The Braille Monitor                                                                        November 2005


You're in the Army Now

by Kevan Worley

Bridget, Kevan, and Nejat Worley
Bridget, Kevan, and Nejat Worley

From the Editor: Kevan Worley is first vice president of the NFB of Colorado and president of the NFB's merchants division, the National Association of Blind Merchants. In the following reminiscence Kevan evokes the exuberance of childhood.

For a while when I was a kid, my brother and I played army outside almost every day after school and throughout the long summers. We were constantly on the move, running from backyard to backyard. We'd sneak around the corner of a building to ambush the other army squad patrol, Delta Force, or Roman legion. Using the trash cans as cover or crouching behind hedges, always on guard, listening, ready for action, ready to jump into the fray--whatever that was--or to dart across a field to safety, which probably meant into the house for lunch. Peanut butter and jelly sandwich, Kool-Aid, a nap, and then back to the game.

Sometimes our war games were played by a few, but often they would grow into a full neighborhood squad of kids ages five to eleven or twelve. Sometimes we organized into elaborate formations, only to scatter again with frenetic energy to all corners of the neighborhood without rhyme or reason--an ongoing, free-form fantasy game driven only by imagination and energy. "Get 'em. Get 'em. Get up. Hit the dirt. Get down. Get down. Ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba ... CCh, cch, cch, cch, cch ... Got ya. No you didn't. No you did not. Hey no fair, no fair," would echo throughout the neighborhood, from the basements to the yards across the fields and over the woods.

Some Saturday mornings my brother Paul and I would get up earlier than our parents to build an elaborate army fort. We'd cobble it together out of chairs, shoes, hangers, blankets, parts of toys, books--whatever came to hand--directed only by our imaginations. Then, as soon as we got it built, we took great delight in crashing it all down, usually making enough noise to bring Mom and Dad out of the bedroom. Then we'd have breakfast, brush our teeth, and head out to play with friends--again, more army.

This was before political correctness, before the escalation in Vietnam. Combat and The Rat Patrol were mainstays on television, and we went to movies like The Longest Day and P.T. 109. Elvis had just served a hitch in the army, and in school we learned about General Washington crossing the Potomac on Christmas Day, Florence Nightingale, Valley Forge, the Little Big Horn, and D-Day. But it was all storybook drama to us--conflict without consequence, and, to round out this climate made for militaristic masquerading, my father was an army sergeant, right there, right then, right at the height of the Cold War.

When I was growing up, my home always had a room filled with Dad's army stuff. He was always just back from or getting ready to go to the field on maneuvers. Paul and I were responsible for cleaning his army stuff. We were always getting Dad ready for the field or a parade or inspection. I still remember the feel and smell of canvas, tin, tents, ponchos, mess kits, and boot polish. Spit and polish, that was Dad, and Dad expected me to shine them boots. Blind or not, I was expected to be like the other kids in our family and in the neighborhood, shining his shoes, taking out the trash, or playing outside.

We lived in military housing in places like Fort Riley, Kansas; Fort Sheridan, Illinois; or Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri--nice suburban areas with plenty of fields and woods for kids to play in, or should I say patrol. During much of this time we were stationed in Frankfurt, Germany, living alongside the kids of other enlisted NCOs and officers. I'd listen to the American Forces Network Europe (AFN) on the radio, featuring the sounds of jeeps and trucks punctuated by constant appeals for top military readiness. "Re-enlist now" and "buy bonds," sandwiched between the top tunes of the day and old radio shows like Suspense, The Shadow, and Gunsmoke.

I played with Dad's army stuff--I mean I helped Dad get ready for the field. And we'd play army, running through the housing areas with wild abandon, giving scope to our overactive imaginations and boundless childish exuberance, making up the rules as we went. Nothin' was more stimulating to a pack of prepubescent boys than a rousing rendition of

You're in the army now.
You're not behind the plow.
You're digging the ditch,
You son of a ... Well, you get the idea. And mostly I was a kid like any other kid.

Rarely was blindness an issue. When you were a rambunctious kid like me, your exuberance and natural glee just got you through. I mean, I've known that I was blind since, well, since I knew anything about me, but my family never dwelled on it much. And if you were a kid like me and if the people around you didn't stop you, well you'd just go. If you tripped, you got back up. If you listened sharp, kept low to the ground, and accepted your share of the bumps and bruises, none of the other kids questioned your ability to be a soldier. After all, "Private, didn't I just tell you I was General Worley? Now fall in, son." You see, if you have some personality and imagination and leadership: "Ten, hut. Who goes there? Isn't it true that you are a spy for the Von Stouiviners?" Of course I refer to the dreaded kids who lived on Von Stouivin Strasse. We lived on Heugil Strasse during the time Dad was stationed in Frankfurt.
The housing areas were comprised of big concrete block buildings built by the Germans circa World War II. There were three stairwells in each four-story building with two apartments on either side of the hall. A basement stretched the length of the building with little storage rooms lining the hall and actual bomb shelters by the basement back stairs.

I don't think we were supposed to get into the bomb shelters, but they weren't locked, and, well, we were kids. We'd go rumbling through the front of the building, down the stairs, traipse the length of the basement, and dart through the back entrance and up the back stairs. Finding no opposition, we might creep back down the stairs. We'd listen for the enemy or the adults, and if neither was around, we'd ease open the metal bomb shelter door and hide for a while. Then we'd make a plan and be off again.

There was this big field stretching away behind our building over to Von Stouivin Strasse. One Saturday morning the word went out that the kids from Von Stouivin were actually coming. Some new kids had transferred in over there. Someone speculated that they were older kids; I was betting at least ten or eleven. They were set to lead a charge against us. Anyway, someone told my brother Paul that they had some big kids. A kid named Jackson from the next building told me he had heard that one of the new kids was a colonel's son. The whole neighborhood was alive. There was to be a battle. Finally we would be facing off against those Von Stouiviners. What it all meant no one knew, of course, or cared. It was the anticipation, the planning, the drama, the play. It was part of being an army kid during the Cold War.

By mid morning kids were lining up on our side of the big field. We were milling and planning. There must have been hundreds--okay, twenty or thirty. Anyway, it was time, and Hudson, the older kid from C stairwell in our building passed through the ranks. He and his adjutant, some kid whose voice was already changing, told us to find bigger tree limbs and be ready. We would form up in a V formation and move out sharply. I searched around out into the overgrown field and found myself a pretty good-sized forked tree branch; choosing it as my weapon. I began waving it with nervous intensity.

Then I heard from back by the buildings: "Form up. Form up." I scampered back to the line. I wondered where my brother Paul was. This was going to be the big one. I thought: "Should I cross the field by myself, or should I touch my brother's shoulder so that I would have a better idea what was going on?" Then I heard Becky Dowdy's voice: "Hudson says you need to be one of the V anchors. They don't want you to get captured. Besides, I'm the unit nurse, so I'll look for you, you know, because of the wounds on your eyes and all from the last battle." I was in turmoil. I wanted to go into combat. This was going to be the big one. These were the Von Stouiviners. I was ready for the battle, but the game was the game. It was free form, and, well, if my role was to be wounded and evacuated, someone had to be.

The next thing you know we were falling in. I was at the base of the V, and we were moving out, marching forward across the field. It was really happening. We were going after the Von Stouiviners. And sure enough, almost unbelievably, there they were, the kids from Von Stouivin Strasse--a whole herd of them. They came running, screaming, scattering towards us, with seemingly no plan of attack. Colonel's kid, my eye. In my mind we had already won. We had a formation; we were in a V.

Now the battle was on. We were all running, screaming, jumping, chasing, waving tree branches, pointing imaginary rifles, and scattering. Both sides were taking prisoners, then, quick as you could say, "Mom's calling," the retreat back to our side of the field for an exuberant debriefing all about how "We got 'em, Yeah, we got 'em. You should have seen it. They didn't know what hit 'em. Yeah, they sure didn't." Becky, our nurse, reported to our Commander Hudson, Jackson, and the rest: "Only one injury, sir." I was pleased to hear that she was not talking about me. Me, I was thinking about heading in for lunch--all in a day's work for a normal little blind kid playing army.