The surrounding area was rich in Civil War history, topped with Washington DC site-seeing. A saving-grace for the place, other than that, was either going to DC to hear Motown music and drinking, or trying to fly-home on off-duty time. Pretty expensive scenario any way you looked at it, especially on E-4 pay. In addition, you had to have your own "ride" as well to gain any sort of independence and freedom - which was another expense. You see, Vint Hill was situated miles out in the country, between Warrenton to the west and Manassas to the east.
I was an O5K (059) "Radio-Teletype Intercept Operator," which must have been an excess MOS in those days. Being fresh-off of Shemya, (which had a great "real-world" mission by the way) then being sent to Vint Hill, that only had a seemingly unimportant mission (for my MOS anyway), was a "downer" to say the least! What made matters worse was that I still was an E-4, which opened me up to every Sh_t-detail imaginable in those days. There were not many slots for promotion at Vint Hill!
I reported there in later June, 1968, after driving all night and all the next day from Northern Illinois to the D.C. Area. I had seen the Beach Boys in concert at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, the night I left - giving my girl friend a quick good bye! Again, it was better than going to Vietnam, but pretty boring.
I worked on the second-floor of a renovated farm-barn, converted to an Operations Center at sometime or another. We stored our boxes of teletype paper in the silo. The “Hogs” (O5Hs, 058s) worked downstairs along with the SIGINT analysts, or 98Cs. Our barrack was a nice, bay-style and brick, three-story building. One guy had a "kick-ass" stereo tape-deck with a Boise speaker-system. He would play In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly. Everyone was "getting-off" on the long (record-breaking at that time) drum-solo! VHFS had a PX that was pretty modest. In fact, everything on post was modest! I never went into the club, which I'm sure was pretty good and convenient.
My shift-NCOIC [AKA: Trick Chief] was a smart and very comical E-6 who was married to a stewardess. SSG Taylor knew all the angles to everything. Basically, he was "full of more crap than a Christmas goose!" loved being “state-side”, and was a joy to work and joke around with since the mission was not worth a flip! Since I was 20 years-old and younger than just about everyone, I was the focus of a lot of the fun. I loved it! To fill the lull-periods, I kept one of the radio receivers in my rack tuned to a local radio station. If it weren’t for the incessant replays of the Bee Gee’s I have To Get a Message to you, or Bobbie Gentry’s Ode to Billy Joe, and Jeannie C. Riley’s Harper Valley PTA, I would have gone completely nuts! Yeah Right!
To fit-in with the rest of the locals, I was seriously thinking of getting my own chewing tobacco spit-cup so I could drive around with it and throw the contents out of my car’s window - having it stream along the door. Was a cultural shock for me! I decided at this early date that I had to get out of here! I still had two-years left "in-service" and didn't want to waste it here!
The bars in DC were great in those days, MOTOWN all the way! And, you only had to be eighteen to drink legally! That was the world of Ottis Redding, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Smokey Robinson, Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Barry White, James Brown, "Who's Makin Love" by Jonnie Taylor, Wilson Pickett, The Pointer Systers, Gladys Knight - just to name a few! We really loved it! I remember coming back to the post one night John, Herb, and I all had to piss real bad. John H. (AKA "Attah Scissor Ass") was driving his new Camero. We stopped off at this gas station. One of us took the "john," the other took the urinal, and I got the sink. If you have to go, you have to go! John H. added, "better than pissing up a rope!" John liked to make you take a bow, multiple times. So you had to watch 'em! I sure miss him and all the antics of the old days!
One nice sunny afternoon, I was walking around the Georgetown area by myself and was taking in the sites. Along came two girls, head-on, dressed in mini-skirts and riding bicycles! Being away from women since leave-time, I just couldn’t take it. By the time they passed me, there was steam coming out of my ears! I hope they’ve kept their shape over the last thirty-five years. Something tells me they haven’t! Grandmaws!!
In real-late June, before my "swing-shift" started, and in "accountability-formation," the company CO announced that there was a couple of "seats" that became vacant and needed to be filled in one of the current Basic Airborne Courses at Fort Benning, Georgia. He said, “this opportunity only comes by once and you must let me know ASAP if you want it!” I immediately raised my hand to put my name in. To be honest, I was pretty skeptical if I’d get it. But sure enough, the old saying: “be careful what you wish for” came true. No one else anywhere wanted it and I wanted to get the Hell out of Vint Hill anyway! I had to leave immediately to report to Fort Benning.
Back then, Basic Airborne Training was four-weeks long. The first being “zero-week,” which didn’t count. It was a week of in-processing, pulling KP, (if you had the unlucky rank) painting rocks, and/or cleaning barracks. I "reported-in" the last couple of days of June, 1968, and man was it hot and humid. Thought I was going to die! Thinking back, that "zero-week" helped me get acclimated for the real training ahead.
I was in pretty good shape and didn’t have that much body-weight on top. I could do all the push-ups and pull-ups required by the training schedule. Running was a piece of cake as well. I always had a keen interest in jumping out of “perfectly good airplanes,” and kept this interest going all through my college-days seven-years later. Skydiving was the "ultimate-thrill" to me, but after around 360 jumps, I quit.
The Army knows how to take the fun out of everything though. Even jumping out of airplanes! The time went quickly because we were kept so busy. The thing I can remember now is that on some nights, I didn’t get much sleep, because the next barracks over had Puerto-Rican Army National Guardsmen (in the same training) that partied almost nightly. Singing their home-songs and having a riot! The cadre could only do so much in subduing them, even increasing the PT. All these guys knew was that they were going back home after all this, and the shorter they got, the crazier!
The training was fun but demanding. Learning how to PLF (Parachute Landing Form), exiting out of mock-up aircraft, the tower, and finally the first jump. I went out of a C-130 for the first three static-line jumps, a C-141 for the fourth jump, and the fifth and final jump was at night, out of a C-130 again. Some guys that missed the LZ hit tombstones. Hope they weren’t the pointy-topped ones! I don’t remember any bad injuries to anyone though during the whole phase, that could re-cycle you or send you back to your home unit.
We had to do a lot of running in formation - to the chant of songs like:
C-130 rolling down the strip.
Airborne daddy on a one-way trip.
Mission unspoken, destination unknown
Don't even know if we'll ever come home.
Stand up hook up, shuffle to the door
Jump right out and count to four.
If my main don't open wide
I've got another one by my side.
If that one should fail me too,
Look out drop-zone, I'm comin' through!
Pin my wings upon my chest,
and bury me in the leaning rest.
When I get to heaven
St. Peters gonna say:
How'd you earn your livin,
How'd you earn your pay?
And I will reply with a little bit of anger:
Earned my pay as an Airborne Ranger!
This kind of work is only for the bold and the brave!
I graduated Jump School and Got back to Vint Hill the last couple of days of July, 1968, I went to the orderly-room a few days later and requested to fill out a DA 1049, an earlier version of the present DA Form 4187. My first choice in my “dream sheet” was Vietnam. Second was Asmara, Ethiopia, and third was Fort Sheridan, Illinois. Vietnam I had doubts because I heard we would be in a fenced compound in Phu Bai, south of Hue, guarded by Marines. Asmara, pretty good, because we had a bunch of these guys here at Vint Hill that said that was the best and most fun place to be in the ASA Army! The third choice was because if all else failed, I would be within driving distance of my hometown, on weekends, for the rest of my Army enlistment.
In the mean-time, I joined a bunch of my buddies working a part-time job on the side. They worked at the Marriot Airline Catering center at night, located at the newly-opened Dulles International Airport. I also worked a hot, thirsty, miserable job at a local tree-nursery in near-by Warrenton. Working all day in the hot sun, then trying to work a "Mid" later? Only the young and stupid can do that! I survived a few months of this. I rationalized this was good discipline training. Yeah right!
The end of August, 1968, a few of our folks went up to Chicago on official business - for the Democratic Convention up there. Spooky!
This was about the time that I first noticed that the Army was getting more "troop-friendly." The mess hall got a "short-order" line, where you could actually order a hamburger or cheeseburger and fries! Hot Sh_t! I thought I read about this somewhere that it might happen, and it did! Beat the old meat & potatoes thing.
Around early October, my orders came down assigning me to Asmara, Ethiopia, in December. The Army wasted Airborne Training on me, but I was happy just the same! I never even bothered to sew on the wings. My MOS was the driving-force keeping me out of Vietnam and pointed towards Ethiopia. I had to run over to the Pentagon to get my Passport picture taken for Ethiopia. This place was huge, huge! A neat experience for just once.
I decided to take one last look at the Shendendoah Valley, since the leaves were changing. This Skyline Drive they have there sure is a nice thing to take on a lazy Sunday afternoon. I could imagine General Sheridan going up and down this valley with his cavalry in 1864 - '65. Anyway, the weather cooperated on my day.
On November 22, 1969, former President John F. Kennedy’s death was commemorated via a solemn formation at Vint Hill. The main one was, of course, at Arlington National Cemetery - forty miles to the east. Kakis were out for the season and class A’s were in. Since I just completed airborne training, I wanted to blouse my boots. But, the C.O. wouldn’t let me. We all had to be uniform! Besides, we were really "Chair-Borne Rangers!" But, in a couple of days, I would be clearing the post and going home on a short leave - before being sent to a place called Kagnew Station.
Reflecting back on the almost six months I was at Vint Hill Farms Station, I never had to pull KP or CQ. That was a "plus" anyway - squeaking through like that! I found out later that the Army, at Kagnew Station, have the Ethi’s do the KP-thing! So, my KP-pulling days were over! Two-years down, two-years to go!