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Is it “toward” or “towards”

February 24, 2015

Yenne_1968 Dan StruckmanBill Yenne took this picture of me in 1968 before I entered the military.

As a child of — perhaps 8 — at school recess a bully chased me off the playground and onto the dirt and weeds toward the corner of the block at the boundary of school property.  When I reached the corner I was perplexed, so I ran toward the bully!  I felt exhilarated for a few moments while I wondered what I would do.  I threw myself into his feet, knocked him down, then ran back to the paved playground, then to school as the bell rang for the end of recess.

During the Vietnam war (I should say “war in Vietnam” because no war had been declared) our government was drafting young men into the armed services.  We had been told in 1967 in high school by a recruiter that every man owed 6 years of service.  Generally, that would mean 2 in active duty, 4 in reserves.

Vietnam was deadly for thousands, according to the horrifying images on TV news.  At the University of Montana in Missoula I quickly made friends with many who preferred smoking marijuana and taking a variety of hallucinogenic substances to being drafted.  I pretty much lost interest in my student’s draft deferment.  I thought in unjust that us white middle-class kids with the means to go to college should avoid the draft, even though I didn’t want — was afraid to — go into the army.

I ended up doing something like I did when I was 8.  In 1969 I enlisted in the Marines.

“What are you running from?” asked the recruiter.  He asked me if I had ever gotten in trouble with the law.  I told him about the drunk and disorderly charge I’d gotten in Dillon, Montana.  He checked that out and the next day the recruiter greeted me warmly and off I went.

Of course I was a terrible soldier.  Although I tried to develop enthusiasm for killing people and I professed wanting to go to Vietnam, I was afraid.  I figured my salvation would always be asking to be sent to the infantry to Vietnam.  Instead, I got orders to Memphis Tennessee to aviation electronics school.

Always in my mind was the memory of my uncle, Carl R. Bonde, Jr., Private First Class, 66th Army Division, who had been sent to specialized training to the University of North Dakota under the ASTP program.  Uncle Carl was killed before he ever set foot on France,  Christmas Eve, 1944.  Uncle Carl had been drafted.  I didn’t want to be drafted.  He had been enticed with high-tech training that turned into infantry.

Therefore, choosing a path different from my uncle’s, I wanted nothing to do with aviation electronics training.  I was uncooperative and soon went AWOL in Memphis, spending several mosquito-infested nights sleeping in a park restroom.  I remember feeling comforted by the hedges that seemed to thrive without anyone helping them.

When I returned to the Marine base in Memphis (Millington, actually) I was arrested and the next day, sent to the Commanding Officer’s office for non-judicial punishment.  The major had my school record in hand.  He saw that I was non-compliant with my training requirements, refusing to take notes, purposely failing exams.  He asked me what I wanted from the Marine Corps.

“Sir, I’d like to see the Marine Corps flat on its back with its heels in the air, sir,” I replied.  I felt emotional because I  was still worn out from not getting much sleep in the Memphis park for several nights in a row.

The major got up from his chair, walked around his desk, got about a foot away from my face, and said, “I represent that Marine Corps!   How would you like to put me on my back?”

My instinct was to say NO!  I DON’T WANT TO PUT YOU ON YOUR BACK!  But I didn’t say it.

I thought of my fellow Marines, many of them black, standing out in the sun, waiting for some officer or another intruded into my thoughts.  Wouldn’t any one of them jump at the chance to slap this arrogant little bully?  Of course anyone would.  Therefore, I had no choice.  So I did.  I knew I would get into a mountain of trouble, but by God, I did and some of my muscles did the hitting while the other ones tried to prevent me!  The muscles doing the hitting prevailed.

I got a court martial for that.  And the brig.  And after that, one of the nicest Marine Corps Air Stations in Southern California.  Best of all, no Vietnam.  Better than that, the US Military Court of Appeals found me innocent of wrongdoing because the judges pretty much said they would have done the same thing.  My own mother agreed.

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