Posts Tagged ‘Fort Dix’

Happy Birthday to Me, Dylan and JFK

Monday, May 29th, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

JFK ... at a press conference

JFK … at a press conference

The headline tells the story. Well, at least the premise. Bob Dylan and I both turn 76 today (May 29). Funny, I can almost believe it about myself, but not about Dylan, even though he’s literally been around my whole life. But while I appreciate his contribution to music, which won him a Nobel Prize for its poetic, lasting message, it’s not the sound of Dylan’s unique voice that I carry around in my head every May 29.

That would be Kennedy’s, with his distinct Boston accent. I’ve been aware of sharing a birthdate with the late John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th president of The United States, considerably longer than I’ve known the Dylan connection. That’s because Kennedy, who would be 100 today, was president at a time when I first became intimately aware of how a president could have a profound impact on my life, personally.

That was in October of 1962, the Cold War was heating up. I was a senior in college, with a draft deferment and Kennedy was telling Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to get his nuclear missiles out of Cuba or else. When Khrushchev refused, JFK ordered a blockade of U.S. Navy ships around the island to prevent delivery of any further missiles or equipment from the Soviet Union. As Soviet ships steamed towards Cuba, I waited nervously with the rest of the world to see if nuclear warfare would break out. Kennedy refused demands from other world leaders to back down.

Eventually, U.S. sailors boarded one Soviet ship and looked around. Then the Soviet fleet turned around and sailed back to Russia. Khrushchev agreed to dismantle the missiles. Kennedy in return agreed that the U.S., having been humiliated in a failed invasion attempt at the Bay of Pigs a year earlier, would attempt no future invasions of Cuba.

A year after the Cuban Missile Crisis, as I awaited reporting to Fort Dix, N.J., for basic training, JFK was assassinated, postponing my duty for a month. And 20 years later, as fate (synchronicity?) would have it, the first editorial I was asked to write as the new editorial page editor for The Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., was to mark the 20th anniversary of Kennedy’s death. Headline: “The Measure of the Man.”

Some 34 years later, much of it still applies. The legend of JFK — Camelot (Jackie, John-John and Caroline), PT-109, Navy and Marine Corps Medals, the Purple Heart, “Ich bin ein Berliner,” “Ask not …”, the challenge to put a man on the moon, the Peace Corps, the New Frontier, a limited nuclear test ban treaty — still far outweighs his failings, including extramarital affairs, hiding illnesses from us, escalation of the American troop presence in Vietnam and a reluctance to take a firm stance in the growing battle over segregation in America.

He is regularly rated as one of this country’s greatest presidents, a testament I believe to his ability to inspire hope, faith and courage in Americans, especially young Americans like me, at a time of grave danger. Much of that owes to his youth (he was 43 when elected president, the youngest ever) and his ability to eloquently deliver the words written for him by Ted Sorensen, a synchronistic match if there ever was one. But Kennedy, a Harvard graduate, was no slouch at writing either, having won a Pulitzer Prize for biography with “Profiles in Courage.”

After considering a career in journalism, he decide on politics. Good choice. But as president he courted the news media, including initiating regular White House press conferences. He connected with people.

If Dylan’s message was often one of rebellion, Kennedy’s was unfailingly one of of hope. We can do this. We are up to the challenge. We care. His average approval rating as president was 70 percent, the highest in the history of Gallup. He also ranked third, behind Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Teresa, in Gallup’s List of Widely Admired People of the 20th century, according to Wikipedia.

Four years ago in this blog, writing “The Measure of the Man II,” I recounted my history with JFK and wrote, “The question I still ask myself is, what might JFK have done, what might he have meant to America and the world, if he had lived longer?’’ That was on the 50th anniversary of his death.

I also wrote, “I’m also going to remember to honor him not on the date he died, but on the date we both were born.”

So happy 100th, Mr. President. And Bobby, stay forever young and keep on pluckin’. I’ll meet you at 100.

Improving Military Justice

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013


By Jeffrey Page

So antiquated and one-sided is the American form of military law that a Canadian judge refused to return a U.S. soldier who had been charged with deserting across the northern border. This comes at a time when Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has called for a revamping of the classically oxymoronic system of military justice.

One aspect of the system that galls critics is the power of high-ranking commanding officers to insert themselves into the process and exercise their prerogative to alter the charges brought by prosecutors and the verdicts returned by juries. The most notorious recent example of this, as noted in The New York Times, was an Air Force general’s nullifying a subordinate officer’s conviction on charges of sexual assault.

Many people who have faced the military justice system in matters serious as well as frivolous understand that it is, at its core, an absurdity. Note that the Air Force lieutenant colonel convicted of aggravated sexual assault had been sentenced to a mere one year in prison.

Without suggesting that rape and the refusal to carry out an order are in any way comparable, let me present an example of how military justice often works.

Once, a long time ago, at Fort Dix, N.J., I was charged with sleeping while at parade rest. Explanation follows.

One hot day in July of 1964, Tango Company, part of a basic training regiment, was marching to breakfast. We had to wait outside the mess hall until another company finished their meal and departed. An Army Reserve sergeant doing his two-week summer training, ordered us to stand at parade rest, which is a slightly relaxed form of standing at attention. We were on a construction site where the Army was building new barracks and I found myself atop a small pile of bricks. I looked down to get my bearings and to adjust my stance.

That was when the sergeant ordered me to perform 10 pushups, a mild punishment when you do something the wrong way.

For what, I asked.

He said, “For sleeping at parade rest,” which is as close to a physical impossibility as you can get. I refused – a very stupid move. And sure enough, later that morning, a clerk told me the company commander, a captain named Dixon, wanted to see me.

“You disobeyed the lawful order of a noncommissioned officer,” Dixon said gravely.

“The man is insane,” I began.

“Shut up, Troop,” he said and proceeded to inform me that we don’t disobey orders in this man’s army. Capt. Dixon yelled a lot and stopped every so often to ask if I understood the seriousness of what I had done. It was clear he didn’t care one way or the other about what the reserve sergeant had ordered, or why.

Finally, the captain told me I could choose my punishment.

“You can have a court martial, at which you will be convicted and sentenced to 45 days in the stockade,” he said, while shaking his head slightly. A signal?

Or, he said while continuing that head-shake, I could choose non-judicial punishment as described in Article 15 of the Universal Code of Military Justice. This would involve a hearing before this very same very angry Captain Dixon. “It would not be a court martial, but you will be convicted and you will lose a month’s pay,” he said. That would have been $78.

The third choice? I could report to Tango Company’s headquarters at 3 o’clock in the morning for three days running, sweep the floor, wash the floor, dust the furniture, and tidy up the place, he explained while nodding slightly. Then I would report to my platoon for a full day’s training and a loss of two precious hours of sleep. Reveille was at 5 a.m. I would start my cleaning at 3:15 a.m. I would be exhausted. And that’s the punishment I elected.

In going before Congress to change the system that allows commanders to ride roughshod over common justice – or finesse it, Hegel should be applauded. Justice should not be booted around in serious cases, but commanders like Dixon should have the right – the obligation, in fact, to get to the bottom of minor, piddling cases like mine and send the wrongdoer on his way.

I concede I was saved from doing time in an army jail by the same wink-and-nod system of military justice that saved the lieutenant colonel from prison. But military justice sometimes seems not interested in justice.

The system needs repair when a guilty-verdict in a felony case is tossed aside and a recruit comes this-close to spending 45 days in jail for disobeying an idiot sergeant.

That’s not justice, military or otherwise.

My Deciding Gun Factor

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

By Jeffrey Page

As the urgency in the discussion of the need for stricter gun laws increases, allow me to tell you about the moment when my ambivalence about guns turned to something else.

It was during basic training at Fort Dix in the brutally hot summer of 1964. We, in Tango Company – “Tough Tango! All the way and a little bit more!” we were ordered to shout several times a day – had undergone any number of training classes at the rifle ranges. Our weapon was the M-14, a particularly nasty instrument that the army issued as standard equipment from 1959 to 1970. Set on automatic, the M-14 could fire at the rate of 750 rounds per minute. Our ammunition clips held 20 rounds. This was not a weapon for sport.

With initial rifle training over, we knew how to fire the M-14. Now we marched to a new range for combat training. Here we would work in teams of two. My buddy, a guy named Vince from Newburgh, and I faced downrange. He was about 15 yards to my right. The idea was that he would make a dash forward, firing at an imaginary enemy, while I covered him. Then I would move forward and he would cover me.

The ammunition was live. As a result, Al Minicus, our normally laconic platoon sergeant, informed us – many, many times – that we must be facing straight ahead before firing our weapons. Any deviation from this rule could result in extra duty at best, a court martial at worst.

As Vince started forward, I rose to one knee and fired into a thicket of bushes about 50 yards straight ahead of me. Then, as Vince dropped to the ground, I stood and ran past him while maintaining the 15-yard space between us. He now was firing to cover me.

Just then, I heard the training officer blow his whistle, which meant, in descending order of immediacy: cease firing at once; get your finger off the trigger; freeze; bring your weapon diagonally across your chest to port arms; stand at attention.

The officer, a young lieutenant, approached me, called Vince over, and asked if I knew why he had whistled. I did not, but wondered if this somehow was going to turn into an extra tour on KP or guard duty. But I was innocent.

The lieutenant said that Vince had fired his weapon several times at a 45-degree angle to his left – meaning right at me. “At your head,” the officer said. Vince started apologizing and the lieutenant told him to shut up.

I felt a surge of nausea. I felt my knees weaken. I had a vision of my head in pieces. I found myself leaning on my rifle like a crutch, something you’re never supposed to do. The officer then asked me if I wanted to have a few moments alone with Vince behind the latrine so I could “deck this sorry son of a bitch.” I did not.

At that moment, I threw up an ocean of breakfast onto the rifle range, and this seemed to annoy the lieutenant as much as Vince’s misdirected firing had. Then, using standard army logic, Sgt. Minicus came over and said that Vince was lucky because he hadn’t hurt me and would be punished only with an extra KP duty. He never mentioned how lucky I was that Vince had missed.

I finished basic training and later returned to my National Guard unit in New York where, in the next 5½ years of my enlistment, I never had to carry a weapon with live ammunition. Which was fine with me, almost as fine as being alive.

Vince wasn’t evil, just careless. Adam Lanza and all the others who have contaminated our society with their unhappiness weren’t careless, just evil.

And armed.