Monday, June 25, 2018

Signal Corps Ping Triggers Memories ~ my column from Sunday's paper

When I walked off the tarmac in Charleston, South Carolina in 1973, I told myself, "I'll never wear green again." Two years in the Army was enough for me. Just after Uncle Sam drafted me, the military went all volunteer. It took a few years for the idea to take hold. The draft remained in place, but they didn’t draft as many people as they did in the late 60s and early 70s. 
There were only a few items of clothing I held on to when I left. I kept my fatigues, my Army-green baseball cap, my combat boots, a field jacket and my Signal Corps school unit crest. I tossed the pin, along with a few other souvenirs into a cedar box that I'd brought home from Panama as a keepsake. I like the smell of that box. It took some poor soul hours of their life to carve it. I paid $3 for it in an import/export shop in Colon. That’s the city on the Bay of Colon on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal. 
Every now and then, I'll go back through my keepsake box. I’ve spent hours looking through my Army souvenirs and the photographs from that time in my life. 
Today, I flipped open the carved cedar box to look for an old pocketknife my dad had given me. The knife wasn't in the box but under the cufflinks, broken watches, and old keys to locks I no longer have, I found my Signal Corps pin. 
Picking it up, I shined it on the pant leg before stepping over to the window to get a better look at the pin. The morning light coming through the opened blinds shined on the Latin Motto on the bottom of the pin.  Pro Patria Vigilans. It translates to "Watchful for Country." The moment triggered a thread of
memory about my time in the Army.
On the day my letter from Uncle Sam told me to report to duty, I waited on the MissAla Bus at Woolworths in Jasper. I had two eggs over medium, grits, sausage, biscuits and three cups of coffee. Woolworths was buzzing that morning, and it took a while to get my food. I ate quickly and was heading to the bathroom when one of the guys waiting for the Montgomery-bound bus shouted down the counter -"The Army bus is here." I figured, Oh well. I hit the bathroom on the bus.  Wrong decision. There was no bathroom on the bus. When I told the driver I needed to go to the bathroom, he glanced in a mirror that was as wide as his seat and shook his head.  That was the longest three hours of my life.
The Army was an interesting experience and helped my body get into excellent condition. I could run forever then. 
I spent almost six months at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, which is not far from New York City. I loved New York City, though I've never felt more alone. 
The 18 months I spent in the tropics in Panama was like an extended beach vacation. We had 25 cent beers in the Coke machine in our barracks. I could pick fresh mangos through a torn screen beside a window by my bunk. 
I made some of the best friends I've ever had there. Even though I haven't heard from some of them in many years, I know that if I called them for help, they would come. 
Many of the opportunities I've had in my life were afforded me because of my military service. 
I'm glad I kept the pin. When viewed through the lens of history, the time I spent in green wasn't that bad. 


  1. Yeah some items in the memory box blast memories, some just ooze them. Life gives us all memories enough and of that I am glad to be a live.Memories fire the soul.

    Nice entry soldier....

  2. Positive memories are always welcome. And nowhere with fresh mangoes an arms length away can be all bad.

  3. We take memory for granted but it's a most magnificent gift when you think of it. I'm so grateful for my memory and it just amazes me that we can write down our thoughts and history and then forget about it until we read what we have written or some memorabilia that the eye see and triggers those old memories. Looking back, we can see things from a different angle. Life is full of experiences.
    Stay cool.
    Hugs, Julia

  4. A big THANK YOU for your service. Men like you should be proud of what you did and know what a difference you make for all of us. We are a land of the free, because of men like you !

  5. Thank goodness that you did not see any horrors while in green and I am envious that you had a mango tree so close. I love mangoes and can bet they were so sweet when you could pick them right off the tree. Sweet memories in many ways:)

  6. Anonymous1:13 PM

    Good or bad, our experiences make us what we are today!!

  7. That's the beauty of the passage of time. We are able to look back with fond remembrance at things that we may not have loved at the time. It shows us that we can find some good in everything. You even have an anecdote about the three hour wait to use the bathroom.

  8. Thank you for your service! What a cute memory post. You had me hurting when you talked about the bus ride. Oh my gosh! I cant even.....

  9. Excellent! I saw my own son in your words. It's been a long time since he served in the Gulf war, but Troy still refers to his battle buddies as 'my brothers.'

  10. Being female and Australian I have no experience with being drafted not that it didn't happen here, it did for many years was it a good or bad thing I don't know, that said this post was bloody awesome

  11. I'm always amazed when I look back in time and see how life unfolded and shaped who I am today. At the time it wasn't what I really was looking to do or have but somehow it turned out better than expected. I think the military can have that effect and make men out of boys. I'm glad you didn't have to go to war and thankful for your sacrifice where you were called to serve. My oldest brother, Phil, lives in Panama half time and Florida the rest...he loves it there.


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