NO SUBSTITUTE FOR ED
In 2000, it is hard to imagine a married couple choosing the wages of a citizen soldier over those of a lawyer, but that is what Ed and Annie did in 1955.
One reason for the choice was family tradition. Ed had stood on the bridge at Antietam where the 16th Massachusetts had encountered the Georgia Zouaves. His maternal grandfather’s Uncle Zechariah had been killed at one end of the bridge, his maternal grandmother’s Uncle Marion at the other. Possibly they had killed one another. If so, it was a coincident in more ways than one, for they had been Harvard classmates. Zechariah and his brothers David and Moses had signed up in the 16th Regiment, less because they despised slavery (although their father had died in Kansas while in the company of John Brown!) than because like young Holmes they did not wish to be left out of the great event of their time. Only Moses had returned, and he on one leg. Uncle Marion and his brother, Uncle Josh, had signed up for the Zouaves although they could have hired substitutes; they volunteered not to defend slavery but to prove their own honors in the eyes of their womenfolk. Neither of them returned. Uncle Zechariah abides as a name on the wall of Harvard’s Memorial Hall, a form of immortality denied Uncle Marion. Harvard remembers its German alumni who marched into France in 1940 to their doom, but not those who died defending their homes in the Confederacy.
The Bridge at Antietam, photo in 1863
Ed’s father, Andrew, had been a military aviator in 1917-1918. He had first volunteered to be an infantry officer, but had been discharged from training for “cogent reasons.” He told Ed that it was because he was too skinny. Army records confirmed that it had rated him “extremely undernourished.” Andrew’s lack of physical strength may have been one cogent reason. Another may have been because he was too much of a snob; possibly the colonels feared that Andrew’s platoon would frag him, as Ed was later able to imagine. Anyway, Andrew had something to prove and he did it by volunteering to fly, which was about the most dangerous thing a fellow could do in 1917, even more dangerous than cutting German barbed wire and leading troops up a hill and into their trenches. A weak, skinny snob could fly as well, and maybe better, than the next fellow. After learning to fly, Andrew had been assigned to teach others to fly. When the Armistice was signed, he led his squadron in celebrating their survival by doing dangerous barrel rolls and tight figure-8s over the California capitol in Sacramento. One of the celebrating trainees crashed and burned. His ghost was still overhead when Ed viewed that building decades later.
But family tradition was the lesser reason that Ed went. More important was his vicarious involvement in World War II. He had known a couple dozen guys who were friends of his older sister Imogene and who hung around the house in the summertime to play ping-pong. Almost all of them had gone to war, and some did not come back. Izzy, the lifeguard who had taught Ed to swim died at Guadalcanal. The father of the girl he adored in seventh grade died in Tunisia. Alan, another school chum, had been adopted by his distant American cousins in 1942 after his entire English family was killed in the London blitz. Even in Dallas, they practiced blackouts to hide the city from possible night raids by enemy bombers. Most of the music coming from the radio in those years blended sex and patriotism – “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree with Anyone Else But Me” was typical. By 1943, they were making six P-51 Mustangs a day in the factory over in Grand Prairie. In junior high school, boys were given military training; they wore uniforms to school and held close order drill with wooden rifles. A little after midnight on June 6, 1944, the air raid sirens went off to announce that our guys had landed in France. Hiroshima was a cause for celebration and V-J Day was the happiest day imaginable. When he enrolled in the University of Texas, Ed found that many of his friends and classmates were veterans. Without exception, these veterans were proud of what they had done, modest though many of their contributions were. All this impressed him with a sense that duty to the Republic was not only the emblem of honorable manhood but a barricade protecting civility and all humane virtues from ubiquitous barbarism and mendacity. If there was dying and suffering to be done, no one exempting himself from the risk was entitled to self-respect.
Annie experienced the War in much the same way. Her divorced mother was a riveter building military aircraft and her brother-in-law had been a naval pilot killed at Midway. As an adolescent, she would not have been attracted to a man who heard no call to duty. Like most American women of her generation, she anticipated the role of mother, not least because it would confirm her status as a citizen bearing her full share of responsibility for the future of the Republic. She assumed the risk that someone dear to her might die on the barricade.
On his 18th birthday in 1949, after his first year of college, Ed registered with Selective Service Board 30 and commenced a correspondence with Lisa Houseman, its secretary. At that moment, there was turmoil in Europe, but draft calls were slow. Deferments to stay in school were available, but those who took one would remain subject to call up to the age of 35. It seemed a fair bargain and he took one with little thought.
One hot Texas summer afternoon in 1950 while he was driving to Houston to visit friends, the music on Ed’s car radio was interrupted to announce that there was war in Korea and that the UN Security Council had asked the United States to intervene. Korea was a place unimaginably distant from Texas. He spent that night at the home of a classmate, Ham, who had been with the Marines at Iwo Jima. Ham had a party; he and Ed and many of the guests resorted to a heavy dose of alcohol to ease the pain of the new wartime reality. A punch was made of grape juice and 180-proof grain. It was said to be the same recipe used by Ham’s brother on Saturday night, December 6, 1941; those partaking then had not learned about Pearl Harbor until the 8th. About midnight, drunken Ham got out his Marine uniform, but he was thirty pounds past fitting into it. It fit Ed nicely, however. Ham’s date, Alice was aroused by the sight of the red stripes down Ed’s trouser legs. Ham was too drunk to mind. Ed was almost too drunk to notice when she pulled them down to his ankles and hopped on.
Every Marine reservist in Texas was quickly ordered to report for duty. The evening paper carried a full-page photo of guys waving from the troop train taking them to Camp Pendleton in California. The faces of several were tear-stained, causing the caption writer to observe that “only the strong cry like this.” Ed’s scrutiny of the photo revealed no distinction between the tears of the strong and the tears of the frightened. The next day, he paid a visit to the Marine Corps Recruiting Office and tearlessly, but not without fear, signed up for pilot training. He would go his dad one better and fly a fighter plane off the deck of a carrier. And he would wear red stripes down his trousers for girls like alice.
The five weeks Ed had to wait for a place in the training program became a time of grave self-doubt. His decision had been rash. His mother was desperate. The anxiety became almost unbearable. Jogging and calisthentics were, to say the least, not his thing but he was mindful that before he could fly he would have to survive basic training as a Marine. He was at serious risk of being judged like his father to be “extremely undernourished.” He could chin himself, but not many times, and he made very little progress up the climbing rope. That this might be a humiliating experience was a much greater cause for concern than the military hazards. It was, however, a stunning shock when he reported for duty and the Navy doctor sent him away, not because he was undernourished or weak, but because he had a deviated septum. “You can’t fly with a crooked septum,” he was told, “because you won’t get enough oxygen from a mask. Go straight to a surgeon and come back.”
But the moment was gone. Ed did not go straight to the surgeon. He returned to the university and wrote Lisa Houseman shamefacedly to get another deferment. Some veteran students who had signed up for reserve duty were recalled. Those in the National Guard were not called but were visibly active in preparing themselves for active service. Many younger classmates joined the ROTC. Most male college students save those with serious disabilities were conscious in reflective moments that their lives and their honors were likely to be put at risk. But with the danger and anxiety came the reward of a heightened sense of worth. Their country needed them, or at least seemed to. That was a reward not to be despised, as many, including Ed, were quick to recognize. It gave life a meaning and value not available to many male adolescents who in other times and places perceived themselves to be useless or unwanted.
A problem for Ed was the red stripe. Military service not entitling him to that attire seemed inadequate. Yet, the anxiety he had experienced about his fitness for the duty in the Corps stalled any renewed initiative to sign up. On those frequent occasions when he experienced sexual rejection, he contemplated the necessary surgery and a re- enlistment. But a few beers and a rotation or two of the planet always served to stifle the thought.
Again in 1950 and in 1951, Ed successfully petitioned Ms. Houseman’s anonymous committee. But his deferments began to arouse feelings of guilt. Deferments for those who had opportunities to attend college but not those who worked for a living seemed unjust. The most fortunate, who had the greatest stake in the Republic, were to be protected by those who were less fortunate. Ed came to see his deferment as a disguised method of hiring a substitute, as the rich had been permitted to do in the Civil War.
In 1951, Ed met Annie and in 1952 they were married. The military obligation was not out of their minds. Annie shared his sense that it was a duty not to be evaded. Accordingly, he at last took the step of having his nose straightened. But the war in Korea dragged on in seemingly permanent stalemate, and the nuclear threat of the Soviet Union seemed to assure that there would be yet another war and another. Maybe military service could wait a while longer.
So Ed went to law school. And Board Number 30 excused him again in 1952, and in 1953, and in 1954. Six years of deferment! Ed had hired six substitutes! Two weeks after he graduated from law school, Annie gave birth to their first child, Nancy. By that time, the war had been reduced to perpetual peace talks; the killing was mostly over. The draft continued, but the calls were reduced and the President ordered that fathers be exempt. Ed could write Ms. Houseman one more time, send along a copy of his daughter’s birth certificate, and settle into the practice of law.
But it would not do for Ed, and Annie agreed. He did not ask for another deferment, another substitute. In September, the summons came from Ms. Houseman. He was perhaps the last father ever drafted. And he was among the very few lawyers then performing service at the rank of Private. He could have signed up for the JAG Corps, but that was forty months instead of twenty-four, and seemed too much like hiring a substitute. If he would not wear red stripes, he would at least take what else might come.
On induction, Ed was sent to Fort Ord, California to learn to kill. In those days, even Privates traveled as first class airline passengers when on military orders. The first class treatment came to an abrupt stop inside the fort’s gate. At the replacement depot, the recruits were first shorn and then re-clothed. The supply corporal was a black WAC with a tongue so foul that it commanded respect. Apparently sensing that Ed was the least daunted by her scorn, she picked him for her best line: “you worthless shit – your daddy must have pissed in your mama’s cunt to make you.” She ordered him to paint her supply room and kept him at it all night under a barrage of scathing profanity. By morning, he was suitably impressed with the prudence of withholding any sign of pretense or vanity, especially in the presence of those holding higher rank.
Learning to kill took eight weeks. Almost nothing came easy to Ed. What made survival possible was the support of buddies. One got only a sense of the relationships holding a military unit together, as such units had been held together since the time of the Roman phalanx. There were three other draftees to whom Ed was closest. Brooksie had been operating a shoeshine stand in the Corpus Christi railroad station. Forrest had been a warehouse guard in Oakland. Manuel had been a grocery store clerk in San Antonio.
With his fellow soldiers, Ed came to the knowledge that the main artery of life in the infantry is not obedience to command but loyalty to one’s buddies. One quickly forgot whether they were black, white, or brown. It is said that in the police department, there is only one color, and it is blue. But the work of the infantry makes much the greater demand for mutual respect and confidence among members of a unit. Police go home at night; infantrymen do not. Police may spend a lot of time on dangerous streets, but their work is done only occasionally against armed criminals, almost all of whom will flee rather than fight. Infantry, when performing their work (which they pray they will never be called to do), must close with people in trenches, pillboxes or tanks who are equipped with heavy weapons, and kill them. No sane person would do such work just because he was ordered to do so. But he might do it to protect his buddies and to keep their respect. In these ways, an infantry unit is unlike any other.
Ed had not previously experienced the intense bonding that occurs among men subjected to the degree of stress imposed on infantrymen. The training sergeants were the common enemy and few if any privates could withstand their withering expressions of contempt without the emotional support of other soldiers. There was neither place nor time for interpersonal rivalry. Sexual competition between buddies, of the sort familiar to Ed when he was an undergraduate, would have been destructive; in combat, it could easily cost men their lives. Probably for this reason, one feature of the sergeants’ work was the degradation of sex. This was sometimes done while calling cadence, and done with élan. The soldiers often marched to their singing declamations on the seaminess of sex as experienced by an imaginary soldier named Jody, who seemed to have a repulsive girl in every village:
Jody had a girl in west Wasatch.
She had syphilis in her snatch.
So Jody screwed her in the ass.
Wasn’t that a touch of class?
(Marching soldiers sound off on cadence count)
The sergeants plainly thought they were doing God’s work when heaping profane abuse on laggards and incompetents. Ed came to believe that they were correct. These were violent men, the sort bred through ten thousand generations of cave dwelling. They had gained control of their impulses and found a way to be useful to others. They would kill only those who needed to be killed and could sometimes show personal warmth and kindness. They earned his respect not least for what they had made of themselves from the material on hand.
The whole battalion was reminded on payday that Ed was married. Soldiers were paid in cash in alphabetical order. Ed received only forty dollars a month while most of the other Privates received seventy-seven. To assure that he did not neglect his family, the Army had sent part of his pay to Annie. And the Army threw in an extra eighty dollars for Annie and Nancy; so she received a hundred and seventeen dollars a month. But Annie could also go to any Army PX and buy groceries, basic clothing, and gasoline at a third off the usual price. She also got free health care and legal advice.
Four Infrantry Trainees, 1955:
Ed was painfully aware that Brooksie, Forrest, and Manuel, and indeed almost all those in the training battalion, were better soldiers than he. He did well enough on the rifle range. But he was slow with his bayonet and unforgivably quick to throw a grenade. It seemed that legal training had made him mistrustful of the grenade manufacturer and hence lacking in confidence in the timing mechanism. He did not break ranks no matter how far he was asked to double-time with a rifle and pack, although he was often driven to the margin of doing so, but he was pathetic on the obstacle course. At last, in the eighth week, he made it over the wall with his rifle, but not without a little boost from Brooksie. He preferred making war at night because the emphasis was then less on speed and strength, and more on stealth; he preferred to be a stealthy killer. He could take his M-1 rifle apart, clean it, and reassemble it in the dark, but Forrest and some others could do that with a 50-caliber machine gun. Ed excelled only at map reading, an assignment causing many soldiers to despair.
A hard time was the day Ed’s license to practice law arrived at mail call. His buddies had not known that he was a lawyer for he had passed himself off as a salesman of refrigerators. He tried to conceal the cardboard cylinder in which the license arrived. He put it in the bottom of his footlocker for that was the only place he could put it; he hoped it might not be discovered under his spare long johns. The First Sergeant inspecting his locker found the cylinder almost immediately and gigged him for its unauthorized presence. Under questioning, Ed had to admit publicly that the offending article was a license to practice law, an announcement that brought a smirk of disbelief to the mouth not only of the First Sergeant, but also to Brooksie’s. Because Ed could not keep the contraband in his footlocker, the license was entrusted to the company office for safekeeping. When a time came for Ed to have a chance to send it to Annie for framing, one of the corporals admitted having examined the license and spilled coffee on it. But it didn’t matter because it had been lost, anyway.
Another hard moment came in the seventh week when Ed was invited to express a preference for his next assignment. He had been marked for three possibilities; he was not sorry that the Army saw scant promise in him as an infantryman. He could be trained as a forward observer in the artillery, as a tank driver, or as a clerk-typist. Choosing to be a clerk-typist seemed much like hiring a substitute. On the other hand, he had a wife and daughter to think of. There was no time for reflection. He marked a preference for the artillery despite the obvious hazards of that particular employment. But he rated typing as his second choice, having exhausted his modest supply of courage with the first option.
To Ed’s relief, there was no place for him in the training program for artillery observers, and so he was assigned to clerk-typist school, which was also at Fort Ord. Having trained him to kill, the Army next trained him to type. This was, of course, a piece of cake compared to infantry training. Ed’s buddies in typing school were Mike, a librarian from Waco; Walt, a butcher from Las Vegas whose typing was less than satisfactory because he was missing two fingers; and Lester, a farm boy from California who was of Japanese ancestry and had therefore been interned in Wyoming during the war years. Ed supposed that two of the three were homosexual, but nobody asked and nobody told. In any case, the sex lives of clerk-typists, unlike those of infantrymen, had no bearing on their work.
With help from Andrew, Annie made it to Monterey, where she found for herself and Nancy a room in a Victorian house on the hill overlooking Tortilla Flat. It had a big window from which she could observe the sardine boats bringing their catch to the canneries. By day, she mostly read novels, including the works of Steinbeck, the local author. Almost every night, she could see across the bay the tracer bullets fired by infantry trainees bouncing off the hills and sand dunes to make a display worthy of a New Year in Mexico. Ed could spend Saturday afternoon and most of Sunday with Annie and Nancy, and could spend Saturday night in Annie’s bed if, but only if, he made the highest score on the weekly test on clerical matters. He managed (with some forbearance by other trainees) to do that every week, but the Lieutenant kept him in one Saturday night because on inspection he detected a mysterious straight pin on the windowsill next to Ed’s bunk. When he did spend the night in town, he and Annie would feast on a king crab available on the wharf for a dollar, along with big fat artichokes from nearby Salinas that could be had for two cents apiece. A half-gallon of Gallo wine went for ninety-nine cents. On Sunday mornings, they frequented an Episcopal church in Pacific Grove, not least because the church provided an hour or so of free child care.
On completion of training, now qualified both to kill and type, Ed was assigned to Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. He completed his tour of duty there in the role of the base Officer Efficiency Report Clerk. Every Army officer was evaluated every time there was a change in the identity of the officer to whom he reported, or annually. Each evaluation was to be countersigned and re-evaluated by the reporting officer’s reporting officer. It was Ed’s responsibility to distribute the forms to the right evaluators at the right time, to receive the completed forms, assure their compliance with Army regulations, and send them along to the Pentagon where complete files were kept and used in the evaluation of all three officers involved. Within a few weeks, Ed acquired a modest expertise in the politics of military rank. Majors would consult him before evaluating their Captains, out of concern that if their evaluations were out of line, the Colonels might form a negative impression of them. The ratings tended to be very high, and the accompanying comments tended to read like birthday greetings. But not always. One Lieutenant Colonel commenting on the technical competence of an ordnance Major wrote: “He is fit for nothing under Heaven.” It seemed that the doomed Major had carelessly misplaced a hundred and sixteen rounds of ammunition for a 155-millimeter artillery piece, for which he and his supervisor shared joint liability.
Willingness to lead, it became apparent, was an instinct universally shared by Army officers, at least when in garrison, but a following among subordinates was something that had to be earned. Lieutenants who exposed their vanity and class bias to their soldiers (as Ed supposed that his father might well have done) met resistance. If officers did not learn quickly to exhibit a sense of shared humanity with their men, they were unlikely to last long in the Army. Ed experienced one extreme confirmation of that observation. He and the rest of the headquarters company were summoned to a Saturday morning parade to salute the retirement of a colonel that none of them knew. There was already some resentment when the soldiers lined up for inspection and it increased mightily when green Lieutenant Frederick, who commanded the company for the morning, gave them a pretentious lecture on the solemnity of the occasion and then gigged several of them for being inadequately pressed and polished. After the inspection, there was time for a smoke break before commencing the parade.
Soldiers Awaiting Lieutenant Frederick’s Command to March
Meaning to say, “At Ease,” Frederick said instead, “Fall Out.” Every soldier in the company instantly recognized the blunder. Every one of them exploited the opportunity and fled into the woods behind the company HQ where they could pretend no longer to hear the Lieutenant alternately fuming and begging them to return. The sergeants could barely suppress their laughter. The eight of them formed the Lieutenant’s command in the parade in lieu of the 140 or so who had escaped into the woods. Alas, Ed was not around to see how the event showed up in Lieutenant Frederick’s Officer Efficiency Report.
There being so little pressure, and because Ed was allowed to live in the base housing project for enlisted personnel with Annie and Nancy, he made few fast friends of the sort one made while living in a barracks. Rusty, the guy at the next desk did the morning reports, a daily count of the personnel on the base; he was a used car salesman from Indiana, Pennsylvania. Ed learned from Rusty forty-seven ways to deceive a prospective buyer. He tried to help Rusty by suggesting ways to perfect some of them. When Rusty’s tour ended, he was replaced by Clarence, a hotel night clerk from Buffalo. Ed suspected that the hotel was a bordello, but he never knew. The suspicion was based on the reaction of the few women (both WAC and civilian) who were employed at the Proving Ground HQ. All of them seemed immediately to despise Clarence, apparently because he was indiscriminately and urgently attracted to them all. One corporal publicly declared that Clarence was impotent, but it appeared to Ed that she had never gotten close enough to Clarence to know.
Being an Officer Efficiency Report Clerk was not a full-time job. Unfortunately for Ed, there was no reason why he could not also pull biweekly kitchen police duty at the officers’ mess hall. This required him to report for duty at five in the morning, and the easiest assignment went to him who first appeared. Preferring sack time, Ed routinely slept in and showed up at five knowing that he would be last and hence assigned to do pots and pans and clean the disgusting grease trap. But the duty also included standing in the chow line to serve the officers. Many of them were foreign officers at Aberdeen to train in the use of American weapons. The kitchen police learned to their amusement that they could be rude to foreigners without fear of consequence. A bold Private could also risk being rude to Second Lieutenants in the chow line, for one could rely upon the products of ROTC to be too insecure to respond. It gratified Ed’s reverse class bias to serve them with a scowl and spill gravy on their cake.
There was also bi-weekly guard duty requiring one to stay in uniform for twenty-five hours. About a dozen soldiers reported daily for inspection at five in the afternoon. After inspection and chow, they would remain in the guardhouse for twelve hours, spending two hours out of every six walking their assigned post “in a military manner,” bearing a loaded rifle and prepared to ask any and all, “Who goes there?,” the necessary prerequisite, according to the Army Manual, to killing them. By this means, the Army’s property was secured against pillage (but not the misplacement of artillery shells), and clerk-typists were reminded of the violence just beneath the surface of their military duty.
At six the next morning, the soldiers in the guardhouse were transferred to the Stockade. The Stockade was a prison for offenders against military discipline. Most were being punished for going AWOL, but there were a few petty thieves among them. Some would be discharged dishonorably after completing their sentences. The soldiers coming from the guardhouse would have the duty of preventing the escape of these dangerous persons until six in the evening. For that purpose, the guards were armed with shotguns, the weapon of choice when one’s purpose is merely to maim and not kill. The most challenging assignment was to ride one of the garbage trucks as it conveyed two prisoners around the Proving Ground to pick up the garbage. The guard was provided with a seat welded on the right front fender and facing the rear. From that seat, the guard could keep his weapon trained on the prisoners while they managed the garbage cans. On one occasion, a prisoner spied a garden hose running water and picked it up. He pointed it in Ed’s direction and cocked his head as if to ask, “you wouldn’t mind getting wet, would ya?” Ed noisily cocked the shotgun as if to respond, “try me.” The prisoner dropped the hose. That was as close to combat as Ed would ever get.
Notwithstanding these unwelcome additional duties, there was a lot of time for reading and watching television with Annie. Mostly, Ed read classics that he had missed. It was a great time to read War and Peace, for Tolstoi confirmed his appreciation of the role of the soldier in the havoc of war. At Tolstoi’s Battle of Borodino, unintended consequences were just about the only kind. The operative chains of command functioned from the bottom up. While not doubting that commanders can make important choices, Ed perceived that those who encourage the resourcefulness of their soldiers at the point of fire get better results than the Napoleons who overmanage in a false belief in their own genius.
It was also a grand time to read Gibbon. Gibbon measured the vitality of the Roman Republic by the dedication and resourcefulness of its citizen soldiers. The Roman phalanx was an exceptionally effective military unit in part because of the intense bonding nurtured among its members. When citizens ceased to volunteer their services, the Empire came increasingly to rely on hirelings for its defense. Although the Roman army of the late Empire was more numerous and better equipped than that of the barbarians, in the end, as Gibbon reported, they took flight. The Empire was sacked because its soldiers became unwilling to kill and die for another.
In this pacific manner, Ed and Annie passed two years of their lives. He was in due course discharged as a Private First Class. They were thrilled to leave the military life, but they had no misgivings about what they had done. Nor did they ever hear any other citizen soldier or his wife complain about obligatory service. They had sealed their relationships not only to one another but also to the Republic of which they were a part. True, no one could think that Ed’s contribution to the Republic’s defense was significant, save perhaps as “one who stands and waits also serves.” Yet he had done what was asked, and he had sent no substitute. And if the remuneration was meager, the wages of worldly experience were not.