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Would That I Could "Kitchen Police" Florence, Italy

Would That I Could "Kitchen Police" Florence, Italy

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Published by Anthony St. John

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Published by: Anthony St. John on Aug 03, 2009
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07/10/2013

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Would That I Could“Kitchen Police” Florence, Italy!
n September 1966 I entered active duty at Fort Sill, Oklahomaand kicked off a 3-month Officer Basic Course as a secondlieutenant student (1193) in the United States Army Artillery &Missile School. I felt as if I had been thrown into water, above myhead, to learn to swim and to do so without any lessons. I hadstudied military science for four years in university, but thatinstruction was mostly convoluted theory and centred on militaryhistory, tactics and strategy and not the nuts and bolts of real-lifesoldiering. Now, I was to get to the nitty-gritty of military life, andthe amount of data I had to gain knowledge of was staggering.Classes lasted eight hours a day, and we had at least two hourshomework each night in our apartments or in the quarters of ourfriends. The curriculum was an admixture of field artilleryinstruction and rocket and missile training, and I felt swamped whenI looked at my class schedule and the conferences I was expectedto attend. I was further impressed discouragingly because Vietnamwas a gloomy cloud drooping over the head of each of us in class,and it was assumed that assignment to Vietnam would be in thefield artillery, in support of infantry units, because no nuclearweapons, which could be launched from the army’s stockpile of rockets and missiles, were said to be in Vietnam. For me, theUnited States Army was one huge anxiety attack.
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When school ended, I received my first assignment: I was orderedto the US Army Training Center at Fort Sill where I was programmedto instruct inductees in rocketry and missilery. I remember feeling abit satisfied because I thought, incorrectly, this transfer would keepme States-side and thus not qualified for shipment to Asia. Therewas an eerie feeling on the huge, busy Oklahoman base as 90-day-wonders, enlisted men transformed into lieutenants, swelled innumber to fulfil the artillery lieutenant quotas asked for by the ever-increasing involvement in the Southeast Asian debacle impressingus the more with the government’s determination to dig deeper intothe quicksand of Vietnam.I remember reporting to my battery’s (Little John and Honest Johnrockets) orderly room where First Sergeant Stone looked me overscathingly, from my head to my toes, and grunted his disapprovalat the greenhorn Lieutenant Fuzz who was to drive him crazy withwhat he thought were useless or even dumb inquiries. I wasscheduled to meet the battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas, a West Point graduate and member of the US Army’s .45pistol shooting team. He lived with his family a few doors awayfrom my BOQ (Bachelor Officers’ Quarters) apartment, and when heinvited me to dinner in his home, he lamented a great deal abouthow the army was being renovated to appear more like acorporation and less like a fighting institution. He was very kind tome, and he put in my head the notion that I, too, would come toagree with him later on if I was to serve in Vietnam.With the Harvard Business School management techniques beingincorporated into the daily activities of military life, career soldiers,many of them veterans of both the Korean War and World War II,retorted with frustration and disgust over the invasion of modern-day methods of administration which, according to many old hands,were compromising the efficiency of the soldier’s
 prima facie
activity: fighting an enemy. The officer in the United States Armywas expected to be a Renaissance man. His efficiency reports wererequired to reflect a knowledge of various competencies—not all of them related to combat effectiveness on the battlefield. Schoolingwas highlighted and a master’s degree from a civil university wasconsidered an asset when an official was scrutinized by higher-upsfor promotion. (Vietnam veteran General Wesley Clark received adegree in Philosophy, Politics & Economics from Oxford University’sMagdalen College and a master’s degree in military science from
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the US Command and General Staff College!) Community servicewas exalted. Language study was emphasized. If an officer,entering service, thought his life was going to be comparable tosome John Wayne film, he was quickly disillusioned.Into this Rebirth-like milieu, I—recently graduated from universitywith a degree in Philosophy and toting a thesis about John-PaulSartre’s valuable contribution to twentieth-century thinking—crash-landed a bit eccentrically, to say the least. Sergeants would cometo utter, under their breaths, that I was a pest, and one, one day,would shock me with this: Lieutenant, you are so “intelligent”you’ll probably become a general some day!” I was sincerely overlyconscientious, and the fact that one day I would be expected toserve as safety officer for the practice launchings of Little John andHonest John rockets, both capable of carrying nuclear “pay loads,”impressed me with the seriousness of the role I was called upon toplay in this setting of martial novelty and rigidity. I wouldeventually come to be rewarded for my contributions with both TheWayward Missile and The Loose Canon honours! And, at oneawards’ ceremony, I quipped an amendment to a quote (“I nevermet a man I did not like”) of the Northamerican humorist, WillRogers: “Will Rogers never served in the United States Army.”Above all, I am proudest of the epithet the infantrymen, with whomI served in the jungles on the borders of Laos and Cambodia, paidhomage to me with: The Hippie Lieutenant! (Now you know whythe Department of Defence switched off to an all-volunteer armedforces in 1973! Logical, no? And, by the way, remember thatimbecile Robert McNamara? He resigned as Secretary of Defencewhile I was serving in Vietnam. I wrote a letter from the field toPresident Lyndon B Johnson asking if I could resign my commission,too. Dixon Donnelley, Under Secretary of State, Southeast AsianAffairs, responded to me in an elongated letter saying: “No!” A bitcrazy those Northamericans! Those ex-Europeans. [Breaking theUnited States Army’s Chain of Command is paramount to suicide.] To make matters worse for me in Vietnam, Robert F Kennedy andMartin Luther King were assassinated. On both occasions officersand non-commissioned officers, mostly from the south of the UnitedStates, held parties celebrating their deaths. AMERICA: LOVE IT ORLEAVE IT! I left it.)I suppose it was the obsessive call to conformity that started to eatat any thought I might have possessed about making the army my
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