” was hardly a feasible way out. My younger male friends, who think they understand democracy, today have no real grasp of government’s contingent prerogative to capture them and regiment their lives for two years, and force them to risk their lives, in the community interest of “national security.” 

     Then the Company, Battalion, and Brigade commanders gave their pep talks.  Each level had an "open door" period, where anyone could speak to the commander in private, without the normal chain of command.  You can confide anything during Open Door, they reassured us.

     Saturday night Sgt. Jones gave us the details on foot-and-wall-locker inspections.  All of this business about "all buttons buttoned ... some of you will be going to Vietnam, and the only way you can stay alive in a combat zone is to learn to follow every direction, exactly.  If you have to evacuate a post, you need to know exactly where all of your gear is, and it has to be clean and maintained at all times." He summarized Basic Training as having two objectives: learning to take orders, and to keep your stuff clean when facing months in cramped, dangerous environments. He managed to explain the combat infantry badge worn by most of the cadre as evidence of service in Vietnam; he had not been shipped there himself, though drafted. He actually would enjoy a duty station at Fort Jackson as a drill sergeant for perhaps eighteen months.

     Our drill sergeant gave us sensible advice.  He claimed he had been a draftee, and been assigned to Ft. Jackson as his duty station for two years as a Drill Instructor.  He had a wife and young son at home, and I was impressed that he would spend a Saturday night on his own time to teach us.  He did care about his men, and I understand when he got out he became a policeman in Columbia, S.C.      



     Prepare to Rush..... Rush !        


     During the third week of Basic, we did a relatively long march back from "Individual Tactical Training," and the pace had relaxed a bit, into an at-ease stroll among the sand and pine trees on a mild late winter day.  The march had turned into a Science Honor Society hike, with an absence of mountains but lots of coastal-plain sand and aromatic pine trees. Field First Sgt. Hopkins said to me, "see, Boushka, this training isn't too tough, after all." Indeed, the videos of today’s Army Basic make today’s regimentation (even given the “integration” of women into the units) seem more overwhelming.

     A few hours earlier, it would not have occurred to me to think of Army Basic as a piece of cake, as I dove into the sand and skinned my knees through my fatigues, and then got up with a thirty pound pack: “Prepare to Rush!!!   Rush!!! ...  I liked the “night slaves” exercise better, when we wave our hands lazily in front of us to feel for bamboo sticks and other booby traps that really would flay your gams.

     “Well, Sergeant," I answered, "it shouldn't be like Parris Island, a hundred miles away.  After all, the Marines are tougher than the Army." I had always pictured the Marine Corps as the ultimate enforcer of the old-fashioned values of male fungibility. Men were hazed and presumably taught to endure pain without flinching (a true bodily insult), just like teenage boys in Sparta. The whole idea had always sounded degrading. It’s better if the Marine Corps just limits itself to “A Few Good Men.”

     The sergeants would scream about jarheads the rest of the march, but at the rest of the company. [By now, I had grown used to seeing their combat infantry badges, evidence of sacrificial service in Vietnam, something part of them but not of me.]  

     The leatherneck gambit wasn't my only gaffe that became legendary with the cadre.  A couple of days before, in Pugil training, the company commander had spoken to me, "You're one soldier I've been wanting to learn something from.  Now, I'm sure you're going to be working in Systems, but you've gotta learn to become a guerrilla fighter first.  Every man has to."  A few minutes later, the Battalion commander was observing us, including my getting whacked during the exercises of mock "fencing."  Somehow, I lost it, forgot I was in the military, and blurted out something like, "You must be a Brigadier General."  I mixed up the fatigue silver oak leaf with a star.  I did hear about that one later.

     Or, another time, when I was DRO (Dining Room Orderly) on KP, I waved at another Captain as he entered the room between meals for a snack.  I could be pretty unmilitary.  Well, letting an undershirt show through summer khakis was supposed to be unmilitary!  The cadre was always after me to "blouse my boots", and straighten up the gig line, and get a closer (and perhaps dry) shave.  But only once did my bunk get torn apart at morning inspection. But I was developing a most unmilitary reputation, down to my exposed undershirts, rumored to be loaded with lice.

     Yet, the company XO (Executive Officer) -- a past history major who would engage me in debates about the value of humanities versus the sciences in chow line (I wonder if he yet appreciated “social sciences” from a personal perspective)  did have the paperwork around for application for Direct Commission, and, based on my degrees, encouraged me to apply one night after chow.  I filled out the usual forms, and answered some essay questions, the way I would have on a Va. and U.S. History test when I would need a 95 to squeak an A in the course.


     On a typical evening, we would, of course, maintain our foot and wall locker displays, clean the latrine, commodes (without separate stalls) and showers, and buff the floors.  Sometimes I was asked to sit on the buffer while another guy would operate it. The guys called me "slim," "algebra," and even "slide rule," the nerd with no “common sense.” The cadre soon spoke of my deficiency of “social graces.” The barracks were always immaculate (unlike the Reception Station), and reasonably warm, except when they made us leave the windows open at night for "meningitis regulations."  Oddly, radios were allowed, and one of the "EM" (enlisted men), played the current rock songs on "WOCS, Columbia, first in the Palmetto State."  I got tired of "Simple Simon," even as the other guys sang along.

     Lights-out was at 9:30.  I slept well, but would wake up around 1:30, and then 3:30 to urinate.  By midnight,  it was cold in the barracks - the chill made me urinate more often - and I wouldn't want to crawl out of the sack to sprint on the icy floor in my tight, pissy longjohns to the latrine.  I would look at the Timex watch, and not want to go back to sleep, for that dreaded time when I would have to get everything ready for inspection drew near.  (In civilian life, that is like having to get up and go into work and prepare an elevation for production before a time deadline, without making any mistakes.)  Around 4:50 AM, I would awaken, knowing I have 40 more minutes of coze, but wondering if I'd better take the additional time in the chilly darkness getting my boots and wall locker perfect. I felt like I was getting up early to prepare for an exam! 

     Of course, there was detail.  The detail lists, neatly typed, were posted outside the mess hall. They were mainly two: Guard Duty, and the notorious Kitchen Police.

     Guard Duty wasn't so bad.  The CQ ("Charge of Quarters) would get you up, and a pickup would take you to a PX (Post Exchange) or theater  you would march around at sling arms for two hours.  Then, the truck to pick you up was always late. But KP was worse.  You went in the night before, right after chow, for "orientation."  Next morning, the CQ tugged on you at 3:30, which was sort of the phone screaming from a computer room in later years. You faced an eighteen-hour day of, largely, boredom.  More often than not, I was "side sink" man.  I brushed off and pre-washed the trays, with the wash water constantly becoming soiled and looking like vomit.  "No, this ain't no damn good," a mess sergeant would say to me.  The KP's usually got to eat first, however, and my appetite was enormous.

     The training was a potpourri. A class might start when the Field First Sergeant said, “welcome to your first exercise with Drill and Ceremony!”  Formally, there were eight fifty-minutes periods starting each hour at 8 AM, like a university. In practice, we were marched somewhere (“left, right, left”...”sound off”...”dress right dress!”), and most of the sessions took anywhere from 2 hours to all morning or afternoon.  Some of it was classroom: the UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice), the Geneva Convention for POW's (prisoners of war).[40]  We were supposed to study little notebooks, "TM-6's" in chow line that covered the "brainwork" for the eventual "G-3 testing," and the drill sergeants reassured me that 21 of the 67 total points were all “brains.” But perhaps four times a week, we had PT - most simple calisthenics such as jumping jacks, pushups, leg lifts, and "big G's".  I hated the bayonet forward thrust series, and side thrust series. We also took hand-to-hand, and pugil stick, and drill-and-ceremonies (which had been the very first Monday morning class).  The most "academic" was probably First-Aid, which followed Red Cross material with CPR and Heimlich Maneuver,[41] slings and splints, and added graphic discussions of the "sucking chest wound."  The Army could actually make some of this stuff interesting and they really did teach it vividly. The NCO’s overused a favorite expression, “That’s the breaks!”  In the fourth week, we started to march to the rifle ranges.

     In between the PT and “academic subjects” we would sometimes be marched to a nice, warm Post Theater for “Character Guidance” from a Chaplain. But these sessions always started with wild cheering, screaming, and whistling. Back in the barracks, we would sometimes get more of it. “E-4-1[42] Better than the Best, to hell with the Rest!” became a bombastic mantra. You were supposed to feel bonded to those guys in nearest physical proximity to you - your squad, then platoon, and company. Propinquity counted for everything. You could not choose to whom you would be loyal. But I quickly differentiated between the men who at least respected me and those who didn’t. I felt I had no choice whom I was supposed to respect. I never heard loftier moral concepts like personal honor mentioned.

     The chaplains gave me some opportunity for relief. On Sundays, they would let us go to chapel, and then again on Sunday night to a “Sunday school.” It was a kind of unofficial “post privileges,” even after one week. “Sure, go to church!”  Ever so slowly, it seemed, I would reclaim my humanity, however reconstructed, and freedom. I spoke to one of the chaplains and soon I was a volunteer organist for several of the Sunday morning services. For postludes, I sometimes improvised on the Mahler Adagietto, which had been played frequently during John Kennedy’s commemorations in 1963.     

     The first PT "quiz" ¾ the Physical Combat Proficiency Test, the PCPT ¾ had been given in the second week. There were five events: 40 yard low-crawl (on a canvas mat), run-dodge-jump, man carry, 1-mile run, and horizontal ladder.  The ladder I still simply couldn't handle.  I couldn't even maintain a grip, and kept falling off.  I made a score of 190/500 on the test, when 300 was passing.  After the PT test, I heard the cadre mention a bad word, "recycled."

      Sgt. Jones, however, was good enough to say, "Boushka made 190, but he was trying."  The cadre never, to my recollection, indulged in gay-baiting; I never heard anyone called a "sissy" or a "fag." One of the soldiers, however ¾  a gangly black guy who had made a perfect 500 on the PT test ¾ one evening a week after the test climbed up on my bunk, placed his hand on my chest (T-shirt still on), and asked me to fellate him.  Immediately, in front of probably twenty witnesses, I screamed, "take your hands off of me, or I'll have you court-martialed." Uncharacteristically, I had acted like a Big-G gorilla myself, and had chased off the puma. Had he forced himself upon me, however, I think the other guys would have stood up for him, and I could well have been booted out quickly with a bad conduct discharge. I would have been in the same position as a straight female accused of lesbianism after refusing an “advance” from an aggressive male. 

     After the first three weeks, we were allowed real "Post Privileges" Saturday Night and Sunday.  I never realized how good it felt to have myself back.  Having freedom felt good again, even if liberty were only relative.  My appetite was enormous now. I didn’t need the nose sprays and tums.  Sunday afternoon, I went to the Post theater and saw Planet of the Apes.

     The first day of rifle range, in Week 4, was horrible for me.  We spent it on the 25-meter range, and in early 1968 we still trained with M-14's. (From the tower would come the commands, "Firers, lock and load!  Squeeze those rounds off.")   The worst problem for me was the noise, and the plastic earplugs they handed out did nothing because they wouldn't seal over.  Shooting was not a problem, because the M-14 had an effective blast deflector; but coaching exposed my right ear to the full piercing shock of my buddy's fire.  At the end of the day, the officers made us “swear” we weren’t carrying any ammo out, just as they had drilled into us that one never takes an untested or unmaintained rifle on a mission. When we got back to the company area, my right ear was ringing horribly, with a deep, heavy, thuddy feeling, and I was running a temperature.  After chow, I was starting to shake and went on sick call.  An ambulance came and took me away, and in the emergency room, the medic said, "don't worry, you don't have to fake it.  You're at 105 degrees."


     I spent five mid-March days, from Wednesday night to Monday afternoon, in the Ft. Jackson infirmary.  To date, this is the only time in my entire life I have been hospitalized, besides NIH Ward 7-West.  Although the nurse interviewed me to make sure I wasn't delirious (as with meningitis), and the Red Cross called my parents, I got better very quickly.  The next day, the doctor said I had a “mild” pneumonia and prescribed tetracycline.  The nurse would come by and try to make me take cold showers to get the fever down.  But by Saturday, I was almost recovered.  Some ward NCO would come by and make us get up and wash down our beds as a detail.  I was trucked back to the unit Monday at noon, and cursed myself, that I was finally going to be able to do this stuff. 

     Monday night, before chow, I heard some of my "buddies" talk about the cadre having come by Thursday night and made them retake the PCPT.  Then, in formation, they called out the names of five men who were to see the company commander after dinner.  Mine was the last one called.


     In the last few years, a lot of folks have had the experience of being suddenly summoned to a superior's office, and wondering what ax will fall and how they will cope with a life of much less. Actually, I fantasized that the summons could have been regarding the direct commission application; maybe nerdiness could win out even in the Army.

     But we went into the day room as a group, and the first words out of the Captain's mouth were like this: "While you're at Special Training Company..." He actually started his sentencing with a preposition.  Then he called us in individually, and played daddy.

     "You have a wealth of education.  I wish I had your smarts.  But, some where along the way, you fell behind in the courtesies, and you didn't build up your body.  You've still got to make it as a guerrilla fighter before the Army will let you get back to your computers."

     "So what will I be doing?"

     "You're not a motivation problem.  You're not a discipline problem.  You're going to PT platoon.  But the commander is a guy like you.  He has a master's degree.  I think you'll get a long if you pull this out." Yet, he talked like a teacher telling a pupil who would fail a grade.



      Special Training Company


     A third time, we jumped off a bus, and now a beanpole Staff Sergeant Mears was eyeing about ten of us as we stood in formation in the chill March early morning sunshine, our duffel bags and steel pots between us, as a part of the formation.  We kept our eyes straight ahead; we didn't want to look.

     "Where you from, Private Boushka," he yelped.

     "Arlington, Virginia, Sergeant." 

     "You know what your trouble is?  Too much education."

     I would quickly become known as "professor" in Special Training Company.  My  squadmates had claimed I had no common sense, but neither do computers. We were marched to our new quarters, a Tent City.  It looked like the setup after Hurricane Andrew, with perhaps eight single bunks per tent on a concrete slab.  We were dismissed for a moment to use the enormous communal latrine, and I was so shocked by the situation that we actually urinated into the long washbasin before we figured out the birds and the bees.

     Shortly thereafter, we were marched to the day room, for a pep talk by our new commander, Captain Blackstone.  He told us we could get out of here today, by passing the tests, or we could be here a year.  "There are no passes in Special Training Company, no Post Privileges."  That meant, my parents would not be coming down at Easter; for a moment, tears actually came to my eyes.  It seemed we were being quarantined from the Free World until we demonstrated we weren’t cowards. From that cozy meeting, we were marched immediately to another PT test, and then an "academic" (actually, practical) test on other military subjects such as Drill and Ceremonies.  Actually, I flunked that test, too, and stayed in "academic platoon" for a week.  Then, I would move to PT.

     My  second day there, I was called over to the "mental hygiene clinic."  No one else was, and since the Army had apparently lost track of my earlier draft physicals, the cadre apparently just wanted to find out what I was.  The psychologist was one of the most perfect-looking men I have ever met ¾ if you want stereotyped Caucasians with perfect faces and hairy wrists. He wore his dress greens (the Army’s equivalent to the business suit). He said, "My job is to interview selected enlisted men who have had difficulties adjusting to military life."  I recall spilling out my worry that, because of getting recycled, I could lose out on a better MOS and wind up in Nam.  He couldn't say much.  "I made it in eight weeks.  I have heard of a few who have been holed up here for six months."  I suppose he could have recommended me for a General Discharge, for some vague connection to homosexuality.  But I think he suspected that I really needed to finish my obligation "with honor" if I was to get on with life. “You can beat this if you hang in there.”  Subsequently, I would look up the index in Randy Shilts's book for his name.  I didn't find it.

     A couple of days in STC were really horrible, but the worst moments would be followed by levity.  Once we had detail to clean out those long basin urinals in tent city, and one of the cadre said, "well, you never call attention in a latrine."  The next morning, we went on a "hike," and we had to carry our rifles over our heads for perhaps twenty minutes as we went up and down sandbar banks, as if they were stadium steps.  The second Sunday, March 31, I pulled KP, and I wound up in the grease pit, cleaning it with a toothbrush, while the head cook demanded, “how many jobs you been fired from?”  For a few moments, I sat and teared.  This seemed like the ultimate low; I was really in the hole for getting out of this place. However, after a half hour, the cook, a gangly Specialist Dugan, let me out and started making light of my plight.

     Some colder nights, cadre could come by our tents, and make us unzip our sleeping bags to determine whether we had kept our fatigues on, or really had stripped to longjohns.  "Get your clothes off, Horse," they would cackle as they tugged on our nighties.

     The third weekend, on Saturday night, rumors of a "Red Alert" went around the camp, after the assassination of Martin Luther King.  Though there might have been legitimate reason to expect trouble in Columbia (there already had been in Orangeburg), the idea of sending Basic soldiers into a riot zone as a "show of force" (Special Training, nonetheless), sounded patently ridiculous. [A few soldiers did speculate that LBJ’s government and perhaps J. Edgar Hoover were behind the assassination.]

     The PT platoon, itself, was not that bad.  We probably had two calisthenics sessions a day, and used a primitive gym, which we had to hose out and clean.  This was no Bally's Holiday Esprit or President's Turtle Creek Executive Club, as in Dallas, or Halsey Field House at the Naval Academy.  There was a power circuit, with crude apparatus such as inclined-plane situps, back-pullup rungs, parallel bars, a long horizontal ladder, and a medicine ball with which you beat your buddy in the abs, and York barbell freeweights. Once, when the Post Commanding General visited, we lined up along a wrestling mat and would repeatedly take three simultaneous deep breaths and at the command, "Hip," perform deep knee bends while slowly exhaling.  The whistle would blow, and we would scramble to our assigned exercise stations, yelling and screaming to demo our combat esprit-de-corps.  At the command, "Work!" we would perform the primitive exercise until the next whistle while yelling and screaming out of “esprit de corps” (or “unit cohesion”).  We had one enlistee thirty-six years old (we called him “Paps”), who had apparently joined up because of economic or personal hardship; getting to cooking school was going to be a real achievement for him.   

     The Tuesday I passed the PCPT test, though, was a great day in the sunshine. By now, I could do some runs on the horizontal ladder; I actually had some “lesbian” upper body strength (to borrow a joke from a previous Los Angeles police chief).  I had played Forest Gump for just three weeks. Sgt. Mears read off my time on the mile run, "07:18".  Back in tenth grade Physical Education, after our first run of the 440, I had been so winded I almost puked.  I guess I had come a long way.  It had become gratifying, to get up in the morning and have my legs feel so strong.  So, I had the run of the post for the rest of the week, until I returned to my recycle company the following Sunday.  I got to hike half the post, over to Military Personnel Division, and check on my MOS, which was going to be 01E20, Mathematician. Yes, I would be an Army Mathematician, if I got through Basic.

     There were other EM who were much worse off.  One of them eventually got a Basic Waiver, and another was almost autistic at times.  I tried to encourage him to try a little harder on the next PT test; “you’ll feel good about yourself when you make it,” I counseled. Well, I had. But this guy remained mute, like one of those patients at NIH. Why should he believe my values, which now incorporated the Army’s? The other “recycled” men showed the same effects from the cold as I did: hands chaffed, with the wrists going bald and becoming shiny around the bony areas from constantly lowered skin temperatures.  I really noticed this on the men that had been in Tent City for three or four months; they were beginning to resemble walking corpses already. I wonder if this was an effective way to stay out of Nam; I had my suspicions.  The unfit wouldn’t  make good fireplace kindling.



      A Direct Commission

      (for a BAD DETAIL MAN)             


     My  second company, B-2-1, was located higher up on Tank Hill.  I was put back in the beginning of the third week, with that horrible Individual Tactical Training again. This day wasn’t better; my body parts got scraped even more. It was demeaning, but already I could see the way out of this.

     I was given a single cot at the end of the bay; it straddled the space between the two rows of bunkbeds.  Perhaps this singled me out, although my relations with both cadre and unit "buddies" was much more comfortable.  Still, some of them liked to kid me about my diffidence and apparent lack of interest in female anatomy and lack of past girl friends. I told them that I "sublimate,"  and then had to explain this “big word” that dealt with directing sexual energies into artistic or intellectual pursuits (and not just wet dreams).  One private, who claimed to have been a psychologist before getting scooped up, delighted in analyzing my dreams, claiming that he could see my world "very clearly." He went on, “if you’re different, that’s OK, because that’s you.”

     By Wednesday or so, it was clear that the mystery behind me gave me a certain respect from the guys.  I became one of them quickly, if partially.  Some of them “knew” or suspected my fantasies,  but my presence didn’t bother them.

     A few days into the new unit, I was asked to type up a resume and hand-deliver it over to the Military Personnel Division (MPD) for my MOS.  I remember typing it in the day room, and carrying it with me all the next day on the bayonet course, before I had the chance to walk it in.

     One day, we took a break from training and spent an entire day on "detail" - "special services" detail, in fact.  We were supposed to chop up moist clay with a hoe or log, so the clay could fill horseshoe pits. It was drudgery, and we were bossed around by a civilian, a "recreational specialist."  Once I complained that this was hard labor for men in the stockade, and he came back with, "now, mathematician, you say you are, you're supposed to work hard like other men. You're one of the worst detail men I've ever met ¾ I'm fixing to report you to your First Sergeant, who will give you an Article 15 that will ruin your life."

     As outrageous as was his threat, my heart actually jumped, the way it had when the nurse in ninth grade had tongue-lashed me for "speculating."  It seemed like an assault on my essential person.

     Things turned around the very next week, though, as I was suddenly invited to my direct commission interview, having been told to report by our CQ  to MPD on the first day of rifle range.  So I got to come to reveille formation in dress greens, while my buddies wore fatigues.

     The interview was bizarre, and a bit of a sham on my part. It was not exactly like a master's orals. Three officers came out with pretty blunt questions. "Why do you want to be an officer?” (I thought, that’s like asking, why do you want to go to med school, and you’re not supposed to answer, “for the money, stupid!”). “What leadership experiences do you have? Student Council? Athletics? Are you a platoon guide or squad leader in your basic training company?"  They were very concerned with evidence of leadership success in socially approved tests of masculinity.  There were no technical questions, of course; even though I had arranged for my parents to mail me a Xerox of my master's thesis so I could show it off.  Finally, the issue of my status in Basic Training came up - why I had wound up in STC. I punted and simply admitted I had at first had trouble with the PT tests but now felt stronger than at any time in my life.  They eased me out of that one with, "How would you run things if you were the training officer of a BCT company?"  Now what was all this for? I wasn't going to be a leader of men in combat (in Vietnam); I was going after a technical commission.  "But look at me," one rather baby-faced captain demanded, "I'm a lawyer, and as you can see from the crossed rifles insignia, I'm an infantry officer."  We got back to the Special Training issue, and I told them how I had tried to motivate the poor guy who had been in STC for four months right before I passed my own PT test.  I was not in the cellar.

     The six weeks in B-2-1 moved quickly, towards what seemed like triumph.  I made sharpshooter in the Record Rifle Range (47/75), pleasing myself that I actually hit several 350-meter popups from the foxhole position.  Between qualifications, we would load bronze ammo clips.  A radio was playing, and broadcasting news stories that peace talks were starting.  Tears would come to my eyes that maybe this horror of Vietnam would soon come to a merciful end, and we would be able to go back to our own more productive lives.  I did not yet know about the severity of the Tet offensive about the time I started Basic, or that several more years of war would set off social changes at home that would soon define my whole adult life.

     We went through the gas chamber - and all we had to breathe was tear gas (no chlorine, which had been rumored), and it set off the most violent coughing in my life.  Many guys threw up, but I didn't. We went on bivouac, an eight-mile hike through the sand hills and pine trees, and we were zapped once by riot gas.  I had a tent to myself (I was still a bit churlish), and the tent fell down on me during the night in heavy rain.  The next day, we went to night infiltration, at Corrigedor Range.  It was a rather unearthly experience, but not really scary.  I lay on my back, inching my way across the abyss in the cool sand, while red and white tracers flew over and looked like flying saucers.  The whole “English Channel” crossing took about twenty minutes.

     After infiltration, the morale in the unit really perked up as graduation and liberty approached.  We finally got passes, with 125-mile ranges. Some homesick kids had permission to buy full-fare plane tickets back to New York, for a quick Saturday night and Sunday morning. I stayed closer; I took a bus into Columbia, passing beautiful Southern homes and azalea bushes on the way in. My old platoon Sergeant Jones actually stopped me; he was patrolling the streets with an armband, “UP” (Uniform Police).  The Army does watch what its people do on liberty.  I went to a black-and-white but Panavision movie, Truman Capote's In Cold Blood.  I ran into two guys from my old E-4-1 company, both now in AIT (Advanced Individual Training).  They both bragged about having gotten infantry.  I recalled, they had each finished two or three years of college without graduating. They would go home for thirty days of leave, and then off to Nam where they had perhaps a 20 percent chance of being wounded or killed in their one year's gambit.

     I was still paranoid about the "final exams."  I would practice D&C after dinner in the company area.  On the G-3 test final (mostly “lab” practical tests on first aid, drill and ceremony, individual tactical training, bayonet, and written tests on Code of Conduct and Military Justice) I got 57/69.  I made 357 on my final PCPT test, including a seven-minute mile-run. Although some women would probably do better than this, I had again proven that I could achieve decent success in PT if I had to.  I really could deal with gym. Was the “physical weakness” of earlier days a sign of sloth, or lazy character, or do I have some subtle genetic or congenital problem, that interferes with “male” performance in physical strength? I don’t know, I think there is a recursive mixture of both.  Even today, on outdoor hikes and runs, my performance is way below the level of most other gay men (but there is no real “statistical” difference in athletic ability between gay men and straight men).  

     We marched in khakis for our graduation, which seemed almost like an academy matriculation.  Then, we had a company beer party, and actually had a softball game.  I grounded out twice. The other guys arranged themselves in daisy chains, singing "Nothing Like a Dame" and "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon."

     A few days before graduation, I had received my orders for Ft. Myer, and my sheltered MOS. It was to be 01E20, “Mathematician.”  It looked like I would stay out of Nam, unless the political pendulum started turning back.

     The last night, after graduation, I took an introspective walk all around Tank Hill, proud that I had survived this ordeal, and would go home feeling more self-confident and energetic than any other time in my life. I would be free again - relatively.

     I had a slight permanent ring in my right ear from the rifle range, and it would not go away, but I would be able to enjoy my music.  On a cool Saturday night, to start the Memorial Day weekend, 1968, I was back home, with much to look forward to if the Army didn't renege on its Faustian good deal.



      McNamara and Remembrance   


     For the four warmest months of 1968, I was assigned to a "Force Development Group" in the Pentagon, which had two other graduate-student types like me, along with many civilians, a Colonel in charge and a LTC, who proudly wore his Ranger badge, as XO. Nominally, I was supposed to live in the temporary barracks on Fort Myer's South Post; most of the time, I went home to my parents' in north Arlington.

     Curiously, since I no longer really had to, sometimes I actually enjoyed playing soldier-boy.  A few nights I really did stay in the bay at South Post.  A few of the men happened to be amused by my chess playing, and my ability to beat them all simultaneously.  The Spec-4's and NCO's had little partitions, and would openly play rock music of the time, such as "Don't Let it Get you Down."

      Then one morning Sgt. Garcia, the oft-rumored crumb of a barracks sergeant, held a surprise inspection and seemed terribly upset for some unspeakable reason.  Like a cat, I decided not to stay there any longer.  Later that morning, I would learn that Senator Robert Kennedy had been assassinated the night before in Los Angeles.

     The mission of the Force Development Group was politically controversial. It was supposed to evaluate the expected combat effectiveness of various compositions of units, vaguely according to accepted "Operations Research" simulation or optimization methods.  Units were classified as Combat (such as Infantry or Artillery, the so-called "combat arms"), Combat Support (mainly, engineers), and Combat Service Support (everything else, such as legal, finance, quartermaster, transportation, medical).  Most of us coded key-punch sheets that would later go through data entry and into a mainframe model that I never heard much about.

     In the meantime, I filled out the applications for a Top Secret clearance.  I was honest about the sensitive questions (such as a history of psychiatric treatment). I was not asked about homosexual tendencies.

     None of us was terribly busy, so I had time to peruse through down-classified documents.  Particularly interesting were war-game scenarios written during the Korean War, now marked down to Secret.  Various speculations were offered about the eventual behavior of the Soviet Union; apparently, even during the early 50's, the Soviets were further along in their own nuclear weapons development than is usually reported. I often took the initiative to hide out in the library, and track down other documents describing various nuclear war scenarios. One, in particular, detailed the amount of destruction at various distances assuming a megatonnage hit on St. Louis, a setup for the 1982 film, The Day After. I discovered various studies of civilian evacuations in anticipation of nuclear strikes, which usually pointed out the depressing conclusion that the countryside was as vulnerable to death from radiation sickness as were the cities from the blast. Only very recently have we learned that President Kennedy had actually discussed evacuation before ordering the blockade that ended the Cuban Missile Crisis.[43] I can imagine us “mental patients” being shipped out of NIH for “re-education.” 

     The other enlisted men would indulge in discussions, not only in the common degradations of Basic Training, but also in the real motives behind the Vietnam War.  One opinion frequently offered was that senior Pentagon military officers would deliberately cook up wars to justify their own jobs.  A term frequently heard describing senior enlisted men was "lifers," men who couldn't make it in the only recently more competitive civilian world.

     Still, there was very little to do, and the speculations about what was really going on continued.  The world view became more sinister.  After all, by now we all realized how awfully we had been creamed in Tet early that year, 1968.  Lyndon Johnson was not going to run again ¾ an admission that we were bogged down for a long time.  All of us were essentially conservative and "patriotic" (we hadn't protested while taking advantage of deferments); based on what we were seeing, it seemed that, despite the now publicized intractable nature of guerrilla warfare, the war could be ended if we simply brought them to their knees with unprecedented air raids and possibly tactical nuclear weapons.  Although the evidence was hazy (based on the documents available), it seemed to us that senior military officials believed that such escalation would bring in not only the Chinese but also the Soviets, and possibly provoke a nuclear showdown. There were also rumors of secret treaties between North Vietnam and Communist China and possibly even the Soviet Union.

     Of course, there is little evidence that this claim was objectively correct.  Rather, this may have been something military officers wanted to believe, as a justification for their own roles.  As long as we had to keep 500,000 ground troops in Vietnam under the aegis of this "domino theory", senior military officials had unbelievable personal power over the lives of young men, the capability to decide who risked his life and who was "too valuable" to be "sacrificed." [They could rationalize our policies easily, by making claims such as the possibility Nato could collapse if we failed in Vietnam.] Their power went way beyond the proper boundaries of the military society; it dictated civilian priorities, as in education and social "meritocracy" as well.  The Soviets, they believed, would leave us alone as long as our staying in the war really cost us something - like 50,000 young lives; that painful price (for our individualistic culture) would buffer or limit our influence around this “Bamboo Curtain” and contribute toward a credible balance. In this view, the war protesters, accused later by Nixon as spoiled college-boy “scum” giving comfort to the enemy[44] but in many cases motivated by religious and moral values becoming translated by a freer society, may have stabilized things by demonstrating publicly that the war, as long as it was stalemated like a locked pawn chain, caused Americans (as well as Vietnamese) real, personal pain. Perhaps the Kennedy and Johnson administrations really had underestimated the resilience of an enemy, counting on our Kingside attack to get overextended and fighting trench warfare behind its own lines. Perhaps, after the (barely) successful outcome of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy’s people thought the nuclear advantage would be like playing a chess game with an extra rook. If so, they forgot that two connected passed pawns on the sixth rank win against a rook in the endgame! By 1968, we were no longer underestimating the enemy; we were overlooking our own political and social vulnerabilities and lack of “concentration.”      

     In August one Wednesday morning, I received a mystery phone call from a sassy clerk about the rumors that I would soon "no longer be assigned to the Pentagon." I had met the clerk, I slender, precise and slightly nelly guy once in the barracks. I asked him if he knew of a problem with my Top Secret security clearance investigation.

     “I can’t tell you what I know,” he said, “but I’d get ready to pack my duffel-bag if I were you.”  

      The following Monday, the colonel in charge of the Force Development Unit called me in, and suggested that I look around the Pentagon for a transfer since billets in our staff were to be eliminated.  I was like a civilian employee looking for a new position in a downsizing.  Soon, I heard about another 01E20 slot in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, where enlisted men from various services worked together and wore civilian clothes, the height of status. I called around and tried to set up an interview. But a few days later, the smart-ass clerk called me again and told me he had orders in hand for me for Fort Eustis ("Fort Useless"), Virginia.  The Colonel called me in again and told me he was transferring me because there was nothing here for me to do in the Pentagon.

     Three months later, I would return to the Pentagon while “on pass” and check them out. I would find I had indeed been replaced, and the new guy would insist he couldn’t talk to me.

     Was this the result of the security background investigation, all the William and Mary business?  I checked the personal references I had given; none said they had been contacted.  No, I think I was perceived as a troublemaker, someone who would find in these distinctions between “combat” and “support” the political games the military was playing, cultivating the belief that America owed the military the cream of its young manhood as a source of indentured servitude and as "burnt offerings."  They didn’t want to send me to a meatgrinder I wouldn’t survive;  they just wanted me to go away where I could forget their game before my two years under military control were up.



      Safe Place for a Chickenman’s Revenge                   


     There was one more bus ride, this time down into Tidewater Virginia, just past Williamsburg, where I had experienced my debacle, on to an area called "The Peninsula," between the James and York rivers.  Fort Eustis was just barely inside the city limits of sprawling Newport News, Va., no “metropolis.”

     I was assigned to the U.S. Army Combat Developments Command Transportation Agency (USACDCTA), housed in a one-story wooden building, freshly painted white, without air-conditioning.  There were two rows of desks, with a Lieutenant Colonel at the end of each row; the Commander, a Colonel, and his XO had plush offices in the back with window air conditioners.  The staff consisted mostly of civilians, including one who had been an 01E20 but actually stayed on when his draft term was up.  There were two lieutenants, a major, and one other enlisted man, who had actually enlisted for three years to get a "soft" job.

     As at the Pentagon, there was little actual work to do. The main concern would be - will I be left alone here for the sixteen months remaining?  Much of the time was spent coding documents in to a library catalogue system called "Spiral."  But, in time, I did get to code a simulation model in a proprietary language from Rand Corporation called Simscript, but I don't think it ever actually got executed. As I processed in, everybody seemed aware little was happening; the XO said, “we expect you to make the coffee.”   

     We were billeted in a typical two-story eyebrow a few hundred yards away. Now, we had private rooms, with a bunk and a slanted ceiling, and walls of plywood boards painted green.  There were guys from various other units, such as the sister "Transportation Engineering Agency."  We even had a few men who were TDY (temporary duty) from the Air Force. One other ‘01E20 Mathematician” (actually a chemistry graduate), who had enlisted for three years to play it safe, was also assigned to CDCTA and lived in the barracks. Barry - I’ll call him - had been a fairly quiet guy who tried to convert to Mormonism and spent many of his evenings drawing genealogy charts. I found I could get his goat by talking about all the shenanigans in the Pentagon and about how badly we were doing in Vietnam.

     I settled in, and started spending a lot of time with my chess books, reading Ayn Rand’s monumental Atlas Shrugged, and writing my own rather autobiographical novel in longhand in a composition notebook.  It was supposed to be our worst nightmares come true: a latent homosexual in the Army, himself sheltered from combat fought by the “real” men,  discovers through his underground social connections an internal plot in our own government to set off World War III. The bombs come, and the ensuing broken society becomes a commonwealth of little Communist states, run by everyday “Morlock” [45] people who gave the book its name, The Proles.  Finally, another one of the anti-hero’s “connections” does the earth in for good, while a few survivors escape on a spaceship.  Of course, the silly story is totally invalid now with the end of the draft and (maybe) the Cold War; but then it read like a crude Dr. Strangelove.  My manuscript played on two themes: dealing with regimentation and loss of freedom in a homeland attacked by a moralizing enemy, and an anti-hero’s finding self-esteem as an amateur “spy” worming his way toward the top of the establishment and finding himself trapped by his own loyalties.       

     The 1968 elections were a hot topic.  Almost everyone supported Nixon, and believed that the Democrats - even with a “liberal” President Hubert Humphrey - would continue the war forever. The rigging of the platform and nomination process at the Democratic Convention, as well as the police massacre depicted soon in the X-rated film Medium Cool, were already well known among this reasonably well-educated troops.   The notion that Vietnam could some day escalate to a nuclear confrontation, and bring in the Soviets as well as China, was frequently mentioned. [Everyone viewed Russia as much more dangerous than China, which in the view of some on the far Left was honestly trying to equalize all its people and achieve some collective justice.] I still recall the election night, when Humphrey had an early lead; but when I awoke around 2 AM, I flipped on the radio and heard the words, "Nixon leads." I actually felt relieved.

     The guys were very worried for their own lives if they got shipped out again. With the exception of maybe one hot-head about to volunteer for a second tour in Nam, everybody looked out for “Number 1.”  Rumors were always flying that our barracks building, with its private rooms, would be torn down, and that we would all be moved "back to the bay" with Special Troops, where we would start pulling KP and guard duty.  That never happened. We sought relief by acting out innocent college-boy jokes, almost like we were a fraternity. We made up animal names (sometimes based on Saturday morning cartoon characters) for various people in our units, such as "Lizard, Ostrich, Ocelot."  Several of these were Second and First Lieutenants with advanced degrees; the Command, curiously, put pressure on them to participate in the local community Boy Scouts as scoutmasters   (The command certainly knew I was no role model for Boy Scouts.) One rather cynical guy, a doctoral candidate who joined us shortly before I got out, called himself “Rado Suhl,” after two famous physicists.  I was called "The Chicken Man," or "CM,” eventually even by the flag officers in the Command. Most of the guys’ criticisms of my behavior, my tendency to boorishly “blurt out” what was on my mind, tended to be made with a degree of outright kindness

       I ruffled the guys’ sails by talking about the nukes in Russia and China, as I remembered reading about them in the Pentagon, and then by sharing my handwritten novel manuscript around quickly, just as I wrote it. Some of the guys took to my depiction of a primitive, regimented society surviving in the ruins after the bombs.  From the novel content and my nerdy barracks  demeanor, the guys concluded that I was gay, just as they had in Basic companies. “Why do you cross your legs in such a feminine way?”  Even the penmanship in my novel looked like a girl’s to them; boys write “regular.”  I never told them directly that I wanted men, but I certainly never denied it. With so much peril and danger ahead, the guys admired my non-conformity to society’s rules, as if I were a kind of movie anti-hero, like the little boy of the Tin Drum [46] who refused to grow physically into a lobotomized, regimented adulthood.

     Right before I got there, they said, the previous barracks sergeant had been "quietly" moved off post because he had been “caught” having a fifteen-year old boy living with him in his quarters. The fag jokes quickly became more outrageous, if good-natured.   We would imitate Tiny Tim ("Tiptoe Through the Tulips"), and we made up "The Gesture" ("O Go Way Butter-Fly" with a leeching tongue and exaggerated limp wrist. We made fun of soldiers with high-pitched voices. Barry drew humorous rebukes in the barracks for shaving portions of his forearms before giving blood; he reacted with the stereotyped “lithp” (sic), “Yeth!”

     I gained social acceptance, already established by my “creative” imagination,  when I joined in the jokes. I laughed with the “fags” that could either destroy or save the world (as in my fiction), rather than at them. Somehow, the guys acted as if their connection to me might save them.  The jokes got even more daring in the last three months before I got out.  I would talk of male “hormones,” and the other guys called me “hormone,” not knowing what the word meant but noticing it sounded like “homo.” One of the more “proletarian” guys, when sufficiently soused, claimed that even “queers” would wake up some day to their need for women and then commit involuntary rapes.  One soldier and I would engage in skits about how a commanding officer would treat a “queer” in his unit; then the soldier would parody the skit by actually exposing himself to me.  Another one of the analysts actually came out to me in the barracks, and then two weeks before I was to get out, one of the other field grade officers on post called me in and made a sexual advance (placing his hand on my thigh), which I ignored and handled by simply leaving his office. That proved it, of course; the senior officers  just pretended they didn’t know.  As for the females on post, the guys characterized them as all lesbians with the most indecent expletives imaginable; but they bore the women no direct animosity, they were just a different species. In this era, male soldiers sought civilian girls (such as William and Mary coeds) off post; they weren’t interested in WACS (not “feminine” enough) anyway. The Army was still years away from experimenting with gratuitously training the sexes together.  When the movie Midnight Cowboy showed on post, there were long lines, as the officers stood around and warned us that this movie was about "hom-o-sex-u-al-i-ty" and emasculation and things like that.

     We barely knew, then, that women were already making rapid gains in the military.  Over 260,000 served during the Vietnam War, and 7,500 went to Vietnam itself.[47]  Only almost three decades later would debates erupt as to whether women had the upper body strength and aerobic capacity to function as replaceable components of combat units.[48]  What would matter, toward ending the draft, or at least ending the sacrifice of young men, was that women could win physical wars as well as those inside computers or on chessboards. 

     My  squareness and my reputation as a teetotaler probably increased their respect for me. Some of the boys would “tempt” me with trying marijuana or shooting speed. “You’ll never know, you’ll never experience.” I’d been high once, in a dentist’s chair; that was enough. They’d claim pot heightened their visual awareness of details; and I’d argue back that, at best, drugs made them into artificial selves and personality fragments. 

     Toward the end, we got a new Sergeant Major, who wanted to bring back more soldiering. All the guys referred to him as “Lifer Meese.”  We had to paint our rooms and barracks for the IG (Inspector General) inspection.  We had to qualify on the rifle range: and this time, we had to use all the positions (including standing).  I boloed, although my records were falsified so that I didn't have to fire again. Perhaps I committed a venial breach of honor.  My right ear started ringing badly again after the experience; for several days, the ringing would intensify any time I bit down or clenched my teeth.

     I also had to be reprocessed for my security clearance, just a Secret.  I wound up having to be interviewed (again) by a base psychiatrist, who saw no reason why I couldn't be trusted with classified information and seemed to sympathize with my predicament.  In my extensive spare time, I searched for and read Army regulations concerning homosexuality. I was already spending some evenings playing chess games with a civilian engineer who had pretty well said he was homosexual (even dating a male sailor), and I wondered if this legally still made me a Class IV “homosexual.” Then, I would think, everybody knew. And nobody cared. William and Mary had kicked me out, but the Army wouldn’t.  

     My  official military records show only my first Secret Clearance investigation, completed about the time I was going into Special Training Company. No mention of my homosexuality or psychiatric treatment appears anywhere. My DA-20 Form (Enlisted Qualification Record) shows both “conduct” and “efficiency” to be “Excellent” at every station, even Basic Training and Special Training Company.  (Curiously, it also names my religion, “Baptist”).  My Freedom of Information file from NIH shows that NIH reported on me just before my induction, and again after my transfer to Ft. Eustis. NIH spoke of “identity confusion” and “obsessional defenses” but never mentioned that forbidden word, “homosexual.” It suggested that my difficulties were more significant in personal than in job performance areas. Furthermore, NIH refused to comment on whether I was reliable enough to hold a security clearance;  it appears odd on the forms that the military would ask a civilian health agency to take responsibility for an area such as security - very much a matter of military deference. The Army could pretend I had never “told.”  Later, I would have a Top Secret investigation for civilian employment with the Navy, and again not get the clearance. The Naval Investigative Service answered my recent FOI (Freedom of Information and Privacy Act) request with a letter indicating that the NIS does not retain personal information on previous military or civilian personnel (such as psychological profiles or sexual orientation) except for persons had actually engaged in specific criminal acts.  

     I went home most weekends.  My father sold me an old 1962 Ford Galaxie for $300, and I was able to get around the area.  I began going to a local area chess club and playing in quite a few tournaments.  I set up and directed one tournament on post, and the Army paid my way to play in the Armed Forces Championship at Fort Meade. By now, various acquaintances, even in the Army, were following the progress of U.S. Champion Bobby Fischer, who would in 1972 take the World Championship title from Soviet player Boris Spassky. Even today, the World Champion (from Russia) Gary Kasparov says that Fischer’s performance was importance in giving the United States intellectual credibility in the brainwork side of the Cold War. Over the next two decades, numerous grandmasters from Communist countries would defect.   

     The last weekend in June 1969, I went on a church retreat in Orkney Springs, Virginia.  Saturday afternoon, we played a softball game.  I was the first batter in the top of the first inning, and on the first pitch, I hit the ball further than any other time in my life, way over the left fielder's head for an easy homer.  Everyone who had watched my boyhood was shocked, but I was still in much better shape physically than any other time in my life. (That didn’t stop me from booting a ground ball at second base in the bottom of the last inning, leading to a 10-9 loss). Perhaps I was celebrating, psychically, what had happened in New York City the night before.  But I could not imagine how the world was about to change because of an obscure counterculture riot in Greenwich Village, which at the time I probably would not have approved of; incredibly, I still thought of "overt homosexuals" as drag queens or as men who wanted to become women; after all, all the jokes in the barracks were just innocent fun. I also did not yet know that England had already decriminalized sodomy in 1967.

     That evening after the softball game, in fact, one of the Sunday School classes put on a comical skit about one of the retreat “barracks” (“Peterkins”), and someone said to me I looked better than at any time in my life. Serving in the Army, getting “drafted,” had somehow been right for me.

     Three weeks later, the world would witness another milestone: mankind's first step on the moon, on another planet. If we could get out of this war, maybe the world for our generation really would offer the unlimited opportunity that I had dreamed of during my idealistic high school days. I quickly saw the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, and noted well the tender relationship between the two young men on the long voyage to discover ultimate truth in space.

     In just four weeks, twentieth century America, especially gay America, had crossed a continental divide between a Before and an After. I didn’t know it yet, that urban gay people would soon be left more or less alone in their private lives as long as they didn’t “tell.”  There would be a kind of troubled Promised Land, a paradise ghetto, for me after I got out.                        

     That August, about six months before  “freedom,”  I began to explore the job market.  I began sending out resumes everywhere; and in time I did get invited to a few interviews in various cities, all expenses paid.  United Airlines flew me back to National Airport in Washington for an exploratory interview, but then I received a rude letter from them saying they had "other candidates" who were better qualified. I was morbidly curious enough to apply to EDS, which I had read about in Datamation; it talked about flying the wife to “Big-D” and about the wonders of Exchange Park, today an aging office complex ironically on the edge of Oak Lawn, Dallas’s gentrified “gay ghetto.”   In 1969, the EDS application form asked all kinds of nosy (not yet illegal) questions which would sound unbelievable today, such as "How often do you attend church?", and "How much did you spend on your car,"  There was even a series of questions with two columns, for "yourself" and "your wife."  Eleven years later, EDS would win acclaim for its commando rescue of two employees trapped in Iran. Today, EDS is a generous sponsor of AIDSWalk.

     Without much reflection, I found myself applying mostly to defense-related industries, why I thought my mathematics background most sellable. I did get a lot of canned replies, “your background is impressive, but....”  I wondered if my psychiatric background was somehow hurting me, or if defense was already beginning to scale back because of the unpopularity of the Vietnam war and the inflation it was starting to fuel.  

     But soon I did have some good interviews.  I visited the Heavy Military Electronics Division of General Electric in Syracuse, and then the Rand Corporation (which would eventually become involved in trying to lift The Ban) in Santa Monica, California.  I got two firm offers, one from Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey, and another from RCA Labs in Princeton, New Jersey.  The RCA offer was interesting.  I was to be hired into their adolescent Operations Research Career Program.  I would have perhaps three assignments at different plants during the first year, and then become a candidate for a permanent position.

     At the time, RCA was one of six companies in the "general purpose" mainframe computer business.  The others were IBM, Sperry Univac, Burroughs, General Electric, and National Cash Register.  Of course, I was put off by IBM's conservative image, and I thought it would be fun to work for a competitor.  And I had felt pampered by the posh hotels, plane rides, meals, and rental cars.  Most of all, the RCA offer had the best money, $13,500 (this was the end of 1969). I was naive. I had no idea what the professional world would demand, even though in ninth grade I had once had to write a term paper, "My Place in the World of Work."


     My last month or so in the Army was a bash.  A week before Christmas, I played in a weekend chess tournament at a Holiday Inn in Newport News, scored 3-1/2 points out of 5, and had the opportunity to play the reigning Armed Forced Champion.  I played the white side of a classical King's Indian; my opponent made a dubious exchange sacrifice at the end of the opening; I held on with a kind of "prevent defense" and eventually counterattacked, finally sham-sacrificing my queen in a combination that would get me to the endgame a clear bishop up.  A crowd had accumulated around our board when Black resigned.  I felt like a celebrity (legally, perhaps, a “limited public figure”). It was probably the biggest "upset" I ever pulled off in my whole chess "career." In chess, just like football or baseball, on any given day, in any given game, anything can happen.

     Our Command Sergeant Major Meese, offered the comment, as I out-processed. “Boushka, I guess you’re just civilian-oriented.”  Sure. Why would I want to stay in the military?

     Why  does anybody? In one more generation, I would find out.

     Some years later, a friend in Dallas at their “gay church” would relate to me how he had been discharged from the Army as a major after a Background Investigation (for his position in a tactical nuclear weapons program at Los Alamos) would reveal his “latent homosexuality.” In my case, the Army  could have claimed that, after all, I never demonstrated a propensity for homosexual acts; I didn’t fit the legal definition of “gay.” Subsequent retrospect would show that the military had, for the most part, often been more hospitable for reasonably well-behaved gays than many civilian areas. When there was fighting to be done, the military didn’t have time for the foolishness of gay discharges. When there wasn’t, the idea that the military was supposed to make men out of sissies often prevailed over the idea that the military should kick them out. Until about the time of Stonewall, too many people believed that all men were “reclaimable.”


     On Friday, February 6, 1970, I packed up my Ford Galaxie and drove home, leaving my military service behind.  I could face callup for two-week summer drills, but I knew this was unlikely.  I had "served" my obligation and had earned the right to become an adult. My father would claim that I was finally vindicated from the William and Mary episode, by holding down a civilian job, graduating with honors from undergraduate school and then earning Master’s Degree, and finally serving two years honorably in the Army. Once, he had written to me, while I was in graduate school, “We are proud of you,” but I curiously had felt more proud of myself at times wearing an olive green uniform than I ever had before, even if my military tour had become more symbol than substance. Now, he thought I was finally exorcised, if not exonerated. Later, I would learn, from FIO files, that RCA had actually checked with NIH about my problem. It seemed it still followed me around.

     The Army had tried to teach a lesson similar to that of the Arlington school system: to make it, to even survive, you sometimes have to get things exactly right. I knew this intellectually, but with practically no business experience yet, I hardly comprehended it.  

     As I pulled away from the barracks parking lot and header for the gate for the last time, the radio was playing the song, "Without Love, I am Nothing at All."



     Is the Cold War really over?


     Recently, I took a Sunday afternoon drive along various unmarked county roads climbing up Laurel Ridge in Pennsylvania, an obscure area north of the turnpike rapidly becoming settled with “exurbanites” who want the country living with the income from corporate jobs in Pittsburgh. I drove up the ridge where NBC’s Unsolved Mysteries claims “something came down” in 1965, spraying hot metallic pieces covered with hieroglyphics all over the ridge. The television program tried to market this as Roswell II, after the New Mexico incident back in 1947 in which the Air Force was accused of hiding the bodies of saucer inhabitants (the military insists now this was a downed secret reconnaissance craft).

     I talked to various residents of the area, and they told me, “something came down that night, all right.” The government is still smug about it, and keeps the area fenced off.  “The hieroglyphics were Russian Cyrillic, and what fell was pieces of a Soviet spy satellite. Another little Sputnik,” the operator of a railroad museum told me. If so, what does the government have to hide now?

     On another weekend jaunt just before publication, I saw the “Project Greek Island” government bunker underneath the Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., complete with House and Senate chambers and very intimate, Army-style barracks for congressmen. It had been finished around 1960, during my Mr. Wizard days, and had been closed down only when the Washington Post “told” on it in May, 1992.      

     I had believed in the “Red Scare,” I had believed Khruschev and his successors would try to bury us, and I (as well as most of my own circle of friends) had believed in the 1960’s that we actually needed to “be there.” If it was all a big lie, and it looks like it today, this government con job indeed tore our notions of manhood apart and put them pack together, differently.

     Hamlet, remember (in Act IV, Scene 4), noted that kings, patriarchs and imperial presidents - governments - send active young men in droves to their deaths, and hold the accusation of cowardice over them as a stick. Manhood - and honor - Hamlet thought, meant, at least, fighting back himself at those who had attacked his family, rather than drafting others to relieve him of the risk of valor. Honor, as an obligation to oneself rather than to others, kept its distance from our national leaders. People were learning it on their own.            



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[1]  There are five uniformed services capable of combat: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard. The Air Force became its own department shortly after World War II. The Marine Corps belongs to the Department of the Navy. The Coast Guard belongs to Treasury, but comes under control of the Navy during war.  

[2]  Old medical books used to refer to an entity they called “childbirth fever.”

[3]   Selective Service System, Bulletin #10,  Dec. 1990, p. 1.

[4] Memorandum for Director of Selective Service System, Assistant Secretary of Defense, Nov. 16, 1994.

[5] Ibid.  The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the male-only draft registration in 1981, with Rostkerv v. Goldberg.

[6] During the Revolutionary War, there was enormous social pressure to “enlist.” George Washington actually proposed a national militia of all adult males. William James wanted to draft men to manual labor; Woodrow Wilson used sheriffs for mass round-ups of conscripts.  Even for a gruesome, political war so frivolously driven by nation-states’ “entangling alliances,” there was enormous patriotism among American young men, as demonstrated in the film Legends of the Fall (1994).

[7] Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient (New York: Vintage, 1994), p. 69. Ondaajte’s novel explores the conflict between loyalty to loved ones and fidelity to moral values.  See also Gregor Zeimer, Education for Death: the Making of a Nazi (London: Oxford University, 1941).

[8] James Patterson, Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945-1974 (London: Oxford University, 1996), p. 599 in a footnote from Charles Moskos, “From Citizens’ Army,” a paper published by the University of Chicago.

 [9] These were largely the “deferred” draft categories starting with “2”; they listed “civilian occupation” (generically), then patient care and divinity, as well as students.

[10] “Effects of Marriage and Fatherhood on Draft Eligibility, After World War II to Today” Selective Service System fact sheet.

[11] Allan Berube, Coming Out under Fire (New York: Plume, 1990), p. 18.

[12] Situational homosexuality, referring to homosexual acts performed by otherwise heterosexual men when women are unavailable.

[13] Ibid, p. 143.

[14] Ibid., p 157.

[15] Marvin Liebman, Coming Out Conservative (San Francisco: Chronicle, 1992), p. 42.

[16] Very few people knew then that one English gay man, Alan Turing, had almost as a team of one enabled the Allies to break the Nazi codes during World War II, only to be arrested and shamed for gay sex in 1952.

[17] Randy Shilts, Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the United States Military , 2nd Ed (New York: Fawcett Columbine; 1993, 1994), pp. 101-123.

[18] Enrique Rueda, The Homosexual network: Private Lives and Public Policy (Greenwich, Devin Adair, 1982).  

[19] Truman, HBO Films, 1995. The second generation Japanese-Americans (Nisei) were kept out of the military until 1942, and then out of combat until the Army’s need for manpower overcame prejudice. The internment of civilian Japanese-Americans during World War II was certainly one of our most shameful episodes since Reconstruction, dwarfing even our treatment of African-Americans.

[20] Rand Corp., National Defense Research Institute, Sexual Orientation and U.S. Military Personnel Policy: Options and Assessment (Los Angeles: Rand, 1993), p. 6.

[21] Ibid, p. 7.

[22]  Shilts, op. cit., p. 70.

[23] Shilts, op. cit., pp. 19-21,

[24] Shilts, op. cit., pp. 281-283.

[25] E. Lawrence Gibson, Get Off My Ship: Ensign Berg vs. The U.S. Navy (New York: Avon, 1978).

[26] Rand Corporation, op. cit., p. 85.

[27]  Geoffrey Ward and Ken Burns, Baseball (New York: Knopf, 1994).

[28] The second team moved to Texas in 1972. I have always been angered by organized baseball’s hypocrisy; it still doesn’t want to field a team in the heart of a city whose residents are 70 percent African-American.

[29] Patterson, op. cit., p. 632. One of the surveillance operations was called “CHAOS,” another was “COINTELPO” (Counter-Intelligence Program). The liberals are just as guilty of this.

[30] Patterson, op. cit., pp. 628-633.

[31] Charles Murray and Richard Hernstien, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (New York: Free Press, 1994).

[32] On Feb. 21, 1997, ABC “Nightline”  played the first of the "Johnson tapes," to show Johnson's attitude about Vietnam in 1964,  before escalation. This topic is taken up in Robert McNamara, In Retrospect (New York: Random House, 1995), chapters 4-7. Johnson sounds genuinely concerned at the idea of committing young men's lives and even then feared bringing in the Chinese, but the notions of political hegemony seemed to rationalize every escalation and blinded him (and others) to the unfairness of the way the draft would be handled. Obviously, if "rich" young white boys were going to be sacrificed, the politicians would have had to re-examine their real motives. Johnson did see calling up the reserves (as was done in the Persian Gulf War of 1991), as opposed to gradual increase in draft calls, as too abrupt and provocative.

[33] Shilts, op. cit., p. 40. Shilts goes on to tell the story of Danny Flaherty’s Army and Vietnam service after his expulsion from college when turned in by a fellow student for consensual homosexual acts (which then were not even illegal in Illinois!)  According to Shilts, Flaherty simply just didn’t “tell” at his physical, out of patriotism and a fear of embarrassing his family. My motives, by comparison, were more to prove my manliness to myself. 

[34] The United States Chess Federation, in Newburgh, N.Y., sponsors most major tournaments in this country and maintains a computerized rating system ranging from “senior master” down through letters A-E, which rather sound like classroom grades to me!

[35] “Rumors” that various commercial foods and drinks are spiked often float in black ghettos today.

[36] Michael Lind, "What Bill Wrought," The New Republic, Dec. 4, 1994, p. 19.

[37] The Army also has a special class of personnel called Warrant Officers for aviation.

[38] Bill Boushka, Minimax Rational Function Approximation (Lawrence, Kansas University, 1968), available only from the author or the University.

[39] “RA” stood for “Regular Army.” Since 1969, the military has used social security number as service number.

[40] The treatment of prisoners, such as pilots downed in combat in Iraq, has always been a grave concern and a reason to keep women (and possibly “known” gays) out of combat. The Convention calls for prisoners to give only  name, rank, and serial number.   

[41] See the Red Cross CPR Module, “Respiratory and Circulatory Emergencies.”

[42] Company; battalion; brigade.

[43] Ted Koppel and ABC Nightline, Oct. 24, 1996. Khruschev gave in only because our intelligence had detected the Cuban bases, set up as blackmail for Berlin, just in time. McNamara points out how the Turkey bases were given up to let Khruschev save face, yet were  depicted to Americans as obsolete and expendable, so the domino theory, so critical to Vietnam, wouldn’t lose credibility. From my own readings and discussions in the Pentagon, I am convinced that, had we not discovered the missiles in Cuba for a few more days (after October 15), Khruschev would not have backed down and could have faced nuclear war. Good thing our spy pilots did their jobs, and a good thing we had men who wanted to fly spy planes. Did the threat of the draft have anything to do with that? Probably not.   

[44] See David Mixner’s Stranger Among Friends (New York: Bantam, 1996), pp 106-111 for a harrowing (or, according to one friend of mine, “embarrassing”) account of how Nixon’s antics against the war protesters ensnared gays.

[45] As in the H.G. Wells story, The Time Machine.

[46] Gunter Grass, The Tin Drum , English translation, most recent is  provided by (New York: Knopf, 1993).

[47] Harry Summers, “Sensible Opinion,” op-ed, The Washington Times, Feb. 13, 1997, p. A19.

[48] Stephanie Gutmann, “Sex and the Soldier,” The New Republic, Feb. 24, 1997, p. 18.