ROTC Follies

This installation of the Franklin Stove Blog is a departure from the usual format.

It’s fictional, based on accounts of actual events.

It might even be considered a ghost writ post.

This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is purely coincidental.

Photo by Soly Moses on

Hey, it’s me, Rose, the Spirit of the Crimson Tide, again. I’ve had few distractions at the stadium since the football season is over. Of course, the annual A-Day game will take place in the Spring. But, for now, many of my thoughts involve memories of life on campus that have nothing to do with the gridiron.

The 55th anniversary of the Mỹ Lai massacre in Vietnam occurred on the sixteenth of March in 1968. That gruesome tragedy took place during my last year of life.

Images of the horrors that took place in South East Asia would likely be banned today from many social media outlets. Such things as the severed ears of Vietnamese enemy combatants that GIs collected and the naked little girl running down the road from her napalmed village may actually have paled in comparison to the dead bodies of children, women and elderly Vietnamese that Lieutenant William Calley Jr. killed in the Mỹ Lai massacre.

When I first arrived on campus it was compulsory for all male students to participate in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, either Army or Airforce.

I got to know the goofy white boy who I wrote about having once dated a black girl.  He told me about his experience with ROTC. Ironically he had such poor vision that ultimately he was disqualified for military service. You could be blind as a bat and probably have to march around on the Quad with a M1 rifle if you were a male student. He eventually dropped out of school anyway and burned his draft card.

The sole purpose of many male students for attending the University, aside from getting the elusive “meal ticket” in life, was to be deferred from being drafted. Instead of being classified as 1-A in the Vietnam Draft Lottery, as students, they were classified 1-S. I read that some people joined the National Guard, hoping that they wouldn’t be wading in the rice paddies of Vietnam.

The “nearly blind” guy told me about a situation that he’d stumbled into. Freshman Orientation in 1967, took place where Alabama Governor Wallace had “stood in the school house door” — in Foster Auditorium. He felt lost and overwhelmed until a friendly bunch of guys at a ROTC table, as he explained to me, “treated him like a real human being and not a computer punch card.” In those days the cardboard cards were de rigueur for anything involving a computer.

He was a real “freshman” for sure. He signed up for the University of Alabama Army ROTC’s “counter-guerrilla corp.” I’ve never found out if this ROTC unit was fully legit. Males who were in it wore special berets with lightning bolt crest emblems. As a demolition “specialist” he quickly rose to the rank of a sergeant.

The way he explained it to me was like this. The corp’s leader was the son of a regular Army general who commanded the University’s ROTC program. The son was somehow able to procure live ammunition and military rifles for the cadets to play with. Also he obtained dynamite, fuses and blasting caps.

On one of the special field trips the cadets blew up cliffs. The “demolition specialists” climbed up a hill but they had left blasting caps and fuses on the ground below. A farmer, who must have heard the noise that they were making, discovered the demolition equipment and looked up at the cadets who were perched on the hill. He must have been very puzzled.

He said that they once buried sticks of dynamite and bags of ammonium nitrate based fertilizer in the ground. Then they lay down and joined hands in a circle around where the explosives were buried. When the explosives were ignited he was tossed into the air. He got a face full of dirt, and dirt in his mouth and in his clothing but was not injured.

I can’t imagine that the Army would ever have sanctioned students running around with loaded high power rifles and explosives. On field trips the cadets wore a uniform — olive fatigues without any identification on them that could be tied to the ROTC or University. Of course they  also wore the black berets adorned with a cloth shield patch that had a black and red field divided diagonally by a white lightning bolt.

He started doing “independent research” on Vietnam and learned about the white phosphorus munitions, defoliants and napalm that were being used by the US in Vietnam. He became increasingly disaffected from the ROTC program and started arguing in class with the military instructors about the morality of the war. One instructor told him that he’d be court marshalled in three months time if he ever enlisted.

On one field trip that took place in sub-zero weather, he developed pleurisy and was hospitalized. The regular Army officer who was supervising the cadets told them to eat a lot of beans and sleep snuggled next to another cadet, so that they could provide “internal gas heating” for each other. He decided to sleep alone.

He told stories about cadets rappelling from the top of women’s dormitories and going on panty raids. But the story about the cadets who derailed a train topped the list of mishaps.

After drills on the Quad some of the cadets would invariably go to a their favorite local watering hole Nicks. I was told that one day, after becoming sufficiently inebriated, they went out on a long trestle railroad bridge over the Warrior River to jump off of it. They had done this sort of thing before but that day was particularly chilly. After the first student warrior leapt into the river, he realized how freezing cold the water was. He yelled up to his comrades not to jump. While they were trying to walk off the bridge a freight train came along forcing them to move to the side. Then the train stopped, stranding them on the bridge.

After what seemed to them an objectionably long wait for the train to move one of them got what must have seemed to be brilliant idea at the time. If they just uncoupled a car from the rest of the cars that were on a downward slope the cars would roll down the track to free the bridge so that they could walk back out on it. This brilliant scheme lost its luster after the decoupled cars rolled down the track with such a momentum that they derailed. In a panic the remaining two jumped into the icy river. They were eventually all accosted, dripping wet and chilled to the bone, on the river bank by the local police.

They were put in separate cells in the local jail and were interrogated by the FBI. The fact that their uniforms had no ROTC markings made them look very suspicious. A regular officer who was a ROTC instructor got them off the hook. To reward the officer the group of rowdy students took him to an out of town eatery The Cotton Patch. On the way back the students and the Army officer, who were all well fortified by celebratory imbibing, were caught driving way over the speed limit on the highway back to the University.

They were all jailed. An even higher ranking Army officer had to use his influence to free them all, so the story goes.

Although the University is no longer overshadowed by its ROTC program, it still pays obeisance to the armed services. Before every football game in the stadium there’s a ROTC color guard, often with a woman cadet included. A military flyover moments before kickoff is a proud tradition. U.S. Special Operations Command para-commandos, yelling “Roll Tide,”  float onto the field on some occasions.

Back when I first enrolled, the University’s President Frank Rose advised the US Army as a member of the Advisory Panel for ROTC Affairs. Rose was even Chairman of the Board of Visitors in 1968 for the United States Military Academy at West Point. He believed, that under President Lyndon Baines Johnson, America could have both “guns and butter” in The Great Society. As the Vietnam blunder crescendoed, Rose probably never lost faith in LBJ. Then, while I was still alive in 1968, LBJ announced that he had decided not to seek his party’s nomination for president. He would no longer lie about the disastrous war.

Vietnam was not the last military misadventure that has occurred during my time as the Spirit of the Crimson Tide. It seems to me that all US Presidents have wanted to be war-time Commander-In-Chiefs. Some have led the country into more dire straits than others. As far as I’m concerned, they’re all a bunch of war criminals.

One of the newest buildings at the Capstone — Hewson Hall — was named after the former CEO of Lockheed Martin, Marillyn Hewson. Lockheed Martin is the world’s biggest arms manufacturer, and world’s biggest exporter of arms. During America’s many military misadventures the company has done very well.

One of Lockheed Martin’s most profitable planes, the F-35, will not be likely be seen flying over Bryant-Denny Stadium though. The F-35 is considered to be one of the Pentagon’s most expensive boondoggles. It has been said that the F-35 will not have a ghost of a chance in combat. Although I certainly qualify as a ghost, I’m no expert in aerodynamics.

So much for the military and ROTC. Maybe there will soon be some stuff about football to think about. Until then I’ll be in Bryant Denny Stadium. Roll Tide Roll!


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