Just a story from my past, long ago when I was 18 years old. The year was 1967 and I was in the U. S. Army. I had just received my order to report to Oakland California Army base for troop ship transport to Vietnam. When I arrived at the dock I was greeted by a Merchant Marine ship the USS General John Pope that would carry 5,000 troops to war. This ship had been in service since 1944 and carried troops for WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. The voyage would take 21 days with one stop at Subic Bay in the Philippines. Our company stood on deck waiting to leave port. Two-hundred nervous young men stood at attention. We were all unsure what the future would bring. Our company commander asked for two volunteers. I raised my hand.
Why did I raise my hand? Everyone knows you never volunteer for anything in the army. It is an unwritten code, a rule of thumb. I guess I would rather do something than nothing for three weeks. It was a weak and highly questionable reason but in retrospect, it is the only reason I can give myself. One other fool joined me by raising his hand. We were told to follow this merchant marine seaman that worked on the ship. Nervously I asked him, “Where are we going?” He replied, “To the kitchen.”
My worst nightmare filled my brain. I just volunteered for kitchen duty for three weeks. I imagined peeling potatoes, scrubbing greasy pots, washing plates, etc. We looked at each other and sighed. We went back to the kitchen and were introduced to the crew. When our escort left one of the seamen said to us, “Relax, you got it made! This is the ‘Officers Mess’ and you will be eating first class. We just need a couple of guys to help with some light chores like dumping the garbage cans and such.”
The kitchen crew told great stories, the work was easy and the food was great. After a few days the commanding officers decided it was not good to let the troops just hang out for three weeks. They organized a physical training schedule and got the men up early and had them running and exercising for hours each day. A lot of the men got seasick and the lower decks smelled of vomit. The troop food was not very good.
I was exempt from the schedule because of my job. I ate like a king and had a great time. Raising my hand was one of the best mistakes I ever made. Just goes to show you!
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