I continued to learn my role as a help to my men. I desperately wanted them to learn how to make “hospital corners” on their bunks. Their foot lockers had to be exactly the same as everyone else. Not that there was a standard to meet, we just had to be identical. The first thing was to get them awake before the drill sergeant showed, and have them working before he entered the building. That always made the day a little easier.
One morning the drill sergeant failed to show at 4:30, 5:30, and not even 6:30 when breakfast began. Our platoon guide took it upon himself to PT with us and start the morning run. We were up to five miles every morning. I think that day we only did two laps around the compound, just in case someone was watching. And the benefit was that almost everyone made it across the monkey bars for chow.
It was about that moment that we learned we had been assigned a new drill sergeant. Between bites and an open mouth, we met Drill Sergeant Fagan. An ex marine door gunner with two tours in Viet Nam, an ex Marine Drill Sergeant, an ex Army Drill Sergeant Instructor for drill sergeants. He had trained other soldier’s how to motivate boots. New soldiers were called boots.
Things quickly went down hill because we should still have been in our barracks awaiting the new drill instructor. Mess hall was only a few minutes march from our barracks, but it was considerable longer in time if your were crawling on your belly. Thirty minutes later we officially became acquainted, well, not exactly introduced, but we were told exactly who we were, and then exactly who he was. We were maggots, and he crushed maggots as foul vermin. Our worst nightmare!
I’m not sure I can fully relate how awful Drill Sergeant Fagan acted. I wanted to believe it was all training in order to keep us alive. That may have actually happened, but he was still a demon straight from… He had rotten teeth, visibly snaggly, rotten teeth. His breath was almost stupefying, and there were many examples of him yelling loudly within inches of your face. He was viciously impish, he was full of contradictions, and he was just plain mean. And he just might have saved my life.
Within the first week of the new drill sergeant, he had us out in the field, establishing a perimeter to defend against the encroaching enemy. I had positioned my men in over lapping fields of fire, and I had taken the center swing position for my fire team. It was getting dark and we were starting to get nervous, when a distinct odor assaulted my nose. Then magically, I heard Drill Sergeant Fagan whispering in my ear. “I know you, Diestler. You’re one of those California hippies drafted to fight in this illegal, awful war. You are a pacifist, but too much of a coward to declare it, so you are a fraud, sitting out here with a weapon in your hands. You’ve already made the decision to give up your life before you take another. You have ethical standards! You won’t kill, oh, you will shoot, but it will be over their heads, or off to the side. I know you Diestler!”
The whispering stopped for a dramatic pause. I was still trying to figure out how he had slipped in behind me without me knowing. “But I’ll tell you something Diestler. You know that guy behind us, your best friend, the guy that wants to go home to his girlfriend? Well, he thinks your are going to take of business. He thinks you are going to kill everyone who comes up this hill, so that he will have that chance to go home. Boy, is he going to be surprised when he gets shot in the back, because you would rather die than kill. Maybe you should go warn him?” And then he was gone. I never heard him speak like that, I wondered if he was reading from a script, something a brighter officer had given him for these cases,
I’m not sure, but that might have been when I first started to be a soldier.
The seriousness of what I was going to experience began to cause me to wonder if I had made the right decisions. I had re-enlisted to try to avoid Viet Nam. I could now shout “RA” and I was no longer hungry. I had allowed myself to be drafted because a had a free ticket to go home. I didn’t want to “draft dodge” because I had first hand knowledge that it didn’t work, and I was unwilling to pay the penalty. All I had to do was to fake a disabling pain in my right leg. Not all at once, but slowly, and steadily.
I would be sent home, and if I timed it right I would even have Veteran’s Benefits, something to help my family’s health and my future educational plans. It was a well thought out plan. Sign up, show them that I really wanted to serve, and then unfortunately the pain was just too much.
Why should there be pain in my leg, my right thigh in particular? Well, I had x-Rays proving that there were about five bullet fragments spread over six inches, and laying very close to the bone. Using surgery to remove them would cause far more injury to the muscle. They had been there for several years, the result of an accident. A very providential accident, but only if it actually bothers me. It could bother me, but it hadn’t. No one could prove that there wasn’t pain, and there was good evidence that something was there that shouldn’t be. I just had to be patient and wait, and then probably lie.
My endgame was to avoid being shot or in the position of shooting at people. Either experience was potential death for me. Being shot was not wanted, possible physical death. Shooting someone not wanted, almost certainly a spiritual death. Particularly after I realized that I most certainly would shoot to kill.
Everything would be solved if I planned it well enough, fake the pain long before finding out that Viet Nam might occur. Delay it long enough to learn something new and get the time necessary to receive Veteran’s Benefits. If actors could fake a limp for years, then so could I.