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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Anniversary of an Extra-Significant Occasion

I may forget many things, but I don't think I've ever omitted noting the date that every winter pops up at this juncture in February. Exactly 58 years ago today I, along with several other guys my age and all of a similar hue, reported to Union Station in D.C., where an Air Force recruiting sergeant met us, handed me for some reason (Why? Did I somehow look more responsible than the other guys?) a big envelope containing a sheaf of papers to be taken to our destination, and he wished us well. And we boarded a train in a cold, gray, but scenic day and took a leisurely, all-day ride up to Lake Geneva, in the Finger Lakes district of western New York, to begin our four year enlistments by undergoing basic training there. The Navy built that base on the lake, but since then had handed it over to the Air Force.

Getting off the train just at dark that evening, we were met by a bunch of snarling rascals who seemed to have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed and who wore droopy-looking coveralls that had formerly been olive drab but had been bleached to a green so pale that it was almost white, along with fatigue caps of the same ghostly shade, pulled far down over their eyes and stiffened around the top to five or six peaks with wire fashioned from coat hangers, and they could hardly wait to start lining us up, together with a bunch of other new recruits of America's more dominant hue, that they had also rounded up off some trains, and they ordered us to start picking up our feet and putting them down.

This frigid reception probably fazed the other new troops but not me and most likely not the other guys from D.C. either, because I had already had military training in the high school cadets and also in ROTC in college, and so to me it was all just a part of another big game that had to be played.

In any case, thus our military careers began in earnest, and, game or not, it's hard to think of an occasion that was more significant for me than that turned out to be, even if, at only age 20, I had already seen what I believe to have been an unusual number of significant occasions.

But that year, 1952, was in the midst of a time of big transitions not only for me but also for the nation and the world. The Second World War, a far more sweeping and meaningful event than the Iraq War. Vietnam, or any other conflicts that younger people nevertheless very mistakenly see as having been somehow comparable with it, had only been over for seven years, and it hadn't even been that long since Harry S. Truman, a Democrat naturally, had desegregated the U.S. Armed Forces or since the Air Force had detached itself from the Army and become a full-fledged military arm in itself, and the Korean War had been raging for a year or two, and I guess also the so-called "Cold War."

That 15th of February started maybe the biggest adventure of my life, and the events and the topography of the subsequent four years still occupy an unduly large part of the landscape of my mind. But at the time hardly ever is a person aware of such things. I know I wasn't. I was too busy taking in the complete strangeness of it all, out on that cold rail siding in the dark.


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