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Don’t Let The Bastards Getcha Down

Chapter Four (02)

Yearling Year - Life As A Human Again

After the most boring hour of our lives hearing such
cliché military jargon like “taking the bull by the horns”
and “drive on” repeatedly, this big stuttering sap of a
tactical officer made a rather sappy impression on us.

Me during my Yearling year

Several of us afterwards commented, “Can you believe
that intro - ‘I held the shot put record for one day?’” Mike
queried in semi-disbelief.
I responded, “That’s it, I got the perfect name for
this sap - Shot!”
And so it was. Shot was the name we quickly dubbed for
our new leader from Rutgers.
About a week later after fall classes resumed, I was
sitting around with my roommate friends Mike and Hank in our
barracks room one night watching the new sitcom “All in the
Family” on Mike’s small portable television. Suddenly we
heard a quiet knock at our door and in walked Shot with his
characteristic shit-eating grin. We began rising to
attention just as he hand signaled not to bother.
“Watching TV, hah?,” Shot stood making small talk.
Hagopian/ Bastards 143
Recognizing the show, Shot asked, “How’s Archie Bunker doing
this week?”
“The show just started sir,” replied Mike.
“Well, guess I’ll be moving on,” Shot awkwardly said.
Mike asked, “Sir, don’t you want to watch it with us?”
“Maybe some other time,” our tac officer replied.
As soon as Shot left, the three of us started cracking
up. “Can you believe that fool?” joked Mike.
“He must think we’re frat boys from Rutgers,” I added.
“Think he’ll learn TV’s aren’t authorized?” Hank asked.
“Shot’s too stupid to read the Regs,” Mike shot back.
Mike’s presumptuous attitude proved short lived. Soon enough
Shot must have realized we were pulling the wool over his
eyes as he came through lunch formation a couple days later
and wrote nearly all of us up for “in need of haircut”
demerits. And in that same batch of disciplinary reports,
Hank, Mike and I had “unauthorized use of television”
demerits too. We figured he was probably read the riot act
by his boss the new First Regimental Commander Colonel
Stephenson. Shot was never the same friendly, just hanging
out in our room kind of guy ever again. Though he still wore
that Dufus grin on his face, he had something to prove to
Colonel Stephenson, and seemed obsessed over G-1 winning
that Superintendent’s Award a second year in a row. The
honeymoon was over.
Another advantage of being a human again as a West
Point sophomore is that in 1970 I was allowed to go home for
Thanksgiving as long as I showed up in Philadelphia by 11AM
the following Saturday for the annual Army-Navy game. It was
cool being there with my large family gathered around the
table for Thanksgiving and of course my mother using her
favorite West Point china for the special occasion. The next
night my old high school buddy Bob and I went out cruising
in his car, hitting a few Springfield bars and got drunk.
Well, since Bob was driving, he drank a few while I got
really smashed. And though it was that Friday night prior to
my required Philadelphia rendezvous the next morning, and
I’d told my parents I’d be back home by ten to leave plenty
time to take the overnight Greyhound from Springfield, I got
even drunker instead.
“Hey, don’t you have to be heading home now?,” Bob
inquired while driving noticing 10PM on his dashboard clock.
“We’re having too good a time to worry about tomorrow,”
came my slurred response.
“Look man, I don’t want you to get in any trouble.”
“What? The Army-Navy game? I’m not even on the varsity
roster, so it’s not like I’m needed or anything. I like this
bar hopping thing Bob. I could get used to this... where’s
the next stop up here?” I had reached the point of no return
with my alcoholic intake. Though it was impairing my
judgment to the extent that I was blowing off my obligation
to show up for mandatory game attendance, as the fourth or
fifth string defensive halfback, I was not suiting up for
tomorrow’s big game. But it was more than just that. Despite
knowing I’d get into trouble if I failed to be at my company
formation outside JFK Stadium by 11AM, my intoxication had
had me not caring one way or the other. From last year’s
Army-Navy post game fiasco, clearly I was a reckless novice
drinker. Bob had introduced me to my first night of bar
hopping and I was feeling no pain. By the time I stumbled
from his car to the front door of our house, I was a basket
case, and I made lots of noise entering the kitchen in the
dark just as my angry father and worried mother arrived to
turn the light on.
“You know what time it is? It’s 1:30 in the morning and
your bus from Springfield left over two hours ago! Now
you'll never make it in time to Philadelphia tomorrow
morning. You God damn irresponsible drunk!” Pa was furious.
“I hate West Point and I don’t care if I don’t make it
on time!,” was my defiantly slurred reponse.
“Some cadet you are, damn irresponsible drunk!,” the
Navy Chief further chastised.
“Come upstairs and go to bed Joachim,” my mother
quickly chimed in to minimize the showdown from escalating
any further. Since becoming a cadet, my father had never
witnessed such willful defiance before in his West Point
son. Complaints about hating the place yes, but nothing
that would go out of my way to get myself in trouble like
this before. So he continued his rant berating me behind my
mother assisting me up the stairs and onto bed. My falling
over in a stupor repeatedly only enflamed my father more.
The next thing I recall my father was rousting me out of bed
jarring me awake at 4AM.
“Come on drunken cadet, get up now!,” he badgered. My
father despite myself was not about to see me fail. So he
took it upon himself to drive me the near 250 mile jaunt all
the way to Philadelphia in the early morning darkness just
to ensure I remained in good standing at the Point. But he
was not letting me off easy. The entire way there he
continued nonstop with his enraged wrath while I was
cringing to crawl under the nearest rock and die, suffering
from a killer hangover. My father knew he had to hurry to
make it in time so we were weaving in and out of traffic.
“How could you be so God damn stupid getting drunk like
that?,” he kept repeating. When I remained silent in
avoidance, his onslaught was even more relentless. “You knew
you had to be back home no later than 10:30 last night, yet
you purposely got wasted and blew it! I've never seen such
screwed up irresponsible behavior from you before! You want
to fail, is that it?” I recall just shaking my head with my
eyes closed wishing he would just go away. But he didn’t.
“You listening to me? Damn it, you better not blow this
great opportunity you’ve been given to go to West Point...
I want you to make me proud Joachim...not a loser like me.”
“Pull over, I think I'm gonna be sick,” was not what he
wanted to hear or do, but he did slowly pull over to the
interstate emergency lane and wearing my long grey overcoat
I barfed my guts out onto the pavement. My father managed
to reach the stadium at 11:01AM before barking out his final
order to me, “Now get out! And don’t fuck up anymore.”
“Thanks for helping me out pa,” I sheepishly said as I
got out to join my company already assembled in formation in
preparation for the Corps of Cadets pregame march into the
stadium. That’s the kind of father my dad is. Gives you the
hardest time putting you through so much crap while his
actions speak somehow louder than the loud harsh bite of
his angry words. He was not about to let me fail even if I
didn’t care if I did... and I guess that made me care a
little more. Though we lost to Navy that day, the Navy won
in more ways than one. But that would be the only Annapolis
victory in my fours years at the Point, unlike the current
streak of one shy of a dozen losses now to the middies.
John Wayne did his part making his testimonial to
America’s patriotic duty to wage war in Vietnam with 1968’s
“The Green Berets.” Of course Bob Hope as another US patriot
felt it his duty to entertain the troops with his annual USO
Tour.


Visits from President Nixon & Bob Hope's USO show

Hope occasionally made trips to West Point doing his
part to propagandize America’s war machine and gain footage
for his annual Bob Hope Christmas Special. With support for
the war at an all time low, this year’s show would be called
“Bob Hope’s Vietnam Christmas Show.” The American public
adored Bob Hope, maintaining for decades the misperception
that he was just a good ol’ patriotic American giving his
all in supporting our troops. Little did they know he was
making big bucks off our troops and his war machine service.
So there he was touching down along the Hudson so Mr.
“Thanks for the Memories” could give us a bad memory to last
a lifetime taping his gig at the West Point indoor field
house. It was the dead of winter on a crisp sunny eight
degree afternoon in early February. Bob needed the Corps of
Cadets as his main attraction prop for full camera effect.
So nearly four thousand cadets marched the two mile trek
from their cadet barracks down to the river front field
house. It was a typical “hurry up and wait,” cluster fuck,
poorly coordinated and mismanaged because it was obvious
cadets were merely there to serve the entertainment king
rather than the reverse that he was there to entertain us.
So we all froze our ass off shivering in formation for over
two hours before we were finally allowed inside the building
to thaw out. Then once finally inside, like cattle we were
herded up in far too small a space. All the cadet companies
were squeezed in around a makeshift stage while all the
officers and their families sat comfortably seated in chairs
further back from the stage. In order to fit cadets in for
the cameras, we were purposely jammed up like a can of
sardines. Crushed and contorted into uncomfortable positions
without any seating, we sat twisted up on a hard floor for
two hours, just so Hope could get his ten minute footage in
for his Special, all at our painful expense. I never liked
that cornball propagandist anyway, but that afternoon my
dislike rapidly turned into hatred. Absolutely no
consideration was given to us cadets. After all, it was all
for show, shooting the required amount of live action
footage of the legend entertaining his West Point troops,
just so the world could be manipulated each year into
believing he cared about America’s young warriors. The true
reality was that we were mere objects conveniently used for
Bob Hope’s propaganda machine. Because for two hours we were
in too much pain and discomfort to actually laugh at his
lame jokes, we got lectured an earful to show more respect
and enthusiasm to the show biz legend. It was such an
obvious hypocritical charade where we were totally exploited
to the point of feeling bodily violated caught up in Bob
Hope’s mind-fuck, all for his war machine agenda. It was a
revealing metaphor for the truth of what was really going on
in 1971. As mere propaganda tools the military was ever at
the disposable ready to be exploited by power elitists for
their own evil selfish false agenda. Though not on the same
scale, symbolically what Hope did to us that day was what
West Point generals were doing to our troops in Vietnam, all
so together Bob Hope and the generals could continue living
their lies at the expense of the rest of us.
Though my sophomore year coasted along with the bonus
of being a human again who happened to be playing college
football, academics were still a grind. But I managed to get
through my marathon math classes, and the hard sciences like
chemistry and physics. A cadet’s day goes from six in the
morning with nonstop activities until lights out time at
eleven. At any given semester, we took anywhere from seven
or eight different courses totaling 22 or 23 unit’s a pop,
in effect, piling up six years of academics in four. Between
classes, sports, parades and inspections, to homework and
three square meals a day, as nonstop energizer bunnies we
had zero free time. During the spring and fall football
seasons, with conditioning drills and practices, I was
really dragging.
Second semester early morning physics class sometimes
required us students to come up to the front of the
classroom where the instructor gave demonstrations of some
sort. Though I have fallen asleep in various classes
throughout my academic career, West Point included, they
always took place discreetly from my classroom seat. But one
early morning in physics, I was so fatigued, I fell asleep
standing up. The next thing I knew, I was jarred awake as I
was going down. As my knees were buckling, they hit the
plywood side paneling of the demonstration table so hard
producing a very loud bang.


Fatigue sets in

Thankfully it was just one of
those weird moments that passes by like it never happened.
The physics instructor went back to his presentation and
only a couple classmates looked over and smiled with a nod,
acknowledging that I was going down and nearly out, saved by
the demonstration table. Just another day in the life of a
very busy, very exhausted cadet.
Eventually June arrived and I was off enjoying another
long awaited summer leave at home in western Massachusetts.
I mostly lounged around the house. I recall a couple trips
to the beach at Misquamicut, Rhode Island, working on my
bronze tan for the ladies. But again no luck in finding a
girlfriend.
But one memorable moment at home came when I was
watching the six o’ clock news with my dad. Walter Cronkite
Was reporting that a Rand Corporation worker named Daniel
Ellsberg released top secret information about the Pentagon
and the Vietnam War to the New York Times. Apparently as a
whistleblower with a conscience, Ellsberg felt the American
public needed to know the truth about what was really
happening, and not be fooled by the politicians and generals
who for years had been systematically lying to American
citizens about Vietnam. What came to be known as the
Pentagon papers reflected inside knowledge secretly held for
several years that the war was in fact a losing cause, and a
further acknowledgement that many more American soldiers
would die. Meanwhile, Presidents Johnson and now Nixon and
all the Pentagon generals throughout were always maintaining
that America was in fact winning the war when in secret,
they knew all along that those over-optimistic claims were
pure unadulterated lies.
My father and I ended up in a heated argument. From the
inside at West Point, after two years I saw how deception
and hypocrisy ruled in the military, just as in politics and
big business. And having seen the error of our ways in Nam
even prior to arriving at the Military Academy, then with
West Point grads dying every week, the My Lai Massacre, then
the Kent State Massacre, all still very fresh in my mind,
and now these latest Ellsberg’s revelations, I was angry at
West Point, the military, Nixon’s government, and the whole
establishment that was living the lie for way too long.
“That Ellsberg’s a God damn traitor who should be lined
up and shot to death!” My father judge and jury exclaimed.
“He’s a brave man exposing war corruption,” I replied.
“And you call yourself a West Point cadet?,” dad said.
“I believe in facing reality, and seeing the truth for
what it is,” I asserted.
“You got one hell of a bad attitude! No wonder you’re
always getting in trouble at the Point,” my dad retaliated.
“What? Just ’cause I need to break a few rules in order
to stay sane in that insane place?,” I counter argued.
“You got a bad attitude Joachim,” my father concluded.
“Just ’cause I see the evil truth about West Point, the
military, Nixon and the war, they’re all evil and corrupt!”
“You don’t even deserve to be a cadet!” my dad accused.
“Maybe I should quit then! You want me to quit?”
“You better change your attitude - fast! Before it’s
too late,” my dad angrily warned.
My father gave the best of his life for his country
fighting through two wars and was going to live and die for
his nation, right or wrong. But me, in light of all this
ugly truth coming out, I had some serious thinking to do.
There is a West Point regulation that when a cadet enters
his third academic year as a Second Classman, he is
obligated to serve as a Private in the Army for three to
four years should he decide to quit. I hated West Point and
the corrupt system that rules at the top in the military,
big government and big business. Though my views had
gradually shifted in complete alignment with my hippie
generation peers, my short hair had them hating me. I found
myself in the wrong place at the wrong time. I knew in my
heart I did not belong in the military either. I really felt
stuck in no man’s land, a misfit not belonging anywhere. But
when I goaded my father about quitting, his reticence
clearly told me he wanted me to stay. I knew I had some real
soul searching to do that summer, trying to make sense and
sort out all these inner conflicts.
I knew I loved playing Army football. The Point was
providing me with a quality education for free that I
otherwise could never afford. As a grad, I still could end
up as a naval officer and I figured the Navy had to be
better than the Army. And I just wasn’t the quitter type.
Despite it being an unfair stigma for a cadet who resigns to
be labeled a quitter, especially when a college student who
decides to leave one school and go to another is simply a
transfer student. Though I definitely was twisted up about
leaving or staying at the Academy, as the month went on, I
knew I was going to stay. I figured the advantages far
outweighed whatever disadvantages. And I also knew deep
inside me, I still wanted to make my warrior father proud,
and my entire family proud. So with two down and only two
more to go, I concluded there was still something to prove
to both myself and the world by staying the course.


Go to Chapter Five (01)

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