After forty years most of the names are blurred, it was the summer of 1970. I was the senior company clerk for Headquarters and Headquarters Company at Fort Carson. The Company was a monster of sorts, it staffed everything from post Headquarters on down, if had anything to do with running the base, somebody in it the company worked there.
It wasn’t a bad job, I had a couple of clerks under me, an unspoken deal with the First Sargent and XO. In a Company with 300 Staff Sargent’s and above the first Sargent had his hands full with them, and their territorial disputes. The XO just wanted to finish his time, go home and try to save his marriage. If I kept them from being bothered with the small stuff, they left me alone and didn’t question what I did, or how I did it.
I guess it was sometime in August when he first walked in my office to sign into the company. He said something like “Mister Specialist Sir, they Told me to see you about checking in.” Years have blurred the memory, I don’t remember his name for sure, but Harris seems to ring a bell.
I was a Spec 5, he was a Spec 4. I said something about dropping the Mister and Sir and wondered why he was sightly bent over, walked with a cane and looked like he was in pain..
His orders and 201 File gave me a clue, he filled in some of the rest. Basic Training, AIT then straight to Nam; Few weeks after he got there a mine damn near killed him. He spent a year in various hospitals then some f’ng genius decided he should spend his last four months in the Army on regular duty.
It was a good thing they sent him to a Headquarters Company, he needed his the cane to walk, was in pain most of the time and couldn’t get out of bed on a rainy day. His back was still full of shrapnel, most of it in places to where it couldn’t be removed surgically. While I was wondering why the hell they hadn’t discharged him, I glanced at his aptitude scores and froze..
The Military’s General Technical or GT score translates roughly into IQ, with 90 to 110 more or less average. I’d seen some as low as 83 and 85, but those were exceptions. Harris had a GT score of “68“. I asked one of my clerks to help him get settled in, called the Post Communication Sargent… told him he had a new man, explained things and wished him luck.
The Army did strange things… sometimes very strange. To me this seemed strange, even for the Army. The next morning I was having coffee with one of the personnel sargents. I asked him if he had any idea what this guy was doing in the service. His short answer
“One of McNamara’s Morons“
Then he explained, Project 100000. The very short version goes something like this. In 1966 Lyndon Johnson was facing a manpower shortage for his expanding war in Viet Nam. It was not politically advisable to start cutting back on College Deferments, to many of the parents were politically connected, and the body bags were starting to add up. The always efficient Robert McNamara devised a scheme that “Would Provide Opportunity for the Less Fortunate”.
For those that don’t know, at the time the Armed Forces Qualification test was a 100 question, A-B-C-D Multiple choice test, the minimum passing score was 31 . If you could teach a dog how to check off one answer for each question, No need to read , odds are 3-1 he’d pass. To increase the odds, Project 100000 men.. were who failed the teat were given another chance. Men who scored as low as 10 out of 100 were accepted. In order to make the program live up to its equal opportunity advertising, blacks were targeted for recruitment under the program, Forty percent of the 354,000 men enlisted under the scheme were black. Black’s made up around 12% of the population at the time.
The Causality Rate for Project 100000 Soldiers was two and one half times the rate for “normal” soldiers. As far as I know, collateral damage to the men who served with them has never been studied
It was a month or so before Harris walked back into my office, once again with the “Mister Specialist Sir, I need help” Before I could say any thing about that I noticed he had tears running down his face. When I asked what was wrong,,, he stammered something about taking back his combat pay.I told him sit down and let him talk a few minutes. From what he was saying, I gathered he’d gotten a note from post finance telling him that there were no orders in his file assigning him to South Vietnam, Republic of. Therefore he was not entitled to the two months combat pay he’d received for his time in Vietnam. They would deduct the $130,00 from his next paycheck.
The Army had enlisted him when he never should been enlisted, by lying to him. They’d sent him to him to Vietnam and gotten him blown up. They halfway glued him back together leaving him crippled for life. The returned him to active duty when they should have given him an Honorable Discharge due to combat related injuries and sent him home with a 100% disability check every month. Though all that he’d managed to keep smiling. The Army telling him he wasn’t supposed to have been there to begin with, it was his own fault he got blown up and he wasn’t entitled to his lousy $130.00 in combat pay finally broke him.
What he didn’t know, and what I sure as shit didn’t want to tell him; If the Army ruled he’d somehow gotten himself to Vietnam and managed to get himself blown up he would lose any benefits he’d be entitled to as a Combat Wounded Veteran
It takes a lot to leave me speechless… so I just let him talk, until I could think of something to say….. Finally I assured him there had to be answer and I’d see what I could do.. He seemed reassured ( I wasn’t).. He left, I called Post Finance. Since Post Finance was part of Headquarters Company I knew our guy sandy personally. As soon as I mentioned Harris.. Sandy told me that finance had been hit with an outside audit and the orders actually sending him from FT Lewis to Vietnam weren’t there, they had orders sending him to Ft Lewis for further reassignment.. They had orders assigning him to a unit after he got to Nam, but nothing sending him to Nam.
When he was done I said: Sandy, you’ve met the guy.
He said No Shit, that’s what I told that F’ng lieutenant.
We discussed the discussed the lieutenant for a couple of minutes. Then we kicked around some ways we might be able to we might be able to circumvent the situation, all were a little too illegal to be overlooked, we could find a set of orders.. but they wouldn’t have stood up if someone took a close look….. a very real risk under the circumstances .
Time for the next option
Even though neither of us were ever there I shared a room in the barracks with guy by the name of Hutchinson, Hutch happened to be the Generals Race Relations Liaison. Did I happen to mention Harris was black? It wasn’t really a matter of racial injustice, it was matter of Outright Injustice. Figured Hutch would see it that way too, but he’d also see it as an easy spin.. I played the Race Card.
Hutch listened, said “Give me five minutes, I’ll call you back.”
They call came in less than three, it wasn’t from Hutch, it was from the Post Command Sargent Major, he quietly asked me to repeat what I’d told Hutch.. I did..
I think in Sargent Major School they must have a course in voice control, it’s a tone that’s unique to them, sometimes causing green lieutenants to wet their pants. they don’t curse, they don’t raise their voice and they don’t Mince words,
“Today is Monday, you will find that mans orders and have them on my desk by Thursday afternoon. You will call every unit that man has ever been assigned to if necessary. If you encounter difficulty with someone you will contact the Base Sargent Major and tell them it is for me, Thank You
That explained what I was going to do fairly clearly. Except for running up the Army’s Phone Bill my part was done. Not sure what role Hutch ended up playing. I had to call him a few weeks later about something else. I said “We got a problem”. He laughed, “When you say that, I’ve got a problem.”
I found out a week later the Sargent Major had made similar calls to the NCOIC at Post Finance and Post Personnel.. Then he had a little talk with the Post Commander. The Post Commander had a Conversation with the Commander of the Base Hospital.
Ten days later I was invited to a meeting, Harris got to go home a couple months ahead of schedule. He kept his Combat Pay and Purple Heart, his discharge was a Medical Discharge due to Combat Sustained Injuries.. I might have the wording on that a little off, it’s been forty years. He was also given 100% Disablity Due to Combat related injuries, That means he still gets a check evey month that might be enough to pay for his cigarettes.
Not much to give a person in exchange for being crippled for life at nineteen years old. It’s pretty much a given he was spat on by some of those who escaped serving, because he and 354,000 men like him, men who should never have served did. What Happened to the rest?
I try to forget about Harris and the rest of McNamara’s Morons every time someone tells me how racist conservatives are, and how much the democrats care about blacks. Especially when they point out LBJ’s great strides in Equal Opportunity..