Because I had taken R.O.T.C. for two years in high school, Sgt. Maddy made me a squad leader.
Looking back on it, I don’t think I actually did any leading, there were no perks–and no one, including Sgt. Maddy, ever treated me any differently from any of the other new recruits, but it did give my ego a little much-needed boost. I still felt like a loser for flunking out of college. Maybe I could redeem myself somehow.
Things went well for the first couple of weeks of basic. Unlike some of my fellow recruits, I was in pretty good shape physically, and had no trouble with any of the marching, double-timing, pushups, squat-thrusts, or side straddle hops they made us do every day.
About halfway through basic, we were in formation one afternoon when my name and several others were read out from a list. It seemed that based on written tests administered at the induction station, some of us had scored well enough to go to officer candidate school. Some who qualified, preferred to remain enlisted men and just get out of the army when their two-year obligation was complete.
I, on the other hand, saw becoming an officer as an opportunity to redeem myself for flunking out of college and humiliating myself in my own eyes, and perhaps being somewhat of an embarrassment to my parents. I also thought that perhaps as an officer, I might have a slightly better chance of not getting killed, if I was sent to Vietnam. I found out later that becoming an officer would have had precisely the opposite effect as fresh new second lieutenants from officer candidate school were in great demand to replace those who had been killed in combat as squad leaders in the infantry or as forward observers in the artillery. But I didn’t know that at the time, so I volunteered to go to OCS.
Potential candidates for officer candidate school were required to be screened by a panel of real army officers and in due time I was summoned from waxing the floor in the barracks to my interview. I was led into a room in a small building nearby with a table and chairs and five junior officers, whose rank ranged from second lieutenants to a captain. The five of them were seated on one side of the table and there was an empty chair for me opposite the captain. As I entered the room I tried to stand up a little straighter and stopped just inside the room and saluted.
“Private Parker reporting as ordered, sir.”
“Be seated, Private Parker.”
Starting with the officer across the table from me, on my extreme left, and then proceeding with the next officer and so on, down the table, I was asked a few simple questions, the specifics of which now escape me. I do recall that I was able to answer all the questions to my own satisfaction and I was feeling pretty good about the interview. There were no follow-up questions and no questions about math.
Just before releasing me and bringing in the next candidate, the captain had one final question for me.
“Private Parker—if you were to remain in the army, how high up the chain of command do you think you could go?”
I looked him square in the face and without any hesitation whatsoever, answered very sincerely,
For a brief second, he looked somewhat taken aback. Quickly regaining his composure, he glanced over his shoulder to gauge the reaction of the others present. There was an awkward silence. Then he released me,
“That will be all, Private Parker.”
I stood up, saluted, did an about-face, and marched proudly out of the room and went back to the barracks.
I was immediately put to work cleaning the latrine.