I was 23, a recent graduate of Rutgers, when I arrived at Fort Holabird in the summer of 1958, ready to be an intelligence analyst. Well, they say that Army intelligence is to intelligence …
Anyhow, you know the rest of that joke.
We were probably the best educated group of privates in the Army—all college graduates—while the rest of the Army was often composed of men who had not even graduated from high school.
Why, you might ask, hadn’t we stayed in ROTC or gone on to OCS and become officers? Simple: We would have had to stay an extra year or two. As draftees, we were out in two.
I had resolved that no matter what offer they gave me, I was leaving in two years.
But the offers were tempting. If I signed up for agent school, instead of analyst school, I could become a James Bond in mufti, chasing spies all over Europe. The analyst course was rather plebian, sitting behind a desk in a private’s uniform.
But the agent’s course meant a year more in the Army. I said no.
The next offer was to go to some romantic spot like Paris after a nice interlude at Monterey, overlooking the Pacific, studying a foreign language. But … it was an extra year. I said no.
So, there I was in a barracks at Holabird. I must confess that the program taught by Army majors was not that rigorous. I finished second in my class, about a million spots better than I ranked in college. But, then again, there were not all those extracurricular activities, like the college newspaper or soccer team—or girls.
Well, scratch that last one.
Young patriotic college girls would come over once a week to dance with us lonely soldiers. That’s where I fell in love with Margi, a tall strawberry blonde from Catonsville with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge … but not sex. That was the end of a wonderful summer. It was the '50s and you had to really be in love before jumping into the sack. I was leaving for Germany in October and didn’t have enough time to nurture a meaningful relationship.
So, I concentrated on my studies and ogling the behind of a WAC who was in the typing pool. I had a lot of time for ogling because I was in the typing pool, too. But once my typing teacher discovered I could type she farmed me out to work instead of taking the class.
I lost track of Margi years ago. No doubt she is a grandmother somewhere.
In fact, I lost track of all of my classmates. I doubt any of them stayed in the Army.
But I will tell you this: It was quite a learning experience. It was the only time in my life, except for a summer working on a laundry truck, that I ever had a group of peers from an entirely different economic and educational level than I was living on.
When I later became a reporter covering the Army, I understood the average soldiers better than the generals who led them did.
After all, this G.I. Joe had been one of them.