I imagine anybody that has served in the military will remember their first day. I was reminded of my first day today. That thirty-nine year old memory came back when my youngest son called me late this afternoon. Today is his very first day in the Army.
He left hearth and home yesterday morning and made his way to Fort Benning, Georgia where he is to spend his summer in basic training and learning to be an Infantryman ( we called them “jungle bunnies” in my day). At the conclusion of his fun filled summer, he will return to his studies at Purdue University. I am immeasurably proud of him.
He told me that he arrived at the Atlanta airport somewhere around noon yesterday. He and a group of men destined for the same experience wound up waiting a bit over six hours for the arrival of the bus that would transport them to Fort Benning. He said he managed to get to Fort Benning and a bunk therein about midnight.
The Army historically starts its day early. My son reports that they were awakened at 0345 (that’s 3:45 AM). They spent the day standing in line after line getting shots, exams, uniforms, and filling out enough paper to kill a dozen trees. At the end of the day, they were given just enough time to call Mom and Dad and let then know they were safe in the tender mercies of the US Army. Day one was over. This day will be forever etched in his memory.
My own day one was January 3, 1972. I arrived at Fort Polk, Louisiana at somewhere around 2:00 AM. The group I was in was moved quickly through a chow hall and given something that look like a cheeseburger but tasted like …never mind. We were then given our linens and shuffled off to a World War II era barrack and told to get some sleep. I don’t remember what time they woke us up but it was still dark outside. The first thing we did was address a postcard to our parents to let them know we had arrived safely at our new “home.” By noon of that first day our arms had been turned into pin cushions and everything we had brought with us was taken away and replaced by green uniforms. We put our civilian clothes in a box that was mailed home. For the next eight weeks, we had nothing to wear but Army green.
I wound up wearing Army green for 21 years, 5 months, and 11 days. It was a good life and the memories I came away with are some of my favorite and some of the most exasperating.
It is day one that is the one that stays forever in one’s mind.