Starched to a level that seemed impossible, the fatigues seemed glued together. I tugged hard, trying to find an opening, a gap in that cement that would allow me to push my foot through.
I looked at my bedside Little Big Ben, ticking away the seconds, and the moment that I had to be at formation. I knew that the starch would hold for that initial inspection, and then begin to wilt in the heat of the day.
Pulling hard, I made sure that I could get my legs and arms in, then placed my belt through reluctant loops. Standing, I ran my fingers along the knife edge crease on the legs, and looked in the mirror, checking that gig line, the straight line that runs from the blouse to the fly of the trousers.
I pushed my door shut, glancing down at my polished boots, and stood there, breathing in that last gasp of air-conditioning. I walked slowly, keeping the creases where they belonged, toward the place where we’d be standing, waiting for a hardcore inspector to check our strackness, as he called it.
Passing muster, I walked carefully to the mess hall for a meal of overly-salted grits and eggs, and then off to a ride in a deuce and a half for the escape and evasion test that we’d heard so much about.
The ride was harsh, the M-16 felt cold in my hands, as we headed through miles of red clay, on our way to a real-file simulations, as they called it. I looked at the shaded eyes of the others in the company, seeing fear, indifference, and anticipation on faces I knew all too well. It was prep for Vietnam, they said.
My creases were replaced with other creases, sweat lines, and my knife edge was long gone. At the moment, my jump boots still had that bootblack gloss that I had worked so hard to get.
We jumped from the truck and headed for a maneuver area deep in the Georgia scrub woods. The heat was intense, the humidity soaring, the bugs relentless—a typical day at Fort Benning.
Fifty feet down a hedgerow filled with swamp water, I ran into a fallen paratrooper, his leg broken. His red blood stained black against my deep green fatigues. I held him closely, trying to calm and comfort him in his pain, unsure what I should do. I was still talking him down when I was captured. I faced the humiliation of being walked, hands behind my head, to a compound.
I sat there, head down, accepting the abuse of the pretend aggressors, standing fast in my determination not to mention any more details than my name. There was physical intimidation, hard interrogation, and finally blissful quiet and sleep.
Seeing my chance, and the absence of the aggressors, I walked unnoticed to a truck parked nearby. Starting it, I drove it back to the compound, to my quarters, wondering where to park a huge green Army vehicle. I walked to company headquarters, but found no one there, so I went to my room, and to sleep.
I woke, still seemingly in a dream, dressed in those fatigues. Now stained with mud, clay, and blood, creases long-gone, I pushed them off my body and stood under a chilling, cold shower for what seemed forever.
We had a garage sale late last year, and my wife opened an old trunk that we’d moved a couple of times, looking in disgust at several thirty-year old items.
“You really want to keep these?” She asked holding the green clothing.
“Yeah,” I said, “They mean a lot to me, I guess. Maybe we can keep them a little longer.”