Chapter I - An Autobiography
1. Part One
Over the years, since I first published Night Magick, the two questions most often asked of me by readers have been, "who am I and how do I know the things I know." As anyone knows whose ever asked those questions my answer has always been that it is not important. What is important is that you discover for yourself the truth of Night Magick. It is still important. I have been recently directed by my Nightself to answer these questions. I have changed names, dates, and places when necessary but otherwise this is the story of Night Magick's Author.
In mid-December, mid-twentieth century, there was born a boy, Phil, to John and Marie Williams in Indianapolis, Indiana. A year later, John's company took him to the small community of Greenfield, Indiana some 20 miles east of Indianapolis. They lived in a small two-bedroom house among many other small homes. Phil had a brother, Kyle, born one and a half years after him and then another, brother, Kevin, born a year after Kyle. Life was going pretty good for Phil and the Williams family till Phil was about 5 years old. It was then that the switch was made and Phil left the family and Phillip arrived.
No, I am not talking about soul migration. I mean literally the body and soul of Phil was replaced for the body and soul of Phillip. Now you are probably asking yourself, "didn't his parents notice the change"? Yes they did and here is how I know. Many years later, I was sitting with my mother, after my father had died, and she just started telling me about how one day she noticed that I did not look anything like my baby pictures. She also told me about how my father had been as close to me when I was a small child as I had been with my son up until I was five. It was about then that he would no longer play with me or hold me and treated me like I was no longer his own. I had already known about the switch but I never thought my parents were aware. I know you want to know who did the switch but you need more of the story.
Before the age of five, I don't have any memories. I began elementary in Greenfield and then my Dad's company took us back to Indianapolis and we moved to a small town called Wanamaker.
In many ways, Wanamaker of the late 1950's was a very picturesque, ideal small suburban-rural town. The town was built along one major road, Southeastern Avenue that on the one end some 20 miles away was Indianapolis and in the other direction led to many other small farming towns like itself. Wanamaker did have one traffic light at its main intersection. On the four corners of that intersection was the town's bank, gas station, hardware store/appliance store, and grocery store, Bentley's. If you went past the bank there was the barbershop, automotive repair shop, the tavern/restaurant, which served the best hamburgers in the world, and then the drug store/beauty parlor. This was my town as I grew up. The other road of the main intersection was Northeastern Avenue and if you went out of town one way you would come to the small suburb where I was now living, Wanamaker Estates.
It was made up mostly of brick and stone ranch-style homes. Wanamaker Estates was broken into two major parts by us kids, the horseshoe, and the circle. This was based on their basic shapes. The horseshoe was much bigger and comprised the majority of the homes of the Estates but at one end was the Circle. I lived on the Circle along with 8 other homes. What was neat about the Circle is the centerpiece of land in the middle that everyone collectively owned who lived on the Circle. What embraced Wanamaker just as soon as you went any which way, East, West, North, or South of town just a little bit were farmlands. My house for example had a long front yard of about 150 feet, the backyard was about 50 feet long that rose up to a slight embankment, and then there were acres and acres of farmlands. Basically, there were three farm fields. The first farm field was shaped like an L that was directly connected to my backyard and connected the backyards of 5 Circle homes. Then there was farm field number 2 that was in a direct line with my backyard and farm field 3 which ran parallel to the other side of the L and bordered the Interstate. How I loved to listen on a summer night to the distant sound of cars moving out on the Interstate. Sorry, got side tracked there for a moment. Out past field 2 and running parallel to it and also field 3 was my beloved woods that I will talk more of in a moment. This was an area of bright green lawns, fields of corn and soybeans, oaks, maples, beech trees in the yards. Sounds awesome? Well if you have to live through a childhood from hell it was a good place to do it.
My childhood was very intense. As you might guess from what I stated earlier, my father did not like me. He believed in physical punishment sometimes with his hand, fist, or belt. My mother protected my younger brothers and would often set me up to take the fall. The scenario usually ran this way: I would be out playing in the backyard sometimes with my brothers but more often by myself. As I told you earlier we had this embankment that ran up in the backyard and then we had a small crown of trees at the very highest part of it on one end. It was there that you could have a miniature fort or do most anything else your imagination could desire. I once had a really neat miniature haunted amusement park land that I designed and built there. I even went and got these neat weeds that look like scary dead trees and caught garden spiders and put them in the trees to live. The spiders actually stayed and lived in the trees. But as I said, I would be out playing and my brothers would decide it was time to come and bother me. Now in the beginning when I was really young like say beginning at age 6, I would just hit them when they would destroy something of mine or start punching me first or calling me names and such. I won't deny that I had a temper. They of course would start screaming like I had severely beaten them and my mom would come out and she would always take their side and I would hear the words that became so infamous to me, "WAIT TILL YOUR FATHER COMES HOME". Well at this point there was nothing else I could do and my brothers would be in absolute delight because they knew they had gotten me again. Maybe you can imagine what it was like to go perhaps the whole day knowing that when your Dad got home, and after dinner, you would get a severe beating. All day I would wait. I would try and make myself scarce and stay out of the way. Finally, I would hear it was time for dinner. Dinner was never a pleasant experience.
Dad was always in a bad mood from work. You had to be real careful what you said at the dinner table. One wrong word and his hand would slap you right out of your chair and onto the floor. Unfortunately my dinner chair was right next to his. People wonder why today I rarely speak when I eat dinner and if I do speak at the dinner table I cannot eat at the same time. Now the tension is really building up. Maybe just this once I am not going to get it? Maybe just this once mom did not tell Dad what happened today? I have long since done eating and am doing my homework as a rule and Dad has just finished eating when he comes for me and so it begins. He pulls off his belt, puts me on the bed face down with his hand on my back, and begins whipping me as hard as he can and as long as he can. It goes on and on and God help you if you try and cover your butt or legs. He usually only stops when his arm gets tired. The whole time he is screaming and yelling at me telling me why can't I behave and what kind of useless kid I am. It's the same old thing. In the beginning, when I was young, this would happen at least five times a week. How about the time I called my brother a dumb butt?
I don't know why I said it but it just slipped out and my father hit me with his fist in the stomach and sent me flying 5 feet into a wall at the end of the hallway. He started screaming at me how we don't cuss in this family and how anyone who does will burn in Hell for it and he will punish them before they get there. I didn't even really know that butt was a bad word. I was only 7. I can tell you though I never cussed again. I did get better at it though.
I learned to control my temper more and more and more. It got to the point that there was very little that they could do to me that would make me retaliate against them. I got the beatings down to as little as three times a week. I was developing an iron will that has served me greatly over the course of time. I also turned inward to some great pastimes. Reading was my greatest pastime. I also became very fond of classical music and would spend a lot of time reading and listening to music. The best way I found of dealing with the abuse was to turn to nature.
I would go outdoors and play in the woods about a quarter mile from our house. I had several hideouts, which only I knew about, and could go there and find peace. I was there as soon as I got home from school and would stay until called for supper. My mom got a boat air horn that she would use to call us home when it was time for supper or whenever she needed us home. On the weekends and summer vacation, I would be gone right after breakfast and wouldn't come back till called for supper. I usually packed water and a sandwich for lunch. It was back then that I first began to feel, hear, and see the spirits of the woods. I could feel, hear, and see the spirits in the wind as they played in the trees. One day, when I was about fourteen, I was standing in my bedroom looking out the window at a bonfire that was blazing away out in the field. I always believed there were fire spirits that were born whenever a fire like that was started and I was having fun seeing them come alive and dancing and talking with them when suddenly I felt a sharp stinging kiss on my right arm and when I looked down there was this red pattern on my arm which has been there since. Did the beatings ever end?
One day, when I was fourteen, I was watching television in my brother's room. There were three bedrooms in this house. Kevin and I slept in one bedroom and Kyle and Steve slept in the other bedroom. (Oh I forgot to tell you in the midst of all this chaos that my mom had another boy. His name is Steve. He is about 9 years younger then me and I immediately took over as his big brother. I protected him from Kyle and Kevin and we became very close.) It also had the little black and white television that we kids could watch. I was sitting in the chair watching television when Kevin came in and jumped on my feet, which were resting on the bed in front of me. I got up out of the chair; my brother grabbed the chair and sat down. I decided to do the same to him so I landed across his feet and legs. I actually did not land on his feet. Well the way he yelled you thought I had killed him. I hadn't touched him. My dad came in, grabbed me, and threw me out of the room and into the wall in the hallway. He had murder in his eyes as he approached me but I decided I had enough of the abuse. As he laid his hands on my neck I carefully drew back my fist and with all my heart punched him in the stomach. The air went out of him and a look of surprise came over his face. As he recovered and went for me I ducked under his arms and ran for the front door and out I ran. He yelled for me to come back but I told him never. I then ran barefoot across a newly harvested wheat field. I knew the short wheat shafts were tearing up my feet but the adrenaline carried me past the pain. I didn't stop until I reached the woods and I went straight for my hideout. As I was checking the cuts on my feet, I heard a noise and saw my father looking for me. I knew though he could not find me. These were my woods and no one could find me unless I wanted them to. Eventually I decided to go home, grab my shoes, and run away.
I tried sneaking into the open garage to get my shoes but my mom must have seen me for she yelled at me to come inside. I cautiously decided to go inside but just as I stepped inside Dad got up off the couch to come after me. Well I was ready and turned to run when Mom told him to sit down and for me to come back. He started to move again so she told him to sit down and she meant it. He was shocked and so was I. She had never stood up to him in front of us. I came back in and she told him how all these years she had been protecting Kyle and Kevin from him by always telling him I was the bad guy. She told him in almost every case I had never started any of the fights or caused any of the problems. Well I was shocked. I still got whipped for hitting him but it wasn't too bad and it was the last time he ever used physical punishment. It didn't stop the mental abuse but it was better then nothing. I look back and sometimes think the mental abuse was worse then the physical abuse.
I was beaten for something I did wrong. I might not have done it or was just setup by my brothers but my dad didn't know that. What I didn't understand though was the mental abuse. He never had a kind word for me. He was always putting me down. He never had time to play with me. No matter how hard I tried to please him it just didn't matter. He always told me, I would never amount to anything in life. Interestingly, as my brothers got older they began to have their own problems. Then he was more impartial with its use. My brothers, Kevin and Kyle, also got a healthy dose from time to time. He once told my maternal grandparents that we were lower then dog shit. Steve was never treated like the rest of us. My mom once told me that dad had started in on Steve and mom read him the riot act. She told him they would get a divorce if he ever laid a hand on Steve or talked to him the way he talked to us older boys. During my pre-teen years, I was turning into a pretty religious kid but not in the orthodox sense.
My involvement with the church was not voluntary to begin with. Just one Sunday, my mom decided that I was going to go to Sunday school. So, at the age of six, when I had to attend my first Sunday school class at an American Baptist church, I knew I didn't fit in. I knew that Jesus was not divine. I felt silly singing, "Yes Jesus loves me because the Bible tells me so." I thought it was a stupid reason to think that someone loved you just because it was written in a book. The minister, Rev. Hank, was awesome. He was so different from the standard minister. He encouraged questions. He did not preach at you or demand acceptance. I learned hypnosis from him. He did not mean to teach me it but he used it one day to help our youth group.
We had volunteered to clean up the county fair grounds to raise money for a youth center we were building and began working at 0800 on a beautiful autumn Saturday morning. We stopped at noon to eat and rest, everyone was exhausted, and yet we still had quite a ways to go. I didn't think we would make it. Rev. Hank could see how exhausted everyone was so he had everyone lay down in the grass, look up in the sky, and pick out a cloud. Then he had us close our eyes and imagine ourselves floating on that cloud and just relaxing. He began by telling us to relax our feet, and so forth and so on moving slowly up through our body right up into our heads. He then told us that he was going to count to three and when he reached three we would open our eyes and be wide awake and have enough energy to finish cleaning up the fairgrounds. It worked! I knew what he had done and I also realized I could use the same trick to help me go to sleep at nights. I always had trouble turning my mind off at night. I would sometimes lie there and think for hours. I tried it that night and it worked. I never had trouble again going to sleep.
It was about the same time that I gave up organized religion and began searching for that something I kept feeling was out there but couldn't put my finger on.
I had become a member of the church almost drowning in the process. The church had an indoor baptismal pool and it was very slippery. I made it all the way down and into the waiting arms of Rev. Hank. We said all the magic words and as he leaned me back to put my head under water my feet came off the bottom of the pool. I panicked in Rev. Hank's arms, he had trouble holding me, and I began to breathe in water, which is a real unpleasant experience, as anyone who has done it will tell you. I must have looked like a fish caught on a line, floundering and splashing as I was, but finally Rev. Hank got a hold of me and pulled me up out of the water. I was coughing and spitting and trying to get the water out of my eyes and could hear the audience laughing. I was embarrassed and so was Rev. Hank as he helped me back up the ramp to get the next victim. If you can't tell, I was really fond of Rev. Hank.
I had a real interest at the time in helping juvenile delinquents. I had once seen a movie about Father Flannigan when I was young and was so moved by it that I felt I wanted to do that kind of work when I grew up. Well it turns out that Rev. Hank was the chaplain of the Indianapolis Juvenile Center and in his spare time helped with those children besides being our pastor. Every summer for two weeks, Rev. Hank took inner city kids who had been in trouble to our church's campsite that set on many wooded acres around Lake Johnson that bordered a state park. This is some of the most beautiful area to me. There are so many oak, maple, and walnut trees. The earth is so rich and the smells are intoxicating. There is nothing like the smell of the sassafras tree. I found out about this and asked if I could go as a counselor one summer when I was 16. He said I could go as a junior counselor and would be paired up with a counselor who was a youth minister from another local church.
We arrived on a beautiful, hot Saturday morning and began getting the tents ready for our charges. These were really large brown canvas tents erected on wooden platforms that could hold up to 14 comfortably. There were two tents on the east side of camp, two tents on the north and two tents on the west. Each tent area had one outhouse and there was one shower. In the center of the camp was a large gathering area marked by logs on which every one sat and in the center was the campfire. To the south of that were the cook area, supplies, and picnic tables all of which were under a green canvas cover in case of rain. We had the day to get ready for Sunday the kids would be arriving by bus. We talked that night around the campfire about how to work with the kids. Mostly it was to just be our selves and not be scared of them. Most of these kids had never been outside of the city and this would be a very different change for them. We also would not know anything about their histories. Only Rev. Hank had read their files and knew their case histories. He felt it was better if we just accepted them as people who had trouble in their lives and were trying to change and we were there to be their friends and help them if we could. We sang a little, roasted marshmallows, talked about how we would divide up the kids that would be arriving and then went to our tents for the night. The next morning my senior counselor and partner woke me up, and we all had breakfast and the next thing you know two big yellow buses were arriving with the kids.
We went out to meet them and they all started piling off the bus and we directed them to the center campfire area. At this point, everyone was pretty quiet and looked a bit apprehensive. Some of the kids though knew Johnny and Timmy who were my age and the senior counselors for tents 1 and 2. They had earned their senior rank by having gone to camp several years in a row earlier. I always like Johnny and Timmy but we didn't really know each other well. We were in the same grade and school but in a rural suburban environment, you don't really get to know too many people that well. So now it was time to divide the kids up into three groups.
Interestingly enough, some of the older black kids knew Johnny and Timmy so as the selection process began with Johnny and Timmy selecting first all the black kids who seemed to know them and their friends where going to Johnny and then to Timmy. Well like on a school gym basketball selection process that left me with everyone else and except for two black kids they were all white. I took my group off to our tent and helped them find bed assignments and get unpacked. Once we were all settled in our first activity was to change into swim trunks and head down to the lake for the proverbial swim test. There was to be a lot of swimming and canoeing planned plus at the end of the two weeks there was to be a two-day and night canoe trip and camp out on a remote island on the lake.
Well I am not going to spend time telling you about the whole two weeks I spent at this camp. I could write a book alone on the experience. It was a very special time for me. What was amazing to me was that I seemed to have a flair for being able to reach these kids without having to do anything really special. Throughout the two weeks several of the kids opened up to me and we had long talks about their home life, what it was like on the streets and how they wanted life to change. I would always end up getting them to talk with Rev. Hank and convince them he was someone they could trust. Afterwards they always thanked me and were really glad they had talked with him. All too soon camp was over.
It was really sad on the last day when the buses came to pick up the kids. We said our tearful good-byes and hugged and wished them well. The counselors all met for the last time and we secured the camp before leaving. We were a pretty gloomy and quiet bunch. All the counselors were heading back home in the same car.
We were discussing the trip and Jimmy spoke up and said he was amazed how much like Rev. Hank I was in being able to work with the kids. How the kids just seemed to gravitate towards me, open up to me, and work and cooperate with me. The others agreed with him. I was amazed and extremely complimented. Rev. Hank was my idol and I had noticed his abilities to work with the kids and to be compared with him was just so fantastic. Of course I got home and after having spent two weeks much of it on my on handling 14 kids and their welfare I was feeling very responsible and proud of myself. It didn't take my parents anytime at all to kill that experience and so I was back home and off out to the woods and my woodland friends. The next morning, while laying in bed with my face in the sunlight, I told God all I ever wanted to do was work with juvenile delinquent kids. At that moment, a pain ripped through my chest that took my breath away. It lasted almost a minute. When it was over I couldn't imagine what had happened to me. But what has this to do with leaving organized religion?
Shortly after returning from this trip there was an announcement by the church of a very important meeting of all church members for Thursday. This was the first one called since I became a member and the first one I had heard of called in many years. I showed up and many of the members my age sat up in the balcony. I noticed a pecking order to seating in the church.
The wealthy and well established in the church set up towards the front. I even noticed one prominent family go up and ask this one lady to move because she was sitting in their pew. I was amazed. I then further noticed the more middling and such sat in the middle and finally the poor, new, and such set in the back of the church. Class distinction in a Christian Church. I wondered what Jesus would have thought of that. Well here comes the church president, another very self-important person in the church.
The church president called the meeting, there was a prayer said, and then business began. The first order of business was to discuss getting rid of Rev. Hank as our pastor. I couldn't breath. Was this guy an idiot? There were shouts all over the church by the members. Some for. Some against. I was amazed there were any for. The president was banging his gavel and calling for order. Eventually things settled down and the president continued with the petition for the removal of the pastor and the arguments for it. Apparently many thought his sermons were too trendy and that he spent too much time at the juvenile center and not enough time in his community. They even used the community center we built against him saying we should be keeping to ourselves. Now let me tell you about this.
My Sunday school class, I was a junior at the time, decided that there was nothing in our suburban/rural community for kids to do or a place to meet. If you wanted to do anything you had to go to Indianapolis. We thought it would be a great idea to build a community center and invite all the community youth to come and be a part of it. We wanted to share it with all youth not just our church. So it was decided to put the pastor's daughter in charge of organizing it and make it happen. Well a few weeks went by and nothing happened. Now this is something about myself that I haven't talked about yet but I am a great organizer. I have been planning and organizing clubs and groups for a long time. It's just something inborn. So I took over the planning of the community center and began by meeting with the church board and getting their permission. With that accomplished I then met with our Sunday school class and assigned tasks. Tommy and Jimmy, who you have already met, are in drafting class. They are assigned to take the rough drawing I had made of what the community center should be and turn it into a better architectural drawing. The drawing I made came from one session of the class discussing what all should be in the community center. Now this isn't just your ordinary clubhouse.
No we wanted a true community center. A building about 25 feet by 40 feet with a fireplace at one end. A place that would hold some recreational equipment and you could have social events. One of the members of the church board was an architect and volunteered to take Tommy and Jimmy's plan and make full architectural plans. Several of the girls in the group met with the women's group to plan a fundraiser in order to begin raising building funds. I met with the men's group and got the original architectural help and others volunteered their construction help. I was also able to get commitments for some of our building supplies. The only real thing that was going to cost a lot was the pea gravel for the foundation and the cement poured for the slab foundation. Well my brothers and I, Tommy and Jimmy, and many of the church's men were out there every weekend building. The women always made drinks and brought sandwiches for everyone at lunch. We even worked right on through wintertime trying to get it done for a spring opening and so finally in May we opened. It was a great day. Of course, as so often turns out, when it came time to pick a youth group to help guide the youth center, it became a popularity contest and I wasn't even picked. In fact, the majority of the kids selected didn't have anything to do with its being built. Just as a side note, the center is now the church sponsored Boy Scout troop meeting place. Turns out the church was accused by the rest of the Christian community churches of trying to steal away their youth. So lets get back to that trial.
So some got up to speak for Rev. Hank and some got up to speak against him. Then the heat really started to get turned up. Shouting broke out and swearing even began. Then people began to claim that if Rev. Hank stayed then they would leave the church and others claimed that if he left they would leave the church. Finally, it was time to call it a vote by ballot and to go home and the announcement would be made on Sunday. Well Rev. Hank lost the vote and the church broke in half. The whole thing had a profound affect on me.
I had since the time I was first made to go at the age of six by my mom questioned the divinity of Jesus. I just intuitively knew the story wasn't true. When I went to baptism classes I believe if it had been anyone else but Rev. Hank teaching them I never would have gone through with it. There were too many things I just didn't accept. I thought though that maybe if I went ahead and received baptism things would be different. I could be wrong. I wasn't. Then the breakup of the church happened and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I saw the hypocrisy of the people in that church. The vast majority went for social status. I thought maybe other churches might be different so I tried a number of others. No, they were all the same. Then I had to do a paper for English. While looking in the library I came across a book on witchcraft. I decided to do a paper on it.
Now this was not Wicca or Modern Paganism. This was witchcraft akin to the type supposedly in league with the devil. I had a lot of fun researching that paper. A friend of mine heard about it and so he decided to get me a book on the Occult, Black Magick, and Demonology. I forget now whom the book was even written by. It had a lot of great pictures. This discovery came along about the same time another event did.
I was out with some friends. It was late, night, cold, and we were sitting in a running car at the end of a long farm driveway while a friend ran up to see if his friend could come out and go with us. Then we heard these faint sirens in the distance. No big deal, we weren't doing anything wrong and we were out in the middle of nowhere. The sirens were getting louder and we still didn't really think anything of it. All of sudden these bright headlights were pulling into the driveway. I mean it seemed like there were dozens of them. There were red lights and blue lights and so many sirens. The next thing we know the police are yelling at us on the intercom system to put our hands in the air. Well we are scared shitless. No other way to put it. Then the doors are being opened and we are being told to get out. Then these cops are screaming in our faces demanding to know what we are doing and seem not to believe us. One of us doesn't have his coat and another friend asks to get his coat for him. The cop says no and the kid still tries to go for it and the cop catches him, throws him on the trunk of the car, and slams his head several times while yelling at him. Eventually they let us go and we later find out there had been problems at a farmhouse behind our friend's house. But I was pretty upset by our treatment so I decided these guys needed to be taught a lesson. As I said, one of my gifts is organization. So I created the group called H.E.L.L. The rules on how not to get caught came to me. I developed a scheme on how to harass the county sheriffs department since they were the ones who had treated us so badly. I also had the gift of always knowing when cops were around. For months, my friends and me gave them unending Hell just as I had named the group. Let me just say that what we did never caused physical damage or bodily harm but was designed to drive the sheriff deputies crazy. It did. The reason I tell you this story is because we had an initiation ceremony. It wasn't a very elaborate ceremony except for the one ceremony where I was going to appoint and initiate the number two and three members of H.E.L.L. The initiation was full of pomp and circumstances. Music, candles, robes, incantation, all in a very elaborate ritual. During one part of the ceremony, I had to lay on the floor, with my arms spread and repeat an invocation or prayer. I hadn't really written in any words. But as I lay there on the floor, I reached out to the God of the Night and Darkness and called upon its help here in this ceremony and in my life and I felt this force flood over and through me. It was awesome. Our little group didn't really last very long. I was graduating from high school and was preparing to go to college. I was going to be a social worker and work with juvenile delinquents. This wasn't though what stopped my group. It was the Vietnam War and a low draft number.
The U.S. President needed to call up one more draft and I had a very low draft number. My mom called all around and it was pretty much a sure thing I would have to go. I did not want drafted for you have no choice over what branch of the service you serve in or what job you do. I could just imagine myself in the Army or Marines as an infantryman in Vietnam. I decided after talking to all of them to go into the Army and after looking through the job book to become a military policeman. Huh? Yep, an M.P. I know doesn't seem to make much sense. I felt though it wasn't fair to judge the police so harshly without having walked a mile in their shoes so this seemed the best way to find out what it was like to be one. The Army recruiter tried his best to talk me out of it but I really wanted to do it. It just felt right. My first stop was Ft. Campbell, Kentucky home of the 101st Airborne.
Well, if I had a group called H.E.L.L. then I suddenly found myself in Hell for sure. It is nothing like today's basic training. Nothing! It began in later October and would last until December. It is the worst time to be in Kentucky. We were outside everyday by 0500. We striped out of our coats and shirts down to our t-shirts. We then marched to the exercise field, did physical exercise better know as PT, and ran 1 mile that first morning. Eventually we would be up to three miles a morning. We then had to march back to our gear and stand in the cold weather until we got good and chilled and then we could put back on our cold shirt and coat. No matter how nasty, cold, rainy, or snowy, we were out there every morning. We then had to do more exercise and the bane of my existence the overhead ladder. I had very poor upper body strength. Worse, I had no calluses on my hands. We did the overhead bars so much that I never had time to develop calluses just open wounds that bled. You couldn't wear your gloves. The bars would sometimes get so cold that they would re-open the wounds or make them bigger. One day I was tapped on the shoulder while standing in the chow line having just performed the overhead ladder, they nodded down at my hands, and I was dripping blood from the end of my fingers on both hands. It just didn't matter. You had to do the overhead bars for the physical fitness test. You had to pass the physical fitness test at the end of basic training with acceptable scores or you would have to take eight weeks of basic all over again. After the overhead bars, as I said, you stand in line and wait to go inside for chow. In this case, breakfast, 10 minutes to eat, back inside the barracks to square it away, and then march off to classes. The classes were at least 5 miles away and often farther. The only time we ever rode in a transport truck was to the rifle ranges and we never rode back from them. At the end of the day, no matter what we had done that day, no matter the weather, no matter the time, it was more PT. The PT was exceptionally demanding. It was often very cruel. There were times were we had to run in circles with our weapons over our heads and if you lowered your weapon you were made to do fifty pushups and then backup and running in the circle again. This could go on for twenty or thirty minutes. There was always at least an hour or more of physical training to end the day before the evening meal. Then it was back to the barracks where you prepared for the next day, maybe wrote a letter home, talked a little bit with the guy who slept in the bunk below yours and then lights out. Our poor bodies got so sore we could hardly move our arms and legs. We were buying all kinds of liquid and gel liniments to put on our bodies to help. It got so bad we had to help each other because you couldn't bend to reach parts of your body. Mornings were the worse after sleeping all night. Anyone hearing would have thought the hounds of hell were being tortured. Well if the physical torture wasn't bad enough then the mental torture was the icing on the cake.
The drill sergeants were constantly yelling and cussing at you. I did everything in my power to avoid a mistake. The very first day though before any of us knew the rules I was made the example. I did not know you did not call a drill sergeant "sir". Well, 5 minutes of screaming and 50 pushups later, I did. I took it well enough and never complained. I was used to this kind of abuse from my Dad. I was very lucky. I never actually had to go through that again by myself. I had to go through many group punishments but never alone. The environment reminded me so much of home.
It was so demeaning. There was physical abuse. There was mental abuse. There was humiliation. There was isolation and confinement. The first 3 weeks we went 7 days a week without a break in training and could not leave the barracks. The fourth and fifth week, we had Sunday off but could not leave the barracks except to go to the PX for supplies on our on. Do note that this was the first time we were allowed out on our own since having arrived. The sixth week we had half Saturday and Sunday off and could go anywhere on post only. The seventh week, we had the whole weekend off and could actually leave post. It was the last weekend before graduation. I still remember to this day that I had made a good friend while in basic and there was one thing he and I had been looking forward to more then anything on that one trip off post. It was to eat in a restaurant and have some real decent food at our own pace.
He and I took a cab and when asked where to go we told the cab driver we just wanted to go some place that served really good food. He knew just the place and took us there. The place wasn't so much to look at on the outside, just a big bright yellow painted building up on the hill with large windows, red roof with "RESTRAUANT" painted in white letters on it, but on the inside it was clean and the food was awesome. The place really knew how to take care of hungry trainee soldiers. We ordered steaks and fries. The steak was enormous and they piled the fries up high. They kept the fries coming till we told them to stop. We even had pie. It was heaven. We didn't get a whole Saturday off like promised because they still wanted to mess with us but we did get half of the day and we spent it eating. Then to have the luxury of sleeping in on Sunday was too much. Well not actually because I was just about to face the last and worst week of my basic training.
It had begun much earlier with a cold and a slight cough. We had all been warned that if we became injured or so sick that we could not finish basic training we would have to get recycled and start all over again. I think most of us would rather have jumped off a cliff at such a fate. We were about two-thirds of the way through training and a lot of the guys had this cough. I was lucky and didn't even have the sniffles. The problem though was that the cough got worse. The guys who had the cough were really starting to look and sound bad. I mean really bad. They would cough and cough uncontrollably. They were starting to hack up green phlegm. I remember the day when the first one passed out. It was just before our 10-mile all-gear march and two-night bivouac.
Everyone was told they had to make the march there and back and the two-nights or you could not graduate basic training. There were a lot of very scared guys. The morning arrived and it was 0400 and the drill sergeants were out in force screaming and yelling, blowing their whistles, banging trashcans, and getting everyone out of bed and outside for P.T. I couldn't believe we were going to have P.T. on the morning we were going to be marching 10 miles. I mean we had been working hard and rather late yesterday evening to get all the gear we had basically ever been assigned packed correctly and put together so we could haul it on our backs for this 10-mile march and here we were up earlier then God Himself and to beat all, IT'S RAINING! Its also "friggin cold as hell" and we still took off our outer shirts and ran around in our t-shirts but not as far as most mornings. Thank God we came back, put on our shirts and coats, and went straight to chow. Into the barracks, squared it away, helped each other put on all that damn gear, and assembled outside in the rain and off we went. Unfortunately it sounded and looked more like a company of the living dead then a regular Army company. Well because of the condition most were in and the fact that the weather was so bad it took us a long time to reach and make camp. Our drill sergeants were mad at us and yelling and demanding we set our tents up in this area that was filled with three inches of standing water and mud. Luckily we had working air mattresses but have you ever tried to sleep on a tiny little air mattress and not fall off. I mean basically here I am with another soldier, in a tiny little pup-tent, both of us on our air mattresses, sitting inside our sleeping bags with water just an inch below the top, and we hope we don't come off our air mattresses in the night and into the water. We also went to bed on cold rations as punishment for poor performance. We kept hearing through the night vehicles pulling in and out. What a miserable night. You cannot sleep on an air mattress without falling into the water. My mate and I found our sleeping bags and us wet. We were absolutely chilled to the bone. The next morning the bivouac was called off and we were marched in. The next day we found out why.
Our first sergeant came out to us and basically pleaded with us not to go on sick call unless it was just an absolute emergency. We had already loss by then over a third of the company to illness and they could not afford to lose anymore. It turned out that those vehicles pulling in and out through the night at bivouac were ambulances. They were taking out the critically ill. Conditions changed after that for us.
We were still out there every morning but as soon as P.T. was over our shirts and jackets went right on. No more waiting for the sweat to freeze on us. We did less marching and P.T. was kept within tolerances. Unfortunately, the worse possible thing that could happen happened. I got the cough.
Yes and it scared me to no end. I was very lucky. It happened with only a short time left in our training but it came on me with a vengeance. I think it was the bivouac and sleeping in cold water all night. I became so ill I almost passed out during graduation exercises. I was supposed to go home for Christmas vacation before taking M.P. training and ride the bus. I called my dad and had him come get me. He was upset to have to drive that far but when he saw how bad I was he couldn't get me home fast enough. I was on antibiotics and in bed for two weeks with pneumonia. What a way to spend my two-week vacation. It seemed like I had no sooner arrived then it was time to get on a bus, head south to Ft. Gordon, Georgia, and start my military police that's M.P training.
Well it was my first commercial bus ride in life and was it horrific. There was no place to sit but the back and the fumes were awful.
The springs on the bus must have been completely shot for it rode like a lumbering dinosaur. We constantly rocked from side to side no matter how nice the road was. I was so road sick. I got very well acquainted with the tiny restroom that luckily was in the back of the bus. Well lucky in one way. Bad in another and I bet you can imagine in what way, huh? I was never so glad in all of my life to get somewhere and off that bus in all of my life. But if only I knew what was ahead maybe that bus ride wouldn't have looked nearly so bad.
There I was again, in a long line of soldiers, and a drill sergeant standing in front of us, talking about us volunteering. He was telling us they had a leadership course for trainee soldiers and that it would last two weeks. He said it was very tough. He said if we passed the course we would get to be E-2s (that's one stripe). Then we would start M.P training as trainee leaders and if we completed school and remained leaders the whole time, we would receive promotions to E-3 (PFC). He had 12 openings and anyone interested should step forward. Well my mind started working a mile a minute.
I had heard about volunteering in the Army. Don't. I also thought, "two weeks delayed towards getting out of here." Then I re-thought the whole thing. In the meantime, the people are starting to step forward and there are already 5 or 6 people out there.
"I have three years to serve and why not do it with more rank. What's to lose and after what I went through in basic how much worse can it be." Famous last words, huh? So I stepped out there, the twelfth guy to do so. Just made it and we were marched off to a waiting bus to take us to our new quarters and two weeks of an unending living nightmare called M.P. Trainee Leadership Course.
Deja vu, that's what it was, deja vu. Oh my God, I couldn't believe it, there were drill sergeants yelling and screaming at us the moment our feet touched the pavement. We couldn't get in the barracks fast enough. We all were doing pushups by the 25's. Orientation was by mistakes and pushups. It was a three-ring circus and we were the clowns. Finally we were called to attention in front of bunks that we just happened to land in front of with our gear and the officer-in-charge of the course came to talk. He gave us a brief welcome and told us, to work hard, and good luck, and then turned it over to the senior drill sergeant. The senior drill sergeant then went over the list of rules that were a mile long. I think part of the challenge of the course was to see if we could remember all the rules and comply. Break the rules, you gained demerits along with push-ups, sit-ups, you name it. For the two weeks we also had to attend class everyday with exams throughout the course. Bad grades or too many demerits and you were out of the course and sent to the next starting M.P class. We also had very demanding physical training. I thought basic was bad and couldn't be topped except maybe by Marine training I had heard of, I was wrong. Here they not only wore you out physically but mentally. We never got to sleep. No one slept more then 4 hours a night. We had to constantly polish the center isle of the barracks by hand. We had to constantly memorize endless information. We had to study our homework from class. If we weren't studying we had something physically to do. It felt like we were in a P.O.W. camp. The drill sergeants were constantly coming in and testing us on what we were to memorize. They would quiz us on homework assignments. Two weeks later, I finished 2nd in the class. We had lost about half of the guys who had started. It was now time to start A.I.T.
For you who don't know, A.I.T. stands for Advanced Individual Training and of course for me that's as a military policeman.
I arrived in advance of the troops along with the rest of the trainee leaders and met with the senior drill sergeant and drill sergeants of Company C. They gave us our assignments. I was an acting E-5 (sergeant) and would be the platoon leader for 3rd platoon. My platoon's drill sergeant would be Sergeant Hanson. He was a short black drill sergeant and we got along right from the start. He had a great sense of humor and he was airborne and had taken airborne training at Ft. Campbell. We talked some of my basic training at Ft. Campbell. A.I.T is eight weeks long and is mostly classroom training mixed with outdoor training when necessary to enforce the classroom training. I am afraid that my grades were below average in class and I even volunteered for tutorial help in the evenings. The problem was I spent too much time being platoon leader. For the most part, the drill sergeant turned the barracks over to me to manage. I was up till midnight every night handling personal issues and then would get myself ready for the next day. On average I only got four hours sleep a night. I was always last to bed and first to rise. I really looked forward to the weekends. Overall, this period was very uneventful except for one event that nearly cost me my trainee stripes.
Part of our training involves being able to read a topographical map and be able to find your way no matter where you're located. For those of you who don't know, a topographical map has contour lines or basically circular to oval lines on it. The closer together those lines are the steeper the terrain is and so might mark out a hill. We were also taught to find north using the sun, moss on trees and such. The day came when we were tested on our knowledge and so we were put in five persons teams. My team immediately began complaining because they assumed I would be in charge. I decided to do the noble thing and allowed them to select a leader and so off we went into disaster. They couldn't just select one leader so we had two people deciding the course. It didn't help that it was so overcast that we couldn't keep north. Moss on the North side of a tree is a rare thing in Georgia, USA. Whenever I tried to help, they would get angry and so I had to back off. Eventually they led us into the Georgia swamps. I never could have imagined ending up in such a bad situation. It was starting to get real late. We had no idea where we were. We were chest high in swamp water, climbing over logs, and I can tell you the idea of snakes and alligators pretty much had me wishing I had never been so noble in letting them lead. The next thing you know we heard a vehicle horn honk off to our distant right. So we all started heading in that general direction. We found dry land and started heading up a hill. The next thing you know we are walking into this installation of trailers and strange buildings and fences and we are halted by a colonel. Now I am worried. He comes up to me and asks what we are doing. I give him the short version of what happened to us. He tells us we are on a closed secret installation but that he just spoke to our commander and they will meet us on the road just outside the installation in a few minutes. He then escorts us off the place. When the commander picks our group up he is anything but happy. When I get back to the company I have to face him, the senior drill sergeant and my platoon sergeant and explain what happened. At first the commander wanted to place the blame on me since I was the senior person of the group. I explained though the circumstances and eventually was exonerated of the event. I tell you though I will never forget those swamps. Well other than that event it all went pretty smooth until it was time to receive orders.
This came at the very end of our training program. Now this was a pretty big event. Everyone was pretty excited by where they might be going. Well the First Sergeant called the company together and then began reading the assignments out one by one, alphabetically. I had to wait forever. Then it was my turn, Okinawa. Dog Handler School. I thought wow what a strange assignment. Then my platoon sergeant was next to me and he said sorry. I said what for and he said that after dog handler school I would be going to Viet Nam. Well you could have knocked me over with a feather. I was breathless and in shock. It was the very next day that they began processing me for Okinawa and Viet Nam.
I had to get all kinds of shots. I was pretty sick the next day. I also had to get another physical. I also had to get all kinds of uniforms and special equipment. During this period my orders had changed again and now I was given a direct assignment to Viet Nam. No Dog Handler School. I would get thirty days leave and be in Viet Nam. I called my mom with the news. She was heart broken. She talked of running away to Canada. I think she knew as I knew that if I went to Viet Nam I wouldn't return alive. My mother was always a very intuitive person. She really had the gift. I also knew that if I went I wouldn't come back alive. Canada though was not an option. I wasn't afraid to die. I had already died once. Kinda. Let me explain.
I was 10 years old and at a Y.M.C.A learning to swim. All the mothers sit in a fenced off area to watch us swim and the lifeguard instructors where standing off to one side talking that morning while we kids were practicing jumping off the diving board into the deep end. I got up on the diving board, walked to the end, took my jump, and went into the water. No big deal except that when I came up for air I forget to get some and I went back under and panicked. No matter what I did I couldn't get back up to the surface and get air and eventually I stopped panicking, relaxed, saw the funny little ants before my eyes, like the time in surgery when they put me under, and died, for a moment. It was cool. The next thing you know I am up on the side of the pool and coming back to the world. A lady who had seen me in the water and was screaming at the lifeguards, who had not been watching, saved me. My own mother had gone to get coffee so she missed my near drowning.
I wasn't afraid to die I just didn't think it was my time to go. Well while sitting on the front lawn outside the company office waiting for a ride to go get my gas mask inserts the First Sergeant comes up to me and asks me if I would like to go to NCO School. He tells me it is 6 weeks long and I would get E-5 after going to it. Now you would think I would jump at the opportunity to go. Sorry. I had heard of the horror stories of what NCO School was like while I was in Trainee Leadership School. It made Trainee Leadership School look like kindergarten. I couldn't take any more torture. I would rather die, so I told the First Sergeant, no. I told him why. He told me he was sorry but I was the best-qualified soldier in the company to go and I was going. With a sigh I told him ok I would go and he returned inside to his office. Every day that goes by I thank the stars for that man and what he did. He saved me from certain death and my own ignorance.
It wasn't NCO School but a special school the MPs had cooked up to train E-5, 6, and 7s for the job of E-8 and 9's. We were also to learn all kinds of advanced police training. It was like going to college. There were three of us, E-3s. We were part of an experiment to see in this kind of environment how we would perform compared to seasoned military policemen. We went to class everyday at 0900 and were done by 1500. We were out early on Fridays and often went to neat places because of our older comrades. It was great. I ended up third in my class and all E-3s who made it were promoted to E-4 at the end of class. The most awesome part of it all which I hadn't expected was new orders assigning me to Ft. Hood, Texas. I was allowed two weeks leave after class and went home.
I talked my father into co-signing a loan for me so I could purchase a car. I bought a brand new AMC bright grass green Gremlin-X with black interior with a V-8 engine. It was a great car and would see me on many, many future adventures. So it was time to head to Ft. Hood, Texas and the beginning of my first real assignment in the Army.
Wow, it is in the middle of nowhere. It is also pretty flat, very few trees, rugged terrain. The barracks are the World War II type and in bad shape just like the ones in basic training. They are two stories tall, long and narrow in shape and painted white. There is one building per platoon with 30 men per platoon and four platoons per company. When I arrived, there is just one long bay with no partitions between bunks. There is no privacy. I see that we are short on staff in this platoon so there is a bunk bed per man. For privacy, guys hang blankets all around there bunk. Yippee. I make myself at home and slowly guys come around and introduce their selves to me. I meet the platoon sergeant and find out when my first shift will be. I get my gear from the supply room and sign for my arms from weapons and I am ready. The big day arrives and my first shift, gate duty. Wow, I think, all that training I went through and my first assignment is gate duty. Oh well. It has always been my philosophy that if you do your very best, look your very best, no matter the circumstances, and just keep trying, that someone is going to notice and things are going to change. One day it did. They were forming a new post accident investigation team and the company had to put together its top sergeant and enlisted man for the team. When they went through the records two people met those requirements, Sergeant Fernando, and me.
This was a great assignment. We were Ft. Hood's accident investigators. We now worked independently from the regular M.P.s. We also were responsible for monitoring speed violations and were issued radar guns. We had no fixed patrol areas. Back at the barracks, things had also changed. There had been so many complaints about the lack of privacy and poor quality of the barracks that they came in and put up walls. They were just aluminum frames with pattern-covered plasterboard over them but it created rooms. This was a good thing since we suddenly started getting a lot more people into the military police, state side. This was because Viet Nam was over and military police were returning and recruiting was up. It was about this time that my life was going to change forever. Shortly, I would meet my first spiritual teacher.