Even on Thanksgiving Day, somebody’s got to pull K.P. Let me rephrase. Some enlisted man’s got to pull K.P. At one particular mess hall in Fort Polk La. on Thanksgiving Day in 1969, that enlisted man was me. I don’t know how they do it now, but back then, there was nothing high-tech bout it. You got a knife, a bucket, a generous supply of spuds and an apron. No manuals, do diagrams, no training videos and no ergonomically correct seating for your occupational pleasure.
Now I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. I wasn’t on K.P. duty on Thanksgiving Day because I was being punished. I wasn’t even there because I was unlucky enough to come up in rotation. I was there because I volunteered. That’s right. I volunteered.
It’s a long story so I’ll try to shorten it.
It all started when I was born. Really. See, I was born virtually blind in my right eye. I was also cock-eyed. My right eye was always looking off somewhere else when my left eye, my working eye, was trying to tend to the business of seeing.
To complicate matters, my right eye wouldn’t give up. Ordinarily, when you have one lazy eye, it just finally stops sending messages to the brain. But my lazy eye sent just enough of a message that it caused me to have double vision. One clear image provided by my responsible left eye, and a shadowy ghost image provided by my rebellious and troublesome right eye.
Growing up cock-eyed can cause you to have self-esteem problems. I’m ashamed to admit it now, but as a kid, I prayed for God to straighten out that good-for-nothing loafer of an eyeball of mine. I didn’t mind it being blind. I could compensate for that. I just didn’t want it to be--ugly. Well, it stayed both blind and ugly.
It wasn’t until I was sixteen that I learned that double vision wasn’t normal. I just thought the rest of you had two really clear images instead of a ghost.
Roll the clock forward to 1968. I graduated from high school as the Vietnam war was heating up. I tried to enlist in the Air Force. They gave me a physical and told me I wasn’t fit for military service. Try the Army. I did. They agreed with the air force and I was rejected. Then I got drafted, and, to my surprise and joy, the third physical was the charm. I passed.
Upon successful completion of basic training, I was assigned to combat support. I was trained as a battle field cook. Part of the advanced training curriculum involved demonstrations where mirrors were positioned over cutting boards, stove tops, etc so we could see what was happening. If you’ve see a cooking show, you know what I’m talking about.
One day, the training sgt. Asked why I was always closing my right eye during sessions where mirrors were involved? I explained how my double vision was distracting when I tried to follow multiple images in a bunch of mirrors. I compensated by taking my irresponsible right eye out of the loop.
Before I knew it, I was called in for another physical. About the same time I received orders to report for assignment in Vietnam, I received countermanding orders relieving me of all further duties pending discharge.
That brings us to Thanksgiving. I would be going home any day. Many of the men I trained with were bound for Nam. At Christmas, I would be home with my family. Who knew about these guys. So I volunteered. Odd paradox isn’t it? I was sitting there peeling potatoes thanking God that I was born cock-eyed and blind in my right eye.
So what did I learn about manliness from this chapter in my life? A manly man plays the hand he’s dealt. He doesn’t whine. He doesn’t make excuses. And a man better be smart enough to know how lucky he is when his childish prayers aren’t answered. I only wish I could skin a spud or two for the guys and gals in the war zone today. I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving.
I’m Hink and I’ll see ya.
Download this column
Wed, November 26, 2008
by Michael Hinkle