Sunday, August 04, 2013

Roads Not Taken Part Two



When I graduated from high school in June of 1959 I had little prospects.  My Mother already told me that our family didn't have the money to send me to college.  She told me that when I entered 9th grade.  That's why I didn't take the academic college preparatory courses. I took the commercial courses.  My default career choice.

Since I ran afoul of my bookkeeping teacher who wrongly accused me of helping some of my classmates to cheat, I couldn't transition into an office job in my hometown of Downingtown because I was blackballed for quitting my bookkeeping class in my senior year.

Me,, far left, with my cousins on graduation day 1959 - no job prospects and ripe for the Service

I didn't want to be a steel worker like my father, uncles and (eventually) my brothers.  I wanted to break out of that mold.  What choices did I have left?

I always loved the water.  I would join the Navy!
Sure, the uniforms were a bit goofy but at least I wouldn't be shot at.  I had several reasons for joining the service right out of high school:


  1. Not to be drafted
  2. To get it out of the way
  3. To "see the world"


Thus I presented myself to the local recruiting office at the U.S. Post Office in Coatesville at 250 East Diamond Street.  All the service recruiters were located in the basement of the post office.

U.S. Post Office Coatesville, PA and service recruiting stating (basement) - very unglamorous

My Mother was in agreement that I join the Navy. She accompanied me (drove me actually since I still wasn't allowed to drive the family car) to see the Navy recruiter.  So on a fine, summer day in June of 1959 I visited the Navy recruiter.  He interviewed me, I took tests.  I was a candidate!  He drew up my papers for me to review and sign.  He gave me a date to return to his office with the signed papers once I agreed to join. The tour of duty would be four years.

The next week Mom
My Mom - 1960
took me back to the Post Office on Diamond Street.  I went downstairs with my signed papers.  I went to his desk. He wasn't there.  I was told by the man in the Army uniform (sitting at the desk next to the Navy recruiter's desk) that he was out to lunch.  I said I would wait.


While I was waiting the Army recruiter, who wasn't interviewing anyone at that time, asked me "Why did you decide to join the Navy?"  I answered "Because I want to see the world, and I don't want to get drafted because I don't want to be in the Infantry."  He said "Did you know you could join the Army and also see the world and not be in the Infantry?"  I answered "No, I didn't know that." Then he added the kicker, he said "And you would only have to serve three years."  Now he had my attention.



I got up from the side chair of the Navy recruiter's desk, carefully avoiding eye contact with both the Marine (NO WAY) and the Air Force (didn't appeal to me either) and sat my butt down at the Army recruiter's desk to hear him out.

He told me "You can join the Army Security Agency.  We will send you to school for six months and you can see the world and not through a porthole."  He said "97% of our graduates travel the world."  More on the "travel the world" later but he had me sold.

By the time the Navy recruiter came back from lunch I had already signed my papers to join the Army.  Thus, another fateful Life Choice I made. I was about to embark on a life changing course that almost resulted in my premature death at age 17.

Army physical exams - I didn't pass and; YES, we were naked when they examined us.  I ended up on the table to the right - this isn't me in the photo but I still ended up "on the table" for "further" examination.....naked

17 comments:

  1. I wonder what was the mentality within the examination photograph. Was it to humiliate? "Make you all the same"? Perhaps is was a symbolic transformation going from civilian to 'birth as a soldier".
    Or perhaps: the examiners were a bunch of wicked old screws.

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    1. Dr. Spo

      A combination of all three: humiliation, control and voyeurism. The Army, Marines and to a lesser extent, the services are to dehumanize you into making you a disciplined killing machine. That's what they're all about. The "process" starts with the first physical. Was it embarrassing? You bet. Especially with all the civilians walking around and even more so because I was laying on that gurney naked for a long time, waiting for a "doctor" to examine my testicles and why they weren't dropping when I did the "cough test." I have no doubt there were a "bunch of wicked old screws" in the White Jacket gang (is what they wore when we were butt naked.)

      Ron

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    2. The "icing on the cake" was when we had to "bend over and grab our ankles" then walk. Loverly.

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  2. Ron,

    They made you be naked for the entire exam? How off. When I went through the ordeal when I was drafted we were allowed our underwear until the last station. At that point a dozen of us were taken at a time into a separate room and told to drop our shorts. There we did the grab your ankles and the duck walk. It was there my psoriasis was spotted, but only on my one shoulder, a discovery that kept me out of Vietnam, a result worth the humiliation. Your exam sounds more like the thing I was put through at Boy Scout camp when they only looked t my toes.

    Lar

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    1. Lar,

      I remember being totally naked the whole time. Especially standing on that yellow line in a row with the other guys while the men in the white coats checked us out. And yes, we had to do the Duck Walk. We were naked in a big open room with all kinds of people walking by, men and women. Totally humiliating. By the way, when I applied for a job at Lukens Steel, we were all naked then too. Me and a lot of middle aged and older men. That was the first time I saw an old man naked. And yes, the secretary walked in to give her boss a telephone note while all 18 of us naked men were standing there. No privacy. Stupid. What were we to do? Walk out in a huff?

      Ron

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  3. I knew there was a reason I didn't join the military! I'd been boned up from minute one with all that nudity. It was tough enough in junior and high school to keep things under control during our enforced showers after gym.

    Peace <3
    Jay

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    1. Jay,

      For some reason, a giant room full of naked guys wasn't particularly erotic. Maybe I was on Dick Overload.

      Ron

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  4. I'll bet a lot of those in-the-closet doctors thoroughly enjoyed giving the physical exams.......I always love your stories. They are fascinating and I'm anxious to read more.
    As a nerd and a wimp, I probably wouldn't have survived the Army. Fortunately I was too young for the Viet Nam war. I turned eighteen just when the war ended. There was a time when I entertained the idea of joining the Coast Guard. In retrospect, I'm regret not doing it.

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    1. Jon,

      I have no doubt you would have fared very well in the Army. You would have been a great buddy.

      Ron

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  5. Anonymous11:03 PM

    My experience was similar. Brooklyn Navy Yard about 200 guys all naked in a huge room - really cold. I got drafted by the Marines December
    of my senior year in college because my "lottery" number was 4. I only weighed about 105 lbs ! All the skinnies were sent to another room
    and then the "white coats" came around and asked a lot of questions. When we were checked for hernias I was sent with some others to yet
    another room. Then more cough tests. Doctor asked if I had family history of hernias and I told him all males in my family had hernias and
    my great grandfather had his rupture in 1895 and they did not have a clue what to do then and he died of sepsis (sp?) poisoning. The doctor
    had to discuss this with another doctor and in the end eight doctors all felt my stuff and agreed first jump out of a chopper with a 75 pound
    pack on my back and I would be in a field hospital so they 4 F'd me and sent me on my way. No bus fare nothing, I didn't have any money
    with me I was being drafted ! Had to bum 10 cents for the phone called a friend to come get me. He took me to the bus station and bought
    me a ticket back to North Carolina where I was in school. Arrived back there hoping to resume my classes but since I had dropped out
    for militery service my semester was cancelled and would have to reapply to the school to be readmitted the next fall. So, had to get a job
    and never went back. Didn't have any problems with the hernias until 2001 when I had the first repaired then the second just last fall.
    Back in the sixties the hernia repairs were not always successful. My cousin had his repaired in the Navy and had to have it redone in 1998.
    We had mesh repairs and they were great hardly any recovery time just a few days.
    Stuart in Central FL

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    1. Stuart,

      We were in a big room too at 401 North Broad Street in Philadelphia. I don't remember being cold but I do remember the humiliation.

      By the way, I didn't pass the "cough test." That's why I ended up on The Table. I'll write about it in my next blog posting.

      I was provided bus fare though.

      Ron

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  6. Hi Ron - we don't have conscription up here - unless, I guess, some large war breaks out. So I always have a little awe for so many Americans who voluntarily give up part of their lives or are drafted to serve country. Especially at an age where other matters are probably more attractive. I hope you got to see some of the world. I'm like Jon - fascinated with your tales. Perhaps we'll learn where you visited in following chapters.

    Pat

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    1. Pat,

      I just wanted to get my obligation out of the way. I was pretty sure I would be drafted so I thought at least I would have a choice what I did, but that's not guaranteed. The Army can really send do anything they want with you. I especially didn't want to be where I was shooting somebody or getting shot at. As it turned out joining the Army was perhaps the single best decision I ever made in my life. My three years in the Army matured me like nothing else could and I am still benefiting from my three years of service. Just this morning I visited the VA Outpatient clinic in Georgetown. I get the best medical care in the world through the VA.

      Ron

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  7. Anonymous12:25 PM

    Ron: I volunteered for the draft in 1960. I was 19, and I, too, knew if I waited I would be drafted, anyway, and I didn't want to wait until the draft age (at that time) of 24 years old. My physical, in Detroit, Michigan, consisted of going from one large room to another with about 40 other guys. We wore our underwear until the one room where we were told to drop our underwear to the floor, and bend over while a doctor walked behind us and looked up everyone's rear end. And, to add to the humiliation, one of the recruits, a nerdy-looking married man, after the others were getting dressed in a large auditorium-type room, was called out of line, told to remove his "underpants" to be re-examined. Several doctors had him bend over, and spread his cheeks. From where I was standing, I could see each doctor, individually. inserting their fingers into him. It was amazing to me that this guy just didn't die from embarrassment. The look of pain and embarrassment on his face I will never forget!

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    1. Anonymous,
      I was one of those guys pulled out of the line. However, in my case they had my lie on a table…..nude. It seemed like I was there for quite a while (probably only about ten minutes) until a group of white jacket "doctors" came over and probed around my ball sack. All the while this was going on, all kinds of people, men and women, were walking around. Well, at least I wasn't required to bend over and grab my ankles while they all took turns poking their index finger up my rectum.
      Ron

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  8. I often wonder what would have happened to us IF we would have gotten a Boner : would they have thrown us out?

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    1. Interesting question. Probably has happened but not a chance when I was there. I was too scared.

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