I was writing my daughters an email about some of my History. We tend to think that History is Famous People, Events, or Dates that symbolize some important (at the time) or monumental achievement. We even build monuments to those things. Most of us forget that we are History. Yes, you. Me. Everyone is part of History.
You, dear reader, are not only a witness to some amazing History: First man in Space, first man on the moon, first woman in space, wars galore, Civil Rights, the Internet, Social Media, the list is endless. If you are my age- your history includes Social Change of all kinds -heck, if you are any age - you are living History and Change! How you feel about all that change is part of your personal history, the fact that it changed... is just History.
The cool thing about aging, is you get some distance from events in your own life. You can look back with almost the same awe and detachment as an actual Historian might have. Looking back at my own History from fifty years ago - I noticed something that I took for granted. DIversity.
In my day, we slept in Barracks, or Bays, with an entire Platoon of about forty or so men (there were few women in the Military when I was in...and that changed too!) stuffed into lines of double decker bunk beds, a foot locker and a wall locker, held everything you owned. And it better be in the right place, folded the right way, and spaced correctly. LOL
If you did not like your bunkmate, squad mate, or platoon mate...so what? Top would call you both in and say: "You have two years on your enlistment. Find a way to work together." Most of the time, we did find a way to work together. In my Squad we had a guy from Texas. He was a Rodeo Champ. He listened to hard core Country and SuperTramp.
He had the bottom bunk.
The top bunk belonged to an African-American from inner city Detroit. He listened to MoTown and Jazz.
Culturally and Geographically, they were literally thousands of miles apart. They would open their Wall Lockers, fire up their Morantz Stereo Systems, and blare opposing music at each other.
One day they got into it. Big time. Neither wanted to leave the Army, the regular pay, and food and lodging. Like a lot of young men I served with, both the kid from Texas, and the kid from Detroit... were sending the majority of their pay to their Moms to help out their families. Something very common in the Military. And something they unknowingly had in common. Rural poor and City poor are different animals with the same common root- poverty.
The Platoon Leader, Company Commander, and First Sergeant had had enough. So they assigned those two kids to the same squad, the same duties, and the same punishments. For the next three months, every day, they were forced to do extra duty, together. They were sent out on patrols- together. They did KP in the middle of the night- together.
Over time, they learned each other's strengths and weaknesses. Over time, they found they had more in common than they thought. Over time their musical tastes - while never really overlapping, at least broadened their horizons. Two years later...the Kid from Texas and the Kid from Detroit made Sergeant on the same day. They had become friends.
Sergeants (in my day) got to share a room with another Sergeant. Just two people in one room. Luxury! And who do you suppose these two kids chose as their roomate? Yes. They asked Top to put them into the same room. And that is a very common story in the Military. Not every story works out like this, but every soldier, sailor, marine, coast guard, or air force member can tell you a similar story.
I tell you all this because I want you to know that the Military isn't all Peaches and Cream. All the woes, trials, and tribulations found in Civilian Life, can be found in the Military too. But so can things you wouldn't expect to see in the Military.
In Civilian life, we often talk about diversity. In Military life it isn't an option, it is fact. In Civilian life you can make your Social Circle so small that everyone in it is the same. On Active Duty...only your off duty time can be narrowed down to that level. So here is the email I sent to my Daughters to share some of my History, and to bring up the diversity I was exposed to without even thinking about it.
I may have the names wrong, or the exact details. Any errors in this would be mine - and mine alone. I am going off of memory, and I am old, so perhaps some of the folks are composites of men I served with, or they are out of order in time. The gist of this story is as true and accurate as I can make it. I served with Soldiers from all fifty states, most of our territories, and with immigrants who became American Citizens- that alone is massive diversity not available to most ordinary Civilians.
Enjoy. Sgt Kevin Hughes
So, I joined an online Veteran’s channel. I just wanted to answer a guy’s question: “What was your funniest Salute Story?” Well, it turns out I had to fill out a whole bunch of stuff, get verified and send them my entire checkered Military History from Sept 28th, 1969, until Sept 10th, 1987.
One of the pictures I sent them was this one. It is my old Mortar Platoon. If you look carefully you will notice something we harp on in Civilian Life: Diversity. We had three First Nations People: An Inuit (Eskimo), a Hopi Warrior, and a Yaqui/Apache warrior. One of them fed me my first, last, and only dinner of Whale Blubber (like eating pipe cleaners made out of gristle) and Seal meat. We also had to stop the Hopi Warrior from greeting the Sun in the Morning, and wishing it well at night.
It really messed up Guard Duty and always gave away our position. LOL
There are two Cubans, one Guamanian, one from the US Virgin Islands, one Puerto Rican, a Samoan (not in the picture- he was on leave) an immigrant from Poland (came over when he was six), and another immigrant from Germany (came over when he was two- and he spoke six…SIX…languages fluently). There is one guy with a Ph.D, three with Master’s Degrees, and two more with Bachelor Degrees. On the other end of the scale, we had two soldiers who were functionally illiterate. One who could read only comic books, and six who never got past the eighth grade. I was one of 12 High School Grads. Everyone eventually got their G.E.D diplomas! I am so proud of them.
The Religious/Spiritual beliefs were as wide as the Social economic ones.
We had two Ministers, a Satanist Priest (no kidding!), a practitioner of Voodoo, the three First Nations Folks - who have beliefs but no real Religions. A smattering of Catholics, one Mormon, and a Jew (non- practicing like my Catholicism). Three of us had gone to Seminaries of various denominations. No Wiccan's- LOL. A couple of Agnostics and Atheists - well, one of each.
Only two were married. Back in my day it was incredibly hard to get married if you weren’t an Officer or Senior Sgt. The Company Commander had to allow it. Some guys had wives back home, but that was before they joined the Army…and unless they would live off Post on their own dime, no way for them to get housing. That all changed in the Eighties.
The two who were Married in my Platoon were the Lieutenant, and the Staff Sergeant standing next to him. I was single. LOL
Five came from Wealthy Families. Another twelve (like me) came from Middle Class. Two came from extreme Appalachian Poverty, and two were from Sharecropper families in Mississippi and Alabama. One had never seen, or used, a flush toilet until he joined the Army. Hard to believe, but true. When he Re-enlisted, he used his Re-up Bonus to buy and build an indoor toilet in his Mom and Dad’s house. He beamed when he showed us a picture of every relative of his standing around the commode with pride.
Sadly, two of the guys in this photo had no family at all. One was in 27 Foster Homes until he finally got old enough to join the Army. He stayed in for thirty years. It was his home. The other guy was orphaned when he was six. He was raised by an Aunt and Uncle who he said: “Did the best they could for a kid they never wanted.” He also stayed in the Army for over 20 years. There are three Combat Veteran’s in that photo- and one of them had both a Silver Star and a Purple Heart.
It is one of the things I was proudest of when I was in the Army…diversity. I would watch other Armies, like Korea, or Germany, or Australia, and they all looked like…well, each other. Our companies looked like a bunch of Mutts. Soldiers all.
I bet you didn’t think of Diversity when you thought of the Army. And now, well, there are Women Soldiers! In my Division of 25,000 men- there were exactly sixteen WAC’s - and every single one of them worked at Division Headquarters…as clerks. There is Progress!
Oh, I almost forgot, age. The Youngest person in that picture is seventeen, the oldest “Pops” was all of 27! It is a young man’s (and now, woman’s) game. You retire at 38 years of age on Average. Officers routinely make it into their forties, and Generals…fifties. Well, that’s some of my History.