Why Join The Army When You Don’t Have To

Why Join The Army When You Don’t Have To

Veterans’ Tales by Allen Ness

I must begin by apologizing for my long absence, unlike the rest of the world the northern prairie only has two seasons.  Winter’s Here and Winter’s Coming.  During Winter’s Coming you must expend all your energy preparing for Winter’s Here.  It’s a genetic, instinctual action, by September there will be a killing frost and then or shortly after then will come snow asshole deep to a tall giraffe.  If your not ready you die and that is Winter’s goal, to kill you.  So now during Winter’s Coming I’m gardening six tenths of an acre of wimpy fruit bearing plants.  Weeds are hardy, they even survive my fearsome fossil fuel burning tiller.  The damned things are like rooted zombies, they can’t chase you but you can’t kill them with anything but a shot to the head, or the root as it is.

Vassar recently asked “Why do kids who don’t have to join the Army?”  I have my own story and my own understanding and a shitload of anecdotal evidence, I can lay it out for y’all.

I was born in 1963, my parents were high school sweethearts who are still together 55 years later.  I grew up during the civil rights era.  When I was twelve years old I rode two plus miles on my bicycle to the nearest town because a friend had called our party line phone to tell me there was a real live black man in town.  The party line phone meant that if the phone rang four times it was for us, if it rang three times it was for the neighbor down the road, five was for the neighbor up the road.  The thing was you were never sure if you’d heard the first ring or the second.  So you’d run for the phone every time you heard it ring, three or four or five rings later you’d answer, breathless and discover it was for your neighbor.  Then you’d all talk for fifteen minutes ‘cuz you hadn’t talked in a few days.  My eleven year old granddaughter saw the old wall phone in the kitchen of my house and asked “Grandpa, what’s that?”  I explained it to her, after I’d gotten my bladder under control.  It was a close thing there for a minute.  Anyway, the guy was cool, he thought a bunch of half a dozen country kids who’d never seen a black man were entertaining.

I graduated high school in 1981 with plans of becoming a famous artist.  That turned out to be considerably more difficult than I had envisioned.  Seven years later I realized my life was a Hank Williams song, my marriage was over, my job sucked ass and my only options were not good.  I thought seriously about this one…

I’d be out on parole by now…

By 1988 I’d had enough of entry level jobs in the local agriculture based economy that required winter lay-offs.  Those were some lean times.  I was “Pouring Whiskey On Pain” and needed a change.  I could have gone any direction but there was one thing in the back of my mind.  From my earliest memories there were veterans standing tall.  My Dad used to let me play hookie from Sunday School so I could sit in the duck blind with him and his buddies.  They let me lick the drops from empty bottles of Peppermint Schnapps and listen to their “wahr stories.”  One of Dad’s buddies often told of his time in the Army.  He was stationed at Ft Campbell, KY but not part of the 101st Airborne, which at that time was still on airborne status.  He told of the day his unit went on a heinous four mile run, just as they were all about to lie down and die they heard this terrifying screaming and shouting coming up behind them.  A few seconds later they were passed by a well-disciplined group of Paratroopers in formation singing songs on their daily run.  I lived that wahr story for twenty years and thought of it almost daily as we passed POGs (Personnel Other than Grunts) and other associated weak-dicks during our daily homage to the gods of war.

One of my shitty barely making ends meet jobs had a boss named Del.  He was deaf as a post and wore two huge 1980’s era hearing aids.  He had been a tanker in WWII.  He spent D Day and the next three days in a livestock transport ship that had been mostly, kind of washed out, the smell of 10,000 hogs is hard to wash out, especially under short notice.  After being herded out of his hog transport he rode a Sherman tank till early ’45 when his tank took a direct hit from a German 88.  It blew out both his eardrums but what really pissed him off was the four duffle bags of Nazi uniforms, knives, swords and paraphernalia that was destroyed in the blast.  Del was a wheeler-dealer by birth, that hadn’t changed forty years after the war[…]

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*Allen Ness is a retired Army Master Sergeant, Jumpmaster- Paratrooper, CIB, several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, a marvelous artist with ink, paint and music, a military historian par excellence, and as just mentioned, better read than most English Lit professors at Dartmouth or Military History instructors at the War College…. (Source: Veterans’ Tales)



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