Carnett: Mom cries, but the Army beckons

February 17, 2014|By Jim Carnett

Fifty years ago this month I joined Uncle Sam's Army.

In December of 1963, weeks shy of my 19th birthday, I came to the decision that it was time to take a bold step. I needed to grow up.

I figured the best way to do that was to join the military. My father, my two uncles and my grandfather had all served. If the military was good enough for them, well, surely it would be good for me.


But which branch? I visited the Santa Ana recruiting offices of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines and had long chats with the recruiters.

The Navy, Air Force and Marines required that I serve four years of active duty and two years inactive. They weren't able to guarantee me an MOS (military occupational specialty). The Army required that I serve three years of active service and three years inactive. Based upon my test scores, the Army recruiter guaranteed my technical school and job specialty.

I went Army green!

My folks were less than enthusiastic. I was immature and still tied to mom's apron strings, but I knew this was something I had to do.

On Thursday afternoon, Feb. 13, 1964, I boarded a bus at the Santa Ana Greyhound station bound for the Army induction center in Los Angeles. My mom and dad and a dozen friends were on hand to see me off.

I spent Thursday night in a fleabag hotel — courtesy of the Army — across the street from the induction center. I ate dinner in a cluttered diner down the street. "You a GI, hon?" the waitress asked. It was the first time I'd ever been labeled a GI. I nodded. "Dinner's on us, sweetie. Have some pie."

I called home that night to let everyone know I'd arrived safely. My brother told me that mom had cried all afternoon. I felt lousy. That's the last thing I wanted to do to my dear mother.

Yet, I was determined to see this thing through.

I spent Friday, Feb. 14, filling out paperwork, taking my Army physical and answering psychologists' questions. That afternoon, with a couple of hundred other guys, I raised my right hand and took the oath of enlistment. We swore to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

No turning back now.

The Army bused us from the induction center to Union Station. We took an evening train from L.A. to Salinas, arriving at about 3:30 a.m. The Army bused us for an hour through the coastal foothills to Fort Ord, in Monterey.

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