D. E. Larsen, DVM
Lt. Bernard came into the maintenance shop with a piece of paper in his hands. Glancing up from the work we were doing, we could see that something was official in that letter.
For the last ten months, I had been the NCOIC (non-commissioned officer in charge) of maintenance at Wobeck, the small Army Security Agency on the border with East Germany. I had been promoted to specialist-six shortly after taking charge of the shop. The Army was less than impressed with the fact that I was not planning to re-enlist. And I didn’t play the role of a real NCO.
“I have something for you, Larsen,” Lt. Bernard said as he held out the paper for me. “Here are your orders for your early out. It looks like you will be leaving us in a couple of weeks.”
I had applied for admission to Oregon State University, and I applied for an early release from the Army at the same time. With this approval, my discharge date changed from September 15 to June 15, 1969.
I wore a short-timer’s chain through the buttonhole on my fatigue shirt. There were several of us in the shop with a similar chain. We would clip a ball and smash it on the floor with a hammer every morning. Now I cut ninety balls off my chain, and with the help of a couple of others, we smashed them all.
The following two weeks were a whirlwind of activity as I prepared for departure. I had to fit my worldly belongings into an army duffle, B-4, and overnight bags. That meant I had to make a trip to Kassel to our main base to turn in as much of my uniform as they would allow. Other stuff I gave away. I withdrew money from my savings account in Kassel. That was eleven thousand dollars, all the benefit from seventeen months of TDY pay at Wobeck. I wanted to take it all in a check, but the banker said I should take some cash because I would have trouble cashing a cashier’s check.
After a late-night party on the 13th, my friends Marsden and Elka picked me up in Marsden’s Porsche, and we took a fast trip to Frankfurt. I processed out of Europe and caught my flight to New Jersey. I arrived at Fort Dix close to midnight and slept in an unmade bunk.
On Sunday morning on June 15, being an NCO, I was charged with supervising the lower ranking guys to pick up things on the company street before breakfast. After breakfast, we processed out of the Army. The master sergeant overseeing uniform returns chewed me out for all the items I turned in before leaving Germany. I just smiled and said, “Yes, sergeant.”
After discharge, I caught a bus to the airport. Registration at Oregon State started the morning of Thursday, June 19. I had a lot to do in the next few days. Travel across the country, secure transportation, find a place to live, and make it to registration.
Air travel was not bad. If you were in uniform, you could fly for half price on a standby basis in those days. I caught a flight to Chicago with no problem, and I had checked my large luggage to Portland. Getting on a plane to Portland was a little more complicated, but I arrived in Portland in the early evening.
I figured I could rent a car and drive to Myrtle Point and make plans from there. I made my way through the airport to the Hertz Car Rental booth.
“I would like to rent a car for a few days,” I said to the young lady at the counter.
“Fine, will you be returning the car to this site?” she asked.
“It would be better if I could return to Coos Bay or Corvallis,” I said.
“Do you have any preference for the type of car?” she asked.
“Just one with wheels,” I said.
“Okay, I think we can manage to get you a car with wheels,” she said. “Can I see your credit card?”
“What’s a credit card?” I asked. This was 1969, and I had been in the Army for the last four years, most of that time overseas. I had no idea what she talking about.”
“That is a card that allows us to charge your account for the rental,” she said.
“I have the cash to pay for the car,” I said.
“We require a credit card,” she said.
“I have a military ID card,” I said.
“I’m sorry, you can’t rent a car without a credit card,” she said.
That ended that conversation. I took a cab to a downtown hotel, ate dinner, and went to bed.
In the morning, I bought a car. The bank wouldn’t cash my check, but the car dealer took the check but would wait for it to clear before giving me change.
I drove to Myrtle Point to say hi to the folks. My brother was going to be at Oregon State for summer school. They invited me to share their two-bedroom apartment. They had three kids, ages seven, four, and one, and I would share a bedroom with the kids.
I don’t precisely remember the rental agreement. I probably paid about two-thirds of the rent and bought most of the groceries. But it gave me the summer to find my living arrangements for the following year or two.
We got moved in, and I made it to the arena registration. I had been declared a major in Zoology when I applied to school. I gave the lady at the desk my name, and she went to stakes of files behind her.
“Here you are,” she said as she handed me my papers. “You can sign up for your classes inside the coliseum.”
“Can I change my major?” I asked.
“That is no problem. I can do it right here,” she said as she took my papers back. “What would you like me to put down for your major?”
“Let’s change it to Pre-Veterinary Medicine,” I said.
“Done,” she said as she handed my papers back to me.
Registration was easy this time. I took one course, one year of Organic Chemistry, in the eleven-week summer session.
Talk about a change of pace in my life. Less than a week earlier, I was drinking beer in a German Gasthaus and carousing until the wee hours of the morning. Now I was thrust into the middle of family life and studying organic chemistry at a rapid rate.
It had been four years since I sat in a chemistry class. The visiting professor from Idaho had the entire class on slides. We had several hours of class every morning to cover the course material. During the second day, one guy raised his hand.
“Can you go back to that last slide? I didn’t get it all,” he asked the professor.
“Get yourself a camera, Buddy,” the professor said. “We don’t have time to wait for anybody.”
I was approached by a couple of guys in the class to join a study group. I joined. There were four or five of us guys and a couple of girls. I quickly found the organic chemistry just required good recall. I didn’t need to study with my memory, but I stayed with the group anyway.
After a few weeks of school, I was bored enough that I needed something else to do with my time.
“I think I will get a job this afternoon,” I told Kathy as she was cleaning up the kitchen following lunch.
“Those are probably pretty hard to come by in this town,” Kathy said.
I took the phone book and wrote down the addresses of the power company, the telephone company, and the TV cable company. I walked into the Consumer Power office first and was granted an immediate interview. They liked my resume and would offer me an apprenticeship, but they had no part-time jobs. Next, I walked into the TV cable company. It was just down the street from the power company.
“Are you the guy that the employment agency sent?” Karen asked.
“No, but I’m here, and this is my resume,” I said. “I am not looking for full-time work. I just got out of the Army, and I’m in school right now. I can pretty much work afternoons this summer, and I can work full time during the break between summer and fall term, and it will just depend on my schedule next fall.”
It took a few minutes and a short interview, but I was hired. I could start tomorrow afternoon.
With a job and school, summer went fast. I did a little fishing with my nephew, Aaron.
And I survived the chemistry class with good grades. The TV cable job lasted for over an entire year. I found a trailer house to purchase and lived in it for the two years I was at OSU.
Photo by Kathy Larsen.