Only the best, the U.S. Army says, are considered for recruiting duty, and from those, fewer still are chosen. But I was selected anyway.
We departed Germany a year early for my new assignment in the States. Children still cried on the plane, including our own, but the trip home was better than our flight over, two years ago.
Awaiting me at Newark was a brand new 1972 Gremlin X V-8 that I ordered in Germany through a special overseas program and paid the $2,400 price in cash. Laugh at your peril.
It was modified by Randall Motors, authorized by the factory, and pumping out about 250 h.p. It weighed just 2,600lbs, had a Chrysler® sourced torque flight three-speed automatic, 4.10 gears, and HD suspension. The black sleeper had reasonable insurance rates, and it was the only V-8 available in that price range. It ran a 13.9 sec. quarter-mile, as fast any production car in 1972 including a base Corvette®, and slightly quicker than a 1972 Trans Am™ 455. I surprised a lot of people at stoplights in small Carolina towns and on country roads.
Dear valued reader: If you had rather not hear the details of my struggles with diarrhea and all the unpleasantries that came with it, including incontinence, problems at work and at home, surgeries and the like; I understand and ask that you skip to next Chapter: "Kansas City Here We Come" I will discuss the problems I had with my colon in future chapters because it was a big part of my life, but try not to dwell on it.
Once again, I found myself at Ft. Benjamin Harrison; this time to attended Recruiting School. About three weeks into the eight-week course, I began having frequent stools, diarrhea.
That is symptomatic of what one might get when arriving overseas, usually not upon returning, as I just had from Germany. It was almost as bad as the dysentery I had off and on in Vietnam. I always tried to be near a bathroom, and there were a couple of times I didn’t make it. That was a real confidence-builder while in a demanding course (I say sarcastically), especially when giving a presentation. Nevertheless, I toughed it out and graduated on time. Surely this is a temporary thing.
I was a recruiter in Lumberton, North Carolina, where we bought our first house. It was a pleasant town go about 17,000 in southeastern part of the state located on I-95, the halfway point between NYC and Flordia. We were just eighty miles from Marty’s parents, her older married sister, and younger brother.
My recruiting partner in our Lumberton station was a Staff Sergeant just as I was, but outranked me by his earlier date of promotion. That wasn’t an issue until my health deteriorated.
We were a successful team. He was from the area and had been in the Army Reserve before becoming a recruiter, and knew the best places for Barbecue — argued by many as best in the country. As for my recruiting style, there was never any pressure, and that seemed to put the potential recruits at ease.
We always met our quotas, and we received commendations for our performance. After a few months on the job, the diarrhea and cramps that I experienced in Indianapolis not only returned, but worsened.
I went to the doctors at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina (about an hour from Lumberton). After describing my symptoms, the doctor said my diarrhea was probably a result of the pressure of being an Army Recruiter. And how was my marriage? Are things OK with you and your children?
He scoped my rectum and sent me on my way with four Atropine™ (anti-diarrheal drug). The medication helped as long as it lasted, like one day, and my symptoms continued unabated. Unabated as in about six semi-liquid stools per day.
Naturally, trying to work while the symptoms persisted was difficult. Playing a role as father to the twins, who were sweet and loving, and husband to Marty who was stressed, was difficult and at times, impossible. She continued to see a psychiatrist, as she did in Germany.
After several weeks with no improvement, my recruiting partner and our supervisors in Raleigh were not understanding. How could someone have third-world type dysentery, here in the United States, to the point they couldn’t work full-time? They had never heard of such a thing. I wasn’t surprised; seems the doctor’s had never heard of such a thing either. Fatigued, with bloody stools and a bleeding rectum, I returned to see the doctor. I had a perianal abscess.
A Proctoscopy exam using a rigid 10-inch steel scope through my raw and inflamed rectum was ridiculously painful. The results were normal but consistent with someone who had been in the throes of diarrhea, i.e. inflammation and blood. I considered not complaining to avoid those procedures. The doctor prescribed six Atropine, antibiotics, and suggested sitz baths three times a day. The frequent stools continued.
I wondered what would be happening had I been in the Environmental Science and Engineering program at Texas s&M, (last chapter) instead of recruiting, and having the same symptoms. The Army might be thinking this guy just couldn’t cut it, wasn’t officer material. That might have been worse than my present dilemma. But I digress.
Within a month, I had a fissure and fistula of the rectum, which required surgical repair. Incidentally, while at Womack Army Hospital in Ft. Bragg for the surgery, the main architect and loser of the Vietnam War, LBJ, died. An irreverent patient, making a joke about what LBJ may have done with farm animals in Texas, had me chuckling. A good laugh is not wise when you’ve just had rectal surgery.
My partner and officers from the Raleigh station came by for a jovial visit. OK, you’ve had surgery, now get off your ass and get back to work full-time, was their expectation.
No, perianal surgery does not cure dysentery. I was released without any Atropine, “Get that from your GI doctor, we’re the surgeons,” they reminded me. Once I started eating again and returning to work, the frequent semi-liquid bloody stools continued, as did the abdominal cramps, incontinence, and dehydration. Since arriving from Germany, eight months ago, I had lost 35lbs!
I’ve heard of and read about patients who were very ill, some with terminal conditions, whose relatives said they never once complained. My theory: If you’re not complaining — you must be too sick to, or not miserable enough.
Unbelievably, the doctors and my supervisors still assumed that the high-stress job of being a recruiter was the primary cause of my diarrhea. The doctor reminded me that my proctoscopy examination was normal (except for “non-specific inflammation”). Oh, and how was my relationship with my wife? Now not so great, she’s not causing the diarrhea, she’s frustrated because I have it. And you’re doing little to help.
Finally, the doctors decided to give me a refillable prescription of Atropine and some rest: “No Field Recruiting Duties until further notice.” I did better having my medication in ample supply and recognition, at least, by one doctor that I needed a break.
Off-duty from recruiting didn’t mean I was just going to sit home on my painful butt. WTSB in Lumberton knew that I’d been a DJ and asked me to do an on-air shift at their station, and I happily complied. A few weeks later, I got a call from a competing station, WFMO in nearby Fairmont, and they talked me into working for them.
I didn’t feel guilty about doing a four-hour shift in radio and leaving my recruiting partner in a bind. I had already signed up several people for the Delayed Entry Program that met my quota for two months after the doctor took me off recruiting duty.
Working as a DJ, I didn’t consider a job anyway, certainly not compared to 10-hour day recruiting. Plus, I was producing and airing Army Recruiting Public Service Ads and receiving “trade-out” certificates, instead of cash for my radio gig.
For a few weeks, with restrooms nearby, I was playing Big Bad Leroy Brown by Jim Croce, We’re An America Band by Grand Funk Railroad, Kodachrome by Paul Simon, Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth) by George Harrison and occasionally some oldies from Elvis.
I happened to be on-air the joyous day our POWs were released from North Vietnam.
A couple of months after the doctors gave the order that relieved me from recruiting, I was given a PCS for the Army Hometown News Center in Kansas City, Missouri.
We had been in Lumberton for just 18 months. Fortunately, we had no problem selling our house and even realized a small profit. As for Marty, leaving her relatives; being close to them wasn’t as good as she had imagined.
After our household goods were picked up, we packed up the twins and all the other stuff we could fit into the little Gremlin and eased out of the driveway one last time.
Marty had liked Lumberton,* and I had enjoyed recruiting — both were now in our rearview mirror.
* 2019 update: Fox8 TV in High Point, N.C. reported Lumberton to be the worst place to live in the state, based on high crime, high unemployment, and low wages. USA Today reported similar findings about Lumberton, N.C.
3 thoughts on “Chapter 28: Be All You Can Be”
As a young man, I was enthralled by the Gremlin. I think due to it’s shape, that to a teenage boy kinda gave the middle finger to the rest of the auto manufacturers. I can relate to the struggles of dealing with the condition that you experienced, especially the response from your command and doctors. My Dad joined the Air Force in the early ’50s and intended to make a career of it. He was a jet engine mechanic, and a damn good one according to his records that I obtained a while back. He was diagnosed with phlebitis in the early ’60s, but it was pretty well manged. In ’68 when he received orders to Thailand, his doctor told his commanding officer that the climate there would not be good for him. The orders were rescinded. In early ’69 he got orders to Okinawa. By then he had a new doctor and a new CO, though he tried to get out of it he ended up going to Oki. We, my Mom and two older brothers, followed him, it being an accompanied tour. The climate there aggravated the phlebitis to the point that he was scheduled to be sent back to the states in late September. Unfortunately, a blood clot entered his heart on September 9th and he suffered a massive heart attack. The clot then passed to his brain resulting in a stroke. He didn’t survive. So, yes I understand about medical issues and how the military deals with them. When I read the part about your working at WTSB in Lumberton, I thought, that can’t be right, WTSB is in Selma NC. I’ve talked to the owner, Carl Lamm on a couple of occasions. A quick trip to the Google machine shows that indeed, WTSB was in Lumberton on 580 kHz until the year 2000. The calls were transferred to what had been WBZB in Johnston County in 2007, WTSB becoming a community type station in Selma that plays country, bluegrass and gospel. Now my trip down the wormhole… A gentleman by the name of Levi Willis bought WTBS from Beasley Broadcasting in 1997, converting it to a black gospel station. When I saw his name, it rang a bell. A little investigating shows that he died in 2009 at the age of 79. His obituary listed his survivors, one being a daughter Celestine Willis. I thought that name’s familiar. She ran a black gospel station in Wilson, NC for a number of years, during which I was her UPS man. A nice lady, but as with a lot of AM stations, it eventually went off the air in 2011. As the crow flies, I don’t live that far from the transmitter site. The towers still stand, I rode down there not to long ago to take a peek at them, for some strange reason I find myself fascinated by radio towers. And as far as Lumberton goes these days, yes it’s not a good place. I have relatives down there, my female cousin lost her son to a drug deal gone bad just a couple of years ago. Again, thanks for sharing your story with us, I obviously can relate to a lot of it!
Mike: I believe I know you well enough, not to seem insincere when to tell you that I’m am sorry you lost your Dad so soon. I’m glad you follow my Blog. I hate that word, doesn’t sound too impressive. I will just call it my Book despite my wife reminding me, it’s a Blog. With an informed reader like yourself, I know I’ll need to be super accurate. I’ve considered calling it Fiction, as I’m sure some of my recollections may not be perfect. I’ll be 72 this year and my memory might be a bit faulty. I’m glad I have a reader, like you, who relates to my experiences and follows my BOOK. Thanks, Don.
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Thank you Sir, I can tell it’s from the heart. We all have to play the hand we’re dealt, your latest chapter proves that. I don’t consider what you’re putting out here for the whole world to see a blog or a book. It’s your life story and I for one am grateful for you sharing it with us.