In 1970, after a spell in the hospital, I was sent to Ft.Knox for recuperation.Thus I became the Executive Officer of a Basic Training Battalion. This went on for several months and I enjoyed the work which was entirely administrative. I could accomplish a lot when I had a clerical staff.
Wish I a staff today.
One day the Bn. CO asked me if would be willing to take command of C company. This was the lowest rated company of the five in the battalion. The training results of the company were very poor and the current CO was being relieved. I was ready to get back in harness and immediately accepted.
One of the major concerns of the army at that time was the number of recruits who deserted from Basic Training. This was serious stuff resulting in court martials affecting the rest of the deserter's lives. My unit quickly established a zero rate which was appreciated by Battalion and Brigade COs. But one day my First Sargent told me that a lad had taken off during the night. I remember his name: K.A.
I dug a little deeper and found he lived about a hundred miles west in a little town near Tell City Indiana which is on the Ohio river. I decided to use the day to see if I couldn't get him back. I drove to Tell City which, at that time impressed me as a very prosperous farming town with lots of well kept stores including a John Deer dealership overflowing with an impressive variety of shiny green machines. Having crossed the river I drove north thru the rolling hills of southern Indiana. Coming around a curve I nearly drove off the road startled in seeing a very, very, large monastery solidly planted atop a high hill and magnificent in its medieval glory. Looked like Monte Cassino.
I eventually arrived at the town I was looking for. It consisted of a gas station and one store. I filled up on gas and chatted up the attendant. Did he know K A and where he lived? He was slow to answer. "Are you from Ft. Knox?" He knew this because of the sticker on my bumper. He asked if I would be arresting K. I explained that I only wanted to talk with him and explain why he should return. Once he was assured of my intentions he mentioned he had seen Kevin back in town and was wondering about his situation. He then told me how to find his house which was up a twisty dirt road.
The house looked questionable as to it's ability to keep out a winter wind. The door was opened by the K's worn looking mother. As with the gas attendant I explained that I was not there to force her son to return but would appreciate talking with him. She let me in and I met the father who could not rise from his chair courtesy of black lung disease. This was mining country.
I spoke with the parents for a few minutes and they eventually called out K. We all sat down while I explained that if he returned before 14 days had passed we could handle his desertion within the Battalion. He would be assigned to the punishment barracks were he would perform a lot of manual labor. Then he would begin his training again. But if he did not return within 14 days he would be officially listed as a deserter and the government would eventually get around to arresting him, maybe in a month, maybe in a year, or longer. I encouraged him to return with me. His mother encouraged him. His father was most concerned that the Drill Sergeants would physically abuse him. I reassured him on this point.
K pleaded to wait for another day or two. He had married just before entering the Army. His wife came out, a pretty young girl. In essence both these newly weds were kids. A little more talk and Kevin kissed his wife good by. The father tried to rise from his chair but couldn't. He said he never heard of an officer coming to pick up a runaway. I replied that I only made the effort for Hoosiers.
K was impressed by my '67 Cougar XR7. Heck, I was impressed with it. I turned on the radio and for the first time heard John Denver singing "Country Road." Have loved that song ever since.
But I was getting angry, not with K, but with his draft board. This family was dirt poor, the father dying, with very little means of income. He never should have been drafted. No doubt the board had a quota to fulfill. And K would have been unable to articulate grounds for a deferment. Back at Ft. Knox, while K did his punishment, I enlisted the aid of the chaplain and did the paperwork to obtain a compassionate discharge. This was approved in record time since I was able to give testimony that was personally observed.
Several weeks later I received a post card from K thanking me. I have always been grateful that I made the decision to go after him and that he could be there for his wife and family, especially his father. Not everyone needs to be a soldier.