John Mahoney's Free-fire Zone
John Mahoney
John Mahoney
is editor of the Log Cabin Chronicles.

His previous columns are archived HERE.

Posted 09.17.03
Fool's Hollow, Quebec


Joining up with Uncle Sam

Fifty years ago today I joined the US Army. And what a long, strange trip it has been.

I kissed my aunt and uncle and my girlfriend goodbye, and boarded the bus for Manchester, New Hampshire, with my six buddies who had signed on for three-year hitches with me.

I got on the bus as 17-year-old Johnny Mahoney, wearing jeans and white bucks.

Within minutes of getting off the bus I was sworn in as Pvt. John Mahoney, RA1127386, and I was pointed like a guided missile towards Easy Company of the 20th Infantry Regiment in Fort Ord, California.

So much for my fantasy of becoming a world-famous combat photographer. I was soon humping the boonies with an M1, not a Speed Graphic.

After six months of basic and advanced combat training, we were headed for Korea. But, overnight, they began shipping us all back to the East coast, from whence most of us hailed. Go figure.

I survived fifteen months in the chickenshit 714th Tank Battalion at Fort Benning, Georgia, behind various desks (there was a short two-month stint at the Adjutant General's School in Fort Benjamin Harrison outside of Indianapolis, Indiana), then made it to Orleans, France, and an office job in the 34th General Hospital. Great food, lousy duty.

French vin ordinaire was so cheap back then, I did some major liver insulting.

Three months of France was beaucoup pour moi -- I didn't like it or the arrogant natives much better than I did the South. I believe that if there is a Hell, it is located somewhere south of Route 4 in Vermont, and the Devil and his horny helpers speak Southron with a French accent.

With much good fortune, and not a little connivance, I finagled a transfer to England. Many glorious days followed.

Not so much in my tiny 53rd Ordnance Company, where the practice of military 'chickenshit' was not allowed by officers or non-coms. No, most of the glorious days were spent with my five chums and various English and Irish lovelies in our flat in London, to whence we fled on Friday afternoons to return on the Monday morning for duty.

The most excellent beer was served at room temperature (which I loved), and the most excellent English girls considerably warmer (which I also loved, as did my buddies).

My parents were stationed at US Air Force Base Burtonwood a few hundred klicks to the north, my paternal grandparents and a horde of relatives lived in London, and I saw them from time to time. Yes, that was good duty in Blighty.

And then those 1000+ Army days ended with a polar hop home in a four-engine prop job -- England, Scotland, Greenland, Labrador, New Jersey -- and photography school on the GI Bill.

I'm still making photographs. And I still remember my Army serial number, and how to use a bayonet and count cadence -- some things you never forget.

Sitting here at my computer keyboard in Fool's Hollow, Quebec, on this cool, sunny September morning a half century down the road, I cannot but marvel at what a long, strange trip it has been.