I earned a BS in Agricultural Economics from the University of Missouri in May 1970. On June 22, I took a train, for my first-ever train ride, from my hometown of Hermann, Missouri, to St. Louis. On June 23, 1970, I was inducted into the Army to serve my beloved country.
Colonel Johnson of the U.S. Army, with help from God, magically pulled 3 “rabbits out of the hat” to help guide my military career. I had heard him speak at a few meetings on the draft and military service previously. I approached him for advice in late March or early April of my senior year. My draft number was 137, and based on the numbers the local draft board had already surpassed, I knew I would be drafted soon after I lost my deferment upon graduation, unless I enlisted instead. My goal was to serve my country, get out alive and in one piece, and then attend graduate school.
Colonel Johnson suggested that I go to the Army Recruitment Office in Columbia and ask about enlisting, then at the last minute ask about the 2-year enlistment program, which I did. Despite push back from the recruiter, I enlisted for 2 years. As a 2-year enlistee, I wore a RA number rather than a US Number assigned to draftees. I selected my date to be inducted so as to get out as quickly as possible, in order to return to graduate school at the University of Florida which was on a quarter system. Colonel Johnson told me that with a RA number, I just might “fly under the radar”, so to speak, and as an RA get my desired MOS and duty assignment. He felt that this 2-year enlistment was so rarely used, I just might get the same advantages as if enlisting for 3 years. Selecting the date of entry and receiving a RA number were the only real advantages over being drafted.
Basic Training was not that stressful to me. However, I did break a bone in my foot after week 5, but I gritted my teeth and completed Basic Training including passing the PT test on a broken foot. Long hikes were a “piece of cake”; however, you could pick me out marching from a mile away, as I have no sense of timing and was always out of step. I was fortunate to be assigned my desired MOS of finance (rabbit No. 1); in the military, a finance clerk is a glorified name for pay specialist.
After 8 weeks of finance school, I was assigned to the 78th Finance Unit in Boeblingen, Germany (rabbit No. 2). We were housed and officed in Rommel’s old headquarters building on Panzer Kasern. The Army was the ‘guinea pig’ branch of the military to implement the first computerized pay system, known as JUMPS–Joint Uniform Pay System. Our unit was informed that we would be required to do our normal pay and leave time work, plus prepare all our record data so it could be transferred to punch cards, and also that the Executive Officer needed volunteers to assist him on trips to units we served to inform them on how the new pay system would be implemented. I worked nights and weekends to get my records in order for the computer transition, and I volunteered to accompany the XO on about 14 of his 16 trips.
After about 7-8 months in Germany, the military extended early outs for college from 3 to 6 months. Through a convoluted set of circumstances, I received a 6-month early out to go to graduate school at the University of Florida (rabbit No. 3).
I was extremely fortunate. I was not assigned to Viet Nam, and I missed not one Christmas at home. Nearly 60,000 Americans lost their lives in Viet Nam, and many more were injured physically and/or mentally. While I did not realize it at the time, I had the good fortune of basically a dream military assignment, thanks in large part to Colonel Johnson’s advice. I did not have to spill my blood like many others; I thank them from the bottom of my heart for their sacrifices. I love my country and my freedom.
So, with the Colonel’s advice plus what I credit to Divine intervention, I served my country, all in friendly confines, for just 18 months, 6 hours, and 51 minutes. The bare minimum time to qualify for full GI benefits was 18 months. So, I exceeded this minimum by less than 7 hours. Thus, I was the beneficiary of perhaps one of the shortest active duty military service times on record for someone receiving a full honorable discharge and with good health. Thank you, Colonel Johnson!
[Ed. note: The Selective Service allowed men to “volunteer” for the draft, to serve a two-year obligation. This allowed the draftee to select the date of entry into the military, rather than waiting for the induction process to play out, but generally did not allow the same leeway in choosing an MOS as for a three year enlistee.]