Saturday, December 3, 2016

Diamond Girl

Diamond Girl looped five or six times in my earphones on the "Contemporary Hits" channel during my flight from Dallas to San Francisco in 1969. I had been drafted into the U.S. Army in early December, and after just two weeks, I was given Christmas leave with the rest of the trainees.

I flew standby from San Antonio to Dallas, and from Dallas to San Francisco on Braniff,  the coolest air carrier I've ever flown on.

The odyssey began in Oakland where I was sworn into the U.S. Army, and then a week of reception station at Fort Lewis, Washington, and a week of Basic Training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. 

Arriving in San Francisco completely disoriented, I screwed up and was waiting for my wife of three months on the departure level instead of the arrival level at SFO. Thankfully, she came up to the wrong level looking for me, and I grabbed her as she walked by. I looked like a thousand other G.I.'s coming home for Christmas that cold December night, and she hadn't recognized me.   I didn't look like  the man she married ten weeks earlier.

Five months later, after Basic Training and AIT, I was assigned to the Letterman Army Institute of Research (LAIR) at the Presido of San Francisco to serve as a medical research volunteer and photographer in the dermatology department.

Inside the heat chamber for a Miliaria (Prickly Heat) study. 

While the war in Vietnam raged, I spent the majority of my service in San Francisco, my childhood home.

Everything wasn't perfect, of course.  I regularly saw hundreds of returning soldiers recovering from battlefield wounds in the sprawling halls of the old Letterman Hospital complex which LAIR shared with prosthetic, psychological and other services. 

But for fortune, I could have been one of those broken men.  As a Baha'i, I had petitioned my draft board and had been granted a 1-A-0 (Non-Combatant) status, and had been drafted as such. My  status didn't preclude me from combat, however, and my combat medical training increased the odds.

"It is immaterial whether such services would still expose them to dangers, either at home or in the front, since their desire is not to protect their lives, but to desist from any acts of willful murder."
         --Shoghi Effendi

I had prepared myself mentally for the possibility of serving in combat  insofar as  possible.  Providentially, in my third week of Basic Training I was interviewed and eventually selected to be a medical research volunteer--or "Guinea Pig"-- at an army research facility in San Francisco.  I was grateful and relieved knowing that I would not be going to Vietnam.

From the Baha'i Library Online:

Each Bahá'í serviceman should request identification as a Bahá'í, not as a Protestant, Catholic or Jew. Since the Bahá'í Faith is recognized as a separate religion, and military authorities have permitted the Bahá'í star as a headstone symbol for those buried in military cemeteries, the designation "Bahá'í" can readily be gained.  Link

In my case it wasn't readily.  At 2 am, after induction in Oakland, and a midnight flight to SeaTac, sixty or so of us were filling out forms in a large hall at Ft. Lewis.  One question dealt with religion, and we were instructed to pick a religion off a list of 40 on a large board in the front of the room.  I didn't notice "Baha'i" on the list, so I raised my hand and asked the sergeant what I should do, and he barked that I should write in #41, the last option on the list: "No Preference".  Well, that wasn't accurate because I had a preference, so I wrote in #42, hoping somebody would notice  the anomaly.

The next day, we were issued our dogtags, and of course for religion mine said "No Preference".  The barracks sergeant sent me to  the stamping office, and before I knew it, I had dogtags stamped with my name, social security number , blood type, and "BAHA'I".

Incidently, I'm not a pacifist,

"With reference to the absolute pacifists, or conscientious objectors to war; their attitude, judged from the Bahá'í standpoint, is quite antisocial and due to its exaltation of the individual conscience leads inevitably to disorder and chaos in society. Extreme pacifists are thus very close to the anarchists, in the sense that both of these groups lay an undue emphasis on the rights and merits of the individual. The Bahá'í conception of social life is essentially based on the subordination of the individual will to that of society. It neither suppresses the individual nor does it exalt him to the point of making him an anti-social creature, a menace to society. As in everything, it follows the 'golden mean'. The only way that society can function is for the minority to follow the will of the majority."

 (From a letter of the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, February 9, 1967)

Top Row from left: Dornan; Shurman from San Francisco; Frank Clark from Freer, Tx (we all had a laugh at his Texas accent).; Doug Clemens from Carpenteria, California.

Bottom Row from left:  Joe Tacoma; Schoonover from Wisconsin; Cooper from an alternate universe.