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Fifty Years Ago
By Frank da Cruz
Fifty years ago, February 2, 1966, the troop transport USS Geiger pulled into New York harbor and disgorged I don't know how many GIs for release at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, including me. I had enlisted 3 years earlier, had Basic Training at Fort Gordon, Georgia, and Reconnaissance (Scout) training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and then I was assigned to the 3rd Reconnaissance Squadron of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Kaiserslautern, Germany, and shipped there on the Geiger.
Previously I had been an Army brat in Frankfurt, Germany, and had gone to Frankfurt High School on the base (at the same time that Elvis was stationed there). After growing up in the segregated South, life on an Army base was a revelation to me, and when I came back to the same segregated South I was very unhappy. I finished high school, wasted a semester in college, dropped out, and all I wanted was to go back to Germany. That's why I joined the Army, cleverly choosing Armor and Europe.
I liked the Army. I learned a lot; how to work, how to be responsible for things, how to live with a diverse bunch of people over a long period of time, how to drive all kinds of vehicles and operate and maintain different kinds of equipment. I traveled all over Germany on passes and leaves. I spent a subzero month at the tank range at Grafenwöhr, and went on numerous maneuvers in the German countryside. The Army was like a little socialist society where people did their work and, in return, were provided with all the necessities of life—housing, food, medical care, education—as well as numerous amenities like movie theaters, PX, athletic fields, pool tables, Steak Night at the Snack Bar, etc.
But that was the peacetime Army. In 1965 two things happened that changed everything. First, at the end of April, the US Army invaded the Dominican Republic because the US government did not want to see the democratically elected president, Juan Bosch, restored to office after being ousted in a right-wing coup. I was was barely 20 but this did not seem right to me.
Then in July the "police action" in Vietnam exploded into total war when our government started drafting 50,000 kids a month to send them there to prop up a corrupt and brutal right-wing government by force. Many of them, including 21 of my schoolmates from Frankfurt High School, would not come back, and many others who did come back were changed forever, and not in a good way.
These two events pretty much soured me on being in the Army. I started digging through Army regulations and found that I could apply for discharge as a conscientious objector, something that had rarely been attempted before... certainly I had never heard of it. I wrote a five-page essay citing the Sixth Commandment, Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King, and Mohandas Gandhi and attached it to a DA-1049 that went all the way to the Pentagon where it was finally disapproved just a week or two before my release, and now here I was walking down the gangplank of the Geiger feeling relieved not to have killed anybody or been killed myself.
I spent the next ten years doing all I could to end the war, and all the years since then opposing the endless provocations, subversions, incursions, coups, drone strikes, bombings, and invasions of other countries by the United States. I wore what was left of my Army fatigues in the largest demonstrations in the history of the world in 2003, just before the "shock and awe" started in Iraq. None of it did any good, except perhaps in slowly winning more people over to what is essentially a movement to put back the Golden Rule.
And now, fifty years after I walked away from the Army, finally the first real ray of hope, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders running on a Democratic Socialist and "anti-regime-change" platform. Against all odds, and despite the best efforts of the political establishment, the defense industry, and Wall Street—the very cabal responsible for the unspeakable and disgraceful behavior of the USA since FDR died—millions upon millions of people are flocking to support him. I don't know how it will turn out. All I can say is that I began life when FDR was president and I would very much like to see something like that again before I die.
PFC Frank da Cruz at the Grafenwöhr tank range, Germany, Winter 1963 or 64.
Wearing fatigues, with the added bonus of Russian-style US Army fur hat and 3rd Armored
Cavalry insignia on hat and pocket, 7th Army patch (barely visible) on left shoulder.
Frank da Cruz was born during the FDR administration in 1944, served in the US Army 1963-66, Germany. He went on to become a somewhat famous software developer. Now retired.