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Fort Benning Blues

Mark Busby

Publication Year: 2013

If you've never even been to Southeast Asia, can you be a Vietnam veteran? In a novel that captures the life and times of a generation, Mark Busby takes us on a journey through an era of hippies, the shootings at Kent State University, integration, and Woodstock. Fort Benning Blues tells the story of Vietnam from this side of the ocean.

Drafted in 1969, Jeff Adams faces a war he doesn't understand. While trying to delay the inevitable tour of duty in Vietnam, Adams attends Officer Candidate School in Fort Benning, Georgia, desperately hoping Nixon will achieve “peace with honor” before he graduates. The Army's job is to weed out the “duds,” “turkeys,” and “dummies” in an effort to keep not only the officers but also the men under their command alive in the rice paddies of Vietnam. It doesn't take long for the stress to create casualties.

Lieutenant Rancek, Adams' training officer at OCS, is ready to cut candidates from the program for any perceived weakness. He does this, not for the Army, but because he wants only the best “. . . leading the platoon on my right” when he goes to Vietnam.

Hugh Budwell, one of Adams' roommates, brings the laid-back spirit of California with him to Fort Benning. Tired of practicing estate law, he joins the Army to relieve the boredom he feels pervades his life. About Officer Candidate School, Budwell states, “If I wanted to go through it without any trouble, I'd be wondering about myself.”

Candidate Patrick “Sheriff” Garrett, a black southerner, spends a night with Adams in the low-crawl pit after they both raise Rancek's ire. Expecting racism when he joined the Army, Garrett copes better than most with the rigors of Officer Candidate School.

Busby uses song lyrics, newspaper headlines, and the jargon of the era to bring the sixties and seventies alive again. Henry Kissinger is described as “Peter Sellers as Dr. Strangelove” and Lieutenant William “Rusty” Calley as “Howdy Doody in uniform.” Of My Lai, Busby says, “At Fort Benning everybody took those actions as a matter of course.”

As America continues to try to comprehend the effects of one of the most transforming eras in our history, Fort Benning Blues adds another perspective to the meaning of being a Vietnam veteran.

Published by: TCU Press

Cover

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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7

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At the End of Our Time: A Prologue

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pp. vii-viii

All of this happened a long time ago, long enough that it should be as dim as a fading taillight on the horizon. But it takes so little for it to spring on me unbidden. One day walking through the zoo, I came upon an old black bear at the back of its cage looking over its shoulder at me and standing in a position that suddenly jolted me. ...

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Chapter 1: Arrival

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pp. 1-16

Sitting quietly looking out the window, I vaguely heard the pilot announce that we would be arriving in Columbus in fifteen minutes. It was a beautiful morning for flying—the sky was dear at our altitude; below I could see the clouds looking like cotton neatly arranged in a surgeon's tray. ...

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Chapter 2: Welcome

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pp. 17-20

It was night. Outside a light mist floated over everything and because we had to keep all three windows open (at exactly the same spot), that same mist crept softly inside every room. It covered the desks, the wall lockers, and settled into the blankets of our beds. ...

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Chapter 3: Learning

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pp. 21-28

The major purpose of the first few weeks of OCS, I decided, was to harass us as much as possible so the breakable ones would be gone soon. The most stressful and the simplest way to torment 256 men was to place more demands on our time than we could possibly accomplish. ...

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Chapter 4: Garrett

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pp. 29-34

The mist crept in on tiny rubber-tire sandals. It slipped soundlessly around the room and snaked into the corners, under the bunks, into the wall lockers, through the military tucks in the blankets, into our bones and minds, and into our dreams. ...

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Chapter 5: Training

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pp. 35-42

And so I wasn't surprised to hear Rancek in the platoon area that night. After hitting us late every night for the first few days, he had slacked off, and it appeared that perhaps his late night raids were only pan of our initial welcome. Because of the mess-hall debacle, I had expected that Rancek would be there to harass me again. ...

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Chapter 6: Low Crawl

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pp. 43-52

I ate lightly at evening chow, expecting that if I ate too much, I would see it again. I also ate quickly and, when I was through, went to my room where I first greased up my underarms and crotch with Vaseline, carefully applied one Band-Aid and two layers of tape to each heel, and changed into a pair of old fatigues. ...

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Chapter 7: Birthday Boy

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pp. 53-58

We discovered that the days passed almost unnoticeably, since we weren't allowed radios or other connections to the outside world. No newspapers made their way into the company area, so it was almost as if we were out of time. ...

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Chapter 8: Thanksgiving

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pp. 59-66

With Ferona's drop the floodgates opened, and several others rushed quickly through. I knew the ones who dropped out traded some momentary relief for future problems. But they had to stay at Benning for six weeks while they qualified for the Infantry. ...

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Chapter 9: Candy Raid

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pp. 67-74

After the top sergeant's announcement and the night of calling home and being focused on the Christmas break, when the reality sank in that we still had three weeks to go before leave, the whole company sagged like a punctured blimp. ...

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Chapter 10: The Spirit of the Bayonet

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pp. 75-82

The next few days dragged by as we all were focused on leaving for Christmas. The TACs seemed almost as distracted as we were. Our training classes were fairly routine-PT, weapons training (M-60 machine gun), a couple of classes on military justice. ...

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Chapter 11: Leaving on a Jet Plane

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pp. 83-92

The rest of that week after bayonet drill passed in a fog. Hays was still the student company commander, but it was dear to everyone but him that he was finished, sooner rather than later probably. He tried to keep up a good front, but his weak voice deteriorated as the week wore on. ...

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Chapter 12: CQ

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pp. 93-96

I thought Granddad's health was going before I left Texas. Chasing those cows wore him out. He sat in the back yard in the old metal chair he kept out there. but he didn't whittle or anything, just sat and looked up at the sky. ...

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Chapter 13: Gen Con

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pp. 97-100

I didn't have much time to think about the new class, concentrating on the map reading classes inside and the exercises outside. We all knew that map reading was one of the most important skills an Infantry officer needed. "If you don't know where you are, you're not lost, man; you're dead," one of the sergeants liked to say. ...

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Chapter 14: Eighth Week Panel

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pp. 101-112

The longer OCS went on, the harder it was for some of the men to keep their bearings. By the end of the seventh week the ones who wanted to leave had transferred to Casual Company. When the eighth week began, we were down to 193 men from the original 256. ...

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Chapter 15: New Roomie

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pp. 113-116

We were always supposed to get rid of any training ammunition, either blanks or live ammo, at the end of each exercise, but somehow Trailer had kept a magazine full of blanks. His M-16 was on automatic, so he got off two rounds before he dropped the weapon. ...

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Chapter 16: Night Bivouac

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pp. 117-120

Our activities intensified in the tenth week, and we moved back away from Infantry Hall. The major activity was a night bivouac out in the pine forests that made up a large part of Fort Benning. We were to spend three nights in the bush. ...

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Chapter 17: Turning Black

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pp. 121-142

The twelfth week party began to take on mythic proportions. It meant dates for the single guys and the married ones would get to spend the night with their wives coming from out of town, either at the base guesthouse or in the apartments, rooms, or houses the ones who'd come to live in Columbus had rented. ...

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Chapter 18: The Silver Slipper

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pp. 143-148

Budwell and I decided to take a taxi into town instead of waiting to ride the buses, and all four of us sat in the backseat for the ride into Columbus. A light mist was falling and Brook Benton's "Rainy Night in Georgia" was on the radio. ...

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Chapter 19: Driving Rusty

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pp. 149-158

I knew the world was turned upside down a few days later as soon as the first sergeant came in. I could tell he was upset about something as he slammed around the office while I worked recording the platoon's scores for the company academic officer. ...

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Chapter 20: Losing Rancek

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pp. 159-166

After turning black, we found that OCS relaxed some. The philosophy for the first twelve weeks was "Total Control-Lockdown," meaning that every hour was controlled, no passes, no phone, no radio, or newspaper privileges. ...

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Chapter 21: Getting Kochs

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pp. 167-176

After that night in his office it was hard to see Rancek in the same way, but it was dear that he was a short timer, with only two more weeks with us. He had to process out, so we didn't see much of him in the time he had left. A couple of days later we were called out of the barracks a few minutes early. ...

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Chapter 22: Turning Blue

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pp. 177-184

It was late that night, well after we'd gotten back, before we learned what happened to Bigham. Durham from first platoon was CQ for the night and someone called in a report. Bigham had suffered a heat stroke. His temperature was 106 degrees when he got to the hospital ...

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Chapter 23: Ranger Week

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pp. 185-192

After turning blue, everything was relaxed, and we took advantage of the new freedom. We could walk through the company area, strutting with our new white scarves just as we had seen the other senior candidates do all along. ...

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Chapter 24: Kent State

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pp. 193-200

We were exhausted when we got back to the barracks that Friday night, but we had been eight days without showers, so our stinking bodies got priority over rest at first. It was a race to get both to the showers and to the laundry. ...

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Epilogue

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pp. 201-207

I didn't go everywhere I hoped, but I traveled around a great deal, blowing about the country like dead leaves. I'd stop at a place for awhile, long enough to make a few friends, and then roll on like a suddenly dislodged tumbleweed. Budwell, Garren, and I lost track of one another; ...

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Acknowledgements

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pp. 208-217

To recognize all who affected a book that took almost thirty years is an impossible task, but I'd first like to thank Tim O'Brien for being the kind of writer and human being that he is. After a chance discussion with Tim in 1998, I went home and started back on this story chat I'd worked on for years, and it poured out. ...


E-ISBN-13: 9780875655406
E-ISBN-10: 0875655408
Print-ISBN-13: 9780875652382

Page Count: 206
Publication Year: 2013