The National Guard Experience
Or: Sleep well tonight, Your National Guard is drunk!
Upon returning home from Germany
in the summer of 1964 after spending 30 months as a Missionary for the Church
of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), I was bumming around my parents
home contemplating starting classes at Glendale
College and finding a job of some
kind. I was driving an old '54 Mercury
and had no money and things weren't looking all that great for me except that I
was continuing my education and having a ball with all the lovely young ladies
that seemed to sense my eligible bachelorhood as a challenge. My father, George
(Jake), advised me of an upcoming exam for the Fire Department and asked me to take
it. I think his exact words were;
"Take it or move out!” But
since he paid the dollar fee and supplied the transportation I felt obligated
to at least give it a shot.
The day of the exam came
in August of 1964, on a Saturday, and I drove down to Hollywood
High School to join the others
taking the test. When I got there the
line of guys just waiting to take their turn was four wide and went completely
around the block. As it turned out there were about 10,000 applicants and I got
pretty discouraged in a big hurry. But being the obedient son and not wanting
to move out of the comfort of living at home at the age of 23, I took my place
in line and went inside. The test itself was l50 questions and we had three
hours to take it, with a lady from the Personnel Department monitoring our
every cough for signs of cheating. I thought the test was sort of simple, with
pictures of wheels and how they should move, etc. I finished in about an hour and looked around
to see how the others were doing and they were all still in the middle of the
booklet and struggling. Not wanting to
be the first one done I doodled in the book until someone else got up and
turned in their test and then I got up and left thinking that I must have blown
the whole thing because it seemed too easy.
When the test results
came back I had placed 36th on the list and my ego was about to burst. All those men ahead of me had received l0
points Military credit which I didn't have.
I was in the top 5 raw test scores. What a brain!
I decided that the $608
a month they offered to pay me was more than I had and I could always quit if I
didn't like it. I was the 20th person
appointed to the training academy on January 16. 1965, and was going through
the Fire Academy
and taking final exams at Glendale College
at the same time. It then became quite
evident that with the Vietnam
buildup I might not finish the Academy before the Draft Board changed my
classification from 2-S (Student) to 1-A (Plum) and send
me off to war.
One of the men in my
Ward (Congregation) had a buddy who played baseball with our church team and
worked as a First Sergeant for the National Guard in Glendale. I made an appointment to see him and joined
the Guard about a week after starting the Fire
Academy. He seemed too eager to
sign me up and made it sound like a real piece of cake. Being offered a choice
of three different jobs in the Unit; Truck mechanic, Infantryman, or Mortarman,
I knew I didn't want to get greasy or get shot at so it left me only one
choice. I didn’t know what a
Mortarman did but with the explanation that he hid behind the hill and lobbed
shells over the heads of the frontline Infantry guys, I thought that sounded a
lot safer than going one-on-one with bayonets in the trenches. I was happy to be a member of "Glendale's
Own" l/l60th Infantry Battalion along with many guys that I knew in High
School including Jim Mofhitz and Larry Kidder.
(Jim had been my roommate at BYU in 1959)
I finished the Fire
Academy and was sent to Fire
Station l07 to get some field experience.
I was only there one month before I entered Basic Training at Fort Ord,
California on April 30th.There I was, 23 years old and having lived 2 ½ years
in Europe and traveled extensively, thrown in with a bunch of 18 year olds who
had never been away from home before. I
was like the old man of the group. The Platoon Sergeant met us at the bus
station and welcomed us into the Army.
We had to fill out some forms and a questionnaire about what we had done
in our lives. I put down that I had been
president of all my Sunday school classes, Patrol Leader in the scouts and
anything else I could think of to make me sound like a leader, which of course
I was. The Sergeant came up to me
privately and said that he would like to have me lead his platoon but that
there was someone else with prior military experience who traditionally would
get the spot and so I was made the Armorer, in charge of the rifles (In my own
room of course!). The drunken prior
service guy lasted a week before they busted him and I became the Trainee
I was the leader of the
fifth platoon, C Company, 4th Battalion, 3rd Training Brigade. I made up cadence songs to sing as we marched
back and forth to the different training areas, mostly about guys in the
platoon. They seemed to like hearing
their names shouted out so everyone joined in and we were the sharpest marching
platoon in the company. I did my best at
everything since it was an ego trip to show up those younger guys. The First Sgt. found out that I could type so
I spent many hours in the office helping him instead of watching those famous
VD movies you always hear about.
The eight weeks went
quickly and at the close I was chosen "Outstanding Trainee of the
Cycle" by the Officers and Sergeants of the company and presented a trophy
at graduation by the Brigade Commander, Colonel Dieleman. Most of the guys in the company were from
National Guard units with a lot of Eskimos from Alaska
including one named Sylvester Snowball (for real!). Of the four awards handed out at graduation
for excellence, all four went to Guardsmen and three of the four were
Mormons. One of the Mormons from Utah
bought some clippers and cut hair in the latrine for 75 cents a head and made
close to a hundred dollars while we were there. Remember this because it plays
a big part in my future storyline.
After graduation from
Basic I went to Advanced Infantry Training to learn about mortars. Again I was chosen platoon Sgt. and given my
own room but the personnel were different since most of them were regular army
and from the south. We worked in teams
of three guys and I was lucky to get two other guys that wanted to do their
best. We ended up the crack team of the company because I and another guy maxed
the mortar test and the third barely missed maximum because he panicked. I got little medals to wear that said expert
in rifle, mortar, and pistol. Along with
my blue Infantry scarf and all my medals, I cut a dashing figure when I
returned home in September.
But before I return home
to reality and work, let me tell about Survival, Escape and Evasion
training. By some unreasonable mistake I
had to do KP one night and got a greasy sliver of steel wool in my finger,
which became infected. So I had to spend
a couple of days in the infection ward at the Fort
along with the sexually promiscuous soldiers.
Anyway I missed the POW camp training with my platoon and had to go alone
with another company later.
My company had gotten
together and made a pact that they wouldn't say a thing to the guards or
interrogators at the POW camp. So there
was this big guy from the south who used to sit around doing isometric
exercises that they picked for the electric torture chair. He sat there and grinned at the cadre guards
as they put electrodes on various parts of his body and shocked him. They finally had to quit because the voltages
were becoming too dangerous. He just sat there and grinned. Anyway, I went through the course 2 days
later with another company but my guys had clued me in as to what to do to stay
healthy. They told me to get in the middle and shut-up. The first part of the
course we were shown different style Vietnam
huts and hidden caches and booby traps and instructed as to what to do if
caught. The next phase they lined us up and turned us over to the
"enemy" guards who were Sergeants returning from Vietnam
combat duty. This is where being in the middle really counted as the guards
started down the rows. They approached the guy next to me and punched him good
in the gut and then kicked him until he returned to attention. Just as the
guard finished with him the guy right in front of me made a wise crack and was
beat to the ground with rabbit punches by the guard in my row. When he turned back around he hit the guy
next to me on the other side. Boy did I
escape that one by another's misfortune. Next we had to put our coats over our
heads and duck walk about100yds to the compound. While we were duck walking some were being
slapped in the head and back. I could
hear them walking near me so I had to keep tense as if I was going to be hit at
any moment. It was really tough on my
body and reaching the compound was a small blessing.
We were forced to lie
down on our backs and lift our feet six inches off the ground and hold them there.
If they hit the ground you got kicked in the ribs. I was lucky enough to be near a wall and sort
of rested my boots on the side of it.
All the while this weird Asian music was playing over large speakers and
guards were screaming. To be singled out and taken away usually meant something
worse than what we were already doing so I tried to do everything right. It didn't work. I was taken away with my coat
over my head for interrogation.
Somewhere along that trek a voice whispered in my ear "don't worry
Jake, it's almost over!" and I felt as if the weight of the world had been
taken from my shoulders. I was lucky
that my company was being used as guards because they had just survived the
ordeal. All in all it was a frightening
experience and one I didn't look forward to repeating. Its merit became obvious
as the Vietnam War ended and very few enlisted men who were captured ever came
I returned home in
September of 1965 to the Fire Department and having fun with the young ladies.
One young lady stood out from the crowd.
She had joined the Mormon congregation the day I got home from Germany
and was the cutest thing I had ever seen.
Her name was Janet Turner and I chased her around for over two years
before she decided to marry me in December of 1966, but that's another story.
Life at the l/l60th was
sort of like a fraternity. It was casual
and not too serious. The only bivouac I
can remember was an overnighter in the wash across from Magic
Mountain and it was like the Boy
Scouts; everything else was done in the armory building in Glendale.
Just before summer of
1966 I was transferred to an Armored Cavalry unit based in Burbank
under the airport runway. Certain
selected units of the National Guard had been designated as "Selected
Reserve Forces" and brought up to full strength in men and equipment. The
1/18th Armored Cav. Was one such unit and I spent summer camp at Fort
Irwin, just north of Barstow, riding around in an armored personnel carrier. I had a chance to return to Glendale
at the end of summer but I thought to myself that riding was better than
walking and chose to stay in Burbank. What a mistake!
I was assigned to A
Troop with First Sgt. Jones, the drunk Indian, and there met Bruce Pixley who
worked for General Telephone. Bruce and
I paled around until after Vietnam
when he moved out to Ventura and we
sort of lost contact with each other. While we were in A Troop we were always
together and scheming against the First Sgt.
We soon became recognized as the best mortarmen in the Squadron and even
though we were only PFC's we trained most of the other guys in how to use the
4.2 inch mortar.
The SRF became a pain in
the butt because we had drills every other weekend and usually traveled out to Fort
Irwin where our tanks were kept.
Our Company Commander, Captain Ross Moen, was a real jerk (police officer,
juvenile div). He had a real ego problem
with leadership and how to motivate and control men. He tried to force his men to do things with
punishment and they just undermined everything he did or said. Most of the guardsmen were in college and
married and some even had their own businesses and therefore were not to be
browbeaten into submission. Such treatment
just caused them to concentrate their entire efforts in thwarting the military
system. We called
it "shamming" and to be a good shammer meant to get out of every
detail by disappearing somewhere. Pixley
and I were two of the best but nevertheless kept up our image by being the best
mortarmen they had.
Our bi-weekly caravans
to the desert became an update on the police shootings in the black ghetto area
of Watts from some of the guys that worked that
district. It was a six-hour trip each
way and totally boring. One night at
about1 a.m. we had just arrived and tried to settle in for a little sleep
before training the next morning when the CO called a formation. Well, frankly nobody believed anything so
stupid could really be happening so we just sort of shuffled out to see what it
was all about. The good Captain Moen went
into a raging fit and took us on a run off into the desert to punish us for
being so slow. I was the company
guide-on and carried the company flag, setting the pace for the Troop. After about 2 miles I decided that it was
totally stupid and just dropped off to the side and started walking. Captain Moen started frothing at the mouth
and screaming until someone else grabbed the flag and ran out to the
front. I could have cared less. From that point on I had very little respect
for any of the National Guard Officers and more or less trusted myself when it
came to decisions about safety, etc.
We spent a lot of time
and gasoline driving around the desert fighting imaginary enemies but any live
firing was done on the range under strictly controlled circumstances. Many a
night I spent following the dust of five or six tanks barely able to see their
blackout cat eye lights. One night Sgt.
Bentley was driving in convoy and ran off the road in the dust and hit a big
rock, knocking the drive wheel and track off and stranding us until the next
afternoon when a trailer came to haul us back to camp. We spent the day sunbathing with the lizards,
20 miles south of Death Valley. Another time in the heat of the day we
stopped and rested with the temperature around 120 degrees and I stepped
outside the vehicle to urinate and with the loss of water I doubled over in
cramps. My first and only experience
with heat cramps and I'm glad I haven't seen them since.
The only good times I
can remember in the desert were sleeping out under a million-zillion stars and
the swim party we had at lake Dolores,
and of course driving a tank and almost running over Captain Moen and his jeep.
Pixley & Pfc. Jacobsmeyer firing 4.2 inch Mortar at training exercise at Fort
Irwin, California. (Note: starched fatigues in the desert)
It was during this
bi-weekly schedule of convoying to Fort
Irwin and running around the desert
pretending to be soldiers that the news of our activation came. It was almost a relief since it meant that we
would be sent to a real Army post and train with real equipment and ammo under
real officers. Or at least that's what
Little did we realize
just how far the Army would go to prove that its National Guard was up to
snuff, even to the falsifying of medical and other records to show that we were
well trained. Individually I think the
Guardsmen were superior to any regular army personnel but we had no
cohesiveness due to the terrible Officers the Guard had made in it’s OCS
schools. We had nobody smart enough to
bring the whole package together and therefore we would have been destroyed in Vietnam.
was with these feelings that I faced activation to Vietnam.