(excerpted from the memoir, “But First This Message”)

by Steve Liddick

It was 1962 and I was a reluctant U.S. Army private caught up in the big Vietnam era draft.

Our ship was headed for Korea where I was to be a radio announcer for the American Forces Korea Network (AFKN). The trip across the Pacific Ocean would take 30 days. The crossing on the USS General Edwin D. Patrick troop carrier blazed along at the blinding speed of seven knots . . . about the same as your average jogger.

To this day I still can’t see how the government could believe it was cost-efficient to slowly transport a thousand troops across the Pacific Ocean. We were consuming three meals a day on a fossil fuel-burning ship for an entire month. If my math is correct: 1000 men X 30 days = 30,000 days, divided by 365 days in a year = more than 80-years of our collective military service being wasted rather than working at the jobs we were ripped out of our civilian lives to perform. It seemed to me then and now that it would have been cheaper to fly us all there.

I had not yet been in the army long enough to realize that (a) logic has no place in the military (b) I must never question a decision made by anyone with a higher rank than mine, and (c) everyone was of a higher rank than mine.

Several weeks into the trip on the USS Edwin D. Patrick we were given a brief shore leave at Yokohama, Japan.

Japan is an ancient land brimming with tradition. One tradition among taxi drivers is that no matter where an American GI says he wants to go, he is driven to a part of town where the cab stops in front of a restaurant owned by the driver’s cousin. Plus, on the way there the driver weaves in and out of traffic at terrifying speeds which no one in that pre-seatbelt and airbag era could possibly survive in the event of a crash. All this is done on the opposite side of the road from what we are accustomed to driving in America.

After several hours of walking up and down streets ablaze with neon lights, it was back to the ship and another taxi ride from hell.

Fast forward to a year later and time to return to the states.

Departure day arrived. I gathered up my gear and packed a crate of personal items to be shipped home. I said my goodbyes and rode a bus to Seoul.

I boarded the USS General J. C. Breckenridge troop ship for the trip home.

When we arrived at Treasure Island, across the bay from San Francisco a month later, we were herded into a huge warehouse and each given a checklist. The list itemized the various stations we were to stop at to turn in equipment and bring our medical and service records up to date. We were also paid up to date.

After stopping at a half-dozen or so processing stations I must have looked puzzled as I poured over my checklist to see whether I had covered everything.

“Where are you supposed to be, young man?” asked an officer.

I said, “I’m not sure, sir.”

He took my checklist and looked it over.

He handed the list back to me. “Son,” he said, “you’re out of the army.”

Those were some of the sweetest words I had ever heard. They ranked way up there with the time Patty Sweeney said, “could you unzip me?”